30 Years and 30 Life Lessons

life lessonsI just entered my 30s earlier this year. A lot of people asked me what I was thinking about leading up to my birthday, and it mostly was excitement. As I looked back, I felt pretty young and realized I’ve still got lots of life left. With that in mind, I decided to record the life lessons from my first thirty years on Earth that I want to continue to utilize for the next 90. Yes, I do want to live a long time.

1. Change doesn’t happen on accident, but on purpose.

You won’t wake up 6 months or 6 years from now as a ripped, smart, suave, successful individual on accident. It takes specific planning and diligence to get to where you want to be.

2. Your job isn’t your mission.

Usually. Some of us have the great fortune to spend their years and hours investing themselves in something they love that’s their contribution and legacy to the world.

If you’re not currently one of those people, we shouldn’t find climbing the ladder at work our purpose, or wake up with conquering work for the day as our mission.

If we want to live vibrant, full, life-breathing lives then we’ve got to find a mission outside of just the wage-earning employ of a company.

3. Less is often more. Minimalize.

In my early and mid-20s I filled my life with so much busyness. Full-time school and full-time work. Once I graduated I just added more work and travel to fill that void. It took me a while, but when I minimalized I got more out of life.

4. Time is life, how you spend your time is how you spend your life.

Busyness doesn’t mean greatness.

We can’t manage time; we manage ourselves regarding time.

5. Status doesn’t make happiness.

Being well-liked or amassing wealth won’t make you happy. It’ll give you some freedom to travel and golf, but does it give you happiness? Being more powerful and recognized than the next guy is a mere short-term fix and drug. Find your emotional fuel from something better.

6. Some get ahead on talent, some get ahead on gruntwork.

In the past I’ve been asked what I’m good at. I often replied that I’m not really “good” at anything. I’m not a learning prodigy and nothing has really come to me naturally. Except for being a thinker. I would like to think of myself as a clear and effective thinker.

Unfortunately, that talent is rarely recognized unless you’re already at the top. To make up for my lack of inherent talent I simply have had to make it on gruntwork. Hard work and a strong heart can get you places if you make the right decisions along the way.

7. Don’t waste your time becoming perfect at what you’re not good at.

Unless you’re Michael Jordan, being a perfectionist is probably a waste of time. Don’t invest your time perfecting something you’re actually not good at. Go improve what you do have an inclination for, and become really great at that. Why try to take something your bad at and only become mediocre?

8. Take care of yourself.

When I was truly young I could recover from injury pretty quickly. Not so now. All those tweaks, turns and tears have built up and recovery is a challenge. Not only do I wish I had taken care of my back, ankes, shoulders and even ears from a young age, I realize that I still have time to maximize my body’s ability to recover right now.

If something is wrong with your body today, it’ll still be wrong tomorrow. Find out what is wrong and spare no expense in getting better.

9. Take care of your heart. it’s the wellspring of life.

If you were your own parent and were watching you today, what would you say about the condition of your “heart”? Are you soft or hard? Are you kind and giving, or distant and selfish? It’s hard to be self-aware about these things.

What’s the common denominator? Your heart and what you put into it. If you want to continue to have a vibrant energy for life, then feed your heart with the right stuff.

10. Emotional Fuel: Are you filling up on the right stuff?

What do you think about during the day? As you get up and go to sleep? Does it excite you or put a drag on you?

If what you feel throughout the day is excitement, happiness and peace, then you’re on the right track. But if you feel an internal gnawing, don’t ignore it. Find out what’s knawing at you, and find out if that should drive you.

Sometimes that inner motivation, that spark is exactly what we need gnawing at us. It’s worth writing down and taping to a mirror.

But if mistakes are gnawing at you, it’s either time to take immediate action and correct them, or forget them and move on.

11. Don’t Grow Deaf

For 8 years I worked with large scale large events (2,000 – 35,000 person events) and my ears may have paid a price. I still go to bed with my ears ringing.

That’s bad enough, but what we don’t want is what we put in our ears to deafen our minds or harden our hearts. Who, or what, are you listening to? It’s easy to criticize “those kids these days” and who their friends are and what they’re listening to. But what about me? Are the people I’m around, that I’m letting invest in me, the people that I really want to invest in me?

I’m not saying people should eliminate all the co-worker and familial relationships they have. But at some point, you’ve got to track what they’re putting in your mind and if you’re heeding it.

12. We often define success according to the wrong standard.

Some men think that women are life’s chief currency. Some people define success as having successful kids (what child wants to live with the pressure of their dad feeling fulfilled through them?)

