A Few Lessons I Learned in My Twenties

Note:  This was a previous post I published on my thirtieth birthday.

Friends and family, today is the day I turn the big “three-oh”. As the date has been approaching, I’ve reflected on the life lessons I’ve learned in the past decade. I’d like to share some of those with you today.

  1. The single biggest contributor to happiness is having good relationships. Without good people in your life, nothing else matters.
  2. It’s important to pursue challenging goals, but ambitions can quickly make you miserable unless they’re pursued as just one part of a balanced life.
  3. You will never figure it all out–you won’t even get close. This isn’t a big deal.
  4. You don’t know what you want to do with your life at thirty and that’s okay. Wherever you find yourself, do what you’re doing well and never stop learning; never stop growing.
  5. There’s no rush. No finish line to cross. No peak to arrive at. Slow down and enjoy the ride. It goes faster than you think.
  6. Kindness, compassion, and sincerity are far more admirable qualities than savviness, ambition, and raw intellectual power. Without the former qualities, the latter are a waste, or worse–they can do an incredible amount of harm in the service of ill-conceived goals.
  7. Politics shouldn’t always get in the way of personal relationships. The fact is, politics are deeply complicated and most people who say things we think are politically stupid aren’t necessarily stupid on the whole. (They may even be brilliant at some other domain of excellence.) More often than not, the people we deem to be politically stupid are  simply misinformed, under-informed, or just confused. Perhaps the truth you hold to be obvious and crucially important was never presented in the right light. Perhaps you have yet to glimpse the whole truth yourself and that person has a small piece of it. What I’ve discovered is that what a person believes in politically says more about his ability to think critically about complex social issues than it does his character. I’ve met too many activists whom I initially respected because they supported worthwhile causes, only to later be disappointed when they behaved like arrogant narcissists who knew little about what they were advocating for. I’ve also been surprised too many times by the kindness and general decency of some people I know who hold views I consider reactionary and maybe even detestable. In the book of a person’s life, politics usually represent the cover, not the content. After all, we all have blind spots where our intelligence doesn’t shine so bright. How many times have we done, said, or thought things where upon looking back, we feel a flicker of shame at how stupid we were? It’s important to allow for that in others too.
  8. Believing money ‘doesn’t matter’ is naïve and a little self-indulgent. (In my experience, people who who tend to believe this are financially secure.) Now, let me be clear–no, I do not think money alone will make you happy. It’s certainly not the most important pursuit in life, either. But when you’re not meeting your basic needs, it’s hard to think about higher things that are worth thinking about–art, philosophy, love, and having fun to name a few. Food and shelter cost money. Education costs money. Travel, dinner with friends, and pursuing interesting hobbies cost money. Raising children cost money. So yes, money does matter. Rather than seeing it as the ‘root of all evil’, it’s better to think of it as a useful resource that should be acquired mindfully and managed wisely.
  9. You can burn an incredible amount of energy on needless worry and anxiety. Very little of the time invested in worrying about things outside of your control results in anything useful. Learn to let go sooner than later.
  10. Plans are useful, but so is allowing life to unfold on its own terms. We can’t impose our will on life. Instead, we need to learn to ride the wave.
  11. Health! Get on that shit! With the exception of having great relationships, there isn’t anything as important than having the energy, outlook, and balance that good health provides. I took my health for granted in my twenties and later realized that this was the single biggest mistake I made during that entire decade. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way. Work on your mind and and work on your body. It will pay dividends big and small in ways unexpected.
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