My 10 Best Life Lessons for Success



“Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor.” — Sholom Aleichem

Here they are, my top 10 lessons for life boiled down.  I regularly ask people I know for their 10 best lessons in life.

We all learn lessons.  Some are harder than others.

Everybody has lessons to share whether it’s about their best skill or it’s their life lessons learned.

I figured since I regularly ask people for their best life lessons, I might share some of my best lessons learned.

This particular set is the result of me thinking really hard for 10 minutes (at which point I had to send my email), so they are likely to change as I give them more thought.

As you’ll see below, there’s an important lesson I learned that helped me settle for these 10 lessons as “good enough for now”, with the idea that I can revisit later.

10 Lessons for Life

Here is a summary of my top 10 lessons learned in life:

  • Lesson 1. Model the best.
  • Lesson 2. Be YOUR best.
  • Lesson 3. Set boundaries.
  • Lesson 4. Life’s not static.
  • Lesson 5. Follow the growth.
  • Lesson 6. Focus on one pitch at a time.
  • Lesson 7. Version your perfection.
  • Lesson 8. It’s what you know and who you know.
  • Lesson 9. Use metaphors to shape your experience.
  • Lesson 10. Structure your success.

Life Lesson #1. Model the Best.

If you want to be great at something, learn from the best.

Find the best of the best.

When I studied martial arts, I studied Bill Superfoot Wallace.  He set a bar I never would have imagined possible.

That’s what heroes do.

They inspire and they prove a path.

I learn from everyone around me.  I find their super skill, and they are usually more than happy to share what they know.

Life Lesson #2. Be Your Best.

You can’t always be THE best, but you can always be YOUR best.  You can’t ask yourself for more than that.

Because I always modeled from the best, I always felt like I missed the mark.

I had to learn 3 things:

  1. When you’re just starting out, you’re the sapling.  The might oak took time.
  2. Enjoy the journey.
  3. Your best is not the same as somebody else’s.

I remember John Wooden saying in an interview once that the key to his peace of mind was knowing that he gave his best.

I think the key to giving your best, is knowing where you have your best to give, and playing to your strengths.

The thing that always keeps me going here is I remember that giving up is easy.  Forgiving yourself is not.

I don’t want to be on the rocking chair thinking, what if I gave just a little more.

Life Lesson #3. Set Boundaries.

Sure, set boundaries says the guy who regularly worked 100+ hours.  That’s what playing to your strengths and following your passion can do to you.

I didn’t burn out.  Passion fueled me.  I just didn’t know when to stop.

I also didn’t know that limits are your friend.  I have a simple framework now for setting boundaries, and I invest in my life hot spots: mind, body, emotions, career, financial, relationships, and fun.

Another key to boundaries is knowing your values.  This is especially true if you’re a people pleaser.  You can aim to please, but don’t lose yourself in the process.

Life Lesson #4. Life’s Not Static.

When I was younger, I thought I would make a lot of money and then live off of it.  I was thinking like a static lake instead of a flowing river.

Things flow in and things flow out.

People flow in and people flow out.

Your body changes.  Your skills change over time.

I’m regularly surprised by how people have made something more of themselves or how they’ve let themselves go.

It’s also a reminder to find a sustainable path in life.

Seasons change, and there are cycles to everything.  It’s the ebb and flow, along with the waxing and waning.

Life Lesson #5. Follow the Growth.

This goes hand-in-hand with life’s not static.  When you get on your surfboard of life, follow the growth.  Find the waves, and when there’s no wave make one.

I pick projects that grow me.

I find people that grow me.

I look to the market and I find the growth.

Related to this, it’s important to know when to quit.  Cut your losses.  Quitting the right things and sticking with the right things is an art and science.

It means knowing yourself and working on your anticipation skills.

I regularly look to the future, find the trends, and figure out where to put my time and energy for the best waves.

Life’s not static.  You’re growing or dying, climbing or sliding.

Don’t merely be a shadow of your former self.  Become the mighty Oak.

Life Lesson #6. Focus on One Pitch at a Time.

Focus on one pitch at a time, but check the scoreboard now and then.  Your brain works better when it’s in the zone.

