Twenty Lessons I Learned From My 20s

“I have compiled the list below of ‘twenty things I learned from my 20s’ not as a ‘how to’ guide but to give the advice that I feel has come out of my past decade of life experiences, both good and bad, and what I would share with people reading this right now who are looking to make the most of this important decade in one’s life.”

I consider the 20s a decade in your life where you first have some autonomy over who you turn into as an adult, where you start to go professionally, how your relationships develop or change over time. I recently turned 30 years old over a week ago and it’s the first birthday I’ve had where you could feel that it was different than others. Being 30 signifies you are now heading into middle age, full- steam ahead, and while you are still young, you now have added responsibilities and commitments that you must maintain as an adult. You’re no longer a young adult but a full adult in my view.

As someone who turned 20 over ten years ago now, I wish I was able to receive the list below to see what lies ahead of me and what I should be aware of heading into the first decade of adulthood. Being in your 20s has a lot of the advantages that one could ever hope for, but it also comes with several pitfalls that can be very difficult to avoid. I have compiled the list below of ‘twenty things I learned from my 20s’ not as a ‘how to’ guide but to give the advice that I feel has come out of my past decade of life experiences, both good and bad, and what I would share with people reading this right now who are looking to make the most of this important decade in one’s life.

Many of these points I share below are not just for your 20s below. They are pieces of advice that I would give to most people throughout adulthood, and which should form the backbone of who you are as both a mature and responsible individual. Using a popular baseball analogy, your 20s like your life in general are going to throw a lot of curveballs, some more difficult to hit than others, but my article should serve to help you put the bat on the ball as much as possible, so you have more home runs than strikeouts.

Do not feel obligated to follow these twenty lessons I laid out below but try to keep them each in mind as what I have learned myself on how to be a better person and how to make it through a decade full of new opportunities but also filled with potential mishaps that could derail you beyond your 20s. I wish you good luck in your 20s and I hope you will find this list below pertinent into navigating your own life from 20 to 30 and beyond as I have done recently.  

  1. Be Grateful for What You Have

It’s easy to look at other people with envy and even jealousy especially in the age of social media and instant communication to see what they may have, and you don’t have. I find it’s best to try to cloud that out as much as possible to maintain not only your sanity but your overall happiness. Life isn’t a competition especially around material or financial success. If you have the basics taken care of with a roof over your head, food in your belly, and a few people who you can rely, you are richer than most in this world. Every day, you should be counting your blessings, whatever they are, because gratitude will make you feel better. People, especially in their 20s, like to compare themselves to others, but as you get older, you should be more content with what you have rather than what you don’t have by continually taking stock of what you are grateful for having in your life.

2. Find A Healthy Work / Life Balance

That drive to work, succeed, advance, get to a higher level of comfort is ever present in one’s 20s as you chart out your career goals. However, the seductive pull to work long hours and get that promotion should not come at the expense of time spent with family, friends or even just by yourself. I think a key part of one’s life, even in your 20s, is finding a good work-life balance, which is difficult when we are often tied to the hip to our cell phones, laptops to keep us plugged into our jobs even after hours. Having a job, you like and enjoy working at is a big goal for someone in their 20s, but it should not come at the expense of your health and wellness. For example, working 60-70 hours a week may bring in more money, but if it’s causing you severe stress, worsening your diet, and shortening time with loved ones, is it worth it to continue like that? By the end of your 20s, you should be able to understand what your own work-life balance looks like and what kind of jobs may be best in line for you to achieve this goal.

3. Having a Routine is Not a Liability

When I was a child, the concept of a routine was anathema to me. Why would I do the same thing day in and day out when I could play all day? However, starting in your teens before you reach adulthood and even more in your 20s, routines are not bad for you. It’s part of creating a schedule that doesn’t burn you out or leave you lopsided in doing too little or too much at once. In your 20s, you need to decide which day(s) you’ll go grocery shopping or which day(s) to go to the gym or to Yoga. It’s part of realizing you can’t do everything at once and you need to make time each day for activities or hobbies when you are not at work or working on higher education. In this decade, you realize time is truly a valuable commodity and it means creating a set time for taking care of your hygiene, doing the dishes, seeing friends or family, cooking meals on a regular basis. Instead of doing these things on a whim, the struggle in your 20s is creating a weekly routine that allows you to stay on top of things from exercising to eating well to being sociable. This item is probably one of the hardest to do consistently but establishing a set routine, at least during the week, doing things that are important to be a successful adult, you’ll have been the better for doing it.

4. Stay in Touch with Family and Friends

Aging parents, friends who move away, nieces and nephews you must meet; these are some of the people you should do your best to keep in touch with in your 20s. It does get hard as your new adult responsibilities will get in your way. Sometimes, you’ll have to take the initiative to call (don’t text) the people in your life you truly care about. It does not have to be every day but every week, call your parents (sometimes twice or more) and let them know how you’re doing. If your parents are not around, call an aunt, uncle, or even a cousin just to check-in.

Families can grow apart when not everybody is living in the same household. Don’t let your family life or your friendships atrophy for the sake of your career or business. Make sure to meet new people and be open to new friendships or relationships but always tend to the people you’ve known the longest who you enjoy spending time with who’ve known you since before your 20s. Life will move increasingly fast as you move through this decade so make sure you call and see family and friends as much as you can. You won’t regret it and it will really lift your spirits up when you most need it.

5. Continue to Learn and Read New Things

Learning does not cease when you get your Associates, Bachelors, or master’s degree. A great way to solidify your career or your work is to keep learning new things or to improve at skills that you have a basic understanding of. Instead of vegging out on social media or watching television, make that effort to learn a new skill or pick up a new language. Even if it is just an hour a week, it’s good to keep learning those skills and abilities that will propel you forward. Whether its coding, carpentry, painting, sculpting, or web development, find those books or courses that can exercise your brain power outside of work at least an hour per week. Doing something that you’re interested in that’s not related to work will also help your own identity and make you a bit more versatile in terms of your abilities. You could work as a marketer during the day and still be a writer at night. If you enjoy doing something, keep learning and reading about it.

Lastly, reading books does not have to end in college. You can still read books at night before bed, which is better than looking at a screen. Strive to read at least 10 books a year and read about subjects you really enjoy or are curious to learn more about. In addition to picking up a new skill, reading a new book is a great way to spark your synapses and get you to invest in something separate from your day job or business.

6. Always Be Kind and Polite to Others

If you’re reading this article, I really hope you still remember the Golden Rule that was likely first taught to you when you were five years old, and the teacher shunned you for putting glue in a classmate’s hair. If you don’t, here’s a quick refresher: “Treat others the way you like to be treated.” You’re in your 20s now and you should act like it. Some people never stop being that person putting glue in someone’s hair or making jokes when they shouldn’t. No one likes a bully especially when you are no longer a child or a teenager. Grow up and treat people kindly each day.

If you are rude to someone because you were having a bad day, apologize and say that you’ll try to do better. There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘sorry’ to someone and you should always think about how your behavior impacts other people. You never know what someone is going through in life so as the saying goes, ‘be kind.’ Whether you are talking to a customer, a boss, a bus driver, or the person next to you, be kind and polite. I truly believe that what goes around, comes around, so if you are rude to others, don’t be surprised if your own life starts to go off the tracks. Karma is real and it will get you back so in your 20s and beyond, strive to be a kind person who cares about other people. Always.

