A year seems like a month. ~ my Poppa

I had set out to do a 34 lessons in 34 years type article, but it would have had to be filled with trivial lessons rather than focusing on a core handful.

Thus, fewer is better. Tried, tested, and proven beats new and recent.

In our society we have it ass-backward. We praise youth and even condemn and scoff at our elders as archaic. It’s ignorance. The Romans praised wisdom and experience and looked down on the ignorance of youth, and I’m understanding why with each passing year. (read: 15 steps to becoming a better man)

Lessons, the things we learn that forge our values and virtues and our idea of wisdom, need to stand time’s test. They need to prove themselves as being robust, antifragile, not fragile, weak, and a product of a trend or period.

These lessons should also help our survival – our being humanity and the individual. So much of what we value today doesn’t fulfill either requirement. 

We’re obsessed with the ‘new’ rather than the proven.

Nothing in this list is new – even if it’s new to me or you – but proven over time. It’s helped men win and cultures and societies win, and while you choose your definition of victory, you still need victory.

Lessons Learned in an Average Fella’s 34 Years

  1. Expect more of yourself, but expect nothing from life.

We can control our effort and our thoughts. We can give a hell of a lot more than we’re currently giving. That said, we cannot expect our lives to go as we want them to.

I learned this relatively harshly in an engagement and then a break up. I had an expectation for how I wanted both the relationship and that period of my life to go, and it not going according to my expectations was crushing, devastating.

But, then you realize that expectations are useless and destructive. We should expect nothing. Our life will not go according to our wishes and wants and nor should we really want it to. Life is life. It is brutal and beautiful and random.

What’s bad isn’t always what’s bad and what’s good isn’t always what’s good. 

We can do more, expect more from ourselves but expecting life to go a certain way is a dangerous game, and one that should not be played. (read: the power of negative thinking)

  1. You can recover from anything.

When an engagement is ended, it’s not easy. Nostalgia shines a false-light over the past and you remember the positive and forget the negative. ‘What if’ becomes the commonly asked question and you’ve been used to being with someone for years, and now you’re alone.

Previous to the relationship solitude was welcomed. Now, however, it’s foreign. 

If you’re thinking straight, it doesn’t have to take long to recover. To get back to performing optimally, to move on from something you may view as tragic happens with purpose, it won’t just ‘happen’.

It took Theodore Roosevelt 1 day to move on from his wife and his mother passing away within hours of one another.

You do not have to stay in the pain, rather, you can use it, you can see things as they are, you can trust yourself and your strength and move forward relatively quickly.

For some it takes months to recover from a bad break-up, one that was headed toward marriage. I did not want to spend months in that initial darkness, so I didn’t.

Accept what is. Do the best with what is. Don’t wish you had what isn’t.

  1. Time is relentless, if you don’t match it you’re moving backward.

Time moves forward regardless of you. In dark times you really can’t afford to stand still, to pity yourself, to rest and wait for your feelings to correct themselves. 

You have to move forward, you have to improve, learn, struggle, and grow, regardless of what you’re going through.

By standing still you’re moving backward.

Time is relentless, thus, you have to be as well.

The same goes from times of prosperity, you can’t rest on your laurels because time doesn’t care about what you’ve done, only about what you’re doing.

Get after it and stay after it.

To counter this lesson, you also need stillness. We all need to slow down at times to understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and to ensure that we’re doing it for the right reasons and that we’re living well and according to our values.

Like most things in life there’s a dicotomy… We need action. We need stillness.

And like most things in life, you can have both, you can have it all, you do not have to choose one over the other, just one in the moment and the other in another moment.

  1. Experience is a good teacher, but not the best teacher.

You can learn from experience, but you don’t have to. Our brains are powerful. We can travel through time, we can predict and learn from things that are about to happen but that have not yet happened.

We can see signs and avoid catastrophe. 

We do not have to put ourselves in bad positions where we have to learn through pain. We can learn before we’re backed into a corner, adjust, and move forward.

