The Myth of the Perfect Life

“In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

—Warren Buffett

As we go through life, we discover things about ourselves and the world around us. We find there are some activities we like to do and some people we like to be around. We pick up on social norms and discover the best way to interact with society around us. Our combined experiences and the circumstances of our life all coalesce into a life story.

Each of us has a life story. Our story is a collection of myths, facts, and assumptions that describe the person we are. Our life story can be about who we are, about love, money, our body, or anything and everything and all those things.

Parents, teachers, friends, and society all influence our life story. Either someone has told this story about us or we created the story ourselves (perhaps based on what others have said), and we accept this story about ourselves. Sometimes we even cling to it for fear of losing our identity, or hurting or disappointing someone close to us.

Searching for acceptance from others leads us down a path of conforming to their view of the world instead of our own. We are trying to please them so we receive their acceptance. Eventually we forget who we truly are, if we ever really knew.

Many of us believe that we need love and acceptance from others. A more accurate way of putting it is we want love and acceptance from others. We can overcome this desire by accepting ourselves for who we are. We can realize that we do not need anyone else’s approval or acceptance.

Instead of running around chasing approval from others and modifying ourselves to conform to their parameters, we can choose instead to challenge our perceived need when it arises and question ourselves as to why we have this need.

Ask yourself why this need exists? Most likely it stems from a few things, though generally it’s from a feeling of worthlessness or a sense of not measuring up to some perceived standard or ideal. When you receive love and acceptance from someone, your feeling of worth increases. When that love and acceptance is removed, your feeling of worth decreases. The problem with this approach is that there is no intrinsic measurement of worth. Each of us is “worth” just as much as each other regardless of the love and acceptance we receive from others.

We even hold ourselves up to this flawed line of reasoning. Today I accomplished a lot, I was very effective in my meetings, and I had some great ideas. I was “worthwhile” today. But then the next day rolls around and you didn’t accomplish much and you made some bad decisions, so you feel “worthless” now. Holding yourself up to some imaginary yard stick and measuring your intrinsic worth against it is foolishness.

Instead of continually trying to prove your worthiness and trying to impressing others, or having guilt and self-blame for not reaching some imaginary personal standard (that you probably did not define for yourself anyway), accept yourself for who you are—warts and all. All the good decisions and bad decisions, ingenious ideas and foolish ideas, glorious failures and beautiful moments, all come together to make you who you are. Embrace it.

I’m not suggesting you’ll no longer desire love and acceptance from others. Quite the opposite. You’ll just no longer need that acceptance. It will occur to you that if some people don’t like you the way you are, you can hang out with other people instead since they seem to think you are just fine.

Focus your attention on loving people instead of constantly seeking their love. Most importantly, you focus on what you really want rather than what other people want. Instead of pleasing others, you seek out your own passions.

You may have been seeking love and acceptance from others for such a long time that you might not realize what you truly want or even who your true self is. We develop myths about ourselves because of what other people tell us and through our own experiences.

The most common life path in the United States involves building a career, buying a house and a car, getting married, having children and then accepting a demanding schedule that leaves little time for much else.

There are over 300 million people in the United States. Is it reasonable to believe that the same aspirations and desires apply to each and every one us?

We compare our lives to some idealized version of what we think it should be. We evaluate our lives against this ideal without stopping to ask if we really believe in it or not. Others judge us against it, which only reinforces it in our minds as something to strive for.

Maybe you think life would be perfect if you had the perfect body, the perfect partner, the perfect house, the perfect car, or the perfect job. Perhaps you are waiting for the perfect moment. When the kids go to college. When you retire. When you straighten your life out. When your finances are in order.

Only you never actually manage to find the perfect anything and it never seems to be the right time. You blame yourself for failing, for not measuring up. You might redouble your efforts, seek more perfection, or hold out longer only to continue to fail, not find what you want, or end up waiting indefinitely.

The standards by which we measure the perfect life are a hodgepodge of childhood conditioning, social pressures, personal desires and a variety of other factors. We’re exposed to television that yells at us that we must have the perfect physique, be the right height, have enough hair, styled the correct way. Our parents tell us we must get the perfect job, marry the right person and produce grandchildren. If we don’t keep up with the latest trends, buy the latest fashions and fiddle with the latest gizmos, then we simply are not good enough.