7. Make Time for Exercise and Self-Care

Today, it can be too easy to live a sedentary lifestyle. You can go from your apartment or house to your car to a building and back home. You often will have to force yourself in your 20s to take care of yourself physically. It starts with making choices on how to spend your time. Exercising isn’t meant to be fun. It can be enjoyable especially with other people but make no mistake, it’s not easy to do especially consistently.

However, your life will be better off for having made the effort at least 2-3x a week or more to take care of your body’s needs. Exercise looks different to everybody but find some type of it that you enjoy and stay with it. If you need to mix it up, do so and incorporate different activities in each week. For example, on Monday, you could do a Yoga class. On Wednesday, you could go for a couple mile run, and on Friday and during the weekend, you go to lift weights or hike / walk around a park. I’m not an exercise expert but it’s good to combine aerobic and anaerobic exercise together if possible. The key thing with making time is you must set times during the week and even on the weekend strictly for exercising and make it into part of your routine.

Also, self-care is a big topic these days but find time to relax and just be present. Whether that is meditation, taking a nap, sitting out on your patio or porch. Spend time away from doing anything and just catch up on personal relaxation time. You should not be doing something 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so take the time to just be present, do nothing for a bit, and even watch a sunset or the stars lit up at night. I promise you won’t regret it.

8. The Earlier You Start Saving, The Better

One thing you can know for sure as you enter your 20s is you will likely not know what to hell ‘personal finance’ means and how it applies to you. Sadly, it is a subjected neglected by most high schools and even colleges nowadays. No one tells you what a ‘low interest rate’ indicates, how a ‘401k’ is vital for retirement, or what an ‘index fund’ means. It’s a societal issue and while there is more education out there, you often will have to seek it out for yourself. Getting out of debt as soon as possible is priority #1 but then your next priority should be to save money for your future even if it is 5-10 years down the line. Basically, don’t spend everything you earn and if you ask someone for advice, make sure they’re an expert or at least have their own savings fund to talk about. I won’t touch investing since that’s not my area of expertise, but I would say in your 20s, you should try to save money whether it’s for personal emergencies or needs that could come up or for long-term goals that will go beyond your 20s. If you can save money and earn interest, that’s even better, but make sure you can be consistent about saving and to know how much out of your budget can go towards savings each month or so.

9. Educate Yourself on Your Finances

My advice to you, reader, as someone who was a novice at anything ‘personal finances’ related for most of my 20s is to start saving money and the earlier, the better. If you can ask your parents, please do so, but also try to ask out someone who works in personal finance for a coffee or even send them an email. Do your own research, check your sources, but make sure to start thinking of your financial goals especially if you are taking either student loan debt or credit card debt or both.

There are several great online tools out there for people in their 20s and 30s to get started with financial goals. I would recommend reading at least one book about finances in your 20s whether it is about saving or investing or both. In this area of life, unfortunately, it’s for people in this decade of life to figure out on our own. No one is going to hold your hand when it comes to finances. At the end of the day, it’s your money and you need to decide what you want to do with it. I would just be sure to research a lot, act wisely, and make sure to manage your risk as best as possible. Again, I’m not a financial advisor but in your 20s, my main tip would be to educate yourself as best as possible and to be aware that it’s important to think about your financial future.

10. Avoid Dependency on Anything or Anyone

Dependency on someone or something is not a good way to go through your 20s. You should always be able to cut a dependency loose from your life especially if it is sidetracking you from making the most of your 3rd decade. Know also when to cut out something you can get addicted to like smoking, gambling, drinking, etc. If you are an addict, don’t feel ashamed about it but seek help if you can and try to wean yourself off that dependency. Any kind of addiction can really hamper your life and set your 20s in the wrong direction. Be sure to live a life of moderation in most areas and even abstain if you think that is best for your overall health and wellness. If others encourage you to lean into your dependency rather than to minimize or avoid it, you might need to cut them out of the picture as well. Be increasingly careful of whom or what you let into your life especially if you have an addictive personality or a lifestyle that encourages it. To make the most of your 20s, addiction or dependency can derail you and make you worse off.

11. Travel If You Can, As Much as You Can

Traveling to different countries and even around my country has done wonders for my own development as a person. You broaden your horizons in several ways including being able to challenge yourself to do what you once thought was unfeasible. You also become more self-confident and self-reliant especially if you travel alone. Your own personality will also develop as you learn a 2nd or a 3rd language during your time overseas and you should be able to start a conversation with another person without feeling a strong sense of anxiety. Better than any book on history or culture, traveling to the city, town, or country where it exists, and you can see it with your own eyes is worth the ticket price alone. Often, you will know much less about the world when you thought and will be humbled by its complexities.

You’ll also be aware of your biases, your own shortcomings, and your lack of perspective having grown up in one part of the world, which has a culture all its own. Being exposed to different peoples, cultures, and languages in your 20s, especially if you can do so for school or for work is worth it 100% of the time. If you can’t afford to travel a lot, try to find opportunities to volunteer or teach and it should be more financially possible. My last bit of advice here is to not let your 20s go by without traveling for some time. It’s the best decade of your life to get out there and do it.

12. Don’t Be Afraid to Take Some Risks

Simply put, you won’t be able to go through life or even your 20s without taking a risk of some sort. Risk is part of our nature whether it’s driving a car, operating machinery, or cleaning the roof of a house. We take risks every day whether we know it or not. The difference is that during your 20s, it is the best decade with less responsibilities than after 30 and beyond hits you. Especially if you are not married and don’t have children, you have more time to be a bit selfish and decide what you want to do with your life without it affecting others directly.

Some folks want to move to a new country, others want to try out different career options, and there are always those people who want to start a business and strike it out on their own. Whatever kind of drastic change you make, there is risk involved but even if you fail, I promise that you’ll feel better for having given it a shot, learning a lot in the process, rather than to not have tried at all. Whatever risk you do take though, make sure you have a backup plan and/or exit strategy in case things don’t work out. Risk management in your 20s is just as important if not more so.

13. Cut Out Toxic People from Your Life

If someone is negatively impacting you whether an acquaintance, a friend, or even a family member, maybe it’s best to cut ties with them especially if they rely upon you too much in an unhealthy manner. Toxic people will drag you down to their level and if they can’t be relied upon or won’t meet your half-way, then they are not worth the time or the effort. Like a negative addiction, being in an unhealthy relationship or friendship with someone else can cause a lot of harm and leave you wary of giving others a chance afterwards. If someone is adding to your own stress, anxiety, or causing you to be upset, then you need to cut them out. If they are a family member or a co-worker who you can’t avoid entirely, do your best to limit the amount of time you spend with them each day. As you get older, you are going to want to have more peace of mind and dealing with scammers, dunces, nincompoops, liars, and cheats is no way to go through your 20s and beyond.

14. Your Path in Life Can Change, That’s Not Bad

As the saying goes, “life is not a straight line.” You may quit your job, get fired from another one (through no fault of your own most likely), find a hobby or a side business that takes precedence, break up with someone, fall in love again, etc. Don’t try to set everything in your 20s like clockwork. Often, plans will fail or change so be adaptable and while some people may want to plant roots somewhere and some place right away, I recommend being open to new opportunities or a new lifestyle if your path doesn’t look right to you. There’s really no shame to changing one’s path during the 20’s especially when it comes to career or relationships. You are in that decade of life where you are still figuring out for yourself who you are, where you want to go, who you want to be, and with whom you want to be with. Take your time to examine your options, think your decisions through, and be flexible with where things go. If your path zig zags, don’t be upset about it. In my view, that’s part of life itself.

