30 Life Lessons I’ve Learned in 30 Years

life lessons
Written by Charles Ngo
Written by Charles Ngo

The world was a confusing place in my early twenties.
For one, it seemed as if everyone was sure of what they wanted to do with their lives, except me. Second, life didn’t seem to work the way it was suppose to. Maybe I watched too much TV and movies as a kid, but I was starting to realize the world didn’t work the way I thought it did.
So I had to learn the hard way through life lessons. I made mistakes, I failed, and I kept pushing. Somewhere along the line, I feel like I took the red pill, and now I see the world how it truly is—the good and the bad. And instead of running away from it, I’m facing it head on.
Someone emailed me a while back asking what makes me happy. He wanted to know how I could sustain my motivation year after year. The answer was simple – because most of my happiness comes from progress.
Standing still is boring and I can’t believe some people “peaked” in high school. I feel happiness every time I look back on who I was, and who I am now. I’ve made progress in every area of my life the past 10 years, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Life is precious and I’ll never waste a single day.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I know the lessons I’ve learned along the way helped me get to where I am today. I’m sharing my biggest ones because I want you to learn faster than I did.
I spent a long time writing this article; my hands spend 30 days writing this article, but it took my mind 30 years.
1. Don’t Compare Your Life to Others’

I’m not sure what the key to happiness is, but comparing your life to other peoples’ lives is the key to unhappiness.
We’re the social media generation, and everyone’s trying to portray his or her life more exciting than it really is (me included). It can get depressing because it looks like everyone’s kicking ass at life and you’re sitting at home eating Cheetos.
Just remember that you don’t see the full picture; you just see the side people are showing. The guy who has that fancy car is leasing it, and he’s in severe debt. That happy couple? She’s sleeping around. The girl who looks perfect? She has had plastic surgery, and her photos are heavily photoshopped.
How can you compete against that?
The only person you should compare yourself to is you. Become better than the person you were last year.
2. Growth Happens at the Edge of Your Comfort Zone
True growth happens when you’re feeling uncomfortable.
Do the same thing, and get the same results. If you want to get stronger, you have to slowly increase the amount of weights you’re using.
I see too many people settle for average because, basically, they like being comfortable. Our brain and body are designed to be comfortable.
Growth requires you going into the unknown, and that could create a sense of danger. Growing means you have to make a conscious decision to go against your natural instincts.
I moved to Bangkok a few years ago because I wanted to grow. I’d been in Atlanta for 26 years at that point and knew I’d gotten too comfortable. I moved to Bangkok and it was great, but I already had a huge social circle before I even stepped foot in the city. I needed to take it to the next level.
I wanted to grow even more, so I decided to move to Vietnam. I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t know anyone. Within a year, I picked up the language and built a strong social circle. Now I know I can move anywhere in the world and be fine.
Think about things you fear, and do them. I’ve skydived and done standup comedy. Last month, I walked on coals at a Tony Robbins seminar. I’ve done scary things and survived. It gives me this deep, inner confidence that I can handle anything life throws my way.
3. Numbers Will Tell You the Truth
It’s easy for us to lie to ourselves. Whenever I want to improve a part of my life, I keep track of the relevant numbers.

  • Want to save more money? Start a budget, and keep track of your expenses.
  • Want to change your body? Log your workouts, and keep track of your diet.
  • Not sure where the time’s going each day? Use a timelogger app to track your time.

