Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Stuff you learn by 50

Deb and I put together the thing below initially as a solicited birthday gift for a nephew. Then we thought we should also offer it to our own kids, since you know -- parenthood or whatever. We're pretty confident they'll ignore most of it, but you never know. :-)
Anyway, for what it's worth, some stuff we've learned from other people during the first 5 decades of our lives. Some of my friends or family may recognize their own quotes or ideas or conversations here -- thank you for sharing those with me.

I also invite people who read this to share their own ideas about how to lead a happy and fulfilling life -- what would you add to the below?


UPDATED 5:00pm, 10/30/2013


A little kindness goes a long way. Someone once said “There are three rules for life: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”

There’s a quote that’s attributed to a lot of different people (most often Plato, or Ian MacLaren) that goes “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Being kind is within the grasp of all of us. Even if we can’t do anything else, we can be kind to make others’ lives easier.


It’s not about you. When it comes to difficult interactions, remind yourself of that. Most things that happen, most things people say, most things in the universe, are not about you. Even when someone explicitly says it’s about you, it’s still usually not about you – it’s almost always about them and their history, their prejudices, their pain.

Deb has her teachers put a jar of Qtips on their desks to remind them: QTIP – Quit Taking It Personally


Leave negative people and events behind. We have all come through chapters of our lives involving dysfunctional structures or people who were insecure, overly competitive, unknowingly ignorant, or minimally empathetic. There are many people who operate that way all their lives, but there are thousands more who don’t. Try to surround yourself with people who are builders, thinkers, doers, helpers, and avoid negative people as much as possible.

From Dave Barry:  if a person is nice to you but rude to the waiter, they are not a nice person.


Teach yourself to assume positive intent.Once they get past childhood, most people seldom actually try to mess things up, or to hurt you or themselves. When someone seems to have made things inconvenient for you, learn to ask “What was your good intention in doing this?”

There is great power in being positive; it opens doors, it promotes health, it strengthens relationships, it makes you happier.  To some people it comes naturally; other have to learn it – either way, it’s worth making “positivity” your standard approach.


Learn to empathize. Empathy is one of the keys to good relationships of all kinds.


Always tell yourself the truth. This can be really hard to do, because the truth can be uncomfortable, or frightening, or require us to make changes. The truth may cause discord or difficulty with family or friends.

When things happen in our lives, our brain immediately begins the job of constructing a story around what just happened, to explain it to ourselves. The problem is that our brain likes to make us the hero of all those stories – so if we (or someone we love) has made a mistake, or behaved in a way that’s less than honorable, our brain tries to frame the events in a way that they (or we) don’t seem so bad. Learn to recognize this going on, and try to see things clearly, without revising history to make ourselves or others look better. If we don’t admit our shortcomings, we won’t ever be better than we are right now.

If you can find a friend who will tell you the honest truth about yourself when you ask – even if they know you might not like the answer – that is a valuable thing to have.

Make decisions according to the coldest, harshest view of reality you can take.  It sounds easy, but it isn’t.  Examples:

I’m good at X, but I suck at Y.

I wronged my friend.

This person I have invested in is not going to treat me the way I deserve to be treated.

I feel angry.

I am embarrassed.

I don’t want to get married yet.

I love someone who doesn’t love me back.

I made a bad decision.

The more sensible choice is the one I don’t like.



Make room to forgive. We’re all a work-in-progress. And this is not only about other people; don’t forget to forgive yourself. The world needs a lot less judgment and a lot more grace.


Be authentic. Don’t make a habit of saying things you don’t really mean, or pretending to be someone you’re not. Don’t make excuses. Don’t make a special spotless version of yourself for others.  Be kind, be courteous, be gentle, but within that, be authentic.

Being honest with others about your feelings, your fears, and in some cases even your mistakes, is disarming and makes you someone people will trust.

Everyone finds their own standard for honesty, but I try to only lie if there is a higher ethical issue at stake. Two examples:

1) “No, officer, there are no Jews hiding in my attic.”(Saving people from being murdered is more important than being truthful to an evil person.)

2) “Yes, Aunt Tillie, the scarf you knitted me is lovely.”(Kindness is more important than absolute truth about my scarf-related feelings.)

In all other situations, I try to tell the truth.


Be intentional. Don’t just let things happen. Many people float along, letting things take whatever course they will, and then complain about the results. Sometimes this is out of laziness, but usually it’s out of fear: fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of the unknown, etc.

Make conscious decisions and then live with the results of your choices. There are causes, and effects. Learn to be“cause” in the matter of your life.