15. Learn How to Cook for Yourself and Others

Gone are the days of microwaved mac and cheese, hot pockets, and 3 AM McDonald’s runs, at least hopefully, that’s the case. Your 20s is the best decade for learning how to cook and more importantly, learning how to cook well. Start out with simple recipes, ask friends and family for help and advice, and make sure you use YouTube videos and other online resources to assist you. Cooking for yourself is crucial to being an adult and no one is going to hold your hand here really. While you may think it is more convenient to order food in or eat out at a restaurant, it is simply unsustainable, lazy, and expensive.

While there’s nothing wrong with ordering in once a week or eating out on a weekend, make sure you’re not relying on other people to cook your food all the time. That idea is a recipe for disaster and won’t serve you well in your 20s. During this decade, you should be able to cook at least 3-4 times a week and get good at grocery shopping. Your diet and your wallet will be thanking you for being more self-reliant. Also, once you can cook well for yourself, you can move on to the bigger challenge of cooking for your girlfriend or boyfriend and then make your way up to family members and good friends. Don’t let UberEats or the Local Italian restaurant be your full-time cooks. Do it yourself and reap the rewards.

16. Pick up New Hobbies and Interests

Nothing keeps you as fresh or as versatile as picking up a new hobby or interest. If you are not doing anything at night or on the weekends, why not take a few hours to do something new? I think it’s an excellent way to diversify your own identity outside of your job or business. It is also a great means of meeting new people who could become friends after a while. It breaks up your routine a bit or adds some fun to it. You will have to find what is most appealing to you but in your 20s, you should experiment with different hobbies, interests and keep the two or three interests that you find most interesting. It also doesn’t hurt to drop a hobby or an interest if it outlives its usefulness. You can get a lot out of switching hobbies for new ones to keep both your mind and body sharp.

17. Be Emotionally Self-Aware

Emotional intelligence has become quite the popular buzz word in the professional world in the past decade. It has become increasingly taught at colleges and universities and is widely thought of as one of the most important things to have in life to be successful. However, I think what this broad term boils down for someone in their 20s is to be aware of their own actions and feelings and how those affect other people. Knowing when you acted improperly or upset someone is key to having that emotional self-awareness and indicating some emotional intelligence. Being able to apologize sincerely, think about how you were wrong or could have handled a situation better, and being able to analyze your own feelings are all great traits to develop in your 20s. Not only will it make you a better person but you’re likely to gain respect from colleagues and supervisors alike when you are honest of your shortcomings and aware of when you were in the wrong. If you can look inwardly and think about it affects others outwardly, you will be considered emotionally self-aware.

18. Find The Right Kind of Higher Education for You

There is no one way to being considered a success. I think for a lot of people in their 20s and especially when I was going through them, the messaging to me and others was solely about a four-year college degree. However, the world is not static, and many good paying jobs don’t require a degree, or you can get by with a set of skills that you can develop outside of a university. The growing awareness of how trade skills are needed such as being a welder, an electrician, or a plumber or the current shortage of them is a great reason why trade schools or apprenticeship programs are great options in this decade.

If you can’t afford a private university or even a public university, look at community colleges in your area or state to figure out if that two-year or four-year program would be a good fit for you. You can always transfer to a good college or university as well if you have a good year or so at a community college first. I believe it’s more important to not rush into college if it’s not the right fit or if it is financially untenable. Make sure you exercise your options and be aware of what skills you want to learn about and use to find a career.

19. Sleep, Sleep and More Sleep

I need at least six to seven hours of sleep each day and while you don’t think getting a good amount of sleep is important in your 20s, your sleep amount or lack thereof in your 20s will affect you in your 30s and beyond. I never thought it was healthy to pull all-nights when I was in college, and I encourage those of you reading this who are in a higher education program to think wisely about working or studying without sleep. Sleep rejuvenates us, affects our mood, and even has positive or negative effects on the body. Don’t let your job or education affect the amount of sleep you get. Make sure to have a set time in mind when you should start to get ready for sleep and try to abide by it.

Be wary also of those people around you who disturb your sleep schedule or make you feel guilty for going to bed earlier than them. Try to prioritize getting as much sleep as possible and if you can get a nap in to make up for lost sleep, you should be doing so. Don’t let that term paper or final exam keep you from sleeping the normal number of hours that the average person needs to function. You are not a robot so don’t be up 24 hours trying to be one. Sleep is your friend especially as you get older and need more of it to have enough energy to make it through your busy day.

20. Don’t Forget to Take Your Vitamins

Lastly, not only is sleep a good friend of yours during your 20s but it’s also the time in your life where you should be consistent on taking vitamins. Remember when you were a kid, and your mom gave you chewable vitamins that looked like characters from the Flintstones? If you do, then you had a great mom like I did. Your parents were right though about vitamins and just because you’re not a kid anymore does not mean you should stop taking your vitamins. You should be supplementing your meals with the basic Vitamin B, C, and D and especially Vitamin D for those of us who are deficient in it. When it gets cold, dark, and the sun is absent, Vitamin D will be your best friend.

I also would recommend taking some Zinc, Fish Oil, and Magnesium as well and there are several positive effects from using those supplements I mentioned above. Now, these are just the vitamins and supplements I use on a daily or weekly basis. You should as always do your research, talk to your doctor, and see what vitamins or supplements would be good for your health. I just believe that vitamins have a lot of positives and can make you a healthier person overall, which is a key part of the foundation of your 20s and beyond.

A Life Well Lived According to Emerson

“Emerson was not a man who saw success in only the material or popular means that is often the case of how individuals measure success today. Instead, Emerson believed success in life was about much more than fame, fortune, and overall popularity.”

Whenever I am looking for inspiration in my own life whether it comes to how to develop myself professionally or to be better on a personal level with others, I like to refer to the excellent quote on success and on a well-lived life by American essayist, philosopher, abolitionist, and 19th century transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was not a man who saw success in only the material or popular means that is often the case of how individuals measure success today. Instead, Emerson believed success in life was about much more than fame, fortune, and overall popularity.

Emerson saw success and life itself as leaving the world a little better than when you found it. He believed in the importance of caring for nature, of having good relationships with other people, of honing your craft professionally in whatever you were passionate about, and of caring for family or friends who could rely upon your kindness and care. This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson has always been a favorite of mine because while it was a conventional means of measuring a life well lived or a ‘successful’ life in the 19th century; I believe that too often today, we measure a ‘good life’ in shallow and often selfish ways.

In the era of the transcendentalist movement, there was much more to life than accruing things for material worth, or showing off how much money you had, or thinking that because you have more you are then better than someone else. On the contrary, Emerson and other thinkers of that movement believed in progressive ideals of equality, justice, and fairness. They believed in giving back to others in whatever way was possible and to do so consistently. While it was not a religious movement, it was based around individual actions to help a larger community or society.

It did not shun personal success or individual wants or needs as being unnecessary, but it asked people to believe in the power of working together to a common goal or cause, treating your fellow man or women with respect, fairness, and dignity, and to believe in giving back through charity, through helping others, and to be of good character not just in words but in actual deeds. Emerson like others were idealists and believed in the goodness of humanity despite the dark impulses that can lead us astray. While we are unique individuals of free will, we must never forget to care for our family or our friends, or nature itself which is gift not to be squandered.

