41 Lessons at 41
By Mike Pietrzak
Today I turn 41, and I’m taking this opportunity to reflect back on my wild ride around the sun.
Last year I shared my 40 lessons at 40, and since then I’ve been eager to repeat this exercise. I’m doing it mainly for me, but I hope you find some solace and inspiration in my own meandering experience.
Here are my 41 Lessons at 41.
1. Surrender beats push every time.
Sure, you can build a business, get rich, or achieve something incredible by working 120 hour weeks, white knuckling it, and forcing your way to success. But you’ll be miserable the whole time and destroy your mental and physical health. When you instead allow your work to effortlessly flow, not only do you enjoy the ride, but the outcomes are better.
2. Make feeling good your #1 priority.
Related to Lesson 1, your state determines the quality of your life. If you’re sad, anxious, frustrated, or angry much of the time, you’re doing it wrong. Each time you sit down to work, check in with yourself: “how do I feel?” If the answer isn’t at least “pretty good” then don’t leap into work—do some little act that will make you feel better. Make a tea, call a friend, throw on some uplifting music. Feel good first, then do.
3. Make having fun your second #1 priority.
Sensing a developing theme? Does life feel like fun to you, or an endless list of “have-tos?” Where is there more joy than in having fun? The truth is that anything you do can be fun, if you decide that it will be. I don’t love cutting the grass but with noise canceling headphones and some hair metal, it becomes rapturous. You spend so much of your life working—why not inject fun into it... or seek greener pastures?
4. Hard work alone can’t ensure success.
A cliche: the man or woman who works three jobs and still can’t pay the rent. I heard an illuminating saying: “If hard work was sufficient to ensure success, every African woman would be a billionaire.” I will go further and say that our Western obsession with hard work is idiotic. Why work hard when you could work with joy? Why work hard when you could surrender and let your work flow? See Lessons 1 through 3.
5. Transition off your pharmaceutical mood medications ASAP.
I’m not a doctor and this isn’t medical advice but we know that many pharmaceutical drugs do more harm than good. Plus, there’s overwhelming research that natural supplements are far more effective (check out 5-HTP, Valerian root, and St. John’s Wort). The same goes for meditation and plant medicine. One study I saw showed that a 20-minute walk in the woods had more positive effects on mood than the leading prescribed drugs.
6. Avoid gluten.
I love bread like only a kid growing up in a Polish household can, but I’ve learned that gluten causes inflammation in the body, mood swings, foggy brain, cognitive and memory issues, stress, and leaky gut. And new science is discovering additional dangers all the time. If you’re struggling with fatigue or low mood, look at your gluten intake.
7. Stand up more often.
Sitting for long periods of time ruins your health and shortens your life. It causes high blood pressure, obesity, and increases blood sugar and cholesterol. For me, sitting too long shortens and tightens the psoas muscles in the front of my thighs, leading to low back pain that makes me want to skip workouts, compounding the problem. Use your pomodoro timer to get up every 30 minutes. Build a walk into your morning, lunch, or evening routine.
8. Anger is usually a mask for pain.
A psychologist introduced me to this idea a few years ago and I’ve observed it to be true. The more anger someone has, the deeper their wound. There’s nothing noble or tough about anger. If you’re struggling with this emotion, use it as a messenger that is telling you that there are one or more traumas that you need to turn and face. Redirect that anger into courage to face your hurts with compassion and love, and the anger will clear.
9. There is nothing to worry about.
Are you alive? Then everything has worked out so far. You have met every challenge that has come your way in the same way: using the full range of skills, genius, and resources available to you. You overcame. And the next challenge that comes? You’ll meet that as best you can, too. You will survive it. And, if you surrender, prioritize feeling good and fun, you may even thrive. If you’re currently in the middle of a great challenge, know that it WILL pass, and you will come out the other side not only whole, but more powerful.
10. Cooking is great therapy.
I like takeout as much as the next person, but if you let it, cooking can be a daily source of joy and peace rather than a chore. Chopping, measuring, stirring, spicing, plating—all of these Zen, simple physical acts can take you out of your mind long enough for it to rest. Plus, food tastes better when you make it yourself.
