36 Life Lessons I Have Learned

I’m turning 36 this month.  Turning 35 didn’t hit me as hard as I thought it would, but that was probably because I was too busy trying to get things crossed off my bucket list.

In the past year, I’ve become better at personal reflection.  I came across my high school graduation memory book.  I have had a good laugh over the memories.  It’s strange that so much time has passed that I had completely forgotten what my goals were when I graduated high school.  Sorry 17 year old Susi- I don’t drive a BMW.

I’ve been thinking about how to explain my life to a 17-year-old version of me.  Here are some of the lessons that I have learned:

Photo of a pink balloon with the text 36 life lessons: tips on productivity, minimalism, and travel

1.  Don’t Let Anyone Else Undermine Your Self Worth

I’ll start with one of the most important lessons.  Your value as a person isn’t tied to how much money you make, how many friends you have, or how powerful or influential you or your friends are.  You are going to meet people who don’t like you for whatever reason.  Sometimes you can’t change their opinion of you no matter what you do.

You will also meet lots of people who will like you no matter how weird you might think you are.  You might not have met these people yet, but trust me, they are out there.  In the end, the person that you are most accountable to is yourself.

2.  Turn Down That Road

Take the time to make the occasional detour in life whether it is literal or philosophical.  Always find time to explore the unknown.

3.  Say Please and Thank You

One of my favorite books is All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten.  Don’t forget basic good manners. Your success in life isn’t tied to your intelligence.  It’s tied to how well you get along with others.

4.  You Don’t Know Your Limit Until You Try to Push Past It

The human mind prefers the things as they are.  It’s easy to say that you can’t do something.  It’s harder to give your all to attempting a goal and then fail.  But you will learn so much more about yourself if you attempt to push past your own limits.  Maybe you can do much more than you think you are able to do.  Maybe you’ll find out that you can’t do something.  That’s good.  Find out your true limitations and strengths.

5.  Never Say “I’m not a…”

I hated math in school.  I was a high energy kid, and to be good at math, you have to practice doing math.  That requires sitting still and focusing.  My parents knew that I was perfectly capable of excelling at math, but they had a hard time trying to explain to me that all that was needed for me to improve at math was an investment of time.  Instead, I accepted that math would always be my weak subject.  Well, I had a change of heart in college.  I realized that I loved science, and to be a scientist, you have to know math.  Suddenly I had the motivation to take math seriously.

6. Stay hydrated

7. Always Be Willing To Try New Things

I have a rule when I travel.  I always have to try a dish that I wouldn’t eat normally.  I do have limitations.  I’m a vegetarian so meat dishes are out.  However, anything else is fair game.  That’s how I have found out that I no longer hate black olives, I love grilled asparagus, and Thai food is awesome.

8. At some point, you have to eat broccoli

I’m weird.  I have always loved broccoli even since I was a kid.  So I’ve never quite understood why a lot of people hate broccoli.  However, I do understand the general principle.  Sometimes the only way to accomplish a goal is through hard work.  You can optimize all the systems and delegate whatever you can, but there are some projects that will ultimately require discipline and hard work to accomplish.

9.  You’re never too old to learn a new language

Kató Lomb was one of the most accomplished polyglots in history.  She learned a little French in school, but she didn’t start a serious study of foreign languages until after she received her Ph.D.  She started developing her famous method of learning languages when she was 24.

10.  Don’t hold grudges

11.  Develop a growth mindset

People with a growth mindset view failures as opportunities for learning.  Mindset is something that develops by early childhood.  People with a fixed mindset tend to view success as being due to innate intelligence or ability.  People with a growth mindset view success as product of effort.  The dangerous feature of a fixed mindset is seen in children.  Children who are praised for their intelligence tend to choose easier tasks than children who are praised for their effort.  In other words, children become afraid of failure.  But mindset is something that can be changed.

12.  Choose style over fashion

Being in fashion involves constantly keeping up with new trends.  Being stylish involves choosing pieces that work with your own body and lifestyle.  Invest in timeless pieces that you can wear for years.  Learn how to take care of your clothes.  Your wallet will thank you.

13.  Invest in quality not quantity

14.  Write for fifteen minutes every day

Writing involves using your brain.  Your brain is a muscle.  Know what muscles need?  Exercise.  If you want to improve your writing ability, then write.  You can write in a journal or start a blog.  You don’t need that much time.  Everyone can find fifteen minutes.  Don’t obsess over quality at first.  Just write.

15.  Don’t forget to stretch

If  you are reading this blog, you are probably a student or knowledge worker.  You probably spend a lot of time sitting at a desk.  Desk work is horrible for your posture.  Make a point to get up and move every thirty minutes.  Do some stretches.  And always, always stretch after working out and lifting weights.