Treat your life like a scientist. Look and analyze at the data.
4. Change How You View Failure
Failure is such an ugly word, isn’t it? People think of failures as an indication they are not smart or good enough.
It’s ironic because you need to fail to become great.
I don’t let failure bring me down because I know it’s part of the process. I just ask myself what went wrong and how I can improve.
You won’t achieve anything in life if you’re scared of failure. Know that no one is keeping score of your failures. Everyone is busy fighting their own battles.
And remember this, you only have to be right once. If you fail a hundred movie auditions but you land a big role in the Hollywood blockbuster, you’ve made it. No one cares about the number of times you failed to get there.
5. You’re not Entitled to Anything in Life
Our parents told us how special and smart we are. Like a character from the movie Fight Club said, we grew up thinking we’re all going to be rock stars. And then reality hits.
You’ve graduated. You have student loan and credit card debt, and you’re not making enough money to afford vacations and a nice car. Wasn’t life suppose to be amazing?
Well, it can be, but it’s completely up to you. You’re not born special. You become special.
Sure some people have more advantages than you from birth, but that’s not an excuse to not try to become the best version of yourself. Be patient and work hard.
6. You Will Have Critics and Haters

“To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” – Aristole

I started off as an engineer at Georgia Tech. After two years, I decided to switch to business. Typically, people make fun of you for doing that because it implies you’re not “smart enough for engineering.” In reality, I realized that business was my passion.
A few years later, I was ready to quit my job to go into affiliate marketing. I didn’t have support from anyone. “Why would you leave a stable job? Can’t you do it on the side?” people would say.
Well, some of my fellow employees were laid off a few months later, and and I might have been one of them. They couldn’t understand because they didn’t have the same standards I did. I felt like a caged lion.
Some people didn’t like me in Atlanta once I started becoming successful. I didn’t understand why. I was nice and helped everyone out. If I see someone else is successful, then it motivates me because one of us made it. But not everyone feels that way.
People don’t hate you because of what you did, but because of how your ambition makes them feel. People are lazy and insecure. It’s easier for them to bring others down, than to bring themselves up. They don’t like it when you raise the bar because they know they can’t keep up. When you do amazing shit in your lives, it makes them feel average.
What should you do when you have haters? I just ignore them and get to work. If they hate me now, then wait till they see where I’m at in a few years :-).
Most of the time, the ones who resent you are your biggest admirers in denial. Life is harsh, lets have more hugs and less hate.
7. Make Health Your Priority

It’s hard to enjoy life if your health’s failing. Do what you can to increase your odds of a healthy life.
Here are my ingredients to staying healthy:

  • Drink lots of water. Take your weight in pounds, and divide it by 2. You need to drink that much in ounces. For example, I weigh 165 lbs. 165/2 =  82.5. I drink 82.5 ounces of water each day.
  • Sleep 7-8 hours each day. On the weekends, I don’t set an alarm. Sleeping doesn’t mean you’re lazy, it means you’re smart enough to know what your body needs. Your other 16 hours you’re awake will be better quality.
  • Do some kind of physical activity each day. If you don’t like the gym, there are plenty of other activities you can do. Dance, Yoga, rockclimbing, MMA, etc. Find an activity you enjoy.
  • Meditate daily. Train your mind.
  • Avoid fast foods and processed foods. Get plenty of vegetables in your diet.

Our bodies were not designed for the typical American lifestyle. We’re not suppose to sit all day.You spend hours in traffic sitting, you sit at a desk all day, and then you sit at home to watch TV.
Are you a parent? Then you should know your life belongs to them the moment they’re born. How can you be there for them if you die early because you were too lazy to take care of yourself?
Remember that any progress is still progress. You have no excuses.
8. Master Personal Finance

This is one of the most important skills in life. If money wasn’t important, you wouldn’t be working 40+ hours a week.
Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it buys freedom and opportunity. Money also frees you from the stress, and worries that comes with being poor.
They don’t teach you personal finance in school (educated customers are bad for business). There’s so much I could write on this subject. My biggest advice for you is to learn everything you can about it. Don’t be a slave to money.
Here are three resources to help you master your personal finance.
Read These 3 Books:

  1. The Wealthy Barber
  2. I Will Teach You to Be Rich 
  3. Your Money or Your Life

9. Focus on the Process, not the Goal

I’ve accomplished a more in the past few years once I became more process-and systems-oriented.
I’ll use my attempt to build muscle as an example.
I used to be obsessed with hitting my goal weight. It would be demotivating every time I weighed myself, or looked in the mirror and not see a difference. Eventually, I re-designed my system and came up with the following simple way of achieving my goal:

  • I follow a set workout plan
  • I eat a certain number of calories a day
  • I drink about 80 oz of water a day
  • I sleep 8 hours a day

I don’t obsess over my weight anymore. I just trust and follow the process. Every time I achieved my daily goals I would celebrate the small wins and feel good about myself. It became a game where I didn’t care about the score.
What are you trying to accomplish? How can you break it down into a daily system?
Remember that dreams alone won’t do anything. It’s all about the actions you take each day.
10.  You Need to Read More
Books are the best bargains in the world. I can learn what took an author decades to learn in a few hours and at a cost of only $10.
Knowledge is a competitive advantage.
Maybe you didn’t go to college. Maybe you didn’t have a mentor. But there’s no excuse for you not to read. Costs too much money? Don’t forget the local library.
We’re also in the age of free information. You can learn coding for free at CodeAcademy. You can learn from MIT. You don’t have any excuses.
11. You Can Be Happy Right Now
People always feel as if they need something to complete their lives.
They think that if they only had more money, were in a relationship, or bought that fancy car, their lives would be complete. I was the same way. I always felt I needed to be “rich” for all my problems to go away.
Well, I made more money than I’d thought was possible, but internally, nothing changed much. I was still at the same level of happiness as before.
Now I know that happiness is not a destination. It’s something you can have right now, but you have to work at it.
How can you achieve happiness now?

  • Exercise
  • Be grateful
  • Be kind to others
  • Spend time with people you care about
  • Spend some time outdoors
  • Live in the present
  • Smile more
  • Spend time with your passion projects and hobbies

Don’t chase happiness. Unleash it. It’s sitting inside of you right now.
12. Fairness Doesn’t Exist

