10 Important Lessons Life Has Taught Me So Far

About five years ago I did two things that changed the course of my life and put me in a position where I could (or HAD to) quickly learn some very important lessons to live by.

– I lived in Africa for half a year, kind of on my own (you can read about it at www.africathings.wordpress.com–I plan on making some time before too long to finish that series). The biggest lesson I learned there: You can make HUGE things happen if you really want to.

– I arrived back from Africa to my hometown in Florida and promptly moved all the way up to frozen Minnesota, with hardly a penny to my name, and started figuring out life on my own. (A beautiful girl is a strong motivator.)

Both of those were scary things, and both changed my life in big ways. Strangely enough, moving on my own to Minnesota and starting school and getting into business has been way scarier and harder than going off to live in Africa. Especially learning what “grown up” life really entails: Interacting with bosses, writing resumes, learning how to interview, budgeting, building credit, saving money, renting, financial planning, insurance, networking, building relationships, dating, etc…

It’s been a struggle, but I am proud to say I am very happy.

Looking back, a few things stand out as the most important things that growing up and working on life have taught me. They’re definitely lessons you don’t learn in school. I pass them along as encouragement to young people getting started themselves, and encouragement we all need, no matter how seasoned we think we are at life:


1. Self-leadership absolutely comes first. You can’t control life, but you can and must control your attitude and behavior.

“The first and the best victory is to conquer self.” – Plato


2. You can try to blame your life on others, but taking responsibility for all of it gives you the power to change your life.

“When we have begun to take charge of our lives, to own ourselves, there is no longer any need to ask permission of someone.” – George O’Neil


3. You need help. And having the courage to find people who can help you and then actually ask for and accept their help will change your life in big ways.

“People who ask confidently get more than those who are hesitant and uncertain. When you’ve figured out what you want to ask for, do it with certainty, boldness, and confidence.” – Jack Canfield


4. The grass is not always greener on the other side. Pick your garden and cultivate it.

“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance. The wise grows it under his feet.” – James Oppenheim


5. Having a passionate vision and setting serious goals is an incredibly powerful way of life.

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca


6. Always be a student of life. Learn from books, learn from others, learn by experiencing, and learn by observing.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eight. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” – Henry Ford


7. Make sure to have a balance in your life of creating, learning, and enjoying.

“Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life; learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.” – Robert Fulghum


8. You are a whole person. Take care of your body.

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” – Jim Rohn


9. Loving and being loved is absolutely essential. Caring gives life meaning. And giving is oxygen to your soul.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow-men; and along those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and come back to us as effects.” – Herman Melville


10. Happiness and peace come from the inside. Slow down and deeply experience your beautiful world.

“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” – Dalai Lama


I hope all this was encouraging for you. :)

PS. #9 needs some repeating. Until you grasp the significance of the people around you, I promise you will not be happy. Your life is insanely meaningful, and every interaction you have with every human being is insanely meaningful. Be incredibly careful, and be incredibly grateful. There is one more related quote that I couldn’t help but stop and meditate on for a while after I read it:

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him; and you are torn by the thought of the unhappiness and night you cast, by the mere fact of living, in the hearts you encounter.” – Albert Camus


What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in life? Please pass these along and share your own! Let’s all help inspire each other!

Why Feeling Fake is GOOD

Change is uncomfortable. And if you don’t feel uncomfortable with yourself, you probably aren’t changing and growing.

Here’s what I mean:

Last weekend I got to participate in a workshop for couples that included discussion of conflict resolution. Everyone got to practice a specific formula that can help to de-escalate a situation and arrive at genuine acceptance, mutual appreciation, and teamwork.

On the second day, one guy had the guts to share: After learning the formula on day one, he and his partner had a chance to apply the conflict resolution formula the morning after, and it got a little off track. He got angry. Here’s why: He said that when his partner started following the steps, he immediately felt like they were being fake–like she was just trying to “use” the method on him, and like he was expected to just role play in return. He didn’t feel genuine. He said he felt embarrassed and scared.


It is absolutely vital to understand this, if you want to grow as a person: When you adopt a new version of you–a new behavior, attitude, thought process, way of communication–when you make a change, you WILL feel fake.

And that’s GOOD!


