40 Things I Wish I Knew Sooner
(The Compact Guide to Life)

40 Things I wish I Knew Sooner

Life would have been very different if I had a future version of myself time-travel and give me all the secrets that I know now. No, not what my past-crush used to think, winning lottery numbers, or how to leverage other people’s secrets. I’m talking about valuable life advice and social “hacks” that were far from obvious.

These are things I wish I knew sooner and that most people don’t ever figure out.

Last month, my friends and I were hanging out and someone had brought his little cousin, an upcoming high school freshman. His cousin reminded me a lot of myself when I was his age just six years ago. Still trying to figure out life, socially awkward, unconfident in myself.

Then I thought about who I am now and all the ideas I now know. Ideas that would have blown my mind back then, for example, the fact that people aren’t worrying about other people 24/7 because they’re focused on themselves and carry the same insecurity we do. These are liberating realizations that took a lot of weight off of my shoulders because I used to constantly worry about trivial things.

So I suggested to my friends that we’d turn the upcoming high schooler into the “ultimate freshman” by telling him all the things we wish we had known when we were his age. Having a head start would be amazing and he seemed excited.

Of course, I didn’t expect him to internalize every bit of information because I doubt he’d understand the value of everything we were telling him–some things you just have to learn for yourself. But if he took at least just one, any one, he’d be much further than most people his age (further than people my age too.) We wrote everything down for him and I should have made a copy for myself because that list was gold and is worth looking at every day. In fact, everyone could be better if they had that list to consult every day.

This list is different from what we gave him. Many of these points I had brought up, but this has much more meat. This is the compact guide to life.

40 Things I Wish I Knew Sooner:

  1. Just because everyone else thinks something is true doesn’t make it true. The majority isn’t always correct. The unconventional, the creative, and the crazy ideas sometimes shine through, but it is scary having no support and only critics. People worry about fitting in and agreeing with everyone else, not realizing that the majority can be wrong.

    Research everything that you have doubts in because believing everything that others tell you is foolish. Many people don’t do the extra work to validate things so they spread misinformation or they have mindsets that limit them, so how can you trust 100% of everything you hear?

  3. Everyone is the protagonist of his or her own story. People are busy focusing on themselves, worrying about what others think about them, and everyone else is a side character. Good news because that means people aren’t thinking about you as often as you worry. They’re just as insecure as you are.

  5. Confidence is the key to just about anything and it can be learned. Attracting love interests, business connections, self-esteem, and so much more. It will get you what you want in life and gives you an advantage over everyone else.

    You’re not doomed if you don’t posses the qualities of a confident person in this exact moment in time. It doesn’t take a stroke of luck either, because with deliberate practice and a clear goal, learning how to be confident is possible.

  7. First impressions are important so work on always setting a good first impression. Posture, what you wear, your handshake. Everything plays a role.

    The truth is people will judge you based off of what they see about you the moment you are present. Recovering from a terrible first impression isn’t impossible but it is much harder than optimizing for a great one. You will find that doors open for you if you carry yourself well.

  9. Don’t look to relationships to make you happy because you should be happy with yourself first. Relationships (and sex) aren’t the be-all end-all of human existence.

    Putting all your expectations into your significant other is a huge burden on both him/her and the relationship. The expectations will be impossible to meet and you will be more inclined to act needy. Be happy with yourself first so you can be the best version of you possible for your special other.

  11. There’s a big difference between genuine friendships and convenient friendships. The former is very difficult to form, but very well worth it if you find at least one or two. When you do find genuine friendships, try your best to keep in touch because it’s easy to let things fall through and disappear.

  13. Being yourself doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on improving yourself. Don’t use it as an excuse to be a half-assed version of yourself. Aim higher. “Be yourself” is vague and outdated.

  15. Don’t make assumptions about people because you’re wrong 85% of the time. I’m sure you’ve heard something along the lines of “They could be going through something right now” before, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Someone you think is a loser may turn out to be an interesting person that you’d love to be best friends with. Someone you disagree with on a subject may actually have a lot more in common with you than you think. A lot of times in the past I’ve judged someone only to speak with them for five minutes and realize I was 100% wrong.

  17. Family matters, but they can be wrong too. It’s scary how much we rely on family to shape us at a young age.

  19. Being an adult doesn’t make you any wiser nor does it mean you have everything together. Most of us are still trying to figure things out and we’re playing it by ear a lot of times. “Respect your elders” is a common phrase that I’m partial on. I treat everyone with respect, but that doesn’t mean ignorance disappears with age and is replaced by wisdom. Sadly, this means learning how to hold your tongue more often as you grow older.