There is nothing neither good or bad, but thinking makes it so – Shakespeare

I hate when people complain that life’s not fair, because the concept of fairness is make-believe.
Have you noticed that “fair” only exists when it benefits that person?
I use to think that life wasn’t fair. I worked my ass off in college at a gas station and drove a 10 year old car. My friend was born into a wealthy family. He didn’t have to work and drove a brand new Porsche! I thought that was unfair.
I liked this girl in college. I was so nice to her, but she ended up dating a guy who treated her like crap. I thought to myself, how unfair!
Fairness is bullshit. See the world the way it is and take advantage of it. Most people just sit there and complain about the way the world should be.
I’m working my ass off so that I can give my kids all the advantages in the world. I’m sure I have dated girls before, who had other guys thinking “wow that Charles guy is an asshole. I could treat her better!”
The world is not designed to be fair. The world is designed to reward those who master its rules.
13. What Can YOU Do Better?
A friend asked me for advice on finding a job a few years ago. He had an amazing resume and the credentials, but for some reason, he couldn’t find a job.
His default thinking was, “The economy sucks.
Well, he couldn’t change the economy. What he could change was how he dealt with his situation.
I’ve interviewed some people before, so I invited him to come to my office one day to do a mock interview. I wanted him to treat it like a real interview.
Within the first 5 seconds, I was unimpressed. His over-sized suit looked like it belonged to his dad. He hadn’t shaved in a few days and was sporting a neckbeard. His interview skills were terrible. He avoided eye contact and was socially awkward.
No wonder he wasn’t getting hired! I told him that being good at interviews is just as important as having a good resume. Instead of blaming outside circumstances, he should have taken a look at himself.
It’s easy to blame outside circumstances. It’s harder to be self-aware and realize that you may be the problem.
14. You Are Who You Surround Yourself With
The people closest to you have a huge impact on your behavior. This study found that if your best friend becomes obese, you are 57% more likely to become obese as well.
If all your friends do drugs, then you’re more likely to do drugs.
Think about the type of person you want to become. You want people who affect you positively. My friends are guys who are entrepreneurial and love to travel. I make sure I surround myself with people who push me further.
Here’s a truth that people don’t want to talk about: sometimes you’ll outgrow your friends. Don’t feel like you’re obligated to stay in a friendship because you’ve known that person for a long time. People change. Just as relationships end, so do friendships sometimes.
Some people are only meant to be in a few chapters of your book.
15. Overwhelmed? Break Your Problem into Small, Manageable Chunks
We all have huge problems we’re hiding from. Over time, these problems keep growing until they become monsters too scary to tame.
Do you have a 10-page essay due in a week? Then just focus on writing one page tonight.
Do you have lots of debt? Focus on paying the smallest one off.
Need to lose 20 lbs? Nope. Your goal now is to lose the first pound.
Magic happens when you make small progress. That small achievement is what gives you momentum to conquer a problem of any size.
16. Don’t Wait to Travel
Travel can change you for the better.
I lived overseas for three years and have visited over 40 countries.
What have I learned? I don’t complain about hard work anymore. There are people out there working 16+ hours a day in the sun for less than $5 a day.
I also learned how to be self-reliant. I learned that I don’t need much to be happy. 
And I learned more about history. I saw literally only one paragraph about the Cambodian genocide when I was studying in America. It’s a different feeling to visit Cambodia and walk in the Killing Fields. History always has two sides.
Traveling is not as expensive as you think it is. Sign up for credit cards that give great travel rewards (Chase Sapphire and Barclay’s Arrival are good). Certain countries in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe are affordable. You can stay in hostels or rent private rooms, couchsurf, or rent private rooms on AIRBNB.
My best advice for traveling is not to wait. The older you get, the more the excuses will pile up.
If there’s a will, there is a way.
17. Kill Your Limiting Beliefs
When did this happen?
When we did wake up and start thinking that we’re not good enough?
I meant to start my blog two years earlier than I did. It happened much later because I didn’t think I was a good enough writer. I didn’t think people wanted to read what I had to say.
You know what is the main difference between the salesman who makes $50,000 a year and the one who earns $500,000 a year? It’s not their talent or ability. It’s what they’ll settle for. It’s what that think they’re worth.
You can do much, much more than you give yourself credit for. Don’t listen to the people who say you’re not good enough. They are wrong, and they are assholes.
Listen to me. If you don’t bring the heat starting today, then you are robbing the world of seeing what your potential is.

18. 85% Is Good Enough
We’re too obsessed with “tools.”
We think that using Tiger Woods’ golf clubs will magically make us better players. We’re hardwired to look for shortcuts. It’s just easier to spend money finding the perfect tool than to actually put in the work required to achieve mastery.
I have a friend who told me he was trying to lose weight. I asked him about his progress a few weeks later and found out he hadn’t accomplished anything!
I asked him, “What happened?!?”
“Well, I’m still trying to figure out the best workout plan and diet. I don’t want to make a mistake.”
An average workout program would have given him more results than doing nothing.
I’ve seen this problem come up time and again. People want to find a magic bullet to their problems. But the magic bullet doesn’t exist!
Just pick a solution that’s 85% good enough and get to work.
19. Life IS a Competition
Schools need to stop giving out trophies just for participating because life doesn’t work that way.
Life is one, big competition.
There’s only one starting quarterback on a football team. You’re competing against other employees for that promotion at work. Having a wife / husband means you’re better than their other options.
You can either pretend this truth doesn’t exist, or you can embrace it. The most successful men in the world are also the most competitive.
The good news is that it’s not a winner takes all system. There’s plenty of opportunities to go around in this world. You just have to have the balls and heart to go after what you want.
20. Live Below Your Means
I read a statistic that says 55% of American families are living paycheck to paycheck. I’ve learned that life is unpredictable and SHIT always happens.
You need new tires, and now you’re out $700. Your kid breaks his leg, and that’s another $1,000. You get laid off unexpectedly, and now that fancy new car becomes a burden. You have to rely on high-interest credit cards, and now you’re stuck in a cycle of debt.
My advice is to put 10% of each paycheck into your savings automatically. You can’t spend the money if you never see it.
Here’s an interesting realization: it’s easy to scale your life up, but it’s hard to scale your life back down. It’s dangerous when luxuries become habits.
Life sucks when you have money problems. I like vacations, fancy restaurants, and nice clothes just as much as you do. But I make sure I take care of my future first, and never spend more than I should.
Don’t let your net worth becoming your self-worth.
21. Everything in Life Is a Skill and Can Be Developed
We give too much credit to natural born talent.
We see a great public speaker and think, “Wow, what a natural!”
What we don’t realize is the amount of time she has spent practicing and studying this skill. He could have been a horrible speaker two years ago, but he has studied and practiced to get to where he is now. It would be insulting to say he was born with it because it ignores the hard work he has put in.
Are you an introvert and have trouble meeting new people? Connecting with people is a skill you can develop.
I’m not good at Chess. Does that mean I’m stupid? No. I just haven’t played it enough. But I guarantee if I took it seriously for a year I would improve.
I have that mindset about anything in life. You can always improve. Everything in life is a skill.
22. Your Looks Matter in Life

