Life lessons are some of the most valuable things you can learn. Unlike specialized skills that you’ll use once in a blue moon, life lessons can change every part of your life going forward. Here are some of the most important lessons and why they matter.
Important Life Lessons to Learn
#1: Set Flexible Goals
What’s the point of a goal if you’re willing to change it? Well, your happiness, that’s what. Life isn’t perfect, and there are going to be things that don’t turn out the way you thought they would. Goals are a great thing to have, but if your happiness relies on perfectly achieving them in all ways, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.
Instead, set flexible goals with a range of potential outcomes. Two out of three traits for something isn’t bad, and accepting just a little less than perfect can drastically open up your options and help you ultimately achieve most of your goals.
#2: Everything Has A Reaction
Everything you say and do to others has a reaction. It may not always be apparent right away, but a single off-hand comment can make or break your relationship with someone. Instead of saying whatever comes to mind first, take a few moments to consider your words before you speak them. You never know how much this could influence things.
#3: Sometimes It’s Better To Watch
When I was younger, I wanted to solve every problem everywhere in the world. Alas, my ambitions were significantly greater than my ability, and I spent too long blaming myself for not being omnipotent. It didn’t make sense then, and it doesn’t make any sense now.
As humans, empathy is a biological part of our existence. We’re quite literally hardwired to care about others to at least some extent, and it’s a trait that’s served us well over the years. Can you imagine how bad it would be living in a society where literally nobody cared about anyone else at all? It’s not a pretty picture.
The key is to find a balance between caring about others and recognizing that sometimes, a problem is for someone else to care about. Even if you can’t make the whole world better, you can still make a part of it better. If everyone does that, it’s a lot like saving the whole world anyway.
#4: Make The Moments Count
You can’t take back the past, no matter how hard you try. When you get older, it’s too late to do the things you could only do as a child. For that matter, you never know when an accident will bring everything to a halt and send your life careening off the course you’re trying to go down.
As such, don’t focus entirely on the future that you may not reach. Instead, try to make every moment count and live each day to the fullest.
#5: Failure Is Okay
We live in an aggressively success-oriented society. However, the problem with placing so much emphasis on winning is that, usually, there’s a lot of failures along the way. This lesson doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put your all into trying to succeed in your life, but it does mean that you shouldn’t blame yourself for failing to beat out tens of millions of other people.
#6: Your Health Is Important
Humans can have countless medical problems, all of varying severity, and chances are you have at least a few of them. Taking care of yourself early in life is essential to having a longer, happier, and healthier life. Don’t be afraid to make time to see the doctor, get advice, and pay attention to problems before they can grow into something much worse. Remember to:
- Make and keep scheduled appointments
- Listen to the advice of your doctors
- Make healthcare a daily activity
- Talk to other experts when you’re not sure about something
- Be candid with medical professionals
#7: People Aren’t Looking At You
Too much self-consciousness is a problem. When we’re young, we often imagine that everyone is looking at us and judging us for every flaw that we’re aware of. The truth is that 95% of people probably aren’t going to notice unless you’re actively bringing it to their attention, and the other 5% just don’t care. They have their own lives and are too busy to think about you.
The good news is that this means you can relax. You don’t need to spend every single moment trying to live up to the impossible standards of the strangers that exist in your mind. Instead, focus on meeting your standards and present yourself as the person you want to be.
#8: Get Up And Try Again
Things aren’t over just because you failed. There are times when failures are out of your control, but even when they’re not, you can pick yourself up and try again. For that matter, you should try again, applying the lessons you learned the first time around until you succeed.
For an example of this, let’s look at dating. If you’re like most people, chances are your first romance didn’t work out, or even last particularly long. That doesn’t mean you failed at love and can never find happiness, or that you should never date anyone again. It just means you weren’t a good match, after all.
In the same way, nobody starts out as an expert chef. However, the more times you do each recipe, the more you’ll learn about working with ingredients, and the easier it will be to make a fantastic dish with them.
Trying until you succeed is the foundation of success in life. In the end, the only true failure is giving up. Also, recognizing failures as part of the process makes it easier to accept. If you’re not done yet, then nobody can say that you’ve truly failed.
#9: Good Things Come From Effort
Happiness doesn’t fall into our laps, no matter how much we want it to. Great careers, positive emotions, and a reliable social circle are all things you have to go out and earn for yourself. Even if you start with all the cash in the world, it’s not going to help unless you put in the effort to make yourself happy.
The optimistic part of this lesson is that you can succeed at things when you put effort into them. Maybe you won’t make millions of dollars a year, but if you can create your own happiness, that’s a good result all on its own.
#10: Try To Experience The Things You Learn
Theory only takes you so far. You can spend hundreds of hours watching videos about how to paint, but until you pick up a brush, it’s only a theory. Nobody masters things solely by trying to intellectually understand them. The earlier you can experience different things in your life, the better.
This applies to all stages of life and to all stages of developing skills. I saw an example of this when I was helping teach an acquaintance to play a rules-heavy game. We talked for about an hour, explaining important details and concepts. However, for all of that time, it was just theory. The moment we put it into practice, everything clicked.
