How to Survive a Beating by an Unforgiving Universe
I messed up my life early. I did it to myself because I was the one who thought he knew it all, the arrogant one that had it all figured out, but who ended up learning the lessons of life one harsh beating at a time. And my early mistakes cost me everything I had wanted and everything I had worked so hard for through so many years.
Looking back from the safe perspective of today, I wish I could write myself a letter warning myself of my own stupidity, but I doubt if I would have listened to anyone, including an older version of myself, even though the wisdom gained could have made my life easier and a lot more productive.
I look back at the arrogant idiot I was in my 20s, the one who never listened to anyone. I grew up as a small town boy from a one of those boring states out there in the middle and thought I knew it all in life, but was so wrong, and it cost me relationships, good jobs and an immense amount of money trying to find my way past my own mistakes.
My life would have been so much easier if only I had learned the real lessons of life without a beating from an unforgiving universe. In life, you often learn by being humbled in front of others. You lose money in businesses perfect on paper, such as my first little gym company I had to sell for parts after a year of losses.
You take a dream job that turns out to be a nightmare that sets you back three years of your career. You lose relationships you should have never been in or they might have been relationships that were valuable and you weren’t mature enough to know the difference, and those relationships could have been saved if only you had the experience and maturity to handle it differently.
There were no mentors touching my life until I finally became wise enough to seek them out on my own much later after so much of the early damage had been done.
Having someone there guiding me in my teens and college days, and my early work years, could have eased the pain and stupidity of learning everything in the most difficult ways possible. My father was off to another life leaving my mother, a wonderful person who was not worldly in any sense of the word, to raise three boys and get us ready for life. No guide, no coach, just me set on a path to make every mistake he could make and hopefully not die.
Old wisdom declares you are the accumulation of all the things you failed at in life, and if that is the case, I now exist as nothing more than a giant ball of wound up ass kicking seasoned by failure and tempered by a universe that worked hard to keep my humble.
If I would have had guidance, or a friend with the experience to offer direction in my life when I was younger, would I have been smart enough to take that help, or would I have been too arrogant and continued on my path of “try, get beaten, learn and try again?”
My arrogance of youth often won, and I realize now there is a fine line between being the hard head that sticks to what he believes no matter the pounding, or the person who has to do it his way just to prove he arrogantly can.
Many of us feel we have to find the answers on our own, or worse, believe we should already know how life works when we haven’t yet turned thirty, but this is wrong thinking. I felt the world expected me to be confident and not knowing the answers to every major question in life would reveal the insecurities of a boy who never had a strong role model in his life.
Life baffled me in my early years. I was always the one dressed strangely, always the one fighting with a boss to show I knew what I didn’t really know and lived secretly overwhelmed by people who always seemed to have answers to questions I didn’t even understand.
I don’t believe much has changed for people in their 20s today. We have thrust an entire generation into serious jobs too early, have asked for full adulting in relationships too soon, and in all reality have denied the youth their youth. No time to explore, to try on new things, to see what it takes to find the life that might someday fit who you are and what you really want.
You are set in motion with punishing years in high school getting ready for college, locked into a career track when you are twenty-one that you are expected to maintain for the next sixty years of your life, then wait for you to find a relationship that makes sense when you are not even sure who you really are yet.
Here are a few things I wish someone had taught me during my lost years: the things that reflect what I know now, that I didn’t know then.
Never waste a day caring about what anyone thinks of you… unless you seek that opinion
We spend too much wondering if our clothes are appropriate, if others will accept our uniqueness in the world, or we waste our days trying to please someone else besides ourselves.
There should be a core of people you love and trust whose advice you respect, although there is no law you ever have to do what anyone suggests or take anyone’s advice once you hear it. Stop worrying about your shirt, pants, car, house or choice of a spouse. If what you do keeps you happy, then keep on keeping on.
Respect everyone; be intimidated by no one
Someone will always have more money than you do, and many more will have less. Arrogant people who accumulate money and treat everyone badly, from the guy at the coffee shop to the waitress at the local café, are not better than you are, they have more money… maybe.
Money intimidated me early in life, and I equated money people with being superior human beings. Then I became a consultant to money people in my 30s and realized money was often nothing more than a sign of a troubled and wretched human being in nice clothes.
The mistake I made was that I couldn’t tell the difference between class and money, and one is not a sign of the other. Money people can be hurtful, insensitive to others less fortunate and world class asses. People without a lot of cash can be classy, carry themselves well and contribute beautifully to the universe.
The lesson is to learn how to carry yourself well and remember that anyone can learn how to dress, show manners and be a class act. Classy is a state of mind, not an entry in a checkbook.
You must always be the professional
It does not matter what job you hold. It does not matter what you do for a living. It does not matter if you make $20 an hour or millions a year.
It matters you are always act and perform as a professional professional
Being professional means, you bring a full, conscience effort to your work. Work harder than those around you as you create your career, dress better than those in the same line of work, study harder and master what you do even if you are the most entry level hire in the company.