11. Being always “on” is the quickest way to burnout.
We are human beings, not human doings. Did you know that our stone-age ancestors worked only three hours a day? The rest of the time was likely spent enjoying the miracle of this life. If you have disconnected from that sense of wonder it’s likely because you rarely allow yourself to switch out of doing mode. Nobody will die if you slow down, and you won’t get a medal for being “sooo busy.”
12. To have a great relationship, master the art of listening without responding.
You know this dance: your partner says something and you get defensive. That creates an equal reaction in them. It escalates. You end up on opposite sides of the barricade, nobody is happy, and you’re more likely to fight like this the next time around. Instead, tell your partner: “I’m just going to listen to what you have to say for the next 5/10/15 minutes and not argue, justify, or even speak.” Then, actually listen with the intention to understand. The next day you can switch roles. This will do wonders for your bond with your partner, or anyone.
13. If you haven’t found your voice yet, keep looking.
What I mean by voice is your unique, powerful vehicle for communicating with the world. Every voice is its own style. If you’re shy, get tongue-tied, or are unable to say what you mean, your life will change and your confidence will grow when you find your voice. Everyone has a strong, clear voice inside, but you need to first find it, then clear the way for it. Picture yourself literally opening a channel from your heart, up your chest, through your throat, and out your mouth. Practically, you can find your voice by writing and speaking a lot. Don’t be afraid; the words you need are already inside of you.
14. Don’t hide behind “authenticity” or “telling it like it is” to justify cruelty.
I encourage you to speak your truth: being authentic and vulnerable is what the world needs now. But the way you deliver your message means the difference between building or burning a bridge. Before you speak your truth, ask yourself: is what I’m about to say kind, compassionate, diplomatic, and tactful? If not, it will probably create more strife in the world, and you should keep it to yourself.
15. You are not in control.
This one can be hard to swallow because we are taught that with hard work, self-mastery, determination, and sheer force of will, we can accomplish anything. You cannot, at least not via control. I have observed that there is a benevolent, universal intelligence that’s in control. Call it God, Universe, source, human neurology, or quantum physics, but it exists. We certainly have some agency over outcomes, but we exercise it through mindfully choosing our thoughts, beliefs, words, and actions—not by trying to manhandle outcomes with brute force. See Lesson 1.
16. There is no “they”—only us.
Railing against “the elites,” “big business,” “the government,” “politicians,” or any institution is irresponsible. Our society is a mirror image of you and me. Take responsibility for your role in creating it. We create the world with our thoughts, by the friends we keep, the jobs we hold, the things we buy, the media we consume, and the jokes we laugh at. Sure, we may be only one in eight billion, but the principle holds true: anything we do (or don’t do) is a vote for the kind of society we want to see. As Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.”
17. Modern society is deeply insane, but you can choose not to perpetuate it.
I’m not suggesting you go full Thoreau and disappear into seclusion (though it contains a certain appeal!) Lionizing infantile celebrities, narcissistic business leaders, cocky athletes... buying into The Hustle™, never ending consumption, and sensationalist media... attaching your work to your worth—this is not creating the world that YOU want. To create the world that you do want, stop playing someone else’s game and start living from your heart’s desire, and watch yourself thrive.
18. There’s nothing wrong with thinking out loud.
It’s a great way to work out problems, and when you verbalize your dreams and desires, I find that they are more likely to be realized. Worried that people will think you’re crazy if you talk to yourself? Then do it when you’re alone, or stop caring. And remember that thinking is simply talking to yourself inside your head, so what’s the difference in doing it out loud?
19. Words have their limitations.
Our heart “thinks” in images and feelings, not words. Your rational, thinking mind can only take you so far. Some problems are resistant to thinking, and the solution you’re looking for lies in a feeling or a message from the heart (aka subconscious) that can be only received when you put aside the words and thinking. Stay in the heart more often.
20. Too many rules will cause you grief.
Being a dad hammered this home for me. I have developed all sorts of rules for myself and for living over the last 41 years, rules that my daughter doesn’t understand or care about. I appreciate her role as my teacher, because she’s helping me question those rules that are kind of silly, and not serving me (hmm, why can’t we watch the Grinch 3 times in a row?) When you live life too rigid, you’ll be disappointed every time your expectations are not fulfilled. Relax rules that are not serving you.
