Learning something “too late” is obviously subjective. We are never too old and it’s never too late to stop learning.
However, if you want to know some of the life lessons many people wish they would have realized sooner, here are 12 to get you started.
1. Don’t concern yourself with what other people have.
It’ll drive you nuts and you won’t benefit from it. The guy with the big house and the fancy car also has bigger, more complicated, harder-to-solve problems.
If your incompetent co-worker makes more money than you — so what. You wouldn’t be any better off if they lost their job. You might even have to pick up their slack. Somebody probably even hates you for what you have.
Enjoy what you have. In the end, all of those things will go away.
2. Don’t concern yourself with what other people do.
You can decide what’s right for you but other people have to decide what’s right for them. Don’t be so cocksure that you’re right about everything.
Remember the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Try to understand why people think and do what they do. Practice tolerance. It’s a skill that will serve everybody well in life.
3. Don’t believe everything you see, hear, or read.
Think critically. Develop your intuition. If something sounds or looks wrong, it probably is. If something sounds or looks too-good-to-be-true, it definitely is. Don’t just listen to what people say, watch what they do.
Courts love eyewitnesses but they are the worst kind of unbiased, factual evidence. Rely on multiple, unbiased sources of information. Get all the facts right first, then analyze those facts, and finally, base an opinion on your analysis.
Don’t pay any attention to people who can only offer unsupported opinions and anectdotes about friends.
4. Do your best.
Don’t slack off. Try to do things the way you would want them done if you were paying for them. But, don’t procrastinate in pursuit of perfectionism.
Be creative. Don’t settle for what-everybody-else-does or how-you-did-it-the-last-time. There may be a new-and-better, or at least different, way of doing something that could change your life for the better. Keep your promises.
5. Always have a Plan B.
It’s a lot less work to plan something than to do it, so think about any big project before you start. Visualize doing it. Work through potential problems in your mind.
Even the most carefully thought out plan can go awry, though, so consider alternatives. Have more than one way to accomplish a goal.
6. Healthy relationships are a lot of work.
Life is full of relationships — with parents, siblings, spouses, children, relatives, friends, classmates, co-workers, neighbors.
You have to put in effort to maintain those relationships; they won’t survive without help. Stay in touch. Listen and empathize with the other person. Don’t try to fix something unless asked, you’ll probably make things worse.
If you’re more concerned about the other person than you are about yourself, you’re either deluding yourself or you’re on the right track.
7. There are no standards of normality for people.
Looks are easy to judge, but those judgments are too often wrong. Someone who looks menacing may just be trying to get his own seat on the train. It is the sum of our habits, foibles, problems, secrets, and crazy ideas that make all of us, in our own ways, either strange or ordinary to other people.
But what’s normal to one person is odd or impolite or immoral to another. Some people never change as they age, some people grow physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and some people degenerate. Minor traits can become magnified with age.
A quirk in youth can become a mania in an adult. Never underestimate malevolence.
8. Pick your battles.
Not everything is worth fighting over. Ask yourself, will this matter to me a year from now? and will this matter to me on my deathbed?
No political argument on social media is worth it. If you’re more stressed by the fight than by losing the fight, give up. If what you might gain from the fight is less than what it will cost you to continue to fight, give up. If you’re clearly and consistently outmatched, give up.
It’s OK to admit defeat; it just means you’ll be wiser and more capable in your next fight. Living well and being happy is the best revenge. Letting yourself be miserable because of a bad experience just prolongs the effect.
When you can forget your tormenter, they have lost their power over you.
9. Never stop learning new things.
One of the most important skills in life is being able to learn new things on your own. If you can do this, there will be more opportunities for learning than you could ever imagine. The internet makes it almost too easy.
Don’t get discouraged if some things are hard to learn. Some things take more effort for some people. Don’t get discouraged if you make a mistake. Sometimes that’s how you learn. When you make a mistake, make amends immediately. It’s easier to eat crow while it’s still warm.
When someone else makes a mistake, avoid playing the blame game. It’s a waste of energy and only makes matters worse. Fix the problem and move on.
10. Keep work and money in perspective.
Many people devote their lives to their careers or to the pursuit of wealth. Work is good and money is nice but you have to keep them in perspective. More money brings bigger problems.
Nobody dies wishing they had spent more time at work or had more money to take with them to the grave. Have enough money to live comfortably but not extravagantly. Work hard but have a life outside of work.
11. Enjoy what you have and share your gifts.
Everybody has different talents and gifts — intelligence, personality, athleticism, artistry, wealth, beauty. Those less fortunate than you aren’t that way because they’re lazy. They just have different advantages and challenges than you.
Don’t look down on others. Use your own advantages to their fullest. Refine them to make yourself a better person. Share your gifts. The value of our lives comes in how we use our advantages to help others.
12. Be good to your family and friends.
Always try to be supportive. You never know when you are going to need their support.
How are you doing?
There’s a good (if not somewhat morbid) way to tell how you’re doing in life — write your own obituary, right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re 22 or 62; people die at all ages, often unexpectedly. Write about the things you have done that you think your ancestors will remember you for.
I thought about writing my own obituary after the death of my next-door neighbor, John.
John was 78 when he died. He lived in the same house his whole life. He inherited it from his parents who died a decade before. They weren’t pleasant people. John was a recluse. He seldom left his house, didn’t drive, had his groceries delivered, and paid contractors do all his home maintenance.
No one in the neighborhood interacted with him. But the sad conclusion to his story is that he had no obituary, only the funeral home’s notice of his death, just like his parents. Neighbors found out only when a work crew arrived and emptied the house of his belongings. It made me wonder how I might be remembered. Maybe everybody should.
Consider writing an obituary for yourself. Write about things truthfully and not what you wish were true. Forget cliches like “I love life” or “I live life to the fullest” or “I light up a room when I enter.”
Describe what you’re passionate about. Is it your job or do you work just so you can pursue your real passion? Do you have hobbies, like cooking, gardening, or needlework that are important to you? Are you interested in politics or sports? Do you care for pets? What will people remember you for. What have you done to help others? What have you done to make the world a better place?
Then, when you’re done with that, start your own list of rules that you live by.
Charlie Kufs has analyzed data for over 40 years, written a book and over 150 blogs, been a trainer/public speaker, and was a PG and SSGB. Now retired, he worships cats.