The actual quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a long yet impactful one that touches on many different parts of one’s success in life that must not be ignored. When most people define success in a singular manner and often involving their own joy and happiness, Emerson does quite the contrary by arguing that success or a good life is based on how we leave the world after we depart from the Earth and what do we do in life to leave those around us better off than they were before. Above all else, Emerson asks the reader to imagine how they can impact the world in their own way for the betterment of not just themselves but for others as well and humanity.

In the quote, he does not ignore our hierarchy of mental needs such as the need to be respected by others, to laugh often with friends, to be appreciated for what we do, to be able to overcome adversity such as suffering betrayal, which is inevitable at points in our lives but to also appreciate the beauty around us because it is temporary in life as well. Fulfilling that life well lived according to Emerson is not just about being there for others but also being there for ourselves mentally by having our emotional needs met and fulfilled with joy, happiness, laughter, kindness, respect, and overcoming negative emotions such as betrayal and deceit.

“What is success?…
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

When you look at this memorable quote from Emerson, he prioritizes in life partaking in individual joy in the form of laughter most importantly. He also indicates the need to be respected by other people especially who you choose to associate with as being intelligent either emotionally or figuratively. He also discusses the need to be compassionate towards children, whether they are your own or not. Knowing that critics are inevitable in various avenues of life, Emerson seeks that any individual appreciate the critics who are honest about him or her and asks the reader of the quote to be mindful of those who want you to improve and to try to do right by them in becoming better at what you do.

Emerson also asks that while some friends are necessary to have in life; we must be prepared for betrayals that can occur from those who you thought were friends but were rather only looking out for themselves. Even though others, even friends and family members will let us down at times, we should still seek to see the good in others and to try to get the best out of everyone we meet. Human beings are fallible creatures, Emerson would say, but we should try to look for signs of redemption and efforts of good faith because people deserve to show you that they have good in them, and they can rectify their wrong doings often when they are given a real chance.

Despite facing inevitable criticism, betrayal, and disappointments throughout life, we must stop and take time to appreciate life itself for all its natural beauty. It will calm us down, put our lives in perspective, and think of a world much bigger than our own internal musings. Because of the sheer beauty surrounding us that we can often fail to fully appreciate, this divine beauty should inspire us to be caretakers of this world that we inherited at our birth and to be true guardians of the planet for the next generations. He includes in his musings on success in life to include leaving the world ‘a bit better.’ As individuals, we can only do so much for the state of the world, but if we all pitch in to do our part, that will cause massive change to occur on a societal and global level.

Leaving the world, a bit better is not just about recycling or not littering or being aware of how you’re affecting the natural world with consumption but it’s also about beautifying the world too. Whether it is cleaning a park littered with trash or creating a garden patch for others to enjoy or deciding to walk instead of driving a car, little actions like these by individuals can leave the world better off than before. I saw this kind of contagious effect working with others as a volunteer lately in helping to create a new vegetable and flower garden for a youth center in Washington, DC. Getting your hands dirty, beautifying a small part of the neighborhood, and having others pitch in to help is one of the best feelings one can have in life. It’s not often in our lives when we get to see a positive change happen in real life but creating a garden or even beautifying a park has a large ‘ripple effect’ that can change the world for the better even if it is on a small scale.

Emerson lasts mentions that if you have a child or care for one in your custody that to ensure their health and happiness is one of the great joys of living and contributes to improving the world in a measurable way. Giving back to nature and to other people is a consistent theme in this quote by Emerson and to redeem a societal condition such as creating a garden, raising a child, or being a mentor to a friend who needs your help will not only be doing good for you but for others as well. Ralph Waldo Emerson finishes his quote to sum up success in life and having a good life as coming down to fundamentally whether because you lived, did others live easier because of your presence? Was someone or something healthier, happier, or more fulfilled because you were there? These are important questions to ask yourself. In your life, are you just in it for the fame, fortune, and your own personal gratification? Or are you living your life to leave a legacy that can do some good in the world in some measurable way?

Emerson never mentions personal gratification such as having a lot of money or being popular as keys to a life well-lived and I agree with him. Emerson prioritizes the fact that after we depart from this Earth, what will we be remembered by? What contribution to others and our society did we make? Are people in our lives better or worse off because of your existence? That is what true ‘success’ means in the long-run and that a life well-lived should be based around. I hope that you take this excellent quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson to heart as I have. It’s a brilliant piece of wisdom that gives each of us steps to make the most of our remaining days on this Earth. Let the joy, laughter, beauty, conscientiousness, and unselfishness among other characteristics that he mentions as being the keys to a life well-lived guide you in all your days here.

Anatomy of a Scene – ‘At A Crossroads’

“Sometimes, the only way to move forward in life is to look for a sign or in this case, a person to help guide you in the right direction.”

“You look lost.” “I do?” “Where you headed?”, “Well, I was just about to figure that out.”

There are moments in life where the road ahead looks vague and uncertain, where we struggle to figure out what happens next or what should we do next. You can have a map with you, and you have an idea of where you want to go but there are four directions ahead and you’re not sure whether to go north, south, east, or west. Sometimes, the only way to move forward in life is to look for a sign or in this case, a person to help guide you in the right direction.

A brilliant movie in its own right, ‘Cast Away’ is about a man whose life is upended by mother nature and who will never be the same again. Without spoiling too much of the movie, Chuck (the main character) loses years away from his wife, his job, and his lifestyle and while he was away from it all, the world moved on without him. Most heartbreakingly, he cannot get back the time he lost working for FedEx or being with his wife or integrating back into his former lifestyle after having his life upended by mother nature.

Similar to how oftentimes in our lives, people move on without us. Friendships sometimes end, romantic partnerships fizzle out, and loved ones can grow distant from us on purpose or by accident. The message of the ‘Crossroads’ scene that I have included above is that life goes on with or without us and if we are still here on the planet, we cannot hold on too tightly to the past and must instead try to chart a new path forward even when that is often difficult to do.

This particular movie scene is one that a lot of us can relate to right away. You’ve finished your education, maybe you’ve quit a job, or you decided to retire and are wondering, ‘what’s next?’, which is an essential question of the human condition. It is hard to pause when you’ve had a routine upended or a part of your life just end one day, and you are not sure what will come next. You may have a couple of choices pulling you in different directions and you are looking for a sign of what to do next. Sometimes, that sign comes to you based on a significant item, object, or memory that pulls you in a certain direction but oftentimes, we just have to make the best decision that we have based on our thoughts and assumptions on the way forward. After making ‘crossroads’ decisions of my own in life, what’s important to realize is you have to make some choice and not stagnate in your own worries about what could happen. The worst decision would be to make no choice at all and let your life stay in a perpetual kind of limbo. Chuck was close to doing just that in ‘Cast Away’ before he found the sign that he needed in an unlikely place.

This ‘Crossroads’ scene starts exactly with that image of a crossroads on a non-descript road in middle America, which could be Kansas but is actually somewhere in rural Texas. Chuck, our protagonist, looks lost as he gets out of his car at this dirt crossroads, takes a big gulp of water in the hot Texan sun, and gets his large USA map out to chart his next decision. He just left the house of someone whose package with ‘angel wings’ helped him a lot during his isolation from civilization and for which he brought back their package as a way of thanking him or her. The people in Chuck’s life have moved on without him and he is not sure what comes next given he is a free man after years away from people but at the same time has lost his wife, his job, and his previous lifestyle to one fateful event that was out of his control, and which seemed like an act of God or mother nature.

