I am 44 years old. If you were to ask me my top ten life lessons off the top of my head here is what I would probably come up with:
- Don’t worry about what other people think of you. I spent far too much of my time worrying about this. So much so that I lost sight of myself and what I wanted out of life. I only really came to terms with this fact a few years ago. There is a big part of me that wants to regret this but regret is a facet of my ego and my ego is what convinced me to prioritize other people’s thoughts over my own.
- In terms of a career Do what you enjoy. Don’t do what you don’t like doing. Again, because I worried about what would make me look good in the eyes of others I made choices based on what I thought they would like. As a result I worked a miserable job I hated for eight years only to be laid off and unemployed / underemployed for a few years before I got back on my feet. I am now in the position of reaching for what I enjoy but it feels like I am racing against the clock. Far better to figure this one out in your twenties or earlier if possible.
- Avoid debt. I wish I was better about this early on as well. Any debt you take on is lost opportunity. It is better to have compound interest working for you with investments than against you with debt.
- If you never felt like you pleased your parents in childhood it probably will never happen when you are an adult. As such, stop trying and free up that energy for your passions. It might actually improve your relationship with your parents.
- Don’t associate with people who make you feel bad about yourself. You can recognize them if you pay attention to your feelings. Trust that your feelings are real, there for a reason and never wrong.
- Loyalty is earned. For so long I felt I needed to be loyal to things and people who had no loyalty to me. As such the rewards I thought this loyalty would bring if I just hung in there long enough never materialized until I was able to let go of this obligation.
- You are entitled to happiness. Everyone is. If you are unhappy there is a reason for it and it probably is not because you are bad, wrong or otherwise defective.
- Don’t judge other people. People who judge other people judge themselves equally as harshly. They do this because they were judged harshly and when they judge others harshly the people they judge will judge others and continue to spread the virus.
- Shame is toxic. Shame is the source and result of judgment. It is also the origin of misplaced loyalty and probably debt.
- Religion and politics are voluntary. Because no one can know what’s on the other side you should not and probably cannot force you beliefs or values on others. Nor should you judge another person harshly for believing something contrary to what you believe. If you find yourself doing this perhaps you should ask yourself what am I ashamed of? Who judged me harshly when they should have had compassion for me?
I recently listened to a podcast by James Altucher where he interviewed Ted Leonsis (former president of AOL and current owner of several Washington DC professional sports franchises) who talked about his six secrets to achieving happiness and success. The first secret is to actively participate in multiple groups of interest. That is, a happy and successful person must be a contributing member of more than one organization involved with activities the person is actually interested in. Second, a happy and successful person makes an effort to listen to others and also experiences regular opportunities for self-expression where other people are listening. Third, a happy and successful person has empathy for others. Fourth, a happy and successful person gets out of the “I” and into the “we”. By this, I take Leonsis to mean that a happy and successful person is not looking for opportunities for self-aggrandizement and is motivated to be a team player. Fifth, a happy and successful person finds a higher calling in all pursuits. That is, his pursuits are motivated by goals that benefit the greater good and not just the bottom line. And sixth, a happy and successful person creates situations that give rise to a “double bottom line” (i.e., multiple beneficial outcomes).
I found the interview inspiring and I highly recommend giving it a listen. But while I was listening I kept thinking that shame actively works to undermine each one of these secrets to success and happiness. First, shame does not like to participating groups because shame feels judged by other people, jealous of other people’s success and ashamed of its own failures. Shame perceives the success of others as a personal failure in comparison. Group situations tend to exacerbate these feelings and as a result shame will avoid them. Even when shame operates within a group setting and receives acceptance the high is really high and then shame tends to sabotage it and turn it into something bad. Shame then becomes suspicious of success and avoids it (or becomes incapable of embracing success) when it arrives. Second, shame does not want to listen to others because it finds others annoying or it becomes jealous and ashamed when listening to other people’s success. Furthermore, shame is afraid to put itself out there and express itself because it is afraid of judgment and criticism. Third, shame does not have empathy for others or itself. Fourth, shame is dominated by the “I” both in desperately trying to look good in the eyes of others and in criticizing the self to appease others (in order to look good in the eyes of others). Fifth, shame has no higher calling but to look good in the eyes of others. Sixth, shame never gets to be in a position of creating situations that give rise to a double bottom line because shame undermines its endeavors in the manner already described.
The bottom line I take from this is to be happy and successful a person must overcome shame at all costs.