45 Life Lessons I’ve Learned in 45 Years

So because Facebook has a tendency to ram shit down my throat that I’d really rather not read, I was exposed to some hippie granola bullshit called “39 Life Lessons I’ve Learned in 39 Years.” I mean, it’s not all bullshit. There was some good stuff in there. There was also a fair amount of quackery and lack of critical thinking.

And so, I figured I could come up with a better, more skeptical list that puts more emphasis on, you know, reality.

I also put six more things on my list, which makes it even way more betterer.

1. The numbers on these lists are stupid

I’m 45. The number of things I’ve learned on this list is 45. See how that works? I know more than 45 things. Or maybe it’s only 42 things I know and three of them I pulled out of my ass. Like the #1 Life Lesson on this list.

2. Alternative medicine is mostly quackery
Since I’m on a roll right off the bat with the off-pissing of people, let’s go big. A bit of chiropractic manipulation can relieve some pain and tension and get you back into moving, which is going to be the real thing that alleviates your spinal woes, but it won’t cure autism or allergies. Acupuncture does the square root of bugger all from a physiological standpoint, but the bedside manner of a caring practitioner can make people feel a little better. Shoving a tube up your ass to blast hot water into your colon is a fetish, not a therapy. Yes, there are some exceptions and benefits, but ear candling, Reiki, Ayurvedic medicine or homeopathy isn’t going to fix your medical woes any more than faith healing will.

3. Karma is scientifically explainable

39 Life Lessons granola boy (I can call him “boy” because I’m older) says “Karma is real,” but his explanation boils down to “I’ve seen it happen.” It’s nothing mystical or the universe rewarding you for good behavior or punishing you for being bad. The fact is: there are ways to get ahead in life via dishonesty. Do it once and get away with it, and you’ll be tempted to do it again and again. Eventually, it will bite a huge chunk out of your ass. Call it karma, but it’s playing the odds. They do catch up to you.

4. Relationships aren’t for everyone
Some people aren’t meant to pair bond, so just quit bugging them about it. It’s none of your damn business.

5. Take care with another’s heart
You don’t want your heart stomped on, so don’t do it to someone else. I’m not saying you need to stay in a bad relationship, but cheating, misleading about your intentions, doing the hump and dump or whatever just isn’t nice.

6. Facebook sucks
It sucks away your time that you could be spent doing more important things. I’m not saying ditch your account, but consider restraining your usage. Same goes for all social media.

7. Your gut is not always right

This is another one from 39 Lessons guy. He says “always,” I say “it depends.”

It depends on what it is you’re using your gut for. In terms of ethical conundrums, if your gut is saying you should not do something, then I’ll say, yes, it IS almost always right. Deep down, you almost always know if something really is the wrong thing and that you shouldn’t do it. It can also be a good guide as to whether you should do something, especially if that something involves helping someone in need. I mean, unless you’re a total douche bag, in which case there isn’t much hope for you and you should stop reading now.

But when it comes to more complex decisions, especially in regards to things like entrepreneurship or complex business analyses, your gut is not always a good measure of what you should and should not do. It takes a ton of research to make an educated guess about such things.

8. It’s okay to pee in the shower

It saves water. Although if you’ve eaten asparagus recently, and you’re sharing the shower with someone who has the gene to smell that, perhaps you should just hold it.

NOTE: I’m talking about your shower here.

9. Kindness makes everyone’s day better

Don’t go out into the world looking to be angry about stuff. Think about how you can deescalate your annoyance with those who don’t behave in precisely the way you want. Cut others some slack, and even go so far as to see what you can do to be helpful and brighten someone’s day. It doesn’t just make their day better; it does the same for yours.

10. The world is full of grey

Things are rarely black hat bad or basket of puppies good. Looking at the grey is uncomfortable, but you should do it anyway, because that’s where reality lives. As an example, Salon.com is just as bad as FoxNews.com in terms of outrageous bias. The truth usually exists somewhere in the middle.

11. Loyalty is a virtue
If someone is good to you, be it a company, a business partner, a family member, or a friend, then they have earned your loyalty. You don’t need to be loyal to those who screw you over, but mutually beneficial relationships are what make the world turn. Well, actually, physics does that. But it’s our communal interests and support of each other that made humanity thrive.

12. Don’t drink alcohol for any reason other than you want to

Any alleged health benefits of alcohol consumption are just that: alleged. Don’t allow others to pressure you to drink either. Bad things can happen. Drink only when you want, and never feel pressured to drink more than you want. This is a substance where you need to keep moderation foremost in mind.

13. “Moderation” is not a bad word
No matter how much some fear-mongering jack wagon wants you to believe that some foods are toxic and should never be consumed, you can have your cake and eat it too. Sometimes. Here’s a hint for determining if you’ve gone overboard: if it’s interfering with your health, performance and physique goals, then it’s no longer in moderation.