Being a professional is an internal thing… a state of mind you enter once you dedicate yourself to whatever job you take on. There are no jobs beneath you: you can elevate every job to a professional status by refusing to be anything else but the best you can be.
Always do the right thing
Eventually you have to go to sleep, and when you do there should be no doubt in your mind that every decision made that day was you doing the right thing morally, ethically and professionally.
They say everyone has a number, and that anyone will sell out for the right number. It doesn’t matter if you are religious or not, but what price do you put on your soul, defined as the one thing no one in the world should ever be able to take away from you?
You might slip, stumble and somewhere make a decision that wasn’t the right thing, but that was one day, and one day only, so now what are you going to do for the rest of your life?
Knowing the right thing may be the hardest part for some people, especially those out of practice that have spent so many years trying to do the wrong things to so many people. I believe there is a point of no return where a life led of constantly harming others becomes your life’s work and that you can’t find your way back again.
Money and emotion don’t mix
Money is easy. You can read about it, take lessons on it, learn to earn more of it, and ultimately come to understand money only exists for one purpose, and that is it allows you to live life on your own terms not held hostage by a single person, or by a job or career you hate.
But emotion ruins money sense. Emotional responses to money, such as arrogance, greed, or spending to impress, are the things preventing so many people from gathering any of the world’s common tender. Money isn’t hard, but separating money from emotion might be one of the hardest things you will discover in life.
There is no perfect
There is no perfect job, spouse, house, town, friend, relative, project or life. There is a drive for many people to achieve perfection, and this causes procrastination and self-inflicted stress.
Don’t waste your life chasing perfect, but dedicate your life to doing the things the best you can do them, and that will often be all you need to be the best you can be.
Life in balance is a myth
You can’t live a life in balance and ever achieve anything worth a damn.
The key is learning to create a burst of imbalance where you just lose your mind for a few months to get that new job going, new business open, or to finish that book, and then you go back to a focus on those you left behind.
I believe no one can handle over three big things in your life at once. If you want a great career, go for it and take your family along, but don’t expect to be part of the community, a weekend coach and a dozen other things done badly because you believe that doing it all represents a balance in your life.
Focus on the two or three things that define your life and put your energy there. When those are done, or fade, then find two or three more, but fewer things done better is a much better way to define your life.
Master one thing
This is advice I got and took. Learn more about one thing and you will never be out of work. What is your one thing? Can you define it in one sentence? Will you be able to say decades from now the passion is still there to share that one thing? Never waste a single day doing anything you are not passionate about in your life.
There is no reason on this earth to not put your personal health at the top of the list in life’s to-do pile. The reality is we often trade health for short-term gain. We eat stress for breakfast, live on stupid hours, drink too much on the weekends, and end up sacrificing our health for something we couldn’t enjoy if we lost that health.
The struggle may be constant, and there are days that don’t lend themselves to chasing fitness, but it is the rule of life they can’t bury you if you are still moving. Move a little more, lose those five pounds, shut down the screen for a few hours a day, and take the kids or your fat dog for a walk. Fitness is motion, and motion is life.
Explore the nature of faith
Believing in something is worth the effort. Explore everything about faith. The values we often respect in others come from man’s attempt to understand a higher power. It doesn’t matter what you believe in as long as you spend a lot of your life looking.
Faith in higher powers arrives at different times in your life and too many people make the judgment based upon what others say about faith, and not by exploring for themselves. There is no one way, one religion nor one approach to finding out about what makes the universe a place worth living in.
If it is worth doing, it is worth overdoing
Pick fewer friends but be the best friend ever. Going to a party? Be the last one out and do it right. Going on a trip? Explore every alley of every country in the world. Going to be in the marketing or writing business? Then be the best that ever lived.
Mediocrity is for losers. If it is worth doing, it is worth giving it your undivided effort and passion.
Live for today
The time between being twenty-one and sixty is about four weeks. There is no tomorrow, there is only today lived well with passion and intensity. You should plan for your future, and spend a great deal of time projecting your life ahead, but for some of us there is no tomorrow and you will only have today.
People die young, get sick or lose their life in some horrible way that reflects the finicky nature of the universe. You might not have tomorrow, but you always have today.
Listening is the lost art of adulthood
The ultimate respect you can show the one you love is to shut up and listen to what is being said and quit trying to take every discussion as a problem to be solved. The ego of those in their 20s should come with a warning stamped on the butt of every child ever born: “You do not always have to be right.”
Being open to help, and being willing to ask for guidance when you do not know all the answers, is where adulthood begins for many. Sadly, this often never comes, and most people would rather lose everything than to ever admit they don’t know everything. And you will lose everything going it alone for a lifetime.
Even if this made its way back to me as a younger man, I don’t know if I would have been smart enough, and strong enough, to take my own advice.
Life with no regrets is a good life…but oh the pain of being so young and dumb.