5 Important Life Lessons It Took Me 40 Years to Learn (A Crash Course in Emotional Intelligence)

Having turned 40 this week, I came to the realization I have now learned certain life hacks that… no one ever tells you about!

So for anyone out there still reading blogs in the year 2021, I am going to share with you 5 important life lessons it took me 40 years to learn; most of which relate to the underrated commodity of emotional intelligence.

Don’t Just Be Yourself:

To “always just be yourself” is implying that there is not constant need and constant room for change in your own life and in your perceptions of reality. In order to mature, you must always remain open to, and even crave, constructive criticism.

Plus, the reality is that people don’t simply like you for who you are: Instead, they like you for what value you add to their lives; how you provide for their needs.

So to just be yourself insinuates that you not are empathetic enough to at least temporarily evolve into a version of yourself in order to relate- and therefore to be valued by that person.

Don’t just be yourself. That’s not enough. Instead, be a better and more flexible version of yourself.

Stop Believing That You Are a Good Person:

It’s interesting how many people instinctively see themselves as “good”; which in their minds grants them access to good things happening to them, and not deserving bad things. They compare themselves to people who have different moral struggles than they do; using cliches like, “I’m not perfect, but at least I’m not an ax murderer.”

I feel that culturally, we have bought into this false concept that karma exists. Living for 40 years has shown me plenty of examples where bad things happened to “good” people and good things happened to “bad” people.

Am I a good person? No. Am I a bad person? No. I am a person- and that means both good things and bad things are going to happen at some point. I accept this.

No One Cares About Your Opinion:

What you believe caries no actual weight on the rest of the world. It doesn’t. All that matters is what you actually do.

Yet still, watch how many people express their beliefs on social media as if they were actually changing someone’s mind. Instead, they are only reinforcing what others already believe through a process called Identity Protective Cognition.

Notice how “news” headlines are designed to trigger your tribalism; to get you to take a judgmental side and even get angry and emotional about the other side being “wrong.” This is simply their tactic to sell ads; whether the topic is politics, sports, or entertainment.

Getting older has taught me that I actually only have control over a limited number of things in this world. I have learned to focus on the few things I can control, not the infinite number of things I can’t- like other people’s deep-rooted beliefs.

You Have Complete Control Over Your Own Emotions, Time, Energy, Money, and Nutrition:

Whereas it seems the default that people think their opinions matter and that they control what other people believe, for some reason they ironically assume they are powerless victims when it comes to the things they alone control 100 percent.

No one can offend you unless you let them. No one can waste your time unless you let them. No can force you to spend your mental and physical energy on them unless you let them.

Likewise, you get to decide how you manage the small or large amount of income you have access to; as well as the density of nutrients in the calories you consume everyday.

For many people, “victim mentality” is the default instead of taking control and therefore changing their daily personal choices that currently lead them to a lesser quality of life.

People Always Find a Way to Do the Thing They Really Want to Do:

In the same way people often assume they have control over other people’s opinions and views, they often assume they can motivate other people to change their behavior too. Very seldom is this the case.

Everyone has their own personal motivations. Some people actually find comfort in their self-destructive routine. This is often due to some type of trauma they experienced earlier in life that they never received professional counsel for. It is their defining wound that they’ve made part of their identity. To change for the better would be to lose sight of who they are.

(Ever seen an episode of Hoarders, My Strange Addiction or My 600-Lb Life?)

At best, you can learn to nurture a relationship with a person to the point they begin to want to help you, and that help that you want might mean they change for the better. However, that often is more of a long term investment.

It is often a waste of emotion, time and energy to try to change a person who isn’t motivated to do so on their own.

That’s it! If you found any of my life lessons to be helpful, let me know.

After all, I am making an assumption that my opinions don’t matter, that I am only reinforcing what you already believe, and that to try to convince you otherwise is simply a waste of my emotions, time, and energy.

3 Reasons Frozen 2 is Far Superior to the 1st Frozen Movie (Or It Isn’t, Based on the Viewer’s Own Current Perspective of Life)

There are two kinds of people in the world:

Those who prefer an upbeat, easy to follow story… and those who prefer a story that is more mature, mysterious, challenging, and darker.

I feel that I have always been very open about how overrated the first Frozen movie is. Over the years, I have expressed this multiple times in other blog posts.

