35 Things I Have Learned in My 35 Years

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I wish I was half as smart now as I was at 16.

But learning everything you don’t know is part of the process.

One thing I love about my work is I feel like I learn new things every day. Sometimes they’re small little tweaks and hacks, and other times they’re broader strategies or ideas.

I originally published this post 5 years ago, after my 30th birthday, but decided it was due for an update.

For context, that was pre-Side Hustle Nation, pre-podcast, pre-baby, and pre-almost everything I’m working on now. I’d been a full-time entrepreneur for 4 years already at that point, but my business had seen lots of ups and downs.

Turning 30 hit me harder than I expected it to, and I’m guessing it was because I really wasn’t where I wanted to be. I’d been battling with flaky developers, fighting with the state Assembly in Sacramento over affiliate marketing tax laws, and we were in the process of short-selling our home — which had been a major source of stress.

Five years later, I’m not worried about any of that stuff. I’m still a full-time entrepreneur and get to spend my days working on stuff I really enjoy. My family is healthy and has even added a new addition.

That’s not to say I’m completely stress-free, but I’m incredibly fortunate, and I think each year that goes by makes me more and more aware of that fact.

But the life I have today didn’t happen overnight. It’s the result of literally decades (well, at least 2) of entrepreneurial education, trial and error, hustle, and if I’m being totally honest, luck.

In any case, here are 35 life lessons I’ve picked up in my 35 years on this planet.

Enjoy!

1. There are only 2 ways to get rich.

Make more, or desire less.

2. The best opportunities aren’t visible until you’re already in motion.

I have Ryan Finlay from episode 72 of The Side Hustle Show to thank for this one. Although I don’t think I fully understood the advice at the time, I’ve come to see it hold true over and over again, both for myself and for my fellow entrepreneurs.

It’s physics: an object in motion stays in motion. Once you get moving down the entrepreneurial path, no matter how feeble those first few steps are, it’s tough to stop.

For example:

  • This website is the direct descendant of an old personal blog I had.
  • That blog was inspired by a friend of mine I hired to help with SEO for my shoe business.
  • The shoe business was born out of an internship I had in college.
  • Another friend pointed out that internship job posting because he knew my other one was over.

In another branch of the side hustle tree:

  • I started a freelance editing business on Fiverr.
  • I learned about selling on Fiverr from an interview on the podcast.
  • I knew about Kindle publishing because I’d self-published a few books.
  • I self-published my first book because I wanted to make a website of mine appear more authoritative.
  • I first built that website after getting inspired by a similar site in a different niche while researching yet another website.

These words from Ryan are probably the “#1 tip” I return to most often.

Start today. You never know where it will lead you!

3. Want to “make money online”? Help someone.

There have volumes of content written about how to make money online, but the simplest answer is usually the one that gets overlooked: help someone.

I’m reminded of The Rule of the Internet, which was explained to me by Jim Kukral at a conference a few years ago. He said, “People are only ever online for one of two reasons: to solve a problem, or to be entertained.”

I think solving problems is generally easier (and perhaps less competitive) than being entertaining, so what problem(s) can you solve?

Money only follows value. Like Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”

4. You vote your priorities with your time.

My most common excuse for not getting something done has historically been, “I didn’t have enough time.”

Sound familiar?

What I’ve tried to replace that with is the more honest, “I prioritized something else.”

Time is our most valuable asset, and it’s a uniquely egalitarian asset in that everyone has the same 24 hours each day.

Related: How to Unlock an Extra 2 Hours a Day

5. No one bats 1.000.

What I mean by that is not everything you try is going to be a success.

(For those unfamiliar with baseball statistics, a batting average of 1.000 means getting a hit every time. Some of the best players in history hit .300, essentially failing 7 times out of 10.)

I’ve had plenty of failed projects a long the way. Some were expensive mistakes and lost me a lot of money, and others just cost me my time.

Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from stepping up to the plate, because one thing’s for certain: if you never swing, you’ll never get a hit.