We run around trying to keep up with the Joneses. Constantly striving for more money and more things. Work longer hours and take less vacation. For what? Does it make us happier?

We continue down a path that we didn’t choose and don’t want. The influences and pressures of family, friends, partners, and society force us to keep going even though inside we are telling ourselves, No, this isn’t right. I don’t want this. This didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.

We might not even know what want anymore, if we ever did, so we stick to the familiar routines. It’s much easier to keep going down a familiar road than starting down one that everyone warns us is wrong. Everyone else’s fears become our fears, and we end up staying put because it feels safer.

We feel dissatisfied as a result. To feel better, we spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like. We work long hours to pay for all this only to find we are too tired to enjoy any of it and don’t have time to spend with our friends and family.

If you really stop and think about it, does that new designer dress or that flashy sailboat really matter in the grand scheme of things? Of course there are all kinds of things we want and some of them can be rather cool. But in the end they most likely will not play the pivotal role in our lives that we imagine. They probably end up costing more, in terms of time and money, than they ever return in pleasure.

The things that do tend to give us real pleasure are the intangibles that we often take for granted. Our parents and the assumption they will be around forever (they won’t). Our spouse or partner and the assumption they will be around forever (they won’t). Our kids and the joy they bring (they grow up and move out). Our friends… Well, you get the idea.

We are social creatures. We need people in our lives more than we need things. Yes, we have to survive. Food is important and a roof over our heads is certainly nice. Nor am I suggesting we deny ourselves all the pleasures in life. We all enjoy comfort and the little extras. But devoting our entire existence to chasing after these things will only deprive us of the joy we could be experiencing with family and friends.

We tend to think family and friends are not as important because they are readily available. The kids won’t always be around; they grow up. Johnny’s football game is only once. Partners decide they want more out of a relationship and leave. Parents die. Friends move away. Once they are gone, they are gone for good. Getting those things back is near impossible.

We’ve all heard someone tell how a loved one died and how they realized all the things that will miss out on. Or the guy that had a heart attack and suddenly realized that he doesn’t even know his wife or kids because he was busy working instead of spending time with them. Don’t be one of these people.

Trying to live up to some ideal version of what the perfect life should be is to deny your true self and set yourself up for disappointments and failures. There is no universal ideal or perfect life. The perfect life is whatever you want it to be.

If working for a charity in Kenya is your ideal job, then who is to tell you otherwise? If discarding the trappings of modern life and backpacking around the world is your concept of the perfect life, well there you have it. Do what you want to do, focus on what is important to you.

Discard the faulty concepts about who you should be, how you should live, and what you should do—it’s critical to living and experiencing a full life. You get to define your perfect life. You even get to change it when the mood suits you. Your path is not set in stone and no one but you determines it.

Choose to be Happy Now

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”


Accepting that you are in the present and that you have control over you own life path allows you choose to be happy right now. So often we tell ourselves, I will be happy when I get that new job. I will be happy when I get that raise. I will be happy when I get that new car. I will be happy when I get to take that vacation. I will be happy when I retire. I will be happy when I lose 10 pounds.

The problem is that there will always be something to prevent us from being happy if we let it. Some obstacle, real or perceived; a challenge that comes out of left field; unfinished business of some sort or another; an unfulfilled desire or want. We tell ourselves that once all these things are taken care of we will then finally be able to start living our lives and be happy.

In the meantime, life just keeps moving along, with or without us. All these obstacles and challenges that distract us from our happiness are called life. We can choose to let these things get in the way of happiness, or we can choose to be happy right now regardless of them. In fact, there really is no better moment to choose to be happy than right now.

Start with what you already have. You don’t need a certain job or income in order to be happy. The wealthy are no happier than the poor (and are often less so). Be content with what you already have and you’ll be happy.

Unfortunately, it is much easier to recognize what we don’t have rather than what we do have. Experiencing a loss can be one way of seeing and appreciating the things we have. Instead of waiting for that, consider a few of these things and see if you can be grateful for what you already have.

