This morning a close neighborhood friend, Alison, passed away far too early. While Angel and I have spent most of the day grieving, I’ve also spent this past hour thinking about the fact that our lives are often much shorter than we expect, and that we need to do some pretty darn hard things to maximize our very limited time. Alison strongly believed in doing the hard yet necessary things in life—we talked about this topic on several occasions, and she never backed down from a challenge. So today, I want to reflect on this with you.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you absolutely need to do hard things to be happy in the long run. Because the hard things ultimately build you up and change your life. They make the difference between existing and living, between knowing the path and walking it, between a lifetime of empty promises and one filled with more possibility and progress.
You know this is true, so…
1. Don’t be afraid to accept and appreciate life’s changes.
You’re not the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or a week ago. You’re always growing. Experiences don’t stop. That’s life.
Sometimes there are things in our lives that aren’t meant to stay. Sometimes the changes we don’t want are the changes we need to grow. Let this sink in. Growth and change may be painful sometimes, but nothing in life is as painful as staying stuck where you don’t belong.
The bottom line is that you can’t reach for anything new if you’re holding on to yesterday. You may think holding on makes you strong, but oftentimes it’s letting go and starting anew that truly builds your inner strength.
2. Don’t be afraid to trust yourself.
You may not be where you want to be yet, but you’ve also come a long way from where you once were. Appreciate how far you’ve come. You’ve been through a lot, but you’ve grown a lot too. Give yourself credit for your strength and resilience. You have good reason to believe that you can trust yourself going forward, not because you’ve always made the right choices, but because you’ve survived and grown from the bad ones.
Good things take time, and you’re getting there. So don’t allow yourself to be crippled by stress and self-loathing. Everything is only as it is. There’s no reason to let it cripple you. Remind yourself to breathe—to let every moment be what it’s going to be. What’s meant to be will come your way, and what’s not will fall away. And remember that life’s best gifts may not always be wrapped the way you expect. (Read The Last Lecture.)
3. Don’t be afraid to live your truth.
Tell yourself, “I am ENOUGH” anytime you begin to feel otherwise. Accept your flaws. Admit your mistakes. Don’t hide and don’t lie.
Deal with the truth—your truth—every step of the way. Learn the lessons, endure the consequences of reality, and move forward. Your truth won’t penalize you. Your mistakes won’t hurt you. Only your denial and cover-up will. Flawed and vulnerable people are powerful and strong. Liars and phonies are not. Every beautiful human being is made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions and finished with trials and errors.
So keep reminding yourself that you are YOU for a reason, and that the journey is worth it. Ignore the distractions. Listen to your own inner voice. Mind your own business. Keep your best wishes and your biggest desires close to your heart, and dedicate time to them every day. Don’t be scared to walk alone sometimes, and don’t be scared to enjoy it. And don’t let anyone’s ignorance, drama or negativity derail you.
4. Don’t be afraid to craft a daily routine that’s right for YOU.
If your life is going to mean anything, you have to live it yourself. You have to choose the path that feels right to YOU, not the one that simply looks right to everyone else. It’s always better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb, than the top of the one you don’t. So don’t wait until you’re halfway up the wrong ladder to listen to your intuition. Every morning, ask yourself what is truly important, and then find the courage, wisdom and willpower to build your day around your answer.
In the end, it’s not what you say, but how you spend your time that counts. If you want to do something, you’ll find a way… if you don’t, you’ll find an excuse. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the Rituals chapter of our New York Times bestseller, Getting Back to Happy: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Reality, and Turn Your Trials into Triumphs.)
5. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to unnecessary obligations.
In a world with so much noise and clutter, you must make room for what matters. That means pruning nonessential commitments and eliminating as many distractions as you possibly can. No wasted time, no fluff, no regrets.
The mark of a successful and peaceful person is the ability to set aside the “somewhat important” things in order to accomplish the vital ones first. When you’re crystal clear about your priorities, you can painlessly arrange them in the right order and discard the activities and commitments that do not support the ones at the top of your list.
