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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

If I'd Only Known Then What I Know Now

Hindsight is always 20/20. If you don’t believe me, just ask any economist.

I remember as a kid grown ups would always ask, “What you want to be when you grow up?”  I always gave some song and dance about wanting to be a doctor or a cop.  That always went over pretty well.

Since I was constantly getting the question,  I thought I was supposed to have an answer.  How the hell should I know? I’m just a kid. Okay, that answer wasn’t actually an option.

Well, now I'm a grown up and although I still don't technically know what I want to be, I've had enough life experiences to have sober reflections on lessons I've learned along the way.

Of course all of us would love to go back in time to apply our 'today' knowledge to 'yesterday'.  Unfortunately, the best any of us can hope for is to keep learning as we get older, and try to pass along what we have learned for the benefit of others. Most of them probably won’t listen, but what the hell? 

For the longest time, I bought into the old myth that the secret of life was to go to school, get good grades, stay out of trouble. Yadda, yadda, yadda.  But now, I think everyone realizes that in the real world nobody has EVER been hit it up about their GPA or SAT scores.

Like most people, there are some things that I wished I had known years ago(ages 14-21) that I know now. Here are a few of them:

A lot of what seems important to you now, really doesn’t matter. When I reflect back on many of the things that I got excited over, agonized over or wasted my time and energy on, so much of it was for nothing.  Make a list of what truly makes you happy, concentrate on those things and let most of the other stuff(baggage) go.  Chances are, the list is pretty short.

Waiting for the “perfect” time to do something is largely a waste. More than likely (I’m thinking 99% of the time) you’ll never do it. Whether it’s traveling to a foreign land, starting your own business, losing weight or just cleaning out the garage. If something sounds like a fantastic idea, act on it NOW! Tomorrow never comes. There is no such thing as the perfect time.

Now, that doesn’t mean that some times are not better than others. Perhaps you want to save a certain amount of money before you take that trip of a lifetime or there is a certain time of year that logically works better for you to do something.  That, I understand. Thank god I learned this one fairly early in life. Step out on faith, even if you have to go it alone. This is a great opportunity to learn and develop.

Buying the latest electronic gadget, hottest automobile or following the latest fashion, is a useless pursuit, although a profitable one…for merchants. In work or in life, the important thing is to be an original. There’s nothing wrong with owning an ipad or the latest shoes.  The bigger issue is, “Why did you buy it?”  Ask yourself how you will feel when the next new item comes out on the market. Are you strong enough to think and act for yourself? 

Learn to pick your battles. Don’t fight, argue and make a big deal over petty issues.  Of course, you need to know which issues are petty in the first place! You will age yourself prematurely and chase away friends and family. On the other hand, you will attract other losers like a moth to a flame.

Enjoy your work, work hard and do your best, but don’t make work your life. I never quite understood this.  I always viewed work as a means to an end. Not an end in and of itself. I work in order to afford the things that give my life greater pleasure. For some lucky individual’s their work isn’t just work…it’s who they are.  But most of us don’t have that innate sense of what we were meant to do.  Quite a few of us don’t have some overwhelming passion that also happens to allow you to earn a living doing it.  For most of us we need work to make money in order to live. There’s nothing wrong with that.  But at the end of your life I doubt that you will lament not having finished that report at the office.

Try not to argue with ignorant people. I am constantly amazed and amused by folks who get riled up over issues that they have not even slightly researched.  Or better yet, don’t want to be bothered with the facts. I mean, if someone is happily ignorant on a certain subject, do you really want to waste a ton of your time engaged in a debate with them? I didn’t think so.

Avoid whiners. Another time suck. Unfortunately life ain’t fair. ‘nuff said.

Your health is your greatest asset. Without it all the wealth in the world won’t mean much. Protect your health: eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep.  I know I sound like some old man. Sorry. I’m just sharing the knowledge. You can thank me later.

Many “experts” are anything but. See my second sentence at the top about economists. Don’t believe the hype. Do your own research. Develop and trust your own instincts.

Figure out who your real friends are--fast!. I mean friends, not associates. There are people that you associate with because of school, work, church, situations where you an they just happen to share the same space.  A friend, on the other hand, is someone that you willingly spend time with.  A friend supports you when you are down, is not jealous of your success and always inspires you to do your best.  A true friend will tell you something hurtful for your own good. Find out who your real friends are and cherish them.

Trying to please other people largely a waste of time.  We’ve all tried to do it at one time or another, fail miserably and it drives us crazy. A few people truly cannot be pleased. Ever. Accept it. Most people will have some issue with just about everything you either say, or try to do. Seek their input, weigh the best option and move forward. If anyone questions why you did what you did, explain it honestly and let them know you considered their point of view.

There’s an old song called, “Garden Party”. The singer’s name was Ricky Nelson. Back in the 1950’s he was a huge teenage singing sensation. Anyway, in the 1970’s he gave a concert at Madison Square Garden and wanted to sing his current songs. His fans were angry. They wanted to hear his old 1950’s hits. On “Garden Party” Nelson sings, “It’s alright now, I’ve learned my lesson well, you can’t please everyone so you have to please yourself”.

Be true to yourself. It’s a great filter. What do I mean by that? By being yourself you will attract people who are truly interested in you, not someone that you are pretending to be.  On the other hand you will repel, or filter out the folks who just aren’t in to you. It works out perfectly.  In the end, would you rather be a fake someone else or a wonderful, genuine, “you”?

What are some things that you know now that you wish you had known years ago?

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