Someone asked, on Quora, “What are the most difficult things people have to learn in their twenties”?
Normally, I wouldn’t answer a question like this: I’m not sure the lessons I learned in my twenties are of much use to anybody else, anywhere in the world. But I had spent time looking back, retracing my life’s steps and missteps, thinking about what I want my children to learn without doing the stupid things I’ve done. Maybe others could benefit, too?
So In no particular order, here are some things I really, really wish I had known when I was twenty.
- Love hurts, but not as much as not loving.
- The friendships you nurture will have a greater effect on your life than where you work or what you earn.
- You are not your job. You are not your bankroll. You are not the sum of your possessions.
- The company does not love you. It has no heart. You are replaceable. Keep your parachute handy.
- Few decisions will ever shape your future life more than who you choose to marry. To marry well, you must choose well.
- Love is a commitment.
- Believe it or not, passions grow out of your values. Make early, wise choices to value what (and who) is good, trustworthy, and praiseworthy.
- Integrity preserved is honor won.
- Rejoice in your health. It fades fast.
- Find a passion. Pick a hobby, own it: photography, juggling—whatever. Get your 10K hours of perfect practice in early and change your life.
- Don’t bother comparing yourself to others—this only leads to heartbreak, anger, and disappointment.
- Most disappointments grow from unmet expectations. Set realistic expectations for yourself, based on your strengths, then strive to exceed them.
- Don’t drive others to meet expectations they’ve committed to — lead, inspire, and help them do it.
- Don’t set expectations for others when they haven’t or cannot commit to them.
- Don’t complain. Either change your situation, learn to cope, or change your perspective.
- Don’t worry about making big bucks out of the gate, worry first about doing whatever you have to do excellently.
- Little stuff matters—even in lowly jobs. The boss notices and even if not, your peers and colleagues do.
- Ultimately, privacy is a myth: God sees everything. The cloud records everything. NSA files everything. So, live transparently and don’t waste useless energy hiding failures.
- Don’t look down on others because they don’t have what you didn’t earn—your intellect, your beauty, and your culture of birth are undeserved gifts…be humble.
- Failure is an opportunity: no great man or woman ever achieved significance without great failures to learn from.
- Never withhold an apology when it’s merited. Deliver it quickly, sincerely, and personally—before resentment festers.
- You don’t need to nurture old guilt when you’re forgiven. But remembering the shame can help you avoid repeats.
- Mere belief in anything signifies little more than assent. It’s trust and behavior that reveal where convictions lie.
- The main thing you need to do quickly is to stop doing things quickly. Trade hurry for calm, confidence, and precision.
- Everybody needs an editor. Everybody.
- Get your work done first so you can play without guilt. Even better, make work play and the fun never ends!
- If you want to develop your passion and gift, stop worrying about the things you do poorly. Go with your strengths!
- Avoid fights. Seriously. Avoid them like a plague: nobody wins in a fight, even if you walk away unscathed. But when a fight picks you, leave everything on the mat and give it your all. Hold nothing back.
- If you’re bored, you’re doing it wrong.
- The skills that will help your career most are the abilities to assimilate, communicate, and persuade. Keep learning.
- Nothing in this life—no pain, no agony, no failure—compares to the eternal joy of Heaven. Live in light of eternity.
- Protect your joy. Nothing is easier to lose by over-thinking, overanalyzing, and second-guessing. On the other hand, always consider the long-term consequences of your choices: stupid decisions made in the moment can rob you of years of joy and happiness.
- Your purpose in life determines how you frame events. You can maintain your joy in the most dire circumstances if you find meaning for your life. Dig deep.
- It truly matters what you think about. Think well by reading good books, building good, loving relationships, having good conversation, and imitating great people.
I’m still learning — in fact I haven’t fully appreciated most of the list I made, myself. And I’m still adding to it. But I’m getting better!
Note: When I submitted this answer on Quora, I had no idea that it would generate the response it has. To date, this answer has been viewed 76 thousand times and has been “upvoted” nearly 2,400 times. The most amazing thing is that people from all over the world have commented and messaged me, letting me know how important these lessons are for them, how certain items resonate with them deeply, and how they wish they’d learned these lessons early on, too. I’m stunned that the list of lessons resonates across so many diverse cultures and worldviews. It’s amazing and reminds me how universal our experiences and foibles can be sometimes.