Comparison is the thief of joy. Don’t compare yourself or your life with others – they are them, and you are you. Life isn’t a competition. Life is to be enjoyed, not evaluated. We are wired to judge everything, to respond to every situation with either “Yipe!” or “Goody!” Often it’s better to just say “Wow!” or “Hmmm…” instead, to learn to enjoy what is without comparing it to something else, or against some imaginary standard. There are a few things that require diligence, and vigilance, and discernment; figure out the few things that are really important and take a stand on those. For the rest, try to learn to reach for good things, but then let life be what it is, without having to evaluate and judge every experience, every event of your life.

Most of life is in the grays.  The more you insist on black and white – especially from other people – the unhappier you’ll be.


90% of your day-to-day happiness will be determined by who you choose to make your life with. Choose your partner carefully. Pick somebody who makes you happy.  Don’t settle.

Remember that two pounds of nice is better than 10 pounds of pretty.

Find someone who is kind, who is generous, and knows how to laugh at themselves. Don’t invest time in a fixer-upper; basically, people don’t change in a relationship. That is, almost never do people change basic personality traits – and if they do change, it’s only if, when, and because *they* decide to.


Learn to love unconditionally.  For the most part, setting expectations for other people is a waste of time.  If you can’t live with (and love) how someone is, then be with someone else; don’t try to change another person into what you’d like them to be -- it’s annoying and it doesn’t work. 
Rather than telling someone they “ought to” or “should” or “must” do or be something, tell them “I feel X when you do Y.”  If the person can’t or won’t stop doing Y, decide whether or not you can live with it; if you can, then accept it and shut up about it; if you can’t, then find someone else.


Love is a verb.  From the movie “A Guy Thing”: When it comes to love, how you say you feel doesn’t matter to anyone but you.  The only thing that counts is how you treat the people you say you love.


You are the recognized expert on how to treat you.If you cringe and blush and act embarrassed about every error you make, others will follow your lead and make a big deal of your mistakes. If you accept that you are flawed and make mistakes just like everyone else, and can still like and accept yourself and laugh off your minor blunders, then others will follow suit.


Don’t gossip. You don’t have to tell everything you know. We all like to be the person with a juicy story, but most of what you hear about other people is heavily flavored with BS anyway. Don’t pass that stuff on, let it die with you. It’s an honorable thing to be a friend that people can trust with their confidences.


Don’t get too bogged down with others’ opinions about you. It *is* useful to be socially well-calibrated (to get along with others, to understand society’s rules and customs, to not make others uncomfortable.) But humans are pretty free with their opinions, and often people give a lot of advice about other people’s lives that they’re not necessarily qualified to give.

The opinion of people you respect counts, but don’t define yourself solely by other people’s approval; try to be the kind of person you admire.

As someone said “What others think of me is none of my business.”

Plato is quoted as saying When men speak ill of thee, live so as nobody may believe them.


Feelings are usually more important to our brains than facts are. We have reason and logic, but deep down we are emotional beings; we do most things because of how they make us feel (or how we’ve been trained), and then our brain makes up a logical reason for our decision a split-second afterward. This process happens so fast, we don’t even recognize it – generally we believe we’ve decided everything based on logic.

Learn to identify and own your feelings. Don’t make important decisions when you’re excessively emotional. Learn to make decisions based on both facts *and* feelings.

Some feelings -- some thoughts -- are not our friend; learn to recognize those, accept them, and then leave them behind.

If you feel something, don’t try to tell yourself you don’t. If you don’t like how you feel, you can change it through prayer, affirmations, or through changing your circumstances, but pretending to yourself that you don’t feel it is not healthy.

Not everything that makes us angry or sad is bad, and not everything that makes us feel good is good for us.

Study a little psychology, learn about ego defense mechanisms; it will help you understand yourself and other people better.


Self-discipline is hard, but useful.  Teach yourself good habits.  And remember that habit is an excellent servant but a poor master.


We’re born selfish; there are huge rewards in learning to be more other-directed.


Learn to be flexible, to adjust.  Most unhappiness and anger comes from the gap between our agenda/expectations and actual reality.  Reach for your dreams, but if not achieving them immediately makes you unhappy, you’re doing it wrong.  Sometimes you need to ground your immediate expectations in reality.  Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.


We’re wired to need a purpose, to do something we feel matters.  If you find yourself drifting, unhappy, or bored, purpose usually what’s missing.  The quick fix is to go help somebody – besides being a good thing to do, it strengthens our feeling that we’re worthy to be in the world.  Long-term, you have to figure out what you want, who you want to be, and be working toward that.