Check out what I had to say on this life lesson and others in The Lies of Manhood.

Other’s grade their life by their wealth status. I define my success not by how much wealth I’m getting, but am I giving like I should to other’s, including giving my life to God.

13. We are, and we aren’t, the meaning of life.

Man has pondered “What is the meaning of life?” for millenia.

So what is it? Is it to amass gains and personal property? To become well-known and leave a legacy? Have a huge family?

I have no doubt in my mind that it’s none of those things. Our legacies may live on, but the people that recognize them will be dead soon too anyhow.

Life’s purpose isn’t just enjoyment and entertainment. Although I believe because we have the capacity to enjoy life, we are certainly meant to enjoy it.

Here’s my conclusion—we ARE the meaning of life in that God finds us of utmost importance to him. He created us, so within humanity there is meaning and purpose. But that also means we aren’t the sole meaning of life since we didn’t make ourselves. The meaning of life is found in God, as he also finds, inputs and creates value in us.

14. Your character has to be stronger than your calling.

People can make it pretty far based off of just talent. A person can become a millionaire off of being really, really great at something. But they rarely can keep their talent and their position if they lack character. Mowing people down with harsh words, or inconsistent behavior and follow-through lead to the undoing of many successful people.

Have you ever heard of “handlers”? People who “handle” the rich and famous to keep them in line? Think of how many young stars have destroyed themselves because they wouldn’t let someone help them stay in control. Michael Jackson’s extreme talent and extreme insecurity unwound his mind, his career, and eventually his life. The man could have been a much more positive force on Earth but wound up getting sedated to death by a shady doctor following his very own orders.

Sow a thought, reap an action
Sow an action, reap a habit
Sow a habit, reap a character
Sow a character, reap a destiny
16. Fear can’t be your ruler.

Fear can’t be your sole motivator. What drives you? If it’s the fear of what others will think or the fear of not having enough money, life itself sucks. I’ve lived in such a state of motivation in the past. And it’s hard to even get up and face the day. And during the day you’re consumed with your own imaginary thoughts of what others may think of you.

Those thoughts driven by fear are a waste of time, emotion, energy, and therefore life.

Don’t let fear rule you. Look inside, and outside for righteous and worthy drivers.

See what else we have to say about Overcoming Fear.

17. Mistakes are a great way to learn.

Don’t fear mistakes. Sure, make as few as you can. And don’t repeat those that you learned from. Even still, you must be willing to fail and willing to be mistaken.

Man up to your mistakes.

18. People don’t have to like you.

Should you care what people think? To an extent, yes. You don’t want to make a complete bafoon of yourself and destroy your reputation, do you? If you want to have influence, pay attention to people’s attitudes toward you.

Aside from that, people don’t have to like you. You’re going to make enemies in life, and former friends may grow jealous of you. You don’t need people to like you. If that is your emotional fuel, your huffing the wrong gas.

Take a look at what I wrote about this life lesson in Should I Care What People Think?

19. Jerks aren’t self-aware.

You know that douche-bag at work that wants to walk over people? He might know he’s a prick, but he still thinks he’s cool and valuable. But he’s not, he’s really just deducting from people’s lives. What is he most lacking? His ability to view himself accurately.

If you want to be influential, make a difference in people’s lives, and just not be hated by friends and family, become more self-aware. Acknowledging the little and big things that need some humility to change will really grow you and your relationships.

20. You don’t need to win arguments.

I usually let people be right, or wrong. Unless it’s something imperative that affects people, or tangibly affects me, I don’t allow myself to have emotionally vested interest in winning an argument.

21. No one is going to invest in you but you.

It’s great to be lent a helping hand. But we can’t wait for it. The onus is on us to change. You don’t want to be the same person forever, do you?

22. A wise man thinks about death.

Life is a vapor. Some people’s vapor is longer or shorter than the next person’s. But it’s still a vapor. We’ll all be gone just a moment from now.

23. Get enough sleep.

Through my 19 – 28 years I pulled numerous all-nighters and averaged 4-6 hours of sleep a night for most of the time. At first it was an adventure and exciting. I thought it was some sort of badge of honor to carry this martyr mentality and sacrifice sleep to make gains.

Ultimately, I was just killing my mental and physical health. At a young age I could bounce back and be okay. But doing it for a decade was a killer. I wish I handn’t. Sure, we’ve all got to burn the midnight oil every now and then (tonight I’ll get home to San Diego from the Bay Area at 4AM and get up a few hours later to work).

But that’s not a way to live life. Invest in sleep and reap a more productive and happier life.

