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As a teenager, it frustrated me when my father played the experience card — when he emphasized the importance of experience that comes with age. I thought being “smart”, “well-read”, and “well-educated” should more than compensate for that.
Little did I know that I didn’t even understand the meanings of those words very well.
Over a decade later, I started to see what he meant. The realization slowly dawned upon me that while there would be exceptions, most of us need to have at least three decades of life behind us before we can learn some of the most important lessons in life.
That there are some things that perhaps only life can teach you.
But let me share a few of those lessons with you with the hope that you can learn them sooner than I did. And that it can help you avoid at least some of the unnecessary trouble.
Future Will Surprise You
We spend a great deal of time thinking about the future. Sometimes, it’s to help us plan for the future. Sometimes, it’s because we expect something amazing to happen in the future, and we are hooked to the thought of it. But at times, it’s also because we just can’t stop worrying about how something bad might happen.
Whatever it is, you must never forget that things seldom, if ever, turn out exactly the way you think, hope, or fear they will. Reality is complex; there are far too many variables for you to be able to foresee the future with consistent reliability.
This is especially true for the stuff that makes you anxious or gets you excited. There’s usually a ton of exaggeration involved.
So while there’s a place for your anticipations and imaginations, don’t get too carried away. Remember that there are always other ways in which the future could unfold. Take the likelihoods of different future cases into account and prepare yourself accordingly.
It will save from both overthinking in the present and shocks and disappointments in the future.
Arguments Are Counter-Productive
When I was younger, I was very argumentative. I loved to be a contrarian. Now that I look back to it, it makes me cringe. I must have been an insufferable jerk.
A hallmark of immaturity is the habit of getting into unnecessary arguments and then trying hard to prove yourself right. It doesn’t do any good.
Arguments force both parties to harden their stance. Instead of trying to understand one another, the focus shifts to winning at all costs. It forces you to say things you will later regret (if you have any sense in you). In trying to prove yourself smart, you end up presenting yourself as an arrogant I-know-it-all moron.
It hurts your relations with others.
Besides, as I wrote in my article on common signs of immature adults, defeating or humiliating people is not a great way to convince them of anything.
So instead of arguing at the top of your voice, be a good listener. Try to understand the other person’s viewpoint. Then, if necessary (and if it’s a good time to do that), present your side in a manner that is appropriate for the occasion.
Very Few People Care About Your Explanations
Like so many others, when I was younger, I had the habit of explaining myself to others. It was like a compulsion I felt from within. I had to explain why I did something, what I was thinking, what I wanted to do, why I couldn’t do something others wanted me to do — everything.
Perhaps because I thought it helped people understand me. And that it made people think good about me.
But slowly, I began to understand that hardly anyone cares about your explanations. It doesn’t matter to them. It doesn’t change the lens through which they view you.
There are people you must explain to—like people affected by your actions, maybe your parents, your partner, or a few others who may be genuinely interested.
But anyone else? No. Don’t waste your time and energy. You will only make yourself appear weak and needy. And when your words fail to deliver anything for you, you will feel frustrated.
So instead, focus on your life and how you want to shape it. Focus on your actions. When your circumstances change, people will come around in time. They always do.
Health Isn't Something to Be Taken for Granted
When you are young, you never have to think about your health. Your body can take many different kinds of hits without letting it show in any significant way. And so people, when they are young, take their health for granted.
They eat and drink what they shouldn’t. They deprive themselves of the necessary sleep or healthy exercise. They don’t get themselves medical attention when they need to.
Some take it further and test the limits in every bad way possible.
And not everyone gets away with it. As they get older and enter their thirties or forties, it all adds up and starts to make itself visible. But by then, damage control is difficult and expensive. Sometimes it too late.
That’s when the realization hits that health matters more than almost anything else. You have to be alive and healthy to be able to do what you want. You can turn things around, correct your past mistakes, create a great future — but first, you need to have a future.
So take good care of yourself while you can. Have good eating habits. Sleep well. Exercise regularly. And visit a doctor when you need to.
In a Nutshell
So to sum it up, here are four things I wish I understood at least a decade before I actually did.
- Don’t be too certain about the future. It often turns out to be different from what you imagined.
- Talk to understand and to be understood, not to argue.
- Stop explaining yourself to everyone. Focus on your actions instead.
- Make your health a high priority.