Let The ABC’s of My Life Philosophy Move You to Create Your Own
Warning: Essay-length article ahead. If you’re busy, bookmark it. There’s no pressure to read all of it* at once. Take your time. 🙂
*And/or the links — which will open in a new tab — to sources and past content that influenced my reasoning. Feel free to read as much or little of that material as you desire.
I can’t claim to have it all figured out. Who can? Life is a series of situations where we learn through trial-and-error. The more self-aware you become, the shorter your learning curve gets.
I’m not a guru, celebrity, rock star, or famous (not even “Internet famous”) person. However, I have followed a code of conduct that made a tangible — and overwhelmingly positive — impact in my life.
Failing to follow a life philosophy is like driving while wearing a blind-fold. You might not fall off a cliff, but you will have a difficult time aligning your actions and values, which can only lead to regret and frustration.
These philosophies are grounded in what I learned in thirty years of existence. See them as “rules” or “commandments” that inform my actions and behaviors. It’s easier to make wise decisions when you have a compass to guide you.
Don’t view this article as a list of rules you should follow for a remarkable life. Instead, consider it a “shove in the right direction” and/or “encouragement to create your own life philosophy.” Thanks to Jonathan Goodman for inspiring this thought-exercise & the authors, celebrities, and brilliant minds quoted below who informed my belief system.
There are many aspects to a balanced existence, so I broke my life philosophy down into five categories:
Click a topic that sounds neat and you’ll be taken straight to that section. Or if you have something resembling an attention span, feel free to read the whole thing (4,092 words). I think most of them are interesting; but I’m biased, so what do I know…? 🙂
1. Meaning / Purpose / Balance
A. Life is a story. Write it.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw
“If my life is going to mean anything, I have to live it myself.” – Rick Riordan, “The Lightning Thief”
If your life was a book, would you want to read it? Why or why not?
Answer honestly and rewrite the plot until it’s so compelling you’d stay up all night to finish it (even if you had to wake up early the next day).
B. You are the CEO of your life.
“Don’t follow the crowd, let the crowd follow you.” ― Margaret Thatcher
“Let the improvement of yourself keep you so busy that you have no time to criticize others.” ― Roy T. Bennett, “The Light in the Heart”
Most people never comprehend how powerful they really are; instead of embracing their role as CEO, they act like a hapless janitor who reluctantly cleans up messes when they must.
This is no way to live. You are the only person who is responsible for your life situation. If you don’t like it, then it’s your prerogative to change it. No one is going to fix, heal, or save you. That’s all on you.
C. There’s more to life than hustle.
“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” ― Thomas Merton
“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” ― John Lubbock, “The Use Of Life”
I have no tolerance for motivational “gurus” who preach the gospel of relentless hustle. Does success require hard work? Yes. Does that mean you have to sacrifice your health and sanity in the process? No.
When you’re lying on your death-bed, you won’t regret the money you didn’t make or the businesses you didn’t start. You’ll regret the relationships you neglected, because you were too obsessed with the hustle to care about anybody else.
D. Purpose doesn’t have to come from work.
“The purpose of our lives is to be happy.” – Dalai Lama
“Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning.” – Joseph Campbell
Confession: I’m lazy. If money was no object, I wouldn’t devote much time to work. Instead, I’d travel the world; disappear on a hiking trail; learn to dance and play the drums; teach myself a new language; and audition for movies.
“Freelance writer” is a huge part of my identity, but it’s not the most important thing to me. Deep relationships make me happier than any creative project. Connecting with loved ones brings more joy to my life than “the grind.”
Feeling good about your job is nice, but it’s naive to believe everyone is meant to “pursue their passion” for a living. Purpose can be found in many places. If your work doesn’t fulfill you, find fulfillment elsewhere.
E. You can reinvent yourself whenever you wish.
“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” ― May Sarton
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” ― Jalaluddin Rumi
My past self would be stunned by the previous point. He put work above all else (and found himself in an extremely lonely place as a consequence).
Identifying with work did not make me happy, so I chose to identify with love instead. I have less time to dedicate to projects, but that’s okay. Never trade your peace of mind for the sake of your bottom-line.
The same principle can be applied to a job or business that makes you feel empty. If you have a teaching degree, that doesn’t mean you have to be a teacher forever. You can explore a new opportunity at anytime. Don’t limit yourself.
2. Friendship / Family / Relationships
F. Love comes first…
“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you… I could walk through my garden forever.” ― Alfred Tennyson
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” ― Thomas Merton, “Love and Living”
What’s the point of creating a spectacular life when you don’t have anyone to share it with?
We’re not meant to walk this world alone. Experiences are always better when we share them with another person. Cherish your relationships, because they cannot be replaced.
G. …but don’t depend on it.
“Hope for love, pray for love, wish for love, dream for love… but don’t put your life on hold waiting for love.” – Mandy Hale
“I think it’s good for a person to spend time alone. It gives them an opportunity to discover who they are and to figure out why they are always alone.” – Amy Sedaris
No amount of wishing will cause your soul-mate, life partner, Cinderella, or Prince Charming to show up any faster.