  1. What you put first is powerful.

You can spend your entire life putting the wrong this first, ending up with regret as your bedmate. 

This goes for both intention and linearly.

Win your morning by putting good thoughts in your head. Don’t open your phone as your first action.

I was doing this and I was spending the first few minutes of my day comparing. I changed that. The phone isn’t looked at for the first few hours of the day. I read my Bible and a book. I stretch in the morning with Jordan Peterson or Alan Watts lecturing in the background.

When I drive I’m listening to Taleb or Peterson or Watts or someone else.

Good ideas and thoughts, words, are what I’m being bombarded with. Most people bombard themselves with negativity and wonder why they’re so down.

  1. You can make things better. You must make things better.

For the year or two prior to the last few months I was lost. I was unhappy with what I was doing, lost in my direction with work, not living up to the quality I wanted to live, heck, not earning enough, doing enough, winning enough.

It pains me to say this, but I actually pitied my situation for a brief period.

In short, I had to man up, figure out what I wanted and how I was going to get it and get after it.

I started getting up at 5am again. Working out by 6am. Lifting 5-6 days a week. Reading for at least an hour a day. Putting positive words into my head. Hanging out with the right people, and so on.

I controlled what I could control, and when you do that for a long enough period, momentum takes over.

So many of us don’t control what we can and we pity ourselves because we think we can’t control where we are, but we always can.

We’re also an entitled culture that expects what is not earned far before it’s ever earned.

If you want to achieve something of value, you need to work for it, endure ups and downs, persist, learn, course-correct, and then maybe you’ll get it.

You have to keep tinkering, though. You have to continue to try and fail and try again with the knowledge learned from said failure.

You have to keep going and you have to continue to move faster and to learn more. You cannot give up or get down. Time is moving and you have to move at a faster rate than time.

  1. You can choose what you think about and how you think.

We can understand this without knowing it. We can choose how we see the world, whether it’s from a position of victimhood – of things happening to us – or a position of ownership – of us taking ownership of events, thoughts, and our lives in general.

Just like our days, which we let happen rather than happen purposefully, we tend to allow our thoughts to go where they may, often heading down a rabbit hole of despair, envy, greed, lust, weakness, and worst of all, self-pity.

Without taking control and ownership of our thoughts we lose our life to a path we never wanted nor intended to take.

This past year I’ve really worked on this, on steering my thoughts in the right direction, and the right direction is found in a few ways…

  1. On gratitude.
  2. On the work/task/moment – on one thing.
  3. On reflection without the dilution of nostalgia or sadness.
  4. On what I want to become (a characteristic I want to develop).

We think at 1200 words a minute, so every second there are thoughts flying into our head that we don’t want there.

If you know what you want to be thinking about, that helps in a big way.

I’m constantly talking to myself (new habit) about gratitude. I’m having a conversation about what I’m trying to achieve. I’m saying affirmations about a characteristic I want to develop. I reflecting without sadness or nostalgia about what I can learn about what I’ve already done/experienced.

I used to – still do too often – allow my thoughts go places I didn’t want them to go, places that didn’t benefit me or anyone around me.

Stopping negative thoughts – even incorrect positive/romanticized thoughts about the past – and vocally bringing yourself back on track is powerful.

Spending time in the moment, too, is powerful, but if you go to the future or the past do so with clarity and purpose so it’s beneficial, not a white lie that’ll bring you down in the present.

If you don’t control your thoughts, your actions, future, and who you are will become something you had never intended to become.

  1. You have to be you, but better.

Man, figuring out who the heck you are today is a daunting task. 

So much of who we think we are and what we think we like is due to marketing in some form or another, intentional or unintentional, and how we were raised, who we were raised by (friends included), and who we think we want to be – whether that ideal is true or not.

Nature, real nature, being out there alone, is so bloody powerful and necessary to figure out what we’re aiming at and whether we should be aiming at that.

