Photo: Matthew Hamilton/Unsplash
I sincerely believe that self-reflection is the cornerstone of personal growth.
You’ll never be able to live up to your full potential if you don’t stop in a while, look back and see how far you’ve come and what you’ve learned along the way.
Or as John Dewey said:
“We don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.”
That’s why my birthday month is always packed with tons of self-reflection exercises and some me-time dedicated to figuring out what I did right and what I did wrong in the past months.
This time, however, I decided to go a bit further and think of some major life lessons I’d pass on to my younger self.
Here we go:
Admitting and embracing failure is a huge relief
We all love being right, and succeeding, don’t we? At least, I do. And while I described this trait as being ambitious for a long time, I realized that I was actually wrong.
We all make mistakes, and we all fail from time to time. But guess what? Life is not about being perfect or about succeeding in everything we do anyway. It’s more about the journey, the lessons we learn, the connections we make, and the memories we collect.
And admitting mistakes instead of denying or being angry on yourself will make your life a whole lot easier. Promised.
Starting small is always a good idea
Most people fail to transform their lives because of big expectations. We want to change our bodies, make and save more money, read more books, and join more events. And most importantly: We want all of it now.
But guess what? Setting too many big goals at once is the surest way to fail. That’s why almost everyone fails in sticking to New Years Resolutions.
The bigger your aims, the harder it is to get used to that new reality and the greater the danger of falling back to the old patterns. If you, however, change your life one step at a time, your odds of actually succeeding are big.
Want to read more books? Start by reading one page every day.
Want to do more sports? Start with a 10-minute stretching workout.
Want to save money? Save $10 per week.
And once you’ve got these small steps covered, increase your goal one step at a time. Imagine increasing your goal by 1% per week: After a short time, you’ll have made tremendous progress without burning out and falling back to the old patterns.
The primary purpose of food is fueling your body
Due to the abundance of food options and tastes, most of us miss out on the main purpose of food: Fueling our bodies.
Instead of fueling our bodies with energy, we chose our food by taste or even by price. However, sooner or later, this comes at a great cost. If you continuously chose unhealthy food, your body will backfire.
Our health is an area of our life that literally affects all other fields. Without being healthy we can’t perform well, we can’t make great experiences, we can’t spend time with our loved ones, and we can’t live a great life.
So, whenever you are deciding what to eat, ask yourself, “Does that fuel my body and increase my energy?”, and go for richer, more nutritious foods instead of quick satisfaction.
Avoiding the sunk cost fallacy is always worth it
“Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.”
So many people waste their time on projects and ambitions just because they don’t want to quit. They believe they’ve already invested so much time, effort, or money that they must keep going, no matter what. And that’s precisely how most people waste their whole lives: Running after something that isn’t worth it anymore.
Let’s say you go to the cinema and pay $50 to spend a pleasant evening with your partner. But 30 minutes into the movie, you realize that the movie actually sucks.
Do you get out there and chose to do something you genuinely enjoy, even if you pay another $50, or do you stay until the end, no matter how bad the movie is?
The sad reality is that most of us opt for the second option all the time. We don’t like losing time or money, so we choose to stick it out through awful things instead of getting out there and living the life of our dreams.
Stop valuing sunk costs and instead focus on opportunity costs: If 30 minutes are gone, they’re gone. Don’t spend another 10 minutes watching a lousy movie, instead focus on the next best option.
Tracking your expenses is priceless
For the past three years, I kept track of (almost) every penny I spent. I have an app called Toshl on my phone, where I add every expense. It takes around two seconds to add, and all the data is also accessible through a web version.
At the end of every month, my partner and I take around 15 minutes to reflect on our finances, and we discuss whether there were any surprises in income or expenses.
The habit of tracking my money helps me in two significant ways:
a) I’m much more conscious about how I spend my money.
b) I realized how important (and easy) it is to have a low base of fixed costs and managed to keep them at a minimum level for the past years.
Pleasing people is not worth it
Because most of them don’t care anyway.
I see so many people my age worrying about being liked by everyone and trying to be all things to all men. Admittedly, I was one of them for a long time. I thought it mattered what others think about me and how they talk about me when I’m not in the room.
But guess what? It doesn’t matter at all. People don’t care about you anyway. Everybody is so concerned with themselves that they don’t care about you, all that matters is they.
Stop trying to impress people who don’t care. Instead, focus on making yourself feel good and appreciated. Love yourself, do things that nourish your soul and make your heart dance.
At the end of your life, you won’t care about what anyone thinks of you. All you’ll care about is your loved ones and whether you lived a life that was true to yourself.
Our education systems are crap
My family immigrated from Turkey to Austria around 25 years ago after my grandpa was here as a construction worker for several years. Similar to millions of other families who immigrated from one place to another with hardly any money, no proper education, and no language skills, they had a hard time finding their way here.
And over the years, especially my grandpa taught me one thing: Get proper education and a safe job to have a good future.