And here’s the other thing about failing: it’s usually not life-threatening.

6. Plane tickets are my favorite things to buy.

Perhaps you’ve heard the quote “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” While it’s definitely not the only thing you can buy to improve your life, it is one of my favorites.

In the last 5 years, we’ve been fortunate to travel quite a bit both domestically and internationally. And the trips are exciting, but the cool thing about buying plane tickets is you get to look forward to that trip for months.

And now the cool thing is being able to meetup with fellow side hustlers and “Internet friends” nearly everywhere we go.

Related: We often fly for free thanks to this one spending habit.

7. When it comes to people, no matter where you go, we’re more alike than we are different.

Most of us have the same desires and motivations all around the world.

Maslow called this the hierarchy of needs, and more recently Dan Pink explained how we strive for Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

This has been helpful to realize in a time when everything seems so polarized.

8. That said, no matter what you do, some people are just jerks.

Especially online.

Do your best work and don’t stress the haters and the trolls.

As someone — and maybe this sounds familiar — who generally prefers to be liked over disliked, this was a tough one. But as T. Swift would say, haters gonna hate and you just gotta shake it off :)

I used to get pretty upset over someone leaving me a bad review or calling me names online. And I’d be lying if I said it still doesn’t bother me a little, but the kind notes and thank yous I receive far outnumber and outweigh those.

I even created a “hate mail” label in my Gmail so I can archive some of the more colorful messages I get. I tell myself they’re probably just having a bad day.

Important note: Constructive criticism like I asked for in my member survey this year is actually really helpful. I’ve made several changes in response to those notes.

9. Choosing what’s next doesn’t mean choosing what’s forever.

In the past, I think I assigned an unnecessary permanance to certain decisions. For instance, I naively thought I might run my original shoe business forever.

But in other areas, I went into jobs and projects positioning them as experiments in my head. I knew I didn’t want to stay at Ford forever before I even started, but it was what was next.

Similarly, that’s opened the doors to play around with other side hustles and have fun with them knowing that if they don’t work or I don’t enjoy them, I don’t have to keep doing them.

10. The journey is the destination.

So the shoe business I mentioned above? That was my original side hustle, but after 10 years, it had reached the end of its lifespan.

It had a great run and was the vehicle that allowed me to quit my job, but it was time to move on.

I think every business (and human) has a lifespan — some longer than others of course — and while there are things you can do to extend the longevity, nothing lives forever.

That’s why I say the journey IS the destination. You’ve got to learn to love process, the ups and downs and twists along the way because every time to get where you’re going, the same question always looms: what’s next?

11. Get while the getting’s good.

In hindsight, knowing that the business wasn’t going to last forever, I wish I’d scaled up faster. I could have brought on help earlier to help accelerate the growth, but I figured I had plenty of time — and probably had some control issues too.

But I see people taking this lesson to heart on platforms like Amazon FBA. The opportunity might not last forever, but they’ve found something that works right now and are going hard to build their business while it does.

12. Drinking fountains with the right amount of water pressure are hard to find.

I’m not sure why that is in this day and age, but I’d guess the percentage that have it right is less than 40%. Nobody wants to risk touching their mouth to the spout to capture some of that weak trickle — push it out a little harder!

13. When the work sucks, it’s time to move on.

If your side hustle gets to the point where it just drags on you, why keep it going? The last thing you need is a second job you hate.

I’ve pulled the plug on several projects because I just didn’t enjoy working on them. Some where money-makers and some weren’t performing that well, but the common ground was there were other projects I could prioritize that were more exciting, rewarding, and fulfilling.

Like the podcast.

14. You can’t expect to get better without practice.

I don’t play much golf anymore, but when I did I’d constantly berate myself for not improving.

Then it hit me: why did I expect to get better? It’s not like I’d been practicing or hitting the driving range consistently since the last round I played.

The same is true with business. You’re probably not going to be awesome at it your first time out, but you will get better with practice.

