Thirty years ago today, at 4:10AM I entered the world. I began as a child, and am now something in between that and a man. There have been a lot of ups, a few downs, and an incredible number of experiences crammed into the last 10,950 days.
In thirty years I've learned a lot. I've also made more mistakes than I'd ever care to admit, and on introspection, I'm definitely a work in progress. So here's my five for thirty: three things I've learned so far, and two things I'm still working on.
What I've learned
1. Know yourself.
Truly knowing yourself is fucking terrifying. At least for me it is. Throughout my life, I've often looked outward for the solutions to problems or the root of my struggles. It's always been easy to blame a job, a relationship, or someone else for not being who I want to be. We have to be responsible for ourselves, and that can't happen until we know what makes us tick.
The last three years I have focused on looking inward, and it's been a valuable exercise. Take time each day to think about your role in the world. Understand, truly, why you're happy or unhappy, and what you (not anyone else!) can do to adjust that. Be honest about your own failures, and congratulate yourself for your successes. Think critically about what you want to do in your life, and what you need to adjust about yourself to get there.
2. It's all about the small stuff.
There's no such thing as big decisions. We think we make big decisions all the time, but every major decision in life is really just a product of the thousands or millions of small decisions that led us to that exact point. By the time we're faced with what we perceive as a huge decision – where to go to school, who to marry, what to order for dinner – the die has more or less already been cast.
So stress the hell out of the little stuff. Once we make even the smallest decision, we can't take it back. Our lives are irrevocably altered by each of these small things. Every terrible or great thing that's happened to me has been because of a lot of little things leading up to the moment where I had to make a big move. Doing one thing differently means changing thousands of things that came before it. Treat every decision as if it will change the course of the rest of your life.
3. Be curious.
Every person should be open to growth and new experiences. Curiosity has led me to be a voracious reader: I try to spend at least two hours a day reading everything from novels to Wikipedia to magazines to random stuff on the internet. That curiosity has served me well: it creates good conversation (often with strangers), allows me to make more informed decisions, and generally participate in the world.
Plus, there's a lot of cool stuff in this world! I'm constantly amazed by human history, the intricacies of the natural world, or our attempt to understand the nature of consciousness. The Internet and democratization of information it has created is mankind's greatest achievement (thus far). We're living in the first period of human history where virtually anything we want to know is available to us – for free. Don't waste the most incredible opportunity in the history of our species to advance your understanding of the world.
What still needs work
I need to be a better listener. Chuck Palahniuk has a great line: “People will listen to you only when they know you're dying, otherwise they're just waiting for their turn to talk.” I am often guilty of just patiently waiting my turn to say something. I have a lot to say (who doesn't!), but I'd be well served to just shut up more often and really take in the views of others.
The most important relationship in my life fell apart because of items 1 and 4 on this list. I've improved the first significantly, and need to commit myself to learning how to be a better listener going forward. If there's one thing I want to be a strength at 40, it's this. So if you know me, and you ever think I'm not listening (as in, really listening) call me on it. You're helping me out.
5. Be a person of integrity.
I wish I had more integrity than I do. There's three components to that, which I struggle with to varying degrees:
- Do what I say. A person's word is the most valuable thing they have. I am well intentioned, but often overcommit myself and let things fall through the cracks. I've yet to find anyone who's truly 100% on executing what they say they'll do, and I aspire to be the first. I'm far from it now.
- Be honest. While I wouldn't call myself a malicious liar, I do often stretch the truth for the sake of convenience. This is true with clients especially, but also in my personal life. Omission is a lack of honesty as well, and I'm far too comfortable excluding details from a conversation to impact its meaning.
- Follow my own path. If you know me, you're aware I generally march to the beat of my own drum. So while I don't need help learning to be myself, per se, what I do need to do is develop a better sense of empathy for those around me. I often charge forward in the way that I want, without fully considering the impact on other people. Being my own person and following my own path is important, but equally important is not obstructing someone else's.
And here's a few other small tidbits I've picked up along the way that have served me well:
- Buy nice shoes. Seriously. I used to buy cheap dress shoes, and replaced them constantly. Now I buy expensive shoes, take care of them, and resole them. The investment is returned in spades.
- Get a dog. Your dog is a reflection of your own personality, and it teaches you about yourself. They're a constant companion (Bailey is under my desk right now!).
- Laugh every day. There's so much shit going on in this world. Find a way to make fun out of it, or you'll go crazy. Cummings said: "The most wasted of all days is one without laughter."
- Pick up the phone. Old-fashioned communication is dying. Take the extra time to pick up the phone and call instead of text, or to write thank you notes. It makes a difference.
- Befriend everyone. Carry on conversations and make friends with everyone you meet. The guy who shines your shoes has led a life far more interesting than your own; learn about it.
- Embrace a vice. Or, if you're me, choose many. We all get to be happy, and it's okay if a few toots of bourbon makes that happen.
- Everything in moderation. My great-grandmother, Florence Curley, made it 93 years by living this way. Embrace the totality of human experience, and try everything at least once. No experience of any kind should be off limits.
- Give back. The country (and world) is not always moving in the right direction. Give back to your community and make it a better place for your kids.
- Build a network. I've been blessed with incredibly caring mentors and loyal friends who have made me who I am. Invest in building those relationships.