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26 Things I’ve Learned By My 26th Birthday

a portrait of Andrew J Clifton

My 26th birthday will arrive tomorrow. I've been thinking about what I've learned and experienced up to this point. So I thought I would right them down, and then I decided to elaborate a little bit more and share them with anyone who would want to read them. Maybe you or someone else could get something out of it.

1. Take cold showers in the morning

As someone who is definitely not a morning person, a short cold shower after waking up has done wonders for my motivation, and overall well being. To stand there in the shower and purposefully turn on cold water is torturous and miserable. Which is why you should do it. Besides waking your ass up, things that might happen throughout the day that aren't ideal won't seem so bad. You will already have put yourself through something terrible. Therefore, making you feel better about your day.

2. Be organized, but also laid back

Put your keys in the same place every time, layout your clothes the night before, keep things tidy. However don’t obsess, if you obsess then you end up organizing to avoid doing things that are ACTUALLY important.

3. Don’t count on most people

If someone is helping you, assume they don't have your best interest in mind. This isn't to say'trust no one' I mean that if you're trying to get something in motion involving a third party, assume that third party doesn't totally care what happens on your end. They are mostly worried about themselves, which is understandable. Just know that to get the result you desire, communicate clearly and often. One email, at the beginning isn't going to cut it.

4. Limit social media

This might sound like some b.s. that I came up with recently since its all you hear about these days. However I experienced social media addiction about a decade ago. It really took a toll. I fixed it, though. I'm telling you that you really should limit your social media use. Its unhealthy in almost every way.

5. Don’t stop learning

Knowledge helps you make better decisions, helps grow as a person, and helps contribute to conversations with fellow humans. So watch documentaries, read, and listen to lectures. Not just about stuff you are already interested in. Listen to things you know nothing about. Broaden your perspective and your mind.

6. Buy leather shoes

Shoes with synthetic uppers are basically designed to fall apart. Leather lasts much longer. Which in turn saves you money, and time. The next time you go shoe shopping, look for some leather ones. I don't mean dress shoes, I mean any kind of shoe. There are leather versions of everything, pick those. They are a little more expensive but will be with you longer.

7. Be picky with tv shows and movies

You can’t watch everything, you shouldn’t watch everything. Be picky. If you don’t truly love the show, if you don’t get something out of it. Stop watching. Also stop with reality shows.

8. Know that your time is valuable

We can’t do everything. Not because there are only 24 hours in a day, but because your time is worth something. So the next time someone wants you to do something totally pointless, or you think to yourself "why have a professional do it when it would be cheaper to do it myself?" consider what your time is worth.

9. Listen to podcasts

This is an off shoot of don’t stop learning. Listen to podcasts. There is definitely a podcast for what you’re interested in. There are also lots of podcasts that will provide you with new points of view, new knowledge, etc. With a simple press of a button, you can gather new knowledge while working out, driving, or whatever you have to do.

10. Don’t be friends with toxic people

Being around a toxic person is horrible for your wellbeing in every way. Regardless of whether they are a friend or a family member. If they fit the bill as a toxic person, cut them away and find better people.

11. Stop trying to be fashionable

Stop spending so much time on how you look. Most people don't even notice. I'm not saying to wear sweatpants outside the house (you should NEVER do that, and if you do…stop). I mean design a full collection of wardrobes, enough for 1-2 weeks and stop. No more shopping after that, no more fussing over "does this go with that?" "I don't know if this shirt goes with these shorts", etc. The only time you should shop for clothes is if something you own becomes worn or damaged.

12. Open a retirement fund

Fo many young people, this just seems crazy. Putting money away for when you're old. You can't even imagine what your life will be like at that point. Which is exactly the reason why you should have a retirement account. You don't know if at 60 you'll be wealthy, or broke as fuck. Contribute what you can to it. By the time you're ready to withdraw, you will have thousands of dollars. Hopefully hundreds of thousands, or millions if you're 18 and contribute the max every year.

13. Buy a double walled stainless steel cup

This is something that is truly worth buying. It also sounds like a silly thing to learn by 26. It's more of a quality of life thing. You don't have to buy an expensive one. One on amazon for $7 is fine. Your drinks will stay cold for hours. Stupid glass cup versus stainless steel cup. I would always choose stainless steel.

