As I have mentioned a few times around here, my wife and I are expecting twin boys – our first kids – next month. Last week, I celebrated my 30th birthday. As a result of these two major life events, I sat down and wrote out 30 lessons I want to pass on to my sons, one for each year. While most of these don’t directly relate to entrepreneurship or taxes, I do think most of them indirectly apply in some way.
Please note that in no way do I think I have life figured out at 30 years old. If I do another one of these at 60 years old, I’m fairly certain it would look entirely different. So without further ado, here are the 30 biggest lessons I’ve learned in my 30 years of life, in no particular order. Let us know in the comments section what lessons you would add or subtract from this list!
Jacob & Elijah,
It is 11:30 PM on January 9th, 2014. It is about a week past my 30th birthday and about a month until your arrival to the world. As your Mom spends all of our money preparing for you to make your appearance, I wanted to share some things I’ve learned over the past 30 years.
While I’m sure I will spend the next 30 years learning completely new lessons, these 30 lessons have been instrumental in shaping my first 30 years.
1. Success is a Combination of hard work and luck.
A lot of your success in life, whether it is in sports, school, business or any other area will come down to simple hard work. How bad you want it. By simply putting in the work, you will rise above most of the field. You are in complete control over this half of the success equation.
The other component of success is just dumb luck. Things like the country you were born in, the parents you were born to, and the skills you were born with. You have absolutely no control over this half of the success equation.
2. One Half of the Equation Can Overcome the Other.
You will meet people in life who are successful through absolutely nothing but sheer luck. They have been born to incredibly wealthy parents, born with incredible athletic ability or intelligence or looks, or have ran into some other form of luck along the way such as winning the lottery. They have such an abundance of luck, their success requires little or no work on their end.
On the other hand, you will meet people who were able to overcome almost no luck through pure hard work. People who were born to terrible parents in horrible living conditions, with no above average, God given abilities. Yet they are able to find success by outworking every single person in their path.
Your success will likely be determined by a combination of the two. The simple fact you were born in the United States in a non-poverty household gives you a head start in the luck department. The key the rest of the way will be combining hard work in the areas of your God given talents.
3. Speaking of God Given Talents…
You did absolutely nothing to earn these and you have an obligation to use them to help others, not bring them down. As you go through school you will meet many other kids who were born significantly less lucky than you. They will be less good looking, less athletic, less intelligent or a combination of all of the above. Most of your friends will make fun of them and try to make themselves look better by making those less fortunate look worse. And you will be tempted to do the same. Don’t give in. Instead, use the gifts you were given to help those who were less fortunate in the luck department.
The times in my life I am most ashamed of are the times I made fun of someone else to look cool in front of my friends.
4. On the Flip Side of That…
You will also run into people who were given more gifts than you. They will be better looking or more athletic or more intelligent. And if they combine these gifts with hard work, they will achieve more than you and your friends. The people around you will try to belittle their accomplishments and make excuse for why they can’t do the same, and again you will be tempted to do the same. Instead, you should try to learn from these people. In fact, you should associate with as many people who are accomplishing more than you are as you possibly can. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.
A winner respects those who are superior to him and tries to learn from them. A loser resents those who are superior to them and attempts to find chinks in their armor.
The quality of your life will largely be determined by the people you spend the most time with. You will be the average of your five closest friends. So if you want to improve an area of your life, simply improve the people you spend time with.
There is nothing wrong with spending less time with friends who aren’t living the type of life you want to live and more time with people who are. The old friends won’t be happy, but it’s not their happiness you should be worried about.
6. About Girls…
It’s hard to believe now, but nothing in your life will bring you more joy, happiness, sadness, frustration, stress, excitement, disappointment, nervousness, anxiety and every other emotion imaginable. Some of your best memories growing up will be made with a girl. And one or two of them along the way are going to break your heart so bad you will literally feel like you are dying. It will shatter your world in that moment and you will swear you are never falling for another girl again. But you will.
And when you find the right girl someday, all that pain you went through will be completely worth it. You will thank God for those breakups you agonized over and all the unanswered prayers in your past relationships. You won’t believe you ever thought any girl but this one could ever make you happy.
7. Speaking of Finding the Right Girl…
No pressure, but it will likely be the most important decision of your life. Nothing will impact your life more than the person you choose to marry. She will either lift you up or bring you down. She has the power to make your life a happy, exciting adventure, or a living hell.
8. The Good News Is…
You will spend the first 18 years of your life being exposed every day to the perfect example of what the right girl is; your Mom. She is responsible for almost everything good in my life, including you. Any successes I have achieved would not have been possible without her. She has been making me a better man since the moment we started dating. Be glad you didn’t know me before I met her, I was a mess.
So if you find a girl with even half the qualities your Mom has, snatch her up as fast as you can and don’t let go.
9. To Get Ahead in Life, Read Often
I am convinced reading is the number one way to get ahead in any area of life. Books allow you to learn from great people you will never have the opportunity to meet in person. They allow you to go on incredible adventures without ever leaving your home. They give you a piece of the most incredible minds the world has ever seen.
