A birthday in lockdown. These lessons will prevent you from ruining your life the way I nearly did.
My annual tradition of sharing life lessons on my birthday continues — except this year is completely different. I’m writing this during a pandemic and simultaneous global recession.
There are no birthday presents or time spent with family (and many of my close family members have passed away recently). My birthday is spent in lockdown with my girlfriend. So what’s my birthday present then?
Life is the birthday present.
Being alive is better than being in the hospital. What a gift! You might think life sounds pretty bleak under these circumstances. It’s not.
How you see the world is how you experience it.
Here are 34 life lessons I have learned the hard way over the last 34 years of being alive.
The world can change in a heartbeat (be adaptable)
If I told you last year that the entire world would go into lockdown and be placed in a coma, you would have said I was crazy. But it happened.
The world can change quickly and while you can’t control those changes, you can adapt to them.
When you prepare yourself for the worst and allow yourself to change and let go of the past as quickly as you can, you have a huge advantage.
Expect zero and get a lot
I used to walk around thinking the world owed me a Grammy for my music and a huge paycheck for my startup ideas.
What has changed over the last three birthday’s is now I expect zero. I released an ebook this year and expected zero sales. It did quite well as a result. I got a new job and expected nothing from it. I got some of the best learning in the field of technology that one could ever ask for. I gave a few people free gifts over the last year and expected nothing. One of those people gave me a huge present in return that money can never buy.
Expectations create a barrier to happiness. Drop them if you can and everything will feel like a blessing.
Doing nothing is underrated
Tinkering with your career, life, or investments can get old.
When you feel stressed or uncertain because of the current state of the world, doing nothing for a while is an excellent coping mechanism. Otherwise, you can end up reacting too abruptly out of fear.
Even Peter Pan ages
As a twenty-year-old, I used to drink a round of Agwa shots every year to celebrate my birthday. I would always end the cheers with “I don’t age because I’m Peter Pan.”
Well, Peter started to look slightly older this year. My pandemic hair that is wild like Tom Hanks’ hair in Castaway has revealed a few tiny grey hairs. I have also developed a small crows feet on one eye — probably due to stress.
Nobody looks young forever. You can feel young, though, by how you think.
Discounts during a recession don’t outweigh job losses
This week I saw two more friends lose their jobs due to the economy.
One of them was forced to move out of his apartment and find a cheaper one. What he found was that he couldn’t rent a new apartment because he didn’t have a job. His savings are now shrinking and his job prospects are not great because of the number of job seekers. Meanwhile, his wife and two children live in the hope that their father will find a way out of this situation.
For many birthdays I have been looking forward to the next recession because I wanted to take advantage of the discounts on stocks. Now that we have arrived in the thick of the recession, the discounts don’t seem worth it.
I would rather my friends kept their jobs than buy Amazon at a discount.
Even when a recession doesn’t cause you to lose your job, it still affects you. Seeing others suffer feels like you’re suffering because we are all part of one global community: humanity. One race. One address. One country. One mission. One end game.
People losing their jobs is tough to watch.
Life is good together, not alone
This time in human history is impossible to face on your own. I tried for years to do everything by myself and ‘fake’ being strong. It didn’t work; I fooled nobody.
Whether you want to be romantically single or not for the rest of your life is up to you. But to be socially apart during these times is a bad idea. You need people right now to help shape your thoughts in a different way. Otherwise, your caveman brain will tell you that we’re all screwed and you’ll fall further into despair. Now is the time to pick up the phone.
Phone a friend; phone a work colleague; phone someone you barely know; phone a person you haven’t spoken to in a long time; phone someone you swore never to talk to again and say hi.
As cheesy as it sounds, we’re all in this together.
Value your family like they won’t be here tomorrow
Many of my family members are passing away.
Those aunties and uncles that helped raise me and celebrate my birthday are not here anymore. They have reached their resting place and are looking down on me, hoping I’ll figure out this jigsaw puzzle of life on my own while silently cheering for me. I miss them like crazy. And I didn’t appreciate them enough while they were here with me.
That’s why from now on I’m going to stay in touch with family and forgive them when they do the wrong thing. You have the same opportunity. Your family shapes your past and your future.
Contribute to others to get on a high
Gaining followers or making money might seem amazing.