14. Use a calendar

Keep track of everything thats going on in your life. A calendar for car maintenance, a calendar for health, etc can come together to bring more clarity to whats going on. You will be more organized and not forget stuff. You can look back and see when your last physical was, or setup a reoccurring event to remind you to go to the gym. It is a helpful too that many just don't bother with.

15. Surround yourself with people who support you

There is nothing more helpful than having people close to you there cheering for you on the sidelines. While you cheer for them on their sidelines. Strive to find people who will be part of a mutual support system.

16. NEVER press snooze

It's the worst precedent you could set for yourself. Never do it again. When your alarm wakes up, get up. If you're awake before your alarm, get up. Starting your day with a "nah I don't feel like doing that yet" means your day will lack productivity and you will simply try to get through the day. Ask yourself this though …How many days do you have left? Oh wait, you don't know the answer. Don't just get through a day. Enjoy the day, make the day count.

17. Don't mention your job title all the time

To be completely honest, no one gives a shit what your title is. So to mention it every time you speak to someone, makes you look like an asshole. Like a power hungry douche bag who thinks they're superior. Which no one likes. I guarantee, if you spoke to Tim Cook at the grocery store, he wouldn't mention his job title unless it was pertinent to the conversation. Be like Tim.

18. Have a To-Do List

This seems like no shit and totally fitting given its me… the king of to-do lists. It's true though. Have a to do list. Do at least one thing on it every day. You'll be productive and feel more accomplished. So just do it! There is no excuse, every smartphone has a to do app built into it. Start there.

19. Give thoughtful gifts

When someones birthday is coming up, don't just get them some gift card to some place you figure they go. Put thought into it and make sure it's something useful, something they will use with joy and care. To just buy a gift because you feel like you have to is worse than just not giving a gift.

20. Back up your devices

This is something that has been beaten into everyones brains. Yet many still don't. However there are good chances that at some point, your computer will die, your phone will break, etc. I know from experience how devastating it can be to lose everything on device. Even if you think theres nothing worth saving, when you're in the situation, you wish you had the ability to press rewind.

21. Have multiple steams of income

Having a job is great. We all need a little more money than we currently make though. Multiple streams of income will get you that extra money. Additional streams can also help you save money more easily as well as act as a safety net once they are developed enough. Multiple income streams doesn't mean working 3 jobs. You could invest in stocks or a savings account that gains interest. That interest is income. You could sell stuff on ebay. You could sell your art, you could take any skill you have and turn it into a part time money maker.

22. Stop being late

Tardiness is not acceptable. It wasn't acceptable in high school, and even more so now. Being late might seem ok, however coworkers, family, and friends will all view you as unreliable. They won't ask for your help since you may leave them hanging, and in the long run, that means they won't be there if you need help.

23. Don't feel superior

You are no better than the girl collecting baskets in the parking lot of the grocery store. You could have a better car, nicer skin, a better paying job but it doesn't matter. You are equal regardless of how you feel. You are both human, both trying to live a happy life before you parish. If your aim is to be wealthy and influential, know that viewing yourself as better than everyone will never get you to the point that you want. You will just be a mean, miserable person.

24. Save Money

Easier said than done, I know. It's tough for me too but its worth it and necessary. Whether you want to save for a new computer, a new car, or better yet save for an emergency that you aren't expecting. Your life will be far less stressful knowing you have a safety net. If it's extra tough for you, download an app like Digit or Acorns that can automate the process of saving.

25. Work hard and give it your all

Probably the most clique thing that could ever be uttered. The truth is that it's accurate. Working hard certainly doesn't guarantee success, but it will increase your chances of achieving the things you want. Be the first one in, and the last one out. Take on stuff that you don't get paid for, prove that you are a valuable asset to people around you. They will notice, they will reward you. Even if it's a job you don't like, still give it 100% of your effort. You'll feel more satisfied.

26. Create a better you

You should constantly seek to improve yourself. Most of the things in this list will contribute to a better you. Theres another source though, one that is constant and never ending; a source thats available every day of your life. That source is the people around you. The rude lady in front of you at Starbucks who's coffee isn't just right, that coworker who's a downer, that genuinely sweet bank teller. Every person you meet can teach you how to be a better person. They can show you how to be a nicer person, a more welcoming person. In turn, as you improve, others will see how they can be better too.

I would like to thank everyone currently and previously in my life. Everyone has contributed in some way the things I've learned these past 26 years. Even the terrible people that I have encountered. Actually, They deserve the most thanks. They show me what NOT to do.

OpinionAndrew Clifton