Updated irregularly, with wildly varying degrees of enthusiasm and skill.
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
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
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
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
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
Teach yourself to assume
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
Learn to empathize. Empathy is one of the keys
to good relationships of all kinds.
Always tell yourself the
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
I love someone who doesn’t love
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
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,
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
Remember that two pounds of nice is better than 10 pounds
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.
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, howyou 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
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
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.
is hard, but useful.Teach yourself
good habits.And remember that habit is an
excellent servant but a poor master.
selfish; there are huge rewards in learning to be more
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.
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.
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.
PMS is real. Some
people are moodier than others; this is true of all the major genders. Get used
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 :-)
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:
run for office
by a potential date
tattoo (exception: tattoos on face or penis)
clothes, wrong fork, wrong word, wrong gesture
These mistakes are usually hard to recover from:
run over by bulldozer
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
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.
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
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,
“I honestly think it is
better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something
you hate.” -
“…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. -
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.” -
“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
“You’ll always miss 100%
of the shots you don’t take.” -Wayne
“Success is often
achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.” -
“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.” -
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.” -
“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.” -
“Take risks: if you win,
you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise.” -
“My great concern is not
whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” -
“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.” -
“The greatest mistake you
can make in life is to continually be afraid you will make one.” -
“Success is not final,
failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” -
“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.” -
“Fear is the main source
of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the
beginning of wisdom.” -
“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:
is full of froth and trouble,
things stand like stone:
toward another’s troubles,
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.