Knowing vs. Doing: Eventually You’re Gonna Have to Do Something

Bruce Lee
Image from twicsy.com

In my recent quest for self-improvement, I’ve been reading a lot of stuff on personal development: books, blogs, magazines, and, of course, psychological research articles.

As a result of my extensive reading, I’ve come to know quite a bit about many different topics. For example, I know a lot about:

Nutrition and exercise—what I should eat and how I should exercise to improve my health.

The myriad benefits that accrue from doing things you’re passionate about.

Why people acquire bad habits and how to change them.

What people can do to manage their time better and become more productive.

Work-life balance and the factors that enhance or detract from it.

Effective parenting.

And yet, if you were to take a look at different aspects of my life, you might question whether I know anything at all about these topics.

For instance, I still struggle, at times, with eating healthy and getting enough exercise.

I also don’t spend enough time doing things I’m passionate about, even though I know that doing them would make me happier.

I have numerous bad habits.

I waste more time than I should doing things that aren’t important. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Facebook!)

I still struggle with work-life balance (although I think I’ve gotten better at this over the past few years).

And my kids’ behavior in recent days has made me wonder whether I have any parenting skills at all.

Of course, this all begs a question: If I (claim to) know so much about these different topics, why the trouble? Why haven’t I made dramatic improvements in these different areas of my life?

* Knowing ≠ Doing

Well, here’s one thing I’ve come to learn over the past few years in my quest for self-improvement.

Knowing and doing are two very different things!

I might know a lot about nutrition and exercise, but unless I actually do the healthy eating and the exercising, I won’t see any benefits.

I might know all the good things that come from pursuing my passions, but unless I actually find time to do what I love, I won’t be any happier.

I might know how to change my bad habits (and I might even be able to teach others how to do it effectively), but unless I actually do the things that produce change, my bad habits will continue to be on full display.

Can you see what I’m getting at here?

Knowing something—simply being able to talk about it—is not the same as doing something or being able to do something.

Just because you know a lot about baseball doesn’t mean you can hit a 95-mph fastball.

Just because you know a lot about exercise doesn’t mean you’re going to be in good shape.

Just because you know a lot about health doesn’t mean you’re going to be healthy. (Have you ever noticed how some of our most trusted health professionals—doctors, nurses, and the like—seem to be rather unhealthy?)

And one of my favorite: Just because you know a lot about psychology (or any discipline, for that matter) doesn’t mean you can teach that topic effectively (as most any college student can confirm).

Let me say it again: Knowing and doing are two very different things!

So, let’s get back to my earlier question: Why, if I know so much about nutrition, passion, parenting, and so on, haven’t I made faster improvement in certain areas of my life?

The answer is quite simple:

Because my doing hasn’t kept pace with my knowing.

Unless I actually apply the information I read about in all of those books and blogs and magazines and research articles, nothing is going to change.

Unless I eat healthy and exercise, I’m not going to lose weight.

Unless I carve out time to play guitar (which I love to do), I’m not going to get any better at it.

Unless I “catch my kids doing something good,” they’ll probably keep doing something “bad.”

Now, knowing something is certainly a good starting point—it might help me determine what I need to do to produce positive outcomes.

But the only thing that will ultimately make any difference is the doing.

Unfortunately, in our society, we much too often conflate knowing with doing. We assume that if someone knows something—if he or she can talk knowledgeably about it—then he or she must be able to do it as well.

* Can You Ride a Bike?

I see this a lot in my college students. They assume that if someone has a high GPA, then that person automatically knows how to do something well. For example, if someone gets a good grade in his counseling class, it must mean he’ll make a great counselor.

But if you think about this for a minute, you’ll see the problem: “getting a good grade on an exam” (which is how we often define knowing) and “being a great counselor” (which entails doing) require very different skill sets. Just because you can answer a bunch of exam questions correctly doesn’t mean you’ll have the person skills or the patience needed to do great counseling.

Regrettably, our educational system often does a poor job of making this distinction clear. No wonder why so many students get insane about their GPAs! They assume it’s their only meal ticket to success.

Consequently, it’s rather normal for students to do whatever it takes to get a good grade on their exams, even if it means forgetting everything a short while later. They spend a lot of money trying to get good grades but frequently acquire few real skills in return. In short, for many, knowing trumps doing.