Be appreciative.  If you’re healthy, if you’re relatively normal-looking, if you have a loving family, if you live in a peaceful and wealthy country, remember that you did nothing to earn those things – they weren’t something you chose, or a natural extension of who you are as a person -- it was all a gift, a bonus.  Remember to be grateful for that.


Life is trade-offs.  For everything we want, everything we get, there are other things we have to give up.  Learn to recognize the little price tag hanging off of everything we want, and make decisions you’ll still be happy about tomorrow.  Be mindful of how you treat your body, what you put in your mind.


Be a life-long learner. School ends at age 18, but that’s when real learning is just beginning. The amount that you don’t know yet (and you don’t even know that you don’t know it yet) is staggering.

A Nobel prize winner said his mother used to ask him “What good question did you ask today?” Don’t be afraid to ask questions. When you pretend to know things you don’t know, you pass up an opportunity to learn.

Remember that often what people call a “conclusion” is just where they got tired of thinking.

If you are truly a life-long learner, you will find yourself changing your mind every couple of years about something you previously thought you had all the answers about; if that’s not happening, then you’re being closed-minded and not learning like you could.


Never whine.


PMS is real. Some people are moodier than others; this is true of all the major genders. Get used to it.


Learn to enjoy things.  Try new food, new clothes, new music.  Don’t stop doing this when you turn 30.


Take risks. There’s no such thing as a risk-free life, so take reasonable risks. Don’t take large risk for little gain (eg, doing something dangerous to impress your friends), but don’t fear moderate risk for reasonable gain, especially if all we’re risking is our dignity or embarrassment or the possibility of failure. The only people who don’t make mistakes are the people who aren’t doing anything.

"And the day came when the risk to remaintight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." - Anais Nin

If we don’t push the boundaries of our comfort zone, our comfort zone will shrink.

Try to do something every day that scares you. Doubt kills more dreams than failure everwill.

See the quotes section for more on this subject :-)


When you’re out there making mistakes, try to make recoverable mistakes.  Think about the reward vs the penalty for failure. 

These mistakes are fairly easy to recover from:

  • Failed business investment
  • Failed run for office
  • Rejection by a potential date
  • Stupid tattoo (exception: tattoos on face or penis)
  • Poorly chosen major
  • Wrong clothes, wrong fork, wrong word, wrong gesture

These mistakes are usually hard to recover from:

  • Incarceration
  • Brain damage
  • Getting run over by bulldozer
  • Addiction
  • HIV
  • Suicide
  • Unwanted pregnancy/Child support
  • Hurting someone


You actually don’t need a long list of rules for your life; most things can be addressed by:

· Respect property

· Respect others

· Respect yourself



A few quotes for your consideration:


Never do something that diminishes you in your own eyes.


Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you will regret the things you didn't do more than the ones you did.


"It is a fearful thing, to love what death can touch."

Just because someone doesn't love you the way you want them to doesn't mean they don't love you with all they have.


Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

-John Kenneth Gailbraith


No one should be ashamed to admit they are wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that they are wiser today than they were yesterday.
Alexander Pope

People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.

-Maya Angelou (?)


“…people keep working in a freelance world…because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it is good and they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”
- Neil Gaiman


Declaring a tactic "part of the game" may delude the conscience, but it doesn't justify vicious, disrespectful or dishonorable conduct -- no matter how many people are doing it. Life is not a game.

- Michael Josephson, Character Counts


“I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate.”
- George Burns


“…no punishment anyone might inflict on them could possibly be worse than the punishment they inflict on themselves by conspiring in their own diminishment."

- Parker J Palmer


We either make ourselves happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same.
- Carlos Castenada


We learn wisdom from failure much more than success. We often discover what we will do, by finding out what we will not do.

- Samuel Smiles


“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”
- Johnny Cash


“I’ve come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy.”
-Tony Robbins


“You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
-Wayne Gretzky


“Success is often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.”
- Coco Chanel


“Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure.”
- George Edward Woodberry


“A person who doubts himself is like a man who would enlist in the ranks of his enemies and bear arms against himself. He makes his failure certain by himself being the first person to be convinced of it.”
- Ambrose Bierce


Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
- Steve Jobs


“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
- Dale Carnegie


“Take risks: if you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise.”
- Anonymous


“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”
- Abraham Lincoln

“Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure it just means you haven’t succeeded yet.”
- Robert H. Schuller


“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”
- Bill Cosby


“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to continually be afraid you will make one.”
- Elbert Hubbard


“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
- Winston Churchill


“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.”
- Frank Herbert


“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”
- Bertrand Russell


“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
- Michael Jordan       
A piece of verse my uncle sent me when I was going thru a difficult time:

Life is full of froth and trouble,

Two things stand like stone:

Kindness toward another’s troubles,

Courage in our own.


