Because I’m a nerdy kind of guy, I have some nerdy traditions. In the past, one of those nerdy traditions has been to celebrate my prime-number birthdays with a big party. When I turned 37, for instance, I hosted a poetry recital. Two years ago, we held a “bacon bash”, which was a lot of fun.
This year, I was going to host a travel-themed party to celebrate my 43rd birthday. Certain major life events have forced me to postpone this party — probably four years until my next prime-number birthday. Instead, I thought it would be fun to celebrate here, on Get Rich Slowly.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my personal philosophy. I’ve been reading various personal-development books, and have been talking with friends about how getting older doesn’t actually suck. In fact, being over forty is awesome. Why? Let me share with you 43 things I’ve learned in my 43 years here on Earth.
For many of these, I’m quoting my source of inspiration. But this isn’t just a list of 43 inspirational quotes. If I’ve listed a quote here, it’s because I truly believe it, it’s because the author has said it better than I could. Let’s start with Don Miguel’s The Four Agreements, which I’ve found do a good job of encapsulating my personal philosophy:
- Be impeccable with your word. Be honest — with yourself and others. If you promise to do something, do it. When somebody asks you a question, tell the truth. Don’t gossip. Practice what you preach.
- Don’t take anything personally. When people criticize you and your actions, it’s not about you — it’s about them. They can’t know what it’s like to be you and to be living your life. When you take things personally, you’re allowing others to control your life and your happiness. “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.” — Arab proverb
- Don’t make assumptions. The flip side of not taking anything personally is to not assume you know what’s going on in other people’s heads, to not assume you know the motivations for their actions. Just as their reality doesn’t reflect your reality, your life is not theirs. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
- Always do your best. Your best will vary from moment to moment. Some days in the gym, for instance, I’m able to lift heavier weights than on other days. That’s okay. I do the best I can every time. This is one of the keys to success and to happiness: No matter what you do, do it as well as you can.
- Be skeptical — but learn to listen. In other words, don’t believe everything you hear, not just from others, but also from your own internal self-talk. Keep an open mind, but analyze the things you see and hear to see if they actually make sense.
- Be encouraging. There are a lot of people out there who want to tell others what’s wrong with their actions, why the things they want to do can’t be done. Don’t be that way. Instead, do what you can (in big ways and subtle ways) to help others achieve their goals.
- People who are happy with their own lives almost never criticize others, to paraphrase Steven Pressfield from The War of Art. “If they speak at all,” says Pressfield, “it’s to offer encouragement.”
- Have the courage to pursue your dreams. If you want something, go after it. Don’t allow yourself to be trapped in a life filled with shoulds. Don’t do things just because others expect you to do them. Choose what you want. “The minute you choose to do what you really want to do, it’s a different kind of life.” — R. Buckminster Fuller
- Fear is the mind-killer. If you can build confidence and overcome fear, you’ll be happier and more successful. This isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
- “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” — Spanish proverb. That is, there is no bad from which some good does not come. (Or, “every cloud has a silver lining”.) Sometimes life sucks. Bad things happen. But in nearly every instance, the bad brings good too, usually in the opportunity to change, to transform yourself into something new.
- Change is good. For some reason, our society is skeptical of people who transform themselves. A politician who changes her mind because she gains a deeper understanding of something is said to have “flip-flopped” on an issue. But personal growth can be amazing. By doing and trying and learning new things, you experience more of life, and you become a better person. Don’t be afraid to change and grow.
- Spirituality is personal. The desire for one person (or group) to impose her (or their) beliefs on others is the source of much of this world’s strife. Believe what you want, and let others do the same. “There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.” — Dalai Lama
- Self-care comes first. Eat right. Exercise. Take time to relax. Do your personal chores. Be well groomed. Treat yourself like a princess (or a prince). When you take care of yourself, it’s easier to be of service to others.
- You can’t predict what the Future You will like. It’s pointless to even try. Instead, focus on creating the best life for the Present You. Make decisions based on what you need today instead of what might happen tomorrow. (But note this isn’t permission to simply ignore the future. You still need to save for retirement, for instance, but you also need to make decisions based on who you are at this moment.)