14.  Standard shifts are better than automatics

Why? Well, they usually (not always) cost less, perform better, force you to engage more with your vehicle (so you’re less likely to be distracted by eating, putting on makeup, drinking, changing diapers etc.), and they’re just generally way cooler. Driving a stick just instantly makes you cool. It’s like, Fonzi leather jacket cool.
And because they’re so cool, resale can suck, because most people aren’t cool enough to handle them.

15.  Stop trying to justify your bad behaviors and embrace the shame
Everyone is the hero of their own story. People are great at making excuses for doing something bad. I can drive fast because I’m an important person and actually have somewhere to be, and I’m an excellent driver so speed limits don’t apply to me, but all these other assholes are just assholes who need to get out of my way.

That’s the way many of us think. We’re quick to criticize others for minor transgressions, but fail to see our own faults. You need to know when you’ve really done wrong, and embrace the shame. This doesn’t mean you should live a life of constant guilt, but a bit of shame now and then can prompt you to become a better human. When a number of people are telling you you’ve done wrong, or that you’re being a douche bag, then you need to objectively analyze your behavior, and if it’s worth feeling shame over, then do, for a little while.

And use that shame to become a better person.

16. Paying for sex is usually bad
The majority of sex workers don’t want to be. They’re often slaves to pimps, drugs, bad upbringings or desperate financial situations. You’re not helping them by being a customer; you’re making the situation worse. Before anyone totally freaks out, note the words “usually” and “majority.” Yes, there will be exceptions.

17. Abdominal crunches are stupid
They will wreck your spine and do nothing to help you see your abs. The primary job of the midsection muscles are to hold you in place, not move you around.

18.  Planks are awesome

A strong core holds you together. If you slip on the ice, wipe out while skiing, get tackled in a football game, or are doing some heavy squats, you want a midsection that won’t let things slip out of place. Do planks.

19.  The majority of humanity isn’t pretty like the people on TV

Stop expecting people – especially yourself – to be esthetically perfect. Also know that there are plenty of pretty people who turn ugly the second they open their mouth.

20.  Some cultures have really bad ideas
Tolerance and acceptance has a limit. Don’t be a bigot, but don’t accept things that violate your moral code either. Mutilating genitals and honor killings and the like are just evil, and evil must be fought.

21.  Children were put on Earth to annoy us, so have fun with it
If you’re a parent, your kids are going to get on your nerves. A lot. They’ll sing that stupid “Friday” song over and over, so get in their faces and sing it back at them, louder, and even more off-key than Rebecca Black did (if such a thing is possible).

22.  Not everything has to be perfect

Are you building a bridge, a high-rise building, or a space station? If yes, please be a perfectionist. Sometimes, however, you just need to embrace the “good enough.”

23.  Don’t be a bigot
It’s the sign of a small mind that thinks small thoughts. If you can’t see the world from beyond your little island of color, creed, religion and sexual orientation, then you’re not worth your room on this earth.

24.  Don’t read the comments
If you create something and put it out there for the world to see (especially on YouTube), realize that IQs drop by about 50 points the instant someone is anonymous on the Internet. It’s not worth your time to read such feedback, as it’s rarely genuine or valuable.

25.  No one knows the one true path to happiness
Note: I’m not talking about mental illness manifested as depression. Seek help.

Overall, happiness is something you need to figure out on your own. Maybe it’s accomplishment. Maybe it’s family. Maybe it’s meditation. Maybe it’s a dog. Maybe it’s exercise. Maybe it’s philanthropy or volunteering. Or maybe you’re just physiologically engineered to be a grouch.

One thing that is probably true is that if two cats don’t make you happy, then five or more probably won’t either.

 26.  How much/little makeup someone wears, or how many tattoos they have, is none of your damn business

So just keep your mouth shut. Appreciate what you want to appreciate, but don’t go advising others on the validity of their esthetic or decorative choices.

27. If you live in a place that gets winter, you need to learn to embrace it or you’ll spend half your life being miserable

I’m in Canada, and am seriously tired of all your whining. Friggin’ move if you can’t learn to love the winter wonderland.

28.  Find people you admire and emulate their good qualities

Everyone is a paradox. There are people who do great and wonderful things who still have bad qualities. I’ve certainly got my bad qualities, and I’m working on them.

Look to those you admire, and don’t dismiss their accomplishments because of their flaws, but learn from them. Emulate only the good stuff. As an example, Orson Scott Card may be a bag of douche as a human being, but he’s a helluva writer. There is nothing wrong with wanting to write like him.

29.  Just because everyone is sharing something on social media, doesn’t mean it’s good or useful
Case in point, this steaming pile of pandering bullshit about how “marriage isn’t for you” from some young guy who apparently has life all figured out at an early age already. Remember, the world is gray, and this author wrote a logical rebuttal to said steaming pile.

As for the first linked piece by Seth Smith, maybe what he wrote wasn’t really what he meant, but if you read it carefully it waxes extensively about how marriage is all about other people, and next to nothing is mentioned about one’s own happiness. This is a recipe for disaster. This is bad advice. And yet, it was shared like mad. The guy went on friggin’ TV because of his stupid article.