It’s been proven that the world favors better-looking people. (It’s called the attraction bias). You will get paid more, select better mates, and make better impression on people.
Now, we can’t all be Brad Pitts, but it’s possible to improve what you do have.
I can’t become taller, so I don’t stress about it. Instead, I’ve improved what I was given in life.
When I was 19 years old, I had zero style. I weighed 115 lbs, wore over-sized Tommy Hilfiger shirts, and walked around with bad posture. I’ve slowly improved myself physically, and I feel great about myself.
Here are some things you can start doing today:

  • Walk with better posture and body language.
  • Dress better. This does not mean you have to buy expensive clothes. It means buying clothes that fit properly, knowing basic color theory, and dressing appropriately.
  • Get in physical shape. Lift some weights.
  • Follow proper hygiene.  
  • Smile more.

People will make judgements about the way you look whether you want to or not. Might as well make a good impression.
23. Just Ask Her Out
There are two types of people in this world: those who wait for things to happen and those who make them happen.
I met my last few girlfriends by walking up to them and saying hi. Was I nervous each time? Hell, yeah. But I’ve learned that the rewards are always better than the risks.
Seriously, what’s the worst that can happen? A few moments of awkwardness that I’ll forget shortly after? Of course I get rejected sometimes, but I literally forget about it a few minutes later. Looking back, I only remember the wins. I just remember the amazing relationships I’ve had that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t go after what I want.
The odds are in your favor because you have the confidence to go after what you want. You’re not going to meet girls by standing against the wall and nursing your Heineken.
Fuck fate. Fuck “being patient” and waiting for things to happen. Be in charge of your destiny.
24. Don’t Die with Regrets

Most men die at 25… we just don’t bury them until they are 70. – Benjamin Franklin