Being single isn’t “bad.” It gives you the opportunity to define who you are. After you spend a few weeks, months, or years working on yourself — spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally — it will be easier to attract the “right” person into your life.
H. People aren’t checklists.
“I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” – Jane Austen
“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” – Donald Miller, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life”
I used to have a ridiculous list of things I expected from my future partner. “She needs to lift weights, like hiking, love dogs, listen to metal, enjoy philosophical conversations…”
How absurd! My most recent ex only met one-and-a-half of those criteria. (She liked to talk about deep stuff and tolerated hiking, as long as I didn’t drag her on a trail so tough it seemed like the Imperial March* should be playing in the background.)
Should you have expectations? Definitely. Is it okay to have preferences? Of course. Does it help to agree on philosophical stuff? Absolutely. But don’t get so carried away with your checklist that you chase perfection. That’s not a race you’ll ever win.
*The menacing music that plays during scenes involving Darth Vader in “Star Wars”
I. Everyone needs connection to be happy.
“No man is an island.” – John Donne
“When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching – they are your family.” – Jim Butcher
Science says social isolation is one of the top causes of addiction. Based on my personal experience, I believe it’s true.
I spent a year in an apartment that felt like a prison cell. I didn’t develop relationships with anybody in a new town. Instead of doing something to change the situation, I found comfort in the arms of weed and cigarettes.
These substances did nothing to remove the lack of connection from my life; but they numbed me to the problem, which felt like a solution at the time. It’s hard to love an addict, but please do your best. They need your compassion.
J. Bring your conscious presence to the party.
“Be here now.” – Ram Das
“Very occasionally, if you pay really close attention, life doesn’t suck.” – Joss Whedon
The human brain is only capable of concentrating on one task at a time. It boggles my mind that so many clueless employers search for “multitaskers,” because decades of research proves multitasking doesn’t even exist.
If you’re in bed with your lover or at the bar with friends, put your phone away and be present with them. These folks add more value to your life than a silly app. You can catch up on your Facebook feed later. It’s not going anywhere.
K. Surround yourself with positive influences.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” ― Jim Rohn
If you hang out with people who overeat, you’ll raise your odds of becoming obese.
If you spend time with people who abuse drugs, you’ll increase your chances of becoming an addict.
If you party with people who drink excessively, you’ll heighten your risk of becoming an alcoholic.
Everyone has their vices (believe me, I’m no different). Still, you should build connections with positive people who influence you in a good way.
If you want to give up drugs and alcohol, spend time with people who can have fun without a substance.
If you want to excel in your job or business, network with people who are already successful in your field.
3. Health / Fitness / Wellness / Self-care
L. Self-care isn’t “selfish.”
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde
“Don’t sacrifice yourself too much, because if you sacrifice too much there’s nothing else you can give and nobody will care for you.” – Karl Lagerfeld
It’s not self-centered to put yourself first. You’ll have an easier time caring for others when your own needs are met.
If I ate fast food and skipped my workout everyday, I’d be moody and lethargic. No one would want to be around me. I’m a better son, friend, and lover when I take care of myself.
The same is true for you. Prove me wrong… I dare you!
M. Exercise doesn’t “drain your battery.”
“A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
“Exercise to stimulate, not to annihilate. The world wasn’t formed in a day, and neither were we. Set small goals and build upon them.” ― Lee Haney
People complain about being “too tired” to exercise. That’s understandable when you’re exhausted after a hectic day; but nonetheless, their logic is flawed.
The same fact applies to mid-day workouts. After so many hours, my concentration falters. Lifting weights in the afternoon supplies a second wind, which helps me build enough momentum to conquer the rest of my day.
N. No one is “too busy” for health and fitness.
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” – Zig Ziglar
“Most of our obstacles would melt away if, instead of cowering before them, we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them.” — Orison Swett Marden
“I don’t have the time to exercise or prepare meals.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I’d be filthy rich.
Sound familiar? Re-word that statement to say, “My well-being isn’t a priority,” because that’s what you really mean.
Don’t be mad. I know you’re busy. But exercise doesn’t have to be a time-consuming event… it could be as simple as taking a brisk walk everyday or buying a cheap set of dumbbells and doing basic strength training exercises at home twice a week.
O. A healthy diet is an amazing insurance policy.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ― Hippocrates
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ― Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own”
You can’t eat a diet that overwhelmingly consists of sugar and processed carbs without facing consequences later.
Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States. Obesity, high blood pressure, and uncontrolled diabetes are three of the biggest risk factors influenced by your diet.
“But fruit and vegetables are gross!” False. I used to feel the same way, but have learned to appreciate them. You’re just so used to eating junk food they taste bland in comparison.
P. It’s okay to treat yourself every now and then.
“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” ― Charles M. Schulz
“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.” ― Erma Bombeck
I follow the 80/20 rule. As long as I’m eating a healthy diet 80% of the time, I don’t worry about the other 20%. It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
My love for pizza is a large part of what motivates me to lift. It’s easier to forgive myself for this indulgence when I know those carbs are being used to build muscles.