#11: Show, Don’t Tell
One of the first things a good writer learns is to show things, rather than telling them. The same applies to the rest of your life when you’re trying to teach or convince anyone of anything.
When I wrote my first book, I had no guarantee of success. I was on good terms with a publisher, but I’d never done anything on that scale before, and even I didn’t think it was a good idea to spend so much time writing things before I knew whether or not I had a chance.
I was wrong about that. My publisher accepted my manuscript and put it right into the editing process. A few months later, it was out the door and became a moderately good seller in a flat industry. Part of the reason I succeeded is that I knew what I wanted to make, and I showed the publisher that I could do it instead of merely telling them I could do it.
Nothing is more convincing than showing people that you know what you’re talking about. You’ll get their trust when you prove that you deserve it, and not a moment sooner.
#12: Learn To Be Useful
Usefulness is one of the best qualities to have. When you’re useful, other people actively want you in their life because you make it better somehow. This applies to everything from getting a job to interacting with friends when they need help moving or making decisions. Few feelings are better than knowing that other people truly, genuinely want you in their lives.
#13: Keep Learning
Your education isn’t done just because you’re out of school. The most successful people make learning into a lifelong habit. Knowledge is fundamentally a tool that you can use to solve problems, and the more of it you have, the better.
In other words, when all you have is a hammer, every problem in life will look like a nail. When you have an entire tool chest, you have far more ways of addressing each problem. Learning is a lot easier when it’s a habit, too. It doesn’t take long to learn the basics for any skill, so by continually learning, you can constantly experience new and exciting things.
Not everyone can afford to go overseas on a whim, but you can still travel throughout your local area. Whether it’s taking different streets home or visiting other restaurants, travel is a great way to broaden your experiences and learn more about the world you live in.
#15: Set Yourself Up For Success
This one is a little tricky. I’m not talking about positioning yourself for the best long-term gain, although that’s also worth doing. Rather, setting yourself up for success means creating obtainable, short-term, and mid-term goals that push you forward.
This is fundamentally a psychological trick you can pull on yourself. Fear and uncertainty are common in young people, so the best remedy is having a regular sensation of achievement or accomplishment. It’s easy to be afraid of things before you start trying them, but if you get used to overcoming challenges, the real challenges in life suddenly look a lot easier.
Nobody finishes a race by staying at the starting line. Creating and overcoming small challenges now is the foundation for confidence that will help you achieve things you never thought were possible.
#16: Your Reputation Matters
Your reputation is a complex mix of your accomplishments, appearance, and behavior. It can take years to build one, and a single wrong move could send the entire thing toppling down. That’s why you should keep your reputation in mind and consistently behave in the way you want others to remember.
The small things matter, too. For example, when I visit a nice restaurant, I collect everyone’s dishes and place them at the edge of the table for the server to pick up. I don’t have to do this; it’s literally someone’s job to get the dishes from the table. However, it’s a small act of kindness that they might well remember when I come back, and restaurant staff love good customers.
At the same time, I’m cultivating a reputation for caring about the small details. It’s not wrong to focus on the big things, but you could undercut yourself if you don’t pay attention to the little details, too. Balance is important in all areas of life.
#17: You May Not Realize It When Something Is Wrong
In movies, they play up problems for dramatic effect. The camera will zoom in on things, ominous music will play in the background, and the movie will otherwise go out of its way to indicate what the problem is. That doesn’t happen in real life.
Take me, for example. I spent decades thinking that common phrases were strange. “Count sheep to help yourself get to sleep,” people said, or “Picture this in your mind.” I had no reaction to these phrases because I thought they were metaphors. Imagine my surprise when I found out 97% of people took those phrases literally and could see actual pictures in their mind.
I have aphantasia, which means that my mind’s eye is completely blind. I literally cannot imagine pictures inside my head, but I spent most of my life thinking that was completely normal, so I didn’t bother talking about it. When you only know things one way, it’s easy to forget that someone else could be having a completely different experience.
This life lesson isn’t limited to your health and cognitive functions. Whenever anyone behaves a certain way, and it doesn’t seem to make sense, try to figure out why they’re doing it. Don’t be afraid to ask them about it, either. You may find out that there’s more going on than you thought.
#18: You Could Have Skills You Don’t Know About
This life lesson comes into play on two levels. In the previous lesson, I described my inability to conjure images. What I didn’t mention, and what I didn’t find out until after I realized aphantasia exists, is that I am extraordinarily good at spatial understanding. I can’t see shapes, but I can understand their exterior structures and instantly rotate them in my mind.
After some study, I realized that I am significantly better at this than the average person. It’s difficult to describe this to others because it doesn’t involve any of the standard senses, but it’s a useful skill for some tasks of construction and housework.
As humans, we’re constantly learning new things, even if we don’t think we are. Whether skills are developed over time or the result of natural ability, chances are you’re significantly better at some things than you realize. Don’t be afraid to test yourself and find out how good you really are.
#19: Humility Is Better Than Pride
The main problem with pride is that when people don’t react the way you want them to, and many people won’t, you’ll take it as a personal insult. Pride is something we associate with our identities, so when anyone attacks that pride, it feels like they’re attacking us. However, that sort of pride is usually unearned.
