Life Lessons: Important things that most people haven’t been told

What are some important things to know about (life) that most people haven’t been told?

That was a question I came across on Quora today. For the uninitiated, Quora lets you ask and answer questions about anything, kind of like a custom Wikipedia with community voting. I highly recommend checking it out.

Anyway, one guy’s answer to the question above was so intriguing and honest that I had to share it with you. Here are the first 3 points that Marcus Geduld brought up (read the other 8 on Quora here):


1) Marry your best friend.

I am truly amazed that I have the most successful marriage of all my friends — going strong after fifteen years. Most of my friends are amazed, too, because, growing up, I was the geek who couldn’t get a girlfriend. I had almost no relationships until I was in my mid-twenties. I got married at 29. I’m now 45 and still deeply in love. Meanwhile, I have seen so many of my friends get divorces and/or grind their teeth through loveless, combative relationships.

What I’ve noticed about these people is that, 90% of the time, (a) they got married really young and (b) they mistakenly thought that long-term romances work best when when they’re based entirely on lust and trivial shared tastes (e.g. “We both like the same bands.”)

Sometimes, I hear people say things like, “I’ve been dating this guy for a year. We get along okay, but sometimes I think about leaving… How do I know if he’s ‘the one’?” This makes me really sad, because it’s SO obvious to me that my wife is ‘the one.’ Why? Because she’s my best friend. Whenever anything good or bad happens to me, she’s the person I want to tell! When I need advice, she’s the person I run to! When I need to laugh, she’s the person I joke around with!

If you don’t KNOW that the other person is ‘the one,’ he’s not (or she’s not). And though it SUCKS to be alone — believe me, I know. I was alone for YEARS — it’s better than settling. DON’T settle. You’ll STILL be alone. It is very possible to be alone while being in a relationship. Many people are.

(Let me be really clear about what I mean by “don’t settle.” I don’t mean “look for someone who is perfect.” No one is perfect. I mean that if you feel luke-warm about someone, he’s not the one. If the person you’re with makes you continually unhappy, she’s not the one. Don’t settle for THAT because “it beats being alone.” It doesn’t. You evolved to think it does. Your brain will continually tell you that it does. It doesn’t.)

The other sad thing I hear is “Bill is my best friend. We have so much in common. He’s always there for me. We talk for hours. I completely trust him and we have the exact same sense of humor … but … I don’t know … the spark isn’t there…”

When I hear this, I don’t say anything, because it’s none of my business, but I want to scream “GET OVER THIS ‘SPARK’ THING! STOP BELIEVING IN HOLLYWOOD VISIONS OF CATCHING SOMEONE’S EYE ACROSS A CROWDED ROOM! Jesus Christ! You found someone you connect with on SO many levels, and you’re not getting down on your knees and proposing?!? Do you think you’re going to find 30 more people like that in your life?!?”

The “spark” doesn’t last, anyway. I’m not saying that sex dies or anything. I’m just saying that incredibly exciting, new romance feeling inevitably fades. But, if you’re lucky, what comes next is much, much better. You spend years in that loving, warm place with the person you know you want to grow old with. And if you have good communication with someone, the spark can come later, even if it’s not there at first.

Lots of people seem to learn this after a long time and a lot of pain. They marry the “bad boy” or the “hot chick” instead of their best friends, because doing so is more exciting. Then those marriages — which are based on nothing — fail. Sometimes, if these people are lucky, they later marry those best friends who they should have married in the first place. If they’re unlucky, they can’t, because the best friends have moved on.

2) There’s no such thing as a “grown up,” and if you try to be one, you’ll wind up becoming a poser at best and a killjoy at worst.

First of all, if you’re waiting for that magic time when you’re finally THERE, give it up. As I ease into the middle age, I can see it will never happen. I will never have learned what I need to lean in order to be a grownup. I will never be 100% confident. I will never stop failing…

People who seem like they have it all together are either faking it or living such incredibly boring lives that they they never face any challenges.

Let me be clear that I am a responsible person. So if all “grownup” means to you is “someone who does the dishes,” then — yes — I’m a grown up. But it’s not like when I was younger, I was a child … a child … a child … a child … and then I reached some particular birthday and — BOING — I was an adult.

God, I HATE people who think it’s important to be grown up. They are no fun at all. They are the people who, if you show any enthusiasm that goes beyond what you have to do at your job, inevitably say, “Looks like someone has too much time on his hands!”

Don’t be that guy!

As you go through life — especially when you pass through your 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s — continually ask yourself this: “When was the last time I played in the mud?”

It is VITAL that you play in the mud! You MUST do this or you’ll lose your soul! I am somewhat speaking in metaphor. If you don’t like mud, that’s fine. But when did you last finger paint? When did you last get into a pillow fight with your friends (or with your spouse?) When did you last sing a loud, off-key song where all the lyrics were nonsense words? What was the last time you did something utterly POINTLESS that was great fun?

Playing Scrabble doesn’t count. (I say that as a huge Scrabble fan.) Playing tennis doesn’t count. Those activities are great, but they’re too regimented. They are too much about rules. They don’t involve CUTTING LOOSE, LETTING GO and being VULNERABLE. (By vulnerable, I mean doing stuff that may lead other people to say “Act your age!”)

