21 feels good. There’s something great about a birthday — that feeling of having a fresh start and the opportunity to grow. I’m blessed to have had tons of great experiences and introspective moments growing up, many of which I reflect on everyday. I believe that sharing the lessons we learn individually helps us collectively reach our best glo. So, I wanted to share a few of mine that have greatly shaped the person I am today.
1. Live in your truth. Be genuine and authentic.
Three years ago I was sitting in the lobby of McDonald’s headquarters. I had an interview for one of their scholarship programs in 10 minutes — a scholarship that could make attending college out-of-state a reality. It was a big deal, and I was nervous as hell. I’m talking about armpits sweating profusely, hands getting clammy, “At least I have my health if this doesn’t work out… right, God?” nervous.
The receptionist called my name and I walked into a meeting room where I sat across from a group of 4 play-no-games working adults. The first 5 minutes were cool. Then, they hit me with the question:
So, Benjamin, we know a lot about you already, but what do you know about us? Why do you think you’d fit here?
Wait, what?! What do I know about YOU? Wow…I goofed…I didn’t do my research, were my initial thoughts. Surprised and at a loss for words, I stalled and took the longest, most dramatic sip of water from my cup to buy time. (Think sloth scene from Zootopia).
And then I thought, I’ve already lost, so what point is there in lying? They’ll see right through it. I didn’t do my research like I should’ve…
So I took a deep breath and said:
“I honestly have no idea. I wish I had done more research, but I would really love to learn more about your program.”
They looked at each other and smiled. A few weeks later I received the scholarship. The panel expressed that I was one of the few candidates who honestly admitted to not knowing much about their program. Other candidates came in and tried to pull stuff out of their ass, and they knew it right away.
Real recognizes real, people. From then on, I never doubted the benefits of practicing authenticity.
I encourage you to ask yourself: are you living as authentically as you want to? If not, let’s figure out why. What are your values? Can you say them aloud right now?
A friend of mine that I greatly respect told me to write down my values to help me stick to them, and so far, it’s worked. When you know your values by heart, you can easily make decisions that align with or go against them. So, if a decision goes against any of your core values…don’t do it. It’s that simple.
When you don’t know your values, there will be times you’ll stand for things that kinda feel right. But kinda you isn’t 100% you. So know what you stand for, and live and hold yourself accountable to those values*
*Of course, we’re humans and life happens, so you don’t have to be awkward and robotic with this, OK? There’s levels to this. More complex situations prompt more complex analysis. Let your values serve as a starting point into living an authentic life; this list of 7–8 words doesn’t have to be your life’s bible. And keep in mind there are values you probably forgot to list.
2.Take a break.
A few months ago I was working through some code during the wee hours of the morning and things were simply not working for me. I had tried EVERYTHING I knew, and for some reason a new widget I was creating was not showing up on this website. My girlfriend was asleep at the time, knocked out with a literal smile on her face, hands clasped together in prayer form. Pause, and just think about how that must feel: You’ve been stressed as hell, banging your head against the wall, trying to work through the exact same thing for 4 hours, and your partner is in bed like:
I felt helpless, and I decided to give up and sleep.
When I woke up I opened my computer and realized: I didn’t include the downloaded software library in my project. WHAT!! Of course it wouldn’t work! I took all the steps necessary for this thing to work, except actually including the software in my project. My code had nothing to run off of, essentially. It’s like driving up to a gas station, putting $20 on your tank, opening up your lid, and then sitting in the driver’s seat expecting gas to magically get into your tank. With my rested set of eyes, this mistake was clear as day. Sometimes taking a break is the most productive thing you can do.
EXTENDING THIS: Working hard as hell shouldn’t be your sole goal. If so, that’s a pretty boring life. Hard work is definitely a vehicle to help you achieve your dreams, but don’t conflate hard work with success. Again, if you know what you value, you’ll know if what you’re doing is working towards your vision. Taking a breather shouldn’t distract from the vision.
3. You know that thing you’ve been thinking about doing? Yeah…that THING? You know what it is…do it. It’ll probably be great. If it isn’t? Well you tried, and that’s better than not trying.
I had an app idea my junior year of high school that I thought could (sort of) change the world. Yet, I never pursued it because I didn’t know where to begin, and I wasn’t confident enough to explore the unknown. I was too fearful. Now, four students at the University of Michigan are doing that exact idea I had 5 years ago. I couldn’t be happier for them, but sometimes you have to listen to your gut. I’m working on a side project right now, and, oh boy, I’m not letting this one get away.
Don’t let someone live YOUR dream. At first, your great idea is going to be doubted because we live in a doubtful society. But, push through and believe in yourself. Again, real recognizes real.
4. Getting feedback usually means someone cares about you.
Hey, tough love is still love. Of course, gauge others’ advice using your moral template, but feedback/constructive criticism usually means someone is taking time to help you be a better version of yourself. Even if it’s bad advice hear them out and appreciate them for trying. If there are people intentionally trying to steer you in the wrong direction, though, you know what to do…
5. Peer pressure is goofy. Follow your gut.
If you respect yourself, you won’t succumb to peer pressure most of the time. And those pressuring you will respect you (and maybe even themselves) more. However, peer pressure is really hard to overcome sometimes. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t overcome it your first go-round.
6. Not everyone has to be your friend. That’s OK.
Not everybody has to like you. Even when you’ve done nothing wrong people will dislike you. And, on the flip side, in moments where you actually mess up you come to realize some people were waiting for that exactmoment all along. These are hard realizations to have.
I always thought I was a pretty likable guy, but, damn…wait. Who’d you say was talking…? Not them. Really? You sure?
It’s hard. Identify the frenemies. Be OK knowing that not everyone will appreciate you living in your truth, but if it’s your truth, then what do they matter? As long as you’re not hurting others by your actions, it’s better to live how you want to than surround yourself with people that make you act unlike yourself.
8. You’re responsible for your life. No excuses.
It’s easy to explain away why something isn’t, or why you haven’t yet, or why you’ll never. But it’s probably just an excuse. Another human may listen, but that’s out of respect for you. An excuse is your way of shifting responsibility and blame, and living in the comfort that comes from staying the same — that’s goofy. Take ownership, because you own your life. Really and truly. Own your failures — that’s GREAT. Failures are moments of learning.