40 things I’ve learned in my 40 years

1. Rule number 1
Don’t panic. Whatever is happening around, you take a breath and get a grip of yourself. Whatever it is, you can deal with it. You’ve dealt with everything up to this point and you’ll deal with this too.

2. Winning
Nice guys finish last. But it’s not always about finishing first, sometimes it’s about how you run the race.

3. Change
Life is a dynamic situation, things change, get used to it.

4. Karma
Karma’s a bitch. Especially if you’re counting on it to right some wrong done to you.

5. Behaviour
There is no such thing as good people and bad people, there are just people with both good and bad behaviours.

6. Planning
Nothing beats having a plan. If you want something, make a plan, make it happen. And have a back-up plan.

7. Consequences
You can’t have your cake and eat it. There are always consequences to every decision and action. There are always benefits and costs, positives and negatives in everything.

8. Choices
Make choices that give you another choice another day. This doesn’t mean procrastinate, just that limiting your options is a bad idea.

9. Need
It’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. But you don’t need much.

10. Money
Thing about money is, you always have less than you want and more than you need.

11. Reading behaviour
Behaviour is communication. People will tell you how they feel, what they think, if they’re lying or telling the truth. All you have to do is learn to read their behaviour.

12. Driving
Three things you need to do to drive safely on a motorway; look as far ahead as possible and react now, always maintain your braking distance, and don’t change lanes into someone else’s blind spot.

13. Love
Love is an emotional attachment to someone or something that overwhelms reason. We develop these attachments as a means of fulfilling emotional needs within ourselves. Those needs can be about getting something from someone else, or about giving something of ourselves. There’s a big difference between love and loving. Love is a passive thing, loving is active. Loving someone means putting them first, above everything else, whether it feels good or hurts like hell. Someone might not be loving you how you want them to, but it might be all they are capable of. It’s up to you whether that’s good enough or not.

14. Health.
Being healthy means something different for each of us, but drinking water, eating fruit and vegetables, and getting regular exercise is probably a good start.

15. Experience.
Experiences are a good thing, especially when you’re young. They make you more interesting when you get old. Seek out new experiences, take on new challenges, do as many different things as you can while you can. Some of them you’ll look back on as mistakes and wonder what the hell you were thinking, and some of them you’ll consider defining moments, but all of them get you to where you are going.

16. Attitude
Life happens to all of us. The only difference is the attitude with which you approach it.

17. Learning
The most important thing you can learn is how to learn. We think (because schools told us) that everyone learns the same way and some people are good at it and some people aren’t. It’s not true. Everyone is just as capable of learning, you just need to find out what learning style fits you best (are you a watcher, a talker, or a doer), and then you’ll be able to suit the lessons to your style and learn whatever you want to. I’ve seen kids go blank when trying to learn about triangles from a book, but get them modeling plasticine or drawing big triangles on the floor and they get it straight away.

18. Self-improvement
Improving ourselves mentally, physically, and emotionally should be a high priority for all of us. Unfortunately it rarely is. If you can motivate yourself to learn new things, read books, talk to clever and/or interesting people, get regular exercise, spend time with friends, be on your own, meditate, pray, etc., you’ll see benefits over and over again. Self-improvement is different for us all so do whatever works for you.

19. Negative people
Some people feel so weak and powerless that they need to hurt others in order to make themselves feel better. Some people need to experience their life vicariously. Some people are just miserable. Get rid of negative, destructive people from your life. Do it now.

21. Footwear
Get a good pair of boots. They’ll take you a long way.

22. Skills
Robert Heinlein said, “Specialisation is for insects”, and he was right. Being a generalist is far more useful. Learn to do as many different things as possible. Have as a broad a range of skills as you can. Learn how to tie a shoe lace properly (you’d be surprised how many people can’t), learn to programme a computer, play a musical instrument, swim, use a compass, drive a tractor, saw a piece of wood straight, brush long hair, etc., etc. The list is endless and you never know when some random skill is going to come in handy.

23. Managing yourself
Learn how to manage yourself. Learn how to organise yourself, set goals and objectives, prioritise, manage your time effectively, communicate, and negotiate. Learn how to listen, how to speak clearly, how to lead and how to follow. Self-management skills are vital for success in whatever you do.

24. Managing others
Learn how to manage others. Learn how to develop shared goals, how to get buy-in, and how to work with people you may not even like. Learn how to manage people’s expectations, how to be clear about your expectations, how to work with people who work in very different ways to you, and how to deal with other people’s failures. Managing others is a vital skill for success in whatever you do.

25. Overrated
Intelligence is a great thing, but it’s overrated. Stupid people achieve amazing things all the time. Health is a great thing, but it’s overrated. Unhealthy people live long happy lives.