Your get in the zone by being in the moment.

When I catch myself focusing too much on the scoreboard, I remind myself to keep my eye on the ball.

This improves my focus, and it helps me find my flow.

I make a time to check the scoreboard, but I don’t let it disrupt my focus or rattle my cage.

It’s the key to how I knock the ball out of the park.

Life Lesson #7. Version Your Perfection.

When you try to be your best and you model from excellence, it can be tough to set the right bar at a given point in time.

There’s never enough time and you can never be too good.

Surprisingly, I didn’t learn one of my most important lessons until I joined Microsoft:

Version your perfection.

Focus on “good enough for now” and improve with each release.  Getting incrementally better over time is better than never being good enough, or never being ready.

I get from idea to done quickly, and then I improve.  Feedback is your friend.  It’s a learning loop.

I’d rather get the learnings and results from 20 dry runs, than one *perfect* run, that falls short.

Good enough for today, means I’ll be back in the batters box, swinging better tomorrow.

It’s this very lesson that let me have 10 life lessons for now, while I can refine again later, and this is a key concept behind my You 2.0 guide.

Life Lesson #8. It’s What You Know and Who You Know

Just when you thought being good enough, was good enough.  Unfortunately, in my experience, it’s never been the case.

The people in your life can create or limit opportunities.  If you keep bumping into glass ceilings, you might be trying to go it alone.

Life’s a team sport and it’s better together.  You’re the sum of your network, and in today’s landscape, your network will open or close doors for you.

Life’s not static and neither is your network.  Tune it and prune it like a Bonsai tree.

Add the catalysts to your life, and limit the time you spend with the drains.

Life’s too short, not to stack yourself for success.

Life Lesson #9. Use Metaphors to Shape Your Experience

The metaphors you use can bring you down, or lift you up.  Is your life a tragedy or a comedy or a drama?

Are you nose to the grindstone or unleashing your best?

Connect your metaphors to your values and you light up your life.

Adventure is one of my values.  I found this out at one of my recent leadership trainings.  Suddenly thinks make so much more sense.  It runs deep.  I always thought I was going to be Indiana Jones (but with Nunchucks instead of a whip.)

I’ve got a lust for the open road, whether I’m on my motorcycle or in my Jeep with the top down.

When I first joined Microsoft, the words “Go West young man!” echoed through my mind.

Whenever I lead a project, I make it an epic adventure.   When life’s an adventure, you deal with the pitfalls.

Figure out what your metaphors are and if they aren’t working for you, swap them out.

Life Lesson #10. Structure Your Success

The most effective people I know set themselves up for success.  They have personal success patterns for thinking, feeling, and doing.

They have checklists, mantras, and metaphors that remind them of what works, and they throw away what doesn’t.

I’ve made success a journey and I continuously learn and refine patterns and practices for mind, body, emotions, career, financial, relationships and fun.

This helps me deal with the set backs and always find a way forward.

I’ve learned coping strategies for some of life’s worst scenarios.  I’ve adopted some simple practices for weekly results, such as my Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, and Friday Reflection pattern that help me get back on my horse, when I get knocked down.

It’s more than just at the personal level.  I also structure success at the social and environment level.

Who I hang with and the container I’m in is an important influence.

Your container limits or enables you.  Your personal development helps you succeed, but your container helps you amplify your results, and your support network can help you get back on your feet when you need it most.

I’ll have more life lessons another day.   I think it’s about time for me to compile my best of my best life lessons learned.  Consider this a starter set and version 1.0. 🙂

How about you?

What are your top life lessons learned?

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  1. JD, I love this post!
    It’s funny, I was just thinking this morning how I need to revise my latest personal commandments – loving rules to live by! 😉
    one of them was ‘Do NOT take life so seriously!’ -I can say this because naturally, I do! I am learning to lighten up, have more fun, worry less, pause and meditate more!

    What most resonated with me as I read this was:
    [Because I always modeled from the best, I always felt like I missed the mark. I had to learn 3 things: 1) When you’re just starting out, you’re the sapling. The might oak took time. 2) Enjoy the journey. 3) Your best is not the same as somebody else’s.]

