8 Truths I Learned at 28

Last August 20, I turned 28.

As I’ve done in the past, I’d like to share some of the truths I learned over the last year. If you haven’t read my last year’s post, you can read it here.

Before I begin, I would like to say that I’m grateful I’ve reached life this far. I can still write and read and play music, watch inspiring movies, take long walks, travel, help people, and spend time with my loved ones.

Meaningful things in life abound. And these things make me excited to wake up, and at least, try one of them. I can’t wait. Thank you life.

For this year, here are some of the life-changing insights I learned.

1. Most of our Leaders are Just Like Us — Confused

To name a few: Parents, school teachers, employers, business tycoons, religious leaders, or even leaders of our country.

Confused what is the best decision or the best path to take: Who knows what’s the best path for everyone? We all walk different paths.

Confused what lies beyond the universe or what is the endpoint of everything in life: Some religious leaders say they know the truth. They cling to a belief that works for them. But later I found they need money to run their organizations. Ah, maybe money is the truth. I don’t know.

Confused why we do the things that we do: Most people don’t have a clear idea why they’re doing what they’re doing. Sometimes they pretend they do.

And the ultimate question: Why are we here (why God sent us here)?

And yet, many of these so-called “leaders” think they know everything. They insist that their belief system is the one and only true. Is it? I want to figure out.

Because even though they claim that they know the truth, in other aspects of life, they are confused. They don’t know everything.

The universe is incredibly vast we can’t fully grasp. Some phenomena are impossible to understand. So many ideologies and beliefs and philosophies and crazy beliefs. How can we not be confused?

Maybe some are an exception, like the enlightened Buddhist monks, or those great scientists? I admire them.

Every day, I remind myself that life should be explored. Because I, too, like everyone else is confused. Keep exploring.

2. Most of the Time, We Create Our Own Money Problems

A middle-class family sent their kids to a prestigious school. Now they need extra money to pay tuition. Years later, they applied for an auto loan as they thought it’s a good thing to have a car. Now they need more money to pay the car, not to mention the endless monthly bills.

And then one guy applied for a motorcycle loan so he can fit in and impress ladies. Later, he became so anxious. He thought about working more (and harder). But what’s the point of working more? Only to pay that goddamn motorcycle?

Money problems.

It stems from our desire to impress others.

“Hey! Look at me. I have a new iPhone. We now have a house and car and our kids are studying in a prestigious institution. Look at me. Look at us.”

There are vital questions we need to ask ourselves before we make a decision:

  • Is it a need?
  • Is there an alternative?
  • Do we need it for the next 5 years?

In the end, it’s all about doing the things we NEED to do. It must be a need, not because we want to impress people we don’t even know.

Another reason is because we follow what everyone else is doing without questioning the social norms. Just because the norm is to get a home loan and pay it for 15 years doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to do for everyone.

If you want to lessen your problems, stop following everything. Decide for yourself. Who knows what’s right for you? Start exploring different ways to live. I’ve started mine.

3. Religions Divide Humanity

I don’t want to talk about religions. Seriously. I respect different beliefs. But I could not leave this behind — it’s one of the truths I’ve learned over the year. Let me share:

Some conflicts in today’s society are because of different beliefs. Some families aren’t in good terms because of contradicting religious beliefs. Some religious folks hate or even discriminate the non-religious people.

Because of religions, we hurt society and ruin relationships. It’s crazy.

I understand that some people can’t live without religions — religions have improved their lives (according to them).

What is  the true purpose of religion, by the way? If religions only divide humanity in a negative way, then we miss the point. We are all imperfect human beings. Love one another despite different beliefs.

4. Life is Not a Competition

When we were kids, our parents, teachers, and everyone around us said that life is a huge competition — we have to win and succeed and become the best of the best. Otherwise, we’ll live miserable lives, we’ll die poor. Of course most of us followed. We were brainwashed.

Truth is that we can all live a meaningful life without competing. Life is not a sport.

From a realist standpoint, there are no winners and no losers. Everyone is living their own lives. Everyone works in their own pace. Everyone struggles. So stop acting like you’re in a race and you need to be the first and you need to dominate the market. If that so, you do it for the wrong reasons.

Instead, do it because you want to provide value and help people. Do it because it’s your passion, you love it and it excites and fascinates you.

Do it because you want to grow and become a better person.

If you only want to compete and prove that you’re the best, you’re all set for a miserable unfulfilling life. How do I know this? Because I’ve seen it. Competing to become the best or successful doesn’t make people feel good inside.

5. Experiences are Better Than Material Possessions

This may sound like a cliché, but sometimes clichés are true.

If you have a $1000, would you spend it all on expensive objects? Most people do it. I don’t. Instead, I buy our needs and then save the rest for experiences — creative projects and travels.

Good experiences uplift us—they fill our lives with joy.