What has got me on a high over the last few years is contributing something to others. It’s those emails that say thank you without expecting a reply and those brave people who face a huge challenge like cancer and may have used one small piece of advice from something I said.
Being useful is the ultimate high.
Writing stuff down makes your thoughts clearer
After six years of writing, my thoughts have become clearer because of it.
You never write the same thing twice no matter how hard you try.
Age shapes your writing. The context and meaning of your writing changes too, as you face life head-on. Even if you have no goal of being a writer/blogger, write your thoughts down.
Make mistakes on purpose
Mistakes show imperfection and imperfection is beautiful.
Sometimes I write a listicle blog post about “10 things” and then purposely write “12 things” instead. People pick up the difference in the comments and assume it was a mistake. What they don’t know is I made the mistake on purpose to highlight how important mistakes are.
A story that has a happy ending every time and works out exactly as the audience expects gets pretty boring.
Acknowledge who got you there
You don’t achieve anything in life without other people.
And people forget that lesson way too often. Benjamin Hardy, PhD emailed me the other day about something. I reminded him of the help he gave me many years ago and he had completely forgotten.
Zdravko Cvijetic did the same thing. He sent me a note about a story I shared and said it was fantastic. He forgot that he helped write the story by helping me all those years ago.
Humility is not just about having a low view of your own importance. It’s about making it a habit to acknowledge all the people who help you along the way. Because when you acknowledge people for the contribution they make to your life, you give them a powerful gift: you help them feel fulfilled.
Progress is not linear
My 34-year life is not linear and yours probably isn’t either.
This fake idea that you set goals and then go from strength to strength the whole way through is a lie. Progress is not linear because you will, at some point, get wiped out. A wipeout looks like this:
- Romantic breakups
- Death of someone you love
When one of these life events happens to you, you get wiped out. And often that is when you start again. By starting again, you destroy the myth of linear progress and that is the whole point. Starting again helps you learn from your mistakes so that your progress will look different next time.
There are days you will feel lazy
Laziness is a sign that you need to relax.
You don’t need to be shooting hole-in-ones every day and always being 10X productive. It’s okay to have a lazy day inside and stare out the window.
You’re not missing out on life when you fall into a lazy slump; you’re recovering and witnessing all that has passed.
Pay attention to how you feel
How you feel can tell you a lot. If you feel angry, ask yourself why. If you feel upset, ask yourself why. If you feel sick, ask yourself why.
Feelings guide your life and lead to the eventual answer. You just have to pay attention to them and study their effects.
Money helps you stress less and choose work you enjoy
Having money is not about the material possessions you can buy with it.
This year money has shown me that its usefulness lies in how it can be a soft pillow in uncertain times. When you have enough money, you can take time out to think and assess the state of the world.
Money also allows you to be more open to the work you do.
By having the right approach to money — attitude, diversification, risk tolerance, investing over saving — you can do work that is not about how much you will get paid.
Money buys you time.
Time can be spent doing work you love.
Shorter life lessons
- Anger robs you of precious energy.
- Be nice to everybody you meet and networking will be easier.
- Love is the answer to any problem.
- Teaching people is a gift. Use your talent to do that.
- Skills determine your career trajectory. Stack different skills together to be the best in the world. The stranger the combination of skills the better.
- Smile at strangers for no good reason. It makes you feel awesome.
- Let your mother make you lunch to remind you of how good childhood was.
- Don’t start a debate with anybody right before bed. Being tired makes you come up with terrible answers to problems.
- Go for coffee even if you don’t drink coffee. Coffee means conversation.
- Be heartfelt when sharing your story. Don’t hide the difficult parts — let them shine through.
- Stories are how you get people to listen. Learn to tell better stories.
- Say thank you like you mean it.
- Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not good enough. If you believe, then we will believe.
- Use hot showers to think of creative ideas.
- You don’t need to reply to every email. Not replying is replying.
- See yourself in other people’s situations. You’ll be kinder when you do.
- Whatever you think you need to buy next, you probably don’t.
- Show up each day as if it’s your last.
Lesson #34 — Use Your Birthday to Go Beyond Yourself
The reason I write an article like this every year is that I want to use my life for something more than my own existence.
The best present you can receive comes from the one you give.
Your life is about much more than you. What you can do for other people is the greatest opportunity life has to offer you.