  21. Be willing/excited to meet people. You’re going to have to initiate because most people are just as scared as you are. Even when you develop a solid social circle you may have to be the glue.

  23. Lowering your expectations is the key to happiness. Expect too much and you’re bound to be disappointed on a daily basis. This does not mean lower all of them nor does it mean lower them to an impossibly low standard. You should still maintain expectations but limit them or keep yourself in check to make sure you don’t expect too much.

  25. Making your weaknesses and insecurities into your greatest strengths is possible. Not many things are completely unchangeable. Confidence used to be one of my greatest weaknesses, now it’s my strength. Women used to intimidate me, now I love women and am better with them than most I know. The above may sound conceited, but it is an example that your weaknesses don’t have to stay as weaknesses.

  27. Bring closer those who raise you up and surround yourself with great influences. They say you’re the average of the five people you hang around most. Your friends and family shape you a lot so make sure you spend a lot of time with people who are good influences. Whether they’re success-oriented, happy individuals, or know how to raise up your spirits, surround yourself with them. It makes life much more enjoyable.

  29. It’s okay to be different. Don’t spend so much time trying to be like everyone else. The world is huge, do you really think the people who are around you at this moment have it all figured out? Besides, some people are attracted to someone that stands out (in a good way.)

  31. People see what you want them to see on the outside. If you’re nervous, don’t show it. People tell me I’m a natural public speaker. Bull, I am not. Public speaking gets my heart racing and nervous, but I don’t show it. I work on it and improve, but the fear doesn’t go away. I just refuse to show it because I know you only see what I present to you. Don’t let your fears show.

  33. Introverts don’t hate social interaction. I’m an introvert, but no one would guess that. I need time to recharge on occasion, but that doesn’t mean extroverted characteristics are outside of my realm.

  35. Thinking you’re the smartest person around is a mistake. Every time we look back at ourselves five years ago we think we were an idiot.

    We always look back a few years and say how ignorant we were. Imagine how much wiser we’ll be five years from today. We think we’re smart now, but will out future selves think so? I sure hope not. I want to look back and see improvement.

    Take this entire list for example. I didn’t know any of this stuff five years ago. I can’t wait to see what else I’ll learn in the future.

  37. It’s so easy to make someone’s day. People feel invisible sometimes. Maybe It’s been a while since someone gave them a hello, eye contact, or a smile. It’s not hard at all to cheer someone up just by acknowledging them with a smile.

    If you see someone sitting alone and you have time, why not stop by and say hi? That’s all it takes and you can see their eyes light up. Sure, maybe it’s “weird” because it’s out of the norm, but I don’t do it for myself most of the time. I do it because I see someone who needs it more than anything I need at the moment.

  39. Life isn’t easy for pushovers, be assertive when needed. There is a strong difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Don’t venture too far, but it is much better than being a doormat. Fine-tune as you go along and learn how to be assertive without being aggressive.

  41. Learn how and when to say no, saying no isn’t selfish. Being a yes man can be draining and being a people pleaser can be annoying. If you think about it, being a people pleaser is quite selfish in itself. Are you really taking requests because you want to help or it’s because you think people will like you more? Not only that, but it’s easy to be abused when you’re too kind.

  43. Say yes more often to your friends when they invite you out because enough no’s and they’ll stop trying. Sometimes you may want to just stay in by yourself, that’s okay because I need “me time” on occasion too. But then it becomes too easy to say you’re busy or tired and it becomes a habit. Then they stop trying and you slowly lose your friends.

  45. Nothing is worse than insecurity. It’s all in your head and it’s hard to break these feelings, but it’s liberating when you finally do. There’s no cure-all for insecurity because there are people who worry about all sorts of different things. The question you should be asking yourself is, “Is this all in my head?”

  47. Don’t beat yourself up when you fail. Failing isn’t always a bad thing and it’s expected. It’s 100% impossible to avoid failure, so why hang on to the times you do fail? Focus on your next goal and learn from your past mistakes. Don’t slow down your stride.

  49. Rejection isn’t the worst thing in the world, inaction is. At least with rejection you gave it a chance with a possible positive outcome. If you fail to take action you default into rejection anyway. Therefore, inaction is the worst thing you can do (or not do.)

  51. Actively listen to others, always. People love talking, especially about themselves. Ask questions and make sure you spend at least 60% of the time listening with 40% talking. Everyone is eager to get their share in a conversation, so let the other person.

    Also remember that people love hearing their own name. It is the sweetest sound in the world, so remember everyone’s names. I used to be terrible with names, but now I am quite good with practice. If you’re bad with names, you can always learn how to remember names.

