Five Things I Wish I'd Known Earlier in Life

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Anyone who stops learning is old – whether at twenty or eighty” – Henry Ford

This blog was inspired by the Life Lessons Series compiled by the blogger Abubakar Jamil.  Life has a sneaky habit of dropping valuable lessons in our lap, if we take the time to notice them.  Over 30 bloggers have shared their life lessons here and I was asked to share mine.

I know there are a lot of things I wish I’d know earlier in life (don’t have a party at your house whilst you’re not there probably being the top one).  Here are my top 5 learnings:

1. Life is about making memories

When you look back over your life, what really stands out?  The moments where life was at its happiest, saddest, most brilliant?

I remember amazing days – getting married, moving to California having never visited there, the last minute concert we went to, spending a happy afternoon in the park chasing planes with our niece and nephew.

I remember the toughest days – when my wife was really ill and I lay in a field praying for her to get better, when I batted with my parents, when I felt out of my depth starting a new business.

I remember the days where I tore up the plan – goofing off from my accounting exam training to go for beers with friends, wandering the streets of San Francisco and finding a great coffee bar with the best lemon cake in the world.

I certainly don’t remember those days where I battled commuters to work, did my 9 to 5, batted home again and flopped in front of the TV with a beer.

I’ve learned that life is the sum of the memories we make.

This is why taking risks is worthwhile – risks lead to memories – amazing, tough, adventurous memories.

The best way to enjoy life is to live it to the full and make some amazing memories.

2. Nike are right

Just do it” – one of the most enduring slogans of all time.

I have a terrible confession to make – sometimes I suffer from indecision, procrastination and inertia.  I’m human.

Like most of us, I can get caught by the whiff of fear and freeze like a deer in the headlights.

Since starting to work for myself 18 months ago this is a problem I can’t afford for long (there is no-one else to carry the can and keep things moving).

I think deep down I’ve always known the answer is to take action.  Do something (anything) and the momentum returns.

Now I’m getting much better at putting this in to action.  If I need to make an important call, I’ll pick up the phone.  If I’m suffering from writer’s block, I’ll just start writing.

Nike are smart – when I “just do it”, it creates energy and momentum.  Things shift and change – I’m no longer stuck in that moment of indecision and fear.

3. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can”

Growing up, I always thought there were two ways of looking at life and no middle ground:

  • Fate – “sh!t happens” and there is nothing we can do to change it
  • Free Will – we have complete control over our lives and it’s all our fault

Life has taught me that there is a better way of seeing things.

There are some things we can’t control. Other people, the wider world, nature.  Sometimes, bad things will happen to us and there was nothing we could do to avoid it.

I’m learning to deal with these things better (see number 4 below).  I aspire to be serene in dealing with the things we can’t control – that is a lifetime mission.

There are some things we can control. I’m responsible for myself – my thoughts, actions and reactions.

I have a choice in how I behave, what values I follow and how I react to the world around me.  There are things that I can control, although this is not always easy.

It take courage to act with integrity, to show compassion to others, to be grateful and generous.

The final part of the lesson is “grant me the wisdom to know the difference”.  Another big assignment to work on.

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4. Sometimes the bad stuff is the best stuff

When you’re facing a horrible work situation, illness of a loved one, family unrest it feels like the worst place in the world.

Yet it forces you to take a long hard look at life, dig deep, find new resolve and do something about it.  I know I’ve found out that whatever happens and however bad it feels at the time, I can handle it.

In fact sometimes, an unexpected challenge can give us the kick we need to change something important.  I know at work I spent too long in a job I wasn’t enjoying and it was only when an unexpected wake up call came along (which felt terrible at the time) that I was jolted to do something about it.

Looking back that was probably one of the defining moment of my career and life.

5. Aim high – then take it one step at a time

When I was younger, I had a major aversion to long term planning.  I really had no idea what was happening tomorrow, never mind 5 years on.

To me, setting a big, hairy, audacious vision would be ridiculous – nothing more than setting yourself up for failure and humiliation.

I’m indebted to a few amazing people in my life who encouraged me to think a little bit bigger.

My first real goal was to run a half-marathon.  That was ten years ago and my first 1 mile run left me rolling on the floor coughing my guts up.

I made a training plan and looked ahead.  Somehow I stuck with it and found a deeper resolve.  I built up slowly but surely – each run a little further.

Now running is a central part of my life and I’ve finished a couple of marathons, which I’m very proud of.