Any part of this scenario would frighten and subdue even the most resilient person in the world, but Chuck is resilient albeit perplexed on how he ended up where he is without a sign of a compass to chart his way forward. When Chuck reaches this four-way crossroads and stops to check his map, a woman in a red, flatbed truck comes up to greet him and see if he needs any help and if ‘he is lost.’ She tries to give him advice on whether to go north to Canada, west to California, or eastward bound to the coast but he seems resilient if not a bit stubborn after being on his own for so long. Still though, the redheaded woman is kind and sweet in her manner and she says back to Chuck, “well, alright, good luck, cowboy!”

As the sweet-natured woman starts to drive away in her truck, Chuck notices something he’s seen before. A pair of yellow angel wings at the back of her truck’s bumper that he’s seen before on the package he had with him all those years. He knows now that the package he delivered was the one to her house and it was her package! A range of emotions hit Chuck all at once as he becomes shocked, bemused, and then pensive as if he should follow her or not.

Most intriguingly, towards the end of this scene, chuck now with the first sign in a while of where he might go next in life, stands in the middle of the four-way crossroads thinking about the woman whose package had such a big impact on him in his years-long solitude and how likely it is that he finds her attractive as well as kind. The camera pans out to show him in the middle of the crossroads looking at the different directions where he could possibly go next but then the camera lingers on his face as he moves to the direction where he really wants to go. It is the redhead’s truck’s direction down the long, sloping road ahead and Chuck begins to smile as he finally knows where to the long road of his life should end up next.

It is a very poignant and moving scene as we all must make decisions like Chuck in terms of where we want to go next in life. These decisions are hard to make and sometimes involve real regrets but also lead to joy, peace, and happiness. We must do our best to choose wisely in life, but like Chuck did, we must look for the signs where and when we can, and then we must make a choice because not making a choice is not living at all, it is merely existing and that is no way to go through life.

The Real Meaning of ‘Seize The Day’

“You seize the day when you can plan for how you are going to seize not just today but tomorrow as well.”

Seizing the day or ‘Carpe diem’ is an oft-quoted Latin phrase that has become as popular as often as it has been misunderstood. Seizing the day is definitely a principle that I stand by for a couple of reasons, but I don’t agree with people who say that seizing the day means to ignore the future or not to think past today’s goals or tasks. You seize the day when you can plan for how you are going to seize not just today but tomorrow as well.

Some people choose only to live in the present moment, and I think that is a fundamental misreading of what it means to really ‘seize the day’. You really have a bigger advantage when you plan ahead of time for what you should accomplish not just on the same day but in the weeks or months ahead. You won’t be able to make the most of each day if you do not know ahead of time what you need to get done or what is most important in your life to complete.

Living only for the day will keep you in a constant state of searching and jumping from activity to activity without planning how long you plan to study, work, explore, travel, or focus on. That is to say that life is nothing without a little spontaneity and that when a good opportunity or event pops up out of nowhere and this will be your only chance to experience it, then it would definitely be acceptable to ‘carpe diem.’ If it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime chance or a very rare opportunity that you would live to regret or would change your life, that is an opportune time to seize the day and chart a new course for yourself.

When you don’t plan for your day ahead, you will not be able to seize it as easily. You do not want to spend your days drifting about from idea to idea, opportunity to opportunity, place to place. Life inherently is not all about spontaneity and being in the moment at all times. You should try to plan ahead to some degree but also be open to changing your life course is a good enough lasting opportunity or change of plan comes around that would definitely benefit you in the long run.

Short-term pleasures, wins, and successes can be quite enjoyable especially when you seize them when they come but it’s the little victories over time that build up and lead you to a successful relationship, business, or career will pay off a lot more. You truly do seize the day when you are planning and doing something each day to push those long-term goals forward in some capacity. When you work towards your goals consistently each day and putting in the work each day, you’ll start to see your hard work come to fruition. That is what will truly go along with the phrase ‘seize the day’ when you make the most of each day to give yourself the highest life satisfaction.

Frittering your days away impulsively going from party to party, country to country, or job to job without a long-term plan can be ruinous to somebody. Seizing opportunities that come your way should be encouraged but not at the expense of having some long-term goal or dream in mind that would truly change your life for the better. Making the most of each day to reach your life goals or to do something meaningful whatever that may be should definitely be part of that famous saying of ‘carpe diem.’

‘Seizing the day’ is not just about working consistently to achieve goals and dreams but it’s also about taking care of both your mental and physical health and to take the necessary time out of a busy day to see a friend or a family member, to go on a bike ride, or to do another hobby like photography or hiking, which will make you feel more well-rounded and relaxed. Human being are not machines that can be constantly on the go and we need that time to reflect alone or socialize with others to improve our relationships as much as possible.

Another key thing to know about ‘seize the day’ is just showing up every day and doing your best. You may not get every opportunity that presents itself, you may not hit your goals each day, or you may not prioritize your relationships or hobbies as much as you want but the main thing is to just show up each and every day to work hard at what you have going on not just immediately but into the future.

As another popular saying goes, “showing up is just half the battle.” Putting yourself out there takes courage and grit, and some people today can’t even do that. Seizing the day is about putting yourself out there enough so you can attract those chances and opportunities that you wouldn’t have gotten ahold of had you not even made yourself available. When you stay at home, isolate yourself, and don’t try at all, you won’t get anywhere in one day or even in one year. If you don’t put in the effort each day, you won’t be able to seize anything of importance or value to make yourself that much more meaningful.

If you are reading this article, I hope you rethink the meaning of ‘carpe diem’ or ‘seize the day.’ It’s much more than just living in the moment and pursuing instant gratification in whatever form that may be. It’s about putting in the effort each day, consistently, in pursuit of a long-term opportunity or goal that isn’t handed to you automatically and which will often take more than one day to succeed at. Whether it’s competing for a championship, building a business, or planning out one-year of travel around the world, you seize the day by working towards these visions each and every day by putting yourself in front of those opportunities and doing your best to succeed at them with hard work, grit, and a little bit of luck too.

The Utility of Making Lists

“A key productivity hack that really works wonders in our fast-paced, modern era, which involves both discipline and consistency is to make a list. It is also an excellent habit to build upon and one that only requires your laptop and a ‘notes’ application or just a simple pen and piece of paper.”

A key productivity hack that really works wonders in our fast-paced, modern era, which involves both discipline and consistency is to make a list. It is also an excellent habit to build upon and one that only requires your laptop and a ‘notes’ application or just a simple pen and piece of paper. Lists have a reputation of being tedious and time-consuming, but what is actually more time-consuming is spending minutes or even hours trying to remind yourself what tasks or items you actually have to do.

List making is a good habit to build upon for a number of reasons. You hold yourself accountable and there is no shirking away from what you have set for yourself. The biggest misconception when it comes to lists is that they are all the same and focused on a to-do list. You can make lists for other reasons ranging from your progress at the gym with different weights you’ve lifted and what you hope to accomplish next to your future goals in life and what you hope to do in your ‘bucket list.’ Lists not only involve things you have to do whether its grocery shopping, what bills you have to pay, or what errands you have to run but also what career / business goals you have, what your exercise regimen looks like or where you hope to travel to in terms of next destinations.

Making lists is part of exercising that daily discipline that you need to have in order to put yourself on a path to success. It’s easier to accomplish your goals or your tasks when you remember what they are. You may have an amazing memory and feel you don’t need to have any lists at all but having that reminder especially if you have a due date for a pending school assignment or a work task can really help you especially if your memory fails you, which is always possible.

