Recently, Abubakar Jamil asked me to write about the life lessons I learned so far, in order to contribute to a huge series he is hosting on the topic. While I feel a bit too young to look back in retrospect and share the ultimate wisdom, there are some lessons I have learned that will hopefully accompany me during the next 70 years of my life.1 Here they are.
Maybe it was when my uncle died when he was only 65 years old, never to enjoy his pension after a stressful life with his job being the center. Maybe it was the day I woke up in hospital after some stupid surgery and wondered if this was the way life was meant to be. (It’s not.) Maybe it was when I first read Seneca, Tom Hodgkinson, or Hermann Hesse.
It’s your life, and you only got one.
Maybe it was when I was lying in my hammock on a ship that was running upstream the Amazon, living so slowly I was merely breathing anymore. Maybe it was when I read In Praise of Slow. Maybe it was when having a large Italian lunch with my former boss, spending three hours outside the office just to enjoy great food, light wine, and profound conversation.
You can live it at your own pace.
Maybe it was during one of these nights with cheese fondue binge and lots of red wine, listening to my friend Franck talking about the evils of work and how to avoid them. Maybe it was when I married by wife at young age and we were finally able to live together, with no more bureaucracy and boundaries, visa regulations and paperwork in the way. Maybe it was the moment I booked my ticket to Cartagena, in order to write my diploma thesis in the Caribbean rather than in the German winter.
You are free to make your own rules.
Fact is I cannot really pin down when I learned these life lessons. Maybe that’s because they are universal and ever-present. They reinforce and prove themselves again and again, if we are only willing to see. They prove themselves during moments of clarity and overwhelm, with company and when being alone, in the office and in the park, early at dawn and in the middle of the night.
Hell, they prove themselves in this very moment, as I am writing these lines in my hotel patio and five mariachis enter the scene. It’s past 10pm on a Monday evening and they come to play at a birthday dinner, waking up the guests that went asleep so early they ran danger to miss the party!
Your life, your pace, your rules.
These are lessons that have been written down a million times, in one form or another. They have been promoted in literature, in theater, in movies, and in popular culture. They have been spread by religious leaders, by rock stars and by self-help gurus. I personally have written about them several times, and will continue to do so. Because even though every single one of us has learned these lessons in our very own way already, we seem to have a special talent to ignore them.
That’s why I put them into my blog’s tagline: Your life, your pace, your rules.
Some of us have it easier. Some of us have rich parents or a rich spouse. Some of us are born into well-connected families. Some of us have higher skills, a smarter brain, a stronger body.
Many of us have it harder. Many of us are born and raised in poverty. Many of us are prosecuted because of our gender, race or religion, because of our political or sexual orientation. Many of us are disabled, chronically sick, tired, pessimistic or depressed.
All of us are born and raised in some situation beyond our control, and then it’s up to us to make something of it.
Our life, our pace, our rules.
I personally was lucky in many ways, and I still struggle at times. But you know what? I have met many, many people that were born into complete shitholes and they still managed to live a fulfilled and happy life. And I’ve met the rich and the beautiful, and they were living overwhelmed on the verge of depression.
It’s not all about luck. It’s not all about ability, neither. Sometimes, things don’t work out as planned. The only remedy? Try again – or try something different. Try harder – or try smarter. Take a stand – or take two steps back and relax. But don’t despair.
Because this is your life and you only got one of it. You can live it at your own pace, and you can make your own rules.
Nobody’s perfect. I know that all too well from personal experience: I’m a recovering perfectionist, slowly grasping that perfectionism all too often leads to stagnancy and procrastination. I ain’t got the perfect body, I ain’t got the perfect attitude, I ain’t got the perfect skills. I ain’t got the perfect blog, the perfect smile, the perfect haircut. I ain’t got the perfect cash flow, I ain’t got the perfect laptop, I ain’t got the perfect life.
And still, this is my life, I can live it at my own pace, and I can make my own rules. Flawed and all, but still self-determined.
Why do I keep repeating that? The reason is that I want you to become a friendly anarchist, no matter what’s your political color.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work on making this world a better place and merely focus on ourselves. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight against inequalities. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stand up against the injustices we experience. We should do all that!
But then, we should also take responsibility for our own lives, and live them to the fullest – despite the problems we encounter. Not because our happiness merely depends on our own abilities and society at large should be ignored. But because it’s both fulfilling and empowering to do so. And I believe that fulfilled and empowered people are able to make changes in society, too.
Here’s a little secret: Living life to the fullest doesn’t mean you have to do “epic shit” and be “pure walking awesomeness” all the time. Don’t stress out about it. It only means that you do what you want to do. That’s it. Because you’ve got one life only and it’s up to you how you use it.
Your life, your pace, your rules.
There are lessons that cannot be repeated often enough. Once you really get it, you’ll probably delete your feed reader, shut down your computer, and never look back. Because you suddenly might have some more important stuff to do. That’s fine with me. Actually, it would brighten up my day. Maybe we could still meet for coffee some day. Just let me know.
- Yes, I’m an optimist rather than even younger than you thought. [↩]