41 Life Lessons For My 41st Birthday

Photo: David Bracetty

I started this collection of life lessons in 2020 for my 38th birthday and update it each year with a new lesson that I’ve been taught over the years or learned myself (oftentimes the hard way). It was inspired by Kevin Kelly’s “68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice” and this annually updated post from my friend Chris Corbin.

This year’s addition is about making the most of the time you have with the people you love: Whether it’s for a few minutes or a several-day stretch, act as if you’ll never see each other again. I promise you won’t ever regret doing this, even if you end up hanging out a thousand more times. Hugs, kisses, handshakes, and other acknowledgements of love never get old. Time is a precious and finite commodity—it’s important to make every moment count. I learned this particular lesson the hardest way possible nearly 15 years ago when my Mom passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm at the age of 50. What I’d give for a do-over of my last visit with her knowing what I know now—on the flipside, maybe I wouldn’t know this now if not for what happened then. This particular lesson has served me well in the years since, most recently in February when my Papa Billy passed away at the age of 94. I was sad when I got the news from my Dad, but I was also grateful that when we last saw each other on Christmas Day a few months prior, we made the most of that visit, both of us knowing full well that the next one wasn’t guaranteed. I’ll never forget those few hours we spent together, the conversations we had, the laughs we shared, the firm handshake goodbye. I’m smiling right now just thinking about it.

While I wrote this list for me, it’s my hope that there’s a nugget or two that you can take away and apply to your own life. Please feel free to share it if anything in here speaks to you. I’d also encourage you to spend some time compiling your own list of life lessons that you can refer back to when necessary. It’s a good exercise in reflection, whether it’s your birthday or not.

Note: Some of these have to do with running, others not so much. They’re listed here in no particular order and I’ve included attribution/inspiration when I was able to remember the source.

1. Respect your elders. Learn from them. Not only are they older than you, they’re most assuredly wiser, too.

2. Communication is a two-way street but listening is the most important direction to be traveling in.

3. When running on the roads, always run facing traffic whenever possible unless navigating a blind turn or dangerous hill so you can see what’s coming at you and get out of the way if necessary. If you’re on a path that’s closed to cars, stay to one side and go with the flow of bike and/or foot traffic.

4. There are very few things in life that can’t wait until tomorrow. (My Dad)

5. Avoid the letsrun.com message boards at all costs. (n.b. The home page is a fine place to keep up with news and analysis on the sport.)

6. Once you get fancy, fancy gets broken. (Morgan Spurlock on The Tim Ferriss Show podcast)

7. Don’t try to be consistently great. Whatever the pursuit, you’ll get a lot further by getting great at being consistent.

8. Don’t spend more than you make and don’t buy more than you need. (Nana Fraioli)

9. Your output depends on your input. Garbage in=garbage out. If you want to produce high-quality output, you first need to focus on making sure you’re getting solid input. Want to be a better writer? You better be reading some good books. Want to become a faster runner? You need to put in more quality miles first. (Austin Kleon)

10. Control what you can control. To hell with the rest.

11. Wash your hands for crissakes. (Especially these days!)

12. If possible, try and have at least two different pairs of running shoes in your rotation at all times: one pair for most of your miles, another pair for races and/or faster workouts. Not only is it advisable to have different shoes for different types of runs/workouts, each pair will last a little longer on their own if they have a chance to rest between efforts.

13. Ask the question you want to ask. Don’t hesitate or beat around the bush. Be direct.

14. Run without a watch at least once a week—more often if you dare!

15. Everyone needs an editor, not just writers. Have someone in your life who will see through your bullshit, give you honest feedback, help you to view something through a different lens, and trim the fat where necessary.

16. Opportunities are never handed to you—you create them for yourself, whether you know it or not. (My Dad)

17. Try to learn at least one other language. It will improve your overall communication skills and help expand your worldview. (It can also help you impress a date.)

18. Adversity is just an opportunity to see how you’ll respond to what’s being thrown at you.

19. There’s never a good time to do most things in life. At some point you’re just going to have to jump and figure out how to build the parachute on the way down.

20. Want to perform better and recover faster? Going to bed earlier and drinking more water throughout the day are two of the simplest and most cost-effective changes anyone can make.

21. Mood follows action—not the other way around. If you want to change your mental state, change your physical state first. (Rich Roll)

22. Enough is enough. We’re wired to want more and/or better: more miles, another personal best, more friends, a bigger bank account, more stuff, better recognition, a bigger house, another pint of ice cream, one more glass of wine, and the list goes on. Learn to be content with what you have and appreciate when your cup is full.

23. Be wary of anyone who is overly enthusiastic and/or seemingly happy all the time. Something isn’t right there.

24. Please and thank you will get you a long way in life. They’re the two simplest gestures of respect and gratitude that you can show another person. (My Mom)

25. Stop “shoulding” on yourself, e.g. “I should be further ahead than I am now, I should be fitter, I should be married, etc.” Where you should be is exactly where you are. Accept that and work with it. (Brad Stulberg)

26. Love and companionship are the most important things in life. Let the people who mean the world to you know it and spend as much time with them as possible. (Nana Fraioli)

27. Don’t be afraid to work hard, but know when to take a rest. Otherwise you won’t last very long. (Nana Fraioli)

28. Never bet against Meb Keflezighi.

29. Most of the pressure we feel is self-induced. The possibilities become endless when you realize that you have more control over the release valve than you think.

30. You get what you pay for: There’s usually a reason quality comes with a cost.

31. Banking time in a marathon—any race, really—is almost always a terrible idea. Be patient and methodical in your execution. Great racers, regardless of the speed they’re running, are the ones who slow down the least.

32. Try living somewhere else for a little while just to see what it’s like, what you can learn, and who you can meet. If it’s not for you, you can always move back home.

33. Running clockwise around the track is for warmups, cooldowns, and strides only.

34. If your running shorts come with a built-in liner, there is no need to wear anything else under them.

35. Beware of letting things go “just this once.” It almost always ends up being more than just this once. Stand your ground.

36. Death is life’s most uncomfortable truth. Spend some time each week thinking about the people you’ve lost in your life and the fact that you’re going to die someday too. This exercise invites reflection, brings clarity, helps you identify who and what’s important, and forces you to think about how you’re spending your time.

37. Unless you’re an actor or an actress, avoid drama at all costs.

38. Be kind. A simple act of kindness can make someone else’s day and it will help you feel better while you’re at it. Everybody wins when you’re kind.

39. Curiosity is the first step toward arriving at a truth. It won’t always get you there, however, and you might be surprised where you end up, but a genuinely curious person is guaranteed to learn something important or worthwhile along the way.

40. Gratitude is a sustainable fuel. Fill your tank with it often and it will carry you a long way—regardless of how bumpy the journey gets or how long the road ahead of you seems.

41. When you’re spending time with people you love, whether it’s for a few minutes or a several-day stretch, act as if you’ll never see each other again. I promise you won’t ever regret doing this, even if you end up hanging out a thousand more times. Hugs, kisses, handshakes, and other acknowledgements of love never get old. Time is a precious and finite commodity—it’s important to make every moment count.

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