- Be present in the moment. When you do something, do that thing. When you’re with somebody, be with them. Don’t multitask. Put away the smartphone or the computer or the book. Be all there. When you do this, you’ll do better work, you’ll show respect to others, and you’ll enjoy yourself more.
- Don’t try to change others. “Attempts to change others are rarely successful, and even then are probably not completely satisfying,” Harry Browne wrote in How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. “To accept others as they are doesn’t mean you have to give into them or put up with them. You are sovereign. You own your own world. You can choose…There are millions of people out there in the world; you have a lot more to choose from than just what you see in front of you now.”
- Don’t allow others to try to change you. Again from How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World: “You are free to live your life as you want…The demands and wishes of others don’t control your life. You do. You make the decisions…There are thousands of people who wouldn’t demand that you bend yourself out of shape to please them. There are people who will want you to be yourself, people who see things as you do, people who want the same things you want. Why should you have to waste your life in a futile effort to please those with whom you aren’t compatible?”
- It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” Admitting ignorance isn’t the same as admitting defeat. It doesn’t make you look bad. You know what does make you look bad? Saying or doing something with confidence but being completely wrong. If you don’t know, say so.
- Don’t yuck someone else’s yum. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s bad. Pursue your passions, and let others pursue theirs. If you don’t like something, fine. There’s no need to make a big deal about it. (Note: This is a tough one for me to actually practice in daily life.)
- There’s seldom one right way to do something. Most of the time, there are multiple paths to success. For instance, as I’ve said many times here at Get Rich Slowly, there’s no one right way to get out of debt. Don’t believe anyone who tells you there is.
- Quality tools can make life better. For years, I equated low cost with smart spending. Now I know that’s not always the case. Now, I’m willing to spend to buy high-quality things when I know I’ll use them all the time. I have high-quality boots, for instance, and an expensive computer. I’m okay with that. I walk everywhere I go, so the boots are worth it. And my computer is my livelihood. The expense is worth it because it makes working a joy. For items used daily, buy the best. If you don’t use it often, of if it’s not important to you, buy the cheapest possible.
- Happiness is mostly internal. While external forces do affect well-being, most of your happiness comes from one place: You. Research has shown that about 50% of happiness is biological; 40% of happiness comes from intentional activity, the things you choose to do; and only 10% of your happiness is based on external factors beyond your control. If you’re not happy, change who you are and what you do.
- Small passions give life flavor. I love bacon and comic books and Scotch whisky and cats and maracuyá (a passionfruit from Perú). I enjoy walking through the city, reading the news in Spanish, taking the laundry out of the dryer, and ordering the same tea every day from the same barrista. These small pleasures provide texture to life. Savor them.
- There’s no such thing as natural talent. If you want to be good at something, you have to spend the time to become good at that thing. Only American superheroes don’t have to work for the abilities they have. And how strange is that? They’re just given their powers. That’s not how it works in the real world. As Malcolm Gladwell notes in Outliers, in the real world, people become experts by putting in thousands of hours.
- Be adventurous. Try new things. Eat new food. Learn a new skill. Travel. Watch foreign films. Change your hairstyle. You might not enjoy everything you try, but then you might find something you really love. (From Action Girl’s Guide to Living.)
- Be open-minded. Read books and magazines and newspapers and web sites. (And not just the ones you already agree with or like.) Listen to other people’s opinions. You don’t have to welcome every new idea with open arms; just be willing to change and grow. (From Action Girl’s Guide to Living.)
- Be positive. Life is short. Don’t waste time complaining. If you can do something about a problem, do it. Otherwise, get on with life and forget it. Route your negative energy in a positive direction. If you hate something, fine, but don’t make it your career. (From Action Girl’s Guide to Living.)
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Who cares if your shirt isn’t ironed? If you forgot to mail the phone bill? If you can’t remember someone’s name? Take it easy. It’s not that important.
- Ask for it. You’ll never get it if you don’t ask. And you might be surprised at what you can get just by being bold.