  • You are alive
  • You have your health
  • You have people who love you, and people you love
  • You have good friends
  • You live in a clean, healthy environment
  • You live in peace (war is not on the street outside your house)
  • You have a computer
  • You have electricity
  • You have your freedom
  • You have choice

Maybe you don’t have all of these things or you have more. Imagine a life without any of them and then realize just how lucky you are. If it helps you to know, the vast majority of the world lives on less than $2 a day. If you have change in your pocket, you are better off than 70% of the world. You have it pretty good.

When you realize just how much you have, it’s easy to be happy. Most of the things that make us happy are not tangible anyway. You can’t go to the mall and buy them. Happy people know they have innate talents, creativity and character. They explore them and expand them; they are always growing and changing. They appreciate their relationships, friendships and family.

Accept that you are the person you are. Living up to someone else’s expectations is a recipe for dissatisfaction and disappointment. Maybe your parents, your friends, or you partner have a certain expectation of how you should be and what you should do with your life. But only you can determine who you are and what you will be.

Don’t be intimidated by them. Nor should you let society dictate who you are. Who defines what is and is not beautiful? If you said Vogue, then you are sadly mistaken. Accept that you look the way you look. Don’t let some social construct determine if you go to the beach or not.

Maybe you have a few pounds you could shed. Shed them because it is healthy and because you want to, not because society or someone tells you that a certain waist size is the right one and all other sizes are wrong. What is considered beautiful is subjective and different around the world. Happy people don’t let social conventions dictate who they are.

Learn to be happy in your skin. You are a unique individual and there is no one like you. Because of your uniqueness, you have your own path and your own way of doing things and that is perfectly fine.

Consider the parable of the The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey by Aesop.

A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market. As they were walking along by the donkey’s side a countryman passed them and said, “You fools, what is a donkey for but to ride upon?” So the man put the boy on the donkey, and they went on their way.

But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said, “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”

So the man ordered his boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other, “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”

Well, the man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his boy up before him on the donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passersby began to jeer and point at them. The man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at.

The men said, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours—you and your hulking son?”

The man and boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, until at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them until they came to a bridge, when the donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the donkey fell over the bridge, and his forefeet being tied together, was drowned.

The moral of the story? If you try to please everyone, you can kiss your ass goodbye.

You may be holding yourself back from being happy now because of regrets. The “I wish I had done that” feeling of regret happens when you believe you missed out on something because you failed to follow-up on an opportunity that presented itself. This happens to the best of us sometimes, but it isn’t the end of the world. The good thing is that you actually noticed that you missed out on an opportunity! Just because an opportunity was initially missed doesn’t mean that it’s gone forever. Not all opportunities are lost just because you missed them the first time around. Go ahead and make your own opportunity now that you realized what you missed.

Obviously certain opportunities won’t come by again and can’t really be done over. If you wanted to be an astronaut when you were younger and instead you because an engineer, it’s unlikely you will be able to be an astronaut now. Complaining that you didn’t get the chance or have the lucky break that Neil Armstrong had is foolish thinking. The lesson is to keep your eyes open for future opportunities. You may have missed this one, but don’t miss anymore. Opportunity is everywhere—you just have to look.

Develop a life purpose. Discover where your passions lie, what fulfills you. Listen to that little voice inside. It’s trying to tell you something. Think about what gets you excited. What are the activities that absorb you so much you don’t even realize the passage of time?

Don’t rely on other people’s approval—don’t even seek it. What you decide is important in your life is your choice, no one else’s. Popularity, wealth and social acceptance don’t determine your purpose in life. You do.

Find a place for multiple passions. Being too focused on one thing is dangerous. We all have multiple interests, passions and purposes. The important thing is that we do what matters to us most. If it doesn’t matter, don’t waste your time with it. Find a place for each of your passions rather than neglecting some in favor of focus.

Once you find out what matters to you the most, do it. We often delay doing what matters until it’s too late. Don’t fall into that trap. Have the courage to start doing what matters to you and take the steps to make it happen. Leverage your passions—think about practical ways to put your knowledge and excitement to use. It doesn’t have to be crazy and complex. The important thing is that you act on your passions and start doing something with them.

