39 Life Lessons I've Learned In 39 Years

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Today is my 39th birthday. Today is my 40th birthday as I revisit this list that I wrote one year ago. I'm updating with a 40th lesson. Enjoy. Now I'm 41 and this blog post that I wrote a little over two years ago has inspired a book called WELLTH: How I Learned to Build a Life, Not a Resume, which has just come out today. In writing Wellth, I learned another valuable lesson so I thought I'd update the post with a 41st lesson.

I've had some incredible life experiences. I've gone from flat broke to having money to being broke again, and then back. I've been told by doctors that I had incurable conditions and then completely healed myself naturally. I've had loved ones who were here one minute and dead the next. I've had my heart broken and then found my soul mate. It's been a pretty wild ride! Taking a page from Leo Babauta, I thought I'd share 39 things I've learned over my 39 years:

1. "You can't connect the dots going forward; you can only connect them looking backward."

Steve Jobs was right on the money with this one. There have been so many times when a perceived opportunity didn't work out and then a year later, there was a much bigger opportunity around the corner.

2. Working hard doesn't always mean working smart.

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Just because you're working 16 hours a day doesn't mean you're being efficient with your time. You still have to work hard to succeed, but if you're not also organized and efficient, you're just wasting time.

3. Never walk away mad from a loved one.

My father died unexpectedly from a heart attack when I was 19 years old. Just a few weeks before he died, we'd had a fight because I overslept. A week later we made up. Then he died. Life is precious. One moment someone is here and the next moment they might be gone ... so treat every last word with loved ones accordingly.

4. Don't let little things get to you.

Does it really matter who is right about who did what chore in the house? You might win the fight, but you lose the battle. Don't sweat the small stuff because little things don't matter.

5. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to wellness, let alone anything.

I'm a 6'7", 220-pound man who practices yoga three times a week ... How could one diet, or one exercise program, or yoga pose work the same way it works for a 5'2", 90-pound woman who is a triathlete?

6. No one is perfect.

This especially holds true for people we put on pedestals. No matter how great or enlightened they are, they're still human. Everyone make mistakes and nobody is perfect.

7. Only take advice from experts (and being an expert probably means that person put in 10,000 hours of work).

I see this all the time in the self-help and wellness world: people doling out advice who have no expertise or life experience. Why is Charlie Knoles one of the best meditation teachers in the world? Because he's been meditating since he was four years old! Sometimes there's no substitute for hard work and experience. Only take advice from experts — and being an expert probably means having put in at least 10,000 hours of hard work according to Malcolm Gladwell.

8. We're good at going fast and need to practice going slow.

My friends Tara Stiles and Michael Taylor talk about this all the time. This is true for so many of us Type-A's who are always trying to jam one more thing into our already jam-packed day (myself included). It's why practices like yoga, mindfulness, and meditation are so important — they help us practice "slow" and connect us to our true selves.

9. Who you are on the mat (or at the office or the dinner table or wherever) is who you are everywhere.

My former college basketball coach, Armond Hill, used to tell us that we couldn't coast in practice and expect to turn it on during a game. You had to practice at the same level of excellence all the time. Why do so many ex-professional football players have problems with violence? It's probably because they've spent their life practicing violence on the field.

10. Sometimes you have to put things in the "I don't know" folder.

Awful stuff happens to everyone. Sometimes there's an immediate silver lining. Sometimes there isn't and at these times, you have to accept that some things just don't make sense right now. And maybe they will later.

11. Karma is real.

I've seen it happen way too often personally and for friends. If you give more, you'll get more.

12. You are a combination of the five people you spend the most time with.

It may sound like a cliché, but it's true. If you really want to change your life, you have to change the people you hang around with. Spend time with people who support you and believe in you.

13. Yoga really works.

I had two extruded discs in my lower back that were pressing on my sciatic nerve. I was in excruciating pain and two doctors told me I needed surgery. I started practicing yoga and the rest is history:)

14. Balance and moderation are key.

Sometimes we all need a cupcake. It's probably not a great idea every day, but the occasional treat isn't going to kill you. Life should be fun. Being obsessively healthy can be stressful and extremely unhealthy. Enter orthorexia.

15. Your gut is always right.

Always, always, always listen to your gut. Whenever I've gone against my intuition, it's been a disaster. Listen to your gut, it's always right.