Sadly, reality is a hard pill to swallow, and my students are often dismayed to find out that having a high GPA rarely gets them anywhere if they don’t know what they’re doing.

As I like to tell them: “No one is going to care how you answered an exam question on bike-riding if you can’t actually ride a bike.” Instead, employers and graduate schools are looking for people who can “ride the bike.”

* Knowing Is Fine, Doing Is Better

Ultimately, if we want to make changes in our lives, we need to focus on doing rather than on simply knowing.

Yes, knowing is important if it helps you determine how to get started or what you need to do next. But when it comes to personal development, doing is key.

As entrepreneur and social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk likes to say, “When it all comes down to it, nothing trumps execution.”

Or for those of you who prefer ancient Chinese proverbs over entrepreneurial advice, here’s a slightly different take on the same idea: “Talking doesn’t cook rice.”

Or maybe you like my wife’s no-nonsense thoughts on the matter: “Eventually you’re gonna have to do something.”

There’s nothing wrong with knowing something. But if we want to make important changes in our, or other people’s, lives, it’s the doing that matters most.

As the old saying goes, “Knowledge without action is wasted power.”

 

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Don’t Take Today for Granted: A Brief Tribute to Scott Dinsmore

scott-dinsmore-profile

Yesterday, I learned that Scott Dinsmore died.

Most of you probably don’t know who Scott Dinsmore is. Although I’ve had a few brief Twitter exchanges with him in the past year, I’ve never met him in person. In fact, if I passed him on the street, he wouldn’t know me from a bar of soap.

But the work he’s spent the last few years doing has had a pretty big impact on me.

Scott Dinsmore is the creator of the über-successful blog Live Your Legend, where he helped people find and do work that truly matters to them. The tagline on his website reads:

“Change the world by doing work you love.”

Back in 2012, Scott gave an inspirational TEDx talk titled “How to Find and Do Work You Love” that has become one of the most-watched TED talks of all time, garnering nearly 3 million views on YouTube.

Importantly, Scott didn’t just talk the talk. He also walked the walk. As he discussed in his TEDx talk, Scott began his career working at a Fortune 500 company. But just a few months into that gig, he realized that working in corporate America, sitting behind a desk for 40+ hours per week, made him want to “slam my head through the monitor of my computer.”

Shortly thereafter, he quit his job, launched a blog, and set out to build an online business where he could convince people to go the same route he did: finding and pursuing work they love.

Back in 2011 or so, when I was in the midst of my own career crisis, I read a lot of books and blogs that dealt with the topics of productivity, personal development, life mission, passion, and so on. Inevitably, I came across Scott Dinsmore, who was “blowing up” online at the time.

His enthusiasm was contagious, and I watched numerous videos of him talking about his blog and his business (for examples, see here and here).

He was one of the people who convinced me that I needed to make some changes in my life and do more things that I’m passionate about.

In addition, he made me realize that, just like him, I really enjoy helping others (especially students) find and pursue careers that get them excited about Monday morning. It was ultimately part of the reason I switched my research and teaching focus to the topic of passion and, subsequently, started this blog.

Over the past few years, I’ve incorporated his TEDx video into my passion class, and it always goes over well with students. I think it’s pretty clear from the video that Scott was passionate about living life to the fullest.

That’s probably why he and his wife, Chelsea, sold all of their belongings last year and set out in early 2015 on a year-long jaunt around the globe. They wanted to travel around the world hosting dinner parties and meeting many of the passionate people they had connected with online.

Over the past 9 months, Scott has run his online business from around the world and blogged about his many adventures along the way (to read about some of his adventures, see here).

On September 4, 2015, Scott posted a new blog entry titled,” I’m Going Off the Grid: Therapy for an Addicted & Over-Connected World.” In it, he wrote:

“For the next two weeks I’m taking my first digital sabbatical (in five years!) as I head to Tanzania to attempt to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, track the Great Wildebeest Migration and do some volunteer work at a local school and orphanage.”

He talked about how important it is for all of us to disconnect from technology every once in awhile so that we can (re)connect with others and with ourselves.

Sadly, Scott died in a tragic climbing accident while on Mt. Kilimanjaro a few days ago.

