I’m grateful for each passing day. Another day obviously means I still have life, but it also means I’m getting older. And I like getting older.
I know getting older gets a bad rap with some people, but — God willing it includes decent health and a functioning body — I think it’s preferable to being young.
Old age doesn’t always equal wisdom, but an older person is more likely to have it than a younger person. And though I’m by no means the person I hope to eventually become, with each passing day, experience, and lesson in the adult world, I’m getting closer.
Older age means I’m continuing to gain control of my passions, moods, desires, and improving at regulating my ego. It means I’m gaining a perspective of my life to understand what’s important, what I value, and that I’m becoming less concerned with what other people think of me.
I have a short-lived tradition of writing life lessons I’ve learned by each age. Fortunately the 26 Lessons By 26 and 27 Lessons by 27 don’t have an overwhelming amount of overlap with this list. There will be some similarities, and consistent themes, but 28 finds my mind in a different place from 26 and 27.
With that said, here are 28 life lessons by 28.
1. You probably won’t change anyone’s mind.
You’re very, very, very unlikely to change anyone’s mind. This means that most opinion-related battles aren’t worth fighting (with the exception of the workplace, because you will need to know how to politely defend your positions there).
The least you can do is find conversational partners that are willing to engage with ideas and not be easily offended or especially quick to react to anything displeasing. The best case scenario is that you provide people with new perspectives or plant a seed that will help them think differently in the future.
But minds are fixed things, and their changing relies on life experience, effort, and gradual realizations. Hopefully you can be the catalyst to make that happen. And if you do want to be just that, don’t share your ideas by kicking and screaming.
Even though not all battles are worth fighting, if someone asks what you think, tell the truth. It’s good to ruffle some feathers now and then anyways.
2. Don’t worry about what other people think of you.
Learn how to be a civilized human and a contributor to polite society, but outside of caring that you meet that standard, it’s really, really a waste of time to be bothered with what anyone else thinks of you.
It’s a waste of time to think about what people think about your ideas, and sometimes it’s a waste of time to be concerned with what other people think about anything.
People aren’t paying as much attention to you as you think they are, so don’t worry about messing up or looking like an idiot.
3. Family is the most important thing in life.
Cherish them while you have them, and be conscientious and thoughtful about the future family you’d like to help build.
4. You’re allowed to say no to things.
You can say no to anything you want. Sometimes saying no has consequences or it’s wrong to do it, but you are allowed.
5. Reserve your energy.
You shouldn’t exhaust yourself unnecessarily. Life is a marathon, and most exhausting circumstances can be avoided — people, late nights, unreasonable travel itineraries.
6. Don’t compare yourself to anyone but yourself.
7. It’s hard to separate western morality from its Judeo-Christian roots.
The ethical and moral foundations of the west have been shaped by Christianity and Judaism. People don’t like this claim, but even one of the harshest critics of Christianity, Friedrich Nietzsche, believed it.
He thought that people accepted the principles of Christianity while denying the claims of its metaphysical roots. To quote from Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen’s American Nietzsche, “As Nietzsche observed, secular moderns sought to exalt the ideals of humanitarianism and democracy while forsaking the Christian faith from which they sprang.”
If you wonder what the world may look like without Christian values, read Nietzsche. Here’s more of my thoughts on the matter, and here’s an article that explores this claim a bit further through the lens of Tom Holland’s recent book Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind.
8. Sometimes history is offensive. Lots of times it’s brutal.
The point of history isn’t to offend, but some people may find accurate historical findings offensive if they push against their wanted views of the world.
9. Noumenal vs. phenomenal.
Kant separates the phenomenal (our perception of things), from the noumenal (what things are in themselves).
To me this is a reminder that we don’t always know things as they truly are. This means it’s valuable to be skeptical, because things aren’t always what they appear.
10. Say the truth even if people don’t like it.
Always. Siempre. Every time.
Better to lose your reputation, your status, your money, or your life than to lose your soul.
11. Think like a contrarian every now and then.
You don’t have to believe the contrarian opinion, but at least consider alternate perspectives. Think about how things would look from different sides.
12. You might be the person that’s disastrously wrong.
Always consider that your opinion on something may be the incorrect one. To really humble yourself, start keeping count of all the times you were gloriously incorrect.
