THE BLOG
07/18/2014 01:16 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2014

5 Life Lessons I Learned in My 20s

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Thirty is the new 20, or so they say. I turned 31 a month ago, and I find this saying a bit hard to believe. Especially when my eyes get heavy at 9:45 p.m. and I call Selena Gomez fans "kids."

But I appreciate the positive outlook, y'all.

Here's the truth: If I were given the chance to sweep a decade under the rug and be younger, I wouldn't take it. I like my age. I like the places it has taken me and the place I am now, two full decades into my life.

Each year has given me something good or bad to chew on. I'm proud to say that not all was lost; I ended up collecting some good learnings thus far.

Youth is the time of getting, middle age of improving, and old age of spending. -- Anne Bradstreet

This does NOT mean I've actually learned them. I'm not there yet. If these lessons were Jello, I'd say I was in the post-mix stage, just as you are about to put the thickish syrup into the fridge so it can congeal. The life lessons are still milling about in my noggin', bouncing around and slipping through whatever cortical spaces my brain allows them.

But they are sticking. Slowly, surely. The Jello is getting firmer by the minute (year), transforming the way I do things.

They say the best way to learn something is to teach or share it, so here are five life lessons I picked up along the way:

Life Lesson #1: Care Less About Everybody Else
My godfather, a man who loves his loud shirts and gaudy jewelry, once told me: "Don't give a damn what other people want you to look like."

In that same spirit, I have tried to care less about what everybody else things. Because you really do have more fun impersonating Javert at the super market or doing the Carlton at a ritzy gala. By doing this you also accept the fact that you are imperfect (e.g., have your own awesome brand of weird), and so is everyone else. Those people who tell you that's not "the way you do it," or you're being "weird" have no idea what they are talking about.

So stop listening to them and do what feels true to you. It's way more fun.

Life Lesson #2: Care More About Everybody Else

Yet you are a human being, and part of that means you have humanity.

If you're not living a substantial degree to make someone else's lot on this Earth easier, stop, collaborate and listen.

Money is fine. Mastery is important. Fulfillment is priceless. But none of this matters if you aren't reducing the pain or increasing the happiness of another human being. You can do this by being a caring friend, a loving husband, a dutiful steward of your community. You can do this through love, compassion, or sacrifice.

Studies show that our relationship with other folks is the biggest influence on our own happiness. What we contribute to the well-being of others, surprisingly, comes back to contribute to our own.

The most long-lasting relationship we have is the one carried on by the people around us, so remember to show the love.

Life Lesson #3: It's Later Than You Think

Mortality is a big pill to swallow, and it stings going down.

And I don't mean your own mortality. I mean facing the fact that the people you love will one day die. Your awesome high school teacher, your grandma, your mom and dad -- you.

Being aware of this truth may sound like a big downer. Thinking about death all the time, how is that supposed to help you in life? It helps you because by knowing what might not be you appreciate what is right now.

Say your I love yous today when they can still hear and appreciate them, not when they are no longer in sight because they are deep underground. It's later than you think.

Life Lesson #4: It's Earlier Than You Think

That being said, we will all get to be quite old.

Life expectancy keeps growing, so that means that our active, working lives will be longer, too. In this way, 30 is the new 20, since most of us will go past 80, and many of us will work well into our 70s. (Think about that: At least another 40 years of work -- the possibilities!)

Enjoy this, and pace yourself.

Life Lesson #5: There Is No Plan

I love General/President/Gramps Eisenhower's quote: "Plans are useless; Planning is everything."

A strategist and leader said that.

When I was younger, my plan was to be a lawyer, and married with kids by 27. Ha.

The gist of Ike's maxim is that planning something big, like your life, your career, your purpose, on this Earth often proves to be a flawed effort. Yet trying your best and working hard is still essential.

Ask anybody if they expected to be where they are now 10 years ago. We drift and flail, skip, trip, and leap, but if we focus on our strengths, have hope, and never let others define the important stuff for us, good things are bound to happen, just probably not the same good things we first had in mind.

Life is tough as it is, and it's twice as hard to learn from your experiences as you go along. In order to survive as you're trying to thrive you have to remember to be kind to others, because everyone has their own battles and insecurities. And this includes yourself, too. As long as you try to do what's right and give yourself the space to appreciate the rewards of your hard work, there is no way you are doing it wrong. If someone tells you any different, feel free quote my godfather.

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