My biggest beef with the first Frozen is that the true villain is not Hans, but instead, the parents; for psychologically damaging their daughters by ultimately locking them in their separate bedrooms without explaining why, while not allowing them to communicate with each other.

Seriously, that’s messed up!

So as you can imagine, I was not overly anxious to finally see Frozen 2 over Christmas break. It was just simply going to be a movie I sat through as my fatherly duty.

Fortunately instead, I was relieved, surprised, and impressed- to the point I knew even within the first 10 minutes that Disney had made the bold move to give Frozen a sequel that it (and an audience who is now 6 years older) deserves; as opposed to a copy-and-paste-of-the-original cash grab.

Granted, there are many people who do not agree with me on this.  As I’ve been talking to people about Frozen 2 in comparison to the first, this what I have consistently found:

Either you love Frozen 2 and think it is far superior to the first…

Or you don’t like Frozen 2 at all because the first one was so much better.

I have yet to meet a person who believes both movies are equally good. No in-between.

You can even see this on Rotten Tomatoes, where the first Frozen got a 15% higher score on the Tomato Meter, but Frozen 2 scored 15% higher with the Audience Score.

I have come up with 3 reasons Frozen 2 is either much better (or worse) than the original. My theory is that a person’s reaction to Frozen 2 is ultimately a reflection of the individual viewer’s perspective of their own life.

  1. Major Character Growth: Taking place 6 years (in real time) since the first movie, Frozen 2 gives us a realistic look at what “happily ever after” actually looks like. That means we need to see Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf experience the next new challenge to help their growth as individuals. (That’s because happiness requires character growth.) Specifically, Olaf openly encounters a full-on existential crisis, as noted in his song, “When I Am Older.”
  2. More Complex, Introspective Songs: Instead of using the easily likable universal guitar chord progression (G-D-Em-C) exploited in “Let It Go” (similar to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours”), Frozen 2’s lead track “Into the Unknown” actually requires much more of the song performer and the listener. These songs aren’t as instantly catchy as those from the first Frozen- they grow on you, just like Frozen 2.
  3. More Challenging Plot for the Viewer: The first half of Frozen 2’s technically falls into the category of a thriller/horror movie, as Elsa follows a mystical and ominous voice only she can hear; which serves as a metaphor of how part of the human experience is simultaneously following our hearts, while not allowing our own questions about the future to turn us into our own worst enemies. Some of my favorite quotes of Frozen 2 illustrate how the characters (and the audience) began to understand the importance of emotional intelligence as individuals:

Elsa: “That’s just your fear. Fear is what can’t be trusted.”

Kristoff: “My love is not fragile.”

General Mattias: “Be prepared, just when you think you found your way, life will throw you into a new path.”

That last quote ultimately reveals the theme of Frozen 2. This sequel forces us to come to terms with whether or not we are willing to move on from what life was like 6 years ago.

That is fundamentally what determines whether a person believes Frozen 2 is superior, or inferior, to the first.

Image credit- Disney.

Should Christians Forfeit the Right to Be Offended?

If you know me at all, you know that a fundamental life motto of mine is this:

“It is your personal decision, 100% of the time, whether to be offended, insulted, disrespected, to let someone hurt your feelings, or to just simply be ready to instantly forgive.”

That’s an epiphany I had shortly after my 35th birthday. So for the past 3 years, I have been living in that knowledge. That nugget of wisdom has only improved the quality of my life and truly has given my freedom from arbitrary burdens I used to carry.

I have also accepted the reality that anything a person believes, in their own mind, is true.

If someone thinks I’m wrong, immoral, ignorant, immature, lazy, unqualified, too serious, too silly, too conservative, too liberal…

They are always right. To them, it is truth. To them, it is reality.

Therefore, it is a waste of my time, energy, and emotions to attempt to prove them wrong in their perception. It is most likely that they have identity protective cognition, so that my attempts to correct their perspective about me will only reinforce what they already believe about me.

I feel this is the example Jesus gave when he was being questioned by Pilate (in Mark, Chapter 15):

“Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

Granted, I believe that often, when one person makes any kind of judgment call regarding another person’s character, there is a good chance that are simply broadcasting their own insecurities or uncertainties about their own identity.

As a human being, I forfeit my right to be offended. I openly invite the free world to call me every name in the book.

Ultimately, only I get to determine whether I am a victim, a villain, or a victor.

