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34 Things I’ve Learned About Life and Adventure

Want to become wiser? It’s fairly simple and closely resembles Brian Tracey’s formula for being luckier:

“Luck is quite predictable. To have more luck, take more chances.”

To become wiser, therefore, take more risks and stop letting fear rule your life. Change it up a little.

In honor of last week’s dual birthdays, here are 34 things I wish I knew years ago.


Reduce the amount of negative inputs to your life.

When I was first using Twitter, I signed up for a service that sent me notifications whenever people unfollowed me. What a terrible idea! I started worrying about every post. Should I not say something about my actual life? If I post a photo of my cat on top of the refrigerator, is that too off-topic?

Thankfully this concern lasted only two days. I turned off the notifications and life improved.

There is almost always more than one way to accomplish something.

There is a traditional way and usually multiple alternatives. The alternatives aren’t always better—just be aware that they exist. You don’t have to do it the way everyone else does. You don’t have to jump off the bridge.

Some people may be threatened by alternatives, but that’s OK—your life isn’t determined by what other people think.

Make your peace with money.

Money does buy happiness, at least a certain amount of it. But after a while, more money doesn’t buy more happiness. Therefore, figure out what you want to do and let those things determine your budget.

Never ask, “I have x amount of dollars—how should I divvy that up among various expenses and projects?” Always ask, “What level of resources do I need to accomplish all the goals and projects I want to pursue?”

Focus on income more than expenses.

The way out of debt is not usually found through clipping coupons, skipping lattes, or buying discount toilet tissue. It is found through increasing your income. Live frugally and consciously, yes, but if you’re struggling, find ways to make more money instead of ways to cut back even further.

(Related: It’s OK to be poor for a time, but don’t have a poverty mentality.)

Balanced people don’t change the world.

Passionate people who don’t have it all together change the world. If you’re worried about life-work balance, something is probably wrong with your life or your work. Instead of agonizing over balance, get excited and create change.

Deadlines and quotas are your friends.

Set them and live by them, or live by the law of procrastination. Forced deadlines are better than artificial ones, but take whatever you can get.

If you want to publish a blog, do so on a regular schedule—no exceptions. If you’re trying to write, aim to write at least 1,000 words a day. These practices will serve you well.

Get over it.

If you’re like most of us, something bad probably happened to you at some point. It was unfair and cruel. Maybe it was even really bad.

But you have to get over it for reasons that are entirely selfish. Simply put, you can’t let these things define you. It’s about your life, not anyone else’s. At some point, you just have to move on.

Even atheists want something to believe in.

We all want a mission. Eager volunteers will usually work harder than paid employees. Give people something to believe in and they will support your cause. Challenge them to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

In any project, create your own definition of success.

If not, you’ll always be playing someone else’s game. Play your own game. Make the rules and decide how you’ll score the points. Choose to be in charge and then you are in charge–it’s not complicated.

Understand that some positions and organizations exist solely to make your life difficult.

I called them the Department of No in my first book—people who are in charge of saying no. To negate their powers, you can go around these people, ignore them entirely, or get them on your side by making them think you are on their side. (Direct confrontation is often a losing battle—they have been saying no for a long time.)

Helping others makes your own life better.

I call it “selfish generosity.” Freely give, freely receive. The greatest decision Jolie and I made together was choosing to move to Africa and volunteer. We would come back to the U.S. to visit and people would say, “Wow, what you are doing is so great!” And we would say, “Yes, it is… for us.”

“It’s not time to worry yet.”

This quote comes from Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, by way of Jolie. There’s a time to worry, but it often comes much later than we think. If you don’t need to worry… don’t.

Related: don’t borrow trouble.

Tweaks matter.

At a certain point, it’s all about continuous improvement. When you’re near death, running a marathon, or tweaking copy for a sales page, 15% improvement is huge.

One definition of happiness is “Continuously improving your circumstances.” I would add: “and the circumstances of others”—but more on that in a moment.

Avoid getting into a position where you’re unable to walk away.

Never find yourself powerless. Be careful about negotiating from a point of weakness; it’s usually better to improve your odds first. (Tip: if you do find yourself in such a position, sometimes the greatest thing you can do is to walk away anyway.)

Love the process.

It’s all process—in life, in love, in work, in travel. Visiting every country is largely about process, not outcome. I just like doing it! I like the planning, the executing, the challenge, the memories. Sometimes I even like all the stress over visas and complicated routings.

That’s partly why I’m sad that it’s ending next year, but that’s another story.

Be a believer, not a cynic.

Yeah, it’s much easier to tear down than to build. That’s what most people do. “I’d just like to play devil’s advocate…”

But the world has enough cynics, so your challenge is to build.

Loneliness: It’s not all bad.

It’s OK to be alone sometimes. It makes you tougher. It makes you aware of the world. And when the time comes when you’re not lonely, it makes you appreciate it more.

Chances are, you’ll never regret saying “thank you.”

Remember the words of Dalai Lama: Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.

To be clear, I don’t always follow this guideline—I often fall short. That’s why it’s the model. See “continuous improvement.”