16. If you're not happy with yourself, you'll never be happy in a relationship.

Every successful relationship starts with you. You can't rely on someone else to make you happy. Finding a great spouse or partner is just the icing on the cake, but you're responsible for the cake.

17. The future of medicine is a blend of Eastern and Western.

I'm a huge fan of Eastern medicine — acupuncture, shiatsu, reiki, cupping, herbs — you name it, I've done it. But you know what? Eastern medicine isn't perfect, and I think we'd all agree that Western medicine has room for improvement, too. But the future of medicine is a combination of both.

18. Energy (both negative and positive) is palpable.

We've all felt it at one time or another, there's that person who we always feel good around, or that person who is just simply draining. Energy is very real.

19. No one knows your body better than you.

In dealing with a parasite this past year, I enlisted every doctor and healer out there. In addition to learning that medicine knows very little about parasites, I learned that no one knew my body better than me. Some people told me things that were flat out wrong, while others told me things that made sense. It was up to me to choose who and what to listen to and decide what course of action to take.

20. Friends come and go.

Just because you were close with someone 10 years ago doesn't mean you're going to be close to them today and that's OK. People change and so do relationships. Sometimes people come into your lives at very specific times to help you get from point A to B, and then they somehow fade away. That's the magic of life and relationships: they're always evolving.

21. Dark green vegetables are good for everyone.

I don't think there's a diet out there that says green veggies are bad. Bring on the spinach!

22. Everyone deals with death differentlyand every death is different.

By age 30 I had given three eulogies (and that doesn't even include my father's passing). Death is never easy and it's always different. How I felt when my father died when I was 19 was completely different from losing my best friend when I was 28, and losing my grandmother from cancer when I was 37.

23. Many forms of disease are preventable.

Many diseases — including some kinds of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease — are caused by lifestyle and diet. Through healthy living, we can not only prevent most disease, but we can actually change our genes. That's why I do what I do.

24. The universe/God /whatever-you-want-to-call-It, tends to know your breaking point.

I've often found that whenever I get very close to my breaking point, something magical tends to happen. Whether it's a profound encounter from a stranger or a big break, something always seems to happen whenever I get to a point where I've just had enough.

25. Gratitude is the key to happiness.

The common theme behind every religion is gratitude. It's powerful and it works! Always be grateful for what you have; no matter how bad things seem, there's always someone who has it worse. When I was a kid my mom would tell me, "The boy with no shoes cried until he met the boy with no feet." And as my friend, Peter Tunney says, "Grattitude is an attitude!"

26. Don't compare yourself or try to be someone else.

There's always someone out there who has more money, a more (perceived) perfect relationship, or a flatter stomach. Comparing yourself or trying to be someone else is a game you'll never win. As Oscar Wilde said, "Be yourself; everyone else is taken."

27. Money doesn't buy happiness.

I didn't grow up with a lot of money, so all I wanted to do was make money. So when I was 27 years old and had made enough money to pay off all my college debt, was I happy? No. I learned very quickly that money doesn't buy happiness. And what's also interesting is that most successful people are successful because they do what they love to do. So focus on happiness and the money will come, not the other way around.

28. Vacations are good!

I was never a fan of vacations. And although I've never taken a 7-day vacation, I've become a fan of the 3 and 4 day getaways. Vacations work! They help you relax and recharge. Now I understand why people take them!

29. Being fit doesn't mean you're healthy.

The story that Lissa Rankin tells in Mind Over Medicine about how the fittest people in the world were some of the unhealthiest is spot on. Your thoughts, your mind, your environment — they all play a huge role in your overall health and well-being.

30. The gut is the key to so much of our health (yet we know so little about it).

Boy, did I learn way too much about this one in the past year with my parasite troubles. I felt things in my body that had some doctors looking at me like I was crazy! The gut is critical to our overall health and science is advancing rapidly here to explain why. We're about to enter the age of the microbiome and you'd better fasten your seat belts!

31. There's something to be said for being in nature.

I'm a New Yorker and prefer walking in a city over hiking. But lately I've found it really refreshing to walk barefoot in the sand or on grass. It just feels good.

32. Don't take yourself too seriously.

You have to be able to laugh at yourself. Being wound too tight isn't good for you or the people around you.

33. There's only one proper way to accept a compliment.

The words "thank you" will suffice.

34. Gluten, sugar, and processed foods aren't good for you.

I think my doctor friends, Frank Lipman, Amy Myers, Joel Kahn, David Perlmutter, and Ronald Hoffman all would agree on this one. Plus, as Kris Carr once told me, "You can't expect to live a vibrant life when you live on Twinkie consciousness."