  53. Reminding yourself, “This too shall pass,” can get you through most things. It’s a powerful phrase that reminds you that nothing is permanent. During a horrible breakup? This too shall pass.

    The other half of this is that it can teach you to cherish the good things you have right now, because that too shall pass.

  55. Don’t worry about making everyone like you. It’s impossible.

  57. Want what you already have, stop wanting what you don’t. Gratitude on an extreme scale.

  59. People aren’t constantly thinking of you. You’re not the center of the universe, so stop worrying about every little action.

  61. Don’t bother with things outside of your control. Focus on the things you can control.

  63. It’s useless to regret something that has already occurred. You learn from the majority of them so you can avoid them again in the future, don’t linger on the past.

  65. People you disliked in the past may turn out to be your best friend now. It’s worth re-connecting with people you knew in the past whether you were just an acquaintance or if you actually disliked them.

  67. Don’t burn bridges, ever. Always try to patch things up because you never know how your paths may cross again.

  69. You occasionally need to remove people from your life. This may seem contradictory to the point made before, but you can cut people out tactfully and without burning bridges.

    Cut out toxic people who bring you down. It’s harsh but it’s not worth having people around you who do nothing but bring you down. Even family is suspect to this but it’s a lot harder to distance yourself.

  71. Life can change at any second and so can you. Get used to change and embrace it. Seek change. Sometimes you don’t realize it but your environment is limiting you. In California I feel much less productive because it’s easy to be distracted.

    Moving to Arizona led to me growing a lot more and I’ve done great things as a result. Change can be anything and doesn’t always have to be environmental. Either way, test your adaptability.

  73. Expand your comfort zone whenever you can. You can gradually expose yourself one step at a time until you’re ready to take on whatever it is that scares you. Things seem a lot less traumatic when you take them in pieces instead of tackling the beast all at once.

  75. It’s difficult to find people you click with on a deep level and that’s okay. There are a lot of people out there. You can’t expect to click with the majority of people you talk to. Don’t beat yourself up because you’re lonely right now.

  77. College is not the only path to success. It could even hurt you sometimes.

  79. Life isn’t so bad after all.

Question: What would you add to this list?

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Girl smiling, knowing life isn't so bad after all

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Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway and founder of Growth Ninja, a digital marketing agency that specializes in Facebook Ads. Voted "Most Guapo" five years in a row (lost during 6th year to a hand model.)

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91 responses to 40 Things I Wish I Knew Sooner
(The Compact Guide to Life)

  1. Great list Vincent! But it brings with it a question . . . if you had your time machine and traveled back to give yourself this advice, would past-Vincent have listened?

    The reason that many of these lessons are so powerful is because we have to learn them the hard way. And that just comes with time. After all, if we had the wisdom to begin with, what’s the point? Where’s the room for growth?


    • You make a good point there, Trevor. I don’t think past-Vincent would have listened at all because he was a rather stubborn kid. Sometimes you do have to just learn things on your own which is why I didn’t expect the other guy I mentioned in the story to have understood the significance of the list we gave him. Having a list (for anyone) is useful though because when you’re at a certain point in life where you’re about to learn something, having heard it elsewhere can reinforce the idea in your head.

    • You have a point, Trevor. I know a lot of Vincent’s points above resonated with me precisely because I’ve already learned the lessons the hard way… 🙂

    • Trevor – YES – I couldn’t agree more. Well, I COULD, but….y’know….must try harder…

      I’ve read advice like this a lot, but it’s only when I’ve gone through some experiences where the learning has been concrete.

      Perhaps number 41 should be – test the advice you read and then make your own.

      • Good point. A lot of people read and do either of two things: they read, read, read but never apply, thinking that they’re learning/growing OR they blindly accept what they read as fact without experimenting.

    • Totally agree

  2. This list has a great deal of insight! Thank you! My favorites are on here, but I guess I could add “Slow down – there is always plenty of time.”

    • Ah, that’s a great one too! We do move too quickly and we fail to capture the beauty of the simple things. I would lump it together with “enjoy the present,” but I think most people have that idea in their head somewhere already.

  3. Very good list bro,

    One thing I definitely realised recently is that the things I thought I knew as a 19 year old was definitely not all there was to learn.

    It’s a bit like reading a book where every time you revisit it a year later, your level of understanding of it increases.

    So based on that understanding, here’s one I would include:

    ‘The more you think you know, the more you often realize that you don’t know’ 🙂

  4. Hey man,

    This is an awesome list. One thing I wish I knew sooner was to “understand that everything is a process. Results won’t happen overnight and you must dedicate yourself to something if you’re going to get good at it.”