Take a deep breath.
Close your eyes.
Pretend you are 85 years old and on your death bed. How are you going to look back in your life?
My deepest fear is that feeling of regret. I don’t want to be a dying old man and sad because of all the things I didn’t do. That’s why I quit my job a few years ago. That’s why I packed my bags and moved to Asia. I just had to try and see for myself. Whatever happened, at least I didn’t wonder what if.
I use my fear to power me. Fear keeps me from being lazy. When it’s time to die, I’ll do it with a smile on my face. I don’t fear death because I am living the fuck out of my life right now.
Like Sinatra said,
25. Life is Hard if You’re Stupid
There are people out there much smarter than you and I.
They designed systems to take advantage of people who are uneducated. That’s how they make their money – preying on stupidity.
Lets take money for instance. If you don’t understand how money works then you’re going to get hit with overdraft fees, interest fees, etc. You might get sucked into payday loans and be in a lifetime of debt.
They have people skipping Thanksgiving dinner to wait in line to buy shit they don’t need (Black Friday). You have people out there with 6-figure student loans, and can’t even get a job after they graduate.
The only way to fight back is to learn. The more I know, the more I realize how little I know. And that scares me.
A diploma is just a piece of paper. Real learning is what you discover on your own. Between the library and the internet, there’s no excuse not to learn.
26. Create Your Own Luck
People love the concept of luck because it means it could happen to them without them even trying.
I hate the word luck.
People commented “how lucky” I was when they saw the first signs of my success.
What they didn’t see was how hard I worked and bled for what I had.
Is there such a thing as luck? Sure.
But understand this: I don’t rely on it. What I like to do is create my own luck by taking positive actions. I stack the odds in my favor.
I routinely go to conferences because it allows me to network with other successful people. If a business deal comes from it, was that luck or did I create it? I’m always reading books and learning. Knowledge improves my luck.
Take actions that improve your luck.
27. Life Is Less about the Events and More about How You React to Them
You can spot the shitty poker players at any table. They’re the ones who complain about having “bad cards” all night. They keep blaming bad luck for their poor performance.
EVERYONE has bad luck in poker. It’s called variance. You can’t change the cards you’re dealt, but you can control how you play them.
Your girlfriend breaks up with you. How are you going to react? You can take it as an opportunity to grow and eventually find a better girlfriend. Or you can feel sorry for yourself for the next few years.
It sucks to get fired from a job. But you have to ask yourself, “How could have I prevented this?”
The lessons you learn today can help you in the future.
28. Success Requires Sacrifice
You can’t have everything in life, playboy.
You have limited time, energy, and resources. You can’t work on creating a successful business, yet spend the weekends partying and getting wasted. How can you compete against the guys who live and breathe it? How can your half-ass efforts compete against someone who’s willing to die to achieve their goals?
You can’t. Most people say they fucking want it, but that’s just say. They say it. They just want it, but they’re not willing to work for it.
What are you willing to give up for your dreams?
I didn’t have much resources when I started in my industry. I clipped coupons to save money. I sold my Xbox360 and cooked more at home. The car dealership approved me for a new $40,000 BMW, but I ended up buying a $10,000 car instead.
Why? Because I choose to make the right decisions for my long-term goals over short-term happiness.
29. Stay Humble
No one likes a person who brags a lot. It’s a sign of insecurity. I’ve noticed that people in my industry who are cocky have horrible karma. When you’re too cocky, everyone kinda conspires against you.
I choose to help others by giving them a hand and bringing them up.
There’s a quote I like, “Act like you’ve been there before.” If a guy flies business class a lot, is he the kind to post a picture of his business class tickets on Facebook? If you got it, you got it. A little mystery goes a long way.
I try to stay humble because I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be. This attitude keeps me hungry and focused.
30. You Have Less Time Alive than You Think

Most of us think we have all the time in the world. I’m guessing the average reader here has another 50 years or so on Earth.
That 50 years is not really a lot of time. One-third of your day is spent sleeping. Another one-third of your day is spent working. Don’t forget to count the time you spend commuting, doing chores, or running errands. You don’t have as much time left as you think.
I’m not trying to make you feel sad, but I’m trying to make you realize how precious life is.
What are you spending your time on? I hate the quote “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” It’s because I don’t live just for myself. My life is dedicated to helping others.
I want to take care of my parents and my future kids. Are you my friend? Then know I’ll do everything I can to help you out. The more I fail and learn, the more my readers will improve their lives. I want to start doing more charity work and making some kind of difference in this world.
That’s why I don’t ever waste a single day in my life.


Today, I am saying good-bye to my twenties.
I’m getting older now. Some gray hair is starting to show. I prefer watching Netflix on a Saturday night over going out clubbing. And when I do party, the hangovers last three times as long as they used to.
I’m going to show this post to my future kids a few decades from now. On their 20th birthday they are getting a 5,000 essay on life lessons. Work hard, don’t settle for less, and always keep learning.
I look forward to all the challenges my life will throw at me and all the new lessons I’ll learn.
12/3/2014 11:59pm EST
3…2…1…Clicks Publish. Happy 30th birthday to me.

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