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#14: 10 things I’m glad I’ll already know when I turn 40

Today’s Freedom Letter is going to be a long one and a good one!

I want to share with you something inspired by a book I am currently reading. In The Everyday Hero Manifesto, leadership expert Robin Sharma shares a list of “40 Things I Wish I’d Known at 40.” Sharma published the book at age 67, while I am only approaching my 40th birthday. I feel gratitude for this head start on the next decade of my life and the ability to share it with you!

So without further ado, here are ten things I’m glad I already know when I turn 40:

1. Family, flowers and walks in the woods bring you more happiness than cars, watches and houses ever will.

It started with a camping trip. Sleeping outdoors and washing my body with cold mountain water, I felt more free, content and at home than in my luxurious house.

On my daily walks, I stop in the forest and on the meadows, taking in the beauty and serenity of nature. All the stress and responsibility of homeownership fades away and is replaced by pure bliss.

Sharma goes on to say: A genuinely rich life costs a lot less than you think. Forget that quote about the best things in life being free and the second best being very expensive. It’s attributed to someone who profited a lot by selling expensive things people are made to believe are “fashionable”: Coco Chanel.

If I could start over, I would own no more than what fits into my car. Let go of the belief that material goods are the path to happiness. They are not.

2. Getting super-fit multiplies your creativity, productivity and prosperity considerably.

You’d think that airline pilots are all super fit, but I have to disappoint you. In twelve years of spending 18-hour days (and nights!) in a seat with terrible ergonomics, tinnitus-inducing noise, stuffy air and bad food at the wrong times, my health suffered dramatically. Under these conditions, I rarely found the energy to counteract their negative influence on my mind and body.

When I was forced to the ground in early 2020, I slowly found my way back to a normal circadian rhythm, spending more and more time in the sun, getting fresh air and eating healthy meals at regular times. Finally, in 2022, I started losing fat and building muscle with bodyweight exercises.

This was the breakthrough for my creative projects. The ideas started flowing again, I wrote my first book and have made creative and productive leaps previously unimagined!

3. Heaven helps those who help themselves. So do your best and let your higher power do the rest.

It’s so easy to blame others for your problems. Trust me, I know that just as well as anyone else.

The architect is a design diva who puts looks over practical aspects. The contractors didn’t do their job right. Even if that’s all true, stating the obvious doesn’t solve the existing problem with my house.

It’s my job to put the past in its place and do the work. As long as you believe something is impossible, it is. And as soon as you put your mind to solving your problem and act, the solution will manifest itself.

4. People putting you down is a sign of your increasing success.

In fact, I have read that if no one criticizes you, you’re not doing things right. Once you really start following your calling and create a unique, exceptional life, people will inevitably become jealous because you did what they couldn’t do. Don’t feed the trolls.

5. Small daily victories, performed with disciplined consistency over extended periods of time, lead to revolutionary results.

This is the 1% principle. Improve by just 1% each day and in one year, you will be 37 times as good as you are today. Our brains are unable to comprehend the power of exponential growth (also known as compounding). Do the math if you don’t believe me!

A significant part of success is simply showing up. When you put in the effort and do the work, great things will inevitably come.

6. When you don’t get what you desire it is because the universe has something a whole lot better in mind.

I think this is one that comes with enough life experience and introspection. All that talk about a door closing and a window opening is true. I am deeply grateful for the things that didn’t work out because in hindsight, I can always see where they gave way to the really good things that became possible.

7. Being scared just means you’re about to grow. And frequent discomfort is the price of accelerated progress.

The last three years are a prime example of this. Three years of previously unknown discomfort and fear that went hand in hand with massive growth. Often enough, I stood in the way of my own progress out of fear.

There are days when I’m still scared shitless of everything still ahead of me. I see the “quality problems” that will make me grow and I replace them with “safe problems” that let me stay within my comfort zone.

But I know that leaving the comfort zone is the best thing I can do for myself. I welcome fear and I welcome growth.

8. Working diligently without concern for the rewards is the very behavior that brings the rewards.

What’s your motivation for doing things? Are you in it for the money? Recognition? Fear of losing your job or your partner? Those are examples of extrinsic motivation. You are acting due to external factors, such as receiving a reward or avoiding punishment.

On the other hand, intrinsic motivation comes from the inside. Maybe you have a passion for what you are doing or you are following your moral principles. This second form of motivation is significantly more sustainable because it drives you regardless of the outcome.

9. Just because someone is aging doesn’t mean they are growing.

I was 19 years old when I worked in a youth hostel as an alternative to mandatory military service. The woman in charge of housekeeping was a vixen whose word was law, always knowing best from her self-proclaimed life experience.

Without going into details, it quickly became obvious that her experience was rather limited and she simply confused it with time lived.

Did I have more life experience despite being less than half her age? I don’t know! An open discourse with mutual interest surely would have allowed both of us to learn from each other.

10. We get what we settle for. (So stop settling for what you don’t want.)

Maybe you’re happy with your 9-to-5. Maybe the homely middle-class life in the suburbs is exactly what you want. But if your life is a “Groundhog Week” of monday blues, “thank God it’s Friday” and weekend binge drinking to drown the pain, when do you intend to change that?

Most people have a hard time knowing what they want, but are pretty clear on what they don’t want. And yet they settle for precisely those things. Why?

Because it’s easy. Because it’s comfortable. Because someone has told you that life is just like that.

No, it’s not. Life is what you decide to make it!

Define your goal. Make a plan on how to get there. Break down years into months into weeks into days. And then start building!

Which insights do you want to share with someone ten years younger than you are?

Send them to me (ideally with your age) and I will share them in one of the next Freedom Letters (let me know if you’re okay with me publishing your name).


Yours, Ulrich

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