    When I was younger I had an insane amount of passion for my hobbies but zero patience. It wasn’t until about a year ago that I started to figure out that getting good at anything takes a long time and you have to have some patience to get there.

    Good shit man.

    • There’s another good tip that a lot of people go through life never figuring out. I was exactly the same way as you, tons of passion but no patience. I was actually afraid of my lack of patience when I started up all my projects but I was surprised to learn I picked up patience somewhere along the way.

    • I hear you, Kevin. It’s just so easy to lost patience and want results NOW. Good point on sticking with the process if you want to have success. It’s sexy to think that “overnight sensations” are actually created overnight. They rarely are. Instead, it usually takes years of hard work and improvements before someone notices the awesome work that you do. Until then, we’ve just got to stick with it!

  5. Great post, Vincent! The following points stood out for me in particular:

    1) “Just because everyone else thinks something is true doesn’t make it true.” Love this!

    2) “Everyone is the protagonist of his or her own story.” Haha, aren’t we all indeed?

    11) “Be willing/excited to meet people.” This is TOTALLY true. The best part is: if you do this consistently, sooner or later people will start to want to meet YOU.

    14) “Bring closer those who raise you up and surround yourself with great influences.” I’ve experienced this both ways in my life: people who have dragged me down and people who have lifted me up. I’ve since learned to pick and choose (as much as possible) who I surround myself with.

    15) “It’s okay to be different.” I agree. I think it is worse to be a faceless nobody among the crowd.

    19) “It’s so easy to make someone’s day.” You’re right, it doesn’t take much. And we should do more of this.

    24) “Don’t beat yourself up when you fail.” I’ll also add: you should consider something a failure only if you can’t possibly recover from it. For everything else, you should consider it to be a learning opportunity.

    38) “It’s difficult to find people you click with on a deep level and that’s okay.” I’ll also add: and when you find someone whom you do click with, you’ll know to cherish them.

  6. Awesome list buddy. I love your phrasing of “convenient friendships” – I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of having too many convenient friends, but after I left for University the relationships I had seemed a lot more deliberate, and it seemed like that was a turning point in my life.

    I also love how you say that lower expectations are the key to happiness – I would add to that and say that happiness is also coming to terms with how things change, but I think both phrases hammer the same nail!

    Such a great list my friend, I’ll definitely be bookmarking and revisiting this page often.

    • I’m actually pretty scared because the more I think about it I realize the line between genuine and convenient friendships are blurry. I know for certain there are a few genuine ones in my life right now, no denying that, but there are a few that are somewhere in between.

      Awesome, thanks for bookmarking! I converted the article into a PDF copy for convenience too. You can download the PDF here.

  7. Vincent! So much here. So much wisdom. So much to discuss and savor. It must have been quite an experience for the young man. Any how, I’ll pick #30 to discuss about how much others are thinking of us. I might go a step further and say almost never unless you standing right before them. With the never ending abundance of phenomenon our poor little brains have to handle, to ever assume we are in someone elses thoughts is insane. Sure, it is nice if someone thinks of us, but we should never expect it. This thinking leads to less pressure, less stress and less ridiculously high, unrealistic expectations.

    • Ha, the list we gave the young man wasn’t anywhere nearly as exhaustive as this. I think his list had maybe 10 points but we verbally expanded on them.

      Very true, people counter the claim of #30 by saying, “But I think about people!” That’s only when they’re right THERE with you. In the flesh. Do you really sit around on the toilet and think about Jake, Sally, and Ken? I doubt it. Even then when you are meeting someone in person they’re more in their own head about what others (and you) are thinking of them.

  8. Vincent, one of the points I really liked:

    It’s difficult to find people you click with on a deep level, and that’s ok.

    It’s so hard to realize that not everyone thinks like you do or cares about the same things, but it is worth seeking out people who do click with you and I think many of your other points would really help someone be able to find those people a little easier. You can’t be a people pleaser or automatic no person and find people with whom you will authentically connect. Sometimes it seems just easier to read a book and forget about it or take a walk, and that’s ok too! 😉

    • It can be discouraging but hell, a lot of life is too. It only makes sense that finding people worth hanging around would be hard too.

      My biggest advice would be NOT to settle. Don’t fall into the trap of convenience friends. I often see people making the mistake of getting comfortable with the very first set of people they meet in any given place or event. Then they hover around them just because they have in common the fact that they saw each other first out of everyone. Mistake!

  9. #8! #8!

    For relationships, which are a massive part of life, this one is just…huge.

    Fantastic list Vincent! There’s a lot of gold in here, which is currently valued at $1291.59 an ounce!