As I noted before, I didn’t know Scott personally, but I’ve followed him from afar for the past few years. (For a personal account of what Scott was like as a person, check out Leo Babauta’s moving tribute.)

It’s weird, but since I found out about Scott’s untimely death, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him. I think he’s been on my mind for a few different reasons.

First, as I said, his writings helped get me “over the hump” when I felt stuck in my job a few years ago. Hearing his story got me to realize that making big changes in our lives is often easier than we think it’s going to be.

Second, as news of his death started to hit the Internet, I was amazed at the outpouring of love and emotion that flooded Twitter, Facebook, etc.

For quite some time, I’ve said that one of my biggest life goals is to have a massive funeral. If it (hopefully) happens, it’ll mean that I had a positive impact on others. And that, to me, is a legacy worth pursuing.

Clearly, Scott Dinsmore had a far-reaching and positive effect on thousands and thousands of people around the world. Although he was taken much too early, the legacy he leaves behind is without question.

The final reason I’ve been thinking about Scott a lot is because he was only 32 years old (which is 11 years younger than me). I’m sure that when he set out to travel the world for a year, the notion of having his life taken from him was nowhere on his radar.

And yet, it points out a very real fact about our lives: They can be taken from us at any time, without warning.

To me, hearing about Scott’s tragic death is just a reminder that we all need to be grateful for every day we’re given, because we never know when it all might come to an end.

Even when we’re having one of “those days,” when everything seems to be going wrong, remember that the highs and lows are all part of living an amazing, full life.

As the late Robin Williams noted in the Academy Award-winning movie, Good Will Hunting, “You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”

So today, rather than complaining about all of the little things that are bothering us, let’s take a look around and notice all of the amazing things we have going on in our lives. Moreover, let’s not wait to do the things we truly want to do with our lives.

Don’t take today for granted, because you never know if there’s going to be another one.

Rest in peace, Scott.

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The Life-Changing Message of Hot Tub Time Machine

Last weekend, I spent a little time watching TV. Of course, because I have two young boys, I spent some obligatory time watching Wild Kratts, Power Rangers, Super Why, and a variety of horse documentaries (because my oldest son is a horse nut).

But I also watched a few things I liked.

Back to the Future and Hot Tub Time Machine

For example, once we were done watching their shows, I introduced the boys to a classic movie from the 80s: Back to the Future.

Let me provide a brief synopsis of the movie for those of you who are complete losers and have never seen this classic flick before (courtesy of www.imdb.com):

“In the life of Marty McFly, all is not well. His family is dysfunctional, his school punctuality is questionable, and the music he likes and plays is just too darn loud. His one true light is his girlfriend Jenny, and his one true friend is the somewhat off-kilter Dr. Emmett Brown. In a request from Doc Brown, Marty meets the mad scientist and discovers that his friend has built a time machine out of a DeLorean. From there, Marty’s humdrum life becomes literally a blast from the past as he is [accidentally] transported to 1955. A stranger in a strange yet familiar land, Marty must seek out Doc Brown to help send him back to his own time while simultaneously ensuring that his parents meet and fall in love.”

If you’re more of the visual type, here’s the original movie trailer:

Of course, while Marty is “back in time,” he tries his best not to interfere with events that are going on in the past, lest he potentially alter the future.

But, as you might expect, Marty fails miserably in his quest to stay unobtrusive. He encounters his teen-aged mom and dad (along with a host of other people) and changes their life paths.

When Marty is finally transported back to the 1980s, he finds himself in a land where things are considerably different than when he had left—his family, rather than being dysfunctional losers, is now hip, cool, and successful.

And all because Marty accidentally interfered with the past, which produced the unintended consequence of dramatically changing the future.

Another movie I spent some time watching last weekend (and that I always watch when it’s on) is Hot Tub Time Machine (synopsis once again courtesy of www.imbd.com):

“Three friends on losing streaks: Adam [John Cusack], whose girlfriend dumped him; Nick [Craig Robinson], with a dead-end job and a cheating wife; and Lou [Rob Corddry], a suicidal alcoholic. To help Lou recover from car-exhaust poisoning, Adam and Nick, with Adam’s nephew, Jacob [Clark Duke], go to a winter resort that was their old party place. It’s now a dump, but the lads rally for a night of drinking in the hot tub. Somehow, the hot tub takes them back to 1986, on a fateful night for each of them. Maybe if they do everything the same way they did that night, they’ll get back to the future so Jacob can be born. There are serious temptations to do things differently. Will they make it back to their sorry lives? And what about Jacob?”