16. Take a walk every day

36 Life Lessons: Tips for productivity, minimalism, and travel

17.  Read books outside of your favorite genre

If you want to be a better writer, then you need to read.  If you want to be a smarter person, read even more.  Warren Buffett reads 500 pages every day.  You can make the argument that Buffett has the fortune to be able to read every day, but reading was also what helped him earn his fortune in the first place.  Read all sorts of books.  I alternate a schedule of fiction, non-fiction and biography.

After reading a book, make a one page summary of what you have learned.  Even if it’s a fiction book.  Outline the plot of the book.  How did the author make you relate to a character?  If it’s a mystery book, what clues did the author leave to help you figure out the mystery?  Did they make sense?  Tear books apart.  You learn a lot about yourself and your relationship with the world by arguing with other writers.

18.  Try things that scare you

See the picture on the right?  I HATE climbing.  So why did I decide to climb to the top of a castle in Japan that has some of the

Photo of the stairs at Matsumoto Castle: Do something that scares you every day #lifelesson
Matsumoto Castle: possibly the scariest stairs ever

scariest stairs ever?


The easy answer is that I love history and architecture and I wanted to enjoy the inside of an original Japanese castle.  The hard answer is that I wanted to push myself.  I wanted to see if I could get past my fear and do something completely outside of my comfort zone.

I did it.  Granted, the crowd of tourists behind me who made it impossible to turn around probably helped, but I climbed all the way to the top of the castle.

It was worth it.

19. Wear sunscreen

20.   Find healthy ways to handle stress

Stress is an unavoidable part of life.   Sometimes you won’t be able to cut the stress involved in a situation.  Learn healthy ways to handle stress such as exercise, journaling, and meditation.

21.  Let go of toxic relationships

While some stress is unavoidable, the people that we choose to surround ourselves with can be another source of stress.  We are the products of our environment.  If a relationship is causing you unhealthy amounts of stress, consider letting it go.  Relationships should be about growth for both people involved.

22.  Cherish your friendships

23.  Find something to be grateful for every day

24.  Make a conscious decision every morning to try to have the best day ever

My Dad didn’t have an easy life.  He worked to pay his own way through college.  At the height of his career, after finally getting married and having a child, he started having trouble climbing stairs and getting out of his boat.  He thought he was out of shape.  When I was a year old, he was diagnosed with a rare muscular degenerative disease.

Treatment involved suppressing the immune system and controlling inflammation.   He was on a combination of an immunosuppressant, a chemo drug, and a steroid which caused him to develop diabetes.  Not only did this mean that he had severe mobility issues, he also had a weak immune system which meant that any illness would take weeks to be cured.  The medications that he took also had horrible side effects so he was often physically ill on the day that he took them.

Despite all of this, he was always an optimistic and calm person.  One of the most important lessons that he taught me was that you have much more power over your own life than you think.  He always said that the first thing that you should to when you get up every morning is to decide that you are going to have a good day.  You can’t control what life throws at you, but you can control your response.

25.  Give others the benefit of the doubt

26.  Accept your physical imperfections

27.  Never underestimate the power of rest

If you are completely stuck on a project, assess your mental state.  Sometimes the worst thing that you can try to do is power through your exhaustion.  Go to sleep and get up early to start to work again.  Sleep has tremendous restorative power.  Maybe all you need is a little rest to be able to look at a problem from a different perspective.

28.  Learn to love coupons

I used to feel embarrassed for using coupons.  Not anymore.  It’s free money.  My local grocery store makes it easy to load coupons on your loyalty card.  I always make a point to check the website before I go to the grocery store and load any relevant coupons on my card.

29.  Support your local library system

I’m lucky to live in a city with an awesome local library system.  In addition having access to Overdrive and free ebooks, it’s easy to request physical books from any of the libraries in the area.  If you haven’t visited your local library in a while, consider taking a look at what services are available to you.

30.  Learn to laugh at yourself

See #31.

31.   Shoot video on your cellphone in horizontal mode

Someday I may post my vertical tribute to Japan.

32.  Don’t over pack your suitcasePhoto of snacks at a convienience store:  always pack a snack in your bag #lifelesson

33.  Always keep snacks in your bag

34.  Be the person that your dog thinks you are

35.  You can’t change the past and you can’t control the future.

36.  Learn something new every day

Every day after I got home from school, my Dad would always ask me what I had learned that day.  If I mumbled or was vague about my answer, he would make me pull out my textbooks and explain what we were studying.  I soon learned that I needed to have an answer for what I had learned that day.  It’s a habit that has stuck with me.  Dad always said that no day that you had learned something could ever be a complete failure.

What did you learn today?



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