“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.” – Mandy Hale


We’re conditioned to constantly be worrying about what people think of us, and we very naturally assume people will not take us seriously. That means that the more we act exactly as people expect, the more likely it is that people will take us seriously.

On the other hand, if we suddenly act in positive ways that people don’t expect or believe we can, they are likely to think something along the lines of: “Yeah right. You’re not fooling me!”

And that is an incredibly uncomfortable prospect. So uncomfortable, that we’re more comfortable with stopping ourselves short of judgement by judging ourselves: “You’re not this guy. You’re faking. You’re just playing games. You don’t really mean this.”


One of the biggest obstacles to positive changes in everyone is the feeling of fakeness.

You have learned: Your identity does NOT include saying nice things to people.

You decide: I am going to start saying nice things to people.

You say: “You did a really good job leading that project.”

You immediately think: Whoa whoa whoa, who is that guy?

You assume that the other person immediately thinks: Yeah, right. What are you trying to get from me?

You feel fake, because you’re re-assigning your former identity to yourself and assuming (and caring) that others are, too.


And that’s why people just won’t change. Even when they want to.


The solution is almost as simple as it is difficult: Be okay with feeling fake.

Deep down, if you’ve decided to speak more kindly (for example), you KNOW that the real reason for your words is that you want to make that change–even though you FEEL, “You’re just faking it.”

There is something to be said for “Fake it till you make it.” If deep down, your starting point isn’t fake, then no matter how fake you feel, you’re on the right track. Keep doing it, even though it feels fake, till it becomes you and feels natural.

If you DON’T feel fake when you’re becoming a new you–going into uncharted territory–shocking the people who know you… if you DON’T feel fake, it’s very likely that you’re just putting on a show. Because we’re comfortable with acting. Always have been. What we’re NOT comfortable with is deeply BEING the person we haven’t been before. The person others don’t expect us to be. Often when you’re growing, genuine feels more fake than fake does.


Don’t worry about the feeling of being fake when you’re making a change. If you listen to that voice, you will never change. If instead you keep being who you really want to be, no matter how difficult, no matter what it feels like, no matter what other people think–you will eventually get used to it. People will eventually know the new you. What feels fake will start to feel natural.

So–if you’re trying to be better, and you feel “fake”–GOOD. You’re doing it right. So don’t stop now!


“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – E. E. Cummings

5 Reasons You Should Show Up First

Whether you’re salaried and can start work when you want, or you’re required to wait till a certain time to punch in and start your real work, arriving at work bright (or dark) and early has some serious benefits. It can be the difference between a great day and an awful one.

Here are 5 reasons I try to be one of the first people in the office every day:

1. The office mood isn’t already decided when you get there.

This is the biggest one for me. You probably know the feeling all too well of walking in the door and feeling a shadow–you know something has already gone wrong. Maybe someone just woke up on the wrong side of bed. Or someone just got a bad review or a bunch more thrown into their work load. Maybe a couple co-workers have already butted heads. Whatever it is, everyone’s grumpy.

It’s really hard to walk in to bad vibes and stay positive and energized.

On the other hand, if you can be there to start everyone’s day off with a smile and some positive energy, you can help set a positive mood for the office–start everyone’s day with a smile.

2. Never racing the clock eliminates a lot of stress.

Whether you’re required to be there right on the hour, or showing up shortly after is frowned upon–making it just in time comes with a lot of stress. Every red light or slow driver frustrates you to no end. And if you’re pushing it too close, you spend your entire commute coming up with excuses (for your boss and for yourself).

Deciding to just get there well before you have to every day immediately eliminates all that stress. You’re never racing the clock, red lights, and slow drivers. Your day doesn’t automatically start with stressing and excusing. It starts with a nice, relaxing drive.

Heck, roll your windows down and chill. You have nowhere to be fast.

3. You get a ton of work done before distractions.

Especially if you work closely with a team, or if you work in close quarters with others, you can get double or triple the work done while nobody’s there to distract you yet. Adding just one hour of working before you have to interact might be a sacrifice, but it can mean getting literally twice the work done in one day. And that’s the kind of productivity that leads to pay raises and promotions.