I listened to his advice for the first 20 years of my life. But then I came into touch with personal development and realized that the majority of what I learned at school and university was actually crap. I still love learning and improving my knowledge, but I hate what we get taught at formal institutions.
Instead, I chose to learn through various sources such as books, online programs, seminars, etc. And most importantly: I don’t shrink back from investing in my knowledge because I’m convinced that’s the best investment one can ever make.
Stop worrying too much
A few weeks ago, I was sitting on a park bench listening to a podcast when an older man started talking to me. First, I didn’t hear him due to my headphones, but he kept talking. Then, I was worried and wanted to leave as I thought he’s just one more creepy guy talking to strangers. But the story had a funny twist, and we ended up talking for almost an hour.
He initially asked me where I’m from as he assumed my Turkish roots. Then, we talked about his successful entrepreneurial career in the construction industry. At the end of our conversation, I asked him what tip he’d give his younger self if he could go back in time. Without hesitation, he said: “Don’t worry so much.”
So many of us worry about things that actually don’t matter at all. We spend a vast amount of our time and energy on dwelling about the past or doubting the future instead of enjoying the present moment.
Usually, the things we worry about turn out not to matter much anyway. So, instead of worrying, what if we chose loving, dancing, and enjoying life to the fullest?
“Sometimes, you have to stop worrying, wondering and doubting. Have faith that things will work out, maybe not how you planned, but just how it’s meant to be.”
Love requires action
I grew up up in a truly caring family and always got anything I wanted immediately. However, growing up that way led to a wrong belief: For a long time, I thought that I deserve unconditional love no matter what I do because that’s what I experienced in my family.
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe every human being deserves being loved, especially loving herself, but what I learned is that a strong love relationship requires action.
An extraordinary relationship doesn’t just happen. First, it needs two exceptional individuals who are willing to work on themselves. And second, it requires continuous effort, honest communication, and, most importantly, mutual respect, even if you share different opinions.
Surround yourself with people smarter than you
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” — Marissa Meyer
This is, without doubt, the #1 advice I’d give any young person, but particularly to entrepreneurs.
For such a long time, I enjoyed being in places where I felt like I knew the most. I liked being appreciated for my advice and kept joining events and networks, which actually didn’t help me evolve and grow.
To become a better version of yourself, you need to keep challenging yourself. In life, there’s no finish line, and your biggest teachers are the people who surround you. Being around people who are far ahead yourself will accelerate your own growth and help you to keep moving forward instead of standing still.
Looking back, my mentors and the most challenging events I joined lead to big fears, but also to the greatest improvement in my life.
Making money is pretty easy
I never lacked money, but I indeed spent a lot of time thinking about money during the past three years.
I started earning my own money at the age of 15. I worked as a waitress, in a call center, and many other jobs until I finally stepped into entrepreneurship and founded my own business.
And what I realized when I first started making money online still fascinates me: While the majority of our population is continuously complaining about the lack of financial resources and how their jobs suck, I realized how simple making money online can actually be.
I remember when I received my very first payout from Udemy, the biggest online course provider, as it was yesterday. It was not even $50, but I was thrilled. I couldn’t believe I got paid for doing something I loved.
And over the past years, I realized how easy making money can actually be given you have something people really need or want, and you’re willing to work your ass off.
Making new friends is pretty hard
One of the areas of my life I neglected too much in the past years is friendships.
I have a beautiful relationship with my partner, a great connection to my family, and some really great business-besties, but I missed out on nourishing old friendships and building deep connections with people I met.
I realized that the older you get, the harder it becomes to form new, strong friendships, especially if you’re working from home and hardly spending time at leisure activities like me.
Done is (almost) always better than perfect
First the bad news: Nothing you do will ever be perfect because there’s no real definition of perfect. You might spend 10 hours writing a blog post or five years creating a book, and some people will still not like it.
Good news: Most of the time, you don’t need to do perfect work anyway. Just give your best, and don’t give up.
(This advice obviously doesn’t apply to a surgeon, but, let’s be honest: It applies to most of us.)
Don’t take anything for granted
One of our biggest mistakes in life is taking too much for granted. We live as if nobody could ever take anything away from us. We neglect our loved ones, our health, and our passions for way too long until we find out that these are actually the things that matter most.
Being grateful for all our blessings, however, is the most powerful emotion we can have. Once you start focusing on the good and on everything you already do have, you’ll suddenly attract more of it plus, you’ll realize how much you actually have to be grateful for: Shelter, internet access, clean water, food, safety, and so much more.
Personal growth truly matters
During the past years, I met so many entrepreneurs whom many people would define as successful: They grew their business, made good money, and had a good reputation.
And admittedly, I’ve been admiring these people for a long time. Yet, once I started diving deep into personal development, I realized that life’s not about success in terms of business, career, or money at all.
I see so many people who succeed in business but go crazy once they receive a negative comment or feedback. They might be great at what they’re doing at work, but they fail to be strong individuals with a good sense of self-worth. Instead, they place too much importance on others’ opinions and struggle to be consent with themselves.
