A weird, and somewhat morbid thought occurs to me from time to time. When I am on a plane and the turbulence hits, when a car veers out into traffic, when I hear about someone I know who died suddenly: I dont get scared. I just think, If this is it, alright.
At first I thought this might be a sign of depression, or something wrong with me, but Ive come to realize it isnt. Its actually something quite positive. Because it isnt that I dont want to liveI do. Its not that I dont have a lot of things I really love and enjoy. I really do. Im not tired of life. Its the fact that, at any moment I can genuinely say Ive lived a full and complete life and that everything that happens to me from this point forward is gravy. Its lagniappe as they say in New Orleansthe rest is just extra. At 30, this is a wonderful place to be.
So while it might seem morbid to say that Id be happy going at any moment, its actually a wonderful way to live. Its something I feel quite lucky to be able to say. And yet, I also know that it wasnt a result of luck, but of a certain philosophical way of thinking and, of course, a lot of hard decisions.
For five years now, Ive written a piece for Thought Catalog on my birthday. 26, 27, 28, 29 and now 30. Usually I reflect on what Ive learned in the last year. This year I thought I might reflect on how to get to this place, how to live and approach life so that at 30, you can honestly feel like youve left nothing on the table. That every day is extra.
1. Do Ridiculous Things Some of the best decisions of my life came out of total irresponsibility and whim. My wife and I got a dog because I was reading a book about how Pope Leo X had a pet elephant named Hanno. Thatd be a funny name for a dog, I thought. A week later, we had a miniature dachshund puppy. One of the best things I ever did. Our dog is now ten years old. Theres no story behind how we got our first goat except that we asked ourselves: Why not? So we got a goat and had Smittys BBQ on the way home and called it a day.
2. Not What Will Pay The Most, But What Will Teach Me The Most? This is how I have evaluated my career and job opportunities (and book projects too). There are lots of ways to make money, fewer real opportunities to learn.
3. Quit Dicking Around The books Ive been fortunate enough to write were not the result of mad sprints of intensity. I get up every day and work on them. One right after another. While Im waiting for one to come back from the printer, I am hard at work on the next one. Basically, Im not dicking around. 30 years is so much time. One year is so much time. Wake up every day and do a little more. Dick around a little less. See what happens.
4. The Right Time is Right Now. This is Casey Neistats line. Its great. When I moved to a farm, do you know how many people I heard from telling me theyve always wanted to do that? Let me tell you, it wasnt a tough vetting process. Its not like getting into Harvard. If you think you want to do it, do it.
5. Get Married. Be in a Long Term Relationship. People say they want to end up with someone, they say they want to get married someday, and then what do they do? Everything but what makes that possible. Pick a person and be in a relationship already. Its the best thing you will ever do. Its a lot of work. It will be painful and tough at times. But it is better than the affluenza of Tinder. Im not saying settle, but I am saying that relationships are great because you make them great, not because you search until you magically find one thats already perfect. And enough with this polyamory nonsense. Maybe it makes .01% of the population happier, but the fact that they need to sell everyone on it so much makes me think its probably not working for them either. Neil Strauss wrote a wonderful book about this, dont waste a decade of your life being an idiot.
6. Steer Clear of Charlatans and the Toxic Regular friend purges are a must. So are influence purges (the sources of information you follow). You become who you know. You conform to your surroundings. Make sure those two facts are taking you in a direction you want to go.
7. Keep a Journal Not for looking backward, but to force you to think about what youre doing now. I should have done this earlier.
8. Hell Yes or Hell No is Too Simple Most of the best decisions I made would have failed that test. I was scared. I had doubts. I didnt know if it was what I really wanted. Life is complicated and life decisions are about weighing the odds, not black and white certainties.
9. Live in New York or Los Angeles (Or a City Like That) …but not for long. Its good to test yourself in a big city. Its good to feel the energy of millions of people coursing through your veins. But leave before you become jaded by it or addicted to it. Leave before it changes your lifestyle.
10. The Quiet Moments Are The Best There is a line from Lao Tzu. Peace is in the emptiness. Emptiness is in the fast of the mind. Its in the quiet, still moments that we feel what matters in life. Standing on the shore of a lake. Looking out over a canyon. Resting your head against someone elses. Its a shortage of these moments that give rise to the feeling that we havent lived enough, that we have to keep going. Seeking them out, encouraging them is what makes you feel like youve done plenty.