    I agree = guilty with this also. I also have beautiful mentors, but I am also a mentor to someone else, so it is not fair to disregard the latter. Everyone grows and there is no need to rush growing up! I am learning to soften up, and embrace the lessons without taking it so hard! 😉

    the other few things you shared that I loved:
    *set limits and not just boundaries (I never thought of this before, at least it never resonated differently and more deeply as it did just now) i need this right now! 😉
    *I pick projects that grow me.(i agree with this. I am learning just because I commit to a writing project does not mean I have it altogether, I am a channel and as it comes through I learn also what I must align with)

    Thanks for sharing!
    have a loving day!

  2. My top life lessons:

    1) Your life is what you make of it. I’m still working my way through this lesson in a sense but I have seen awesome results when I try to do things. For example, recently I was at a party and wasn’t having a great time really. While my body was there, my mind was a mess of, “Coulda, woulda, shoulda,” or thinking that others would come to me rather than my own get out there. I got out there and met some nice people, had some laughs and now hope to repeat the process again soon. Other times would include going to university and doing what I wanted to do, which lead to some connections and growth.

    2) You will make mistakes, but learn from most of them. Not every mistake will have something that you change so it doesn’t happen again. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, though sometimes after those mistakes we get better. This is probably a lot like “Version Your Perfection” though from a different angle.

    3) Be yourself. Life is too short to pretend to be someone else all the time. You may be surprised at how well you are received if you get out there and are who you are. This lesson comes to me after years of being fake and really not liking those results so I’ll try something else.

    4) Know thy values and use them to make your life better. The idea of core values appeals to me and I’m still working on which ones click for me more than others. Being honest and loyal are a couple I know I have in spades, but I’m still working on what are a few others to add to the list. Perhaps in this should also be knowing one’s strengths and how to use them to make life better. Note that an easy life isn’t necessarily a good one.

    5) Be mindful. That be in the moment. Your life is right now, the past has already happened and the future is unknown at this point. Your “Focus on One Pitch at a Time” lesson from another perspective again. I don’t see life as just one thing so while my view is different, I think the lessons may be quite similar.

    I realize that it is only 5, but these are my big ones.

  3. Very good one!
    I like your “lessons learned” series a lot. This one special as it is Lessons Learned from self.

    Role models and modeling the best seems to me too obvious today. That was not the situation some time ago.

    I am very grateful to you for sharing it now and then…

  4. Excellent post, and Stumbled. I didn’t understand ‘version your perfection’ until I read your explanation, and I think that’s an important lesson for perfectionists like I used to be.

    Right now I’m working on picking the best model for whatever it is I’m learning (which at the moment happens to be swing dancing!)

  5. what you’ve shared here are profound. It’s good that you’ve made this observations. Some people go on life without really looking at themselves. One important lesson I’ve learned from life is to learn from the experiences of other people, like what I’ve learned from you. At least I become aware of what I miss in life. 🙂

  6. Lesson #8… “It’s What You Know and Who You Know”

    Spot on. My progress is 100% not because of being me or being someone individualistic (no man’s an island). Most often, its always someone out there who need a lil’ prodding to get me two steps further, another to nudge me one more feet forward, and sometimes a pat on the back that propels me a whole yard ahead! + what I know = definitely can go a distance. 🙂

    And one fine example is that I got to know You too JD!

  7. @ Jen

    A friend reminded me that life is a sitcom. That’s one way to invoke more fun, and more laugh tracks. In some scenarios, I try to think, what would Lucy do?

    The thing I always keep in mind is never take life too seriously, or you’ll never make it out alive.

    It sounds like you’re on your unstoppable path, and that’s a great path to be on.

    @ JB

    Beautiful set of lessons. While the words may vary, the patterns and practices are the same.

    @ Louisa

    Interestingly, the word boundaries bothers me because it sounds like putting up fences, but I had to change my perspective.

    @ Alik

    Thank you. Even though I know to make everyone my mentor, every now and then I forget. As soon as I remember, I put on my curiosity cap and the wisdom flows in.