I sincerely believe that personal growth and particularly working on your self-worth through lots of self-reflection is the ultimate key to being a happy person.
Drop your ego
Most of our suffering is due to our ego: We get so caught up in fighting for being right that we forget being happy and in peace with ourselves and the world around us.
Rusty Eric once beautifully stated the following:
“Your ego is your soul’s worst enemy.”
Drop your ego is easier said than done, but it’s certainly worth trying, and even little improvements such as apologizing for a mistake, shutting off instead of making a mean comment, or appreciating the wins of your friends can be great first steps. And if you want to dive deeper, I can sincerely recommend reading Ego is the Enemy by
Don’t let others dictate your life
So many of us are working more than 40 hours per week in jobs they actually hate. They feel as if they have no other chance and must make it through hard work just to have two days off on the weekend.
The reality, however, is that we all have the freedom to choose our own destiny. I don’t say it’s easy to create a life that you love, but it’s certainly worth it.
You might need to make it through your crappy job until you make enough money with a side hustle to finally resign, but guess what? You can start taking action right now.
Health first, always
I never had severe health problems, but I’m also not the fittest person on the planet. However, what I learned over the past years is that health is not everything, but everything else is nothing without your health.
Too often, we ignore our bodies until it hurts, and we need to take care of it. Yet, investing in a healthy body while you’re feeling well is a lot more effective. And the good news is that investing in our health while it’s still here can actually be pretty simple.
Add more greens to your plate. Walk at least 10,000 steps a day. Find some activities that are fun and exhausting at the same time. Go for a self-made smoothie bowl instead of finishing up a pinch of ice-cream.
There’s so much simple, yet effective advice on living healthier, all it needs is the decision to actually invest more time into your greatest asset: Your health.
You don’t really need a massive purpose in life
I sincerely believe one of the biggest problems of today’s younger generations is that they believe they need a significant purpose in life.
Everybody is telling you to find your why and have a strong purpose, but let’s be honest: That’s easier said than done. And you know what? You actually don’t need to transform the entire world. Meaningful work, or having a purpose don’t need to mean changing the lives of millions.
In fact, you just need to know your personal why. Life is easier when you have an inner fire, something that excites you, but you certainly don’t need to change the entire planet. Sometimes, changing the life of one person can be enough, even if that one person is you.
Being financially free, or even location independent is your biggest dream? Well, if so, nothing can stop you from pursuing that goal, and in fact, there are thousands of ways of getting there, no matter if you start your own business, start freelancing, or ask your boss for remote work opportunities.
Our universe is full of abundance
I’m a huge believer that there’s always room for one more person on the top and that there’s enough greatness for all of us on this planet.
And I also believe that the only difference between you and someone you look up to is that they decided to settle for more in life than you did. The problem, however, is that most people just settle for what they have, because they’re too lazy to get their ass up and work for more. Having it all in life and living on your own terms is not easy, but it’s simple.
What you do and think every day ultimately defines the quality of your life.
And you can indeed have it all, just not all at once. Plus, you might have to work your ass off for it, but chasing your dreams will surely be worth it.
Importance (almost) always matters more than urgency
This one’s the most critical productivity rule I learned over the past years. Too often, we get caught up in urgent tasks instead of focusing on the important stuff. We get lost in unnecessary responsibilities and projects just because they need to be done soon. However, the reality is that most of these tasks could be eliminated.
If you genuinely want to improve your productivity, the only question you’ll need to ask yourself every day is if what you’re doing is important. Does it really serve a purpose? Does it bring you closer to your goals? Or does it just distract you from the real, hard work you should be doing?
You’ll never be ready (or: You’re already ready)
I’ll write that blog post when I’ve collected enough ideas.
I’ll start the business once I got enough feedback.
I’ll apply for that position after doing one more internship.
Come on, stop telling yourself all these lies on what you’ll one day do once you’re ready. Living a great life needs courage. A lot of it. And it needs the ability to fail, get up, and fail again.
Or as Abraham Lincoln said:
“It’s not about how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up.”
So, screw being ready. Make sure to be good enough, get started, give your best, and improve yourself and your skills on the way to the top.
You’ll probably never figure everything out
..but that’s okay.
On some days, I feel like I’ve figured most parts of my life out. On some others, I feel like a huge failure.
During the past years, I’ve built an online business that allows me to work on stuff I truly love from everywhere in the world but got out of shape.
I self-published a book at the age of 22, but I failed to write my bachelor thesis and get my degree in business administration.
I have a fantastic love relationship and travel a lot, but I failed to keep most of my friendships alive.
I teach personal development and productivity, but sometimes, I’m really frustrated, sad, and unproductive myself.
But I embrace all of this. I guess life always consists of ups and downs. Ying can’t exist without yang, life couldn’t flourish without death, and summer wouldn’t come without experiencing winter.
What truly matters is staying true to yourself, doing lots of things you enjoy, and creating a life you can one day look back to with pride.