If you’re not salaried, and you’re not legally allowed to start working before you’re supposed to clock in, showing up early still helps: Dedicate some time to your own development. Start the day off strong by reflecting on your accomplishments and areas of opportunity. Set some goals for your day. Read a chapter from an industry-related book. Whether it’s official “work” or not, dedicate some extra time every morning to your success.

4. People see you as dependable and hard-working.

When you get there and get started before the crowd, people naturally start seeing you as a diligent and hard-working person. Your co-workers know you as the one who will always show up early and ready. Your boss will never have to worry that you’ll show up late.

If people see you putting in extra, going above and beyond, they will be impressed. They’ll talk about it. They’ll see it as a good example.

You need to be known for your diligence. Opportunities will start throwing themselves at you.

5. You trick your brain into enthusiasm.

Finally, being the first one to work tricks your brain into enthusiasm: If you show up early, people see you as a hard worker. When people see you as a hard worker, you feel like a hard worker. When you feel like a hard worker, it becomes a part of your identity. Suddenly, whether you intended to or not, you’ve tricked yourself into working harder.

It’s also hard to lead the charge in the morning and not be energized. Your brain just can’t make sense of showing up early AND dragging your feet and being grumpy. They’re not compatible. So don’t give your brain the option of picking laziness in the morning. Kick it into high gear by showing up early, and you’re just helping yourself be happier, healthier, and harder working.

The list could go on, so why don’t you share? What else do you think showing up early could do for your career and your character?

And where does this apply besides the office? Can you make a difference being the first one up with a positive attitude in your house every morning?


“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive–to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius

You Have No Idea What’s Really Going On

I recently ran across a Yelp review from back when I managed a particular restaurant location.

The review was scathing. And I agreed with pretty much all of it. What rubbed me the wrong way was that the critic ended with: “Let’s all boycott this location until they get a manager in there who actually cares!”

Well that bites.

The lady looked around the restaurant and saw bad teamwork and bad customer service, and that’s not hard to identify. But its not fair to draw the conclusion that the current manager must not care.

I had been at the store for only a little while, and had already turned over half the original crew and most of the original management staff. The store was completely diseased when I arrived, and even though I cared immensely from day one, it was going to be a long, hard journey to get the store back into shape.

Her assessment that the manager just didn’t care couldn’t be further from the truth. I worked long hours I never should have worked and put up with frustrations you should never have to experience in the workplace–dealing with managers stealing from our safe, stopping a lot of intense verbal abuse, opening the store with about 25% of the required manpower on many occasions, receiving personal threats. I was trying hard.

I cared a lot. And it didn’t feel good to hear someone publicly say I didn’t care.


But reading the review made me realize something: I am just as quick to judge as my Yelp critic.

Be honest: Aren’t you?

When I go anywhere and see a mess, see bad attitudes, see mistakes happening, I am very quick to jump to conclusions: “This company sucks.” “They need a new manager.”

But I forget, like so many other customers and critics, that I only see the tip of the iceberg. I don’t know the whole story.

The same set of symptoms could be diagnosed in extremely different ways:

A) This manager is stupid and terrible, doesn’t care, and needs to be fired!

B) This manager is working really hard to clean up a mess (probably inherited), and needs all the support and encouragement I can give.


Remember: You only see the tip of the iceberg. You don’t see the massive reality beneath the surface.

So be careful about judging.

We can’t help jumping to conclusions, because we’ll never have all the information.

But which voice is going to come to you more naturally? Criticism and condemnation? Or support and encouragement?

Before you judge, look under the surface. Ask questions. Try to understand the real situation. And until you’ve looked thoroughly, be careful not to discourage someone who might be trying a lot harder than you think.


Can you imagine if your boss stopped jumping to conclusions about your work? If your co-workers stopped jumping to conclusions about your intentions? If your employees stopped jumping to conclusions about your character? If your customers stopped jumping to conclusions about your attitude? If friends would stop jumping to conclusions about your motives? If strangers would stop jumping to conclusions about your beliefs or your parenting or your social status or your personality? If your family stopped jumping to conclusions about what you do and say and who you really are?

Wouldn’t you love that?

Then stop judging others by the little tip of the iceberg you can see. There’s probably quite a story you don’t know beneath the surface.