10 Lessons for A Good Life
December 12, 2022
This week marks the beginning of another year of life for yours truly. This birthday has me reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned from the two wonderful people who got me here and raised me—my mom and dad.
Here are the Top 10:
Prioritize the things that matter most and longest, like character and integrity, over possessions and trivial experiences.
2. Value tradition and learning.
Value traditions, learning, family, faith. Read, a lot!
My dad worked long weeks on his business to provide for our family growing up. His hobbies and opportunities for recreation and relaxation were few and far between, but by always keeping a book handy, he made it happen. Books on philosophy, classics, history, lichens…you could say his interests are diverse and he has passed on that love of wide reading.
3. With a solid foundation, you can take risks.
They merrily let me go off to Europe as a 17 year old with just my cousin and her friend, both also 17. We were basically Taken waiting to happen.
But it was an invaluable opportunity to figure out plenty of things on our own, like where to stay when our hostel was full on our last night in London. Instead of getting a London hotel, we opted to ride a train to Canterbury and stay at college dorms.
We definitely did not factor in the full scope of costs when we made that “budget” decision. Oh well; Canterbury Cathedral alone was worth the side trip.
Note: my parents did not teach me a thing about packing luggage efficiently, and so I lugged around a large, handmade-by-me, duffle bag by a shoulder strap for our 2+ week trip :-)
4. Even the wisest general knows when to retreat.
5. Stick to your task.
Mom had us 4 kids memorize this poem and would often cajole us with it when we were griping about doing chores or schoolwork:
Stick to your task till it sticks to you;
Beginners are many, but enders are few.
Honour, power, place, and praise
Will come, in time, to the one who stays.
Stick to your task till it stick to you;
Bend at it, sweat at it, smile at it too;
For out of the bend and the sweat and the smile
Will come life’s victories, after awhile.
In adulthood, this principle has helped me finish several worthy projects and experiences.
6. Consistency in small things matters.
Way before Atomic Habits was written, my parents were showing us this principle with exercise habits, and personal and family routines. Mom kept our family on track with the family habits that were important to her and Dad. One of the most memorable was dinner together as a family each night. She was also usually the one to instigate morning prayer before us kids dashed out the door for school.
7. Don't spend to keep up with the Joneses.
In my estimation, neither parent has much of an envy bone. We scraped by somehow during my childhood. We wore plenty of second-hand clothes and drove totally modest cars. And even as they made more money, they have kept their tastes simple, leaving me unsure of where some of my expensive tastes have come from. They don’t waste energy trying to keep up with any of the neighbors.
8. Be self-reliant.
One practical application is to pay your own way—and allow others to do the same—when you meet up with friends and acquaintances. It keeps things equal and avoids a dynamic of indebtedness.
9. Make things last.
Here we have pictured my boot options for tromping in the woods to find a Christmas tree.
On the left: my sister-in-law's graciously offered boots (a couple sizes bigger than mine).
On the right we have my boots from 8th grade. Said boots are pretty near 25 years old, and yet continue to get the occasional use. They are totally adequate, so why get rid off them?
10. Look for people to serve and uplift, and write many thank you cards.
I’m far from perfect at these, but these principles have very much formed my values for living a good life. It’s not a life of endless good times, but it is a life of substance. And in the end, do you agree that substance is what lasts and matters most?