“140 Life Lessons I Wish I Knew at 20” AKA FSB140
When I hit 40 a few years ago — a light bulb went off. Self-acceptance “dropped on me like a ton of bricks,” as I heard Jada Pinkett Smith once describe it. The clarity you gain is like crystal, and now at 42; I can’t stop thinking — good God, why didn’t anybody share life’s lessons with me sooner. Is there some memo circulating and I just didn’t get cc’d? For the record: folks tried intermittently along the way. But, I was too engrossed in youth and ‘being independent’ to listen. Of course, you can’t cut corners in life — the whole point is to live it: good, bad, ugly, or worst of all… indifferent. The wisdom comes through trial and error… ultimately, gained through experience.
Like many during this pandemic, I’ve taken the time and space to deeply reflect — to take stock of life. I’m grateful to be able to look back at my journey thus far, having sieved out the wisdom through the painstaking process of working through the fear and releasing the resentment (both still get triggered, but thankfully — much less often). This platform and, specifically, this post are akin to the “Cliff Notes” I wish I had at 20 years old. These are the 140 greatest, and hardest, lessons I learned along the way.
I am not a psychologist, but I’ve delved into my own depths (and let me just say that the hardest thing I have ever had to do was confront myself). We can be inherently egotistical and too prideful to be open about struggles. We are open about success, but we tend to hide struggle — myself especially (a huge shout out here to Brene´ Brown’s works on shame and the power of vulnerability, which lent me courage). I understand that knowing the lesson and having the discipline to apply it are two separate things. I’m no guru or expert nor am I perfect. I revisit this list frequently to remind myself. Like you, if you are reading this and it resonates — I too will be figuring out the balance between wisdom and application. There is no cookie-cutter, linear process to healing. Life is messy, and we are unpredictable.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, thematically sequential, cultural/gender specific, or even conclusive. All I know is: this is what I know to be true for me thus far — after over 40 years of existence across many countries, cultures, states, professions, and peoples. I wish I had this script to refer to 20 years ago; as I was starting off. You may read this and think, ‘well, duh,’ which is, honestly, my greatest fear (so, there was a memo)! Or, you may say: ‘nah, none of these really apply to me,’ which is your call. Either way, I’m putting this out there in case this list can help one random person get through a difficulty, make a choice, steer in a healthier direction, or just think. (Note: a few of the lessons are well known adages, which I kept for emphasis [even if I weren’t exactly sure of the source]. Others may seem similar to one another, which I kept separate — also for emphasis).
140 Life Lessons I Wish I Knew at 20:
Lesson #1: Learn to dance with your demons. Accept every part of you — so, you don’t go around searching externally to be accepted.
Lesson #2: Don’t mistake chemistry for compatibility.
Lesson #3: From the second you start working, save at least 10% of whatever you make. As your nest egg grows — invest some; keep some liquid.
Lesson #4: You don’t have to know what you want to do with the rest of your life at 18, but you do have to go to class.
Lesson #5: Learn religion but embrace spirituality — believe in a Higher Source.
Lesson #6: Cherish childhood friends.
Lesson #7: Set healthy boundaries by learning to say no.
Lesson #8: Prioritize yourself (body, mind, spirit) & feed all 5 of your senses daily. But, beware: garbage in garbage out.
Lesson #9: Wait tables and be a maid to learn service with both pride and humility.
Lesson #10: Learn to acknowledge, sit with and process your feelings. The only way out is through.
Lesson #11: Don’t mistake ego for confidence.
Lesson #12: Don’t mistake pride with dignity.
Lesson #13: There are differences among: self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-assuredness — you need all three. You might have to dig deep, but they all come from within.
Lesson #14: Know your own worth.
Lesson #15: Don’t be afraid to negotiate and ask for what you deserve, but don’t mistake entitlement for experience.
Lesson #17: Connect with others; don’t attach.
Lesson #18: Love — love is only love if it’s in action. You will get your heart broken but love anyway, even if it’s from a distance.
Lesson #19: Forgive — people will disappoint you; forgive them anyway, but above all, forgive yourself.
P.S. Forgiveness doesn’t mean re-engaging.
Lesson #20: Everything in life comes to teach us a lesson, the more resistant we are — the harder the lessons become.
Lesson #21: Don’t mistake status for success. You will have to figure out what success means to you. Then be willing to hustle for it.
Lesson #22: Nothing external validates who you are or your worth (numbers, people, letters, institutions); neither will anything external make you content (luxury items, relationships, career). Validation and contentment are inside jobs.
Lesson #23: Lose yourself to find yourself — try your hand at many things, especially earlier in life and career, so you can sense what you are passionate about — then pursue it unapologetically.
Lesson #24: Acknowledge and work through any trauma you have, then let it go. Sweeping it under the rug will only make it worse, and it will rear its ugly head throughout life across all spheres.