- Slow and steady wins the race. The most successful folks are those who work longest and hardest at things they love to do. So try to find ways to make frugality fun, and recognize that you’re in this for the long haul. You’re making a lifestyle change, not looking for a quick fix.
- The perfect is the enemy of the good. Too many people never get started toward their goals because they don’t know that the “best” first step is. Don’t worry about getting things exactly right — just choose a good option and do something to get started.
- Failure is okay. Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t let one slip-up drag you down. One key difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is the ability to recover from a setback and keep marching toward a goal. Use failures to learn what not to do next time. “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” — Japanese proverb
- You can have (or do) anything you want — but you can’t have (or do) everything you want. Being smart with money — or with time — isn’t about giving up your plasma TV or your daily latte. It’s about setting priorities and managing expectations, about conscious living. Focus on the things that matter most to you and ignore everything else.
- You don’t need permission. When we’re young, we wait for our parents and our teachers to say it’s okay to do the things we want to do. As an adult, you don’t need permission from anyone else. Do you want to quit your job and travel the world? Do it. Do you want to learn how to ride a motorcycle? Do it. Don’t wait for somebody to give you the go-ahead. You are the only one who needs to give yourself permission to do these things.
- Action beats inaction. It’s easy to put things off, but the sooner you start moving toward your goals, the easier they’ll be to reach. It’s better to start with small steps today than to wait for that someday when you’ll be able to make great strides. Get moving.
- Along similar lines, it’s not what you say that matters; it’s what you do. Live a life of action, not words. “Action is character.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald.
- Look for connections. Share your interests and experiences with people you meet. You don’t need to force your story on others. But learn to strike up conversations with people you meet. Ask them about their lives. They’ll ask you about yours. In Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi notes this is a great way to form connections you might otherwise miss. In this way, you may sometimes turn a random encounter into a possible “lucky break”. (Occasionally you will be a source of luck for the people you meet, just as they will sometimes be a source of luck for you.)
- Keep your options open. Goals are good. But single-minded devotion to a goal can often blind a person to other opportunities. And it’s a mistake to cling to one path out of a sense of obligation. If you enter law school and discover you hate it, quit. Don’t endure years of misery because you feel it’s expected of you. You have more options than you think, but you may need to open your eyes to see them.
- Be empathetic — think like the other person. Remember that people are all the same. We each have the same fears and the same desires. Underneath, most folks are pretty nice. Instead of fighting with others are hating them because they’re different, try to get a feel for their story, their point of view. “You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.
- Do the right thing. If you do what’s right, and you do it well, what do you care what other people think? Successful people will always have critics. Learn from the critics or to ignore them, but don’t let them bring you down. Do the right thing, and confidently own the consequences.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. I’ll tell you a secret. There are a lot of personal finance blogs out there. I don’t get to read them as often as I used to, but I do try to make the rounds once every week. Sometimes when I do this, I feel like giving up. I feel like quitting. I lose confidence. “I can’t write that well,” I think. “I can’t cover retirement investing as well as Jim did.” Comparing myself to others is counter-productive. It only makes me feel inadequate. Who cares what other people write, or how well? What’s important is simply producing the best work I can. All I can be is myself.
- Be yourself. This is by far the most important thing I’ve learned about life. For so long, I tried to please other people, tried to be and do the things I thought they wanted me to be and do. That just made me unhappy. And most of the time, it didn’t please anyone. I’ve had enough of that. Instead of trying to be somebody else, I’m just me. I’m honest about who I am and what I want. Sure, that means some of my old friends don’t like who I’ve become. That’s okay. I’ve made new friends who do like who I am. But the best part is that I like who I am.
- “Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.” — Barbara Ueland, If You Want to Write.
I’ve learned lots of other things in the past 43 years, of course, but these are some of my favorite. These ideas guide who I am today and where I’m going tomorrow. They’re my core philosophy.
How many do you agree with? How many do you disagree with? What guidelines and observations make up your core philosophy? Give me an awesome birthday present by sharing your thoughts in the comments below.
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