6. Don’t be afraid to give yourself enough mental and emotional space.
If you think and you think and you think, you will think yourself right out of happiness a thousand times over, and never once into it. Worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace and potential. Stop over-thinking everything. Life is just too short.
Your biggest limitations are the ones you make up in your mind. The biggest causes of your unhappiness are the false beliefs you refuse to let go of. You are capable of far more than you are often thinking, imagining, doing or being. But in time you will gradually become what you habitually contemplate, so clear your mind and let your hopes, not your fears, shape your future. How? Meditate. Run. Breathe. Write in your journal. Find the space…. to set your mind free.
7. Don’t be afraid to make more time for the right relationships.
Not everyone will appreciate what you do for them. You have to figure out who’s worth your attention and who’s just taking advantage of you. If your time and energy is misspent on the wrong relationships, or on too many activities that force you to neglect your good relationships, you can end up in a tedious cycle of fleeting friendships, superficial romances that are as thrilling as they are meaningless, and a general sense of wondering why you always seem to be chasing affection.
Choose yourself rather than settle for those who treat you as ordinary. YOU certainly aren’t. Never settle for being someone’s option when you have the potential to be someone’s priority. You are the sum of the people you spend the most time with. If you hang with the wrong people too often, they will bring you down. But if you hang with the right people, they will help you grow into your best self. These people will love all the things about you that others are intimidated by.
8. Don’t be afraid to learn something new.
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Life is a book and those who do not educate themselves read only a few pages.
When you know better, you live better. Period.
And remember that all education is self-education. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in a college classroom or a coffee shop. We don’t learn anything we don’t want to learn. Those of us who take the time and initiative to pursue knowledge on their own time are the only ones who earn a real education in this world. Take a look at any widely acclaimed scholar, entrepreneur or historical figure you can think of. Formal education or not, you’ll find that he or she is a product of continuous self-education.
9. Don’t be afraid to live out some of your dreams.
There are thousands of people who live their entire lives on the default settings, never realizing they can customize everything. Don’t settle for the default settings in life. Don’t hide behind laziness. Find your loves, talents and passions, and embrace them fully.
Seriously, too many people dream only at night in the quiet of their own minds, and then awake to find it was all an illusion. Don’t be one of them. Dream by day, too. Be one of the people who dream with their eyes wide open, and who works to make some of them come true.
And forget popularity too. Just do your thing with passion, humility, and honesty. Do what you do, not for an applause, but because it’s what’s right. Pursue it a little bit each day, no matter what anyone else thinks. That’s how dreams are achieved. (Read Tuesdays with Morrie.)
10. Don’t be afraid of other people’s empty judgments.
The greatest and most gratifying experiences in life cannot be seen or touched. They must be felt with the heart from the inside out. There’s nothing more inspiring than the complexity and beauty of human, heartfelt feelings. Sadly though, many people let the fear of judgment numb and silence them. Their deepest thoughts and feelings often go unspoken, and thus barely understood.
Do NOT let people invalidate or minimize how you feel. If you feel something, you feel it and it’s real to you. Nothing anyone says has the power to invalidate that, ever. No one else occupies your body, or sees life through your eyes. No one else has lived through your exact experiences. And so, no one else has the right to dictate or judge how you feel. Your feelings are important. Never let anyone or any circumstance lead you to believe otherwise.
Remind yourself that there is a great freedom in leaving others to their opinions, and there is a huge weight lifted when you take nothing personally.
Now, it’s your turn…
With Alison in mind, I sincerely hope this short post has inspired you to LIVE your life TODAY…
Don’t ignore death (or any form of pain), but don’t be afraid of it either. Be afraid of a life you never lived because you were too afraid to take action on what matters most. Truth be told, death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside you while you’re still alive and breathing.
Alison absolutely lived her life far beyond her years. Challenge yourself to do the same.
Be bold. Be courageous. Be scared to death, and then take the next step anyway.
Do the hard things you know you need to for yourself!
Every. Single. Day.