This month marks my 30th birthday! Being a milestone (decade) year, I thought I would take the chance to reflect a bit on what I’ve learned so far in my life. In many ways, I still feel like a baby when I compare my current wisdom and knowledge to the seemingly infinite amount that is possible to obtain. Nonetheless, here are some things I’ve picked up thus far through my own experience. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but is mainly centered around what’s going on in my life right now. (Note: I got the idea from a post on Man vs. Debt).
Experiences are more important than possessions
Possessions can still be fun, but usually, they are just a distraction from what’s really most important – they’re a big money pit as well. Yes, I still bought an iPad (and even paid extra to have it brought to Costa Rica), and although fun, I still find it to be time sapper and a money pit. It can easily take me away from doing other things I should be doing. I guess this is a lesson I’m still in the process of learning. :) On the other hand, I sold almost everything I own because I realize that most of it was unnecessary and not really contributing to my comfort or happiness. I don’t really need more than 7 shirts, for example, and I feel much more free and light with less “stuff” to worry about.
Money can buy freedom
No, I’m not talking about bailing someone out of jail, although it could do that, too. I used to think the main purpose of money was to buy “stuff”. But now I realize that money can buy assets that are much more valuable, such as time, security, and freedom. If you have enough money, you’re free from worrying about covering monthly bills or losing a job, free to do more of the things you enjoy, with more time to enjoy it. You also have more resources (including time) to give and help others. It’s very liberating and empowering. Money is not evil. Rather, it is a powerful tool for good or evil, depending on how you use it.
Stay close to God and you will be happy no matter what
There is something special in the power that comes through seeking God in prayer, meditation, and reading holy writ. It brings peace through adversity, hope through trials, and joy throughout life. I believe that without a relationship with God, a man is just half a man and will never achieve a fulness of life.
Most people hold themselves back by fear
As I’ve broken away from the mold of society in many ways the past few years, I’ve been shocked to learn how fearful many people are of the unknown, even if the unknown can lead to something much better. Fear causes anxiety, stress, health problems, and unhappiness. Fear also inhibits growth. It’s better to believe that anything’s possible, face challenges head-on, and work to make your dreams happen. It’s a lot more fun and exciting, too. Sure, problems will come up along the way, but few are uncorrectable. And the ones that are usually can’t be controlled anyway, so why worry about them? Fear just holds you back from growth and enjoyment of life.
Don’t listen to the masses
Most people don’t have a clue about why they do things the way they do. They just do them because it’s what everyone else does. Even if it doesn’t make sense or they hate it, they don’t usually stop to consider alternatives. Or if they do, they’re too held back by fear (see above) to make any changes. This leads to major problems. Three examples that are going to label me as an extremist, until you take time to think about them:
- School is not education. Education and learning are life-long processes. Sending kids to school, away from the family for 4-8 hours a day, to memorize information they don’t care about 90% of the time, and will most likely never use, is not the same as education, and is not necessary for a happy and productive life. Then there’s the busywork – I mean homework that’s assigned to eat up kids time outside of school. Why not just learn on your own about whatever you’re interested in (unschool / self-directed education)? Much more interesting. Much more direct. Much more useful. The Internet is a great teacher. Of course human teachers are still helpful in many fields, but you can find them outside of the school environment as tutors and specialists in your fields of interest. Our kids are leading their own education and doing great!
- Jobs suck life. Everyone seems to think that a great goal in life (and the purpose of school as well) is to get a job. But this job demands you to be gone (again, away from your family), for 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week, with only 2 weeks of vacation per year, causing many people great anticipation for weekends and retirement. Why do people put up with that? What you’re actually doing is making some entrepreneur wealthy, putting your livelihood in someone else’s hands, and delaying your life until you’re 60 (unless you honestly enjoy your job, which few do). There is no such thing as job security – they could fire you whenever they want. Why not flip the equation and be the entrepreneur that creates jobs for other people? If you’re smart about it, you can even structure your business to run on its own, so you make money whether you work or not, giving you control of your time and your life, rather than an employer or your business. I love this part of owning a business. Being willing to live with less can make this a reality much more quickly as well.
- Good food is hard to find. Nothing is as healthy as wholesome, fresh food. Fruits, vegetables, and meats from grass-fed animals (eaten sparingly). Unfortunately, most of what we find in supermarkets and that is marketed to us in advertising is full of processed sugars and corn, injected with chemical vitamin supplements to replace a portion of the lost nutritional value, and is generally not all that good for you, causing a myriad of diseases. This rakes in money for both the food and medical industry, but is not good for our health. A better way? Shop at farmer’s markets, grow your own food, don’t snack on junk. Fruit tastes better anyway. I’ve been trying to do this lately and it feels great. I still eat junk on occasion, but usually don’t feel that great afterward.
Still think I’m crazy? Oh well. I’ve decided not to let what the masses are doing dictate how I live my life. It just holds me back, and sucks out a lot of potential, control, and joy.
Persistence, desire, and refusing to give up is what it takes to achieve a goal. Any goal. No dream is too big if your desire is strong enough and you’re willing to work at it. I’ve experienced this so many times in my life in so many areas that I no longer believe excuses to the contrary. You can do anything!
People are more important than things and experiences
As nice as it feels to have stuff and to do exciting things, nothing feels as good as a loving relationship with someone you care about. Serving and helping others, doing something for someone that they can’t do for themselves, giving of your time and means and being a friend all fill a great need in the human heart. And some relationships can last forever.
Achievement isn’t everything
I am naturally driven to achieve, to create, to perform. Sometimes too much. I have learned that sometimes it’s really okay just to “be” – to take time to do nothing “productive”, but just sit and listen and enjoy being alive. Life isn’t a race to see how quickly you can reach perfection. Life is a journey to be enjoyed along the way. Growth comes through experience.
Producing is more fun than consuming
Watching TV or movies, reading, listening to music, buying and using products and services, looking at art – all enjoyable. But what’s even more enjoyable is creating things yourself. Making music, writing your thoughts in a journal or a blog, building a business, creating art. What you create not only blesses you, but also those you share it with – double the fun. And it comes from deep inside you, giving you a greater sense of purpose and meaning by contributing in a way that only you can do.
Keep your wife happy
My wife is my best friend and companion and I love her more than I can say. She lifts me up and helps me see my potential and areas I can grow, as well as my strengths. I enjoy being with her and am glad we have so much time together. But I have also found the old saying to be true, “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” I’ve learned that if I do whatever it takes to keep her happy, things go much more smoothly. And she returns the favor, too. Everyone benefits. This is a relationship I want to last forever.
Kids need attention and play
Raising kids isn’t easy, and it’s not for the idle. They need lots of love and attention, and they need you to “play” with them. My 6 and 4-year-old ask me every day, multiple times a day if I will play “paper fairies” or “stuffed animals” or something else with them. I admit that sometimes I don’t really want to, and I often don’t really enjoy it when I do. It seems that I forgot how to truly lose myself in this type of play a long time ago, but I’m trying to learn from them how to do it again. I have, however, rekindled my love for hide-and-seek, exploring nature, and creating things. And I love reading to and with my kids. Most of all, though, I enjoy just talking with them, asking them questions and listening to their answers, or answering their questions. Parenting is hard work, but it also brings a lot of joy.
So, these are some of the things I’ve learned so far in my short lifetime. There is a ton more to learn, and I hope to never stop progressing. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned in your life, too, so share your comments below. Have you learned similar things to what I’ve learned, or is your experience completely different?