    • In that case, perhaps I should sell? 🙂

      • Hahaha, blog post for sale! That’s not a bad idea, actually. At one point I considered writing posts to sell in a “store” on my website. Great content is valuable.

        But yeah, if you find a buyer at those prices, I’d sell. That works out to a nice hourly rate. 🙂

        • Hm, I could never do that! It’s scary to think about the potential number of people who could have used the advice of whatever I wrote but miss it because they didn’t have the money (or inclination) to pay. I’d much rather have it open. 🙂

          • I meant to sell to other content providers – like freelance writing before you’re hired to do it.

            As for selling posts, I see that as just another way of supporting a writer. The more you’re paid to write, the more you can write because you need less work elsewhere.

  10. As a slight alteration of #6, I would say:

    Remember every friendship is formed around a strand of connection, so be prepared for variety in your encounters.
    1. Some are temporary because we are always changing, and a single point of connection will serve its purpose of entertainment, assistance, or growth for one or both of you as you flow through interactions. You may meet again or not, but every past connection adds valuable structure and information to the present.
    2. Some friendships will create a resonance (an added strand of meaning) that will last a lifetime, even if you lose track of the individual. The more honest you are, the more these genuine friendships become possible, because it is honesty that creates resonance.
    3. Some friendships have so many points of connection or resonance that they end up weaving through your life in the long-term. Think of all the factors that might prevent this (time, location, culture, change) and be conscious of the privilege. That way, you’ll remember to maintain the genuine friends when you find them.

    • Karen, those are some interesting observations and I have to thank you for listing them out for us here. “a single point of connection will serve its purpose of entertainment, assistance, or growth for one or both of you as you flow through interactions.” This part here stood out the most to me. Where people get stuck (convenient friendship) is when they latch onto a single individual out of fear of loneliness. They latch on for years and don’t realize (or don’t want to face it) they’re unhappy, don’t connect, and they have much more in common with someone else.

      What happens the day this person finally meets someone they click with? Chances are, they’re dropping the convenient friend immediately because someone better came along. That’s absolutely devastating.

  11. Great list. Now you could create a post for each item on the list. Wow that would keep you busy for almost a year.

  12. Great post Vincent! I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months now. Several of your posts have helped me along my journey of self development.

    9. Even though they’re family, I need to make my own decisions. I can’t always assume family = 100% correct 24/7.
    25. True! I’ve been rejected many times by default for not even trying. Better to try and fail than not try and fail anyways.
    31. Accept what you cannot change and change what you cannot accept.

    To add/expand:
    1. Presence. Regretting the past and hoping for a perfect, ideal future filled with rainbows and unicorns… probably won’t ever happen. You only have right now.
    2. Comparisons are useless. They need to be thrown out the window and forgotten.
    3. Talk is cheap. Action is required.

    Vincent, happy blogging!

    • Hi Isha! Why haven’t I see you around until now? 🙂 I thank you for contributing your own points and I hope I see that more often! Either way, I am glad I’ve been of help to you.

      For point one, I have something that my help anyone who struggles to stay in the present. James Altucher gave me this idea when he first said something along the lines of, “everyone is time traveling.” One half is in the past worrying about where they messed up or missed an opportunity. The other half is in the future wondering what could be. Obviously both camps are unhappy because they can’t do what? Focus in the present.

  13. Great list, Vincent. I particularly like the attitude about change. If things aren’t changing for you, then something is wrong. Embrace it!

    • Definitely! Change can be made with effort. Some things really are out of our control, but to sit around and complain about everything is ridiculous. Many aspects of your life are malleable. It takes action to change them.

  14. Great lessons man! It’s amazing the lessons we learn from living and leading. The past few years of building my platform I’ve learned the value and benefits of intentionally growing and developing relationships with like minded people. It’s something I share and want to teach other people, relationships really matter.

    • Intentional growth and relationship-building is amazing but many people think both are something that happen by chance or through the natural course of life. It’s not! You can get lucky with these things, but being intentional about it brings you results more often. Plus, it eliminates the off-chance that luck not being able to bring it to you on a silver platter.

  15. There are some deep insights here Vincent. I’m drawn to these:

    – There’s a big difference between genuine friendships and convenient friendships.
    – Don’t look to relationships to make you happy because you should be happy with yourself first.
    – It’s difficult to find people you click with on a deep level and that’s okay.

    As a self-professed introvert, I have had a tendency to seek those one or two “best” friends to fulfill this need to connect on a deep level. It caused a painful end to one friendship. I’ve had to shift my mindset – I can’t rely on anyone else for my satisfaction, and I was missing out on some casual friendships just because they weren’t going “deep enough.”