21. Too few rules will also cause you grief.
On the flipside, living without enough rules—principles, a code, routines, discipline—will rob you of joy. Discipline is freedom, as they say. WIth too many options, you’ll never be able to move forward. With no constraints on your behaviour you’ll hurt others and yourself. Happiness does require that we set some healthy boundaries on our actions. And living in alignment with those boundaries? That’s called having integrity.
22. Be careful with too much coffee.
If you suffer from low-grade anxiety, you might simply be having too much caffeine. I have two strong cups in the morning and while it gives me that get up and go, I’m starting to question whether a calmer, more long-lasting energy would help me do better work and stay more present. And if you drink coffee after noon? That’s almost certainly hurting your sleep quality.
23. Good sleep is 90% of the battle.
More than anything else, lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can F--- up my day. Lack of sleep will prevent me from thinking clearly or doing good work, and will make me cranky and lead to arguments with my wife or clients. And poor sleep means that I’m more susceptible to negative thoughts and will find it harder to choose positivity. If you’re not sleeping well regularly, make fixing this your most urgent priority.
24. When you make money your priority, you’ll have none.
I learned this the hard way, and for 10 years approached every project with the question, “how much money can I make here?” I can admit that one business I founded was a pure get-rich-quick scheme (it didn’t work out). The funny/not funny paradox here is that those who chase money never get it. Instead, make service your priority. Business leaders who ask, “how can I provide value here”, win. Money is a byproduct of service and value.
25. The clearer your vision, the easier life gets.
Many people are working their asses off but not seeing results, and I think this is because they don’t truly know what they want! We’ve adopted our culture’s belief that hard work leads to wealth. It does not (see Lesson #4). If you want an exceptional life you must first see it in painstaking detail in your mind’s eye. This is why I start most of my coaching relationships with visioning exercises where we get extremely clear on the client’s ideal lifestyle: how do you spend each minute of your ideal day? Where do you live? Who are you spending time with? How much money do you have in the bank? What are you working on? And on and on. Without a vision the best education, tools, strategies, marketing, and launch strategy will flop.
26. How you do anything is how you do everything.
This pithy little aphorism is nuclear powered. If you’re sloppy with the dishes you’re probably sloppy in relationships. If you rush to eat, you’ll always feel rushed. Conversely, if you make your bed every day you’ll exercise attention to detail in your business. If you tell the truth, you’ll enjoy honesty from others. The micro becomes the macro in all facets of your life. So do the little things well even if they seem trivial—they will compound like interest.
27. Your presence is a gift, and often is all that’s required.
Have you ever tried to console a friend or partner who was going through something? Perhaps you tried to offer solutions or fix things. I bet that didn’t make the sufferer feel better. Most of the time, when a friend brings you a problem, you being there with your undivided attention and compassion is the best balm for the pain.
28. You have the answers inside you already.
This is a fundamental premise that I bring to my coaching. I don’t have the answers for you; they are already inside of you. The coach’s job is to help the client discover solutions to problems that come from within. If you’re looking for someone else to fix you—or a book, a drug, an experience, a purchase—you’ll be disappointed. Only you know what you need and this can be discovered through quiet contemplation and/or through the questions of a well-intentioned friend or skilled coach, therapist, or mentor.
29. Nobody can make you feel anything.
If you’re offended by anything someone says, know that this offense was created only in your own mind. For many, this idea will not sit right and will itself feel offensive. I urge you to take a minute to consider whether it’s true. How is it that the same statement can make one person feel joy and one feel anger (e.g. you’re beautiful)? The content doesn’t have meaning; the meaning is created in the mind of each beholder. When you understand this and start consciously choosing to interpret everything you see and hear in a way that strengthens you instead of weakens you, you will be freed from the slavery of judgment and reaction.
30. Leadership is a mindset, not a title.
You don’t need permission to take initiative. If you see something that needs to be done, do it. A problem to be fixed? Fix it. Don’t let your title limit you. Interns, janitors, students, homeless people, even prison inmates can act as leaders. Leadership means taking responsibility for yourself and others. And when you step into the leader’s role in whatever domain you live in, benefits start to flow to you: gratitude, recognition, promotions, money, clients, hot dates. Don’t wait; identify as a leader now.
31. Your title is irrelevant.
We all know people with impressive titles who are terrible, incompetent humans. And we know others with no title who are examples to emulate. People make judgments about you based on your actions and your character, not your title. Entrepreneurs: stop stressing about whether to call yourself CEO, Founder, or Director—it’s irrelevant. What matters is how you “show up”, i.e. the quality of your words and actions. Being authentic, vulnerable, and kind will make people like you 100x more than any title.
