You’ve come a long way, and you’re still learning and growing. Be thankful for the lessons. Take them and make the best of things right now.
For my 18th birthday, many moons ago, my grandfather on my mom’s side gave me four lightly-used flannel shirts that he no longer needed. The shirts were barely worn and in great shape; my grandfather told me he thought they would look great on me.
Unfortunately, I thought they were odd gifts at the time and I wasn’t thankful. I looked at him skeptically, gave him a crooked half-smile, and moved on to the other gifts sitting in front of me. My grandfather died two days later from a sudden heart attack.
The flannel shirts were the last gifts he ever gave me, and that crooked half-smile was the last time a directly acknowledged him. Today, I still regret the little thing I didn’t say when I had the chance: “Thank you Grandpa. That’s so thoughtful of you.”
This was a huge wake-up call for me—one that has served me well for over two decades now.
And here are eight wake-up calls for you—some important lessons worth learning before it’s too late:
1. You might not have tomorrow to say, “I love you.”
About a decade ago a coworker of mine died in a car accident. During his funeral several people from the office were in tears, saying kind things like: “I loved him. We all loved him so much. He was such a wonderful person.” I started crying too, and I wondered if these people had told him that they loved him while he was alive, or whether it was only with death that this powerful word, love, had been used without question or hesitation.
I vowed to myself then and there that I would never again hesitate to speak up to the people I love and remind them of how much I appreciate them. They deserve to know they give meaning to my life. They deserve to know I think the world of them.
Bottom line: If you love someone today, tell them. If you appreciate someone today, tell them. There might not be a tomorrow. Today is the day to express your love and admiration. (Note: Angel and I discuss this in detail in the Relationships chapter of our NEW edition of 1,000 Little Things.)
2. Your judgments of others are often inaccurate.
You will never know exactly what another person is going through or what their whole story is. When you believe you do, realize that your assumptions about their life are in direct relation to your limited perspective.
Many people you believe to be successful are extremely unhappy. Many people you think have it easy worked their tail off achieve what they have. Many people who appear to be wealthy are in debt because of their extravagant tastes for material possessions. Many people who appear to you to be old and uncool were once every bit as young and hip and inexperienced as you.
3. Not trying is why most people fail.
It’s not the mistakes and failures you have to worry about, it’s the opportunities you miss when you don’t even try that hurt you the most. Trying always leads to success regardless of the outcome. Even mistakes and failures teach you what not to do next time. Thus, every outcome is a lesson that makes you stronger and wiser.
In the end, there’s only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the failure to try. The results you achieve are not based on what you plan to do or what you say you’ll do. Your results come from what you actually try and do consistently.
Your life will get better when you get better. Start investing in yourself mentally, physically, and spiritually. Make it a priority to learn and grow every day by building positive rituals and sticking to them. The stronger you become, the better your life will feel.
4. Patience does not mean waiting and doing nothing.
Patience involves productive activity. It means doing your very best with the resources available to you, while understanding that the results you seek are worth the required time and effort, and not available elsewhere for any less time and effort.
Patience is the realization that the quality of your life is much more significant than the quantity of things you fill it with. Patience is your willingness to accept and appreciate what you have right now, while you put forth a steady, focused effort into growing toward your dreams and goals.
5. You don’t need anything more to be happy.
Intuitively, you already know that the best stuff in life isn’t stuff at all, and that relationships, experiences and meaningful work are the staples of a happy, fulfilling life. Yet you live in a consumer driven society where your mind is incessantly subjected to clever advertising ploys that drive you, against your better judgment, to buy material goods you don’t need or even want.
At a certain point, the needless material objects you buy crowd out the emotional needs advertisers would like you to believe they are meant to support. So next time you’re getting ready to make an impulsive purchase, ask yourself if this thing is really better than the things you already have. Or have you been momentarily tricked into believing that you’re dissatisfied with what you already have? (Read Soulful Simplicity.)
6. You aren’t perfect, and neither is anyone else.
All humans are imperfect. At times, the confident lose confidence, the patient misplace their patience, the generous act selfish, and the knowledgeable second guess what they know.
And guess what? You’re human—we all are. We make mistakes, we lose our tempers, and we get caught off guard. We stumble, we slip, and we spin out of control sometimes.
But that’s the worst of it; we all have our moments. Most of the time we’re remarkable. So stand beside the people you love through their trying times of imperfection, and offer yourself the same courtesy; if you aren’t willing to, you don’t deserve to be around for the perfect moments either.
7. All the little things make a big difference.
Life isn’t about a single moment of great triumph and attainment. It’s about the trials and errors that get you there—the blood, sweat, and tears—the small, inconsequential things you do every day. It all matters in the end—every step, every regret, every decision, and every affliction.
The seemingly useless happenings add up to something. The minimum wage job you had in high school. The evenings you spent socializing with coworkers you never see anymore. The hours you spent writing thoughts on a personal blog that no one reads. Contemplations about elaborate future plans that never came to be. All those lonely nights spent reading novels and news columns and comics strips and fashion magazines and questioning your own principles on life and sex and religion and whether or not you’re good enough just the way you are.
All of this has strengthened you. All of this has led you to every success you’ve ever had. All of this has made you who you are today.
Truth be told, you’ve been broken down a 1,000 times and put yourself back together again. Think about how remarkable that is, and how far you’ve come. You’re not the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or even yesterday. You’re always growing… stronger!
8. Excuses are lies.
Make no mistake, there is always a lie lingering in between a dream and too many excuses. And the lie is you lying to yourself.
The excuses and explanations won’t do you any good. They won’t add any value to your life or improve the quality of it by even the slightest margin. To fulfill your calling and get where you wish to go in life requires more than just thinking and talking. These feats require focused and sustained action. And the good news is, you’re perfectly capable of taking whatever actions are necessary. You just have to choose to actually do it.
No one else can succeed for you on your behalf. The life you live is the life you build for yourself. There are so many possibilities to choose from, and so many opportunities for you to bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Now is the moment to actually step forward.
Now, it’s your turn…
Today, I hope you will have another inspired day, that you will dream boldly and dangerously, that you will make some progress that didn’t exist before you took action, that you will love and be loved in return, and that you will find the strength to accept and grow from the troubles you can’t change. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and wisdom in this crazy world), that you will, when you must, be wise with your decisions, and that you will always be extra kind to yourself and others.