Getting drunk or high doesn’t count, either. If you can only dance around in your underwear when you’ve had three (or ten) drinks, you’re doing it wrong. One of the reason drugs don’t count, is because they put you in an altered state that is disconnected from who you are when you’re not drunk or high. Your goal should be to become someone who always has a little bit of play in him — not someone who is super-stern and serious and needs chemicals to unwind.

I know that letting go this way is really, really hard for some people. If it’s hard for you, ease into it. No matter how hard it is, surely you can finger paint when you’re alone in your room! Make yourself do it until you can do it without shame — until you can let go and enjoy getting paint on your nose. You will wind up living longer and having less stress in your life.

And though you can start this in private, try to work towards doing it in the company of someone else. Play is fundamentally a social activity. You will never feel as close to another person as you will when you roll in the mud with him.

Despite the way I sound, I am a very shy person. I don’t, as a rule, go dancing in the streets. But I have a few close friends (and a really fun spouse) with whom I CAN do those things. Those friends keep me alive! I wouldn’t trade them for ten million dollars!

One last thing: if you have kids, what’s your relationship to them? Are you very much the MOM or the DAD. Do you feel like they are the KIDS and you are the GROWN UP? Or do you feel like they’re your friends and you enjoy playing on the floor with them? Of course it’s important to be the grownup for them sometimes. But see if you can ease yourself into a different kind of relationship with them? When did you and your kids last have a snowball fight?

3) Most grownups stop learning. Don’t.

I spent many years as a teacher, mostly teaching computer classes to adults. These were folks who were being forced to adopt new technologies for their jobs. They were very unhappy. They would say, “I don’t understand this stuff! I’m just not one of those computer people.”

What I gradually learned, via long discussions with many, many students from many different occupations, is that this wasn’t true at all. Their problem — though very real — had nothing to do with computers. It had to do with the fact that this was the first time they’d been ask to learn anything new in years. They would have had just as much trouble if their boss had forced them to learn how to knit, juggle or play the guitar.

Even many people we think of as smart do very few new things every day — things that stretch them. Here’s an example: I used to work for a large auction company (think Sotheby’s or Chirstie’s.) This company employed a lot of “experts.” An expert was, say, someone who had spent decades studying French ceramics. Having done a lot of studying, he can now look at a vase and instantly tell you when and where it was made, what it’s worth, and whether it’s an original or a reproduction. I am not making light of this skill. I certainly couldn’t do it.

But let’s take a look at what it involves: the expert had to spend decades cramming information into his brain. He had to get to a point where that information wasn’t just in his brain but also instantly accessible. Doing all that grunt work was an incredible feat, and the expert has good reason to be proud of what he accomplished.

But if he’s like most of us, he learned most of his knowledge in his 20s. Starting in his 30s, he began coasting. Coasting feels really good and most jobs are built to let experts coast. You know you’re coasting when you can go to work and instantly know how to fix any problem. You’re coasting when you can look at the vase and instantly know when and where it was made.

You’re coasting if all your problems at work are things like annoying co-workers and long hours. If you never (or rarely) need to do exhaustive research or work out complex problems on paper or white boards, you’re coasting.

I’m a computer programmer, which means my job is pretty intellectual, and I coast way less than a lot of people: but I STILL coast about 75% of the time. A lot of the code I write is boilerplate stuff. I’m “solving” problems that have already been solved before, and all I need to do is copy, paste and make a few tweaks.

Doctors coast a lot of the time (at least general practitioners do). They hear the same symptoms over and over again, and in most cases, they can do their jobs very well by doing mental “database searches” and regurgitating answers that worked in the past. This is also the case for non-trial lawyers.

If you’re a “smart person” like me, and if you work in an “intellectual” field, it’s humbling to ask yourself, at each point in your day, “Am I stretching my intellect? Am I coming up with a new solution? Am I facing a new problem that I’ve never faced before?” How much of the time do you do this? 10% of the time? 5% of the time? 1% of the time? How many years have gone by without you having to face a REAL intellectual challenge?

Incidentally, the jobs that we think of as intellectual tend to be the least intellectually demanding (with some exceptions, such as Mathematician and Brain Surgeon). The “dumb jobs,” such as auto-mechanic and football player tend to involve a lot of continual, on-your-feet thinking.

What’s wrong with coasting? Nothing, necessarily, if it makes you happy. But we’re moving into a time period where it’s harder to get away with it. The pace of change has quadrupled and we’re getting hit with new technologies daily.

But the bigger problem is that “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” You need to continually give your brain a workout or it will grow sluggish. We all know those people who have retired at 65 and then spent twenty years sitting in front of the TV. What’s sad is that we accept that people in their 80s are going to be sluggish. But that’s not a given. They don’t have to be! YOU don’t have to be. If your job isn’t challenging you, find ways to challenge yourself.

Note: most people get frustrated when they fail. This is one of the reasons why they quit trying new things. Trying new things inevitably leads to failure. But understand that, if you’re trying anything challenging, it’s going to take you at least a month to succeed at it. A month is the MINIMUM. It’s more likely that it will take you six months.

So if you, say, try to learn the guitar but “fail” at it after a few hours, you haven’t failed. You can only fail at the guitar if you try to play it for six months and, during all that time, make no progress.


Read the rest of this response on Quora hereAnd comment below if you have any thoughts on the advice!

-Joel


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