“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali
Society loves to tell you what you SHOULD do:
“Get a good education, settle for the stable job, marry the right person,” etc.
But the older you get, the more you learn the importance of what you should NOT do.
The mistakes, blunders, and setbacks to avoid NO MATTER WHAT.
The truth is: success is often as simple as making less of the mistakes that plague so many.
This post will help you navigate around the storm clouds and treacherous seas of life.
Let’s get right to the Nine Common Life Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs:
1. CHOOSING REGRETS OVER RISKS
The benefit of being young is that you have plenty of time to course correct. You may have fewer obligations to a spouse, kids, and a mortgage. Most of your setbacks won’t have long-term effects. You can take big bets while the stakes are low. It’s the perfect time to start a business or switch careers.
Travel outside of your comfort zone or move across the country. You may have time to try a new sport or hobby. You can take classes that interest you. It’s essential to try new things so that you learn what you like or dislike. It shows you your strengths and weaknesses. In short, you learn about yourself, and that knowledge is priceless.
2. LETTING ADDICTION TAKE HOLD
Relax, this isn’t about to turn into an obnoxious D.A.R.E. P.S.A. But I can speak to the harmfulness of substance abuse from personal experience. My father was an alcoholic, which led to his divorce, loss of custody and freedom.
For a long time, I was a chronic binge drinker, ‘blacking out’ every weekend. It eventually cost me friendships, my license, and a coveted job. Don’t let any substance lead you down a self-destructive spiral. Be careful with other addictions, too, like gambling, impulse-shopping, and so on. Take everything in moderation; too much of anything can be a bad thing.
3. KNOW WHEN TO FOLD ’EM
The average person will have somewhere between three and five relationships before marriage. A bad relationship or two can be a good learning experience. You find out what qualities you appreciate in a partner and which ones drive you crazy. You might learn how to be a better communicator and other relationship skills. But if it’s not meant to be, learn the lesson, and move on as soon as possible.
Avoid wasting years in an unhealthy relationship because of fear or inertia. Don’t think you can change someone, and red flags don’t disappear. Remember that staying in a lousy relationship forestalls a good one. Stakes grow with engagement rings, wedding vows, and children. Understand that marriage is a legal contract with financial implications. You could lose half your property or be stuck paying an ex-lover that you despise. So, if you know it’s not going to work, cut it off as quickly as you can!
4. NEGLECTING TIME WITH FAMILY
“Spend more time with family” I heard that advice so often, it lost its meaning. That is, until my father suffered a stroke, leaving our family in shock. He was still young and seemed healthy and vibrant. But health scares can strike at any moment. You look forward to spending years or decades with a loved one, only to have it shrunk to a few weeks or just days.
Of course, you can’t add back the time you’ve lost. I wish I had seen him when he was near and wrote to him when he was far. Simple things like returning calls sooner and sending more pictures. This isn’t meant to be somber – take it as a wake-up call to action. Enjoy every moment you can with your loved ones, and never take their company for granted.
Family is just one part of your inner circle. Spending time with those closest to you is one of the 4 Proven Ways to Be Happier.
5. LEAVING DUST ON YOUR PASSPORT
The next tip comes at the risk of sounding like some over-privileged travel blogger. But fuck it – see as much of the world as you possibly can. If you can scrape up enough change to study abroad, take a ‘gap year’ or a sabbatical, you should do it. In my twenties, I couldn’t afford long-term travel. When I finally traveled the world in my early thirties, and it was the best experience of my life. You will meet lots of interesting, diverse people – both locals and fellow travelers. It will open your eyes to different cuisines, cultures, religions, and more.
Not to sound holier-than-thou, but travel taught me to judge people less and have more empathy. I learned that each person knows something about something that I don’t. Travel made me question my beliefs, my ego, and my biases. In short, travel can make you a more well-rounded person. Best of all, it might leave you with memories that will make you smile.
6. SPENDING AND NEVER SAVING
I know what you’re thinking: take risks, travel abroad, AND save money… What’s his next tip, parasail behind my yacht in the Maldives? Unless you’re Jordan Belfort, you likely can’t do them all at once. I stopped contributing to my retirement for a few months to build a travel fund. Some people thought I was foolish, but the extra savings made the timing of my trip possible.
The point is to take chances, invest in experiences, but save a little for yourself. With compound interest and market returns, the sooner you invest, the better. Start investing as little as you’re comfortable with, and then increase it every year. Look for small ways to save a few dollars here and there, and put that into a savings or investment account. Then by the time you’re in your thirties or forties, you’re sure to be ahead of the curve.
Tip: Check out these 18 Small Things That Save Time and Money, so that you have more left for yourself.
7. TRYING TO IMPRESS OTHERS
While we’re on the topic of money: don’t waste it on cars, jewelry, or status-symbols. After my first big paycheck, I immediately bought a jet-black Corvette. To my surprise, no one cared about the powerful V8 motor or ‘thundering’ exhaust (as touted in the brochure). At best, I would get a thumbs-up in traffic from a boomer or fellow gearhead. Sadly, a team of beach-blonde models never catcalled me. I later sold the Vette to pay down the student loans on my MBA.
That reminds me: don’t try too hard to please your family, either. After $120k of tuition and three years of all-nighters, I expected my MBA commencement to be a must-see. Boy would my stock go up at family dinners, I thought. Nope, most of the fam didn’t show up. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have either. Graduations are boring, sweaty, and tedious affairs. In summary, do it for yourself. Others are too busy with their problems to care about yours.
8. WORRYING INSTEAD OF LIVING
It’s easy to waste your precious hours catastrophizing about the future. There is always some test to pass or project deadline to meet. The expectation of being perfect burdens us with crippling anxiety. So, we think ahead. In the Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle referred to necessary aspects of this as ‘clock time.’ Clock time is the least amount of time of planning needed to fulfill your responsibilities. Think of setting an appointment, paying a bill, or making a list. Without this, your life can become a mess.
But most of us dwell in a neurotic headspace that Tolle calls ‘psychological time.’ Psychological time is a fruitless attempt to predict the future. It’s planning for every imaginable contingency, no matter the unlikelihood. Future-obsession comes at the cost of the present moment, which he argues, is all that we have. Know when you’re planning and when you’re ‘in your head,’ worrying. You won’t know how things will turn out until they do, and predictions are tenuous. As mentioned before, the stakes are usually too small to matter anyway. Try to worry less about the destination and enjoy the journey more
9. WASTING TIME BEING MISERABLE
Buddhism teaches that existence is suffering. I’m not sure if that’s true, but humans seem to amplify their misery. Do you know someone who spends hours on social media, only to lament its superficiality? Or the person who hates ‘drama’ but gossips about their toxic friends. Or people that watch TV or play video games all day then complain about their lives? I was like that for a long time.
During the presidential election, I went down a rabbit-hole of political opinion videos. Most of the viewpoints weren’t new or thought-provoking. Since I already had voted, hearing how the other candidate was ‘awful’ had no practical use. Beyond the short-lived entertainment, binging was a waste of time. Look at the activities where you spend most of your spare time. If certain ones don’t provide you some level of fulfillment, reduce or cut them out.
Have you made any of these mistakes, or would you add any to the list? Send me a note or post in the comments section! Thank you.
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