Read as often as you possibly can in as many different subjects as you possibly can. Sir Isaac Newton once said “If I have seen farther than other men, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants”. Books allow you to stand on the shoulders of any giant you want.
10. Take as Many Risks as You Can When You are Young
It’s almost impossible to starve to death in our country. Your Mom and I will probably never let you be homeless. This gives you a free pass to take huge risks in life before you have the responsibilities of a wife and kids and a mortgage.
And when I say take risks, I don’t mean dumb, life threatening risks like doing a wheelie on a motorcycle while driving down the freeway. I mean well thought out, calculated risks in school, athletics, business or any other area of your life that isn’t life or death.
Fortune favors the bold. Take a chance. Follow your gut. There is going to come a time when you need to play it safe for the sake of those depending on you. In the meantime, take as many calculated risks as you possibly can. Almost every massive success story started as a massive risk.
11. There are Three Major Temptations that Bring Down Great Men
Money, power and women. The downfall of almost every great man dating all the way back to biblical times is giving into the temptation from one or more of these.
The desire for money and power can take down any great man. While both are important parts of success, becoming too attached to either will cause you to lie, cheat, manipulate and deceive others in order to gain it. And prisons are full of otherwise good men who gave into the temptation of money and/or power.
The temptation of a woman can destroy your life. And the more successful you become, the more women there will be to tempt you. The temptation itself is normal and natural, but giving into the temptation even once can ruin everything you have worked for, most important your family. History is filled with great men who lost everything after giving into the temptation of a woman.
12. Speaking of Destroying Your Life…
Drugs are another great way to do it. I won’t lie and tell you I never tried them, but I will still warn you how dangerous doing them even once can be. The problem with drugs is you don’t know if you will become addicted until after you try them. Every drug addict started out by trying them just once. There are some things in life worth the risk, drugs aren’t one of them.
By the time you are adults marijuana will probably be legal in this country. I still recommend you stay away from it. It creates laziness and is for losers. You aren’t losers.
13. Along Those Lines…
Alcohol is a tough one. On one hand, the possibility for addiction is there and capable of destroying you. On the other hand, when handled responsibly alcohol can do many good things. One of the great joys in life is coming home from a long, hard day of work and cracking open a cold beer. But when not handled responsibly, it can be every bit as dangerous as drugs.
It should also be noted that the three major temptations in number 11 become much greater under the influence of alcohol, especially the temptation of women. It is far more difficult to resist these temptations under the influence of alcohol. Tread carefully down the road of alcohol.
14. Ask For Advice Often
You are surrounded by Grandmas, Grandpas, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Parents and family friends who have plenty of advice and life experience to offer. Most people realize this too late and are never able to ask for their help or tap this incredibly valuable resource. Don’t make this mistake.
Take every chance you can to learn from those who came before you.
15. But Don’t Feel Obligated to Take Every Piece of Advice You Get
You will receive a lot of well-intentioned advice from people who care about you and some of it will not be right for you. You don’t have to take it. Take the advice that works for you and throw the rest away.
Don’t be afraid to offend people by not taking bad advice.
16. Learn to Talk to Strangers
When you are little, your Mom and I will teach you about the danger of talking to strangers and it is a serious deal. The problem is as you get older, the ability to talk to strangers can greatly benefit you, but you will be conditioned not to talk to them.
Learning to talk to strangers can open doors you never imagined. You never know when a conversation with someone you meet on an elevator, airplane or while standing in line will lead to an opportunity you never would have had otherwise.
For most of my life I was bad at talking to people I didn’t know and I’m still not great at it. Develop this skill as early as possible.
17. Life is 10 Percent What Happens to You and 90 Percent How You React to it
When I think about all the major events in my life, both good and bad, the way they affected me depended almost entirely on how I reacted to them. Most of the major events in your life are out of your control. You will have plenty of good and bad surprises along the way. But the biggest impact from these events will be the way you respond to them.
Your attitude is one of the few areas of your life you have complete control over and it has the power to transform a tragedy into a triumph.
18. Fighting is Dumb
When I was in 7th grade I got in a fight with a boy named Steve. I “won” the fight and felt cool at school for the next few weeks. A year later, Steve killed himself. I have absolutely no idea what we fought over, but I know it wasn’t anything important. And while our fight had nothing to do with his suicide, you don’t feel very good about yourself when your only memory of a 12 year old boy who killed himself is you beating him up.
You will feel the urge to fight for many reasons in life – over a girl, a perceived insult, a sporting event, etc. – and almost none of them will be worth it.
19. The One Thing That is Worth Fighting Over is the Safety of You and Those Close to You
If you ever feel like you or those you love are being physically threatened, you have my permission to do whatever it takes to end the threat. If you sincerely feel you or someone you care about are in danger, you hit first, you hit last and you hit hardest.
You will know when your safety is truly being threatened, and when it is you do whatever you feel is necessary to stop it.
20. Explore Your Faith
When you are little, you will believe in whatever your Mom and I tell you is real. Whether it is Santa Clause or God, your beliefs will follow ours. But as you get older you will begin questioning these beliefs. And that’s OK.
