One of my favourite features over the years has been Esquire‘s What I’ve Learned column (the name is expository). To commemorate my birthday, I’ve decided to share 30 things I’ve learned over the past 30 years.
1. It’s much easier to be against something than to be for something, but far less worthwhile.
2. Learning when to say nothing is a hard, but valuable skill to acquire. Sometimes, nobody gives a fuck what you have to say.
3. Not having any fear or shame helps you accomplish things. I learned this as a 21 year old asking cabinet ministers for millions of extra dollars in education funding.
4. I value experiences far more than I value possessions. I’m not sure I have a most treasured possession, but I have countless experiences and memories I wouldn’t trade for anything.
5. Picking up photography as a hobby is one of the best decisions I’ve made. It’s a great way to preserve and commemorate those experiences and memories.
6. Two people I look up to – FDR and Bobby Kennedy. They both had the courage to speak truth to power, and to use their positions of privilege to help the less fortunate.
7. I read a story about Mackenzie King that said he used to pray before going to bed every night, asking for the strength to be a better man. That strikes me as a sensible goal to approach every day with.
8. If you’re the same person today that you were 5 years ago, you’re doing something wrong. Growing apart from some people is a natural and healthy – if uncomfortable – part of the process.
9. Two of my major interests are politics and soccer. They’re alike in the sense that every moment can feel either life-affirming or soul-crushing.
10. Knowledge isn’t very useful if you just keep it to yourself.
11. If someone reclines their seat on the airplane all the way back, without asking the person behind them, it’s a sure sign they’re an asshole.
12. Distractions are important. You might think my interest in baseball (and fantasy baseball) is silly, but I’m pretty sure it’s diversions like that that keep me sane and highly functioning in activities that actually matter.
13. My oldest memory is of getting a toy bus for my third birthday. In retrospect, I was probably destined to be an urbanist.
14. Physical activity is good for both the body and the mind. I do some of my best thinking when I’m out running.
15. The amount of time we devote to discussing something is often inversely proportional to its importance.
16. You can find lessons to apply to your work and day-to-day activity in anything, if you think about it enough.
17. How I measure my work-life balance – when I start having dreams about work, I know I’m working too hard. When I can’t tell you without hesitation what I accomplished in a day, I’m not working hard enough.
18. Routine is good, but by not trying new things and getting to know new people, you’re limiting yourself.
19. One of my goals is to accomplish something noteworthy enough to get to write a “What I’ve Learned” column in Esquire.
20. Related to that, it freaks me out that Thomas Jefferson was only 3 years older than I am now when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.
21. “Do not drink alcohol while taking this medication” is a directive you should always follow (lesson learned in college).
22. I think of myself as a Canadian first and foremost. I grew up in the west, but spent considerable parts of my summers growing up in BC, Ontario, and Quebec. I later lived in Atlantic Canada. This is a pretty incredible country, and it’s worth getting to know.
23. It’s an amazing time to be alive. Every few years, a new technological tool is basically revolutionizing our lives. I can’t wait to see what comes after the smartphone and tablet.
24. New York is overrated, Chicago is underrated, Los Angeles is properly rated.
25. I regret two things – times I didn’t try my hardest, and times I did something when I knew better.
26. Actually, add a third – that I never had any command of the strike zone.
27. If I am a good writer (as many people tell me I am), much of the credit goes to the many talented English teachers I had growing up. They were demanding, and challenged me, and I’m much better for it – though I sometimes hated it at the time. Think about this next time you consider letting a kid off easy.
28. 10 years ago, I spent my birthday (probably) drunk and (definitely) broke. This year, I spent it working at a challenging, rewarding job I enjoy. I also just got back from a vacation in Southern California where I saw four ballgames and finished a half marathon in personal record time. Point being, I’m not relating to people who say life gets worse as you get older.
29. Good advice from The Great Gatsby: “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
30. I have a pretty good life. Recognizing this makes me work harder to keep enjoying it, and to give back to others who aren’t so lucky.
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