The 50 Most Important Life Lessons I Wish I Had Known Since Childhood
A few days ago, I turned 50.
I’m in the middle of life, and I’m happier and more at peace with myself than I’ve ever been before.
Because I have become wiser with time and experiences.
I have failed, lived life and learned a lot of things. I stand more solidly on my own two feet than I have done before.
In this blog post, I’ll share the 50 most important life lessons that I’ve learned over time. Many of them I wish I had known since childhood – but life is also about learning.
This week I’ll write about life lessons in general, and next week I’ll write about what I’ve learned about money and investing.
Are you ready?
Here are my 50 most important life lessons…
1. Trust Your Intuition
I have overruled myself many times in my youth because I didn’t have the courage to trust the little voice inside.
It has warned me every time, and it has tried to point me in the right direction. Whether it has to do with new friendships, career jumps, love or investments.
You also have that little voice. Listen to it.
You are much smarter than you think.
2. Invest Early
Of course, this one has to be on the list, because that’s really what my blog is about: investing in your financial freedom.
I started investing in my late 20s when I got my first permanent job. That’s actually early compared to many. But I could have started long before.
I inherited some money when I was a teenager. I wish I had already invested that money back then.
It is never too early and never too late.
3. Be Grateful
Gratitude is the magic spice of life.
It erases all bitterness.
Write down three things you are grateful for every night and every morning. These micro-habits make a big difference over time. It’s a bit like money. It compounds.
4. Be Selective when Choosing Friends
You don’t have to be friends with everyone who comes your way.
Stand back and observe them for a while.
Observe your own reaction.
What does your intuition say? Are they good people?
We are strongly influenced by those with whom we surround ourselves.
That’s why you have to be selective.
I probably have a little bit of social FOMO (fear of missing out), and in my younger years I have invested in relationships that I should perhaps have let pass.
5. You Can Opt Out of Friendships
In investment parlance, it’s called the sunk cost fallacy when you hold on to losing positions. You have invested in a stock that is now flashing red on the screen, and you refuse to sell until it has risen at least to neutral.
But maybe the share price will just keep diving? Maybe you could win the money back by investing in something else?
Sunk cost fallacy also happens socially. Sometimes we hold on to friendships because we have already invested several years into them.
But there is no rule saying that because you were friends once, you need to be friends forever and hang out until the end of time.
If your friends do something mean-spirited or selfish – to you or others – be extremely careful. Consider withdrawing.
People tend to repeat their own patterns over and over again. Of course, you should give them the opportunity to say sorry and make things right again. But if the apology doesn’t come, move on. (P.S. Always remember to say sorry yourself if you make a mistake).
I myself am extremely “sticky” and do not want to lose friends.
But occasionally we have to cut our losses and say goodbye.
6. Hold On to Good Friends
You really need nurture the good relationships in your life. As they say in investment parlance: “Let your winners run.” If you have a relationship that works, cherish it. Give it attention and time.
As written in the Bible: the greatest of all is love.
Here I don’t just mean romantic love, but love in general.
7. Be Selective with Jobs
You shouldn’t take a job just because it looks good on your CV.
Be aware of who you will be working with. Do you like the boss? Do they seem nice? Is there a good work culture?
When I look back, it makes me sad to reflect on the fact that I spent 8 years at a newspaper where I didn’t thrive.
I saw the warning signs before accepting the job, but I was so excited about covering banks during the financial crisis that I jumped at the chance… and I hung around for far too long, even when it was clear to me that I was unhappy.
8. Consider Starting a Business
I opened my first business at the age of 44. Today, I can see that I should have done it a long time ago.
It has been a great pleasure to create and provide knowledge with my courses.
I don’t know why we make entrepreneurship sound like such a risky thing.
Being an employee is really risky if you think about it – you can risk getting fired and lose your income overnight.
Many industries have low barriers to entry… which is business school parlance for saying it’s not that hard or expensive to get started.
Starting my blog only cost the price of the domain. I made up my mind to do it one day and wrote the first three blog posts in one night while the kids slept. The first blog post had more than 50,000 readers. It took one day and less than I pay for a café latte to get started.
9. Set Huge Goals
Today I do things that I could not have imagined as a young person.
I run my own companies and invest for others. I’ve opened a total of 4 companies. One of them is a small hedge fund. I NEVER imagined when I was a kid that I would grow up to become a hedge fund manager.
10. Always Be Kind
Our #1 job on this earth is living a decent life without harming or hurting others. The next job is to make the world a better place.
