Emily Edwards presents twelve rules of thumb born of long experience.
Trying to figure out who you are and what you want out of life are struggles that everyone faces but it can be all too easy to get bogged down in the conventional, socially-acceptable ways of living life. It’s pretty difficult for a lot of people to be truthful with themselves and to stop living for others, especially in our money-driven, rat-race culture. I spent ten years of my life in university, not because I truly wanted to be there, but because it was expected of me and because I wasn’t honest with myself about what I really wanted. I can’t say I regret it (because that would go against Rule 4) but if I had a do-over I hope I would be wise enough to face the truth instead of hiding from it. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and have a heart-to-heart with my 18 year old self; I’d try to slap some sense into that little fool. Here are a couple of tips I would give myself and anyone else who wants to be happier and more free:
- Never accept the status quo: Your parents want you to get an education because that’s what their parents told them to do. They have no idea of what else is out there and they don’t want to know because it might shatter their illusion that an education leads to a good job and financial security – an illusion that is about 30 years out of date. Who’s laughing now, Richard Branson’s parents?
- Accept things you cannot change: There are some things you can try to fix, such as improving your math grade by studying harder, but a lot of things you can’t change and it doesn’t do you any good to try. So you got dumped the day before the prom – all you can do is find another date, not make him like you again.
- Stop worrying: Sure, it’s incredibly difficult to not worry about things that trouble you. You want to make sure you’re prepared for whatever might arise but in reality what happens is the one outcome you never considered (that’s called Murphy’s Law, the most annoying law right after gravity). So do yourself a favor and stop imaging crazy “what if” scenarios. No, you aren’t going to crash your car on the way to your big job interview – you’re going to forget your CV instead.
- Regret nothing: Every decision you’ve ever made was exactly what you wanted at one point in time so the only thing that has changed is your attitude. Don’t regret being a year behind everyone else because you took time off to travel – that’s what made you happy at the time.
- Trust your gut: Almost always your first instinct is the right one and if you listen to that visceral feeling that tells you something is right or wrong you won’t go too far astray. All too often we ignore our gut and listen to “reason” when deep down we know that hitchhiking alone in Deliverance-ville probably isn’t the best idea.
- Don’t be so hard on yourself: Everyone makes mistakes. That’s life. Beating yourself up about things you can’t change doesn’t help you, though. Try to shake off what’s in the past and focus on the future. This doesn’t, however, mean you shouldn’t abide by Rule 7.
- Take responsibility for yourself. Everyone wants to blame someone else for his or her mistakes but the sooner you admit to your mistakes the sooner you can work on fixing them and making yourself a better person.
- Don’t let external factors impact how you feel: Okay, this one may sound crazy at first but hear me out. If a crazy person tells you you’re crazy, would you listen to him? No, you know he’s crazy so you ignore him. But when your friend tells you that you’re selfish it’s hard not to feel badly – the trick is to know that you really aren’t selfish (unless you are and then things get murky) and that she has her own problems to deal with. Be confident in how you feel about yourself and everyone else’s opinions can go directly to hell.
- Stop trying to please others: Always thinking about what other people want is the quickest way to make yourself miserable. And you can’t please everyone; it just isn’t possible. So instead of wasting energy planning a lavish wedding that you think your family wants just have the one you want on a private beach – trust me, if they love you they’ll respect your wishes.
- Give everyone a chance: Be generous to people but if they treat you poorly don’t make the same mistake again. Forgive, but don’t forget and cut out the losers early on. You’ll know who they are – your gut will tell you.
- Choose your partner wisely: Picking the right person to spend your life with will determine much of your happiness (or misery). It’s easy to fall in love but don’t be blinded by it; lust fades quickly and then you’re just stuck with either someone you resent or only half your stuff.
- Don’t compare your life to others’: This is how so many of us get into trouble. Measuring your unique, totally awesome life to someone else’s is a great way to make yourself feel badly (or if you feel good because you can run faster than one-legged Joe you have some serious problems). If you focus on you and what makes you tick you will be a much happier person.
So there you have it—12 rules to live by. Maybe I should add one last one, though: don’t live your life by anyone else’s rules.
Photo—Couple hugging from Shutterstock