Over at the Art of Non-Conformity (one of my favorite blogs) Chris Guillebeau posted to his blog 34 things he’s learned about life and adventure. He then offered the suggestion that we readers do the same, so I’ve done just that, in honer of Chris’s 34th birthday (which he actually gave up recently…so I’m not sure what this is in honer of. Oh well!). Instead of adventure, which is a subject that I’m not seriously qualified for, I’ve decided instead to write about what I’ve learned about life and people. Read the original post by Chris here.
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Here are 35 things I’ve learned about life and people:
+Meaningful work is hard work.
If you want meaningful work, you’re going to have to work hard – it’s impossible to stumble into meaning. If you want to do something important, you’re going to have to figure it out. Going through life with a vague sense that you want to do something that matters isn’t enough.
You have to get to work.
+Limit ego-based work.
This includes but isn’t limited to: googling your name, checking your site analytics, checking comments on your art, seeing if anyone “liked” your Facebook post, fishing for compliments, or any other activity that might answer the question “Has anyone noticed me now?” Limit this severely. It’s self-indulgent and dangerous.
+Sometimes you have to be patient.
This is a tough one, because it’s not something that comes naturally to a lot of people (myself included). Some things take time. Some things take a long-term investment. Sometimes you have to risk your time, your money, you effort, long-term to see the return. That really stinks, huh? You’ll get over it.
E-mail is a huge time-waster that most people don’t even recognize as such. How many times a day do you check your e-mail? What if you only checked it once or twice a day? Try it – once you get used to not checking it every thirty seconds, it’ll seem like you have an extra hour every day. It’s a very freeing experience!
+Consistency leads to quality.
…but quality doesn’t always lead to consistency. If you work consistently, you may start out making really bad art, but you’ll improve. Work allows you to improve: sitting around waiting for your next big idea gets you nowhere.
When starting some project, act right away. It’s much better to learn what went wrong than wish you’d started 10 years ago.
+You’re not going to be perfect.
We all know this, yet we still try to be perfect. We expect to be perfect. Perfectionism is an utterly ridiculous process: agonizing over our work, imagining all of the terrible situations that might occur if there’s just one misatke, lying awake beating ourselves over the head because our idea didn’t go off quite right. Perfectionism isn’t only a bad idea, it’s the artist’s cardinal sin: it keeps amazing work in the closet, it keeps incredible thoughts unexpressed; it’s resistance at its strongest.
+People have worth…
treat them that way and sometimes they surprise you. If you treat people like they’re worthless, they usually do a good job of fulfilling your expectations. If you treat them with special care and appreciation, they rise to the occasion and surprise you. You’re unique and have worth. If you believe that, than everyone around you has worth too. Even the annoying boss. Even the guy who drives really slow on the interstate, even the person who maybe deserves your dislike.
+Don’t do anything motivated by guilt.
I’ve never been able to find a situation where guilt is a valid motivator for personal change. Even when you try to do something good, if it’s motivated by guilt it ends up being sour. Be realistic about your definition of guilt, though! Just because your parents want you to move out of the house before you’re 30, it doesn’t mean that they’re trying to ‘guilt’ you into anything. You need to move out.
+There are multiple types of wealth.
Money is worthless if you’re working 90 hours a week. Likewise, free time is pretty much useless if you’re starving. There are a lot of different kinds of wealth: time, freedom, fulfilling work; all can be worthwhile wealth to pursue. However, be weary of thinking of this as an either/or situation. You can have money and freedom! Look for “and” solutions, but remember that money isn’t the only kind of wealth you might want to get in your life.
+Intentionality multiplies your resources.
If you spend you money on purpose by using a budget, you’ll feel like you have more money. If you spend your time on purpose, you’ll feel like you have more time. Live on purpose as much as you can!
+Acquiring information is not an end, but a means.
If you spent the whole day learning, but didn’t take action on something, the learning doesn’t in itself mean anything. You might feel like you got something done, but you didn’t. I love learning (I can be a bit of a learn-aholic), but it can be deceptive: take action, or learning really isn’t helping you.
+Choose your sansei.
There are lots of teachers out there: it’s important to pick one that fits your style. If my style doesn’t fit you, that’s ok – there are plenty of people who resonate with my message, you can go find your sensei: someone who is more like you. Don’t try to learn from everyone at once and overwhelm yourself; shop around and choose your sensei.
+You can be someone else’s sensei.
There will be other people with similar ideas, dreams, and life outlooks. You don’t have to compromise your message – it will connect with someone. Just be honest and human, and you’ll find people who want to be a part of your personal revolution.
+Qualifications matter… If you’re a doctor.
I only read blogs written by people who have at least a master’s degree. I only look at art by artists who have their MFA. I will only read books by people with a PhD in english literature. These kinds of statements seem really silly in our results-oriented, post-academic world. We care what you’ve done, how you do it, and what you can do for us, not about how many letters you have behind your name.
+Let your boat be light.
“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing. ”
– Jerome K. Jerome
Don’t get bogged down with a lot of stuff. Try practicing a little minimalism in your possessions. More stuff doesn’t necessarily make you happier – it just makes one more pile of junk to move around.
+Money is misery in the absence of character.
People who have essentially endless money still find ways to screw their lives up. I can think of multiple recent incidents of people who seem to have it all messing their lives up in spectacular ways. People who don’t have a lot of money tend to be in the mindset that money can fix all of their problems and make them happy. The truth is excess money will create more problems if you’re a deadbeat.