11. Have a Philosophy Pete Carroll talks about his turning point as a coach, when he realized he was just winging it. So he stopped and wrote down his entire coaching philosophy. Now he has something to measure himself against. Well, whats yours? Dont wing it through your 20s. Focus. Live by something.
12. Make Time For Real Philosophy Too As Seneca said, Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive. For they not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs.
13. Exercise Every Single Day Dont let yourself get to the point where you feel like some day in the future youd like to lose weight or be in shape. Be in shape. Make exercise part of your job, part of your duties as a human being. Let endorphins be something you give yourself every day.
14. Dont Compare Yourself To Other People Caesar famously weptat the feet of a statue of Alexander the Great. Do you not think it is matter for sorrow that while Alexander, at my age, was already king of so many peoples, I have as yet achieved no brilliant success? he said. Um, you were both fucking terrible. And now youre both gone. Who cares whether so-and-so did this or that earlier than you? Who cares that so-and-so had more?
15. Sooner Is Not Better I had this idea that I wanted to be a millionaire by 25. Where this number came from, I dont know. I made it up, it was ego, and I didnt hit it. But you know what the difference of getting there a little later was? Nothing. No one throws you a party. Accomplishments dont change who you are.
16. Meditate on Your Mortality The whole point of this post: Dont shy away from thinking about death. Think about it a lot. I like Marcuss line: Are you afraid of death because you wont be able to do this anymore? For this plug in so much of the crap we waste our time with.
17. Be Responsible I have a life insurance policy. I have money saved. If something happens to me, people I care about will be taken care of. The Avocado Toast guy was right. A lot of people are spending money on shit they cant afford and then they want to blame other people for it.
18. But Not Too Responsible The reason they will be taken care of and that I feel creatively and professionally satisfied, is that I have taken a lot of big risks. I dropped out of college (this gave me a two year head start on a lot of people). I left a good job. I bit off more than I can could chew many times.
19. The Two Play Off Each Other Why could I take those risks? Because I had been responsible. I had money saved. I knew what was important to me. I had built a support network. I eliminated the tiny risks so I could take the right ones. I wasnt spinning the How will I pay my bills this month? wheel like so many people unnecessarily are. As I said, do the irresponsible thingsbecause it averages out the ultra-responsible choices you made elsewhere.
20. Dont Live Like Every Day Is Your Last In The Daily Stoic, I say that living every day like its your last is insane. That would mean zero planning or foresight. Instead, live like its the last day of before a deployment. Youd handle your business. Youd spend time with loved ones. Youd cherish your alone time. Youd have fun. Thats how you should live day to day.
21. Travel (With Purpose) Nothing has wasted more millennial time than the cult of travel for its own sake. So youve been to Africa? And? So youve spent a month in hostels in Thailand? Yes? What did you really learn there, that you couldnt have gotten from some other source? What did you really do? What was the purpose of any of it? Wisdom doesnt come from going places. Not if you, as Emerson said, brought ruins to ruins.
22. Be Prematurely Old — When I hear someone say they are adulting like its a funny exception to how they normally are, I think, There is a person who is going to wake up one day and think about where all the years went. But when you hear someone is an old soul, you think, Man, they have their shit together. Young people are stupid. Old people are wise. Which do you want to be?
23. Remember the Law of Diminishing Returns For instance with travelits great, but two years of backpacking through Europe is two years of your life. Who is to say you have that much time? Chances are, at some point, you extracted most of the value of whatever it is youre doing, but youre just coasting now. A year in New York can be transformative, ten years will ossify you. Be willing to call things when the diminishing returns set in, its how you move on when others are stuck.
24. Study the Lives of the Greats Read Plutarch. Read Vasari. Read Caros biographies of LBJ. Not to compare yourself, as I said, but to learn. The dissections of the lives of powerful, ambitious people will teach you so much, and save you some much pain and heartache and disaster.
25. Dont Waste Time Being Offended God, how much precious energy is spilled fighting online, shouting in other peoples faces. A well-ordered person never thinks, How dare they? because they dont have those kind of expectations of other people and they dont think their own feelings are other peoples problem.
26. Buy a House Not at 20, not before you can afford it obviously, and not some expensive albatross that weighs you down, but something reasonable, that you love. If I had bought an apartment Id look at when I was 22, I dont know if I would have left my job to become a writer. If I hadnt bought a house when I was 26, I dont think I would have truly understood what I wanted out of life and where I was happyId still be moving, still be too busy. Owning a home is having a home. Its somewhere I want to get back to. The center I revolve around. My friend Nils likes to say that people who dont own walls with art on them are running from something. I think hes right.
