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How can you build the life you want? The answer to that question is different for each of us. But it’s critical that you answer it, because in the answer you will find purpose and meaning. Many of us look for happiness in things, but happiness doesn’t come from things, it comes from how we relate to ourselves and our world.

  1. Be True to Yourself – This doesn’t mean a life without compromise. It means that you don’t lie to yourself. It means that you find out what is true in your heart, and you seek people, places, and experiences which support that core truth. It means you don’t settle for mediocrity. It means you keep striving for excellence even in the face of failure, because you know you are not mediocre. You know that you are absolutely unique and are capable of contributing something great. Being true to yourself means you don’t hide behind a mask. It means you’re a WYSIWYG person.
  2. Have a Vision for Your Future – Take action now, with a picture of your future in mind. Have a vision that improves your life and the lives of others. Our CEO has a vision of attaching our ergonomic products to every display and laptop in the world. He never stops talking about it, because he knows if we realized even a portion of his vision, that our world would be a better place. Some people have a vision of living off the land like Thoreau (HT to Paul Buchheit). You already know how to build a vision. You do it on a small scale everyday when you jump in your car and drive to a destination. You have to start with a destination in mind or you’ll end up at some random place. So what is your life vision?
  3. Avoid Debt – Debt is slavery. If you can’t afford it now, save for it. If you do decide to take on debt make sure it’s critical to your life vision. What is important enough to take on debt?
    • A home? Maybe
    • An education? Maybe
    • A business? Maybe
    • A car? Maybe
    • A pair of shoes? No
    • A latte? No
    • A night out drinking? No
    • Christmas gifts? No
    • Trendy new eyeglasses? No
    • An iPhone? No

    Make sure you’re not paying compound interest on stuff that will end up in a landfill or get flushed down the toilet. Make it a rule, to avoid debt.

  4. Save – The financial experts all say, Pay Yourself First. Pay yourself at least 10% of your gross income. It’s easy if you have 10% automatically deducted from your paycheck and deposited in an investment portfolio. You’ll never miss it.
  5. Continue Your Education – Invest in your mind. Few people do.
    • 58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school
    • 42% of college graduates never read another book
    • 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year
    • 70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years (source Jeff Jarvis)

    Traditional education isn’t an end, but a beginning. Traditional educators endeavor to create within your mind, a set of tools with which you will build a lifetime of education. Even if you never acquired a traditional education, you can still enjoy a lifetime of learning and growth. Keep an open mind, look for educational opportunity everywhere and become a wealthier, smarter, more creative person.

  6. Take Responsibility for Change – If you aren’t getting the results you want from life, you’re probably thinking and doing things that are counter-productive. Only you can identify what those things are and only you can take responsibility for changing them. To discover what changes you need to make, find someone who is getting the results you want, then compare your habits to theirs. Find out how they think, how they speak, how they act, what they do, and what they value. Don’t be a phony, be yourself, but learn from other people. You can take huge shortcuts in life if you are willing learn from other people.
  7. Learn from Mistakes - Not just your mistakes, but everyone’s mistakes. View history as an opportunity to learn. Some of us are embarrassed of our past and would rather just forget about it, but that can easily turn into denial. Denial is imaginative stubbornness which causes us to repeat the same foolish actions. We fear what we don’t understand, so if we don’t understand our failures we create unnecessary anxiety in our lives. To act courageously in spite of fear we must be honest with ourselves about our past.
  8. Build Quality Relationships/Discard Destructive Ones – The quality of your life is directly related to the quality of the people you choose to have relationships with. Make sure your relationships are two way relationships. If they are all take and little give they are will suck the happiness out of your life.Love: Look for a partner who is on a similar journey as yours, who has similar goals and values, and build on your relationship by giving your love and encouragement. Be ready to compromise, because great relationships are built on shared visions not selfish ambition. Share the difficulties and the rewards. Listen closely. Be patient.

    Friendship: Look for people with similar values, who give as much as they take, with which you can share interests and hobbies. Good friends don’t try to change each other, they accept each other for who they are. Laugh, listen, and offer help.

    Business: Expect high ethical standards from your business associates. Don’t waste time with people who use questionable business models and practices, they can only muddy your name. All ethical business relationships are built upon providing mutual benefit. If you are questioning a relationship, trust your instincts and examine the relationship to see if it is lopsided. If someone is questioning you, listen and be honest with yourself. Is there a mutual benefit? Are you being fair? Can you see another perspective?

  9. Do the Right Thing Even When it is Unpopular – Have you ever gone along with the crowd and said or did something you knew hurt someone else? Most of us have. I have, and I’m not proud of it. Every time you fail to stand up for what you know is right, it leaves a little hole in your soul. It’s like cutting flesh away, it will heal but it leaves a scar. You can’t change other people, but you can call them on their bullshit or walk away when they are acting like Neanderthals.
  10. Honor Your Commitments – Do not make commitments lightly. Before you commit to anything, think it through with your heart and your mind, and if you have doubts, don’t commit. But if you do commit, follow through. Our biggest commitments are to our spouses and our children. If you fail to honor those basic commitments, the damage can last generations (This is not to say that you should stay in an abusive relationship. If you are in one, get out. The abuser has already broken his commitment). Our business commitments can be nearly as important. If you fail to pay your bills and honor your contracts, you will see opportunity evaporate. Others will lose trust in you, which will destroy your relationships.
  11. Be Charitable – Now that you’re saving 10%, take another 10% and give it to a worthy cause. I am sure some of you are thinking, “whatever, he’s talking about rich people, not me, I don’t have enough money to give any away.” No, I’m talking about you. If you only make $1000 per month then you only have to give away a 100 bucks. If you can’t give away $100 now, it will be even harder to give $1000 later. Why? Because it will add to your overall
    well being. You’ll feel better about yourself and your world and it will come back to you ten fold. Being miserly will not improve your life, generosity will.

For more on living an extraordinary life, read this.