15. Dogs are awesome.

I was never “a dog person” growing up, and as a young adult and aspiring entrepreneur, the last thing I wanted was another responsibility to take care of.

Ten years later, the “side hustle shih tzu” is an irreplaceable part of our family. He doesn’t get as much attention as he used to, but the place feels empty without him and I think having him around the house has been great for our son.

He LOVES dogs and will point to every doggy he sees — both in real life and in books.

16. Everyone is self-conscious about something.

Too fat, too thin, too hairy, too bald, too short, too tall, my voice sounds weird, my car’s a mess, my clothes don’t fit. Whatever it is, we’ve all got our own insecurities.

Hmm … I can grow hair on my face…

The good news is, most people are too worried about themselves to even notice yours.

17. It’s OK to marry your high school sweetheart….

…but there’s no need to rush into things.

Bryn and I started dating our sophomore year of high school, when I was 16 and she was 15. Eleven years later, we finally tied the knot in top secret-fashion at San Francisco City Hall. (A few months later friends and family joined us for an awesome sham-wedding weekend in Cabo.)

I love having such a long history and having grown up together. She’s been super-supportive of all my crazy business ideas and has built a pretty sweet side hustle herself.

In college, when I was debating taking this house painting “internship,” she encouraged me to give it a shot. “So what if it sucks?” she asked. “It’s 3 months of your life.”

And you know what? It did suck. But it was also amazing and eye-opening and a really important experience for me.

One thing that did take us a while to fully embrace is that when it comes to finances, it’s a team sport. To this day we actually still have separate accounts, but they really are in name only. When we learned that early retirement was even a thing, we both got really excited and began tracking our household net worth.

Related: You can use a free tool like Personal Capital to track yours.

18. Millennia of biology aside, babymaking will never be a “rational” decision in the 21st Century.

I wrote this years before our son was born and still stand by it.

Our little hustler is by no means the product of a rational decision, which is why his mom and I had such a hard time making it. I mean, kids cost time, money, and freedom — and sleep — 4 things we happen to value quite a bit.

So we justified the choice by chalking parenthood up to being part of the adventure of life and the hope he’d make our lives happier (despite boatloads of scientific evidence to the contrary) and the rest of the world a better place.

In the end, we’ve concluded that parenthood amplifies happiness. The highs are higher and the lows are lower — and both more frequent.

19. But kids are pretty awesome too.

It’s been a blast watching our son grow and learn more every day. He’s a sponge to the world and it’s fascinating to see everything he picks up on.

Being a parent has given me a lot of new perspectives, including to appreciate life’s little pleasures, moments of calm, and a newfound respect for all the sacrifices my parents made.

20. Control the controllables.

In our house we have a saying: “the weather in Turkey.”

Bryn actually came up with this while we were getting ready for our trip to Istanbul a couple years ago, as I was getting stressed about rainy weather on the 10-day forecast.

Since then, we use it to redirect focus on things you can control (what you pack) vs. the things you can’t (the weather).

(It actually ended up being beautiful there!)

It’s also helpful if you or partner find yourself freaking out about politics, current events, or other market conditions. It’s all just weather in Turkey and all you can do is control what you can control.

In a sense, “control the controllables” is the driving point behind Side Hustle Nation. You never know what outside forces will do your livelihood, so it’s best to be proactive and take matters into your own hands and your own hustle.

21. It’s just a game.

When it comes to sports, winning is more fun, but in the end it’s just a game. And the same is true for most of the stuff we stress about.

I used to be super-competitive in academics, in business, and in sports — not that I was ever very good — I just took losing personally and wanted to do better.

It took some humbling experiences in all of those areas to teach me to zoom out a little bit and understand if I put in my best effort and someone else beat me, good on them.

22. To say yes, you gotta say no.

Everything has an opportunity cost. When you say yes to something, you’re inherently saying no to something else.

I’ve been trying to get better about using Derek Sivers’ decision making framework: If it’s not a “hell yes!”, it’s a “no.” That’s actually been helpful and has made me more mindful of the projects I take on, the pitches I accept, and the meeting invites I put on the calendar.