So. Please. Always be kind. It’s part of your #1 job.
Be kind – even to those who are not kind to you.
You can and must speak up for yourself in a firm but friendly way.
11. Avoid Stress
Speaking of kindness…
I’ll admit that there have been times in my life when I have not been particularly friendly or kind.
I have given the middle finger to cars in the morning traffic after they raced through a puddle and sprayed water on me and my kids. I have scolded the sleepy teenage cashier in the supermarket for whatever reasons.
Today, I could not dream of doing that in my life in Portugal.
Looking back, I can see that I have lived for a few decades with constant “background stress”.
You know that feeling – when you constantly feel like you’re falling behind. It was the norm during all the years I worked as a news journalist. I used to wake up with nightmares of not knowing what my story of the day was or not making the deadline.
I probably didn’t know how to relax at all.
If you find yourself walking around your life giving grumpy retorts and flashing your middle finger in traffic… take it seriously. You are not in the right place in your life.
12. Prioritize Your Sleep
Lately, I have heard several people say that I have changed. I seem happier and calmer.
More often than usual, I feel a spontaneous flash of inner peace – even if something particular is not working the way I wanted it too.
I think it’s because I sleep more.
I hired a coach six months ago. I thought we should work on the big life goals like making a fortune and finding everlasting love, but she insisted on working on my sleep first. I was given specific tasks to create evening routines, and my goal was to sleep at least 7 hours every night.
Sleeping has worked wonders.
13. Plan Your Day the Night Before
One of the things my coach taught me was to spend 20 minutes every night planning for the next day.
It clears your head so you don’t have to get up and arrange things after going to bed.
I spend 20 minutes planning for tomorrow, deciding what to wear, what the main tasks will be, checking the calendar.
Our system is called 20/20/20. You first spend twenty minutes getting ready for the next day. Then twenty minutes to get yourself ready with personal hygiene (bath, brushing and flossing your teeth, and so on). Then twenty minutes of breathing calmly in bed, either writing or reading with a night lamp (no computer).
14. Journal Every Evening and Morning
I spend the last 20 minutes of every day reading something nice, writing in a journal or just breathing as if I had already fallen asleep.
I spent at least 5 minutes just writing a little about how the day went, what I was grateful for, what moments were blissful and what I learned.
15. Do What You Love Every Day
This point is so simple that it is incredible that it has to be written in a blog post. But yes, it has to… Because honestly. Do you really do what you love every day?
We are all rushing around, even if we don’t really have to. Somewhere in the rush we forget the small things we love to do.
Prioritizing activities that I love has probably been one of the hardest things for me to do daily, actually. I have – like many others – a built-in whip that constantly keeps me busy with practical things. This is completely idiotic, because I really don’t have to.
16. Cherish the Joy of Small Things
You don’t have to wait until it’s Friday night to enjoy life.
Love the little things in everyday life. The ray of sun on the sofa. Wind in your face when riding a bike. The sound of a child laughing. Jumping in a puddle. Playing with a balloon. Smiling at a stranger.
17. Be On Time
It was an aha moment I had one day when cycling in Copenhagen. I discovered that I had seen and enjoyed things on my usual route that I had never noticed before.
I found that when I’m just a little bit late, I don’t enjoy the process.
When, on the other hand, I have extra time going somewhere, I use my senses to enjoy things. I can hear the birds chirping, I enjoy sight of an apple tree in bloom.
What a simple but important life lesson to experience that being on time makes you so much happier.
18. Speak Honestly and Truthfully
I am not lying. But have I always told the truth?
Some conversations can be uncomfortable to initiate.
Like when you sense that another person is not well. Or when you feel hurt by a certain response and wonder what is going on.
I have often avoided those conversations, and now I realize what an act of love it really is to have the hard talks.
It’s important to be able to say – with love – when it feels like something is wrong and to be curious about what might be causing it.
Since childhood, I have been shy of conflict. It came about because my mother was an alcoholic, and I learned to hide things and appear happier than I was in order to avoid drama. If you criticized my mother, she would act out, and more than once she disappeared and tried to take her own life.
It was actually with our current teenage au-pair that I learned to ask curiously if something was the matter. I learned that you can easily have a calm conversation about a conflict of interest… and that you can walk away happy from a difficult conversation.
19. Do Not Interrupt Others
I am often eager and tend to enter a room talking.
It is only at a mature age that I have learned to step back and observe what is happening to others before I open my mouth.
20. Set an Intention in Everything You Do
Set an intention before every meeting, every interaction, every task, every outing, every conversation.