4. Time, Energy, and Money Management
Q. Energy is a precious resource.
“Concentrate your forces.” – Sun Tzu
“You can have it all. Just not all at once.” – Oprah Winfrey
Good luck getting a six pack, soul mate, and six-digit income simultaneously.
If you tackle too many goals at the same time, you’ll be too scattered to be effective.
R. Don’t be a slave to your smartphone.
“Social media has given us this idea that we should all have a posse of friends when in reality, if we have one or two really good friends, we are lucky.” ― Brene Brown
“All this technology is destroying our social skills. Not only have we given up on writing letters to each other, we barely even talk to each other. People have become so accustomed to texting that they’re actually startled when the phone rings. It’s like we suddenly all have Batphones. If it rings, there must be danger.” ― Ellen DeGeneres
Your phone makes a noise. Do you instinctively reach for it, regardless of what you’re doing? If so, you might be a Facebook addict.
I’ve seen people send texts and answer phone calls while using a urinal. That’s a tragic commentary on society. We’ve become dopamine junkies, who feel like we accomplished something just because someone “liked” a status update.
It’s exhausting to keep up with everybody’s life on social media. What’s the point, anyway? Most people present an idealized version of their world. It’s like a magic trick: no matter how impressive it looks, you’re being manipulated by smoke and mirrors. Stop scrolling and live your own life. It’ll lead to a more fulfilling existence… I promise.
S. Eliminate all distractions without mercy.
“Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” ― John Wooden
“My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.” ― Patricia Highsmith
Why bother to consume depressing news stories that will only stress you out?
Have you ever persuaded someone to change their mind in a comment thread?
What’s the point of starting a political debate when you have no chance of winning?
Devoting time to this stuff is frivolous, because it doesn’t make a significant difference. Channel your energy elsewhere.
T. Money should be renamed “freedom units (FU).”
“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.” – Oscar Wilde
“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” – Will Rogers
There’s nothing immoral about pursuing wealth.
Every human being needs money to survive and thrive.
Don’t perceive savings as dollars and cents. Instead, call it freedom units (FU).
Being rich gives you the freedom to say, “Fuck you,” to a city or town that doesn’t feel like “home.”
Being rich gives you the freedom to say, “Fuck you,” to a boss or manager who doesn’t respect you.
Being rich gives you the freedom to say, “Fuck you,” to a partner or spouse who treats you like garbage.
Being rich gives you the freedom to be generous, travel without abandon, and do whatever the fuck you want.
U. Time and attention are your most valuable resources.
“Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.” – José Ortega y Gasset
“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.” – Jean de La Bruyère
You can’t consume an endless stream of negative news stories and complain when you find yourself in a sour mood. What did you expect to happen? You might as well touch a hot stove and act surprised when it burns your hand.
You’re a product of how you invest your time and attention. If it makes you feel sad or crappy, then you probably shouldn’t be consuming it.
Replace mindless browsing with focused learning that helps you become a better human.
Substitute channel surfing with active leisure that fulfills you in a more meaningful way.
5. Work / Career / Education / Professionalism
“You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” ― C.G. Jung
“I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer
No one ever heard of the guy who thought about writing a book. One must write the book before it can be read.
Translate ideas into actions as soon as they enter your consciousness. Otherwise, how will they possibly benefit you?
“Everything must be made as simple as possible. But not simpler.” ― Albert Einstein
“Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.” ― Gustave Flaubert
Hope is not a strategy. If you want to be successful, you must transform your ambitions into simple actions that can be checked off everyday.
“I want to get my first paying client by the end of this month,” is a good goal. However, it’d be even better to follow a system or process that would naturally produce that outcome.
“I will contact at least one potential client everyday this month,” is a solid system. If a freelancer followed-through with that task every day, their odds of success would be high.
X. Passion fades. Persistence lasts.
“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” ― Aristotle
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” ― Stephen King
Don’t depend on motivation. It’s too unreliable. If I only worked when I “felt like it,” I’d be broke and homeless.
The patient guy who shows up everyday (whether he wants to or not) will always beat the passionate guy who isn’t very consistent.
Y. Combine your talents in a unique way.
“Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?” ― Benjamin Franklin
“Everyone has talent. What’s rare is the courage to follow it to the dark places where it leads.” ― Erica Jong
Pitching clients demands me to be skilled at sales (business). Driving traffic to articles requires me to get people’s attention (acting). And no one would hire me if I didn’t have a proven track record of producing viral content (writing).
*That link goes to the Amazon page for “Before the Fall,” which is a fantastic film I acted in.
Z. A big ego is not an asset… it’s a liability.
“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” ― Plato
“Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” ― Proverbs 27:6
The ego doesn’t care about your personal development. It’s more interested in protecting your self-esteem.
You are not a delicate flower. If a harsh truth will make you a better person, then it’s in your best interest to hear it (even if that requires your ego to take a hit).
And knock it off with the defense of: “But I was just being myself!” “Be yourself” is only good advice when you have your shit together. If you can’t handle constructive criticism, then you’ll never evolve into a better version of yourself.
Share this article with any of your friends who might benefit from following a life philosophy.