8 Greatest Lessons I Learned (at 32.)

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” – Steve Jobs

Looking at the achievements of people around my age, I will crumble into nothingness and maybe, disappear from the rest of the world. There are many authors, coaches and friends who I know personally who have achieved way much more than I have, and it makes me so eager to find out how they did it, what was going on in their mind or the big question – Is it really the luck element? Did they find something they firmly believed in? Or there are attributes and characteristics they picked up during their journey?

Everyone has their own definition of their success and it also means sticking to the values they embody. When I was asked this question previously, I have not given it much thoughts until recently. So here is my list, as at the age of writing, I am 32.

  1. Be Grateful

I was walking to the library the other day and overheard a mother telling her son off about him being ungrateful of his opportunity to go out with his friends. At first thought, many would have brush it off thinking it’s really not a big deal being able to go out and play or even that it’s the kid’s right to have a children of fun and play. But growing up in an Asian culture family, our focus has been around studies, excelling in school and acing that examinations. In addition, many parents have grown protective on their children, thinking it’s bad to hang out in the outdoors. Probably that’s why we see children these days handed with gadgets that seemingly keep them indoors. It is a heart-wrenching sight when I saw parents playing with their kids who are probably less than 4 years old, using their mobile phones or tablets.

We live in a society where there seems to have much more comfort these days and we pick things out by instilling negative thoughts to it. We complain about why we do not have certain things, privileges and or even the unfriendly person we ran into this morning.

Yet, we never really look at the many things that we do have – healthy body, functional senses, waking up, roof over the head, money for food, electricity, clean water, connecting with others, someone who believes in you, loving friends and family and the list goes on.

Looking back, I wish I could have been more appreciative and grateful for the wonderful people and things that I have been bestowed with. But hey, it is really not too late to start. Being grateful requires no degree nor MBAs. It is something we can start immediately, right now and straightaway!

2. To Give is Truly a Blessing

Are you a taker or a giver? Reiterating lesson #1, being grateful with the things and intangibles that we have and be able to give to others, to me, is a true blessing. Perhaps being grateful is the pre-requisite to giving. Until we are grateful for what we have, we will always be thinking of ways to take things from others.

Moreover, giving, an act of generosity, is one that people usually pays it forward. Our single action to give today, will translate and touch others to do the same. And maybe, when we start giving selflessly, then we have what we call – world peace.

3. Empowerment

Sometimes, we give away our greatest asset to someone or something else – our power of choice. Have you seen how some people complain about their work all the time and yet neglected the fact that they have the power of choice to quit and venture somewhere else? Instead, they gave their power to choose to the company to determine their fate. Or even those who have been in a bad relationship, thinking that the other party is the best for them, yet all their friends and even their gut tells them otherwise?

In 1965, a scientist by the name of Martin Seligman of “Learned Helplessness” on a group of dogs. The studies concluded that we are conditioned in our lives to either feel negative or empowered to change our destiny. As we grow older and have the wisdom to expose ourselves to empowering thoughts and practises, we can then start to recondition ourselves to always think that we have a way out; we have the greatest power bestowed upon us, the power to choose.

Some doors may be closed, but others may have opened. If there are no doors that are opened, there may be gaps or windows. Probably that is why we have this term called “a window of opportunity“!

Disclaimer: Some people have asked me if they should feel grateful for what they are going through now or feel empowered to choose something better. At the end of the day, assessing the situation realistically is more important before contributing to the elements of being grateful or taking control to choose.

4. Own It

“With great power comes great responsibility” – Ben Parker in Spiderman.

When the spiderman movie first came out, even though we have heard of this phrase from Ben Parker prior to the release of the movie from it’s comic books, it instantly became a catchphrase. We use it in schools, we use it at home. But never have I thought that this simple phrase carries such depth (Thank you Stan Lee!).

Highly relating to the idea of empowerment, being responsible or owning the decision is another valuable lesson I have learned. Passing the blame on, pointing the finger at anyone else is an easy task. What’s truly hard is looking within, put off the ego and understand what could I have done better.

I believe no one would have explained it any better than Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, especially not in an environment where decisions decide the survival of real people. Their book, Extreme Ownership, is a truly good read on taking on responsibility of the problems, the decisions, the team – a quality that everyone should really embrace.

5. Learning Never Stops

When I was schooling, I dread going to school because of the tons of homework and preparation for examinations. I wanted to head out to work, to earn and have the ability to stand on my own. But the push factor was always the idea of “no more examinations” and “no more homework“.