Remember, popular does not always equal good. Case in point: Anyone with the last name “Kardashian.”

30. Late bloomers usually end up being the cool adults

I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but in my experience it’s the one’s who peak late who seem to have done the best for themselves. If you’re young and kinda dorky, keep working on yourself. Your time will come. Probably.

31.  Sometimes, good shit just falls in your lap
The harder you work, the luckier you get. I went into aggressive sales mode to get my column with the LA Times, and I busted my ass for every article, and then good shit just fell from the sky after that. People got in touch with me with all sorts of cool opportunities.

If you’re doing good work, people will notice. Take advantage of the good opportunities that are presented to you.

32.  Vaccinations are like seat belts

The vast majority of claims made by the anti-vaccine movement are dangerous quackery and outright bullshit. These people are a menace to the advancement of a healthy society. It’s okay to berate them for being misguided.

Yes, there can be some negative side effects associated with some vaccinations (autism is not one of them). On rare occasions, you can crash your car and be stuck inside while it’s submerged or on fire, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear your seatbelt. In a car crash you may end up with a bad bruise across your torso from your seatbelt, but it’s far better than being flung through the windshield.

Vaccines are not 100% perfect or 100% safe, but they’re light years better than not having them. Anti-vaccine advocates can go eat a sandwich full of small pox.

33.  Don’t wreck yourself – you’re hard to fix

“No pain, no gain” is a crock of shit. When it comes to fitness, effort and intensity are good. Wrecking your body is bad. This doesn’t just apply to CrossFit. Runners are notorious for running while injured.

And once you get injured it can take a long time to repair yourself. You’re far better off using caution and not getting hurt in the first place.

34. Never give your spouse free diaper change coupons in her Christmas stocking
I felt it was only fair that as an equal partner in my marriage that I would change a lot of diapers. With our first child, when he was three months old, I gave my wife a half a dozen “diaper change coupons” in her Christmas stocking, saying when it was her turn, if she didn’t want to, she could cash in a coupon.

And she milked them for all they were worth!

Seriously, she saved them for the nastiest, most toxic, poop-up-the-back nuclear shit catastrophes imaginable. Learn from me. Never do this.

35.  Being a human jungle gym is an assigned duty for every father
Get down on the ground and let them climb.

Edited to add: Mothers can do this too. I’m speaking about MY life lessons as a dad.  

36.  Calvin and Hobbes was the best comic ever
It is full of important life lessons to go along with the laughs and excellent artwork.

37.  An exercise bucket list is a good thing
It keeps you off the couch and striving.

38. Celebrities aren’t worth worshiping
I’ve interviewed a lot of them, and so have learned this one firsthand. They’re just normal people who have developed a talent that people appreciate watching / reading / listening to etc. It’s fine to appreciate their work, but they’re not superhuman so don’t think of them as such.

39. Doctors know stuff you don’t
Mr. 39-year-old says “no one knows your body better than you,” and that can be dangerous advice. Not all doctors are good, and sometimes a second opinion is warranted, but don’t let this bit of advice lead you astray into quackery and away from modern medicine. Sometimes doctors give bad advice, and you have an important role to play in your own healthcare, but medical professionals can do a lot of good, and you need to learn how to listen to the right ones.

That being written, I think all forms of medicine should be avoided as much as possible by taking good care of yourself. I prefer to live a life of avoiding pills and procedures by eating right, exercising, and not engaging in risky lifestyle behaviors.

40.  Speak the language
You’d be amazed how much people appreciate it, even if you do butcher their native tongue.

41.  Extraterrestrial intelligence almost certainly exists
And it’s also almost as certain that they’ve not visited us. Look at how bad the government sucks at just about everything. Do you really think they’d be effective at covering up such a monumental occurrence as an alien visitation?

42.  Give your kids lots of hugs, but not much money
I stole this from Robert Heinlein. The dude had some wacky ideas, but this is a good one.

43. Malcolm Gladwell doesn’t have all the answers
Sure, he tells cute stories, and he’s right about some stuff, but mostly he’s into selling books and being popular so he can charge outrageous speaking fees. Being factual and exposing all of the gray and uncertain areas of life doesn’t always align with these ambitions.

44. This could be it
You should be a good person and do the right thing and enjoy life now because it’s what makes you feel good about being alive. Don’t count on an otherworldly reward for your behavior, because when you die, it’s possible that the only thing that lives on are the bacteria inhabiting your corpse.

45. Know when to call it quits
Sometimes, you just need to call it and walk away.

I’m looking at you, Rob Ford. You’re not qualified to run the merchant booth at a Nickelback concert, let alone a major city.


This piece was first published on my old website on November 20, 2014.

Follow James on Facebook and Twitter.

James S. Fell, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and AskMen.com. He is the author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada.

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