Keep the process going. Develop your passions by learning and exploring more about them. Determine next steps and then follow through. Look outside your passions for new ideas. Cross-pollinate your passions and develop unique ways in which you can continue to explore and expand your passions.

Don’t expect instant results. Developing your passions takes time and devotion. Because this is a passion, it’s a journey worth taking and enjoying, not just an end result. Avoid letting mistakes and failure detract you. Mistakes teach us about things to avoid the next time around. Just make sure your mistakes are always new. Failure is normal and is actually a useful tool in success. Another name for failure is learning. Use it to your advantage to develop your passions. And remain positive.

Happy people keep positive when faced with challenges and perceived setbacks. They know that setbacks are temporary and aren’t nearly as bad as they might seem at first. Challenges help us grow and improve.

Ask yourself, would you keep doing what you are doing right now if you didn’t get paid for it or if it were unpopular? If the answer is no, then stop doing it.

Ultimately, as Aristotle said, happiness depends on ourselves.

The Shadow of Past Habits

“I attribute my success to this—I never gave or took any excuse.”

—Florence Nightingale

Knowing that we have control over certain aspects of our lives does not mean we’ll immediately jump up and start making the necessary changes to start enjoying a more fulfilling life right away. Sure, we may get excited and take a few steps in the right direction. Then something happens. We get sidetracked or we lose our enthusiasm. Sticking with what we know turns out to be a lot easier and less troublesome.

That’s true only in the short run. In the long run, the picture is still the same. You are not living the life you truly want. You can make excuses or you can get back up and start again.

If you don’t want to accomplish something, any excuse will do. You can blame someone else for your misfortunes. You can blame your circumstances. You can blame your parents. You can blame the moron two cubicles over in the office. It really doesn’t matter who or what you blame if you are the one that doesn’t want to take responsibility and accomplish something in your life.

The simple fact is our problems and issues follow us. Change is possible only within the context of your current life. Your aim is to change your story. That does not necessitate that you drop everything and start over. That is just assuming someone else’s path as your own. You must find your own path. You might want a big change, then again you might not.

Sometimes it is worth starting out small. Making big changes might be too difficult or disruptive. Our decisions impact others that we care about, and you may want to minimize that impact. Fair enough.

Think about the aspects of your life that you’re not satisfied with. Let’s say you think life is too complicated. The phone is constantly ringing. The chores never seem to get done because you always busy. You can’t even find time to breath.

You might want to sell everything and move to Mexico, but the wife and kids just aren’t with you on this one. So, what can you do? You can start by setting times when the phone gets turned off. Setting specific parameters around phone use, such as when the phone is on and where it can be used, will keep it from going off when you don’t want it to. Sure, this is small, but it’s a start.

Find five minutes in your day were you just check out. That’s right, completely check out. Don’t answer text messages, don’t read the paper and don’t talk to anyone. Just go somewhere away from it all. It doesn’t even matter what time of day it is or where you’re at, as long as you will not be disturbed. Take those five minutes to not think or worry about anything.

Unhappy about the way you feel or look? Start exercising. Take a walk or go to the gym or play sports. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Just get out and move. Combine it with your five minutes and make it 30 minutes of walking, alone, with your thoughts (no music).

Whatever it is you want out of life, it’s a good idea to start by making a personal vision statement. A personal vision statement is simply a 2-3 sentence statement about what you want to achieve in life—an über-goal, if you will. Circumstances change, you change, people change, but the personal vision statement rarely does (at least not very often, perhaps every five or ten years). The personal vision statement outlines who you want to be and what you want out of life. It’s general, not too specific, as the idea is to provide you with a guiding approach, not specific steps.

You should still create specific goals for how you will go about achieving what you want out of life, both short-term and long-term goals, but the personal vision statement is the guiding principle that all of your goals roll up to. The personal vision statement is what keeps you on track. It’s what you look to when you are unsure about the path you should take.