Again, the trailer:

Eventually, Adam and his friends make it back to the present, but not without doing some things that alter their life trajectories. After the hot tub transports them back to 2010, they find themselves in a familiar, yet somehow different, world. Adam is now married to the woman of his dreams, Nick is a big-time record producer, and Lou, who used his knowledge of the future for personal gain, is the founder of “Lougle” (instead of Google), which has made him a multi-billionaire.

Now, whereas Back to the Future is a light-hearted romp that frequently plays on ABC Family in the middle of the afternoon, Hot Tub Time Machine is a raucous, often-lewd, foul-mouthed comedy that rarely appears anywhere but on Comedy Central in the late evening.

And yet, despite their stylistic differences, these movies actually have a lot in common.

The Butterfly Effect: Small Causes = Big Effects

At the start of both movies, the main characters are living less-than-desirable lives—they’re stuck in a rut and longing for things to change. Unfortunately, they see little opportunity to make that happen. A freak occurrence then takes them back in time, where they have to be careful not to interfere with past events or their futures will forever change (possibly for the worse). But, predictably, positive events happen that have a “butterfly effect” and change the course of time. Once transported “back to the future,” the main characters find themselves in lives that are considerably better than the ones they initially had.

As far-fetched as these movies are, I love both of them (especially the ultra-crass Hot Tub Time Machine).

I love watching them because they’re funny, but also because of the message they depict: If you do things differently, you can change your future for the better.

Even small changes now can produce huge changes later on. In fact, that’s the whole point of the butterfly effect: The flapping wings of a tiny butterfly can produce cumulative changes that, over time, ultimately alter giant weather patterns for years to come.

So let’s apply this idea to making changes in our lives.

Some of you might feel stuck right now. Like Marty McFly and the characters in Hot Tub Time Machine, maybe you’re feeling like you want things to change.

And I think this is where the message put forth in both of these movies might provide a useful analogy that you can think about as you consider the possibility of making changes in your life.

Take a minute and think about where you are in life right now. Maybe you don’t like your current job. Maybe you don’t like your current major. Maybe you’re pursuing a particular career because others are pressuring you to chase their definition of “success.”

How does it make you feel? (Not very good, I’m guessing.)

Now imagine you do absolutely nothing about it (which is what many people do, because it’s actually the easiest thing to do).

How do you think you’re going to feel in 5 or 10 or 20 years? How will you feel, for example, if you spend the next 10 years in a job you hate?

My guess is that you’ll probably feel a lot like Marty McFly or the characters in Hot Tub Time Machine at the start of the movie (which is how I felt about 4 years ago).

Stuck. Discontented. Unhappy. Wishing things would change.

And, whether you like it or not, here’s the reality: Unless you decide to do something differently, there’s a pretty good chance that things will stay exactly the same. I know, because I’ve been there.

As the old saying goes (often attributed to Einstein), “Insanity is the doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

What if “Back in Time” Was Now?

Now, I want you to do something different. Rather than thinking about the less-than-desirable future you just envisioned for yourself, take a minute instead and imagine that you’re Marty McFly or the guys from Hot Tub Time Machine and that you’ve been transported back in time.

But here’s the twist: Instead of “back in time” being 20 or 30 years ago (or maybe 10 years if you’re one of my younger college students), back in time is NOW.

Imagine you’re currently “back in time” with knowledge of what your future will look like if you stay on the undesirable path you’re currently on.

But rather than not doing anything because you don’t want alter the future (as the characters in those movies tried to do), you should imagine you’re them and instead take complete advantage of the “butterfly effect.”

Purposely do something now, something different, that has the potential to positively affect your future.

Moreover, expect that this small action could alter your future in a huge way.

It doesn’t have to be something big and scary (although it might be). In fact, when you’re trying to make changes in your life, but aren’t sure how to make those things happen, sometimes the best thing to do is simply to take a small step forward.

