Some Assembly Required: 54 Lessons for a Life Worth Living


Posted on November 18, 2009 by Blake Leath

Whether it's the periodic seven-year-old's question, "Why is the sky blue?" or the executive's inquiry mid-way through a coaching session, "What's your leadership philosophy?" I have always enjoyed the questions we ask too infrequently.  They reveal, after all, much more than the questions we commonly and confidently ask.

I'm not sure when my daughter and I will have more profound conversations about life, but she's already quite the philosopher and riddle solver.  "Why is the word 'men' in the word 'women?'" and "How can God be three things at once?" are two questions she's posed in the last week alone, so I presume the floodgates are creaking.

Perhaps more as an exercise to get myself ready, here are some initial chicken-scratchings in anticipation of the question, "How should I live?"

1. First, be true to yourself.  It is my belief that God designed you uniquely -- strive to be all that you were designed to be, not who others are...or as you presume others expect you to be.

2. Take comfort knowing that while we are all fallen and fallible, redemption is yours.  But don't abdicate or dismiss your responsibilities because of this.  We choose, daily, our attitude and behaviors.  Live the message, don't preach it. 

3. Live a life of integrity.  Seek to be beyond reproach.  It's human nature to judge and throw rocks; live your life as if on the front page, take refuge in those who love you for who you are, and be gracious to all.

4. Focus where you can make a difference, even if it's just one starfish.  Some people don't want or won't accept your offers or gifts or time or talents.  Give them anyway, but wisely and with peace where they are misinterpreted, perverted, or rejected.

5. Avoid the crazymakers, saboteurs, and joy robbers.  Only sadists negotiate with madmen.  They'll drain your lifeblood and you'll be left hollow and jaded.

6. Invest in the eternal and those things which will transcend your generation.  Life's too short to limit your focus to a harvest that ripens within just eighty years.  We benefit from all those who precede us; continue the tradition.

7. Forgive others.  You'll need it too.

8. As my uncle exhorted when I was twelve, "Find what you love to do -- and do the hell out of it."  Again, life's too short to be misspent on pursuits that don't bring fulfillment, contribution, or flat-out joy.

9. Don't live for someone else.  Live that your life might benefit others, but not to the detriment of your own personhood.

10. Do no harm.  Not only because this is right, but because life is a merry-go-round with a reliable sense of reciprocity.  The people you might step on now will surely be your puppetmasters in years to come.  Treat everyone knowing this, not because of strategy or fear, but out of love.

11. Forgive, but forget at your peril.  We are designed to forgive and be forgiven, but learn from your mistakes, avoid the same ones twice, and accumulate wisdom.

12. Where possible, resolve or compartmentalize.  Don't allow anger, regret, spite, hurt, or other emotional leakage to seep into other areas of your life, robbing you of purpose, passion, or the generally elusive contentment.

13. Don't confuse family, love, and strangers.  We often inflict the deepest wounds on those we love and strangers often exhibit the most selflessly breathtaking demonstrations of grace.  Be open yet cautious, hopeful yet realistic, and take comfort that time -- while it rarely heals wounds -- quite reliably brings perspective, which itself is a harbinger of peace.

14. Simple beats elaborate, significance trumps success, and sustainability is more valuable than flash.

15. Take refuge in nature.  The right choices reveal themselves more readily beneath shade trees, on hills, along beaches, deep within the woods, or beside streams.

16. Remember -- love functions like a boomerang.  Most of the time.  Aim high and throw hard.

17. You generally get one bite at the apple; make sure it's an apple...and the right apple.

18. Don't refuse gifts.  Give gifts. 

19. Say "thank you," "please," and "may I?"

20. Hold the door for those behind you.

21. Marry someone who holds the door for you.  And attempts to manage your chair.  And opens the car door.  And insists you order first.  And holds the elevator for strangers.

22. Call an old friend and invite him or her to lunch.

23. Send notes 'out of the blue' acknowledging another person's awesomeness.

24. Don't sweat the small stuff -- really -- in a couple or three years you won't remember worrying about it anyway, much less the 'matter' itself.

25. Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself; make others feel good about themselves, and don't waste your time on those who maliciously and pathologically and consistently do the converse.

26. Make a home, not a house.

27. Avoid checking your bags whenever possible.

28. Wear comfortable shoes.

29. Take a warm coat, hat, and gloves.  Or a swimsuit.  Whatever you need to enjoy the scenery. 

30. Carry mints or gum...enough for everyone.

31. Know another's culture, let it be, and roll with it.  For example, when in China, never surprise your host by secretly paying for his meal.

32. Balance -- or risk burning out, bowling over, or bowing out by necessity rather than choice.

33. Stretch.

34. Cuddle.

35. Always have a pet.

36. Wear sunscreen.

37. Abhor vanity.  You're beautiful, inside and out.  The more the former, the more the latter.

38. People are vastly more...or less than their titles, degrees, or income tax bracket.  Treat others as if they're worth knowing and they will be.

39. Laugh, cry, hug, pat, dance, jump, run, play, cartwheel, somersault, high kick.  Move your body and it will move you.

40. Expose yourself to things about which you are ignorant or do not understand.  Be insatiably curious and polymathic.  Read the greatest books, study calculus, see a Shakespeare play, attend the opera, play the piano, study aikido, compete in a triathlon, coach a Special Olympics team, give blood, learn another language, ride horses, travel, try new foods, visit wonders of the world and never stop asking, "Why?"

41. Plug in rather than drop out.

42. Take your kids to the zoo.

43. Send your kids to college.  And then, if they wish to attend a culinary institute, or write, or sing, or dance for a living...they can and more fully.

44. Donate.

45. Volunteer.

46. Sacrifice.

47. Accept that the house always wins and be ready to stand up and walk away from the table.  Look forward, never backward.

48. Be disciplined, not lazy.  Prepare, don't wing it.  Stand on the shoulders of your gifts and talents, commit to improve, and work hard to be great.  Never rest on your laurels.

49. Seek to die 'all used up' rather than rich.

50. Understand that true wealth is about choices.  Poverty is about an absence of access to resources that might otherwise change your life.

51. Expect miracles.

52. Enjoy life.

53. Eat well and treat yourself to fine meals every now and then.  There's more to life than fast food. 

54. Order dessert...and think of me.