Life Lessons I Learned at 26

Last year I wrote myself a short letter reflecting on the important lessons I’d learned at 25. It was a useful way to memorialize a year’s worth of learning, and I found myself going back to it often, so I decided to repeat the activity for year 26.

Work for the sake of work

Last year, you learned to work hard. But you were working for the results when you should be working for the sake of work. There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, but you can’t put in the effort expecting a particular outcome. Results are never guaranteed, and even when you achieve them, they’re often fleeting. You might lose access to resources. Your priorities can change. You can and will fail.

It’s much better to do the work for the sake of the work. Learn the art of work so that you’re not disheartened when you hit a set-back. So what if you’re too busy for abs for a few weeks? You’ve learned what it takes to have them so you can always get them back. If you decide that you need to shift your focus to a new project, you won’t be afraid of getting started because you’ll understand that all it takes is work.

Be humble in your work

For much of your life, you’ve had a pretentiousness about the type of work you should be doing. You have your fancy degree and you've read many books. You have the skill and ability to do big and important things. That’s great. But just because you can do big things doesn’t mean you’re beyond doing the little things. You confuse the little tasks as being unimportant, so you don’t give them much attention, and you bitch and moan whenever you’re stuck doing it. It’s embarrassing.

No task should be too small for you. Rather than complain about how something isn’t your job, use the opportunity to learn about another facet of business or education or whatever it is you may be doing.

Take pride in every part of the job. Even the smallest task has something important to teach you. You can learn the whole of something from books, in the abstract, but you never become a great from abstractions. Expertise lies in the details. The forest is means more when you understand the trees. 

Invest in people

You invest most of your time into yourself, but you should be less selfish and invest in other people. Don't do it because you’ll receive some sort of indirect benefit. Do it because you can. As you've learned, you have a lot to offer, and there are people who could greatly benefit from your own life learnings.

Be like Batman and find a Robin. Recruit a mentee, teach them the things you know. You can make a big change in someone's life with even a few hours a month. Accelerate their development with the things you wish someone would've taught you. Help someone be better than you could be. After some time, that person will take on their own students, and a few generations of teachers and students later, you'll have made an impact on something outside of and bigger than yourself.

Take time for friends

Time doesn't stop for you, but you expect it to be more generous to your friends. You lock yourself away assuming your friends will be around when you’re ready to socialize. You run into friends on the street and say “Let’s catch up!” and never follow through. It’s not because you don’t like them, you just take them for granted, and that’s a mistake. As much as you love them, your friends are people, too. Schedule those meetings, make time in your busy schedule. You’ll regret it if you don’t.

Embrace adulthood

You shouldn't keep telling yourself you're growing up. You've grown up. Yes, the present is ever fleeting, but the future is not. Today means something for tomorrow, so take each act and decision seriously.

It's been a hard year: you've worked incredibly hard, you finally grew in some gray hair, you've had to make some adult choices. But the difficulties have been for the better. They've changed you. Keep learning, keep growing, keep working, and the year will bring great things.