After this surprising revelation, I started to regularly set long term goals for myself.

I’ve worked towards each one one step at a time.  Sometimes the steps are backward or sideways rather than forward.

What’s amazing is that although each step is small, progress is rapid.  Suddenly you find yourself near the top of the mountain and wonder how you got there.

I’ve definitely learned that even the biggest goals can be achieved if you take it one small step at a time.

Over to you

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What do you wish you’d known earlier in life?  Please do take a minute to comment.

Photo Credit: Faith Goble (Flickr Creative Commons), Boolean Split (Flickr Creative Commons)

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  1. Phil
    August 10, 2010 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    What Lessons do you wish you’d learned earlier in life?

  2. August 10, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Phil, thank you so much for doing the life lesson series. Very nice lessons here. I think the best one for me is to know that our life will be the collection of memories – the ones that stand out the most – the happiest and the saddest. Thank you for sharing those in such intimate detail and also, bravo for the marathons!

  3. August 10, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I wish I had a mentor that could have taught me the lessons they learnt from their mistakes. Life is such a waste having to learn from your mistakes whilst there are others who made the same mistakes and have a solution.
    So many of us have valuable information that could help others but the tendency is to let them knock their own heads. True, some of us are so stubborn that it takes life’s lessons a while to sink in and many people are too proud to ask for help.

    The one thing I really wish I had known earlier in life is that your conscience is a very true guide.

  4. August 10, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink


    Thank you for your lovely contribution to the Life Lessons Series. Please note that your link is active at


  5. August 10, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Phil, I laughed really hard when I saw the burger picture. Good thoughts. “Do anything” can be a great cure to being blocked and knowing what you can and cannot change may be the key to happiness. Thanks for a great post!

  6. August 10, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Great post, goes to show how you have to experience things to learn them well!

  7. August 10, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    I completely LOVE your list…and from that, especially your first one – the making of memories! A memorable life…now that is what truly makes this life worth living…those moments. And – we CAN make all of our moments count…when we’re coming from a place we’re deeply connected to.

    Awesome to be here and read these inspirational words!

  8. August 10, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil, Very nice. I enjoyed #4… Bad new is good news because we have the opportunity to do something about it. When I was young and $50k in debt I knew it was up to me and only me to turn my life around. Had I not gotten so far behind, I would have never found the strength to get so far ahead. Thanks for sharing.

  9. August 10, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil, Very nice. I enjoyed #4… Bad new is good news because we have the opportunity to do something about it. When I was young and $50k in debt I knew it was up to me and only me to turn my life around. Had I not gotten so far behind, I would have never found the strength to get so far ahead. Thanks for sharing

  10. August 11, 2010 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    You give off such caring vibes! Life is one giant lesson. Once you figure that out, it becomes exciting to see what you will learn next. Little happens in front of the TV set or in the mall.

    I’m into #1 the most: Life is about making memories.

    When we bought our antique home, I wrote the elderly woman who sold it to me a long note. I wanted her to know that we loved her old home and would take good care of it.

    She wrote me a very long, energetic letter back recounting all the wonderful times her family had in the house. She ended it with, “remember to make memories.” I still have the letter! Her words are precious to me.

    Thanks. Giulietta

  11. August 12, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful list and it rings so true … making memories and sometimes the bad stuff is the best stuff — ah, defining moments.

  12. Vicki Black
    August 14, 2010 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    I wish I had learned how fast the years would fly right by. Ferris Bueller was right – you have to stop and have a look.

  13. August 16, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    A beautiful, heartfelt post, Phil. The one thing I wish I’d known sooner was how fast it all goes by. Did you ever see that movie, “Something’s Gotta Give?” There’s a scene with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, walking on the beach, and she says, “It goes fast, doesn’t it?” That line always makes me sit up a little straighter and take notice.

  14. August 26, 2010 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    Everyone has so much great hindsight wisdom to share! Check out for more stories of what people wish they knew earlier — then feel free to comment or write your own!

  15. Eric
    September 15, 2010 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    You’re an inspiration. Keep up the great work..

  16. September 28, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Phil, I really enjoyed your post. I like what you said about aiming high and taking it bit by bit. We humans are constructed in such a way that we need challenge and greatness. I just ran my first half marathon a couple of weeks ago, and I can’t tell you the satisfaction I felt from completing it. I’m looking forward to my next goal: the marathon! :)
    Steve-Personal Success Factors recently posted..Discover My Top 11 Motivation Books of All Time

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