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Things I Wish I Knew Sooner – and Want You to Know Now

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Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness podcasts while I’m in the office.  Howes always ends his interviews by asking his guests for their ‘three truths’, where he asks them what three things they would want to pass along to the next generation if their entire life’s work were to be completely erased from history and they could only share three things on a single sheet of paper.  After listening to countless interviews, I began to think of what my own three truths would be. But truthfully, I couldn’t seem to cap it at only three things, as my list eventually grew to 12.

These are in no particular order, and they’re simply things that I wish I known, or at least appreciated – earlier in my life and that I would like to pass along to others right now.

    1. Be okay with not knowing everything.  I used to feel like I had to know everything, or at the very least I felt pressure to pretend that I did.  It was hard for me to just honestly reply with ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m not sure’ when asked about something I wasn’t knowledgeable about. In hindsight, I was insecure about what I didn’t know, and the truth is that no one knows absolutely everything. Even experts don’t know everything, so be capable of recognising what you don’t know, and be curious enough to seek it out and learn it. While you’ll never know absolutely everything, aim to learn as much as you can.
    2. Understand that you’re not your negative thoughts.  A couple years ago, I read a book entitled Hardcore Self-Help: F**k Anxiety by Robert Duff.  Duff discussed coping strategies for anxiety, and he introduced the idea to me of being able to detach, or unhook, yourself from your negative thoughts.  A little over a year later, I was watching an interview with Mo Gawdat who explained how your brain is there to spew out ideas and thoughts, some of which are helpful, unhelpful, positive, or negative.  The moral of the story here is that even though at times you produce thoughts that are negative and undesirable, you’re not your thoughts. You are under zero obligation to buy into these thoughts, and your brain produces thoughts much the same way your kidneys produce waste. Your brain has a function, and that’s to produce thoughts, and you’re capable of discarding the thoughts that you do not like. While you can’t fully eliminate producing the ‘bad’ thoughts, you can change the way you interact with them when they do appear.
    3. Learn, improve, and evolve.  Life is about making progress, not making yourself perfect because if you’re seeking perfection then you’re going to make yourself awfully frustrated.  Always look to add to your arsenal, and have an open mind because you can’t evolve with a closed mind. Look to add things from other people, whether it’s a new perspective, a new skill, or a new attitude.  It’s cliche, but aim to become the best version of you that you possibly can. Even if you don’t agree with the opinions of others, at least listen because that’s an opportunity to think things that you might not have thought of on your own.
    4. Be the optimal version of your self, not normal or perfect.  When I was a kid, my parents had me see a psychologist because I had issues with anxiety. I was the only one in my social circle (in a small town in the middle of nowhere) who saw one, which led me to tell my parents that I wanted to be ‘normal’ by not seeing a psychologist.  My parents’ reply was that they were sending me to a psychologist so that I would be ‘normal’. In hindsight, this was the wrong way for them to respond to my suggestion (Side note: I’m just using this as an example; I have no animosity at all towards my parents and their way of bringing me up). In hindsight, what I would have benefited more from would have been being told I was seeing a psychologist to be the better, and more optimal version, of myself.  There’s nothing wrong with being ‘normal’ or ‘average’, but aim to be the best that you can be, which is being better than ‘average’. Why just sit back and fit in with the crowd when you have the opportunity to stand out from the crowd for positive reasons?  Be willing to ask others for help, to see a psychologist, a coach, a mentor, or a physical trainer, and improve your current standing.
    5. Stop comparing because this is an infinite game.  Comparison kills fun, and it kills it quickly.  Sometimes you’re going to be ‘winning’ and sometimes you’re going to be ‘losing’ but your focus should be on continuing to be able to play the game. The only person you’re competing with is yourself, so don’t fixate on the lives of others. Don’t become a spectator of your own life because you’re vicariously living through others.
    6. Be inspired not jealous.  Just because someone else is doing something, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it too.  If someone else is successful, it doesn’t necessarily make you less successful. When you look at others around you, don’t envy what they have. Let them inspire you because it shows you what’s possible for you to accomplish as well. There’s practically nothing that you can’t do, as long as you’re willing to put in the work. There’s no need to be jealous or envious when you’re capable of putting in the work and doing what you want to do.
    7. These are the good old days right now.  It’s been said that the present never looks as good to you as it will in the future when you’re looking back on it. There’s some truth to that, because when we look back on fun times we’re able to relive them with absolute certainty that they’ll play out in a favourable way.  Remember that you’re making new memories right now as you live your day-to-day life. Love the process, including the small things, periodically remind yourself ‘These are the good old days, right now’. Detach from the end result, and love what you’re doing right now because where you are right now is the place to be. Enjoy it, don’t rush through it, and make right now your top priority. Do not deprive yourself of happiness.
    8. Embrace uncertainty.  Really, there are very few certainties, if any, in life.  Perhaps when you look back in hindsight it seems otherwise, but practically everyday you face uncertainties. The thing that varies is how confident you are in heading into them. Seek out new opportunities, take risks, break out of your plateaus and routines.  Take chances, because trying and failing is better than not trying at all which guarantees failure.
    9. Take ownership.  I’m an advocate for the idea of extreme ownership. You have more control of your circumstances, your emotions, your responses, and your behaviours than you might initially realise.  Take ownership of these, and take ownership of your habits as well. As Rory MacDonald said in an interview on London Real last year, ‘Some people when they lose, they blame everybody else…I try to think “It’s me in there, what did I do wrong?”‘  This is the sort of attitude you should have in everyday life. What can you do differently to get the outcomes that you want in order to improve your life?
    10. Wishing and worrying are a waste of energy. It’s pretty ironic to say this considering I titled this article ‘Things I wish I knew’, but it’s the truth.  While you may think that worrying illustrates that you care, it does nothing to help your circumstances. Excessive worry isn’t going to make what worries you go away, and it’s only going to drain your energy levels. Wishing won’t make it go away, or make what you want appear out of nowhere. The only thing that will is taking action toward what you want. Don’t just sit there and wish or worry, take action.
    11. Experience breeds confidence. I read The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris a couple years ago, and my main takeaway from the book is that you have to take action and gain experience in order to acquire confidence.  Confidence doesn’t just come to you, you have to go out there and earn it. Take action, and don’t fake it until you make it. Everything makes you uncomfortable until it makes you comfortable, and you lack confidence until you have confidence.  The best way to acquire confidence is through experience, so practise.
    12. Everyone wasn’t always awesome at what they do.  We all start somewhere. You usually only see someone’s finished (or presentable) project, not the hard work and the progress they made along the way.  So keep in mind that everyone has had to work through a process to get to where they are now.

Matthew Buckley is an Organisational Psychologist.  He received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the State University of New York at Brockport in 2010, and received his master’s degree in Organisational Psychology with a concentration in Conflict Management from the University of New Haven in 2015. His main areas of interest include career counselling, conflict management, emotional intelligence, employee retention, leadership and management, morale and motivation, personnel selection and recruitment, and self-promotion.


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