Hitting 30! Hard-earned life lessons

The difference between learning in school and real life:
• In school- learn a lesson first then take a test.
• In real-life- encounter tests (and failure) everyday, then learn the lesson from it.

I hit the big 3-0 this past May. Reaching my first milestone decade in the school of real-life led me to reflect. I came up with a list of things I would have liked my naive 20-year-old self to have known, thus prevent some costly mistakes, take advantage of rare opportunities and simply make the most out of life.

  1. Be hungry. “Stay foolish. Stay hungry.” Those were the famous words of late Apple founder, Steve Jobs. Many college graduates think “tapos na ako mag-aral (I’m done with studying).” Nothing can be further from the truth. Those who stop learning stagnate. Their careers move slowly (if at all) and I have seen this happen to a lot of my officemates. They quickly become dissatisfied or bored and often they want people around them to feel the same way. Always find ways to challenge yourself and learn something new: attend seminars, learn a new skill, develop talents you already have.
  2. Pay your dues. Everyone wants to have success… fast and easy! It simply does not happen that way. It is true even if you come from a prominent school. Being a college graduate is only a point of entry. Once employed or in business, your slate is wiped clean. The only thing that matters now is results. If you negotiate with suppliers or do presentations for a client, no one asks what your college degree is or from which university you graduated. What matters to them is your performance and that takes a lot of consistent hard work. Your history of results – your track record – speaks louder than any diploma.
  3. Treat elders with respect. Listen to your elders’ advice, not because they are always right but because they have more experience of being wrong. Young people may brim with ideas and be skilled in technology but remember: your elders have paid their dues in life. They have forgotten more than you have ever learned. Never underestimate that.
    Be open to their perspective and respect their opinions (even if you think they are wrong). That way, they will learn to respect you back.
  4. Take care of your body. Life will get busy. Exercise will be nothing but a fleeting thought, sleep will be scarce and eating will be a stress reliever. Fast forward a couple of years, you will feel lousy, cranky and worst of all, unhappy. You justify this as focusing on your career and earning more. What you are unconsciously doing is making life more expensive. I’m a self-confessed kuripot (cheapskate). I try my best to stay healthy not only for the physical benefits but also for the financial side of it. Medical expenses are costly, plus I am not keen about shopping for clothes. I don’t want to get too big that my clothes will not fit. Not to mention, those bills makes me sweat more than any existing work out can.
  5. Learn to give. Me! Me! Me! My career, my earnings, my future. Many in their 20s think this way. Soon, the reality of work life hits; long hours, exhausting commute and… do it all over again the next day. This vicious cycle was taking a toll on me. There must simply be more to life than this tiring grind. That was when I started looking outside of myself. Some of my friends who seem to be most fulfilled in their line of work pursue advocacies, i.e. promoting indigenous materials, saving the environment. It seems that working for a goal bigger than oneself and something that one believes in gives people a deeper motivation to pursue their work with much more passion. I sought out and found what mine is: education. This does not mean I have to quit my job and work for a nongovernment organization. That is not my cup of tea. Instead, I signed-up with a reputable organization to become a sponsor and support one child’s education in a remote area in the Philippines. It is a small step to take but it added a lot more meaning to my work. We must give without expecting anything in return. Having said that, I noticed when you are generous to others, God has a way of paying you back.
  6. Invest early. “There’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” Here is how to make that pot as big and full as possible. Imagine the seven color bands of the rainbow’s arc as money streams and the longer they are, the more gold there is in the pot. These money streams can be your business, job, time deposit, mutual funds, stock investments, real estate, foreign currency and so forth. All these contribute to the future size of your pot, plus one very important factor: time.

    You will have your main source of income via business or employment. That is one stream. Use the money you earn to build multiple streams and do it early for two reasons:
    • More time equals longer streams. The longer the streams, the more time your money has to compound (earn interest on both the principal and interest). This will make your money grow, not incrementally but exponentially.
    • No single stream is permanent: what if you retire or lose your job? If you only have one stream as an income source then that pot of gold will stop growing and dwindle faster than it has ever grown. Build multiple streams as a precaution for life’s uncertainties. Meanwhile, educate yourself financially by reading up on such topics as investments and personal finance. There are many information sources on the Internet, such as investopedia. Alternatively, talk to a trustworthy financial adviser.
  7. Don’t manage time, make priorities. There is never enough time to do everything you want. On the flipside, we see people do things we desire all the time. How do they do it? They simply make a decision. Not all tasks are equal. Being busy does not mean being productive. If, for instance, you want to improve your skills in photography then put it on top of your priorities. By doing so, you will be pushing down non-productive activities such as mindless viewing of YouTube and hours of checking Facebook statuses. Use that time instead to take lessons, join a photography group and actually take lots and lots of photos.
    You will improve over time. Eventually, you may be posting your photos and showcasing your heart-felt work online. When people see your art, they’ll be asking: “How did you find the time to do that?” — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 27, nos. 1-2 (June 17-July 7, 2014): 25.