You can learn a lot from books, but many things can only be learned the hard way by living, suffering and enjoying life.
A year and a half ago, I was in a plane with very bad turbulence, and I worried that if the plane went down, many of the lessons I’ve learned in life would end up at the bottom of the ocean. I wrote a letter to my nephews for them to read when they were older. I hope they’ll find it useful.
I’m writing this on a plane. The reason I started writing this was that I feared the plane might go down, and if it went down, all the lessons I’ve learned in life would disappear with me. By writing this, I hope to pass on the few lessons I’ve learned.
The most important lesson is that the vast majority of things you worry about will not bother you the next day. A year later you will not even be able to remember them if you try. When you grow older, you will not worry about what grades you got. You won’t worry about games you lost. You won’t worry about what other people thought about you. Most of the things you worry about will never happen. Even if the worst things that you worry about happen, life will still go on. Learn to enjoy every day, and try to enjoy it as if it is your last. It has taken me a long time to understand this, and I wish I had understood it sooner.
Happiness is not a destination but a journey. You will never be smart enough, rich enough, have a pretty enough girlfriend, boyfriend, husband or wife, or win enough prizes and awards. Whatever it is you want, there is always something better. Enjoy the journey of learning, working, and living. If you enjoy the journey, you’ll probably achieve a lot more than if you focused on goals.
If you do decide you want to be “successful”, I can give you the formula for success. There are only three things you need to do. First, decide exactly what it is you want. Second, determine the price you will have to pay to get what you want. And third, and this is the hardest and most important part, pay the price. Few are willing to pay the price. It’s that simple.
Money can provide security, but once you have security, more money cannot buy you more happiness. If you show me someone who thinks money can buy happiness, I’ll show you someone who has never had a lot of money.
Things don’t make you happy, but memories will always stay with you. Whatever it is that you buy, you will soon get used to it. It will make you happy for a short while, but it will not make you happy forever. Experiences and memories can make you happy forever. I can’t even remember most of the toys I’ve had in my life, but I still think of my times with Timothy and your Grandmom with great happiness and fondness. I remember walking Timothy to school and how happy we were. I remember hugging your Gradmom when I came home for a weekend. Those memories will never go away. The happiest memories of my friends are my travels and dinners with them, not things I bought them or they bought me. You’ll remember the time you’ve spent with friends and family more than any shiny things you’ll ever have.
Your family is the most important thing you have in life. Friends, boyfriends, girlfriends and co-workers come and go, but the only thing that you can always count on is your family. (If you find a friend who is always there for you, you’re extremely lucky. They exist, but they’re very rare.) One day, you will have your own family. You must love them and look after them. You will understand one day that just as your grandparents die, your parents will as well. Strive to be a good son and daughter. One day, you will be like your parents. Your parents are not perfect, and you will not be either. But you can be loving and be a good son and daughter. One day you can be a good parent.
Never stop learning, and always be ready to teach yourself things you don’t know. The only things you will remember are things you care about. You will forget about all the rest. You must teach yourself and care about what you learn. No one can teach you everything you need to know at school or university. You will also forget most of what you study, and that is fine. As Jacques Barzun said, “Civilization is all that remains after you have forgot all that you specifically set out to remember.”
Always stay curious, and you’ll be surprised how much you can learn. I’ve met a few geniuses, and they have a rare gift to think faster and more clearly than other people. But when people speak of intelligence, what they generally mean is curiosity. All great discoveries start with a question. Children are born curious, and school can beat it out of you. Never stop asking questions.
You’re never too old to learn, grow and build things. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft when he was 18, but he is the exception. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Most people develop over time and become wiser as they get older. It is often reversals and adversity that forces them on a new path. George Soros didn’t start the Quantum Fund until he was 37. Michael Bloomberg didn’t start Bloomberg until he was 40. Sam Walton didn’t open his first WalMart until he was 44. Ray Kroc didn’t start building McDonalds until he was 52 and Colonel Sanders didn’t start Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was 66. Believe it or not, Warren Buffett made 99% of his money after the age of 50. Every day is the first day of the rest of your life.
Never live someone else’s life. Find your gifts and the things that give you pleasure, develop those gifts, and pursue them. Do what makes you happy and be great at it. You have skills and gifts that no one will ever have or see again. If you’re a businessman, build businesses. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a scientist, discover. If you do what you love and love what you do, you will work very hard, but you will enjoy every day.
One of the things that most influenced me was something Steve Jobs once said:
When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.
That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
And the minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just going live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.
I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
I hope that you will find what you love and you will change the world.
Life is full of struggle, and many bad things will happen to you. This is one thing that I can guarantee you. Most of my friends died of AIDS, and your uncle Timothy died in a car accident and your Grandmother committed suicide after suffering from a very bad brain tumor. These things happened and cannot be changed. Ernest Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” It is up to you do decide whether you will be strong at the broken places. Many people suffer great tragedies and live full and happy lives. Remember the people you love and mourn them. Accept that terrible things happen, and try to live as if each day is your last with those you love. There is nothing else you can do.
The best way to avoid anxiety, stress and unhappiness is to avoid internal contradiction. Don’t think that one thing is right and do the opposite. Listen to your conscience and obey it. Be a good person and live according to your convictions. You cannot answer for other people, but you can always answer for yourself. As long as you live according to your most basic beliefs, you will not have regrets or guilt. You will be able to die happily knowing that you looked after the poor and needy, that you were loving to those around you, and that you failed often but did your best. You will not lose a night of sleep if you always try to do your best.
I love you very much.