20 Life Lessons I Wish I Knew 10 Years Ago
Ten years ago, I’d just finished school, I was training almost every single day to become a professional rugby player, and I was just about to begin my first year of study at university. Since then, so much has changed in almost every aspect of my life.
Just recently, I looked back at some of those major changes and on some of the life lessons that have helped me along the way—things I wish I’d been able to tell my 10-years-younger self. Many of these lessons were learned the hard way, by my own mistakes; some of them I was lucky to have a friend or mentor to show me the way; but all of them were important in some way because they helped shape who I am now.
I try to learn and apply something new every day that can bring me closer to at least one of my goals. I figure if you can learn one small thing each day, and then take one action to apply what you’ve learned, then over the course of a year, you will be 365 small steps closer to your vision. Learning never stops. You should be prepared to add and apply new knowledge every single day.
Sometimes it can feel like the more things change, the more they stay the same, which can leave us feeling like our ability to influence the outcome of a situation is beyond our control. But what I’ve realized is that things can and do change very quickly, and when they do, you just need to be there—and be ready—to make the most of it. Think of all the things that have changed in the past 10 years, and all the opportunities that have come out of them for the people who were prepared. Keep an eye on what’s happening around you and don’t lose sight of what you are looking to achieve.
3. Enjoy time spent with your family.
Time often reveals the people who truly matter. For me, two moments in particular reinforced this for me in the past few years. The first was trekking the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea with my parents; the experience brought us closer together than ever before as we retraced the battlegrounds where my great-grandfather had served during World War II. The second has been spending time with my grandmother looking at old photo albums; she is slowly losing touch with the most precious memories, and it is so important to be there for those moments.
4. Get a clear plan in place for your mental health.
When I stopped playing rugby, I was only in my early 20s. I was mentally exhausted, depressed and unsure of what to do with myself. I was lucky to have people in my life who recognized this and helped me get back on my feet slowly over time. But I also learned how important it was to see a doctor, talk about my mental health and educate myself on as many strategies as possible to improve this part of my life. When you’ve been in a dark place, you realize how important a good plan and a solid support system are.
I have made a lot of mistakes in my life and done some pretty stupid things, but being overly critical of yourself is a downward spiral. Knowing when to forgive yourself and how to learn from your mistakes and make sure they don’t happen again is a much less damaging path.
6. Be honest.
It seems like a no-brainer, but being honest with yourself and the people you love has huge benefits for everyone involved. When you are truly honest, the level of trust goes up and your relationships improve.
7. There is more to life than this.
Growing up, I lived and breathed sports every single day of my life. I didn’t even realize there were so many other things out there to enjoy—whole other industries and hobbies that were equally as interesting. When I finally invested my time outside of my normal, I started to really understand who I was and where I wanted to go in life.
One of the most important parts of my day is my morning routine. When I get up early and take steps toward my goals—by writing, reading, running or hitting the gym—I’ve put myself on the right track and in the right mindset to continue to be productive and make progress for the remainder of the day.
When I discovered the benefits that physically writing down my thoughts and ideas in a notebook had on my mental clarity and creativity, I made it a fundamental part of my life. I always carry around my notebook wherever I am.
The best way I know to expand your mind and give yourself a new viewpoint on the world is to take a trip. Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life I can trace directly to a moment or an experience I had while traveling.
11. Give without expecting to receive anything in return.
One of my mentors told me this a while ago when we were standing in a room filled with people who had come to celebrate his life and career. His secret? Help people make connections that will give them the value they need, and don’t expect anything in return.
Almost every morning while I’m on the way to work or the gym, I’ll sit and think of three things I'm thankful for, little or big. It can be something as simple as the weather or the transport I’m taking, or as important to me as my family or my friends. This is a great habit to get into in the quiet moments throughout your day.
13. Don’t waste time with jerks.
We’ve all come across them, and sometimes it feels like they’re surrounding us. I’ve certainly spent a fair share of my life trying to impress or be liked by them. But the sooner you recognize when you and your time aren’t being valued in a way that shows at least a basic level of respect and decency, you know you’re dealing with one. Right then is when you should quit wasting your time and move on.
14. Take responsibility for everything.
Everything that happens in your life is the direct result of what you have or have not done to get there. So take ownership and start to put the building blocks in place now to make the changes you want to see later. No more excuses.
Failing to learn this lesson comes with a big dose of something none of us like to feel: regret. Pushing your boundaries is the only way to grow and being open to new ways of doing things is a skill that can deliver enormous results. One of the most defining moments in my life when I took this advice was also the night I met my fiancée. I was at a random midweek salsa night when I saw a beautiful girl and decided to ignore my nerves and go talk to her. The rest, as they say, is history. And I still have absolutely no idea how to salsa.
16. Be patient.
As much as things change quickly, they also need a great degree of patience and a long-term mentality. You can’t become a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in six months or even six years. It takes a long time, a lot of discipline and a great deal of consistency no matter how dedicated or talented you are.
Things will more than likely take a while to materialize fully, so take moments every now and then to celebrate what you’ve achieved so far. Life can’t be all work and no play. It’s important to know what or who it is that recharges you and keeps you from burning out.
18. Speak up, or others will speak up for you.
Communicating how I’m feeling about something is a skill I’m continually looking to improve because I know how important it is to have a voice. If you don’t speak your mind and put your thoughts out there, don’t be upset when someone else does and you have to deal with the results.
19. Back yourself.
Before you speak up, you have to back yourself. None of these lessons mean anything if, at the end of the day, you aren’t confident in yourself and your abilities. You can do this.
In the past 10 years, the best moments I’ve had and the things I’m most proud of sprung from the decision to try something different. No one ever achieved anything worthwhile without having the courage to step out and walk a new path. Your playing small does absolutely nothing to serve the world. So begin, and keep going.