    I still look for people I can click with on a deep level, but I make sure it’s more than one or two. Friendships can and will change over time, and I no longer attempt to put all my friendship needs upon one or two people.

    • I remember those days of mine, Chris. You wait by your cell phone waiting for a phone call (or text.) You religiously check the time wondering WHY he or she hasn’t invited you out yet. You get nervous.

      The above scenario shows who I was. Insecure, needy, reliant on the external.

      It’s perfectly fine to connect with people on the deep level and it’s normal to WANT to, but to obsess over it and NEED these things is dangerous.

  16. I love lists like this. I did one recently titled ’32 things I’ve learnt through 32 years on this planet’ – I don’t know about you but when I wrote my version, I remembered a lot about my life and the many trigger points that caused the main changes in my life.

  17. What a great list and well thought out. Thanks for putting this together. Two things really struck me (maybe it’s a season that I’m in now) – Along with #19, Be an encouragement to others and along with #24 – Forgive yourself.

  18. This is a great list. I particularly liked 12, I think managing your own expectations is important. Having high expectations especially when the other party doesn’t share them can cause you a lot of unnecessary angst.

    • Not only that, but expectations don’t even have to be between you and other people. It could be as simple as the weather or wanting to do something but another external event gets in the way. We’re constantly bombarded with stimuli and sometimes we expect more than what’s possible. Managing realistic expectations (read: lowering) is the key to staying sane.

  19. Great points, Vincent. If only we all had the power to turn back the clock and tell ourselves what we had learned. It would save us a lot of time, trouble and headache.

    If I had to add one to the list it would be to do things that scare you. That kind of goes along with your point about expanding your comfort zone. But I felt that when I was younger, I was unwilling to expand it because things were scary. If I had known that I’m supposed to go towards those things instead of away from them, I would have accomplished a lot more things quicker.

    • That’s definitely important. I feel like most people I know shy away because their body tells them it’s scared. What works for me is to acknowledge the fear and say, “Alright, I’m scared. But that doesn’t matter.” Just acknowledging it is all you should give that feeling then go right ahead and do what you’re doing anyway.

      My friends and other people always think that public speaking comes natural for me. Hell no. Not even close. I’m still quite afraid of it on the physical level (my heart races,) but I shift my mindset and tell myself I’m scared but EXCITED. Now, am I really excited? Who knows, but I tell myself I am.

  20. Lola (@Tabajap) July 18, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Hi, Vincent! Very nice tips!
    I think that we should accept the fact that everybody can fail and when it happens, keep in mind that we always can start something new! And, above all, have patience with ourselves, we are not perfect, so, like you said on 24: “Don’t beat yourself up when you fail” – maybe, most of us are too harsh to ourselves because of the fear of that inner voice: “I told you so”.

    • It’s the “what if?” that always gets us when we fail. That and the direct hit to our ego. Back when I was still stuck on the what if-mentality train, things were always so bleak. I pictured that getting whatever I wanted would have made all the difference in my life. As if it would bring permanent happiness.

      • Lola (@Tabajap) July 18, 2013 at 3:11 pm

        Yes, keeping the motivation high an not minding of what others would think about. After all, who is going to be happy or not it’s only you.

  21. Possibly one of your best posts EVUH. Keep me posted on the freshman, I think this kid is going to turn into a stud if he listens to the lessons.

    Another idea is pick any skills and practice it for just one hour a day. You’ll be a pro by graduation. 365 x 4 = 1460 hours of practice.

    #41 perhaps?

    • Thanks, Chris! I haven’t seen him since that night, but I’ll ask his cousin for an update next year.

      That’s a good idea too but man, that takes A LOT of self-discipline.

  22. Hey Vincent –

    Great list – I was trying to think if I’ve actually learned 40 important things yet.

    And I had the same reaction as Chris – we need to track and monitor this freshman. Maybe you could even find more freshmen and start a movement.

    I would also add to #24 that failure – or at least mistakes – are a necessary and critical aspect of success.

    We make a million mistakes every day, but most of the time they’re so small and inconsequential that we don’t even notice that we’re also constantly correcting them (e.g. how many times have I had to use the backspace key on my keyboard correcting typos or replacing words and phrases?).

    That seems to be the natural recipe of creativity and accomplishment – an endless cycle of action and then corrective-action.

    But somehow we think that when it comes to our larger life goals that everything should go flawlessly from the get-go or else we’re losers.

    • I know a lot of people subscribe to the idea of failure needing to come before success, but I wonder if that’s always the case. Failure does play a very important role a lot of times and I think it can help, but I don’t like to rule out the possibility of a “one-hit KO.” Then again, I guess we’d need to clearly define what a mistake or failure is.

