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30 Life Lessons From 30 Years

I often cringe at such listicles but here I am writing one.

I cringe because humanity keeps finding the same principles to be true and yet every time we discover it, it feels new.

Perhaps we enjoy reading lessons other people share to ensure we’ve found the same things to be true.

I know that a younger version of me wouldn’t care about this because she thought she knew better and the future me would think I still had so much to learn.

I won’t tell you anything you don’t already know.

I’m writing this as self-reflection, as thinking out loud kind of thing.

I do not hope you will learn something from it. But I hope that some things will resonate. 

1. If my thinking is black-and-white, it means I don’t know enough about the topic

I probably saw something in passing and tricked myself into thinking I had an opinion. 

Black-and-white thinking doesn’t work in the real world because everything in life is context-dependent.

2. Judging is easier than empathy

“It requires less mental effort to condemn than to think.” — Emma Goldman

Even though there are evolutionary reasons for judgment, in terms of subjective experience it creates a sense of separation — either more or less than someone else. 

“A man who judges himself inferior superior or even equal to another does not understand reality.” — Buddha

3. I‘m (mostly) not rational

I live in a world that requires me to pretend I’m rational alongside everybody else. 

But most of my decisions and opinions are cognitive biases, crony beliefs, mimetic desires and unconscious processing of info appearing in my conscious mind that I then rationalize.

4. The inner processes are ever-shifting

Don’t expect to arrive there or get stuck on the right way to think/do/be. Life is fluid. There’s more than one way to deal with everything.

Practice saying I’m changing my mind instead of I changed my mind. Minor detail, major mindset difference.

5. Quality over quantity friendships

To foster a friendship, you need to invest time. Because friendships get built on shared experiences, investing time in random people takes away resources from friends you do care about. 

“Remote relationships cost you real relationships. Every minute you spend cultivating relationships with people through a screen is a minute you’re not deepening relationships with people you can actually see, touch and smell.” (Nat Eliason)

6. Travelling is fun until you wake up to realize you don’t have stability

I spent the last 5 years travelling/living in SE Asia with short trips back to Europe. But that cost me stability and building a network. 

I have family here, friends over there, community somewhere else entirely. It’s too scattered. 

Quality life requires both stability and adventure.

7. Be wary of fake dopamine hits

There are many things masquerading as doing that waste time. Avoid mental masturbation.

8. You can’t earn self-worth because it’s free

It’s like trying to earn oxygen. You can’t, oxygen is. 

Don’t spend time earning what’s inherent.

9. Most advice is too sanitized to work

I already talked about it here

Less reading vague advice from people online and more of finding mentors or community who are going through the same thing you are.

10. Serendipity masquerades as a skill

“Risk and luck are doppelgangers. NOTHING in life happens solely due to individual effort. The world is too complex for all of your actions to dictate 100% of your outcomes.” — Morgan Housel

I see many successful people preaching how hard they worked. I believe them. The part they struggle to acknowledge though is 100s if not 1000s of factors that had nothing to do with them.

Life is a dance between you and the Universe. Don’t be too delusional to acknowledge that.

11. No one’s thinking about you

Not quite true because the higher you rise, the more people feel obliged to have an opinion about you.

Don’t waste time on bullshit that are other people’s opinions. If you wouldn’t ask for their advice, don’t take the criticism.

12. Stay in touch with your body

In a world run by talking heads, listen to yourself/intuition/your body.

I don’t care what diet, exercise routine, investment vehicle or productivity hack is trending. You can’t think your way into a better life. 

Doing as ‘thought leaders’ advice will make you temporarily happy because your actions will be socially accepted by the tribe but you get further from yourself.

13. Be careful when giving advice

Not just unsolicited advice (nobody cares what you think unless they ask).

Most people ask for advice to shift responsibility onto you or pretend (for themselves) that they want to do something about their situation.

If someone keeps asking for advice but doesn’t act on it, stop giving advice.

In the same vein — do not take advice from people who haven’t done the inner work. 

They will push their narrative and beliefs on you. There isn’t enough self-awareness and empathy there to advise well.

14. Life is a paradox

“Life is not a problem to be solved. It’s a paradox to experience. You can believe one thing and also believe its opposite.” — Derek Sivers

Two or more things are true at the same time.

15. People are not what they show, but what they don’t show

Everybody’s hiding something. Fear, insecurity, secrets…

As the CIA found, humans have 3 faces: 

  • Public self (how we want to appear to others)
  • Private self (what your closest confidants know about you)
  • Secret self (side to you you almost never share with anyone). 