26. Systems
Everything exists in systems, all kinds of systems interconnected, working together, and working against each other. Understanding how systems work is very useful, and very important for feeling empowered to be in control of your life and make changes to the world around you. Fighting against systems that don’t even care if you exist is completely futile.

27. Happiness
Happiness is an acceptance of the status quo, and the pursuit of happiness is about trying to get to some idealised version of your life and then keeping it the same. But life doesn’t work that way. Things change (I may have mentioned that before), and so trying to keep things the same is never going to work and will only cause more misery. Ironic perhaps, but the pursuit of happiness is the cause of unhappiness. Not seeking happiness, but instead accepting a constantly changing life will make you far more… well, not happy, but maybe something else that is ok.

28. Challenge.
Life is full of challenges. I wish I could say ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, but that isn’t true. Some of the challenges make you stronger and some of them knock you down. Some should be faced head on and some of them are best avoided. The better you get at knowing which are which, the better you will get at choosing which challenges to take on. Pick your battles.

29. Education
Education isn’t about learning a piece of knowledge, it’s about learning how to think in a specific way. Kids ask why they should learn about things like poetry when they’ll never need it when they grow up, but what they don’t understand (and the teachers don’t tell them or maybe understand themselves), is that being able to think metaphorically, read between the lines, grasp fuzzy concepts, communicate persuasively, and get across ideas in interesting and engaging ways is something they are going to need as adults. Studying poetry teaches that way of thinking, just as maths teaches a different way of thinking, and biology teaches a different way still. Learning to think in different ways is what education is really about (and I mean education in the purest sense of the word, not edu-exam-passing-qualification-getting-cation).

30. It’s not about you
It’s not personal. Whatever it is, it really isn’t personal, however much it feels like it. If someone is doing something negative to you, you need to understand that it’s because of what’s going on in their head, but it isn’t about you. If some catastrophe takes place, and you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it isn’t about you.

31. Know the facts
Evidence wins arguments. Proof trumps opinion. Facts beat guessing. Whatever the topic of discussion or decision to be made, knowing the facts and being able to provide the evidence means you are more likely to make the right decision and reach the right conclusion. Know the facts.

32. Contribute
Find something outside yourself that is important to you, something that you believe in, and contribute to it. Do something that makes it better and stronger. Whether it’s the life of an individual, or a charity, or doing random things to make the world a better place. It doesn’t have to be big bold gestures, sometimes it’s the small, behind-the-scenes things that have the biggest impact.

33. Complications
The more you look, the more you see. Things are always more complicated than they seem.

34. Work in progress
It’s all a work in progress. You, me, your life, my life, everybody else and everybody else’s life, every company, every government, the planet, and the whole entire universe.

35. Saving money
For most of my life I didn’t think about the future, always lived day-by-day and didn’t save any money. I’ve always thought that money is a representation of energy but it took a while for it to occur to me that I could store that energy by saving money. Saving money is a way of storing effort, enthusiasm, knowledge, skill and experience, and all those other non-physical things that only exist in the moment, so that you can spend them later. Saving money is a really good idea. And keeping an Emergency Fund topped up and ready for those rainy days when things go wrong is another good idea.

36. Confrontation
Learn how to deal with confrontation. Learn how to keep yourself calm in difficult situations and think clearly so that you can diffuse situations rather than make them worse. If someone is being aggressive towards you, the quicker you can understand their motivations and what is really going on for them (especially as they probably won’t understand it themselves), the quicker you’ll know what are the right things to say and do to resolve the conflict.

37. Expectations
People will never meet your expectations. They will hurt you, help you, make you smile, let you down, surprise you, and shock you, but never in the way you expect.

38. Return On Investment
Return On Investment is an important concept to learn. It’s important in business, and it’s important in personal life. If the time, effort or money you put into something is less than what you get out then you have a negative return on investment. A negative ROI will quickly drain you, your energy and/or your bank account. So, you should aim to have as many things as possible in your life with a positive ROI, things which give you more than you put in, things with more benefits than costs.

39. Focus
I try to do too much. Always have. Sometimes it works for me and I get loads done. Sometimes it doesn’t work for me and I get behind. But, when I focus on just a few things and put everything else aside I always achieve more. Learn to compartmentalise all the things going on in your head, to block out the things that get in way, and to concentrate on the things that matter. Learn to focus.

40. Uniqueness
Everyone is unique. I don’t mean that we are all precious snowflakes, but that each of us has our own set of skills, and while others may have the same skills, if you can bring together two or more skills in a niche arena, you can make yourself unique, and very valuable.