There’s also the notion that we have to be better, no matter what arena we’re talking about, we’re not living up to our potential.

I’m learning to trust my gut about what I’m aiming at – in part, trusting the audacity of it and not diminishing it to make it more realistic or easy – and be critical about my daily performance.

If you’re not honest with yourself about how you’re doing, thinking, acting, and achieving, you can lie to just about everyone (yourself included) for a time, but over time who you become and what you achieve will show how disciplined you were, are, and how efficiently and intelligently you work.

Results – both of who you become and what you do – are obvious and telling.

  1. Spend time learning every day.

I really don’t believe that structured, institutional education is what’s best. I think we learn more from authors not in the current curriculum than we do from those chosen to be in it.

Learning, for me, has happened outside of school, not in it.

Within the past few years I’ve dedicated time to learning. I’ll study – not just read – for an hour or so a day reading authors like Taleb or many of those he mentions in his books, the Bible, the Stoics, and so forth.

The quest is to both live well, know what living well is, acquire F you money, power, become something that would be deemed as a success, help others, do good deeds and know how to best do good deeds, and in some small way – or big – be here for a reason that benefits others.

Learning in the real world means understanding how to earn, succeed, help, and improve.

Learning in a classroom isn’t so much learning, but memorizing. 

I don’t hold intellectuals in too high of a regard simply because much of their learning is confined to the structured and static world of the education system.

I hold entrepreneurs and earners in a much higher regard because they put skin in the game, they learn in the real world and benefit the real world (you and I) by both failing and succeeding.

I’d much rather read about someone who did something and then thought about something than someone who just thought about something.

I’m 34, and I’m learning more now than I ever have, and it’s exciting.

  1. Be, Don’t Wait to Become.

While we are an entitled society today, we also have this notion that we have to wait to become who we’re trying to become.

That’s a lie.

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

There are a lot of promises made in the Good Book, and I’m realizing that it’s useless to ask for what’s already been given. Religion doesn’t even have to enter this conversation, though it does for me.

WE have already been given all we need. It’s that thing called potential.

Most of us – all of us – don’t realize just how great we can be and the great things we can do.

We don’t realize the quality of human we can be, should be, ARE, and are living somewhere short of where we can live, of who we can live as.

The barrier isn’t one of time – though over time if we’re acting to our potential we’ll develop better skills, more knowledge, acquire more achievements and earn more victories – we can be better now. (read: how to be more decisive)

We can be more confident.

We can be more positive.

We can be more stoic.

We can be more patient.

We can be more ambitious, more powerful, have more grace, work harder, live better.

For a couple years I wasn’t living up to my potential because I thought I needed to achieve something I had yet to achieve – and still have yet to achieve – to warrant the confidence, power, discipline, even the mindset I wanted.

It’s a backward way of thinking.

The thing we want, the expectation we have for our future comes as a result of who we are, it does not make who we are.

In this lesson is another lesson, don’t chase.

Men become worthy of what they ideally want and then welcome that thing, that thing – that lady, that wealth, that power, that life – chases the man, the man doesn’t chase the thing.

  1. Ask For Less Advice, Seek Fewer Opinions.

Finally, we all know what we have to do and typically know what the best move to make is.

It’s called trusting your gut, and too often we’re not confident enough to trust our gut.

We ask for opinions to excuse us from the responsibility of having to do what we know we have to do.

If they – the person who’s opinion we seek – tell us we have to do what we already know we have to do, then in our minds they share some of the blame if it all goes wrong.

If they give a different opinion then that excuses us from having to do the thing we have to do.

We need less advice, not more. We need one voice, not a crowd.

Help other people without always wanting to be helped.

Talk to others about their issues, provide sound advice, without always bringing up your struggles.

Also, it’s tough to take advice from someone who doesn’t have the same skin in the game that you have. Especially if they call themselves a professional advice giver.

Be your own man.

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