Personal vision statements should reflect your core beliefs and values. They are an outline of high-level objectives. For example, my personal vision statement is

I will be a better and more fulfilled person by following my own path, exploring my own dreams and engaging more often with the people I care about. I will constantly learn and grow by exploring the world, trying new things and keeping an open mind. My happiness is important to me and I will strive to enhance it and share with those around me. I will dedicate myself to passionately living in the now and being thankful for being alive.

Creating your own personal vision statement requires thinking about who you are, what you want and what is important to you. Make a list of items for each of those categories and see if there are some common themes that come out in your list. Those are probably things that should be in your vision statement. Feel free to tweak your vision statement every now and then, but it really should be broad enough and encompass your overall life goals enough to not need major rewrites all that often.

Once you have a personal vision statement, you should start creating specific goals. Goals are extremely useful in achieving what you want in life. Studies show that people with goals are far more successful at whatever it is they are doing.

You have probably heard of SMART goal setting—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-targeted. That is great for many goals, except life-changes are not always measurable in the traditional sense or have specific deadlines. They may simply be a process, such as being in good physical health. You don’t want to end that goal.

Determining what you want is the first step in actually getting what you want out of life. You would be surprised at how many people really don’t know what they want. They may say they want to live better, be happier, learn a foreign language, and so on. But what does that all really mean? How do you define “better?” How do you define “happier?” Which foreign language to learn?

A goal needs to be specific and well-defined. If you’re not specific, then you won’t be able to figure out how to reach your goal, let alone figure out if you have reached your goal. Details are important. Saying, I want to reduce my stress, is not a goal. How would you know if you ever attained that goal and how would you track it as an ongoing process? I want to reduce my stress by meditating every morning for 10 minutes. This is more specific and can be tracked. Additional tasks and details can be added as needed, such as actions that need to be taken and the reason why you want to be successful with this goal.

Don’t confuse goals with tasks. Doing the laundry is a task, becoming better at remembering to the do the laundry every week is a goal. You should have short-term goals for the next month and long-terms goals that cover the next year and five years. Think about where you want to be in a year from now. What about the next five years? Things change, so don’t be afraid to adjust your goals when it makes sense.

Write down your goals and how you plan on accomplishing them. This has the effect of making them real. When goals are written down there is no room for dissembling about the goal or forgetting it. Written goals are legitimate and more tactile. I find it also helps to tell people about your goals. They will ask you how you how its coming along, providing motivation. Look for friends with the same goals to see if you can help each other.

With a specific, written goal, you now have to figure out the steps necessary to making it a reality. What do you have to do to become a fluent Spanish speaker in one year? There are several options such as taking community college classes, hiring a private tutor, join a Spanish language group, spending time in a Spanish-speaking location, buying software, buying a book, etc. They all have pros and cons, and different level of timing and commitment. Think about the options. Select the one that will work best for you, then plan out what you have to do.

Planning is key. If you are taking classes, then you have to attend them regularly. If you are doing independent studying, then you have to sit down and practice a few nights a week (or more). Determine what it will take. Be realistic about your level of commitment and about your progress.

Your goal should be reasonable, or you will be setting yourself up for failure. Be realistic about what you want to do and when you want to do it by. Keep in mind the commitments you already have and what the likelihood is that you will follow through on it. None of this should take that long to do, but its important to do it if you want to be successful at achieving your goal.

Many of us are great at setting goals. Most of us are less than stellar at achieving them. This is human nature to some degree. We set high expectations for ourselves not really considering everything that will have a bearing on us as we set about attempting to meet those expectations. When things get a little too challenging, we eventually give up and revert the path of least resistance.

Beyond our human nature is also the way we structure our goals. We often frame goals in vague terms that are not actionable. Usually they go something like “I will exercise more and eat less.” Most of us have probably had this goal for the last 10 years running. The problem is that the goal is vague and doesn’t frame the situation for your brain properly. There are no details, no descriptions, no specifics; only a conceptual idea of what you want to achieve. That is not enough for most people to work with. The brain is wired for contingencies. Using the if-then method is setting your goals up in just that fashion.

Framing your goals in terms your brain understands is the key to being more successful. The if-then method provides your brain with needed information to act accordingly when a situation arises without much thought or monitoring on your part. The basic idea is if X happens, then I will do Y. X can be a situational, such as a certain time and place, or actionable, such as a particular event has occurred.

