The 24 Lessons I Had To Learn Before Turning 24

I can’t begin to tell you how strange it feels to be constantly drawn to knowledge like a fly is to light; only to find myself being repeatedly shocked by how much it confuses me and forces contradictions into my thought patterns. 

As each year passes, more and more of the things I once felt certain about have begun to slip through my fingers. Things don’t play out the way I thought they would. People are exposed to not really be who I first thought they were. Even those whom I admire, those alleged gatekeepers to the inner-workings of the world, the people I turn to when uncertainty arises, have pulled back the curtain to reveal: that, indeed, the emperor has no clothes.

In the beautifully written TV show: Westworld, Anthony Hopkins’ character, Dr Ford, creator of the show’s hauntingly realistic theme park, debates the park’s head of programming, Bernard, about whether the simplest solution could explain away a problem they are facing with their park’s “hosts”. Ford rejects the principle first put forth by William of Occam, noting that the work we do in the modern world is vastly more complex than that which the “13th century monk” had to contend with. 

Unlike Ford, I think Occam’s law of parsimony is one that still holds true; I’ve just realised that coming to the simplest explanation requires us first to navigate through the very complexity of life that Ford believed would have troubled the English philosopher. 

In practice, this means first letting go of needing things to remain or be a certain way, and instead, opting to enjoy things as they are  -  for it seems to me that the most enriching way to navigate the ever-evolving labyrinth of life’s layers; is to do so without a compass. To put down the map you first left home with and feel your way through.

For the third year in a row now, I’ve noted the life lessons I’ve had to wrestle with before turning another year older (here are my lessons before I turned: 22, 23). 

It’s these lessons, gathered in my journey so far, that I know to be my simplest answers. The answers that provide me with enough stability and assuredness to leave the dock each morning  -  because whilst we may not fully understand what the treasure of life is; we still need to know that we will need a well-built boat to get where we want to go, and that being able to swim is a pretty useful insurance plan. 

Kurt Vonnegut once said that “we have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down”; so as long as you don’t mind the occasional fall, here is what I hope what will give you the confidence to jump, and what one day might help you to fly.

1 – You want to have a good day? Do good things.

2 ​– There are those that are in the arena, and then there are those in the stands - both have opinions about how to fight. Who do you want take advice from? Who do you want to be?

3 ​– In your work, the moment you transcend beyond doing what you can to make your boss happy, to doing what you can to make your customers happy;  you will find yourself on the path to doing the things that truly matter.

4 ​– Think only about how you can serve people’s needs or create value; don’t worry about who you’re supposed to be as you’re doing so. Fitting neatly into a label and placing such an expectation over your work will only limit you. You’re not supposed to make a clean conclusion as to what you did, your life will do that for you.

5 ​– “Work to become, not to acquire.”  -  Elbert Hubbard

6 – Instead of asking what your purpose or task in life is; ask yourself what you want to have high-level intuition in, and let the process to acquiring that lead the way.

7 ​– Ditch the to-do list. Do as Leonardo Da Vinci did: Make a to-learn list.

8 ​– Build dots before worrying about connecting them.

9 ​– Cognitive dissonance and stress comes usually when your identity gets too tightly wrapped around one of your self-states. Give yourself the room to move freely between your multiple selves and let your identity be a beautiful mosaic of colours.

10 ​– Cherish the reflective state that arrives the very moment after you leave the state of being present. Notice how time has slowed and how distance has been created between you and your experience. This gap, is where joy can become peace. (If you’re not quite sure what this state looks like, watch the ending of the movie: Before Sunrise - spoilers!)

11 ​– On the way to turning 22, I noted how important compatibility was in the makeup of a great relationship, but I was not yet aware of how compatibility was found. The reason for this is simple, it’s not found at all. It is achieved. For compatibility (as Alain de Botton points out) is an achievement of love.

12 ​– Art is beautiful. Art, shared, is even more beautiful.

13 ​– Find a piece of art or media that blew your mind the first time you experienced it. Rediscover it. Study it. Research how it came to be. Go behind-the-scenes. Get to the moment when you realise that at one point in time, it was nothing but an idea. An idea that another human person once had and then worked hard enough on to make it into the finished product you admire so much. Then, as you observe that, let it remind you that you are also capable of making something just as mind blowing.

14 ​– Listen to The Last Samurai soundtrack as much as you possibly can. Bring your headphones up to your ears and bring life’s noise down. Nothing else I know of can so elegantly inspire feelings of meaning, balance, and quiet confidence.

15 ​– More important than balance of lifestyle is balance of mind. And whilst working from home may have increased your awareness of the need for the former; focusing on it does not guarantee the latter. Place your efforts first on finding balance of mind, and by doing so, you will gain the clarity necessary to decide what you most want to spend your time doing.

16 ​– To speak well. To write well. To think well… Read well.

17 ​– Don’t just give yourself lots to think about, give yourself time to think too.

18 – Be careful about what you choose to desire. When you desire something, you allow it control as it pulls you by the arms. The experience of stress and any feelings of our lives being inadequate come usually when we have too many desires, each pulling a different limb in a conflicting direction. So when choosing what to desire, and yes, you can choose; choose to have as few as possible. And for every one that you decide upon, make it simple, but significant.

19 ​– Invest in a good turtleneck. There’s not an outfit upgrade quite like it.

20 – In case you didn’t learn from the last two years of lessons, yes, you should still talk to more strangers.

21 – Having the capacity to celebrate other people’s success is a rare form of grace. On the grander scale, grace is selflessness in motion. When you notice this quality in someone, keep them close.

22 – If you have two great friends, introduce them to each other  -  the serendipitous nature of connecting those whom you respect and care for is unparalleled.

23 – Become friends with people of different generations. There is nothing quite like sharing an idea you thought to be mature and having two older friends tell you “I remember when I used to think like that”. Escaping the confines of generational friendships and eating into your confirmation bias comes as easily as conversing with older and younger generations. So vary your sources of joy, humour, and inspiration: and watch your view of life expand greatly.

24 – “Some age, others mature.”  -  Sir Sean Connery. Rest in peace, Mr Bond.

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