      • Lola (@Tabajap) July 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm

        Hi, Vincent! Maybe it depends on the point of view. Recently I went to pursue my dream, but, it did not end up as I wished. Even though, I don’t see it as a failure. I could learn lots of things and made me think over my life. So, it was a plus than a minus.

        Of course, I have some friends that classify it as a failure, but, WTF, they are not me and I don’t feel like it.

        What do you think?

        • Oh, it’s definitely a great opportunity to learn from, I’m not denying that. I just don’t think it’s something that is a pre-requisite to success.

          As for whether or not your specific scenario was a failure, I’d say it wasn’t. You’re not out on the streets or anything are you? 🙂

          • Just wanted to clarify because I don’t think we’re actually disagreeing, and it was probably a poor choice of words on my part.

            I guess my point is that a lot of what’s considered “failure” by people who are frustrated is a natural part of working your way toward a goal . . . as long as you maintain the proper perspective.

            Because it’s like you say – it’s not like you’re out living on the streets or anything. So I’m not saying you have to hit rock bottom and spend time in rehab before you achieve great success in life.

            But whatever important achievements you do experience in life, my bet is that when you look back on the journey, you’re going to find that it wasn’t a straight line. Action followed by corrective action followed by more corrective action.

            Say you’re at Step D or E in some area of your life and you look back at the initial Step A you took in your journey. If you had to do it all over again, it’s probably highly unlikely that if you were to do it all over again that you would take the same Step A.

            But from a completely pragmatic point of view, there’s no way (IMHO) that you ever would have made it to Step D or E without taking Step A, as imperfect as it was in hindsight. You probably won’t even envision what Step D or E might be until you’re at Step C.

            The experience of discovering first hand at a visceral level what doesn’t work and what you need to do to make progress isn’t an intellectual or theoretical process.

            Look at how many times a baby falls down when he or she is first learning to stand and walk. No one in their right mind would consider a baby a failure because the baby isn’t immediately sashaying a runway walk right after learning to roll over.

            And yet a lot of people seem to have this crazy idea that if they don’t experience immediate success when they first try something that they must be failures or that something is wrong with them.

            • Ah, well explained there and I see we are talking from the save viewpoint. Your last sentence sums up most of how people feel towards success but it is getting more widely accepted and understood that failure is common before results. I love the way you worded everything though so there’s not much I can add to that note. Thanks, Brad!

  23. Hi Vincent, great thoughts I wish I’d known too. Especially #20 and #23. I admit it, I’m a self-proclaimed “pushover” – or have been too many times in my life. I think taking those 40 things (I think my list has about 60 by now), if we don’t obsess over the negative attitudes of having lived through them and decide to make our future different, we can truly learn a lot about what it means to be human in this world. Thanks for the tips!

  24. Awesome stuff, Vincent. A good refresher/points to take home and try to implement.

    I like the “I didn’t know any of this five years ago” point. I’ve changed so much and have many different views on life than I did a year and a half ago, I have no idea where a few years more will take me!

    The hardest stuff for me is the social/talking to strangers. I’ve gotten much better at starting conversations everywhere as much as I can, but it’s definitely still scary at times, especially when it comes to the ladies ;). I also agree that as introverts, people wrongly assume (#8 and #17!!!) that we don’t like social interaction whereas I can be absolutely buzzing after some good conversations and a good night!

    Glad to see lots of work in your life has paid off with good knowledge and opportunities. Best of luck as you keep going forward man!

    • Yeah, some days I don’t really feel like just talking either so don’t worry if it’s an occasional thing where you don’t talk. That’s not a bad thing. Sometimes it takes warming up too. It can start with a smile at a stranger when you two meet with eye contact, then small talk with the cashier. When you feel ready, you can start talking to whoever you want (ladies included.)

      Thanks, Noam. Good luck to you too. 🙂

      • Yep, that’s exactly what I do, and it usually turns out well, as it did today ;). As long as you keep constantly trying to push that comfort zone (within reason), it’ll be a good day. My first conversation of the day, even if it’s just “Hi”, sends a huge ray of positivity through me just by breaking out of a shell.

  25. #38 really spoke to me. It is difficult (but not impossible) to find people to connect with on a deep level. #15 could be the other part to #38. Sometimes it’s hard to be different, but it’s always better than not being yourself. And, life might be a bit more lonely, but it will be more meaningful.

    Thanks for a great post!

  26. Ah, I really enjoyed reading this! I’d attempt to pinpoint the best advice you gave here, but all of them resonate with me.