The impact of technology in our lives has made our attention spans that much more limited or distracted so I believe that the utility of lists has increased in response. There are many more things on our plate that we have to pay attention to that we may not have time to remember them all. Lists can help us organize these tasks from most urgent to least urgent and give us some peace of mind since you would likely have these lists stored in a place such as in an application on a computer or in a folder if you’re more traditional with pen and paper.

Not only do lists help to organize our lives, our goals, and our tasks, but lists also hold us accountable just by the fact that they make clear what you have done or what you have not done. There is no arguing with a list because you have either done it or not done it. You can indicate in a list your progress towards the goal or the task but it’s better to simplify it to be blunt to ask of you whether the item is completed or not. If it isn’t done yet, you can go back to it to see how much you have left to do, whether it’s been started yet, or how much you have left to finish. That kind of blunt accountability, which can be lacking in our society, is going to be staring you right in the face, so there is really no hiding from a list because it does not sugarcoat anything or try to come up with an excuse.

I also would like to point out that making too many lists can hinder you from achieving all you would like to get done each day, each week, or beyond. You should be careful not to make too many lists or have too many notes where you start to forget what actually is most vital to get done. I would recommend instead to make one list only for a specific part of your life such as one for exercise, one for work, one for business, one for errands, and perhaps one for future goals. That’s five lists right there on a specific subject so not to become too cluttered or difficult to implement. Lists can help you out a lot up to a point but can become burdensome when you have a dozen lists for ten different parts of your life.

In any list you make, focus on a main goal you wish to achieve for the day and then start to branch out to include weekly tasks and then long-term goals that may take months. Organizing an individual list around immediate, medium-term, and long-term tasks is an effective way to stay on top of each part of your life that will need attention. Having five lists, for example, can be helpful too where you might start the day looking at your exercise task(s) to complete, then move on to work/school, then see about errands, and then see what future goals you are working towards that you can start on. Organizing lists is about as important as making lists to begin with and it’s very important not to make too many lists where you feel like you can’t keep track of them all or have too long of a list where it distracts from your other lists that you’re working on.

You may be thinking to yourself right now, why do you care about making lists so much and why have lists at all? Having list(s) is about building structure in one’s life. You can create good habits from following your lists and you can organize your life in a meaningful and productive way. Also, you alone can hold yourself accountable with lists as it’s only you who knows about the list and is responsible for completing the goals and the tasks that you set up for yourself. No one else is going to hold your hand so it’s up to you alone to be reliable, responsible, and solely in charge of ultimately crossing those important items off your list(s) to help make your life a better, happier, and healthier one.

The Whiskey Philosopher

“In a year of ‘red lights’, it’s been both enlightening and refreshing to read a book by a man who has spent his first fifty years on the planet chasing ‘greenlights.’ That phrase of catching ‘greenlights’ is also the formal title of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir / autobiography / personal growth tale that quickly draws the reader in.”

In a year of ‘red lights’, it’s been both enlightening and refreshing to read a book by a man who has spent his first fifty years on the planet chasing ‘greenlights.’ That phrase of catching ‘greenlights’ is also the formal title of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir / autobiography / personal growth tale that quickly draws the reader in. I first heard about Mr. McConaughey’s book when he appeared on the ‘Joe Rogan Experience’, Joe Rogan’s popular podcast. Mr. Rogan coined the book as being ‘whiskey philosophy’ with McConaughey being the philosopher over a glass of whiskey.

I found this metaphor to be quite fitting for the book ‘greenlights’ as the author talks about his life foremost as an observer and a reflector who is able to take a step back and analyze his decisions, his perspectives, and his overall views on his life and how he got to be who he is today. You immediately feel comfortable with McConaughey’s narrative and his ability to tell stories like you were sitting with an old friend over a fire pit drinking whiskey and regaling each other with both good times and bad. Throughout the book, you feel welcomed in and embraced as if you were right there with Matthew having a chat.

What I do love most about ‘Greenlights’ is the raw honesty and the ability to peer into a life like his, which I would argue is different from your average celebrity. Instead of obsessing over the glitz and glamour of being famous in Hollywood, you spend more time with McConaughey in different places around the world. I, for one, did not know that he was an avid traveler ever since he took a gap year in high school to go to Australia on an exchange program. He has often felt the call to go out in the wild, to be secluded from others, and to meet new people along the way.

Surprisingly, the book takes us from the Chihuahua Desert of West Texas to the autobahns of Germany to the jungles of the Peruvian Amazon and across the ocean to the small villages of Mali. One story of Matthew’s that stood out in particular was his wrestling match with a local Malian villager who challenges him as the only white man who has shown up as a guest to wrestle together. It’s not clear to the reader who wins the match, but it doesn’t matter to the village who sees Matthew wrestle. What is most important to them is that he accepted the challenge and not about who won or who lost.

I find that this particular story resonates across Matthew’s life so far and his willingness to put himself out there. Whether it’s going up to ask the woman he eventually marries if he can make her a margarita to seeking his permission from his father to go into acting as long as he doesn’t ‘half-ass it’ to keeping his promise to become a father because that was the most important thing for him to do in life, McConaughey is always willing to accept a challenge and embrace the possibility of failure. His ten guiding goals of what he wanted out of his life back in 1992 when he begun to keep a journal and of which he details in the book of what they were shows the readers how he may have taken a few detours but was able to stay true to his values and his desires even though he’s still working on a few of them.

His main goals of being a father, meeting the woman who was best for him on Earth, putting family first, and even winning a Best Actor award did not happen automatically and he had to run through a number of ‘red lights’ in order to get his ‘greenlights’ eventually. While ‘red lights’ would dissuade a lot of people to keep pushing such as being placed in romcoms for over ten years like Matthew was or perhaps having a falling out with his mother due to his having children out of wedlock, these ‘red lights’ did not discourage him from staying committed to who he was as an actor and as a person.

I think the main message of ‘greenlights’ is to not let the inevitable ‘red lights’ stop you from pursuing your goals and once you see an opportunity, you have to run with it and work hard to turn those lights green. Another particular example from the book that stood out to me was Matthew’s insight to playing Ron Woodroof in the acclaimed film, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, an immensely emotional role, which led McConaughey to win the Best Actor award for his performance. The role itself wasn’t probably the highest paying role for an actor nor was it going to be a huge box office hit like his previous romcoms.

I believe Matthew took the role because how moving the personal story of Woodroof was and how he was moved to tears talking to Ron’s family and learning about his life through Ron’s own personal journals. While the actor and the man portrayed are very different, they are both native Texans and avid journal keepers. Matthew details his intense diet of losing up to 50 pounds to play the role in the movie and how he had to put himself in the mind of a man quietly dying from the horrific AIDS virus, which was stigmatized at the time. Even if they had to do the film over-budget, it was being made because Matthew, like all good actors, knows a good passion project when he finds one and puts all of his effort into acting the role to make the film as good as it can be. In this case, he won the Best Actor award and made his father proud who tells him the book to not ‘half-ass it’ and those words of encouragement stuck with Matthew.

In addition to seeing Matthew’s life play out since he was a child growing up in Texas, you get to see his really well-written poems, notes, anecdotes, and short stories, which really do convey an intuitive wisdom to them. From discussing love to pleasure to pain to truth to meaning, these poems scattered throughout the book are refreshing to read and relate to his life as a whole. His scribbles, notes, and recollection of different events in life is quite impressive. I do believe even more so after reading ‘Greenlights’ how I should start keeping my own journal for the long-term. Matthew was successfully able to turn his journal full of notes, memories, poems, and stories in a really good book about self-discovery, personal growth, the stages of life from childhood through adulthood, and one’s journey in seeking out ‘greenlights’ even when they can be few and far between as they have been for many of us throughout 2020.