+Nothing changes by itself.
You have to give it a push. You have to constantly be moving, learning, taking bold action and learning for your mistakes. If you want to change something, get used to action as your way of life: no more of this waiting for things to change. If you’re sitting in one place, pretty soon you’re going to start to grow mold.
+Nothing changes until you change.
Want to have a better life? Change yourself. Want to have a better work environment? Stop whining and change yourself. Control what you can control – you – and accept the rest with equanimity. Whining never changes anything, except your relationships because you drive people away.
+It’s easy to become a member of the “walking dead”.
The walking dead go through life numb, in a passive haze. The don’t connect with people, the don’t make eye contact, they remain plugged into their electronics as often as possible. They’re miserable and dissatisfied with their lives, so the combat it by not caring about anything. They buy designer coffee, and then slurp it down for the caffeine, not even tasting it. They buy expensive cars with huge payments to impress their neighbors, but they don’t enjoy them. The simply exist, go through the motions at a job they can’t stand, then sit down and go into a television coma for the evening, while eating some slop to keep their bodies running for one more day.
It’s terribly easy to become on of the walking dead. Stay alive. Stay hungry.
+It’s always an attitude problem.
When people really annoy you, when work depresses you, when traffic infuriates you, when your boss grates on your nerves, when everything around you seems to be set up to make you fail and cause you to be miserable, it’s almost never a circumstantial problem. It’s possible that you might have to change where you are, but it’s more likely that you’ve got an attitude problem. Adjust your attitude, and all of these problems may just evaporate.
+Stress is a choice.
I don’t care if everything in your being screams otherwise, 99% of your stress in your choice. You’re choosing to stress. You’re choosing to hurt yourself. People can’t stress you out without your permission. You’re the problem.
+Everyone is an artist.
I don’t care who you are, or if you can’t even draw a stick figure; you’re an artist. You may have lost touch with what your art is, you may never have found it, but you have something that you love that you can give to the world as a gift. Maybe your art is human connection, maybe your art is making clothing, maybe your art is gardening, or making coffee. You don’t have to pick up a paintbrush. We’re all artists.
+The common factor is always you.
If something doesn’t work for you over and over again, chances are the problem is you. Have a string of failed relationships? Your exes didn’t conspire together to make your life miserable: you’re the common factor. Been fired over and over again? You haven’t had a string of lousy jobs: you’re the common factor. Look for patterns in your life. See who the source is.
+If you’re introverted, don’t try to be an extrovert.
This isn’t to say you use your introversion as an excuse to stay in your house for years at a time (we all need human connection), but you don’t have to be the life of the party. You’re not broken if you aren’t out with half a dozen people every weekend. Introverts have unique abilities and insights that can only be released when they allow their personalities to flourish! If you’re trying to be an extrovert and that’s not a fit, you might miss some quiet brilliance that can’t make it through the noise.
+Putting life on hold breeds regret.
Waiting until some later date to live, to act, to be happy, is a recipe for regret. How many people just put their lives on hold “until…”? Until the kids are out of the house. Until I’m done with college. Until I retire (that’s a big one). “Until” never comes. Live now: find a way to make your dreams happen right now, not at some future date that never arrives.
+Put in the time.
To do anything incredible, it takes an enormous amount of time and energy. Put in your time. Don’t just do busywork in hopes that something amazing will come of it, but you simply won’t get good at X overnight, or without effort. There aren’t any shortcuts: you have spend the time to get there. Enjoy the journey!
+If you try to change everything at once, you’ll change nothing.
Sweeping reforms are deceptional. They make you feel good for a time, but none of your big changes are around two days later. Real change takes more focus: you have to take one thing at a time, and hammer it until your brain stops complaining about how painful it is. If you try to hammer too many habits at once, your brain goes on lockdown: one thing at a time, please!
+Giving is the most fun you can have with money.
Have you ever left a really huge tip, just because you could? Have you ever bought coffee for the guy behind you in drive through? These actions don’t have to be completely unselfish to make a difference: trust me, giving like this will give you more gratification than the tip is worth to you, and you’ve helped out someone who probably really needs your help.
+”Because that’s how I’ve always done it” is NOT a reason.
‘nough said, I guess.
+Set a timer, and you’ll produce.
Somehow, inspiration comes when I set a timer. If I want to write a 500 word article, let’s say that I can write it usually in half an hour. If I set a timer, I can easily cut that in half. My mind wakes up, my competitive spirit kicks in, and the thoughts flow. Set a timer, and see what happens.
+You can’t change someone without their permission.
You can try: you can preach, cajole, yell, threaten, manipulate or bribe someone, but you can’t change them if they don’t want to change. You don’t have control over them. You don’t even have influence over them, except by example, until they ask for your influence.
+Failure happens. Chase things that might fail.
Failing stinks. It’s going to happen. It gets easier, especially when you see success along with the failure. Learning from failure is key: if you don’t learn, you going to just keep falling over the same rock every single time. Anything worth doing puts you at some level of risk: try it anyway.
+There is no “sure thing”.
This applies to success as well as to failure. There’s no golden bullet, no surefire investment, no money machine. But guess what? There’s no glass ceiling (anymore), there’s no secret club, there’s no one stopping you. Except you.
+Contentment, not complacency.
Now, go rock your world.
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UPDATE: Awesome reader Mary Karpel did her own version of 34 things! She’s got some great insights. Check it out!