How many times have you heard someone say, “If only I knew then what I know now…” ? It’s natural. As we learn & experience more we reflect on our lives. We see our past with a sometimes painful clarity. Our missteps & mistakes, however valuable, are obvious to us.
But what if you could go back & teach yourself the most important lessons you’ve ever learned?
A few years ago I began tracking my own reflective lessons in a notebook I call, “Notes to My Son.” It’s pretty simple. When I think of a life-lesson that has impacted me in a meaningful way I write it in the notepad. Writing to my son allows me to describe my own lessons to another person, which helps me internalize them. I need as much help as I can get.
I’ve noticed a pattern. I learned almost every lesson too late. I made all the mistakes first (and often made them again & again). On very few occasions did I learn the lesson early, stick to its principles, and work my butt off to get good at it. Aaggh! “If only I knew then what I know now…”
So in that spirit, here are 5 things I wish I’d learned earlier in life. You’ll find yourself thinking of your own lessons as you read this list. Share them in the comments section. I’d love to hear what you all have learned too.
- Don’t equate the delay of consequences with the absence of consequences.
My dad said this all time time. All. The. Time. As a kid & young adult it mostly annoyed me. Now I see how true it is. Just because you don’t see the cause & effect of your actions in the moment doesn’t mean they’re not happening. You can’t see gravity either. There are consequences for all of our decisions. Sometimes they take years to realize.
- You will work hard early in life or late in life, but you will have to work hard.
In general, most people avoid truly hard work. I don’t mean staying busy or active. I’m talking about hard, uncomfortable work that creates explosive growth. Things like changing habits, launching your own business, addressing your fears, or practicing an unfamiliar skill. If you don’t put in the work early it doesn’t go away. It just comes later at an inconvenient time when you’re more set in your ways. Do your hardest work early so you can reap the benefits later.
- Studying and practicing is about building skills.
Whether high school, college, or a job—it’s about developing your skills. It’s not about what you know or memorize. It’s about what you can do & how well you can do it. Devote less time time to showing what you know. Devote more time to building life skills & job skills. And understanding how those skills help you perform on the field or in the workplace.
- Caring is a choice, not a feeling.
I learned this years ago & it changed my life. I can choose to care. Despite how I feel. It has transformed the way I interact with strangers — and my family. Here is the definition I use, “Find out what is important to the other person & make it important to you in a way they can feel it.” What’s the best part? It creates an emotional connection! People feel better when you choose to care. And so will you.
- You can be “right” and ineffective.
This was a big one for me. Being right was important. And I often made the mistake of hammering people with facts, opinions, examples, & conclusions until they conceded the point. I failed to grasp that in the process of proving myself right, I annoyed people & made the situation much worse. It’s better to focus on being productive. Focus on understanding the situation better or what it looks like from another person’s perspective. Remember that the end result is far more important than whoever is “right”. In today’s world, being “right” is usually a combination of many inputs.
There is value in learning from mistakes. But looking back I made more mistakes than I needed to. I could have learned earlier & faster if I’d been more willing to listen & work hard on things that didn’t come naturally to me. I would do some things differently if I could go back. How about you… What do you wish you’d learned earlier in life?