It’s important for you to explore your faith. Ask questions and read books on the subject. Believing just because your parents tell you to isn’t true faith. Explore every area of it and come to your own conclusions. I’m confident that you will eventually come to the same conclusion as us, but you need to get there on your own.
Your faith will be extremely important to every single area of your life. It’s important that you know what you believe in and why.
21. Debt Will Make You a Slave
Life has so many adventures to offer you. The opportunities in front of you are endless. But one of the fastest ways to keep yourself from taking advantage of them is acquiring debt. As you grow up, your friends will begin piling up the debt. It will start with student loan debt, then car loans and credit debt and soon a big fat mortgage. Fight the urge to join them.
While some debt along the way may be necessary, the majority of it is not. The more you can avoid acquiring debt, the more opportunities you will be able to take advantage of. Debt makes you a slave to the lender.
In all but a few circumstances, if you can’t afford it without debt, you can’t afford it.
22. Combine the Three Circles to Maximize Your Chances of Success
When it’s time to pick a career, there are three circles you need to pay attention to.
One is your natural abilities. What are you skilled at? What natural gifts did God give you? The second is what you enjoy doing. What would you do for free? What excites you? What makes time fly for you? The third is what people will pay you to do. Is there a market for it? Are people willing to pay for it?
When you can combine those three things, what you are good at, what you enjoy doing and what people are willing to pay you for, you have the career you were meant for. You are going to spend a lot of your life working, so it is important to get this decision right. Most people hate their work. You don’t have to. Keep looking until you find what’s right for you.
23. Trading Your Time for Money Will Never Make You Rich
Most people trade their time for money. They go to work for a set amount of time and receive a set amount of money in return. This is the worst way to work. Under this method, the only way to earn more money is to work more hours.
Instead, find a way to trade your skills and knowledge for money.
24. Be Your Own Boss
The best way to get out of the trap of trading time for money is to start your own business. You come from a family of entrepreneurs. Most of your Great Grandparents, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and your parents were entrepreneurs. It’s in your blood.
Contrary to popular belief, being your own boss won’t mean working less. In the beginning, it will usually mean working much more. But in the long run you will have much more control over your time and income as a business owner than you would as an employee.
Start creating businesses as early in life as possible. Get in the habit of finding ways to turn things you enjoy into businesses. A lot of them will fail. But it only takes one great idea to make it big.
25. To Increase Your Income Increase Your Skills
Whether you are an employee or a business owner, the fastest way to increase your income is to increase your skills. Spend your time and money on self-development. Identify a new skill you want to learn every year and pursue it relentlessly.
Your income will be directly related to the number of skills you have.
26. Perseverance is the Key to Life
Be the kind of men who are able to overcome obstacles. Instead of whining about your problems, find ways around them. Don’t be the kind of men who call off work with a sore throat, or miss meetings because they have a flat tire or fail a test because they didn’t get enough sleep. Life is full of challenges, find ways to conquer them.
As Rocky Balboa once said “It ain’t how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward”. Become a great problem solver.
27. Don’t Spend Time Worrying About What Others Think
This will be especially difficult when you are in junior high and high school. You will want to fit in and blend in with the crowd. Don’t do it. When I think back at how much time I spent worrying about what people I didn’t even care about thought about me and all the things it kept me from doing, it makes me sick.
Most of the people you go to school with you will never talk to within five years after graduating. What they think about you will have no impact on your life. Don’t spend your time worrying about them. Don’t let the fear of looking dumb in front of them keep you from doing whatever it is you want to do.
28. Appreciate School
I hated school and wasn’t very good at it. I spent my time in class day dreaming about doing other things and flirting with girls. I did just enough to get by and didn’t care about learning anything. Now, I spend money to learn things I had the opportunity to learn for free all throughout school.
You will have access to a level of education that half the world can only dream about. Don’t take it for granted. One day you will be willing to pay your hard earned money to learn the stuff you have the opportunity to learn for free right now.
29. Follow Your Intuition
There are times in life to make calculated decisions by weighing out the pro’s and con’s, but I have found that most major decisions are best made by following your intuition. When I think back on how I got where I am today, the number one factor is following my intuition.
When I suddenly felt the urge to play tennis after never playing in my life, I did it and it transformed my future. When I had a gut feeling I needed to stop attending Baldwin Wallace in college, I did it and ended up meeting your Mom. When my instincts told me to change my major to accounting half way through my senior year, I did it and drastically changed my career. When I felt called to move to Denver, CO I talked your Mom into making it happen (no easy task!). When my intuition told me to quit my job and start a business, I did it. Some of the biggest decisions I’ve made in life went against the logical choice. I followed my intuition and it didn’t let me down.
30. Your Mom and I Already Love You as Much as We Ever Will
There is nothing you can ever do to make us love you any more or less than we do right this second. That means the pressure is off. You don’t have to worry about living a life that pleases us or makes us happy. You don’t have to marry the woman you think we will like the best or choose the career you think we want you to choose.
This is your life and you only get one crack at it. We only want what’s best for you, even if that sometimes means making choices we disagree with. And you will make a ton of mistakes along the way. But the one thing you never have to worry about is how we feel about you. We will love and support you in everything you do, whether it is something we agree with or not.