What do you want to achieve with it? What is your intention?
21. Say Yes
Say yes to life and the things that are important to you. Do it.
What do you want to achieve? Prioritize it.
It all starts with you knowing what is important to you.
22. Say No
In order to have room for what is important to you, you have to say no to most of what is not a top priority. You have to be really stubborn when making choices. People will expect you to do things that are not your priority.
If it’s not a hell yes, then it’s a hell no.
23. Take a Simple Idea and Live It 100%
This line of thinking comes from the value investor Mohnish Pabrai.
He says that many people read something and think it sounds right, but then they never actually do anything about it.
He lives out a few ideas, and he does it 100%. For him, value investment is one of the main things he has prioritized.
But there are other things too.
He has promised himself to be honest in everything he does and with everyone he interacts with.
It’s a mindset he has taken from the work of David Hawkins.
24. Find the Power and Avoid Force
Let’s talk about David Hawkins.
His book Power vs. Force has changed my life.
According to Hawkins, there is an energy in everything, and it’s either positive or negative.
If you live with negative energy, you must live a life where you try to force everything to happen. If you live a life of positive energy, you harness the power in everything.
I’m still struggling to figure out how to live by it. He has written a whole series of books, so the answer may come in book nine. (I’ll tell you when I have the aha experience).
So far, I think it has a lot to do with using intuition and noticing if something has positive or negative energy.
How does this relate to Mohnish Pabrai’s idea of living honestly?
Honesty has positive energy. Lies and concealment have negative energy.
25. Drink More Water
If I had to give simple dietary advice, it would be to drink more water. Quite ordinary water. No bubbles.
Drink, drink, drink.
I once struggled with a recurring bladder infection. It came again and again. I discovered that if I drank enough water, I couldn’t just cure it – I could also prevent it.
I wonder how many other minor illnesses you can keep at bay just by drinking enough water.
26. Start the Day Earlier
Go to bed earlier and start the day before the rest of the house gets up.
I love getting up an hour or two before my children.
Then I have time to meditate, journal, practice yoga and drink lemon water… which reminds me…
27. Drink Lemon Water First Thing
No, I don’t mean that yellow soda. I mean water with freshly squeezed organic lemon in it.
Most people drink coffee first thing in the morning. Is that really the first thing you want to run through your detoxed system?
By the way, did you know that, according to the David Hawkins measurements, an organic lemon has positive energy, while a non-organic lemon has negative energy? Fascinating, right? Makes you really think about what you drink and eat.
28. Spend the Morning and Afternoon on “Focus Work”
Your brain cells are fresh in the morning. This is where you are most creative and focused.
Don’t use your sharp brain cells on emails, practical tasks and social media.
I have blocked off my calendars every morning from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. to do the work that has the highest priority. In my case, that’s researching companies and doing creative work, such as writing blog posts. It’s in the morning that I read, research and become wiser.
29. Place Emailing and Practical Tasks in the Afternoon
Everything else… emails, small tasks, bills, calls and meetings you can set aside for the afternoon.
You’ll be more tired, but it doesn’t really take a nuclear scientist to update the accounting system or say no or yes to an invitation.
30. Give Your Undivided Attention to Those You Love – Every Day
This was something I learned in a parenting course.
I learned that I should give each child a minimum of 10 minutes of focused, uninterrupted playtime each day.
Yes – it sounds like a matter of course. But then again… do you really do it?
The school run and the cooking while quarreling doesn’t count. It’s not really quality time.
All that counts is complete undivided attention: like looking at an ant together. Or playing with a balloon. Or listening intently to what they tell you.
You can use that principle for everything and everyone.
Have you given your elderly mother ten minutes of undivided attention today? Your partner? Your best friend?
It’s so simple – and so brilliant. It is like water to flowers. You will see people and relationships absorb it and flourish.
31. They Can’t Stop You
I have always been afraid of criticism and the condemnation of others.
When you blog and have a business, you will encounter trolls and some people with ill intentions who criticize you and who maybe even threaten to do something illogical.
When you place yourself in the game, other people’s different reactions are part of that game. If 50,000 people read my blog post, I’ll for sure get some negative responses.
My coach taught me that it doesn’t matter. What a life lesson to know that I’ll I have to do is shrug about it.
Because the opinion or criticism of others can’t stop you.
It’s just words.
This has become my mantra if other people’s reactions inhibit me for a moment: “they can’t stop me.”
32. Believe in the Force
I had a really good coach who told me that you can live in three ways.