Be careful about advice—both giving and receiving.

Most of the time, you already know what you need to do. And most of the time, the people who ask for your advice don’t really want it. (Hint: they want you to say, “That sounds great!”)

Less stuff, more life experiences.

Invest in experiences more than furniture. It’s not “throwing your money away”—it’s spending it wisely.

Note: this doesn’t mean you won’t buy furniture or you can’t have a home life. It just means you deliberately choose to value experiences. You are willing to save and invest in them, even to the exclusion of things you choose to own.

When getting started, just get started.

“I had a great idea that I never followed through on!”

Guess what: no one cares. Get started and see what happens, or let it go. Find a way to launch your project within 30 days of conceiving it. If that feels uncomfortable, make it 3 days.

If you want to get noticed, do something worth noticing.

The way to attract influential people to your life (if you care about such a thing) is by doing something worth noticing, not by asking people to notice you. Basic … but so often missed.

Also, don’t be a curator, be an instigator.

Comfort zones are comfortable for a reason.

Make small changes, make big changes, but choose to change. Change is the only constant. To get out of a rut, change one thing at a time until you find the answer, or change it all at once and see what happens.

It can’t be worse, right?

Sad but true: sometimes the people close to you won’t understand.

Whether returning from a trip or choosing the path less traveled by, a strange phenomenon tends to occur: those who are closest to you just don’t understand.

Yeah, it’s tough. You may even encounter resistance. This is sad, and sometimes it gets better as people get used to it. Even if not, you’ll usually find other people who do understand. (It’s a funny thing.)

When in doubt about the next step, help someone and make something.

Do these two actions every day, 365 days a year. When you get stuck at any point in any process, come back to the basics: helping and creating.

(These things also help when you’re depressed. For me, drinking coffee and running—not usually at the same time—help too.)

Choose active over passive whenever possible.

When I’m home I exercise almost every day, seven days a week. But it’s not as hardcore as it sounds. Plenty of days, I run out of time or energy and can only manage a brief, 15-20 minute run at the end of the day.

A few years ago I learned that those 15 minute runs have both physical and emotional benefits. Since then, I’ve tried to make active choices: walk whenever possible, ride my bike instead of taking the bus, do one more thing before going to bed. In short, choose forward motion.

Failure is overrated.

People often paint failure as a glorious thing. “Embrace it!” Really? You are a winner. Choose to win.

Sure, you’ll probably fail at some things. Whatever. Who cares? Success is better.

Attack a few big projects at a time with lots of small steps.

It’s the time and money theory: how much time, how much money, how much additional resources will you need? Break it down, step by step. Work on the steps every day and add to them as you go along. It’s simple, powerful, and effective. Anything you want to make, build, do, or accomplish using your own force can be managed this way.

Do your own thing.

Yes, we all know this. It’s better to be the authentic you than an excellent copy of someone else—everyone agrees.

The problem is that imitators can often achieve some degree of success. Then they think, hey, this works! Well, it does work… at a low level. But it’s deceptive. If you really want to step it up, you have to find your own way, however you do it.

Ask a lot of questions.

There’s an old saying that the pope and the peasant combined know more than the pope. In other words, you can learn from anyone. Be curious and ask questions wherever you go. (Also, beware of incurious people—such people think they know a lot, but usually don’t.)

Say yes more often than no.

Yes, you should put limits around yourself and protect your commitments—for the things you don’t want to do. Everything else, fill your life with fun people and projects. Say yes!

Forget about never being afraid, but don’t let your fears make your decisions.

We’re all afraid of something. The trick is to make sure you’re challenging yourself enough, and to decide things independent of your fears. Figure out what you’re really afraid of, then don’t hold back! Also, as mentioned above—say yes.

Complacency will suck the life out of you if you let it.

Always try to better yourself. Don’t stop growing. If you do become complacent somewhere and stop improving, move on to a new challenge as quickly as possible.

Also, remember something when considering new challenges: If the outcome is certain, it’s not really a challenge. (Hat tip: Jonathan.)

Pursue a life focused on creative work.

What if, every day, we focused our lives on making something and putting it out in the world—and what if we adopted this as our primary way of viewing the world? What if this was our core focus, our motivation, and our practice?

(Note: This perspective is not incompatible with religion, philosophy, or other worldviews. It’s a way to live. I wrote about this subject more in The Tower.)

Life is short. Live with urgency!

This isn’t a new lesson; I’ve been aware of it for a long time. But it’s how I try to live every day—with the constant awareness that each moment is finite and non-renewable. We don’t get it back.

There are models that focus more on letting go and taking it easy. If that works for you, great. But if you find it unsettling that each day is slipping away, the alternative is to live with urgency. Come to the end feeling worn out.


Those are my 34 things, in no particular order except the last. Thankfully I was only turning 34 and not 75 … that would have required a lot more thinking.

Whatever age you are, what have you learned? Tell us something here.


*In case you missed last Thursday’s post, I’m giving up my birthday for Charity:Water. You can do the same with your own next birthday.

Image: Jodi