People usually become contemplative as another year ends and a new one begins. For many, this is the season for reflection, resolutions, and perhaps even reinvention. I’m no exception to this ritual.
The following thoughts came to me a few years ago in a feverish night of waking and writing, epigram by epigram. As the title suggests, none of these ideas are particularly new, and they’ve all been inspired by philosophers both ancient and modern. However, I believe that these perennial truths still provide guidance by focusing us on what’s important to remember every year.
Someone once noted that “truth is not new; it’s old.” I couldn’t agree more. In that vein, let me propose some old rules for a new life in the New Year.
What you do is more important than what you say. This is true for everything from relationships to New Year’s resolutions.
However, you are not what you do. Instead, be about what excites and inspires you — in my case, a reader, writer, and mentor, and for others perhaps a Mom, mental health advocate, or motorcycle rider. The point is …
You are much more interesting than you realize; your work is much less interesting than you realize. So adjust what you say about yourself to others accordingly at the upcoming New Year’s eve party.
You are not what you earn. In fact, any dollar earned over $75,000 a year doesn’t add a dime of happiness or self-worth. (Believe it. It’s true.) So stop measuring success with money and get out of that materialistic Matrix. Take the blue pill … to bliss.
Similarly, you are not what you buy. You are not just a consumer — or at least you don’t have to be. Did you know that in North America, the storage industry (comprised of places to store the things for which we can’t find room) is bigger than the movie industry? There’s more to life than accumulating ‘stuff’ — or at least there should be.
You are not only as good as your last sale. But you are only as good as the last commitment that you’ve kept — to yourself or someone else. You are also being controlled by your unprocessed emotions. Deal with them both now, and they won’t hold any more power over you in the coming year.
You are in a category of one, or at least you should aspire to be. Jerry Garcia (for some, the legendary leader of The Grateful Dead; for others, the inspiration for Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream) advised that you don’t want to be the best at what you do; “you want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.” So be like Jerry … and be unlike anybody else.
Make time for “the important but not urgent.” Dwight Eisenhower once noted, “the most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones.” Yet we tend to devote so much of our mind space to the latest text message or email, putting off the truly strategic decisions that don’t scream out for our attention. For one moment, ignore the day-to-day details and ask yourself: when will you deal with the matters that are important but not urgent?
In that vein, remember that not deciding is a decision. People assume that deferring a choice preserves all of your options, whereas the opposite is almost always true. Someday … Or Today. You decide.
Getting Older … but not Old
You are not a number. And if you are, it’s how many good books you’ve read (or written), how many lives you’ve touched, not how many winters you’ve weathered.
If you were born 65 years ago, then you are 65 years YOUNG. Isn’t it ironic that we live longer than ever, yet we’re also more obsessed than ever about our age? Was there ageism in the Middle Ages? I don’t think so. You are as old as you feel.
In that light, you are going to feel old at 4–0 … until an eighty-year-old looks back wistfully at her forties in front of you. George Bernard Shaw famously remarked that “youth is wasted on the young”, but he was only half-right: adulthood is as well. However “old” you are now, you’re young to someone — and younger than you will be tomorrow. So live like it.
Choosing … to be happy
You are more motivated by avoiding pain than by seeking pleasure. The sooner you grasp that the sooner you’ll step off the savannah, leave the Stone Age, and become contemporary — and maybe even content.
You are where you are because of your choices, not because of chance or circumstance. Some of those choices are going to turn out to be mistakes. If so, make them magnificent by learning from them.
Moreover, your failures reflect more on you than your successes. Why? Because you are directly responsible for the former, but chances are the latter happened by chance. If, as Rudyard Kipling suggested, you can treat triumph and disaster as “two imposters just the same”, you can also take solace in the fact that failure is as temporary as success.
You probably keep your old bank statements but throw out your past love letters. Stop.
Life is a little like trying to locate that pair of sunglasses you misplaced; you never find something when you’re looking too hard for it. You aren’t going to find happiness by chasing it, either. You are only going to be happy by forgetting about its pursuit.
You live life forward, but you understand life backward (I wish that I had said that, but Søren Kierkegaard did). So flip the script and instead of looking for answers, start by asking the right questions. Questions like …
What gets you up in the morning?
What keeps you up at night?
And what are you going to do about it?
How to Live
You are what you repeatedly do, as Aristotle said. You are your habits, routines, and commitments. You aren’t what you say you will do … yet. But you can be.
You are, whether you realize it or not, what you eat, read, and watch … in your media diet. So pay attention to what you’re feeding your mind, and whether it’s healthy or just making other people wealthy. Remember the social media adage: if you don’t know who’s paying for the product … you’re the product.
You are also who you spend most of your time with. Did you know that you eat 40% more with another person and 60% more with 2 or more? Whether you want to or not, you become how they are. So choose your influences wisely.
You are not missing out on something amazing elsewhere; chances are, you are missing out on something very good right here … but you’re too busy texting, TikToking, and Instagramming about it to notice and pay attention.
Be. Here. Now.
You are almost certainly letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Don’t. The perfect is far from perfect if it never happens, and the good is more than good enough if it actually does.
You are probably doing the easier wrong rather than the harder right. Take my word for it: you’re only hurting yourself more later by not being strong enough to hurt now. As Ray Dalio pithily observes, Pain + Reflection = Progress.
You may very well be facing a dilemma right now. If you’re honest with yourself, you know what to do. You just don’t want to do it. Discipline is doing what we don’t want to do when we don’t want to do it. Be disciplined.
You aren’t going to remember days, but you are going to remember moments. So begin living with that end in mind.
We need Wednesdays to enjoy Saturdays, and winters to find ecstasy in summers. Treat the tough times as mere appetizers for the good.
You are more likely to die on the drive to the airport than you are in an airplane crash. You are also more likely to be hit by lightning than win the lottery. So start pricing risk and reward more accurately, and start living with your head and not fearing with your heart.
You are going to have to lose most things in order to appreciate them. So don’t — don’t take them for granted, and you won’t lose them.
If you ignore the advice above, you are going to lose everything — one step at a time. This is as true of relationships as it is of riches. So pay attention to the signs: they’re there. We just don’t usually see them until it’s too late to change the outcome.
You are parsimonious with praise (which is free) but profligate with your time (which is not). Compliments don’t cost you anything, and they can mean everything to a person. On the other hand, time is the only truly non-renewable resource. A minute lost is gone — forever. So be wasteful with encouraging words and wary about wasting time.
Accept that you are replaceable — to your Friday night Fantasy Draft, your beer league hockey team, and even (gasp) your company. You are irreplaceable to your good friends, your family, and your community. So get your priorities right, and focus your time on the places where your presence is truly missed.
Plan your exits as carefully as you do your entrances. On that note, you are what you lead and what you seed. So use your gifts to create a legacy, and realize that you haven’t succeeded until you are no longer needed.
Some people have doubts about their faith in themselves. That’s normal. But you should also have doubts about your doubt. Why are you so certain that you can’t do it? The first step always looks harder than it actually is.
Get used to the fact that life doesn’t unfold in a linear way. It’s all about streaks and sprints, setbacks, and second efforts. Don’t confuse where you find yourself right now with where you’ll end up.