It is my opinion, as a Christian, that it is ideal for Christians to forfeit the right to be offended. Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek.

That implies the importance of not only taking the hit, but giving the “offender” the opportunity to strike again.

I see this is a healthy state of being: to be ready at any time to instantly forgive anyone.

Instead of being offended, I say we should use those opportunities to extend grace to the person; whether they are a believer or not.

Who knows? That surprising response of grace could prove to be the simple act of kindness to help minister to the would-be “offender”.

But hey, maybe I’m wrong. And if that’s what you believe, I won’t try to prove otherwise.

3 Versions of Reality: How We Perceive Ourselves, How We Think Others Perceive Us, and How Others Actually Perceive Us

After a year of careful consideration and research, I finally purchased a Funko Pop vinyl figure for my cubicle in the office.

But before I made my official decision, I sought my 3 year-old daughter’s confirmation. I presented her with the character figure of J.J. Abrams; the producer of Lost and the new Star Wars movies.

I asked her, “Holly, who is this?”

She immediately smiled and responded: “It’s Daddy!”

In that moment, I received confirmation that my own perception of myself truly matched not only how I perceived how others perceive me, but also, how others actually perceive me.  And sure enough, once I debuted my avatar at work this week, all of my co-workers agreed that the Funko Pop vinyl figure of J.J. Abrams does indeed look like me.

A few of my co-workers actually assumed had the figure custom-made!

However, this is somewhat of a rare occurrence:

That my perception of myself matched how I perceive how others perceive me, as well as how others actually perceive me.

One of my life’s revelations this year, after turning 38, is this:

By default, we spend a lot of our time hoping to change things about ourselves that wouldn’t actually make others like us or respect us anymore than they already do. Instead, we remain unaware of the things we could change about ourselves that would actually make us more likable.

We tend to incorrectly assume that others give as high of a value (if any!) to the same traits we place in the category of “If I Only I Was More…”

The irony is that perhaps if we actually obtained the self-assigned “improvements” we wished upon ourselves, others may not even notice at all!

Therefore, we spend much of our time hoping, wishing, and trying to make changes about ourselves that wouldn’t actually improve other people’s perceptions of ourselves; most ideally, improving our relationships with those people.

I’ll be a bit vulnerable here and give you a personal example.

All summer, I have been receiving “What You Were Doing 5 Years Ago” notifications and photos through Facebook.

That was the summer I had recently become a vegan. I was never in my life more perfectly thin and fit. I had finally reached my ideal body weight and clothing size.

I enjoyed that for about a year, before my body found a way to overwrite the shock of no longer consuming cholesterol through my diet. Within a couple of years, I was back to my original weight; despite still being vegan.

I have consistently ran, worked out, and altered my diet to include some animal protein again, but I’m still nowhere near that initial weight from 5 years ago.

But now, I have come to the realization that even if I was able to get back down to my perceived ideal weight of less than 160 pounds, it wouldn’t make anything better in my life… beyond the thoughts in my head.

And actually, back when I was my perceived ideal level of physical fitness 5 years ago, I believe I was less likable of a person back then anyway!

Before the age of 35, I was still giving power over my emotions to other people; still giving the free world free reign regarding the ability to offend me, hurt my feelings, and disrespect me.

I also was still to some degree attempting to prove my views and opinions were superior. I made a fool of myself on Facebook, mocking the concept of human beings consuming eggs and dairy from other species.

Because at that point, I had not reached the level of emotional intelligence I now live in.

It took that experience to help get me where I am today.

The closer I get to age 40 (I’m now just a year and a half way), the clearer my perspective becomes about how the world actually works… especially when it comes to human interaction.

The reality is that most of the time, the things we think will make us be better perceived by others actually have zero value to others.

Instead, most people notice and appreciate a person who is confident yet humble, who knows how to make others feel better about themselves, and invests their time, energy, skills, talents, and/or to help others.

That is what actually makes us liked and respected by people.

So yes, there are 3 different version of reality:

How we perceive ourselves, how we think others perceive us, and how others actually perceive us.

We get to decide for ourselves which version to accept.

My Wife and I Debuted Our New T-Shirts in Lake Tahoe: “Hi, I Don’t Care. Thanks!” and “I Hate People”- A Blog Post about Identity Protective Cognition and Emotional Intelligence

I turned 38 a couple of months ago. I have entered Life: Part 2. In other words, I have come to terms with the fact my life is now half complete; assuming I live the typical lifespan of an American man.

