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13 Lessons Life Has Taught Me

13 Lessons Life Has Taught Me

You don’t have to learn life lessons the hard way. It would be senseless to do so when there is an easier alternative: Learn other people’s lessons by truly believing that they apply to you.

We are unique but we’re not all that special.

When it comes down to it, as humans, we’re all very similar. We have almost identical DNA and not surprisingly, we share similar experiences. This is great news because you can save yourself time, money and energy by learning lessons the easy way from others who have learned them the hard way.

Here are some lessons that have changed the way I live:

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1. It’s not personal. It rarely ever is.

The person who cuts you in line doesn’t want to cut you. They just want to get to the front. When you stop taking things personally, you’ll feel better and your relationships will improve dramatically. Even in cases when it is personal, your life will be better if you treat it as if it wasn’t. If you don’t believe me, I won’t take it personally.

2. Never make anyone feel small, including yourself.

I didn’t realize this until I read Kevin Hall‘s book, Aspire. He explains the Hindi word genshai, which means never to treat others — or yourself — in a way to make them feel small. The part about not making others feel small was obvious. What struck me was the inclusion of “or yourself”. It reminded me of all the times I’ve needlessly short-changed myself in the guise of modesty. I’ve come to realize that doing that was of no benefit to anyone.

3. If you stop stretching, you contract.

This is true for both the mind and body. Adopt a beginner’s mind and continue to push the limits. Don’t stop learning. The secret to youthful living is through flexibility. Yoga is an excellent way to stretch both your mind and body.

4. Everything is a lie.

I heard this first from Michael Ehling of Balance Coaching. Stop spending your time debating whether something is true or not. Imagine it to be all lies and choose the lie that’s going to make you take resourceful action. Sounds counterintuitive, but it works.

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5. Not giving up doesn’t mean holding on when you’re wrong.

When you know what you’re doing is right, but you’re not sure if you’re going to make it or want to give up because it’s too difficult, that’s the time to persevere. When you know you are wrong, but you want to hold on because you don’t want others to think of you as a quitter, it’s time to pivot.

6. Fail to succeed.

We’ve heard this many times, but how many of us are proactive about it? What were your last five projects and how successful were you? If you achieved most of them, you’re not stepping enough out of your comfort zone. Go bigger so you can fail…and learn.

7. Action is the only thing that counts.

Fairly self-explanatory: Don’t tell me, show me! I’ve found in my life that the best and only way to achieve my dreams is by taking action. Planning and talking about it has its place, but they are a complete waste of time if you don’t take action.

8. Everyone’s life is difficult.

So be kind.

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9. Almost always, being angry hurts you more than the other person.

When we get angry, we waste our own time and energy because we rarely achieve our intention. We usually want either the other person to feel as bad, if not worse, than they’ve made us feel, or we want to get their attention. It almost never works out this way. Most of the time, the other person is oblivious to our anger. Stop wasting time being angry — spend your energy and time on more productive activities.

10. Don’t regret not doing.

People usually don’t regret the things they do. They regret the things that they didn’t do. How often do you say, “I wish I…”? If it’s more than once a day, make a list of what you’ve always wanted to do and get started on it now. Don’t make a bucket list for things to do before you die. No one knows what will happen tomorrow. Make a look-forward list for things to do so you can live a happier life. You’re only your current age once. You’re already older than you were before you read this article. Get started now!

11. You are who you spend your time with, whether you like it or not.

You may think you have the will power and discipline to rise above the influence of your friends. You don’t. If you spend time with people who are in shape, you’ll be in shape. If you spend time with lazy people, you’ll be lazy. We all want to belong to a group and we do so by appearing similar to the group we want to belong to. Choose wisely who you spend your time with because it’s who you’ll become.

12. Stop keeping count.

Life is much better when you stop keeping track of all the favors you’ve done for other people. The only reason to keep track is if you expect something in return. If you do keep track and your favor is not returned, it’s hard not to feel a sense of injustice. I would feel the same way and that’s why I decided stop counting. Never really liked bookkeeping anyway!

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13. No such thing as multi-tasking.

This is one of the most common mistakes of productive people. We do tasks one at a time. Multi-tasking is the continuous back-and-forth switch between tasks. Every time we switch, it takes a while to warm up before we operate at full speed. Try scheduling dedicated blocks of time for each task. Don’t forget to include breaks so you can rest.

 

Continue learning life lessons the easy way by studying the lives of other people. You can:

  • read biographies
  • watch documentaries
  • interview people you admire.

Think about how their life lessons apply to you and find ways to incorporate the lessons they’ve learned into your daily life. This list of thirteen is a good start, but don’t forget to reflect on your own life lessons. One of the best ways to reflect is to share them with others.

What life lessons have you learned that might be helpful to other people?

More by this author

Robert Chen

Executive Coach

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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