1. You can believe that everything is against you and live a life where you are always in struggle and conflict.
2. You can believe that nothing is against you – it is neutral – but that you must fight to create everything.
3. Or you can believe that the world is with you.
I love the last approach.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean that you should lie down on the couch and wait for things to happen.
You still have to go out into the world and do your thing. But you do it with a curious joy and ease because you know that it will work out.
33. Know That Love Never Disappears
This is an idea that comes from Napoleon Hill.
He says that you must use love as the driving force to achieve your goals.
On the same note, he says that love never dies because it’s spiritual in nature.
You can always sit down and get in touch with the love that once was.
This thinking shifted things for me.
I am less afraid of losing people around me because I now understand that I will never completely lose what I love.
As my father said before he died: “I will never die, because I live in you.”
He was right.
34. Get a Pet
Last summer we got a street cat from the Algarve. That cat is a miracle worker.
It makes us smile every day and it can solve conflicts in an instant. It has also learned to call for “mum” with the exact same intonation as the boys.
The other day my son had a group play date with some of the boys from his class. One of the boys throws tantrums regularly, followed by painful remorse. His attacks come on almost like an epileptic fit, with early warning signs and after-pains.
When that happens, I give him the cat. It’s a cuddly cat that purrs as soon as you touch it. It likes to be carried around by children.
The cat calms him down on the spot. I give him the cat and tell him, “the cat always loves you.”
35. Get Some Help
This probably applies mostly to those of you with children.
Outsource everything you can.
We can’t always do everything.
I pay for a bus service that takes my boys to school. I have domestic help to clean and cook. And an au pair to help me with breakfast and the evening routine.
But even if you don’t have children: make sure you outsource everything that you’re not good at or don’t really care about. Whether it’s cleaning, mowing the lawn or doing the bookkeeping.
36. Write Handwritten Thank-you Notes
This idea comes from value investor Guy Spier. He says that handwritten thank-you notes have a compound interest effect on your social contacts. I love the idea but don’t always get it done.
I was thinking of buying myself a Montblanc fountain pen for my 50th birthday so I can write beautiful letters. I went to the Montblanc store on Avenida da Liberdade in Lisbon and tried them all.
I didn’t buy one, but I’ve decided I may get one after I’ve been writing letters regularly for a year.
So I’ll start with a regular pen. The important thing is to get it done – not to have the most expensive pen.
37. Get Advice from Your Gurus
Hold imaginary meetings with people you admire. Consult with them in your mind.
I often ask myself: what would Warren Buffett have done?
You can do the same in other areas of your life. You can let Oliver James shop for your dinner, ask Obama for career advice and ask Oprah Winfrey for help with resolving a conflict.
38. Create a Wall of Happy Memories
This idea came from a friend who helped me decorate our home in Portugal. She suggested making a large wall with framed pictures of all those we love.
I chose the wall by the stairs, and I actually stop every day and feel grateful. It’s decorated by a mixture of holiday pictures, pictures of guests, baby pictures, school pictures, amusement park snapshots and whatever else makes me happy to look at.
The frames vary in style and color. Some pictures are in color, some are black-and-white. Some are from another century. Some are from this year.
The only common thread is that there has to be a good vibe in the picture. It should give me a feeling of gratitude. High vibration on the Hawkins scale.
39. Drink from a Mug with a Motto
Yes, I love our beautiful Moomin cups, but I love our ugly motto cups even more.
I have one that says: “I’m so happy and grateful now that…”.
It reminds me to state my goal and to be grateful. Several times a day.
It’s a kind of self-hypnosis.
I also have a cup that my 6-year-old son just gave me for my 50th birthday that says “The best mum in the world – ever.”
I think it’s the best present I’ve ever received. It will for sure make me an even better mom, because it will work like a mantra. And after all – he must be the one who knows it, right? I couldn’t think of a better witness.
You can also use other tricks, such as writing it on the mirror or setting it as the wallpaper on your phone or computer.
40. Say “Pyt”
There is a great word in Danish called “pyt”. It’s better than “hygge.”
It means something similar to “never mind”, but in a really relieving way, and almost with a giggle. Never mind sounds a bit more bitter in my ear than “pyt”.
You don’t have to be Danish to say it.
So say “pyt”.
Every time, all the time.
It will be OK.
We are still working on “pyt” at home.
Yesterday my boys almost got into a physical fight because one took a cookie that the other wanted.
“Pyt. It’s a cookie.”
Adults have the same problem, just with slightly different things.
But hey, it’s still just a cookie.
