I wish I’d been smarter in my teens and early twenties. Like many others, I thought I knew what was best for myself, but I wasn’t seasoned enough to understand how life lessons are gifts that keep coming—until we die.
In my younger years, I didn’t characterize many of my life lessons as gifts. They looked more like trials and tribulations. It’s taken a while for me to understand that those same trials and tribulations created my destiny; they created person I became over the years.
Life is a process: we rise up and fall down; we succeed and we fail. But these experiences hold important lessons for us—ones we need to learn if we hope to be a success in business and life.
Here are 5 important life lessons to make you more successful:
Life Lesson #1 Define Good Values
Too often, success is measured only in terms of money or personal power. We all know people who became famous or made lots of money but failed miserably at being a good person because they didn’t take the time to define good values for themselves.
To become a successful human being, we need to mature physically, emotionally, socially, cognitively, spiritually, and morally. For many, the development of ethics and values is something that happens with little or no conscious thought. As a result, their life revolves around crappy values like the pursuit of pleasure, possession of material things, and a narcissistic “me first” mentality.
Despite what the media tells you, pleasure won’t create life satisfaction. If you measure your success by material things and not your behavior, you’re a shallow person. As far as narcissism goes—if others think you’re God, that’s OK; but if you think you are, that makes you a jerk.
Humans were created for wholeness. We yearn to live a whole life, one of purpose and value. At our core, we are driven by a desire to be closer to people, to be part of meaningful conversations and community. Pleasure, material things, and selfishness are nothing but empty highs.
Bad values are destructive and fractious. You have no control over them, which makes your life satisfaction dependent on the whim of others. Instead, nail down good values then pleasure, material things, and success will emerge from them. Good values happen on the inside, in that place that has no shape but gives us meaning and yearns for good.
How To Make It Work For You: Values are personal choices you make about what’s important to you. Here are some questions that will help you identify your top values in life:
- What are the three things you like most about yourself? Why?
- Who is the happiest person you know? Why?
- Who are the two people you like and respect the most? Why?
- Who are you?
Life Lesson #2 Develop Self-Awareness
When people ask me to talk about how they can become mentally tough, I suggest they start with self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to take an honest look at ourselves, without judging what we find as either good or bad. Many people don’t take the time or make the effort to get to know the most important person in their life—themselves.
Ignorance of your competition makes you vulnerable. Ignorance of yourself makes you stupid—LaRae Quy
Everything we need can be found inside ourselves. We have the tools we need to be aware of our bodies, aware of our emotions, and aware of our relationships. We cannot become self aware by reading self-help books or articles.
Instead, we need a deep understanding of our past and current self. People with painful experiences in the past often balk at reliving that part of their life. Our experiences (both good and bad) shape how we see the world, so it’s vital for us to understand how the world has shaped our personalities.
Your narrative is the story of your life and it impacts everything you do. Once you recognize your pattern of behavior when confronted with obstacles, disappointments, and setbacks you can control your response. Self-awareness enables you to anticipate a negative reaction and choose a behavior that will help you land on your feet when confronted by the unknown.
As Woody Allen said, “It’s important to have some laughs, but you gotta suffer a little too because otherwise, you miss the whole point of life.”
How To Make It Work For You: Make it a daily practice to set aside twenty minutes to reflect upon your day. Identify what experiences, people, or settings prompted an energizing joy. Why? Identify what experiences, people, or settings prompted an interior heaviness. Why?
Life Lesson #3 Don’t Settle For Happiness
Happiness is a popular word these days but let’s be honest—happiness is nothing more than a fleeting emotion. If you want to live a shallow life, then go ahead and pursue all the happiness you can possibly cram into one day. And then start over again tomorrow because the pursuit of that elusive value will keep you on the run for the rest of your life.
Happiness is a bandaid for what really ails us—our need to live a life full of value and meaning (see life lesson #1). Of far more importance is to seek the things in life that bring us joy and contentment. Don’t settle for anything less. Moments of happiness will automatically spring from those things that produce life satisfaction and fulfillment.
To live is the rarest thing is the world. Most people exist, that is all—Oscar Wilde
How To Make It Work For You: Answer these questions:
Life Lesson #4 The Best Lessons Usually Show Up As Failures
One of the primary reasons we learn so much from our failures is that they get our attention. If everything purrs along at a good clip, we can become complacent. One thing FBI agents learn early in training is it’s not the streets or guns that will kill you, it’s complacency that’ll lead to extinction.
Failure will often persuade you to try something new, and you will keep drifting until you finally succeed at something. And that is where most of us stay—at mediocrity. It’s a mediocrity that that comes from success without failure.
Failure reminds us what we really want in life. If we experience a failure while in pursuit of an important goal, we’ll push ourselves even harder. We’ll lean into our resilience to move ahead. At other times, a failure is a good time to re-evaluate our strategies and to shift gears.
Warren Bennis once said, “All great leaders have, without exception, experienced traumatic failure. It’s as if that moment the iron entered their soul; that moment created the resilience that leaders need.”
While many life lessons show up as a failure, success can also produce good lessons. In a recent study, Professor Adam Kepecs of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory says we need to recall our victories as well. While failure gets our attention, success produces a brain chemical called dopamine which builds confidence in ourselves. Since the brain’s primary function is to keep us safe, the shot of dopamine reminds us that we can make clear, quick decisions in the future.
Life is a wild and crazy rollercoaster, full of ups, downs, and unexpected turns. If things are good right now, enjoy it; it won’t last forever. When life is going wrong, don’t worry; it won’t last forever either.
How To Make It Work For You: The next time you experience failure, take a look at your goals (you have goals, right?) Review how your goals will lead you toward fulfilling your mission (you have one of those as well, right?) Maybe your goals need to be tweaked in light of new information. Plan ahead by anticipating the repercussions of another failure. Always have a Plan B and a solid action plan to help you move past a setback.
Life Lesson #5 Your Attitude Is The One Thing You Can Always Control
Much like happiness, optimism is another dud that will get you nowhere. Lots of self-help books encourage people to always look for the bright side of life and deny the negative stuff. Shit happens, there’s no way to get around it. Sometimes the best thing you can do is look the beast in the face if you want to keep your sanity and move ahead.
Optimism is a way to ignore many of life’s legitimate problems. It can be a way to avoid unpleasantness because optimists truly think that things will change for the better.
Positive thinking, on the other hand, accepts the highs and the lows of life’s cycle. It doesn’t deny the negative; positive thinkers believe they’ll overcome their circumstances rather than believe their circumstances will change.
Our attitude impacts our thoughts, emotions, and behavior. The way we see things affects our chances of success and life fulfillment.
How To Make It Work For You: As you review your goals and steps forward, take a critical look at how things could go wrong. You’re not being negative; you’re simply pragmatic. When you examine how things might not turn out as you expect, you’re better prepared for the battle. FBI agents don’t prepare for arrests by assuming things will unfold as envisioned. Instead, they look at them from every angle so they can anticipate where it might go wrong. Do the same thing.