The realities of life always sets us in another direction. It is true that we have no more examinations, except for the ones we voluntarily signed up for. But the “homework” is even more intense. The “homework” now determines our pay check, our interaction with potential customers, our sales, our ability to convince, and with the revolution of technology, our relevance in this growing economy!

Learning in this aspect, is no longer about the work we hand in to our teachers or schools. Learning becomes part of life. Involuntarily, we learn the lessons of life, the teachings from people around us and the experiences we have gone through. Whether we associate these with learnings, or we just take them at face value, determines the direction of our lives.

As I grow older, I begin to understand the importance of continual growth through learning. I spend more time reading than I was schooling. I spend time trying to understand things rather than for the sake of getting certifications and passing tests. We now have the technology to support our learning journey even more than before. Why don’t we use them to our advantage? Why don’t we look at what our primary work is and add the other necessary skills, be it soft skills or technical skills to make us more unique in our contributions? Scott Adams’ call this system, skills stacking.

6. Challenging Comfort = Unforgettable Experiences

Tony Robbins is a great exemplary of this mantra – motion begets emotions. When I was serving my military service, comfort is something that is far-fetched, something that we get only when the objectives of the day or the exercises have been met. Even with that, sometimes we are pushed further mentally and physically, often emphasising on the concept of teamwork and leadership. And the best part after leaving military service, I got a group of true friends who I know I can always count on.

As I was reading “Power Relationships” by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas (great book by the way!), law no. 12th resonated strongly – “Change the environment and you will deepen the relationship“. The story revolved around a group of executives who have gone through a terrorist attack together during a business trip in India, and escaped alive, together. That may not be the most suitable example as it is one experience that we do not want to experience. But we cannot dispel the fact that people do stick through the thick and thin after experiencing some unforgettable experiences together. This does not only apply to the relationship with others, but one with ourselves too.

With others: Have you ever wondered why couples in war movies always end up so loving towards each other? Or the story about band of brothers? Partners-in-crime? Some of them may not be life-threatening but are really a whole lot of fun and memorable experiences with commonalities shared. Adding to this, we can also include lesson #2, the empowerment to choose our responses to these experiences. We can always choose to give up or choose to experience the moments. As the saying goes, falling in love is the easy part; staying in love on the other hand, is a choice.

With ourselves: We notice the greatest people of our time have faced the worst treatments and gone through experiences we never thought possible. And guess what, they built grit and resilience far more superior than their peers. What can we do to change our environment, to bring ourselves out of the comfort zone, in exchange for some unforgettable, yet memorable experiences? Can we do some adjustments just to challenge ourselves further every day?

7. Never Judge 

I first learned this from a good friend – She is a very kind lady and always giving whenever she can. But she can really give you a hard time if she feels you are judging her or anyone else close to her. This applies to anyone, even her partner or family members. Initially I just thought why is she argumentative on some of the things until she explains to me that it’s never in our capacity to judge because we do not have the entire picture. 

We often like to get our perspectives in and judging people base on their appearances, behaviours or even the actions they did. Sometimes it’s the way they are brought up, sometimes they may have gone through tough times, sometimes they just need to meet ends meet. We may not feel comfortable around these people and may have churned up some feelings that are not in their favour. But the truth is, we really do not have the entire picture. We base our judgements on what we know best. Unless we are all Sherlock Holmes who is brilliant in his deductions (deductions, not judgements!), we do not have the best knowledge to put someone in certain negative perspective.

Not judging doesn’t mean not protecting ourselves. There are scenarios where people stepped across the line and jeopardise our well-being or interests. These are occasions where we need to be strong and stand our ground. Not passing negative judgements to the person but rather, challenge the person and the situation objectively.

8. Sometimes We Gain; Sometimes We Learn

Life’s not all rainbows. And we are only human. Sometimes we have to accept certain realities that are not within our control, even after doing the best we could. That’s where we should pick ourselves up and start learning from these. I believe this part is well-summarised by a prayer I chanced upon, from Abby Willowroot:

I am fallible, and only human, sometimes I fail,
my best efforts are not always enough
my best intentions and judgment can be wrong
my sincerest beliefs can be flawed
I am fallible and only human.
May I have the courage to accept my limitations
May I have the flexibility and insight to change my mind
May I have the openness to see the truths, in beliefs, that are not my own
I am only human, but I seek to grow in wisdom and understanding
May each new day bring me deeper awareness of others and myself.

What are the lessons you have learned so far in your life’s journey?

Do share. Do tell.

God bless.

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