It’s still tough to say no, but it gets easier if you can combine the “hell yes” framework with your ONE thing. (I’m still on the hunt for my ONE thing, but I’ve been able to use process of elimination to find a lot things that don’t make the cut!)

23. I’ll go out of my way for Shake Shack or Halal Guys.

I’m more than a little excited to see both of them expanding to the west coast!

24. Like a lot of things, eating healthy is easier said than done.

Knowing what’s good for you and actually doing it are two very different things — and requires a lot of willpower.

Lately I’ve been using the MyFitnessPal app to track what I eat, and I’ve found it’s made me more conscious of what I’m consuming, portion control, and mid-day and late night snacking.

Related: This was a suggestion of Steve Scott’s in 10 Foundational Hustle Habits to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness

25. If you speak with confidence and conviction, people will believe you.

Unfortunately it works even when it’s BS; politicians are excellent at this.

But speaking with confidence is another one of those things that comes with practice. I hope if you go back and listen to the first few episodes of the podcast and compare them with the ones from 4 years later, you’ll hear an improvement.

I may not have felt very confident when I was up on stage, but it took a certain degree of confidence to land my TEDx talk in the first place.

“Do you have any speaking experience?” the organizers asked.

“Well, I have a podcast,” I said, and went on to explain the perspective I could bring to the event.

26. The things you own end up owning you.

Clutter stresses me out. It costs money, it’s a pain to move, and it takes up mental bandwidth. But beyond that, owning a bunch of stuff can really hinder your happiness, especially if it’s nice stuff.

For example, my car (a 2006 Ford Escape with 140,000 miles) is pretty much worthless at this point — but it serves its purpose. If I bought a new (or newer) car, I’d be stressed out about it getting scratched and I’d have to pay more to insure it.

Having a car you don’t really care about is freeing, and it would be harder to adopt that same carefree mentality if it were more expensive.

It’s also one of the reasons we’re “throwing money away” on rent every month, at least at this stage in our lives. We can spend our free time hustling, hanging out as a family, or traveling, instead of stressing about yard care, maintenance, or home improvement projects.

Over the past few years, I’ve tried to implement a couple strategies for making new purchases:

  • The 30-day waiting period. Next time you’re thinking of buying something, sit on it for 30 days.
  • Buy higher quality. When I do buy something new, especially clothes, I’ve shifted to spending more upfront for something higher quality that I really like, fits well, and will last.

To get rid of the unnecessary possessions in your life, and even make some money in the process, you can use a couple framing questions:

  • Would you buy it again?
  • Have you used it in the last year?
  • Could it be easily and inexpensively replaced?

Now it’s not like I’ve gone full minimalist, but I’m just trying to be more conscious about bringing new possessions into the house.

27. No one else is going to do it for you.

This one took a while to really sink in.

I’d have items on my to-do list for weeks at a time, and finally I’d realize they were only ever going to get done if I did something about it.

What that means is taking responsibility for your own life and financial well-being, not relying on your parents, the government, or your boss.

Nobody else is going to do it for you.

28. The second best way to prevent a hangover is Vitamin B.

The best way of course is not drinking. Shocking, I know.

Also, if you “need” a drink after work, you “need” a different job.

29. Generally speaking, the majority of subject matter in school is silly.

I use the facts and formulas I memorized for school approximately never. And this is coming from a former valedictorian.

Pretty sure all that hair bleach contributed to today’s state up top. And yes, Bryn was a valedictorian too!

What I’ve realized is that formal education is more about learning how to learn and communicate. Those are skills I use every day.

Those lifelong skills will always be more important than memorizing passages of Hamlet or writing in cursive.

30. It’s hard to believe, but some people don’t like Jimmy Buffett.

My mom’s a Parrothead so I grew up listening to his music. Today it reminds me of home and I actually think there’s a lot of wisdom in some of his lyrics.