When you take a small step and then do it again tomorrow and then the next day and then build on it over time, these small steps, when added together, have the potential to produce something really big.

That’s the butterfly effect, and that’s what happened in Back to the Future and Hot Tub Time Machine.

And that’s why I like those movies—because they send the message that an amazing future is not beyond your grasp.

All you have to do is imagine that you’ve jumped in the hot tub and gone “back in time.” You now have the opportunity to do things today that will significantly alter your future for the better.

 

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What I’ve Learned in 43 Years

happy birthday
Image from pixabay.com

Today—September 5, 2015—I turn 43 years old.

Now, I know what some of you are probably thinking: “What?! Forty-three years old? No way! I would’ve guessed 28 or 29. Maybe 33 at the very most.”

Yeah, I get it. People always think I’m younger than I am. And I understand why: I have the body of a finely tuned Olympic athlete, the hair of a Greek god, the skin of a L’oreal spokesmodel, the energy of a hyper-caffeinated 4-year-old, and the mind of a young Albert Einstein. I understand why people look at me and think, “Damn! What a fine-looking 29-year-old specimen that dude is.”

But I’m actually 43.

I just stay out of the sun, get a lot of exercise, drink a lot of fresh water, and try to moisturize.

But I digress…

Yep, I’m 43 years old today, and as I sit here contemplating my life and how long I’ve been in existence, I realize that I’ve really had some incredible experiences in that time.

birthday
Image from www.imagesbuddy.com

In fact, I believe movie icon Joe Dirt might’ve said it best:

“I’ve had good times, met cool people, cruised around, cranked some tunes.”

Sure, there have been a few ups and downs—we all have ’em. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s been pretty good.

And through all of those experiences, I’ve learned a lot.

Not just about psychology or guitar or nutrition or any of the other things I’ve studied formally. But also just a lot about life.

Thus, to commemorate my 4-plus decades of existence on this planet, I thought I’d take a minute and share with you 10 of the most important things I’ve learned in the past 43 years.

1. Family Trumps Everything Else

I’ve always felt that family is the most important thing there is (even if, at times, I yell at my kids or fail to tell my wife I love her or forget to call my parents). For some, “family” might be traditional family: mom, dad, and little brother (like me). For others, it might be a hodgepodge of parents and step-parents and siblings and step-siblings and half-siblings (like my wife). And still for others, it might simply mean a small group of close friends. Regardless of who you call “family,” they’re the ones who got your back.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that always got along and always supported my life decisions (even if they didn’t necessarily agree with the choices I made). But this belief has taken on extra special meaning in the last 9 years. In that time, I’ve gotten married and had two little boys. Prior to becoming a husband and dad, I was mostly able to do my own thing, with relatively little concern for others’ immediate needs. But now I have a family of my own, and that’s required me to be much less selfish than I used to be. I’ve finally come to understand the phrase, “I’d give my life for you.”

Moreover, having a family of my own makes me understand and truly appreciate how dedicated and selfless my parents were (and continue to be)—even when I was acting like a complete idiot during my teen years. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.) I know that regardless of what happens in my life, my family will always be there to greet me at the door and give me a big hug.

And that trumps everything else.

2. Without Your Health, You Have Nothing

If you’ve been reading my blog for any time at all, you know that I’ve battled weight issues since I was young. Back then, I wanted to lose weight, mostly for aesthetic reasons (I wanted to look good in my Jordache jeans). But over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that my health affects every other area of my life. When I’m taking care of myself—eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep—everything else seems to “click”: I’m more productive, I’m happier, I have more energy, I think more clearly, I’m calmer.

When I was younger, I thought that taking it to the extreme—working hard, playing hard, skimping on sleep, going on crash diets, and so on—was the way to get ahead. I now realize that it eventually catches up with you. If your body is not working at 100%, don’t expect anything else to work at 100%.

For my students who are young and don’t worry that much about their health habits, I urge you to start thinking about them now, so they don’t catch up with you later.

3. Chasing Someone Else’s Definition of Success Isn’t Worth It If It Means Neglecting Your Own Happiness

As I’ve written previously, it’s easy to get caught up chasing someone else’s definition of success. And to some extent, I did that for quite awhile. During that time, I was lucky to receive numerous accolades for what I did, and in that sense, I was “successful.” But I always had this aching feeling I wasn’t being completely true to myself.