35. Everyone has stress and it manifests in different ways.

Putting food on the table while working at a backbreaking job to make ends meet or taking care of loved one who is dying is extremely stressful. But just because you have money and perfect health doesn't mean you don't have stress. Stress follows you everywhere, it just changes. And it manifests in different ways and tends to hit you where you are most vulnerable — it doesn't have to manifest itself externally, it can manifest itself internally in the form of a weak part of your body. Stress will always be in your life so you have to figure out how to deal with it. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, "You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf."

36. Goals and deadlines are important, but sometimes you just have to say, "I don't know when, I don't know how, but I know it's gonna happen."

This can be tricky as sometimes we only see what we want to see, so I refer back to number 15 on this list about listening to your gut :)

37. You create your own luck.

Jim Carrey once said, "Visualization works if you work hard. That's the thing. You can't just visualize and go eat a sandwich."

38. When you've found your calling, magical things happen.

Since I launched mindbodygreen with Tim and Carver back in 2009, magical things began to happen. Even though it took over three years for us to get any traction (see point #7 above about putting in 10,000 hours of work) and there are still some sleepless nights, whenever things tend to get tough for us, something always seems to happen and things end up working out for the better. That's the thing — when you've found your calling, magical things really do happen.

39. Everything is connectedmind, body, and green.

I know I might be preaching to the choir here, but it's totally true.

40. Meditation is game-changing!

Even though I've meditated on and off for the past few years, I recently got serious about implementing it into my daily routine about two months ago. Why now? In living "mindbodygreen" I felt that I'd been doing a pretty good job with the body and the green, but didn't have a consistent practice for my mind.

At our revitalize event this past summer, Dan Harris made clear that it's just as important to exercise the mind as it is the body. I decided I needed to make a change before my 40th. Since September I've been meditating twice a day for 20 minutes at a time, once in the morning and once at night. I've been pretty good about being consistent, having missed just three sessions during this period.

Suffice it to say I'm now totally hooked. I literally feel like a mental fog lifts from my brain after each session. I feel more relaxed. I'm calmer. I'm more in tune with my inner sense of knowing than ever before. I experience more coincidences. I also feel more intensely; if I'm happy I feel almost ecstatic, or if I'm eating one of my favorite dishes it seems to taste even better than I remembered.

Since I got serious in maintaining a daily meditation practice it's as if my life went from experiencing it through a black-and-white TV to HDTV with satellite — sharper, with color, and more channels! It's my new favorite tool in my ever-growing health and happiness tool kit, and it's something I hope everyone tries!

41. If you're passionate, you'll prioritize.

Benjamin Franklin once said, "If you want something done, ask a busy man." I never really believed this but have found it to be absolutely true in the past year. We've grown a lot here at mbg, which has been incredibly fun and also incredibly demanding. When first approached about writing a book I thought to myself, "There's no way in hell I have time for this." I already had a huge problem finding hours in the day for things other than work, let alone a book! After all, Randi Zuckerberg famously said of entrepreneurs, "Work, sleep, family, fitness, or friends. Pick three." I could relate to this battle for balance! Couple that with the fact that I had a lot of friends who had written books and had heard lots of stories about all-nighters, insane deadlines, and tremendous pressure to sell lots of books! So even though my head was saying, "No, don't do this!" my heart and my gut were saying, "Yes." (See #15 above, about listening to your gut.) Suffice it to say, I plowed forward. The next challenge I had was finding time to write! My solution? Writing while flying. Every time I flew in the summer of 2014 (which was a lot!) I did not opt for the in-flight Wi-Fi and I wrote. And wrote and wrote. If you look, you'll find there are hidden pockets of time everywhere, like the 10 minutes on your subway commute or the 15 minutes before the rest of your family wakes up. Just find those pockets and use them.

By the fall I had almost 50,000 words and a book. I even turned it in a few weeks before it was due. And there were no sleepless nights! The big lesson in this experience was that the more we do, the more we can do. But, it comes down to passion, prioritization, and time management. If you're passionate about something, you'll prioritize it, and you'll find a way to manage your time. And you can do it without killing yourself.

That's all for updates on this post. The rest is in my first book, Wellth: How I Learned to Build a Life, Not a Resume, which I hope you'll enjoy!


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