4 Important Lessons I’ve Learned About Life

Here I am on an Alaskan cruise just before I went dog sledding, and these are 4 of the most important things I’ve learned about life.

1. There are two types of people: those who don’t know what they’re doing and those who pretend like they do.

Existence is stupid. Regardless of how you think we got here (I personally believe in God), the fact that we exist and eat and talk and build things and love and procreate is just weird. Existence is an absurdity that we’ve come to accept.

When someone acts like they know everything and have everything under control, well, they don’t. They didn’t even choose to exist. They don’t know with absolute certainty that they’re living the best possible life or if there is such a thing. We’re all on this confusing ride together.

The point here is that it’s okay to doubt yourself, your beliefs, and your lifestyle sometimes. It’s normal. There’s some comfort knowing that nobody is living perfectly and that you don’t have to do it either. The more reasonable aim for all people is to excel in specific areas. People can strive to have great careers, great families, great friends, great artistic expression, a great impact on the world, or healthy spiritual lives. These “pockets of excellence,” and not perfect life balance, seem to be the ideal pursuit. 

When you are doing well in some areas, you can focus on them and be grateful for them. If you require yourself to do everything perfectly and always know the right moves, you’ll never be happy AND you’ll struggle to excel (because the person who tries to juggle 25 balls drops them all). If you relax, admit that existence is absurd, and enjoy the good things in your life, you’ll be happier. That’s been my experience.

2. You will never arrive. You will hit milestones, but life is always in motion. And success doesn’t take away your problems, it gives you different ones.

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

~ Jim Carrey

When you finally get the Lamborghini, then what? Life goes on, just with a flashier car that can still get flat tires.

I’ve achieved some things that blow my mind. I have a book in 17 languages. I was just told that Mini Habits, published a few months ago in Japanese, has already reached 60,000 units printed. That fries my brain. But so what? I get lonely, my sleep schedule is not normal, and I have a massive zit on my face right now. Why didn’t my book sales solve those problems??

We tend to romanticize certain markers of success, but as Jim Carrey says, if we’re fortunate enough to reach them, we realize that we haven’t arrived at our final destination, we’ve only seen a really cool sunset out the window. The drive might be nicer-looking, but it’s still driving!

Some people adjust very poorly to this realization (see the recent examples of rich and famous people committing suicide). A healthy adjustment means that you no longer base your self-worth and happiness on your life circumstances. This helps in good and bad times. People often attribute their depression to poor circumstances, but amazing circumstances can actually produce a much deeper depression.

When you’ve reached the top of the mountain you’ve wanted to climb since you were six, but you don’t glow, sprout wings, and ascend into the infinite universe, your worldview can shatter before your eyes. Here you are, you’ve “made it,” but life… almost feels the same.

A mentally healthy person enjoys the blessings in their life without depending on them. They focus on timeless and lifelong things like love, friendship, God, experiences, and the small pleasures of daily living to sustain them. These things work at any level of worldly success.

3. Life is not fair, but there is much we can still control.

I read that only 20% of people in Houston had flood insurance when Hurricane Harvey hit. That means a lot of people just lost everything. Homes and businesses were absolutely destroyed. Anyone living in that city must be thinking, “Of all the places in the world, our city was the one destroyed by Mother Nature.” It’s absolutely not fair. Good people are suffering because of a freak event, and it’s not the only one happening in the world. Heck, just being born in North Korea is a huge misfortune, as those people lack the basic freedoms (like the internet!) the rest of the world enjoys.

The examples of unfair and unequal fortunes and misfortunes are endless. 

Like I said last week, the wrong response is the victim’s mindset. When life is unfair, complaining or feeling sorry for yourself does nothing to help. If you lost your home to Hurricane Harvey, feeling bad is a natural response, but it won’t help you. It won’t change your life for the better.

When life is unfair, we must ask ourselves this question: What specific action(s) can I take to make this better?

Even if you can’t do anything, you can choose how to think about any situation. Your perspective is fully within your control and nobody can take it from you. This is a powerful weapon against misfortune.

Every bit of energy you spend thinking about something you can’t control is wasted. Only focus on what you can control, and you’ll give yourself the best chance to experience fortune instead of misfortune. Nothing is guaranteed, but your power to influence your circumstances is significant.

4. Never give up on anything that means something to you.

It’s frustrating that “never give up” is a cliche statement, because cliches are stripped of their power.

I often feel tempted to give up on finding love. It’s one of those “unfair” situations in which I can’t understand why I’m still alone. It really baffles and frustrates me. But I won’t give up on love until I’m dead. I don’t care if I’m 93 years old and still single. I’ll still be looking.

Here’s the challenge: It hurts more to fail in areas that matter to you.

Why is that important? Because pain is a strong deterrent. This means that we, ironically, feel most inclined to give up on areas that matter to us. The more important they are, the scarier and more painful they are to fail at. The safest, easiest things to do are those that mean nothing to us; Watching TV, browsing Facebook, and the like are risk free, never painful, and offer no resistance.

That’s why “never give up” isn’t specific enough. You can give up on watching TV if you want. But never give up on anything that means something to you. Yes, it will probably hurt to keep trying. Yes, it will be tougher than playing video games. But this is because it means a lot to you. Thus, the rewards from achieving it will be 1000-fold of anything else. It’s worth the cost.

Despite a slow start to my writing career, I never gave up because it meant something to me, not only to write useful content that helps others, but to become financially and geographically independent. As I’ve said before, I considered quitting this blog six times, because it hurt to feel like my content wasn’t getting the attention I believed it deserved. That’s one example where persistence paid off for me.

Another example was my persistence in trying to change my behavior. It took me 10 years of mediocre progress to finally stumble upon and form the Mini Habits idea that transformed the way I exercise, write, and read. Not giving up has resulted in the greatest successes of my life!

It usually pays off handsomely when you keep trying. And the other option (giving up) offers ZERO upside. Decide right now that “never give up” will be a part of your identity.

(Photos by Christian HaugenOrin ZebestJasoon, & JackPeasePhotography)

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