When you’re pushing 40, there are certain things that tend fall into place in your life:

Your strengths, your weaknesses, your family, your career, your finances, your retirement plan…

To steal a quote from a book I will never read called Anna and the French Kiss, it really comes down to this:

“The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” 

In other words, my identity is well established. While I remain open-minded to a certain point, I am at the place in life where I am no longer seeking confirmation of my identity from other people; the way Michael Scott and Andy Bernard did on The Office.

I no longer subscribe to the delusion that I am a good person, because then I would fall victim to the mentality, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Not to mention, the concept of being a good person is simply relevant to others I would perceive as bad people.

There will always be people who perceive me as morally or intellectually inferior to themselves in some way. I am okay with that. I embrace it. I even celebrate it.

To quote Matchbox Twenty in a song called “Busted” from their debut album from over 20 years ago, this is how I feel:

“I’m the flame, I can’t get burnt. I’m wholly understated.”

In my 38 years, I have learned that most people predictably fear being perceived as wrong, ignorant, and/or immoral.

But I don’t. I am immune because I already know those things are true:

To some people, I will always be wrong, ignorant, and/or immoral.

I have taught myself that anything a person believes is true in their own mind; even for crazy people.

This is only magnified because of Identity Protective Cognition, which explains that when another person tries to convince someone against their strongly held beliefs, anything they hear in an attempt to convert them will only reinforce what they already believe.

Therefore, I don’t care what other people believe. I have no desire to prove anyone wrong, as I have learned that often the subconscious goal people have in trying to prove another person wrong is that they are ultimately trying to earn that person’s respect.

I don’t crave for people’s respect by proving them wrong, as I believe it’s nearly impossible; and ultimately, a poor choice in the game of time management.

People tend to think their opinions, beliefs, and ideologies actually matter to other people.

They don’t.

No one cares what anyone believes. It’s an illusion. Instead, people are simply seeking to identify members of their own camp; while demonizing the other side; believing those with opposing views are wrong, ignorant, and/or immoral.

(The bipartisan structure of American politics has made this clear by now.)

I have peace knowing that I can privately disagree with other people’s moral codes and lifestyles; as they surely disagree with mine. I am more interested in learning what I have in common with others; not what we disagree on.

So surely you can understand why a guy like me has proudly adopted this as my current life motto:

“Hi, I don’t care. Thanks.”

Further exploring my mindset, it is important to note that I have also climbed the ladder of emotional intelligence high enough now to know this:

It is always a choice to be offended, insulted, and/or disrespected by another person.

Similarly, forgiveness is always a choice, as well.

I turned off the breaker switch to allowing others to affect my emotions. I now control my own emotions, thanks to some gentle reminders from the surprisingly emotionally intelligent band Metallica, in legendary songs like “Master of Puppets”:

“I’m pulling your strings/Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams/Blinded by me, you can’t see a thing.”

This is a great illustration of how most people, by default, allow other people’s control of their own emotions to rule their lives.

Imagine the unnecessary burden that has been removed from my own mind. Imagine the freedom I must feel:

To not allow other people to control my emotions because I ultimately don’t fear being perceived as wrong, ignorant, or immoral. To know it’s vanity to believe I can gain a person’s respect by proving them wrong.

So it’s only natural that what I really wanted for this Father’s Day was a basic t-shirt that shares my motto with the world:

“Hi, I don’t care. Thanks.”

(To buy this shirt for the best price on Amazon, click here.)

I was able to debut it during our recent family vacation to Lake Tahoe, where my shirt was a hit among random passersby… my age and older. They are clearly riding they same vibes I am.

And my wife was able to debut a t-shirt that shared her equivalence of my motto:

“I hate people.”

(To buy that shirt on Amazon, click here.)

It’s subtle deadpan humor, as the backdrop is a camp scene in the mountains.

No, my wife doesn’t really hate people.

But like me (she is just a couple of months younger than I am), she has come to similar conclusions about life.

She regularly responds with, “People are crazy.”

So this is where I’m at in life. This is who I have become. This is who I am now.

I have lived enough life to understand and appreciate what little actually matters.

It is now even easier for me to enjoy my life and to love my neighbor as myself.

I am no longer distracted by the things that held me back in Life: Part 1.