    If I would add a single thing I wish I knew much earlier in life, it would be: “Don’t be afraid of success”. The common saying is to embrace failure. However, I think that too often, we do things with an expectation to either fail or have average results. Never be afraid of achieving success!

    • Good point, Christina! It’s interesting that people interpret the phrase differently. The way I always saw it was embrace failure (when it happens) as you’re on the path to success. I don’t think any of us aim to fail, but don’t rule out its possibility or be surprised when it happens. 🙂

      By the way, I saw your tweet to Jonathan Mead. Did you happen to find me through his shout-out? 😛

  27. Speaking of “Don’t make assumptions about people because you’re wrong 85% of the time”…I expected this list to be fairly cliche and was wonderfully mistaken. thanks for taking the time to share (and elaborate on) these pieces of wisdom.

  28. As a computer engineer I have come to think about life in a somewhat different perspective than I did before. A way of thinking that have made me happier and less insecure and is the following: Think of yourself as a machine that collects data, computes some results according to some algorithms that has been learned from previous input data, and then reacts on these computations with some output. When things go wrong there is a reason behind that mistake that could for instance be faulty sensor data, unoptimized algorithms or some other technical difficulties (like bugs) – which is all understandable considering it’s an advanced machine. The only way to fix these things is to find out where the error occured and why it happened so it can be fixed and therefore work better next time. The human body is just a kind of extra intelligent (biological) machine, which just as a regular machine isn’t perfect – and just as a machine doesn’t feel bad about it’s mistakes, neither should you. Maybe you could add this to your (othewise amazing) list.

  29. Just becasue everyone thinks that something is true doesn’t mean that it is true. This is exactly what I experience on a regular basis. In my opinion there are way too many people out there who are so conivinced that their path is the only path, just because everyone else does it.

    I heard one good line from Chris Guillebeau on this. He said instead of asking you if you would jump of a bridge if everyone would do it, the people around you ask you why you are not also jumping from the bridge, just like everyone else does it.

  30. This is incredible. Very helpful insights and the one I need the most right at this moment is to learn how and when to say no. I actually always felt that it is indeed selfish in a way, but I’ll be changing that! By the way, how interesting is that, the tip that I needed the most is number 21, my favorite and lucky number 🙂 There has to be something to it, this is a sign that I must change it!

    Thanks for the awesome insights!

  31. Great story…agreed with everything and even learned a bit (even though I’m old enough to be your mom). I once presented “Life as a Labyrinth” to some college seniors in an effort to help that understand that while life can look like a straight line, it’s not. And thank heavens for that!
    Thanks for having such a great perspective, and for sharing it. You’re helping to make the world a better place.

  32. Hello ! Vincent Nguyen ,

    You did a fantastic job 🙂 Simply Awesome ! For me simply awesome is beyond everything, even awesome too and your excellent work do that for you.

    I found that many of them, I also felt in my life. ( i.e , point no.5,8,12,15,19,26 etc.) and many more i think i feel in the future.

    I am not a frequent commenter but your work inspire me to comment here, so that’s why I wrote a few words here.

    Again, thanks for this article. Keep Going and spreading happiness in others life as you are doing this very nicely.. Bless you

  33. hey amazing amazing amaizng article, maybe for point 37 you can add a link too , with some examples or so
    thanks again loveee it

  34. Another AWESOME piece, Vincent.

    This post resonated with me a whole bunch. Don’t worry, I’ll use your advice and become the ultimate high schooler ever!!! (if I can remember it all that is 😉 )

    Okay, guilty. I haven’t actually been “following” many of your awesome points, but I’m glad that at least in some way, I’ve been following some of them. 😀

    I agree with your 7th point, being yourself should never be an excuse for mediocrity. Many times people resort to using “I’m being myself” as an excuse not to excel. I’m glad you’ve mentioned that.

    And true, being older does not make you any smarter. So never feel inferior to “older” people, chances are, they’re just as vulnerable as you. So don’t hesitate, take action today!

  35. I strongly agree with what you say here. If people follow all the guide, I believe people can through any obstacle on their life. And number 28, I like it so much. We don’t need to think how to make other people like us. Thanks for sharing

  36. I know this goes in line with a few that are listed, but I think that “don’t be a pessimist, be optimistic” “be a rational person” and “cut out everything negative” should be on here. Doing these things make me far happier.

    I don’t believe in lowering expectations though. It kind of sounds like be complacent. That being said, be realistic. Don’t go into McDonald’s thinking you’re going to get a good burger. On the other hand, you can do whatever you want, you can be the next Michael Jackson if you wanted to and had the knowledge to pull it off.

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