12 Lessons Life Will Teach You (Sometimes the Hard Way)

08/25/2014 11:29 am ET Updated Oct 25, 2014

I'm a whopping 27 years old (in cat years, I am more). And while I can't compare to the wisdom of sages or Tibetan monks, I've learned a fair share of lessons in my relatively short time on earth. One of the first foresights I came to understand is that, ultimately, we all endure the same hardships: death, betrayal, divorce, heartache, illness, financial struggles -- these are the woes we inevitably awaken to. Next, I learned that I learn best by observing others: I telescope in on their desires and fears, their regrets and mistakes. And while I've made plenty of mistakes myself, I've also refrained from certain critical errors by remembering the consequences I've seen others pay. Sometimes we can know just as much about the battle by watching from a distance as we can by marching into it.

These lessons aren't part of any class curriculum. They are taught between the lines -- picked up through pain and need and faulty action. They are unwavering truths of life we often forget but more often dismiss. Bear in mind these 12 lessons to understand your trials, defeat your challenges and navigate through your circumstances with complete awareness:

Never take what isn't yours. When you take what doesn't belong to you, it will be taken right back from you -- perhaps at a later time or by different means. But what isn't yours won't remain for good. Find people and create things you can truly call your own.

Never compare yourself to anyone. When you compare yourself to another, you dull down your inherent beauty. Be happy for others; let them live their dreams and wish them well. Even if they're on a similar path as you, competition doesn't need to be a factor. Focus only on your own success. The more you harbor envy, animosity, bitterness or frustration against someone for their achievements, the more you stifle your own personal progress. The moment you realize that you are as unique as your thumbprint is the moment you can begin to utilize your inbred talents towards your total benefit.

Timing is everything. Be patient. Look towards the process, not the result. Check in with yourself: Are things slowly but surely moving in the right direction? Know when to act and when to stand still. Stay alert for signs and take opportunities as they are given; if you keep an open mind, you will be shown what to do and when to do it. Timing is everything, and everything in time.

Keep your karma clean. Your karma is not some maleficent force that boomerangs your bad deeds upon you. Your karma is the memory of your soul, of everything good and bad and in-between you've ever thought and done. When you pile up bad karma, you trap yourself in unwanted cycles of behavior. Keeping your karma clean means not causing harm to anyone whether they've caused it to you or not. Be aware of your actions and the impact they have upon others. Act in good faith, always, and you will always be the victor.

Cherish your loved ones. To cherish is not just to love, it is to treasure. You can love someone from a distance, but when you cherish a person you make every effort to be close to them. Care for those around you while you still can. Life has this curious way of causing our dear ones to dwindle in number over time. Embrace the people who are in your life before you are left with the memory of who they were.

Take care of yourself. My dear father smoked himself into an early grave and to a certain extent, I see the tendency to self-destruct in everyone I know. It might be chronic stress, a bad habit of drinking, or lack of exercise, but we all succumb to a vice that causes us more harm than good. Work to extend your life instead of shorten it. Immerse yourself in simple pleasures. Laugh more often. Give your burdens back to the universe; you were not meant to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Because if you don't take care of yourself, who will?

Accept what you can't change. The Serenity Prayer reads, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference." When you tolerate things as they are, and acknowledge that they will modify and mend and begin and end according to the will of the universe, then you will feel true serenity. Your mind and soul are at peace when acceptance is their mediator. Allow situations to unfold in their own natural course. Regardless of whether you do or do not try to influence people and events, everything still comes full circle in the end.

Find your vocation. We are each designated a unique purpose and endowed with the skills needed to carry out our mission. Mine is to write, and perhaps yours is to sing or dance or discover or construct. Whatever your purpose, it is your soulful duty to honor it. A vocation is a calling, and when you act on your calling, no job remains a "job." It becomes a pleasure to work because you are engaged from the seat of your soul, fulfilling your spirit's song and verse. If you know your mission but can't fully immerse in it (maybe it's not financially rewarding), try to practice it as often as possible. You can do volunteer work, have a part time job or take it up as a hobby -- whatever it takes to partake in your predestined quest.

Don't take anything personally. People will offend us and, at times, downright outrage us. Of the partner who betrayed us, we'll wonder: Was I not good enough? Of the best friend who stabbed us in the back, we'll think: How could they do that to me? But personalizing matters only causes unnecessary self-blame. Remember that when someone treats you badly they are fueled by their own unresolved issues and inner problems.

Control your emotions. Our emotions set us apart from animals; we feel our way through this world. And while emotions are the most beautiful element of our being, certain sentiments can be detrimental to our health. Never speak out of anger of act from desperation. Decisions made under extreme emotions are bound to work against us. When we master our emotions, we can decipher what's really in our best interests.

Evolve. The first law of the universe is change. The natural order of our world has taught us that the species that does not evolve dies out. We, too, must change or face stagnancy. As much as we like to blanket ourselves in comfort, we must force ourselves to grow consistently. Alter one aspect of your life with which you're dissatisfied. Give yourself a realistic time frame and stick to it. After you've made the change, reflect on it: Didn't it empower you? Now, what else would you like to improve? Aim to make new advancements, one at a time.

Everything eventually finds peace. Life comes in surges of joy and misery, and the bittersweet truth is that neither lasts forever. But when you're going through a rough patch, it sure does seem like eternity! And the happier moments appear fleeting. Rest assured that everything eventually finds peace. The sooner you confront your challenges with courage and without fear, the sooner the tranquil order of all things is restored.

We may learn these lessons through individual experience or by watching others pass through them. What's important is that we understand these wisdoms so as to elevate ourselves above our hardships and not bear the same burdens twice. What has life taught you so far?

To learning our lessons,
Alexandra Harra

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