At 285 pages, this is a great memoir and autobiography that doesn’t feel like its length. It is very much an easy page turner that doesn’t feel forced or slow-going. It really grips you for the ride and McConaughey’s life has been full of adventures, events, and precious memories up to year 50 where the book concludes. My only suggestion for improving the book or adding on to it in the future is to really focus more on the ‘red lights’ that happened in the author’s life and what specifically did he learn from those lean times as someone struggling as an actor or having family troubles or being tired of singledom.

I would be curious to learn more from Matthew about what advice he would give to someone during those ‘red lights’ times and how to make the most of them or how to best turn them green in the future. I did find that part to be missing from ‘Greenlights’ a bit too much as the ‘greenlights’ got a lot of the book space whereas I think it’s the ‘red lights’ in life that cause us to reflect more, learn more about who we are, and challenge us to be more creative in overcoming adversity.

In conclusion, ‘Greenlights’ by Matthew McConaughey is one of the best books of 2020. It is an engaging, emotional, and insightful look into a man’s life who has been one of the most important actors and entertainers of the past few decades. You learn a lot more about who Matthew is, what drives him, what’s important to him, how he views family, friends, his career, and what truly matters in life. I enjoy his whiskey philosophy and if I happened to be hanging out in Texas with anyone such as having a stiff drink and swapping stories together, it would be with Matthew McConaughey.

Taughannock Falls

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Taughannock Falls State Park; Ithaca, New York

Cornell Botanical Gardens

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Cornell University; Ithaca, New York

Book Recommendations – Volume XI

“There’s nothing better than sitting under your favorite tree in a backyard or out on the balcony with the sun in your face reading an engaging and enlightening book. As I have mentioned previously, Summer is the best season for reading and since a lot of other summer activities are postponed or cancelled, why not catch up on some reading?”

There’s nothing better than sitting under your favorite tree in a backyard or out on the balcony with the sun in your face reading an engaging and enlightening book. As I have mentioned previously, Summer is the best season for reading and since a lot of other summer activities are postponed or cancelled, why not catch up on some reading? Regardless if the book is fiction or non-fiction, spending a few hours each day reading a good book can make the time pass by quicker and get rid of any kind of twiddle-your-thumbs moments that can happen when you don’t have a movie, concert, or sporting event to distract you. While live events may be out of order this summer, your bookshelf is dying to have you open up a book, sit down on your favorite couch or chair, and let your mind wander to an imaginary or a real place to pass the time.

  1. The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and The Case for Its Renewal by William J. Burns

William J. Burns might be one of the best diplomats the United States has ever had. With over thirty years of experience and having served in two of the most important regions of the world, Mr. Burns’s story is an example of the good that diplomatic efforts can do in resolving conflicts, promoting peace, and ensuring cooperation among both allies and adversaries. He is one of only two career diplomats to have ever earned the title of ‘Deputy Secretary of State’ and he gave advice and counsel to five U.S. Presidents and ten Secretaries of State.

Mr. Burns’s storied career includes Ambassadorships to both Jordan and Russia and he held numerous Assistant Secretary positions within the State Department during his three-decade tenure. He was partly responsible for ceasefire agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians, for helping to eliminate Libya’s nuclear weapons program, and for helping to reset U.S. relations with Russia in the early 2010s. He also shares insights in this book that were previously not publicly known involving his views on the Iraq War, the Civil War in Syria, and of the Russian aggression against Ukraine at the end of his tenure.

This 400+ page memoir is simply a must-read for anyone interested in how diplomacy works and how vital it is to maintain within a government’s foreign policy. In a time now where it has been underinvested and mismanaged, Burns’s book illuminates how big of a difference it can make and how one man’s impact can be felt throughout an entire foreign policy apparatus due to his vigorous study of culture, languages, and history in order for him to be taken seriously. The book is not only educational but is also gripping in terms of his recall of major events throughout his diplomatic career as well as the written cables that explain them. It is a real page turner and should be required reading for any student of international relations and who hopes to become a diplomat in their own future career.

2. On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey by Paul Theroux

Cooperation, friendship, and understanding is important among friends, but it is even more important among your neighbors. The US-Mexico relationship has been fraught with mistrust and tension especially during the years of the Trump administration. The best way to do away with stereotypes and misgivings about each other is to visit the lesser known places of a country and visit the non-touristy areas. Paul Theroux may be the best living American travel writer today.

From his experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi in the 1970s to his trek in the American Deep South, Paul Theroux has traveled around the world over five decades and counting. His latest novel about his travels in Mexico is a must-read for Americans and anyone else looking to understand Mexico from an outside lens. While not an exhaustive take on the complex country and its people, Theroux’s book, somewhat observant and otherwise felt like you’re in the middle of his travels is both illuminating and powerful.

Paul Theroux is really a true traveler and even though this is the first of his travel novels that I have read, this one felt very timely as it was released in 2019 during a time of souring relations between the two North American neighbors. Theroux spares no miles or kilometers in seeing all of Mexico that he can. From the desert Region of Sonora in the North to the Mexico mundo of Mexico City to the Southeast of the country where he visits the Zapatistas, this is an extremely educational look at modern Mexico.

Theroux’s book highlights the issues that Mexico is going through from immigration from the Northern Triangle to the ever-present threat of the drug cartels to the hopes of Mexico’s indigenous populations who believe that they have been left behind as other villages and towns hollowed out while the economic gains went elsewhere. It’s not just the issues that Theroux shines a lens on but also the beauty of the country’s culture and its warm people. As an elderly traveler, Theroux is treated with great respect and even reverence as ‘Don Pablo.’

He is welcomed as a guest, kept safe by complete strangers, and invited to interview Mexicans who normally would not talk to foreign travelers. Theroux travels all the way from Massachusetts across the border where few Americans are found to cross. He does so in his own car on his own dime and does not travel with any security or any kind of companionship. He learns Spanish and teaches writing to Mexican students. He is a refreshing kind of traveler, one who remembers to show people through a human lens and to not deal with harmful stereotypes.

Overall, ‘On the Plain of Snakes’ is an excellent travel novel for anyone interested in learning more about Mexico’s people, its culture, its struggles, and its hopes for a better future.

3. Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World by Michele J. Gelfand

This book has been my favorite one of 2020 and I only heard of it through a weekly David Brooks column in The New York Times Opinion section. The differences and similarities between cultures and societies is a topic that has fascinated me for years. As someone who has lived in both loose and tight countries as Mrs. Gelfand so brilliantly classifies, it is fascinating to see her extensive research come into fruition and how these loose and tight countries affect our outlook on everything from celebrations to driving to health care to tattoos.

Tight countries are cultures where norms are preserved and breaking them is frowned upon. Societal cohesion is encouraged and straying from norms is open to punishment. Loose countries are cultures where norms are often broken and breaking them usually comes with a shrug or a lack of care. Why do Germans always stop at a red light even when its 3 AM? Why do Brazilian clocks never run on time? Why do Japanese trains always run on time? Why do Singaporean laws ban gum from being chewed?