Note:  Deb and I didn't invent all these ideas ourselves, obviously. A lot of this comes from books we’ve read, and conversations with people we admire and respect.  In no particular order, thanks and acknowledgment are due to Phil Ryan, Mike Monroe, Carlye Hooten, Fred Ryan, Bud Holtum, Phil Boyte, Laurie Driskill Boyte, Erik Ryan, Grant Sautner, Randy Morgan, Sally Ryan, Landmark Education, Susanna Ryan, Don Rasmussen, Ted Ryan, Ed Holtum, Lee Stockwell, Ladd Ryan, Paul Holtum, and others. If you know of more acknowlegements due, please LMK.


Thoughts on Time Management

I post this for two reasons:

1)      To make the point that how one treats time is not an absolute.  Yes, tardiness is inefficient, can be frustrating, and usually wastes resources. Yes, most things are accomplished more quickly when people show up on time. And yes, some people’s lateness is just because they’re self-centered, and presume their time is more valuable than yours.
But at base, this is not a moral/ethical issue. This is not as important as a few dozen other things you could be worrying about. This is a lifestyle choice.  When you say “People are rude/wrong to be late”, what you’re really saying is “I don’t like it when people treat time differently than I do.”  To assume that your slavery to the clock is how everyone else must run their lives is a fairly narrow worldview, and is actually a bit arrogant.
There are many cultures who have a different, more relaxed view of time. I happen to live in one of them; in Hawaii we sometimes say that if you’re 15 minutes late for a meeting, you’re still 10 minutes early.  In fact, most cultures on the earth still view time more in this way.  There are only a few other places where the clock is worshipped like it is in North America (eg, Germany/Switzerland/Scandinavia, the UK.) Virtually everywhere else on earth, people treat time in a more relaxed way. No, they don’t tend to build space shuttles and skyscrapers, but neither do they have as many heart attacks and strokes.  And they produce some amazing art, and music.
The clock is a human invention, a tool we’ve created and adopted to more efficiently live in an industrialized world.  And being strict about time is a legitimate choice, which has several specific benefits.
But if people around you choose to run their lives differently, and your way of being doesn’t permit you to respect their choice and adjust to it, then don’t do business with them, or hang out with them. But quit acting like they are morally inferior to you, or are specifically insulting you – they’re not. It’s quite simply not about you, and your slavish adherence to the specific minute on the clock.  When you say you want a meeting at 9am, some people hear “We’re going to meet in the morning, around 9…”
And if you have someone in your life who is in all other ways a good friend – kind, supportive, loyal, interesting, fun, whatever – are you really going to jettison that friendship because that person chooses not to be a time-Nazi like you? Why not simply build in a 30-minute delay in your interactions with that person? If you want to meet for lunch at 12pm, make your arrangement with them at 11:30; and if one day they should actually show up at 11:30 (they probably won’t, but if they did), and you show up at noon, don’t sweat it -- they are a time-casual person, so they won’t hate on you like you would on them.
So if you want to run your business or your social life on a clock where minutes count, then by all means, do so. Hire, promote, and retain people who think like you do.  But for heaven’s sake save your moralizing and your whining for your fellow time-slaves – nobody else cares, because they’re spending their short time on earth being happy instead of compulsively punctual.

2)      As a recovering “habitually late” person, I want to clear up a couple of misconceptions: the vast majority of us are not being narcissistic, or passive-aggressive, or controlling.  We hate the idea of others waiting on us. Most of us are simply very busy, are overly optimistic about how long things take, and we don’t get any emotional reward out of arriving early – in fact, arriving early feels like a waste of precious time.  We are shooting for right-on-time, which means if anything goes wrong, we end up being late.  To be consistently on time requires leaving/prepping early – in other words, building wasted time into everything you do; since my business requires me to be on time as much as possible – and punctuality is valued by my work team – this is what I now have to do.
But consider this: 5 people have a meeting at 9am. What would you rather have:

A. three arrive at 8:55, and one arrives at 9am, and one at 9:05

B. four arrive at 8:55 and one at 9am

C. three of them arrive at 9:00, two arrive at 9:05,

Option A wastes 35 minutes of person-time; option B wastes 20 minutes; option C wastes 15.

Obviously, the optimum solution is to have everyone arrive at exactly 9am. But since life has unavoidable glitches, and we will all occasionally be late no matter how well we prepare, there will often be a person there at 9:05. If we accept this as true, it might more efficient to have everyone else shoot for 9, and accept that this will commonly result in C (still the least time wasted), rather than having everyone always shoot for 8:55, which will often result in A or – at best, B.