This article started it’s life as a “30 things in 30 years” post.

But then two things happened…

  1. The number of things I want to share ballooned past 30; and
  2. I turned 31

So instead this is a running list of “everything I know”; fundamental lessons that have proven true for me. I’ve written it specifically for growth minded people that would prefer to learn from my mistakes then stumble through years of barriers on their own. As my friend Carolynn put it, “I wish I’d gotten this when I turned 21. Would have saved me some headaches later.”

I’ve categorized the items for easier reading and I ruthlessly cut out fluff — it’s still 3521 words. I recommend you read this article carefully, like you would read a book.

Quick about me, so you know where this is coming from. A few points are philosophy that grew from a thousand tiny experiences: traveling, relationships, etc. Others are based on some major life events, most of which happened in my 20s:

  • Becoming a lawyer in Canada. I worked for a big firm and after had my own practice;
  • I speak Chinese and spend a lot of time there;
  • I’ve been lucky to be part of some very fast growing businesses, including Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Pavlok, Museum Hack and others;
  • I work as a freelance marketing/growth consultant. I’m able to work from anywhere and on my own schedule, which provides opportunity for new experiences;
  • I’ve fucked up a lot.

Here’s the list:

Finances

  1. There is a compounding effect of missed opportunities. If two years ago you missed an opportunity to earn an extra $200K per year, that’s fine, you will have more opportunities to earn that. Even after 5 years, total $1 million, it’s easy to think “I can earn that”, but what you will never catch up with is the compounding effect of missed opportunities. That $200,000 re-invested every year yields another amount significant enough to be re-invested, and so on. Einstein is quoted as saying that compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe, and he was almost right. Actually it is the compounding effect of missed opportunities.
  2. Pay back every dollar you borrow from family and friends. Anything less is stealing. If you are past due, your own spending should be absolute bare minimum until you’ve paid back 100%. This is specifically about borrowing from individuals and not institutions which have their own rules.
  3. When you have a bad experience, it’s okay to ask for a refund. Refunds are a great and IMO under used aspect of customer service. It doesn’t have to be explicitly offered. If Chipotle serves you burnt food, ask for a refund. If the guy in front of you talks through the whole movie, ask for a refund.
  4. You don’t need a cellphone. You don’t need a car. You don’t need to buy a house. You can choose to have these things, but they are a luxury not a necessity. There are some exceptions where it’s actually a necessity, e.g., a doctor without a cellphone would be irresponsible. If you “need” a car to get to work, evaluate whether you could change jobs, live closer or take public transit.
  5. The quantity of things you actually need to live well fit in a small backpack.
  6. Nobody else’s first priority is to make you rich. Even if you are employee of the year. Even if you are the biggest investor in a project. They will always have another priority that comes first. Exception: moms, but even then your health, happiness and safety probably come first.
  7. Your ego is making you poor.
  8. Every dollar you waste is a dollar that won’t go to helping people. I work with the assumption that after modest life expenses all excess funds will go to helping people. That means that money that is truly wasted, e.g., paying for a subscription I don’t use, is actually money that I can’t use to help people.
  9. You can negotiate way more than you do. Even though negotiating is somewhat taboo in North America, it’s very common in other parts of the world. You can negotiate your salary, rent, buying a computer from a small shop, buying a bed from craigslist, etc.
  10. Its really hard to get rich off an income. Because expenses and taxes can use up a lot of that income. But income can also contribute to buying assets, and a mix of the two can make you rich.
  11. Often 90% of top quality for 30% of the price is enough. I like to buy high quality and durable items when it’s a good investment, i.e., it saves money in the long run or there are benefits like productivity or health boosts. Often the highest quality item’s price is inflated because of the brand name, so I skip that. I’d rather buy an $80 shirt that is 9/10 than a $200 shirt that is 10/10.
  12. Other people’s money can be your money. “It takes money to make money” said everyone ever. And sometimes it’s true, but it doesn’t have to be your money. You can borrow funds or take investment. Famous people that use other people’s money: Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett & Steve Jobs. Important: Unless there is an explicit agreement otherwise, you should treat other people’s money even more carefully than you do your own.
  13. The basics of personal finance are Earn, Save, Grow. Which is a very simple way of thinking about money. If you increase your earnings and decrease your spending than you can invest more to grow your wealth.
  14. It’s better to make aggressive, risky investments while you are young. Even if it doesn’t work out, you have time to recover.
  15. Frugality is a short term wealth building strategy. But after that allow some budget for convenience and comfort.
  16. Don’t put all your money eggs in one basket. Unless you control that basket. You have definitely heard this before, but it’s tempting to ignore when you see a great opportunity. Ignore your gut and follow this like a strict rule.
  17. If you can’t find a great promo code try “subway.” In NYC a tonne of internet companies advertise on the trains, many of them use the code “subway” to save $200, get 20% off, receive a free xyz, etc. If you don’t have another code, try “subway”.
  18. You don’t have to fear debt. But you should use it strategically. Debt with a positive ROI is a way to build wealth faster.