32. The music you listen to affects your mood.
Music is one of the best parts of the human experience. I listen to everything from Indigenous spiritual chants to black metal to EDM. But I have come to realize that we take on the energy of the music we listen to. I met a man who 15x’d his business revenue, and claims that the only change he made was to start listening to happy music. Listen to angry music and you’ll be angry. Listen to music with a high vibration and you’ll feel omnipotent. Listen to empty-headed top 40 and you’ll be... you get the idea. Choose your music wisely.
33. Most situations don’t require that you have an opinion.
This nugget can release you from a lot of pain, and free up a ton of mental/emotional energy. Your opinion on the day’s events, on vaccines, politics, on your neighbour’s comings and goings... you can choose to see these things as None of My Business. If you choose to have opinions, ensure that they are about things that matter to YOUR life—your thoughts, words, actions, and relationships. Some might say that releasing the affairs of the world is irresponsible, but I say that the world improves only when we improve ourselves—not by watching cable news.
34. Know when it’s time to stop working on yourself.
I am the first person to shout from the rooftops about the importance of developing self-awareness, skills, knowledge, and spirituality. But sometimes we on the personal development path forget what all of this self-work is for: to enjoy life and make ever-greater contributions to the world. People who are ALWAYS working on themselves become dull and stressed. Take a break from edifying books, therapy, classes, work, and meditation once in a while. The time you take away from it will actually improve the rest of your practice.
35. Kids just want to feel safe and loved.
Earlier this week I used my “dad voice” with my daughter while trying to get her to listen to mom. It only made her cry, and I felt awful. Kids are happier and more well adjusted when they feel protected. The same goes for adults. You can apply this to your romantic partnership: all relationship needs boil down to two questions: can I trust you, and do you love me? Understanding this solves a lot of problems.
36. Appearances may be skin deep, but the care you put into yourself speaks volumes.
I don’t know about you, but when I put on a suit I feel great. Pair that with a new haircut and polished shoes and I feel unstoppable. Maybe that’s ego, but I think it’s fair to say two things: the care you put into yourself teaches the world how to treat you. And, when you put care into your clothing, grooming, and fitness, you feel better about yourself. I love my favourite hoodie as much as the next person, but it’s not always the image I want to present to myself or the world.
37. What you appreciate, you get more of.
I’ve observed a universal law: People who are grateful for what they have get more given to them. Perhaps there’s Law of Attraction stuff at work here, or perhaps just pure psychology, but it works. Conversely, those who complain all the time get shunted to the margins of society, and miss the abundance train over and over again.
38. Leave space in your calendar.
I was one of those people who had every waking minute scheduled down to every 15 minutes. Yes, I got more done but I question whether it was the right stuff. Being that organized certainly didn’t make me happy. Creating space for spontaneity and surprise in your life will increase your odds of living a wild adventure, rather than in a highly structured purgatory. If you struggle with this here’s a lifehack: schedule your free time!
39. Clean up your desk(top).
Clutter in your physical space creates mental clutter. If you’ve got papers and other jetsam strewn across your desk, make it disappear. The same goes for your virtual desktop. Stow those icons, screenshots, applications, etc. When you practice minimalism in your physical workspace, you will create order and focus in your mental landscape.
40. Commit to banning complaints from your lexicon.
Simple, but hard to do. When you complain, you weaken yourself, because you focus on what’s wrong and not what’s right. Nobody wants to be around a complainer. Client don’t work with complainers. And if that does convince you, nobody wants to have sex with a negative person. So start being positive and watch your luck improve.
41. You have a power inside you beyond your wildest dreams.
I have witnessed this in myself, friends, my wife, and in coaching clients: whenever you think you’ve achieved your highest potential, new frontiers open up. I’m convinced that in an infinite universe there can’t possibly be limits to what we can manifest. How do you tap your unlimited potential? You remind yourself each day that achieving the impossible is your birthright—then you act to honour that potential with every thought and action you make.
I’m so happy that you made it to the end of this list, and my wish for you is that these lessons improve your life in some way.
Now go out and enjoy your incredible adventure.
And if you want help creating the life of your wildest dreams, set up a coaching consultation with me.