When you judge someone as successful, you’re looking at their public self whilst comparing your private or secret selves to them. 

That’s why you feel bad — the gap feels large.

I used to work with successful people and I will reiterate — EVERYONE has a private and secret self they don’t show. And there’s some really fucked up stuff in there too.

16. Taking responsibility

“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, the responsibility lies with you.” — J.K. Rowling

This is hands down the best decision I’ve made in my early twenties.

Your parents can’t be your scapegoat. Take responsibility.

17. Do therapy and coaching

“You can’t read the label from inside the jar.” - Jordan Gray

You can’t fully see yourself. Finding a good therapist or coach will help you see your blind spots.

18. Meditate to inspect reality

Nothing is what it appears to be. Everything is made up of consciousness and there’s no separation between you and the outside world.

This isn’t a religious or philosophical statement. You don’t need to believe it, you only need to see it for yourself.

The greatest crime is 
The overlooking of 
Who you really are 
In favour of 
The story of 
Who you think you are. 
This preoccupation with 
Your personal drama is 
The cloud that masks 
The sun. 
-Wu Hsin

19. Anyone can give you what you want

Can anyone else give me what I want? Yes, if I accept what works for me and leave the rest, I always get what I want. Take what works and move on.

20. Humanity is insane

My thoughts and confusion about humanity have already been described best by George Bernard Shaw:

“The longer I live, the more convinced am I that this
 planet is used by other planets as a lunatic asylum.”

21. Regularly evaluate the people in your life

You really are the average of people you’re surrounded with. They pass their mental model to you.

Spending time with someone = downloading their software into your brain.

22. Everything you consume or experience affects you

Like building blocks, every seemingly irrelevant or little bit of information creates your experience.

“Everything you ever sense, in touch or taste or sight or thought, has an effect on you greater than zero.” - Gregory David Roberts

Be diligent and discerning in what you consume.

23. Health is your first wealth

Best health decisions:

  • Quit drinking alcohol at 22
  • Stayed active
  • Prioritised sleep
  • Ate according to my body’s needs not society’s standards
  • Started eating meat after being a vegetarian for 8 years

24. This too shall pass

Ancient wisdom, modern cliche — but it’s true.

Think of the worst thing that ever happened to you and tell me — where is it now? 

Think of the best thing that ever happened to you — where is it?

Even your experience reading this disappears the moment it arises.

You can’t hold on to anything.

Life too shall pass — be flexible.

25. Know your values

If you don’t know why you live or what you want, someone else will decide for you.

“If you don’t choose what you worship it will be chosen for you. Because everybody worships something.” – David Foster Wallace

26. Have older friends

They’ve seen more, understood more and are wiser (does not apply to everyone). 

Another bonus is that they aren’t your parents so you may be more open to their advice even if they say the same thing your parents would (I’m guilty as charged).

27. Don’t complain

Because nobody cares. The sooner you realize this the better it will be for others around you. 

You will feel better about yourself too + complainers attract complainers.

28. Intuitions about happiness are wrong

I will be happy when… is the biggest illusion.

The goalpost once you achieve something just keeps moving.

Our predictions about how happy we’ll be (winning the lottery) are not as high as we think they would be and our predictions about unhappiness (a car accident) are not as low as we think they would be.

“You can’t get happy, you can only be happy.” — Werner Erhard

29. Believe in yourself

It’s one of the few things that can’t be taken away from you.

Spend time cultivating trust and confidence. Train to be supportive, reliable, trustworthy and appreciative of yourself.

  • Respect yourself
  • Be kind in self-dialogue
  • Listen to your inner, authentic voice
  • Trust that you will figure it out and bounce back even when you fail.

30. Everyone is your mirror

How we think of and treat other people is a reflection of how we think of and treat ourselves.

Further observations

  • When making a decision, big or small, ask: ‘Do I want to have done this?’
  • You really don’t know what someone is going through so be kind. 
  • Being honest with yourself and others brings you closer to the truth, connection and authenticity.
  • You don’t owe anything to anyone — choose to give from love not obligation.
  • Think about death more to put things into perspective.

I feel compelled to say that living by all these lessons perfectly every moment of every day has happened 0 times in the last 30 years.

Sometimes I act in a way closer to this and other times I’m as far off as you can get. 

I feel like a different person compared to a year ago. And wildly different to a 20-year-old me.

I think that’s what growth feels like. You add a little grain of wisdom to the sand castle that is your life and then you die. It’s up to you what you do in between.