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43 Lessons from 43 Years

Be impeccable with your word. Be honest ó with yourself and others. If you promise to do something, do it. When somebody asks you a question, tell the truth. Donít gossip. Practice what you preach.

Donít take anything personally. When people criticize you and your actions, itís not about you ó itís about them. They canít know what itís like to be you and to be living your life. When you take things personally, youíre allowing others to control your life and your happiness. ďThe dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.Ē ó Arab proverb

Donít make assumptions. The flip side of not taking anything personally is to not assume you know whatís going on in other peopleís heads, to not assume you know the motivations for their actions. Just as their reality doesnít 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, Iím able to lift heavier weights than on other days. Thatís 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 ó but learn to listen. In other words, donít 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 whatís wrong with their actions, why the things they want to do canít be done. Donít 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. ďIf they speak at all,Ē says Pressfield, ďitís to offer encouragement.Ē

Have the courage to pursue your dreams. If you want something, go after it. Donít allow yourself to be trapped in a life filled with shoulds. Donít do things just because others expect you to do them. Choose what you want. ďThe minute you choose to do what you really want to do, itís a different kind of life.Ē ó R. Buckminster Fuller

Fear is the mind-killer. If you can build confidence and overcome fear, youíll be happier and more successful. This isnít easy, but itís worth it. ďYou gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the faceÖYou must do the thing you think you cannot do.Ē ó Eleanor Roosevelt

ďNo hay mal que por bien no venga.Ē ó Spanish proverb. That is, there is no bad from which some good does not come. (Or, ďevery cloud has a silver liningĒ.) 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 ďflip-floppedĒ 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. Donít 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 worldís strife. Believe what you want, and let others do the same. ďThere is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.Ē ó 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, itís easier to be of service to others.

You canít predict what the Future You will like. Itís 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 isnít 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 youíre with somebody, be with them. Donít multitask. Put away the smartphone or the computer or the book. Be all there. When you do this, youíll do better work, youíll show respect to others, and youíll enjoy yourself more.

Donít try to change others. ďAttempts to change others are rarely successful, and even then are probably not completely satisfying,Ē Harry Browne wrote in How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. ďTo accept others as they are doesnít mean you have to give into them or put up with them. You are sovereign. You own your own world. You can chooseÖThere 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.Ē

Donít allow others to try to change you. Again from How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World: ďYou are free to live your life as you wantÖThe demands and wishes of others donít control your life. You do. You make the decisionsÖThere are thousands of people who wouldnít 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 arenít compatible?Ē

Itís okay to say, ďI donít know.Ē Admitting ignorance isnít the same as admitting defeat. It doesnít make you look bad. You know what does make you look bad? Saying or doing something with confidence but being completely wrong. If you donít know, say so.

Donít yuck someone elseís yum. Just because you donít like something doesnít mean itís bad. Pursue your passions, and let others pursue theirs. If you donít like something, fine. Thereís no need to make a big deal about it. (Note: This is a tough one for me to actually practice in daily life.)

Thereís seldom one right way to do something. Most of the time, there are multiple paths to success. For instance, as Iíve said many times here at Get Rich Slowly, thereís no one right way to get out of debt. Donít 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 thatís not always the case. Now, Iím willing to spend to buy high-quality things when I know Iíll use them all the time. I have high-quality boots, for instance, and an expensive computer. Iím 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 donít use it often, of if itís 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 youíre 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 maracuyŠ (a passionfruit from Perķ). 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.

Thereís 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 donít have to work for the abilities they have. And how strange is that? Theyíre just given their powers. Thatís 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 Girlís 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 peopleís opinions. You donít have to welcome every new idea with open arms; just be willing to change and grow. (From Action Girlís Guide to Living.)

Be positive. Life is short. Donít 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 donít make it your career. (From Action Girlís Guide to Living.)

Donít sweat the small stuff. Who cares if your shirt isnít ironed? If you forgot to mail the phone bill? If you canít remember someoneís name? Take it easy. Itís not that important.

Ask for it. Youíll never get it if you donít 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 youíre in this for the long haul. Youíre 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 donít know that the ďbestĒ first step is. Donít worry about getting things exactly right ó just choose a good option and do something to get started.

Failure is okay. Everyone makes mistakes. Donít let one slip-up drag you down. One key difference between those who succeed and those who donít is the ability to recover from a setback and keep marching toward a goal. Use failures to learn what not to do next time. ďFall down seven times, get up eight.Ē ó Japanese proverb

You can have (or do) anything you want ó but you canít have (or do) everything you want. Being smart with money ó or with time ó isnít about giving up your plasma TV or your daily latte. Itís about setting priorities and managing expectations, about conscious living. Focus on the things that matter most to you and ignore everything else.

You donít need permission. When weíre young, we wait for our parents and our teachers to say itís okay to do the things we want to do. As an adult, you donít 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. Donít 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. Itís easy to put things off, but the sooner you start moving toward your goals, the easier theyíll be to reach. Itís better to start with small steps today than to wait for that someday when youíll be able to make great strides. Get moving.

Along similar lines, itís not what you say that matters; itís what you do. Live a life of action, not words. ďAction is character.Ē ó F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Look for connections. Share your interests and experiences with people you meet. You donít need to force your story on others. But learn to strike up conversations with people you meet. Ask them about their lives. Theyíll 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 ďlucky breakĒ. (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 itís a mistake to cling to one path out of a sense of obligation. If you enter law school and discover you hate it, quit. Donít endure years of misery because you feel itís expected of you. You have more options than you think, but you may need to open your eyes to see them.

Be empathetic ó 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 theyíre different, try to get a feel for their story, their point of view. ďYou never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.Ē ó Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Do the right thing. If you do whatís 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 donít let them bring you down. Do the right thing, and confidently own the consequences.

Donít compare yourself to others. Iíll tell you a secret. There are a lot of personal finance blogs out there. I donít 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. ďI canít write that well,Ē I think. ďI canít cover retirement investing as well as Jim did.Ē Comparing myself to others is counter-productive. It only makes me feel inadequate. Who cares what other people write, or how well? Whatís 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 Iíve 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 didnít please anyone. Iíve had enough of that. Instead of trying to be somebody else, Iím just me. Iím honest about who I am and what I want. Sure, that means some of my old friends donít like who Iíve become. Thatís okay. Iíve made new friends who do like who I am. But the best part is that I like who I am.

ďEverybody is talented, original and has something important to say.Ē ó Barbara Ueland, If You Want to Write.

– J.D.Roth

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