Career

  1. You don’t need special skills to freelance. When I started freelancing I was a better than average writer, but that’s it. 40% is the relationship, 40% is being reliable, hardworking, etc., 10% is price, and 10% is skill — which you can learn as you go.
  2. Provide more value than you expect to receive in return. My first goal with every client is to help them earn back the entire cost of my fees. After that, I aim to deliver 10x to 100x in ROI.
  3. You can earn $300 per hour. It’s not that hard and you don’t have to be a lawyer. Just provide a valuable service and do it better than everyone else. 90% of people doing anything aren’t doing it that well, so if you work your way into the 10% you can charge premium rates for your time.
  4. $300 per hour won’t make you happy. And neither will $600. I’ve charged both, but been way happier with less.
  5. Relationships get your foot in the door and results get you high pay. All of my best clients came from months or even years of building relationships. But if you want ongoing work at premium rates, you still have to produce exceptional results.
  6. You don’t charge your opportunity cost, you charge your clients opportunity cost. Maybe you are an awesome graphic designer and charge $250 per hour to design logos. If a client wants you to do lower value work, like some Instagram images, you probably can’t charge your logo rate. It’s easy to think, “well my time is worth $250 per hour so every client should pay that”, but it’s wrong. You can charge the same as an equally qualified competitor for that specific task, plus a small buffer for your client not having to go out and find that competitor.
  7. When they say “do a good job and there will be more” you are actually getting a shit deal. This person is not willing to pay market rate for your work. Often these clients are a pain to work with and get payment from. Instead, find clients that say, “there is potential for us to do a lot together, but first I want to make sure we’re a great fit.” I’ve done free work and small projects to land great clients, but I will never contract with a client that promises that the good work will come later.
  8. To increase sales, assume people are well intentioned but lazy. Almost nobody wants to spend extra time and effort making a decision about you. Make it really easy for them and you will make more sales.
  9. People that say revenue doesn’t matter, only profit, are mistaken. I’ve heard a lot of people say something like “I could spend a million dollars on ads and earn a million in revenue”, but actually you probably couldn’t. Revenue does matter. It’s also possible to have a business with $1 million revenue and zero profit because all the excess was reinvested in the business with an aim of earning $2 million next year.
  10. It’s hard to hire good people. Because even the good people aren’t operating at 100% all the time. You may be getting them during a slump. Or maybe you aren’t providing the right management or leadership to help them reach their full potential.
  11. Bartering is an easy way to start a business. Other people want what you have but aren’t in a good position to pay for it. You want what other people have but aren’t in a good position to pay for it. You can trade.