These tight and loose differences do not just extend to countries but also to states, cities, organizations, businesses and even within us. This book of ‘tight and loose’ norms highlights how we feel about any subject and how that is reflected in how we act with others. There is no right or wrong answer as to whether living in a tight culture is better or if living in a loose culture is better. Mrs. Gelfand excellently points out in each chapter how they both have their advantages and disadvantages depending upon the norm being considered.

Our upbringing, our environment, our country’s history, etc. all have effects on how ‘tight’ a culture is or how ‘loose’ a culture is. There can also be changes to a culture depending if there are big events like a terrorist attack, a pandemic, a natural disaster, etc. Cultures can tighten or loosen depending upon what is going on in the country and how people are being affected by these natural or manmade shifts to our lives.

Having seen both ‘tight cultures’ and ‘loose cultures’ up close and personal, this book has been a revelation to me in terms of explaining what I thought about only in my theories that I concocted after traveling from country to country but never really expressing it as well as she has in this great book. Mrs. Gelfand has done extensive research across many countries and continents to explain why some countries have more ‘rule makers’ and why other countries have ‘rule breakers.’ In order for our own cultures to shift from one spectrum to the other, we have to first understand why the country’s culture is the way it is and if it can shift, what benefits are there to tightening up or loosening up depending on what is going on in our lives and in our society at the time?

The Art of an Apology

“One thing I have noticed recently is that some people have a hard time giving a simple apology when they mess up, are rude to others, or don’t have the emotional intelligence to realize when they were in the wrong about something. Now, this is not a good habit to develop as an adult and one that makes you appear to be childish more so than any other negative trait that you could display.”

One thing I have noticed recently is that some people have a hard time giving a simple apology when they mess up, are rude to others, or don’t have the emotional intelligence to realize when they were in the wrong about something. Now, this is not a good habit to develop as an adult and one that makes you appear to be childish more so than any other negative trait that you could display. Learning how to apologize is done when we are children and our parents tell us to always ‘say sorry’ and to learn to be nice to others.

‘Sorry’ is one of the golden words we learn are key to our day-to-day lives. It doesn’t take much to do and will cost you nothing. The fact that many adults don’t know how to do this today in our society is a worrisome sign of how personal relations have decayed compared to previous times. Some people choose to dance around the offense and not acknowledge it while others refuse to take responsibility for their actions which leads to the person who was offended feeling aggrieved and holding a grudge against that person for longer than they should need to.

The old adage of ‘you forgive but you don’t forget’ is not a pretty one but if there is no apology from that person who committed the offense, the other person may learn to forgive them but they will not forget that there was no apology rendered from the other person. I do not endorse holding a long-lasting grudge against other people but being rude, saying bad things about others, and overall not being a respectful person will cause you to lose many different relationships with others. Most adults do not know want to associate with somebody who refuses to apologize or does not take responsibility for their actions.

I believe that with social media and how often we do not see the other person’s face and their body language that we feel comfortable getting away with rude behavior and it has led to that kind of behavior spilling over into real life interactions. A lack of an apology can be due to a person’s own narcissistic nature and to think that the rules like the ‘golden rule’ don’t apply to them and that they can ever do no wrong including causing harm or offense to other people.

The sign of a true mature adult is one who apologize and does so in a sincere manner. It is a heartfelt apology and is usually more than just a simple ‘sorry’ and then move on. If someone cannot even say ‘sorry’ or realize the hurt that they have caused, then they still have a lot of growing up to do and act more like a child or a teenager in an adult’s body than an adult themselves. The sad thing to see in society is when a 45 year old acts like a 15 year old or when a 75 year old acts like a 5 year old, which is often as the result of them not registering other people’s emotions or feelings, and thinking reflectively about their behavior, their tone of voice, and how their language was inappropriate.

The art of an apology is not as simple as it can be made out to be with just a quick ‘sorry’. Often in life, a simple ‘sorry’ does not cut it. I think it’s better to follow these steps to having a legitimate and heartfelt apology that will make the other person feel better and try to restart the relationship or improve it rather than letting it fester and causing the other person to dwell on your insult.

1. Acknowledge You Were Wrong

The first step for any good apology is to acknowledge to someone face-to-face if you can or over phone or email if you can’t see that person that you were wrong. Whether it was something you said or something you did or that you hurt their feelings, acknowledge the thing that caused the original offense, state how it wasn’t right for you to do that, and apologize in that way beyond a quick ‘sorry’. It’s as direct as “I was wrong to…”, “It was not right for me to…”, “You deserve an apology for…”

2. Remember the Incident and What You Took from It

When you acknowledge what you did and that it was wrong, it makes the other person feel like you remembered that it was not the right thing for them to do and that pain was caused. It also means remembering that certain feelings were hurt and that the other person realizes they could have done things different / not said anything at all / or watched what they have said better. Saying ‘sorry’ or apologizing without saying what the ‘sorry’ is for is not a good way to do an apology because you have to be specific regarding what the apology is for and what you did wrong if you caused offense.

3. Be Sincere and Don’t Rush It

How you say an apology is often more important than what you say in the apology. If you are rushing through it, only saying a one-word apology, and not even looking at the person or acknowledging their presence while saying it, then that is not a real apology. A real apology must be congruent with your body language and your eye contact and your tone of voice all on the same page together. You should give that person your full attention and not be checking your phone, reading your email, or have your attention generally elsewhere while doing the apology.

Also, not rushing it means it’s going to take more than a five second ‘sorry’ and move on, if you follow the previous two steps, a good apology will take as long as it needs to which could be anywhere from a minute to ten minutes depending upon what the other person has to say. Depending on the severity of the negative action, you want to give that person a chance to respond, to accept your apology, and to decide how your relationship with them is going to move forward. You cannot force an apology to move forward without the other person agreeing to it so make sure you are patient, forthcoming, and open to listening to what they have to say to you.

4. Be Open to a Change in the Relationship

Even with an apology, sometimes, that person is going to want to take a break from seeing you, hanging out with you, or being around. It can be hard to bring that relationship back to what it was when harsh words are exchanged or when negative actions happened between two people to cause the strife. You have to understand and accept what the other person does because they may not want to trust you again as much or recognize that you aren’t the person who they thought you were.

This may be a hard pill to swallow but you are likely going to have to spend some time away from that person, let them forgive you on their own timetable, and they will set the terms on if they see you again or not. It is possible they may never fully get over what you did and not want to be around you again at all. This is a harsh truth to face for most people but the least you can do is apologize and try to move on.

If that person chooses to accept your apology but not go out of their way to see you again then that is their right to do so and it is up to them how they want to conduct their interactions with you moving forward. As adults, people want to spend time with those people who treat them well, respect them, and are emotionally mature. If you can’t do that, it’s going to be tough to have friends or to be around other family members.

I write this article because too often today I have seen other adults refuse to apologize for being in the wrong and this can cascade throughout the rest of our society. There is a fundamental lack of accountability and also responsibility that starts with a failure to apologize sincerely. It takes real wisdom and maturity to apologize to someone, but it is necessary since we are all flawed and make mistakes.

A true adult owns up to these mistakes they made, apologizes for them to seek forgiveness, and accepts what the other person does in response without any future expectations on how the relationship can move forward. It begins with saying ‘you’re sorry’ but it does not end there and a good apology is more than saying ‘sorry.’ It means acknowledging what you did was wrong, being sincere about it, listening to the other person, and being open to a change in the relationship based on how they want to move forward with you in the future. That is the true art of an apology and one that I hope you will follow in your own life.

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