Lesson #25: Don’t let your struggles define you.
Lesson #26: Treat others with decency and respect; even if they don’t deserve it.
Lesson #27: Cut toxicity out of your life with a quickness. If it’s confusing, draining, or causing you anxiety; cut it out immediately.
Lesson #28: Enjoy your own company and get comfortable with going out alone. Be complete within yourself.
Lesson #29: Build strong relationships with your siblings; they will be your closest family when your parents are gone.
Lesson #30: Second to the connection you have with yourself; your relationship with your parents sets the stage for all other interactions in life. If childhood wasn’t easy; learn to heal, forgive, and love your parents (even if that means from a distance or it takes time). Parents are humans without a manual. They did the best they could with what they knew at the time, which was likely passed down to them.
Lesson #31: Meditate to quiet your mind.
Lesson #32: Life is unfair, but you don’t have to be.
Lesson #33: Treat those who may seem “less educated, titled, etc.” with more respect.
Lesson #34: Laugh heartily from your stomach, even in public.
Lesson #35: Stay in touch with your college bestie.
Lesson #36: Move daily — exercise, even if it’s just a stroll.
Lesson #37: Aim for interdependence; not co-dependence.
Lesson #38: Let go of outcomes — you can’t control anything or anyone but yourself.
Lesson #39: You are a spiritual being having a human experience. Don’t neglect your soul.
Lesson #40: Be consistent.
Lesson #41: Age gracefully.
Lesson #42: When people treat you badly, 99.9999% of the time; it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Don’t take it personally.
Lesson #43: Respond; as opposed to react.
Lesson #44: You attract what you are — if you are not happy with where you are or who is around you; work on yourself.
Lesson #45: Don’t follow societal norms just because you are expected to, i.e., marriage, house, kids, etc. And, don’t let anyone or anything else define or narrate who you are. Only you get to do that. Be you.
Lesson #46: Strive to be a better version of yourself — you are your only competition.
Lesson #47: Control your emotions and your thoughts; or they will control you.
Lesson #48: Pick-up a constructive hobby or outlet; so that you don’t self-medicate with food, alcohol, drugs, etc. Also, learn to unwind without the use of a stimulant or sedative.
Lesson #49: Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.
Lesson #50: Play — everyday, connect with your inner child. S/he is still in there.
Lesson #51: Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. And, don’t judge anyone else — external judgement is a mirror of how you view yourself.
Lesson #52: Believe in yourself and be your biggest cheerleader.
Lesson #53: Believe in Karma — don’t waste energy on revenge. Know that if you get shortchanged in any situation, the universe has a way of recalibrating to serve everyone what s/he deserves. Transversely, know that how you treat others eventually comes back to you — always.
Lesson #54: Don’t ever count yourself out. Apply and overreach, even if you don’t think you’ll qualify. Let the world turn you down, but always give yourself a chance.
Lesson #55: Keep your child-like enthusiasm and curiosity; they make you an eternal student.
Lesson #56: No matter what is happening, stay hopeful.
Lesson #57: High school does not define you. If high school sucked for you — congrats — your prime is ahead, and everyone else peaked early.
Lesson #58: Always listen to both sides of the story.
Lesson #59: Read information on the same topic from multiple sources (even then, don’t take it as gospel); contextualize and pay as much attention to what is said as to what is not mentioned. Then, form your own opinion.
Lesson #61: Take a gap year and travel on a budget, even domestically.
Lesson #62: Pay attention to signs from the universe and listen to your gut.
Lesson #63: If you think the world is against you; remember the universe has your back — stay positive.
Lesson #64: My formula for success:
good intentions + hard work — credit/passion + consistency= SUCCESS
Lesson #65: We are all struggling at various intervals and different gradations — be kind.
Lesson #66: You can’t choose the hand life deals you; always play your best. But, “you got to know when to hold ’em; know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away; know when to run” — Kenny Rogers nailed it.
Lesson #67: Loyalty is paramount — choose wisely. If your loyalty and effort are not reciprocated — that’s usury.
Lesson #68: The most valuable currency in life is time — not money. Forget the adage time is money. Time is energy — choose how and where you expend your time and energy. You can always make more money, but once you expend your time and energy — they are gone for good. Prioritize what matters.
Lesson #69: Aspire to add value. Don’t chase money, fame, or status — these can be by-products of pursuing your passion; but not the ultimate goal.
Lesson #70: Never compromise your integrity; your conscience will reward you.
Lesson #71: Always help others, but don’t be a door mat.
Lesson #72: Don’t make decisions based out of fear. Instead, harness that energy and use it to propel yourself forward.
Lesson #73: Ask questions.
Lesson #74: Read the fine print before you sign.
Lesson #75: You won’t always get closure — move on anyway.
Lesson #76: Be a reliable friend.
Lesson #77: Do an internship.