For example:

I bought a cheap watch from a crazy man, floating down Canal.

It doesn’t use numbers or moving hands, it always just says now.

Now you might be thinking that I was had, but this watch is never wrong.

And if I have trouble the warranty says, “Breathe in, breathe out, move on.”

31. The sound of snow falling is the best music in the world.

I love it. I think I want to experiment living in the mountains.

32. Perfection is the enemy of good enough.

I used to be much more of a perfectionist, but I’ve since learned that good enough is good enough. Striving for perfection is a recipe for disappointment, procrastination, and failure to launch.

Now that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about your work, just recognize that you can still help people and still make money with something that’s still imperfect in your mind.

In the words of Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, “If you’re not embarrassed by your first product, you launched too late.”

33. In the grand scheme of things, if you’re reading this, you’re probably very fortunate.

You’re literate, have Internet access, and have at least a few free moments in your day. That’s a really powerful combination toward building a successful side hustle.

Related: For more perspective, check out GlobalRichList.com.

34. It’s OK to not know what you want to be when you grow up.

I still don’t!

Blogger/author/podcaster definitely wasn’t on my radar of career choices.

I think the question of what you want to be when you grow up is kind of a stressful one, and we’re trained to answer it as if a job is the only right answer.

How about happy, excited, or interesting?

35. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

I love this quote from Leonardo da Vinci. I have a habit of making things more complicated than they need to be, and this lesson often helps rein me in.

With most big decisions or projects, I try and ask if this will ultimately make life simpler or more complex? And if it adds a layer of complexity, is it worth it?

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

36. And a bonus: people love bonuses.

Under-promise and over-deliver.

Your Turn

Any favorites from this list? What would you add?

Let me know in the comments below.

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19 thoughts on “35 Things I Have Learned in My 35 Years

  1. Great list Nick! We indeed feel very fortunate to have made a rational decision to have both you and Chris, and still be able to sit on our balcony in Nazare,Portugal at once horas da noite, sipping port wine. To pass your knowledge and wisdom on to the next generation is a great way to mAke the world a better place, avoiding the mistakes of history. Love to you and Bryn, M&D

  2. This list is crap. Everybody loves Jimmmy Buffett.

    On number 17, I must be a great dancer, my wife laughs at me every time I dance, along with pretty much everybody else!

    Great website, just what I was looking for, keep it up.

  3. I agree with Jim. I feel like I never have enough time in the day. That’s why I need to up my game on my side hustles, right?

    And to #23…ughh… Many years spent there that I’ll never get back. I always thought I had some sort of ADHD. I learned later that I was just bored all the time. It’s hard to be hungry for knowledge when all you’re being fed is [email protected] sandwiches.

    • Hey Josh, I’m with you. The side hustle real life education is probably more valuable — once you’re done working. Until then, employers still place a (perhaps irrational) value on traditional education.

  4. I like this list. I most def agree with number 23. I feel like schools should focus more on trades as something to fall back on then the majority of the crap being spewed from the state.

  5. #1 has to be the problem behind most people’s lack of success including my own. We’ve been made to believe we are on a hamster treadmill called life and it’s simply not true. We can make our own futures by stepping out of our confront zones and doing things that drive us to grow.

  6. To talk about helping someone online before earning your 1st $1mil in side hustling, I’ve been hearing about a question & answer site Quora.com. So I hear it’s sort of like AOL answers, whereas you answer people’s questions and leave a link to your blog or website. I was going to ask you if you tried it and how it worked out for you. Any success with it?

  7. Excellent summary and some key points there Nick.

    I totally agree with number 10. It’s only passion and perseverance that will see us through. Without it, it becomes more difficult to overcome barriers along the journey. Of course, money can’t just be the driving force. Gotta enjoy the process!

  8. It’s good to make mistakes. It’s bad to make the same mistake twice. That’s been huge for me! And for others I’ve known. It’s very difficult to learn and grow if you never make mistakes, but you have to actually learn from those mistakes!

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