I used to think that “success” was about making lots of money or holding a prestigious position of some type. But I eventually came to understand that (for me, anyway), it’s about legacy. Once I’m gone from this earth, I want people to remember me. I want them to talk about me (in a good way, hopefully). I want them to remember the positive effect I had on them.

Some of you may remember earlier this year when ESPN sports personality Stuart Scott died from cancer at the age of 49 (which is only 6 years older than me). The unbelievable outpouring of love for Scott that followed his death simply reinforced my belief that “success” lies not in how much money you make or what position you have, but rather, in how many people you touch.

Which is why my biggest goal in life is a little weird: I want to have a massively huge funeral. Because if that happens, it’ll mean that I had a lasting effect on others.

And that, to me, would be pretty cool.

4. In the Grand Scheme of Things, Most Things Don’t Matter That Much

I used to worry about the little things—a lot!

“What if one of my students doesn’t like me?”

“What if I spend too much money at the movie tonight?”

“What if I submit a paper for publication and it gets rejected?”

“What if I’m late for a meeting?” (Or worse yet, what if I skip a meeting?)

I see similar thought patterns in my students:

“What if I don’t get a good grade on an exam?”

“What if I get a B this semester?” (Oh no! Not a B! [Hopefully, the sarcasm I’m putting out there is coming through loud and clear.] During my first 2 years of college, I would’ve killed for a B.)

“What if my teacher doesn’t like me?”

“What if my classmates don’t like me?”

“What if I ask that person out on a date and she says ‘No’?”

I used to let the little things bother me a lot, but then I finally started to realize: Most of them really don’t matter that much.

So what if a student doesn’t like me? Not all of them will. That’s life. Plus, in a few years, I’m probably going to forget she was ever in my class (not because I don’t care about her, but because I teach hundreds of students every year, and it’s hard to keep track of them all).

So what if I’m late for a meeting? I’m pretty sure it will go on without me.

So what if I spend a little too much money on this dinner or that movie? I’ll just have to be a little more frugal next month.

In the last few years, I’ve started asking myself the following question when little things start to bother me: “Will this matter in 6 months (or a year)?” If the answer is “No,” then I stop worrying about it and move on.

And you know what I’ve found? More often than not, most things don’t matter 6 months down the road. So stop wasting your energy on the little things and focus instead on the things that truly matter in your life.

5. When You Feel Overwhelmed, Just Do the Next Thing

We all have a lot on our plates (often because we think more is better, which, as I’ve definitely found, is not always the case). And when we look at everything we have to accomplish, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. With so many things to do and so many options to pick from, we sometimes get paralyzed and end up making little progress toward our goals. Psychologist Barry Schwartz has referred to this as the “paradox of choice.”

When this happens to me—and I’m trying much harder to keep it from being an issue these days—I simply do the next thing on the list. Rather than look at the whole project I have to complete, I break it down into smaller parts and simply do the next thing. Then repeat as many times as needed.

Now, if you can get things off your plate—especially those things that won’t matter in 6 months or a year—that’s the best way to go. But if all else fails and you have a lot to do, rather than letting it get to you or telling yourself that your goals are unreachable, simply do the next thing. Small steps, taken over and over, will get you to where you want to go.

6. Sometimes Getting Where You Want to Go Means Upsetting Others

This was a tough one for me to learn. It’s always nice to get others’ approval, and I’ve always prided myself on being a “people person” (I’m sure some of you are ROTFLYAO right now. “A people person?! Yeah, right!” Well, if you haven’t figured it out by now, most of my “cranky persona” is pure schtick.). It’s nice to make a choice or complete a task and receive praise from others, especially when they’re people we care about.

But sometimes, what you want to do and what others want you to do are not in alignment. For example, I know that many of my students feel pressure from their parents to pick particular majors or pursue particular careers. I also know colleagues whose graduate school advisors wanted them to be famous researchers when all they wanted to do was teach (and it’s sometimes hard to do both really well).