Productivity & Growth

  1. You will finish everything you start. If you are starting a new business, your day one version of “finishing” may be a million dollar exit, but the true finish is whenever you stop working on it. I’ve benefited from every project I worked on. If you think of a project as 100 units of time and 100 units of value, they are never distributed evenly. You may get 90% of the value in the first 50% of project time.
  2. Your biggest breaks will come from serendipity. Your infinitely complex life exists in an infinitely complex world. Patterns can give you some certainty about the future, and careful planning + hustle = a powerful force, but your biggest opportunities for change and growth will come from serendipity.
  3. Your biggest breaks will come after doing massive work upfront.
  4. You will never regret getting better at reading and writing. Some day you will probably regret binge watching shows. But if you spend that time reading and writing, you can accelerate every area of your life.
  5. One hour of focus can get a lot done. Between refreshing email and staring at your phone, it’s easy to get nothing done all day. One hour of uninterrupted effort can get a lot done. Really even 20 minutes.
  6. 20 minutes after a movie starts, pause it and decide if you want to keep watching. Sometimes I finish movies, shows, books, etc. because of a need for completion. But if you are consuming something that isn’t great then it’s actually a waste of time.
  7. Front load your learning. This is a way to learn complex skills. Start by doing an intensive dive into a subject and then give yourself permission to learn the rest over time. Examples: you can learn the basics of building a website in a couple of weeks, and then get incrementally better over time. Same with languages, cooking, sports and other skills.
  8. Start by optimizing for the 80% not the 1%.

Health, Wellness & Fitness

  1. If you eat healthy always, and walk around sometimes, you probably won’t be worried about your weight. Cook with whole foods at home. Don’t eat refined sugar. Only drink water. Walk 30 minutes per day.
  2. Your body can feel healthy. I’ve had twelve years of neck pain. At one point I had a parasite and lost 50 pounds. When you have chronic pain or illness it’s easy to think that it’s normal, but it’s not. The worse you feel, the more you need to make healing your first priority.
  3. Every health advice from everyone, everywhere is pretty much wrong. Everyone’s body is different. But what I do know is that it’s all interconnected. If you want robust health, you have to optimize your sleep, nutrition, exercise, rest, stress, detox, etc. and when you do your mind will be sharper, you will have way more energy, your senses will heighten.
  4. Exercising for 3 minutes per day is better than nothing. My go-to exercise is pushups. You can do pushups anywhere and IMO it’s a pretty comprehensive body exercise. Try to do as many as you can in 3 minutes, with a goal of 100 pushups.
  5. When you are lonely you are vulnerable. This means you are an easier target for manipulative people, so you REALLY need to spend time with good friends and trust their insights.
  6. You can never have too many house plants. If you are reading this then you don’t have enough house plants. Your next step should be to buy an Areca Palm, a Rubber Tree and several Sansevieria plants. Healthy Lungs, healthy life.
  7. Many soaps, shampoos, deodorants and other things you put on your body are terrible for you. In most cases there is a natural alternative that is actually more effective. Also, many of these things are optional. Water and scrubbing go a long way.