Lesson #78: Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability — whether it’s mopping or public speaking. Be so present and purposeful with the task at hand, that your absence is felt upon completion.
Lesson #79: Trust the process — let things take their natural course.
Lesson #80: People change, so will you. Some will stay in your life, others will fall off. It’s ok.
Lesson #81: There are some conversations you just can’t comeback from — it’s ok.
Lesson #82: Have mercy on yourself, so you can have mercy on others.
Lesson #83: Make time to dance.
Lesson #84: You can always start over. Rebuild with the scrap material.
Lesson #85: Try. If you don’t succeed, don’t regret failing — celebrate trying.
Lesson #87: “What is meant for you will reach you even if it’s beneath two mountains, and what isn’t meant for you, won’t reach you even if it’s between your two lips.” (disclaimer: have seen multiple sources for this, unsure of exact attribution — Middle East, Arab, Islamic saying[s]).
Lesson #88: Find a good dream interpreter.
Lesson #89: Seek the counsel of others; but make your own decision.
Lesson #90: Don’t worry about what others think of you. Only your opinion of yourself matters. Judge yourself well — make sure the voice in your head is gentle with you.
Lesson #91: Stay grounded.
Lesson #92: In public speaking, to calm your nerves, look up at the room but don’t make direct eye contact with the audience members.
Lesson #93: Be in nature.
Lesson #94: Take a trip alone.
Lesson #95: Always dress-up and show-up; especially for yourself.
Lesson #96: Take Epsom salt baths.
Lesson #97: Pray.
Lesson #98: Don’t be apathetic — take a stance.
Lesson #99: Balance is everything.
Lesson #100: Be your own boss. Figure out what you are good at and what you’re passionate about — then start your own business and fulfill your purpose.
Lesson #101: Read The Old Testament, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Oh, the Places You Will Go by Dr. Seuss, The Richest Man in Babylon by George Samuel Clason, and The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
Lesson #102: Keep up with what is happening in the world.
Lesson #103: But, don’t watch too much news.
Lesson #104: As above, so below — be aware of the planetary alignments.
Lesson #105: Know the atrocities of history, so you don’t repeat them.
Lesson #106: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” Invictus — William Ernest Henley. Remember that.
Lesson #107: Smile and stretch, every day.
Lesson #108: Don’t label people — that lacks the effort to understand an individual’s dimensions.
Lesson #109: You are empowered to change your mind and direction without explanation. Give yourself permission to take chances.
Lesson #110: Don’t mistake control or attention for love. There is no ego in love.
Lesson #111: When you get; give.
Lesson #112: Believe in miracles.
Lesson #113: Visit people in the hospital and go to funerals.
Lesson #115: Don’t let compliments or criticism get inside of you.
Lesson #117: Know that when you are down, there’s only one way to go.
Lesson #118: Know that when you are up — it’s easy to fall.
Lesson #119: Watch all of ‘The Godfather’ movies (“leave the gun; take the Cannoli” — in life; leave the resentment behind, but take the lesson with you).
Lesson #120: You have the power to change the world. Know and believe that.
Lesson #121: If you failed Algebra, it’s ok — there’s still hope.
Lesson #122: File your taxes.
Lesson #123: Listen more than you speak.
Lesson #124: Learn to understand another person’s opinion without accepting or agreeing with it — it’s the only way to come to a mutual solution.
Lesson #125: Apologize.
Lesson #126: Once you’ve earned it, enjoying the finer things in life does not make you shallow; not appreciating or finding joy in the simple things — does.
Lesson #127: Go to therapy.
Lesson #128: Life can change in an instant. Don’t take anything for granted. In the morning, wake with gratitude in your heart and on your tongue. In the evening, sleep with gratitude in your heart and on your tongue.
Lesson #129: Find the thing that makes you you — and protect it ferociously.
Lesson #130: Your greatest weakness and strength are one and the same. Embrace it.
Lesson #131: Focus is also paramount. Hone in on what you want out of life, instead of what you don’t want. And, focus on yourself — in other words, mind your own business.
Lesson #132: Vote.
Lesson #133: Stay true to your morals and values, but don’t be self-righteous.
Lesson #134: You are allowed to rest without guilt.
Lesson #135: You deserve love, peace, and all good things — not because you are productive; not because you are perfect; not because you are smart. Simply because you exist.
Lesson #136: The most important relationship you will have in life will be with yourself. Love yourself first. If you don’t like aspects of yourself, evolve but know you will never achieve perfection.
Lesson #137: To be successful, at anything — whether it’s self-acceptance or your career — you gotta do the work.
Lesson #138: Trust people’s energies — if it feels off, it is.
Lesson #139: Don’t betray yourself — be true to you always. Stop being polite to others at your own expense.
Lesson #140: Finally, when you falter (and, you will — it’s ok): rest. But, get back up and keep on truckin’…
*this post is now available as a keepsake paperback.