Now, I certainly understand wanting to please those who have often done so much for you. But here’s the deal: They are not you. Which means they haven’t had the same experiences you’ve had. And which means that what was right for them may not be right for you, regardless of what they think. When this happens, you typically have two choices: do what they want you to do (which may not make you happy) or do what you want to do (which may rock the boat).

Personally, I’ve come to believe that it’s more important to make choices that will make you happy, even if it sometimes angers or frustrates others. Ultimately, you’ll be happier with yourself, and more often than not, if these other people truly care about you, they’ll come around.

7. Take Time for Yourself

As I’ve gotten older, there have gotten to be more and more demands on my time: kids, friends, students, colleagues, that random neighbor who asked me to come to his apartment and help him pick up his naked wife off the kitchen floor (yeah, that actually happened . . . twice).

But I believe it’s always important to save some time for “me.” This usually means going upstairs and playing guitar for an hour or two. Or a few times a week, I like to take my dog for a long walk. Either way, it allows me to be by myself and think about things, without the constant din of other people talking in my ear. And what I’ve found is that when I’m alone with my own thoughts, it’s often when I have the deepest insights about my life. Sure, it’s great to be around other people, but don’t forget to take time for yourself.

8. Being Selfish (At Times) Allows You to Give Your Best to Others

I know many people who are amazing “givers.” Almost everything they do in their lives is geared toward helping others or trying to make others happy. It’s really amazing to watch them (and often I wish I was that altruistic). But sometimes, their desire to help other people comes at the expense of their own happiness or their own health. Now, on the one hand, it may seem incredibly admirable for people to be so focused on helping others that they neglect themselves. But is it truly possible to give your best to others when you’re not giving your best to yourself? For instance, if you’re not taking care of your own health, how much longer will you physically be able to help others? Or if you’re doing things every day that suck the life out of you, how energized are you going to be when others call on you?

I really think that focusing on yourself is, quite paradoxically, the first step toward better serving others. For example, I’ve written previously about how pursing your passion is, contrary to popular belief, an unselfish act: When you’re doing things you love and that you do well, you’ll be in a better position, both physically and psychologically, to give back to others.

So, don’t forget that being selfish, at times, can be a good thing if it means putting yourself in a better position to help others.

9. When People Freak Out or Get Mad at You, It’s Usually About Them, Not You

I used to care a lot about what other people think of me (and I still do, but, now, I’m much more selective of whose opinion matters). I was always concerned about how people would respond to the things I did. I didn’t want to get chided or yelled at. I didn’t want people to say bad things about me.

But now I’ve come to realize that how people react to me often has less to do with me and more to do with them.

For example, if I submit a paper for publication and get a scathing review in which an anonymous colleague calls me “an amateur” (which has happened before), it may be because I conducted a bad study or wrote a bad paper. But it also says quite a lot about the reviewer. Rather than give me constructive feedback, he felt the need to attack me personally.

It’s like being back in 4th grade again. Like the bully with low self-esteem, rather than confront his own negative feelings, he simply picks on others. If he can find lots of things wrong with someone else, it makes his issues seem less prominent.

I try to remember that when others say something negative about me. Certainly, I don’t just blow it off—especially when it’s coming from someone I truly care about. But now, rather than question my own self-worth, I simply assess the source of the message and, more often than not, take it with a giant grain of salt.

10. This Thing Called “Life” Doesn’t Last Forever

Here’s the truth: 43 years have flown by. It’s hard to believe it’s been over 20 years since I graduated from college, 13 years since I finished my PhD, 9 years since I got married, and 7 years since I became a dad.

When I was in high school and college, I thought I was invincible. I thought it was going to last forever. It was hard for me to conceive of a life where things wouldn’t always be as they were and where people I loved wouldn’t always be around.

But that’s not the way it goes.

I now realize that there’s an end to this thing we call “life.” And it can be taken from us at any time. For most of us, it may not be for a number of years. But for others of us, it might be sooner rather than later.

There are only so many days that each of us has left. And, unfortunately, we don’t know what that number is. So, don’t take your life for granted.

Live with purpose, live with passion, and make it something amazing. It’s not too late to do what you want to do or be who you want to be.

I now have 43 years behind me, and regardless of how much time I happen to have left, I hope to make the most of it.

I hope that you do, too.

And I hope to see you at my funeral.

 

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