    @ Daphne

    Thank you. Maybe a better way to think of version your perfection is: iterate more, plan less. A colleague of mine coined the term and it’s sticky.

    Swing dancing sounds like fun and it must be a blast finding the best models to learn from.

    @ Walter

    Thank you. Learning from other people’s experience is one of the best ways to make the most of life.

    @ Daniel

    Well put, I like your illustration, and I like your attitude of grattitude. Whenever I think of how I accomplish key things in my life, I can’t help but to think, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

  8. Hi J.D.

    The lesson to “Be your best” is what our parents taught us. And how fortunate I feel for learning that lesson early in life. I remember them saying how it didn’t matter if your were a ditch digger or a corporate executive – be the best, and do your best (and be proud, knowing you gave it your all).

    I also like your #8. It’s what you know and who you know. Your words, “…Tune it and prune it like a Bonzai tree. Add the catalysts to your life, and limit the time you spend with the drains. Life’s too short, not to stack yourself for success.” are spot on.

    Great lessons, J.D.

  9. Thanks J.D. I’m starting to think over things my parents would tell me over and over again and found another pair:

    Take your time. Maybe this is so universal for me it just didn’t pop up initially. This applies to lots of things really, from sports to eating to time in the bathroom. While you may lose out here and there, don’t forget that sometimes things work out for a reason. Sometimes I’ll think I have to rush but then sometimes out of nowhere I’ll have this thought and then I slow down for a few moments and focus on what I am trying to do.

    Things will work themselves out. While this does appear to somewhat contradict that your life is what you make of it from first glance, after some thinking about different views it may make more sense. The idea here is that while you don’t always get exactly what you want, you may get something else that is just as good if not better in the end. A few examples of this just to illustrate the point:

    In high school, I wanted to take a Geology course that not enough students signed up and so I had to take something else. I ended up taking Grade 11 Biology before Grade 10 Science because of how the schedule worked out. In university, there are various Combinatorics courses I wanted to take but didn’t get a chance to do so.

    In my working life, I have changed companies a few times and I’m still here. If someone told me when I graduated what would happen over the next 12 years, I doubt I’d believe that. How many people can say that within a week they flew back home for a funeral, my mom passed away in January 2002 and I flew from Seattle to Detroit for the funeral, and then came back to work only to discover a lot of things changed and my biggest fears became real? Or that with only 10 months left on my visa, I’d get an excellent opportunity to work for another dot-com? Or my list of medical changes in the past couple of years that does tend to shock a lot of people as I’ve had an aircast on my right foot now for 2 years and I’m not sure how much longer I’ll have it, but I do try to make the best of what I have.

    I wonder if there is a post about the wisdom parents give whether or not you realize it at the time. Time to go do a search…

  10. J.D. I HAD to Stumble this just now and here’s what I said in the review.

    “Just one of the best motivational articles I’ve read. Ever.

    If you are not reading J.D. Meier’s Sources of Insight blog you are really missing out on some intensely great self-improvement articles.”

    And that’s, of course — the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


  11. Really great post, J.D. I learned a lot from this one and hope that I can find ways to really apply these lessons to my life. Thanks for writing all of this out and presenting in such a nice, organized format. It’s so helpful!

  12. My favorite is follow your growth. It’s what encouraged me to create my blog. I wanted growth in a certain area, so I knew that if I had to write about it then I would research it then learn it inside and out. Now I’m an expert. I get to share my ideas with others and help them overcome their barriers. I’m a lucky man.

  13. @ Barbara

    Thank you. Thinking about relationships like a Bonzai is probably one of the most important lessons I learned. It’s a powerful metaphor.

    @ JB King

    Beautiful set of lessons. It’s funny how many lessons we have inside us, where some we may not have been ready for, and some we learned the hard way, and some we’ve refined over time.

    @ Jannie

    Thank you. You get me, you really do. I’m glad this post hit the mark.

    @ Positivley Present

    Thank you. I think you apply these lessons pretty well. This just teases them out more explicitly.

    @ Karl

    Whenever I find myself stagnating or not living life the way I can, it’s because I stopped following the growth. It’s a continuous reminder to catch the next train and find a way forward.

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