What about bad experiences? Bad experiences teach us lessons.

This year, I went to many places, had memorable adventures, and met a lot of interesting people. I also pursued several creative projects. It wasn’t easy. But these experiences pushed me out of my comfort zone. It made me who I am today.

Test it yourself: If you have a $200, spend the $100 on material possessions then the other $100 on experiences. Use the money for adventures. Or visit a loved one. Or pursue a creative project.

The happiness we felt when buying a new shiny thing is only short-term. On the other hand, the Happiness we had from experiences creates a lasting good feeling, and sometimes, these experiences teach us invaluable lessons.

The people we spend time with, adventures we take, the lessons we learned—all of these can make us better human beings.

But, but… why do most of us hoard material possessions? Go back to number 2.

6. No Matter How Careful We Are, We Still Make Mistakes.

I thought I’m careful enough, but on one occasion I forgot my IDs during a travel. The airport’s security guards told me what to do. I was saved.

I thought I’m careful enough, but then sometimes, I hurt my wife’s feelings. In hindsight, I realized my mistakes. I was an asshole.

I’m no perfect. And so is everyone.

But here’s the challenge: Although we know nobody’s perfect, we get mad at someone who make mistakes. Hey there, hypocrites!

You may think you’re the most careful person, but just like everybody, you’re prone to making mistakes. Committing mistakes is one thing we all share with.

Sure, some professions MUST be perfect, such as surgery or air traffic control. Tracking down human history, however, I found that these people rarely make mistakes. But when they did, do we have control over that?

7. It’s Okay to Be Average.

It’s society’s obsession to be the best. To be the greatest. To be the most useful. The most admirable. It’s a disgrace if we settle for less, for average.

Because if you are average, nobody wants to buy your albums. Nobody recognizes your artwork or your Facebook posts. Being average can be lonely and frustrating. And most of the time, it’s true.

I don’t encourage everyone to be average or mediocre though. I want to live an extraordinary life. I want to be great. And I want everyone to become great at what they do. But that can only happen if we do the things we love.

If we keep doing the things we love, it’s more likely we become great at it. Still, we may be average for others — because average is subjective, in fact, we’re all pretty average at small things. And nothing’s wrong with that. What matters is we are following our heart and focusing on our why.

And what is our why: Our purpose, mission, and the things we love to do.

So stop comparing. Stop wasting hours to prove you’re the best. That is not the goal of life. The goal is to focus on your why. 

If you, however, think you’re still average despite following your why, again that’s OK. Don’t beat yourself. Who cares if you’re not the best? What matters is you’re doing your own thing and you’re helping people in any way you can.

Ah yes. Please help people.

8. Love is the Greatest Power of Humankind.

One of my favorite quotes about love is, “Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which a man can aspire” by Viktor Frankl.

I’d witnessed and experienced it firsthand when my biological mother and sisters forgave me for being disrespectful, for being a black sheep.

(On a side note, I was separated from my mother for 20 years. Last 2008, we started communicating but I didn’t keep up, I did a lot of awful things. And on the day we finally met, she forgave me.)

I threw my pride away when I fell in love with my then girlfriend — now my wife. I dropped my ego. And I opened my heart and mind. It wasn’t easy. I love her. Was she perfect? No. But I’ve learned to love her the way she is. That is love.

I stayed in a band with some band members I couldn’t get along with. Their negativity was contagious. Through time, I learned to love and accept them for who they are. Ahhhh, I still get annoyed sometimes though.

Outside my experiences, love abounds in many ways: People who gave up the things they love to do so they can work hard to support or care for their loved ones.

Also, forbidden lovers who proved that their love endures amid the battalion of people who hate their relationship.

These are just a few examples. And these aren’t Hollywood movies. These are real life stories.

Love is powerful. And there are more things I have yet to understand about love.

Bonus: Everyone Knows They Will Die, But They’re not Living the Life They Wanted to Live

I said this before. I will say it again here: Most people are not doing their best so they can live the life they wanted for themselves. They just complain and conform to society’s expectation. Knowing this makes me sad.

The great Morrie Schwartz said,

“Everyone knows they re going to die… but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.”

Every time I think about dying, that everything I owned will be left, that everything I worked for will only be forgotten, in an instant, the way I see things changes. It gives me the focus and the energy to pursue scary things.

Most people are afraid to die. It’s scary, right? But what’s scarier for me is not giving our dreams a chance to become reality before we die.

Apple founder Steve Jobs puts it this way,

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

What are the things you want to achieve before you leave earth? When will you start working on them?

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Jade Panugan

Some interesting questions about life and human behavior: What if there's no money? Why we often feel the urge to prove that we're right and others are wrong? Why we react to things beyond our control? Why we hate? Why it's hard to be content? I don't have all the answers, do you? Let's chat.