13. Your mind is a box, and you can control what’s allowed inside.
You have some ability to control your thoughts, moods, and perspectives by controlling who and what influences you.
14. There’s two choices in life: meaning or no meaning.
The meaning choice usually means you ascribe to something religious or transcendental. The no meaning choice likely means you’re a relativist and think there is no objective truth.
Living a foundationless existence that has no stable truth, purpose, or meaning is a recipe for disaster. Good luck if that’s your choice.
15. Reduce your needs to zero.
“The most important thing in life is to be free to do things. There are only two ways to insure that freedom — you can be rich or you can you reduce your needs to zero.” — John Boyd.
He was an air-force fighter pilot and genius strategist. His biography is great and I highly recommend it.
16. Philosophize with a hammer.
Even if you like something, you can still take an objective and critical approach to it, whether that be your religion, political candidate, etc.
17. No victim mentality. No identity politics.
Don’t play identity politics or pit yourself as a victim for any reason, ever. It’s useless.
Those approaches take your life circumstances out of your control — which not always, but often — means you’re lying to yourself. Lie to yourself and you’ll lose your soul.
18. Go in the right direction rather than being concerned with precision.
It’s harder to be precise, especially in a world flooded with choices and possibilities. Just get yourself in the right direction and something that suits you will show up.
Details can correct themselves, but it’s much harder to correct wrong directions.
19. No ego.
Don’t be too good for anyone or any task.
20. But confidence.
Know what you’re capable of.
If you don’t, figure it out.
Then, act on it.
21. Meditate on the worst case scenario.
Then you’ll realize that things aren’t so bad and you’ll chill out.
22. Be OK looking dumb.
“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to external things. Don’t wish to be thought to know anything; and even if you appear to be somebody important to others, distrust yourself. For, it is difficult to both keep your faculty of choice in a state conformable to nature, and at the same time acquire external things. But while you are careful about the one, you must of necessity neglect the other.” — Epictetus
Or if you’re a religious thinker, remember what the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:17–25. And remember that he’s speaking on the Greek and Roman world. This was a world dominated by schools of thought that transformed our civilization, like Plato’s Academy, Aristotle’s Lyceum, the Stoics and Epicureans, and more. And remember that Paul was familiar with the wisdom and knowledge of these schools.
“(17) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (18) For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (19) For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (20) Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (21) For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (22) For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, (23) but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, (24) but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (25) For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
And one last series of verses for the religious who made it through this section. Here’s more valuable verses from Paul in Corinthians 3: 19–23.
“(19) For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; (20) and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”(21) So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, (22) whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, (23) and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
23. Don’t surround yourself with people who take themselves too seriously.
Life’s too short, and we all return to dust. Like Gavroche says in Les Mis, “Everyone’s equal when they’re dead.”
24. Trust the wisdom of your ancestors.
There’s a reason many of our religious, political, and historical traditions have survived so long. It’s because many of them work. Don’t trust anyone who promises utopia without evidence of how utopia works in reality. Trust the wisdom of the elders (literally and historically), though it’s always OK and right to aim for prudent progress.
25. Use your vacation days.
This speaks for itself.
26. Consistency is the best option.
Good effort every day is better than full effort in less days.
Eliud Kipchoge, who recently ran the first marathon in under two hours, is a good example.
27. Find what works for you.
The routine, schedule, diet, etc.
I’ve always been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I’m not very hungry until a few hours after I wake up. Usually I eat a protein bar and then an early lunch. I’ve found that this works for me for now, and if it ever doesn’t in the future, I’ll change it up.
Moral of the story is that we’re all unique and different things work for different people.
28. Politics is the worst foundation for meaning in life.
It’s a lot of fun to think and learn about, very entertaining, and the most acceptable form of gossip (since it’s basically gossip with consequences for adults), but it’s no way to base the meaning of your life.
I vote basing meaning on something transcendental and not your autonomous individuality. Nonetheless, I’ll close with a quote by the man who glorified individuality, because there is truth in his point that only you can choose your in life.
“No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life. There may be countless trails and bridges and demigods who would gladly carry you across; but only at the price of pawning and forgoing yourself. There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where does it lead? Don’t ask, walk!” — Friedrich Nietzsche