21 lessons for how to get the most out of life, from a guy who retired at 50

Six years ago, at 50, I took early retirement, sold almost everything I owned and began traveling the world. I had been living a good life but longed for something more.

21 lessons to get the most of life

My passions have always been travel, photography and writing, so I decided to take a calculated risk and create a new life on “the road less traveled.”

Hunter S. Thompson said it better than I ever could: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” I am fortunate to have done many extraordinary things since I retired, but none of them would have happened had I not dared to take a few tentative first steps and begin to live differently.

Life still holds many more lessons for me. I have probably missed some stuff and gotten a few things wrong, but I have been paying attention. Here are 21 things I’ve learned since I retired; maybe they’ll help you in your retirement:

1. We ain’t gettin’ out of this alive. With retirement, you have more time to do things you love, but the extra time is wasted unless you are using it productively and actually living your dreams. The road doesn’t go on forever.

2. In the end, we are all dead. Make that phone call or send an email to let someone know you are thinking of him or her. Better yet, go visit. Mend fences, hug, show appreciation, be kind to people. Don’t be complacent; you never know when the people you thought would be there forever will be gone.

3. Money is overrated. Money is a tool. To see it as anything else is folly. Yes, we all need some, but money is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Spend wisely and remember; superfluous wealth only buys superfluities.

4. Time is your most valuable asset. You only get so much, and that is it. You can’t hoard it. You can’t get it back. You can’t turn back the clock. The best you can do is to start investing your time wisely.

5. Stop searching for happiness. The only place you can be happy is in the present. Stop chasing tomorrow and fully experience happiness today.

6. Your bucket list is crap. Putting things on a bucket list can be just another way of deferring your aspirations. Sure, go ahead and make a list but remember: life goes on while you are making plans. Lists are useless unless we use them.

7. Comfort is overrated. The magic in life takes place at the edges of our comfort zones. Memories are made by pushing yourself and trying new things. Challenging yourself and growing your boundaries is more rewarding than security and comfort.

8. Go with your feelings. You don’t have to intellectualize or justify everything you want to do. It is OK to do things solely because you want to. Take dance lessons. Learn to play the zither. Who cares about the critics? You have earned it.

9. You are responsible. You may not be at fault for what happens, but you get to choose how you respond to everything. Yes, everything. Your response to anything is a choice. You are response-able.

10. You get to choose what matters. You didn’t get this far to keep jumping through other people’s hoops. Don’t forget the importance of yourself.

11. You can’t make people happy. You can listen. You can be kind. You can smile. You can respect. You can offer assistance. You can contribute tools. But people are responsible for their own happiness (see No. 9).

12. Let it go. Everyone has regrets, but don’t live a life of sorrow. The past is gone; find a way to come to terms with it. You may be able to reverse a bad situation that haunts you from the past, but you can’t turn back time.

13. Stop complaining. Most people don’t care about your problems; some are happy you have them. Complaining only serves to keep negatives at the center of your life.

14. Your aspirations mean nothing. Well, they mean nothing if you don’t make an effort to realize them. Take action to get the things you want.

15. Ambition can be a killer. I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t going to be Number One in everything you do. Breathe, and be satisfied, with the act of living today. Don’t let blind ambition cause you to lose sight of what is important. Savor all of life’s moments, even the bad ones, because you only get so many and you may wish you had paid more attention.

16. Take care of yourself. You aren’t much use to yourself or anyone else if you don’t. Looking out for your health and happiness is not the same as being selfish. This is fundamental.

17. It is OK to fail. Failure is part of life even in retirement. Failure teaches valuable lessons. In fact, we learn more from our failures than our successes. Expect success, but don’t worry about it too much. It is the journey that matters.

18. You don’t have to wait for an apology to forgive. We have all been wronged at one time or another. Waiting for an apology from someone who may never give offer one is a waste of life. Who cares? Hell, if this is a gray area and it’s possible the other person is waiting for an apology from you, apologize first. What does it matter? Life is too precious to play those kind of games.

19. Negativity wastes life. Being positive and optimistic in the present has a favorable impact on the future. Yes, bad things happen, but so do good ones, and we tend to steer toward the things on which concentrate.

20. Be curious. See both sides. Stubbornness is not strength. When given new information, strong people develop and evolve their opinions. We can grow when we can admit we are wrong. Your life stagnates when you are wrong, but you refuse to admit it.

21. Even though you are retired, you don’t have enough time for everything. Everyone dies with things in their inbox. Do the best you can and live your definition of a full life.

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