February 14, 2013

My seven most important life lessons

Blog, seven of the last eight winters I've had to deal with some challenges. Work crises, ill health, death of a loved one, and so on. Oh joy, 2013 is proving to be another one. It's times like these that put me in mind of the most important things I've learned from my 56 years of an oft-times challenging life. Pull up whatever it is that a blog is most comfortable sitting on, and I'll give it to ya straight.

1.  To thine own self be true. I won't pretend I thought of this one, but it's so very important. If you don't face up to your own faults, look them in the eye, and deal with them, they will destroy you eventually. There's such hopelessness in people who delude themselves about their own character. That primary lie leads to a life built on falsities, an existence riddled with wrong conclusions and bad choices. And not only should a person be honest with himself, he should be wary of people who are not. There's a world of problems there you just don't want to have to deal with.

2.  Be interested in as much as you possibly can. People, subjects, activities...try to be curious and explore and inquire. No need to force yourself out of your comfort zone; I'm very risk-averse but can find loads of things to be interested in outside of extreme sports and adventure travel. (Well, I like hearing about extreme sports and adventure travel!) And I'm very much an introvert, but I discipline myself to keep up human connections. Keeping yourself connected to others and the world around you serves to keep you from shutting yourself in your own little world, where you could end up very lonely and longing for purpose.

3.  Humanity is made up of Users and Usees...get to know the players. Usees are goodhearted, generous people who live by the Golden Rule, thinking of others' needs and not necessarily their own. Users are people who are, for whatever reason, mostly focused on their own happiness. And it seems like when in the presence of Usees, they can't help but take advantage. So it's important for nice people to develop the ability to not always take the Nice Road. Once you've pegged someone as a User, you have to watch out for your own interests--they are just as important as anyone else's.

4. Karma is real--trust it, and don't get in its way. I don't necessarily believe in karma as a supernatural force--it's just that every action has consequences, and chickens always come home to roost eventually. If you do good things and make the world a better place, some of that will come back to you for sure, so take heart. Meanwhile, with #3 above in mind, remember it's important not to interfere with karma's work to reward the good behavior and chasten the bad. Protecting people from the bad consequences of their misdeeds is not your responsibility. It's the opposite: the world only gets better if people learn not to make bad choices and do mean things.

5. Make smart decisions, with an eye to the "long view." Pay attention and take the good path at each fork in the road, asking yourself what the long term consequences will be. This really will make a difference in your life. One wrong choice that seems insignificant in the moment can drastically alter the rest of your life--just ask a pregnant teen, a drunk driver who hit someone, or a drug addict. I know it's common sense that smart choices lead to success...and yet we live in a world of people with maxed-out credit cards, don't we? Too many people can't think past today. Learn to do so, and your 20-years-older self will be a much, much happier person. You'll feel pretty good right now, too.

6. Put the kibosh on these behaviors: bitterness, self-loathing, envy, passive-aggressiveness. Some "negative" emotions can be constructive, I think. Grief is necessary and natural. Anger can be therapeutic and can be channeled into positive action. But bitterness only poisons the person harboring it. Self-loathing only cripples one's ability to improve. Envy is usually misplaced--the person you envy is probably as unhappy as you are, so you're wasting your energy. And passive-aggressiveness is a self-deluding game (see #1 above) that accomplishes nothing good.

7. Never commit suicide while you're depressed. This is an old joke of my dad's--one that has a point. Recognize when you are simply bummed out, and don't try to make decisions when in that state. Instead, focus on doing whatever you need to do to feel better. Action can wait until your head's on straight.

Blog, I've done a decent job with most of these principles during my life, but I tell you, I can trace at least 75% of my unhappiness to the consequences of my neglecting them. 'Bout time I passed them on, I guess! Carry on, Blog, and good luck.


  1. Great ideas in the house! Perhaps they might become a little e-book...

  2. Thank you! Like a certain great little ebook we know... :-)