27. Work a Lot Everyone loves to repeat that line, On your deathbed, you wont be happy you worked so much. Um, Im very proud of what I do. I will be reflecting happily on all of it. What no one sits there and thinks is how glad they are that they got good at video games, how many restaurants they ate at, the time they spent chasing girls or boys, or political arguments they got into. There are many many many more wasteful and regrettable things we do than work. Pouring yourself into something you believe contributes to the world is one of the best ways to feel content and accomplished. Dont sell this short.
28. Drive across the United States No one should die before they have done this.
29. Hallucinogens Are A Dead End I certainly have smart friends who will disagree with this, but I havent heard a single person tell me something they learned on psychotropic drugs that couldnt have been learned quietly sitting with their own thoughts. I havent heard anything from them that I havent heard in a book. If your trip to the jungle in Peru is the magical solution to all your problems, youre going to be sorely disappointed. Youre looking for shortcuts. Life is not found in shortcuts, but in doing the hard stuff (and if it really did work, then why are do they need to them over and over and over again? Hallucinogens are to insight what Oxy is to pain relief).
30. Dont Be A Hater My biggest regret is time I have spent being envious or jealous or hating. Hating doesnt make anyone better. It only makes you unhappier. Hate will get you every time. Life is too short. Find what you love about people, what you can be grateful for in them, even if that is a minor part of them.
31. Read Books. Lots of Them Any fool can learn by experience, I prefer to learn by the experiences of others, is how Bismark put it. The amount of dumb things Ive managed to avoid because I learned the lesson in advance? Too many to count.
32. Have a Kid I used to see people in restaurants with kids and sort of pity them. The other day I was in a restaurant with my kid, having a great time and then I realized: Shit, these people have been having all the fun. I was the one being an idiot. Obviously I would like to live until Im 90 so I can spend as many years as possible with my son, but as Paul Kalanithi says in When Breath Becomes Air, every minute you do have is a blessing and comfort.
33. Seriously, You Can Do Whatever You Want That Steve Jobs line about how the rules were made up by people no smarter than you. Make sure youre not conforming to needless constraints about how to dress, how to live, whats important, how things must be done. The more value you deliver in life, the most freedom and power you have.
34. Avoid Competition Sometimes competition makes you better, but more often than not, as Peter Thiel explained, it just eats up resources. Dont spend precious years of your life in trench warfare or in a stalemate. Go where there is no competitionseek out the blue oceans. The best way to do that? Be you. Do only the things you can do.
35. Know Your Why You have to know why you do what you dowhat you prize and whats important to you. Or you will be endlessly comparing yourself against other people, which will not only be a major distraction, it will make you miserable.
36. Know Whats Enough If you dont know what enough is, then the default answer is always more. More money, more promotions, more attention. You have to know when you can say noso you dont overreach and lose it all.
37. Get the Big Things Right Theres the old Benjamin Franklin line about being a penny wise but a pound foolish. Its the same thing with time management. Most people get the little things right and the big things wrongand then wonder why they dont get much done.
38. A To-Do List Every Day Every day have a to-do list. Even on the weekends. Not because its about drowning yourself in work, but so you can always be moving forward. Check the stuff off, dont wing it. Use Tim Ferrisss question: If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?
39. Design The Ideal Day So many people have big goals for the future. I think its better to know what your perfect day looks like. Then you can ask yourself with each opportunity and choice: Is this getting me closer or further away? I know my ideal day and more importantly, I know when I have gotten too far from it. Life is too short to not live the way you want.
40. Learning Is Not Enough Its very easy for learning to go in one ear and out the other. Making a concerted effort to record and process what youre observing and being taught helps prevent that. If you read a lot, take notes on what you read and transfer those notes into a commonplace book, where you can organize your thoughts. Repeating and reiterating what youve learned helps make connections and improve memory. Organizing it into a system means it will be so much easier to retrieve when you need it.
Ill end this post with a paragraph from Mozart, who lived to be 35 but filled those years with many, many decades of life and work.
I have now made a habit of being prepared in all affairs of life for the worst. As death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence, I have formed during the last few years such close relationships with this best and truest friend of mankind that his image is not only no longer terrifying to me but is indeed very soothing and consoling, and I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness. I never lie down at night without reflecting thatyoung as I amI may not live to see another day. Yet not one of all my acquaintances could say that in my company I am morose or disgruntled. For this blessing I daily thank my creator.
See you next yearif were both lucky enough to get there!