General Philosophy

  1. The secret of an empty sink is to only have two of everything. Two cups, two plates, two sets of chopsticks. If there isn’t enough to fill your sink then your sink will never be full. This is not just about sinks.
  2. Start now, because as soon as you stop thinking “I’m too young”, you will start thinking “I’m too old”. There are variations of this, e.g., “I need more experience to start that project” becomes “I have too much experience to start that project.” This is the Goldilocks Equation.
  3. In two generations you will be a memory, in three generations you will be a concept. Your grandchildren will watch you die and then you will only exist in their memories. Their children will know you existed, but won’t even have the brain-chemical reactions to conjure the real you.
  4. Getting married and having your own kids is optional. There are many different family dynamics, including common law partnerships and adoption. This is not saying that marriage or kids are bad, just that they are one of the options.
  5. Traffic isn’t a real problem and neither is slow internet. Many of the things people stress about are actually just inconveniences, with a broad exception for emergencies.
  6. Most truths have an equal and opposite truth. Do good things come to those who wait or does the early bird get the worm? Are you better safe than sorry, or should you ask forgiveness instead of permission? If you rely on rote platitudes to make decisions then sometimes it will work out and sometimes it won’t.
  7. We invented money, politics and international borders.
  8. That one proverb is bullshit. There is a quote that goes something like this, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” But actually you are already behind. The second best time was the day after 20 years ago. And all that is only if you accept as an absolute truth that earlier equals better — because sometimes timing is a huge factor.
  9. Everything will end. In a trillion years, all the stars will blink out and everything we know will be over.
  10. Sometimes whatever you do, you will regret it. But there are a range of successful outcomes. You don’t always have to optimize for the perfect result, but instead pursue a path that can bring one of those results.
  11. Mountains look high until you reach the top. This is a metaphor for goals. If you set a big ambitious goal and achieve it then it won’t look so big at all.
  12. From the stars view, everything we do looks so small. Humanity is still a footnote in cosmic existence.
  13. Pretty much everything is “we will see”. Things masquerading as good fortune can become worse, and bad fortune can get better. In most cases the most realistic way to think about the future is “we will see”.
  14. It’s your fault. Not always, but if you accept that it is then you can just move on. Sometimes it’s actually someone else’s fault. but its not, its your fault.
  15. The Great Wall of China wasn’t for keeping out people — it was for keeping out horses. Raiders without their mounts aren’t terribly effective. The point: sometimes there are indirect means of achieving a result.
  16. Once something is entrenched, it may not matter if it’s wrong. We calculate the current year based on the birth of Christ, but even amongst people that believe this happened it’s generally accepted as earlier than what we call year zero. It doesn’t matter, it’s still 2016.
  17. The best ideas can take time. India invented “zero” and it took the West 2000 years to adopt its use.
  18. People have wanted to quit working to become nomads ever since they quit nomadding to become workers.

Interacting With Other Humans

  1. The #1 Rule of the Internet is don’t engage with people that have more time than you. You will know they have more time than you because they will lie, write in all caps, threaten to sue you, etc.
  2. Every person you pass in the street has a life as infinitely complex as yours. It’s important to remember this when you interact with them.
  3. Ask for advice not decisions. It’s tempting to ask other people to make decisions for you, but they don’t have all the information. The best your network can do is add perspective, so ask for that and make your own decisions. Exception: you can pay an expert to make decisions for you. Bonus if they are insured.
  4. It’s okay to be an introvert. In North America there is a bias towards being an extrovert, but actually one isn’t better than the other.
  5. You don’t have to identify as an extrovert OR as an introvert. The reality is there are more distinct options and many people are really close to the middle.
  6. How people influence you is not evenly distributed. You may know that wisdom and research say you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. But even one person can have a major influence on you, both good and bad.
  7. Pursue groups that are mathematically impossible. That average of 5 people thing is usually held out by gurus as a tactic for improving your life. But averages exist because some numbers are higher than the average and some numbers are lower. Instead, pursue groups that are mathematically impossible, i.e., every member brings the average up.
  8. Podcasts are a great way to get to know people. You can host one or be a guest. An hour of conversation is a strong foundation to an ongoing relationship.
  9. Answer “How are you?” with at least two sentences. If you just respond “good, and you?” you move nothing forward. Instead answer with some context, “I’m good, but kind of jet lagged. I’m experimenting with a new sleep schedule to…” This gives your conversation partner way more to latch onto for a follow up question.
  10. The phrase, “I’m not racist, but…” is always followed by something racist. There is no threshold. If you say, think or do racist shit, you are racist.
  11. Wish the people you care about happy birthday one day early. Facebook has ruined birthday wishes by making them a commodity. One way to show friends you care is to remember their birthday and send them a real message the day before, aiming for connection not completion.
  12. You will say dumb things and make mistakes. But if you generally do good by people, that’s what they will remember.
  13. If someone takes advantage of everyone around them, eventually they will get to you.
  14. Get a penpal. It’s great practice writing and gives you new perspective on the world. I remember having penpals in grade school, and then when I was ~18 I started writing letters to some that I met on a Geocities site. Most of those connections faded over time, but one is still a good friend.

Finished, sort of. This is a living document and I plan to add it to it later. If you’d like to see the updated version press ctrl+d or enter your email below.

Thank you to Julia, Marc, Carolynn & Emily for reviewing drafts of this post.

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I write about marketing, productivity, personal finance and charity.