24. Don’t waste time on bitterness.

Be quick to forgive.

25. Investing in your kids: pay now or pay later, but you’re going to end up paying.

You know those people that ignored their kids, sent them to a nice school, never went to their sporting events, and wound up with a 20 year old addicted to crack? Well, that parent is paying a price. (I’m not suggesting that all neglected kids turn out like this).

If you don’t want your child to turn out like that, and you want to have a relationship with them when they’re in their 20s and 30s, you need to pay a price up front. When they’re young and pliable, that’s when they need your investment most. You’ll reap a better relationship with them later in life.

26. There’s no point in waiting to not  be burnt out.

If you keep getting burnt out, you are cursed to forever return to being burnt out unless you make a significant change. And you probably already know what that change needs to be.

Take a look at 15 Things To Stop Doing To Yourself.

27. Relationships matter.

I was so driven, so busy, and so consumed in my 20s. I had a lot of great experiences, adventures, travels, managed hundreds of people, spoke to thousands and had an impact in a lot of lives. But I would trade some of that in to have invested more into the relationships that mattered most.

28. Say “No” More

People respect someone who knows what they want—and what they don’t. Saying “no” makes your “yes” mean so much more.

If you haven’t learned to say “No”, you might be living as a Yes Man. Who wants to be that guy? Especially when you are so overcommitting yourself you’re known as a flake. If you find yourself saying “yes” to overextending yourself, it’s time to summon the will to say “no”.

See more on this in the Gentleman Rules.

29. Say “Yes” More

If you’re afraid of commitment, it’s time to take the dive and start giving more of yourself to people. Whether that’s saying “yes” to helping a friend move, just getting out more, spending more time with friends, or gaining different experiences, it might be time to step out into the wild a little more.

30. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

So don’t miss it.

Does someone have their 30th Birthday coming up? Here’s the Best 30th Birthday Ideas For Men you’ll ever find compiled in one place.

[Featured image courtesy of http://dribbble.com/DKNG]


  1. Great insight Todd. These are all right on, especially #9. I’ll have to do something like this when I hit the big 4-0 early next year.

    • You should! I’ve been chewing on it since December (turned 3-0 in January). I ended up cutting at least another 10 points. Maybe I should update it each year.

  2. I really like 3 & 18. Life is certainly more enjoyable when you have less (in my opinion). Also it took lots of time and training to realize that not everyone is going to like me. That’s one of the first things I want to teach my son as he grows up.

    • #3 is one of my favorites as well. It started on the bottom of the list but I wanted to make sure it made it to the top (not that this is necessarily an ordered list).

      As you point out with the #18 life lesson, it can be hard to get over people not liking us. But once we make the realization and internal decision, it really is freeing.

  3. On number two, I think there is a middle ground. I’m not saving any lives (Well, I guess I sort of am) or changing the world with my job. It’s not even particularly what I want to be doing and am actively working towards changing to the career I want.

    But I had a moment of clarity this afternoon while I was working. I actually like my job. Maybe not all of the time and there are parts that I find ridiculous, but I find it fulfilling in a way not unlike Peter at the end of Office Space.

    • I read a report, and I wish I were able to reference it, that said shot down the idea that we should be chasing our dream job. That in fact in the past when people had fewer options they were happier and more content in their work. I can’t see myself being content just doing anything, and in America we are certainly very far from a cast system mentality.

      Having said that, I think there is contentment in having less options. I think there is contentment in being at a place we enjoy working with people we enjoy. From what I recollect, that is what the report stated. Dream jobs are rare, but finding a great boss, a great team, being excellent at what you do, and being developed at worked was more important to the workforce’s happiness.

  4. It took me until age 35 to realize #2, which almost turned me into a burn out. Luckily, I think I’ve saved myself from that fate. Great list!

    • Ah that’s interesting that you and Antrobus both commented on the same point. You know, for a couple years I was doing my dream job and still burnt out. There’s no perfect place!

  5. “Less is more” couldn’t be truer. Great insight.

  6. I like the Ron Luce quote at #fifteen

  7. Todd you old man! I love #14 and our need for strong character. I just turned 30 a couple of weeks ago. Here is my list: http://www.pauljolicoeur.com/30-things-i-have-learned-in-30-years/

  8. “We often define success according to the wrong standard.” This statement is very true. Most people think success is measured by money, but then why are some of the wealthiest people so miserable? I think success is defined by happiness. And what makes each person happy is different. So we need to ask ourselves what are own definition of success is.

  9. I am a big fan of life lesson# 16. For too long I let fear rule my life. I believe I have finally overcome this. Great post!

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