September 15

Five Life Lessons I Wish I Had Known Sooner

People, especially the rich and famous, often get asked what they regret most. Their answers vary. Some are truthful. Others makeup stuff that sounds erudite but, in reality, is quite banal. And then there are those who say they never look back and have no regrets. Good for them, I guess.

A lot of self-help literature touts the notion of living a life with no regrets, and for good reason. Nothing good ever happens when we wallow in the past. But with maturity, it is possible to look in the rearview mirror to learn some obvious-in-hindsight lessons.

I did just that—looked back and found some gems—five life lessons I wish I had understood earlier. Now, only time will tell whether I can fully embody these teachings.

Five Time-tested life lessons

Here are five incontrovertible life truths I wish someone had told me years ago. It’s possible, likely even, that someone did tell me. But I had a case of youth and “Iknowitall”itis and never paid attention until now. So here we are:

1. If you aren’t at least mildly embarrassed by what you said/did/thought/wrote in the past – you are not growing enough.

Looking back at my life, I realize I’ve spent most of it in ignorant bliss. Some of my past actions make me chuckle. A few others are mildly embarrassing. And then there are things I’ve said and done that are pretty mortifying. The good news, apparently, is that this is called self-awareness and is a sign of personal growth. Phew!

And I’m in great company.

Kate Winslet said this about her most famous and iconic movie role in the Titanic:

Every single scene, I’m like - Really, really? You did it like that? Oh my God…I have a hard time watching any of my performances but watching Titanic, I was just like, ‘Oh God, I want to do that again.’

2. There will always be someone better than you in what you do.

Life keeps reminding us at every turn that the world is full of amazing people, and there’s no point indulging in deflating comparisons. Here’s an example.

Recently, I stood at a marathon's start line chatting up a fellow runner about to run his first full marathon. For non-runners, here’s some context: the start line of a marathon is an interesting place because where else can you find a bunch of loonies who pay for the privilege of torturing themselves for 26 miles? It’s not uncommon in such a like-minded group for people to dispense (and receive) free advice.

And so, feeling rather smug about being in my 25th marathon, I offered the debut runner some unsolicited advice. I explained how full marathons are just a mental game and how he needed to pace himself for the race, explaining, quite literally and obviously, that he was about to run a marathon and not sprint. Duh!

An older gentleman joined the conversation and mentioned he had run a “few” marathons himself. Curious, I asked him, “How many?” His answer? He was about to run his 175th race. Enough said.

No matter what you do, there will always be someone richer/prettier/stronger/smarter/better than you. The wise thing to do is to be inspired, not jealous.

3. Ups and downs never last. Even when we think they do.

Every tide changes. The stock market cannot keep climbing up or lose value forever. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But most of us never seem to internalize this idea. We loll around and mope endlessly when things don’t go our way or do ridiculous things like get tattoos to celebrate relationships that vaporize before the ink has time to dry.

4. Deadlines are a good thing.

I used to hang on to projects because I always tried to improve and make them perfect (at least in my mind). In the end, though, I realized that I'd abandon most projects in my quest for perfection because I could never get them perfect enough.

I changed my philosophy a few years ago, adopting a “done is better than perfect” approach. This very blog, for instance, is an example. I set myself a Friday publishing deadline, which means I write what I can during the week. Sometimes (rarely), I’m content with what I put out; other times, I wish the writing was tighter, or the articles had more depth and clarity. But I stick to the schedule, more-or-less, and this consistent frequency has helped me write faster.

Author and blogger extraordinaire Seth Godin wrote in his book The Practice.

The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship. Shipping means hitting the publish button on your blog, showing a presentation to the sales team, answering the phone, selling the muffins, and sending out your references. Shipping is the collision between your work and the outside world.

Another advantage to shipping constantly is that it helps you recover—if your last shipment was a dud, you know you have another one along the way. And the way to ship is to set yourself a deadline.

Always demand a deadline. A deadline weeds out the extraneous and the ordinary. It prevents you from trying to make it perfect, so you have to make it different. Different is better. And deadlines are the difference between a dream and something that you complete. Kevin Kelly.

5. It is never too late to start.

It’s never too late to start.

The person I referenced earlier in this article who had run 175 marathons told me he didn’t start running until he was in his forties.

Looking back at all my tasks since I woke up this morning, I can categorically say that almost 80% of these involve skills I’ve acquired in the last few years.

You can teach an old dog new tricks. As long as you and the dog are patient.

Finally, in the words of Stephen Colbert,

Don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise.



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