Humility, in contrast, allows you to be content no matter what the situation. If people recognize you, that feels good, and you can enjoy it. If they don’t recognize you, that’s also fine, and you don’t need to worry about it.
Furthermore, humility carries with it an acknowledgment of your imperfections and limits. When you know that you’re not perfect, it’s easier to learn from others and accept useful advice. That, in turn, can lead to a better life than being prideful and self-centered could ever allow.
#20: Pursue Positive Thoughts
Your thoughts are one of your most powerful tools. By choosing to have positive thoughts and focus on the good things, you can bring more joy into your life regardless of your situation. In the same way, focusing on negative thoughts can make things feel far worse than they really are.
To pursue positive thoughts, find something nice to say about each person and situation you deal with. When you do this for long enough, it becomes a habit. You’re no longer struggling to look on the bright side; you’re doing that as a regular part of your everyday experience. The positivity you want becomes the positivity you have.
#21: Forgiveness Benefits Everyone
Holding onto grudges only weighs you down. Sure, people may wrong you in life, but a life spent solely on revenge is a life you’re not going to enjoy. We only have one life, to begin with, and holding grudges isn’t worth your time or emotions.
Instead, learn to forgive people and move on. Most people expect negativity from others, so when you forgive them, you may even surprise them enough to get them to consider changing their ways. If you do that, you’ve made a bigger impact on their life than perpetuating the cycle of revenge ever could have.
#22: Make Peace With The Unknowable
How did the universe start? Science suggests that our universe fundamentally started with the Big Bang, but where did all of the energy for that actually come from? Did it appear out of literal nothing, with no cause or force behind it? Or was it always there with no source to speak of? Maybe something outside of this paradigm?
We don’t know. Existence itself is fundamentally irrational, and it’s possible that we may never have the answers to questions like these. To put it another way, things happen, and we can’t always explain why. At times like these, it’s better to make peace with the fact that some things will always be a mystery. It’s better to accept this than keep worrying about it.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t look for answers anyway. Many of humanity’s best inventions came from people doing things that everyone else thought was pointless. I’ll never discourage you from trying to pursue knowledge and understanding. All I’m saying here is that you should accept that you may never be able to find an answer.
#23: Preparation Is Key
Do you know who’s most likely to survive natural disasters or other tumbles in life? The people who prepare for them. There are disasters you cannot adequately prepare for, such as sudden sinkholes or mudslides that wipe away entire towns, but the truth is that most disasters are possible to endure.
Preparation means looking at possible events, then doing things now that can help you get through them. For example, having a stockpile of dried food means you can still eat, even if you’re cut off from other supplies or lose your job and can’t afford to buy food at the store anymore.
Similarly, knowing the path you want to take during your career can help you choose classes and continuing education opportunities that make you a more attractive candidate for promotions. Preparation does not guarantee success in anything, but it certainly raises your odds of succeeding.
#24: Love Is A Choice
Love isn’t something that just happens. It’s easy to get swept up in the passions of the moment, but those feelings always fade with time. Real love is an active choice to stay with someone, care about them, and share your life. When you choose to love, you can face problems together and prioritize each other in a way selfish emotions never allow.
This is, of course, contrary to the ideals we have as children. We dream of being smitten at first sight and getting everything we want from a partner, but trying to make that dream into a reality is only setting yourself up for further disappointments.
#25: Don’t Envy Others Too Much
It’s okay to look at things and think about how they could help you in life. In fact, that’s the entire point of going to places like paint or flooring stores! Evaluating things is a great way to collect information and make informed decisions about your life. However, too much envy for others’ lifestyles is self-destructive.
Envy is the difference between wanting to get something for yourself and wanting to take what someone else has. In most cases, taking from others won’t make you happy and won’t magically make your life better. Instead, learn how to be content with what you have while still pursuing a reasonable level of improvement.
#26: Ask People Why They Hold Specific Views
It’s easy to assume that people who disagree with us are wrong, but chances are you’ll learn a lot more if you start asking them why they hold specific positions. This is especially true on contentious issues, where the feeling that other people just can’t see what’s so obvious triggers emotional reactions and drowns out rational discussions.
In most cases, people have good reasons for their views, supported by a mixture of education, culture, and personal experience. For example, some people want to get rid of firearms, but they might have a hard time convincing someone who vividly remembers protecting their family from an intruder by using a firearm.
In the same way, try asking people for solutions to problems. If you agree that something is an issue, collecting various viewpoints may help you find an answer that addresses everyone’s concerns, and can, therefore, get much more support.
#27: Changing Your Mind Is Okay
How many times have we mocked politicians for changing their views on something? That can feel like a betrayal of the ideals they’re supposed to support, but when you examine this closer, the rationale crumbles apart. If you can’t change your mind, you can’t improve yourself, either.
Instead of clinging to past views, just look people in the eyes and say that yes, you changed your mind because you have more information now. If you don’t change your mind often enough, chances are you’ll end up in a situation that goes against what you wanted to support.