The if-then method is simple. If it is 10pm then I will go to bed, or If the alarm goes off, I will get up.

Studies have shown that using the if-then method is very successful, far more than traditional goal-setting methods. You have set up cues for your brain in terms that your brain understands. At a subconscious level your brain will be searching for the cue to take action on. When if happens, you automatically follow through on the then. The best part about this is that you don’t have to seriously monitor yourself or struggle with willpower because the brain is now seeking out the cue on its own and is ready to act on it when the cue happens—the process is automatic.

Use this method for achieving all of your goals, changing your behavior, and essentially re-wiring your brain to act on circumstances in the way you want. When things get stressful at work, use the if-then method to relax and stay calm. When you want to achieve specific goals, use the if-then method to be successful.

Sometimes we need to look at the things that detract us from our goals or don’t add any value to our lives. The way to eliminate those things that bring us down is to identify them in a To Stop Doing list and then work toward to the goal of stopping doing them, or at least minimizing them.

This is actually rather easy to do. Start by thinking of 3-5 things that you simply don’t like doing. Perhaps these are obligations that you feel you must do but don’t enjoy doing. Maybe there are things you wish you did not do but do anyway. Watching television for hours, playing video games for hours, sitting in front of the computer on Facebook for hours, and so on. For others it might be shopping and purchasing all the time. Whatever it is, I am pretty sure you can come up with a list of 3-5 things that you want to stop doing. Write them down. This should be a separate from your goals.

You will be surprised at the number of things you do that don’t add any value to your day or that you simply dislike doing but continue to do anyway. Most likely eliminating these things will not cause much of a problem. It may seem like it will be a big deal to stop doing things that we have been doing for a long time, but the stopping them will likely have little or no repercussions at all. Ask yourself, “What will happen if I stop doing this.” and you find the answer is probably, “nothing.” At best, you will gain more time to do the things you enjoy.

Other people will often pressure you to do things you want to do or find no value in doing. To them you must decline. Learn to say “No.” Being polite and even using an excuse is fine, but you must decline.

Eliminating unnecessary obligations and activities you derive no value from will give you more time and greater freedom to do the things you do enjoy. Start with the first 3-5 things on your To Stop Doing list and then move on to others as you strike the first items from you list. Make it a habit to question why you do certain things, always asking what value you get from it. If there is none, stop doing it.

Avoiding Obstructions

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

—Mark Twain

People are other people’s biggest problem. Think about the number of people you deal with on an average day. Your family, friends, coworkers, clients, people on the street, and so on. We are interacting and communicating with these people on a regular basis. That has a direct impact on us.

It’s better to be alone than in bad company. Negative people are a drain emotionally and physically. When someone is complaining and constantly depressed they will sap you of your positive energy. What’s worse, most of these people only feel better when they bring you down as well.

We all know negative people. They find every wrong in the world and point it out. They complain about every injustice. They worry about all the things that could go wrong with a situation and predict doom and gloom on every situation. They are pessimistic and think the whole world is against them.

If you stick around with negative people for too long, all of their negativity will start to rub off on you. They will make you miserable. We often try to change negative people or comfort them. The problem is that negative people usually don’t want to change and they are not looking for comfort. Misery loves company and negative people will do what they can to sap you of your energy and enthusiasm.

Accept that negative people have chosen to look at the world from a distorted point of view, and then walk away. It’s not worth your time and effort to try to change someone who will not change. You’ll waste your time and positive energy.

The same is true of dysfunctional people. The people we surround ourselves with can either hold us down or lift us up.

Surprisingly, so many of us have friends that are, for lack of a better word, losers. Hanging around with people who have low personal standards will only cause you to lower your own.

Studies show that the people we associate with have a huge impact on us and the decisions we make. If your friends are overweight, you are likely to be overweight. If your friends are healthy and fit, you are likely to healthy and fit. We take on many of the traits and characteristics of those close to us. So why not surround yourself with enlightened and energetic people?

If you want to improve yourself and find happiness, hang around people committed to being great. Avoid negative, dysfunctional people. Being around creative and energetic people will make you a creative and energetic person. Seek out and develop relationships with people who have the traits you desire.