41. “…And That’s Good Because…”
If pyt doesn’t work, you try on to the next cannon in the row, which is the phrase “…and that’s good because….”
Why is it good that you got fired? Why is it good that the flight was cancelled?
42. Feel the Sadness
Some incidents are, of course, profound losses, where neither pyt nor gratitude works. It’s hard to use when you go through the grief of losing a loved one.
Then there is only one thing to do:
Feel the pain, breathe through it. Meditate on it.
It’ll be okay.
43. Treat Yourself
Yes. Book that massage. Take that salt bath. Go to that concert.
What strikes you as wildly excessive luxury? A night alone at five-star hotel just because you want to?
Do it. Life is now.
(P.S. you still have to save and invest if you are working towards financial freedom. But often you can have both. It’s not either-or. You can spoil yourself and work on creating assets. If you can’t afford to book the room without going into a minus on your account, buy a cup of coffee at the hotel and pretend you’re spending the night there.)
44. Meditate Every Day
Yes, I admit. I don’t always get it done. I have a lot of energy and a strong desire to get my work out there. I’m running around like everyone else.
But when I find time to meditate, it works wonders.
My favorite method is the Silva Method. Zen meditation can do something completely different and is also quite brilliant. Sometimes I just sit and listen to my breathing or count. Don’t get hung up on the particular technique. Just sit down and calm down.
45. Ask Your Dreams for the Solution
This technique comes from the Silva Method. You roll your eyes up, drink half a glass of water before bed and say, “this is all I have to do to find the answer to the problem, I’m thinking of.”
Then you go to bed and sleep. The next morning you drink the other half of the water and say the phrase one more time.
The answer will either come in dreams or as a sudden inspiration during the day.
46. Take Moments Each Day to Feel the Love of Everything
David Hawkins says that at the level of the highest vibration, everything is love.
Pause in the middle of the day and see if you can feel that love.
You don’t have to sit in the lotus position and say “om”. Stop waiting for the perfect moment.
You just have to stop on your way to the store and check for it. Feel the energy of the world.
Right there in the street with people walking around you. It helps if you are not running late.
Warning: if you are stressed or in a negative vibration yourself, you won’t be able to feel it at all. Sorry.
How does universal love feel? It feels a bit like being madly in love. Like a tickling in the stomach that comes out of you and hits everything and is sent back to you.
Breathing sounds like a matter of course. We all do it. But are you doing it properly? Or are you breathing at the top of your lungs? Is it a shallow breath?
I took a breathing class where we had to breathe in a certain rhythm and imagine that our breathing was like the waves of the sea.
Ten minutes into the session I felt hypnotized. I imagined that my current worries were like small stones on the beach, washed clean by the water. It was like falling into sleep without sleeping. It’s a state that I’m now able to reach with the same breathing technique.
48. Straighten Up
Our physical movements create emotions.
If you’re slouching over an iPad or computer, you will be in a bad mood. If you do it every day, it might even make you depressed.
Straighten your back, go for a run or a walk, move – it makes you happier.
49. Smile and Laugh
If your posture affects your mood, what do you think a good heartfelt laugh can do?
What can make you laugh? Do you laugh every day?
If you can’t laugh right now, start smiling. Smile even if it feels fake at first.
You can actually force a laugh.
Have you heard of the laughing clubs? They meet in a public place just to laugh together. They start off with fake laughter, but they end up with stomach aches from laughing heartily.
You see children doing it. They laugh at nothing and eventually they can’t stop.
Try to say something funny every day. Watch a funny movie. Laugh for no reason. Tickle your child.
50. Love Yourself
When you think of love, you probably automatically think of the great romantic love. Or perhaps of creating a family. Or perhaps of someone who passed away. You link your love with that outside force.
But what about the love for yourself?
You must first of all love yourself.
It’s odd really if you think about it. For most people loving yourself sounds self-absorbed. Selfish perhaps. Or just wrong. As in something forbidden.
But it is not.
Self-love is the essence of a good life. If you can’t love yourself, you can’t love. The source is inside yourself.
When you wholeheartedly allow yourself to love yourself, you open up to love in general.
Of everything you can love, I think many people are most afraid of loving themselves.
Do you dare to look yourself deeply in the eye in the mirror, love yourself and open up to the source of love and the truly good life?
Okay enough of the hippie talk. Back to money talk. Next week I’ll continue with the life lessons I’ve learned about money and investing.
Meanwhile, read my e-book Free Yourself to learn about how I invested my way to financial freedom. You can download it here.