Here goes nothing. If I missed anything, set me straight in the comments:
- You can have it all in life. No, you can’t. Billions have tried. Zero have succeeded. Since there are a finite number of hours in the day, to accomplish one thing, you must forgo another. That means if you spend most your day chasing fame and fortune, you’ll inevitably need to sacrifice your health, family, social life, leisure and/or likability. Or if you play or dally too much, you’ll sacrifice income, lifestyle, mental stimulation, and so forth. So no, you can’t have it all in life. You can’t have a big house, incredible vacations, fast cars, a meaningful job, an incredible love life, upstanding children, a svelte body and healthy heart, fine food, spirituality, morals, copious amounts of media, perpetual education, recognition, fame, and riches all at once. You must pick and choose by prioritizing what’s most important to you, rather than prescribing to the false idea that you should have everything a fictional and archetypal American should have. In other words, you can never — never, ever, ever! — have your cake and eat it to. Life is a simple mathematical equation. One side must equal the other. You must balance it. Or reality will do it for you.
- If something sounds too good to be true, you’re probably just lucky. I suspect this is the phrase gullible people tell themselves when hearing a sales pitch that sounds too good to be true. As for me, if something sounds too good to be true, I immediately know that it probably—nay, almost always—is. This universal truth alone has saved me immeasurable heartache, money, and stress. In fact, it’s very difficult for me to relate to people who don’t understand this truth. Reason being, I’m skeptical by nature. A critic at heart. I ask questions before shooting. So if you find yourself believing in things that are sold with little to no downsides or risk, please remember that age old wisdom is against your instincts. Play the odds in your favor by doing what Aristotle said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
- Staying busy will get you where you want to be. Not true. Formulating a plan and sticking to it will. This is a truth I’m still trying to understand. And I’m lousy at planning. Some times I sit at my desk uninspired for days, if not weeks. I perform menial and mundane tasks on those occasions, all while telling myself, “It’s better than nothing.” It’s not. It leads to procrastination. It leads to dead ends. It smolders fire. It festers fear. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN. If caught in this trap, take a break. Entertain every though that comes to mind, including worst case scenarios. Then wait for even the tiniest bit of inspiration to strike before returning to work. Obviously, this isn’t always possible. Sometimes things just need to be done. But the idea of “keep moving” is a short term motive, never a long term one. Over extended periods of time, if you’re only moving to be moving, you’re directionless. So don’t let mundane maneuvers blind you from seeing the big picture, the forest through the trees, and other cliches. Never mistake activity for achievement.
- Working all day will get you ahead in life. No it won’t. This includes everything from staying late at the office and failing to take nights and weekends off, to compulsive glances at a smartphone throughout the day and missed vacations. Granted, if your definition of “ahead” is solely based on money, then working all the time is a nobile endeavor. But humans need so much more to find fulfilment and joy in life, so that thinking is short-sighted. As for me, I tried this for five years out of college. It wasn’t until I stopped believing this lie that I started making measurable gains in not only my professional life, but my personal life, including health, family, and new experiences. In fact, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard,” is the second most popular regret of dying people. Don’t believe the hype.
- Pursue a career that is a logical fit or status-enhancing. Wrong. That’s a sure fire way to immense regret. Instead, pursue something that excites you. If said field no longer excites you, pursue something new. Obviously, you can’t change careers too quickly, otherwise you’ll never have enough time to master it well enough to make a living of it. And sometimes the consequences of earlier decisions are so great it can take decades to escape them. But the general rule of thumb according to studies I’ve read is five to six years at minimum for a profession (or longer if you have that kind of focus, which many people do). If nothing excites you, identify things you don’t like doing and work backwards from there. And remember: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
- You’ll be happy once you reach retirement. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You don’t have to put your time in to take time off. Whether a year, a decade, or an entire career, taking time off is healthy and important to not only your personal well being, but time off can even revitalize your professional efforts. It makes you hungry to return to work. Inspires you. So rather than defer vacation and adventure to a time when your body is rapidly deteriorating, take regular vacations and mini retirements throughout your career. To help with this, redefine vacations and mini retirements as long weekends and 5-6 days several times a year, instead 1-2 weeks once a year. Of course, if you only identify with work, you probably won’t want to do this. Different strokes for different folks. Just know that you don’t have to live like that if you don’t want to. You can and should be enjoying life right now, instead of deferring it.
- The more you see and do in this world, the better. I sometimes prescribe to this myth. It fuels my curiosity and has taken me to some amazing places. The problem is that it also encourages an unsustainably fast lifestyle. A crammed lifestyle. When you whole heartily buy into this idea, you start cramming your day with unnecessary stuff. You start thinking this applies to material goods as much as experiences or relationships. You glance or walk past an iconic place rather than studying it, appreciating it, and learning from it. You become one of the many tourist my wife and I ran into while vacationing in Paris last month: the kind that blow past 15 European countries in two weeks just to say they did. Do the opposite instead. Understand that slower is better, because it lets you meet more people along the way, connect with your environment on a more intimate and meaningful way, and reduces stress. “I regret stopping to smell the roses,” said no one ever. “Patience makes you miserable,” said no one ever. Don’t tell yourself the same.
- Food is fuel. Let’s call this a half truth. When your energy is low or you’re starved by poverty, this is accurate. But for developed nations with stable and plentiful access to meals, this leads to long-term poor health. Things like heart disease, sickness and abnormally high cancer rates. When you believe this myth, you start eating boxed food, processed foods, and fast foods more than you should. You eat on the go, minimize meaning discussions around the dinner table, and form an uneven diet. Admittedly, I’m just learning this now. But it has changed my life and perspective on food. I’ve never thought more about food than I do now. I look forward to each and every meal. When I used to view food solely as fuel, I formed bad diet habits. Now that I view food as an event — one that I actively try to participate in by cooking — I don’t just have a diet, I love my diet. For the first time, I feel like I’m exposing my palette to new flavors and food combinations as much as I expose my other senses to new sights, sounds, and feels. It’s a wonderful thing.
- I want to grow up. I’m amazed by how often we tell ourselves this. The seed is often planted when you’re first told “You’re not old enough,” or “You’re not tall enough.” It’s later cemented when we tell ourselves, “You’re not successful enough.” So what do we do? We tell ourselves we want to grow up, as fast as humanly possible. What happens next? We often find ourselves with jaded minds, unnecessary regret, and broken hearts. Often times, this primal desire to grow up kills our curiosity and desire to learn. It keeps us from learning new tricks, trying new things. It strips of us innocence and encourages us to generalize, judge, and belittle others. It makes us old. “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty,” said Henry Ford. Obviously, adulthood is more rewarding than childhood. And maturity is a good thing. But it’s significantly more so for the young at heart. Leaps and bounds more.
- Passing the buck brings happiness. False. Your happiness and well being is entirely your responsibility. You must take ownership of your own behavior and understand that some of the reasons everything happens is because we are stupid and make dumb mistakes. So stop blaming others. Stop waiting for the world to change you. Be the change you wish the world to be. Look for ways to make someone’s day. Say thank you, both verbally and in writing. Personal responsibility, hope, and compassion bring happiness. Easier said than done, yes. But doable by anyone in any circumstance. Read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning if you don’t believe me.
Originally published by blakesnow.com on October 19, 2012.