Don’t expect everyone to be nice, though. Because self-actualized people are not pretending to be something they’re not, they are not trying to please everyone all of the time. We all have insecurities and fears, and sometimes they show through. The world is not a perfect place with perfect people. If you want to surround yourself with great people, don’t overlook those who might occasionally get angry or impatient. Their honestly, decency, and sincerity will show they are a great person. The point is, choose your friends wisely.

Of course, sometimes we don’t get a choice about the people who surround us. Work and other social interactions often put us in touch with people we would rather avoid. How we interact with these people is just as important.

Avoid taking anything personally. You are not that special. If a person is being rude to you, chances are they are rude to others. If a person is argumentative, they most likely argue with others too. Don’t take the bait. Arguing over trivial matters is not worth your time and energy. You will not be able to convince the other person he or she is right or wrong. Their opinions and view of the world are different from yours. Accept that and don’t bother with the trivialities. There is no benefit to getting worked up about it.

You best solution is to avoid the argument all together. That may not always be possible. If you find yourself in such a situation, then actively listen to the person. Really pay attention to what they are saying. This accomplishes a couple things. First, most people are argumentative because they want attention, so listening to them gives them the attention they so dearly desire. You don’t have to agree, just acknowledge. Second, you will discover what their real motivations are—the truth of what they are saying, which may not even be related to their words. This will help you determine the best course of action. That is, you can simply say, Thanks, and be on your way, or address the real issue at hand if you have to.

The next time you are tempted to get into an argument, stop and consider what it really means. The amount of time and energy involved in trying to convert someone to your side will be wasted on a person that sees things differently than you. Do you really want a person like that to be on your team? Probably not.

Sometimes the person creating the obstacles is ourselves. Many of us go about trying to impress the world with our nonexistent qualities. We buy designer clothes, drive expensive cars, and boast about our achievements.

The problem is that you don’t end up impressing anyone. People will simply see you as superficial and vapid, and they will start to avoid you. The type of people you want around you are not the type of people likely to be influenced by your ostentatious displays. The people who would be influenced are not those you will have any meaningful relationship with, and eventually they would discover who you really are anyway and head the other direction.

Just be yourself. Don’t worry about what others think. More important than the clothes you wear and the car you drive is your character—what you stand for and believe in. People adore and flock to those who share their true selves. They avoid the desperate and insecure. If you still feel the need to impress the world, then do so through volunteer work and charity. Mother Teresa impressed everyone.

Inevitably you’ll face a lot of disapproval as you go through life. You cannot please everyone and you shouldn’t even try. Trying to please everyone is a recipe for failure. Aside from the fact that you don’t need adulation from everyone you encounter, living up to others’ ideals will make you feel anxious and tired.

Avoid seeking approval for what you want out of life. It is important to be yourself. Pablo Picasso made the point well. “My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.” Deciding your own path is the true key to success and contentment. You cannot achieve either through others.

Sometimes the problems we face have nothing to do with other people. When faced with what seems an insurmountable problem, take a step back and look at the problem from a different perspective. This distance helps you see different ways in which you can address the problem rather than be overwhelmed by it. You will also see how to avoid the same problem again.

Acknowledge problems instead of fighting them. This little trick is used in a lot of 12-step programs, but that’s because it works! Denying a problem or fighting it only strengthens it because you’re not really considering the problem; you’re just avoiding it.

If you have trouble with credit card debt, then you need to acknowledge that and the actions that lead to it. Then you will be able to see the true problem and begin to solve it.

Make a list of options and what actions you need to take for each option. If you credit card debt is so bad, bankruptcy might be the answer. Write down that you need to research how to file, can you do it yourself, and so on. Paying the debt down is another option. How much do you need to pay each month? How will you find that money? How will you avoid accumulating more debt? Do this for every option and you will find that one of them stands out as the best solution.

Don’t berate yourself despise the world for the situation you’re in. Maybe it was your fault or maybe it wasn’t. That’s beside the point. It is what it is, so find a way tackle it. Then look at experience as a learning opportunity for what not to do the next time around.

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