11 Ways to Build an Extraordinary Life

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.

60 thoughts on “11 Ways to Build an Extraordinary Life”

  1. About the don’t get in debt thing, it reminds me of the “3 easy payments of $9.99!!” in some shopping channel informercial. I was thinking “Hm, if you struggle to shell out $30 right now, you probably shouldn’t be buying crap from TV.” While that’s a more extreme example, it certainly helps to be more aware of whether we can afford something or a life style or not before acting on it.

  2. This is really wonderful. I’ve already read it twice and it’s already inspired a post!

    I would add one more tip (because I am working on this personally) …

    Tip # 12 – Get healthy.

  3. Excellent Post !!!! If I would have to pick two areas where I have seen people (and businesses) fail the most they would be “taking responsibility” and “honoring commitments.” It seems as though people today take both of those very lightly. I have tried (and Ilike to think I was successful) to instill those into my children.

  4. I agree with you that debt is worth only for house, business, education. For buying car, I prefer not to take any debt. If I cannot afford the price, I better to buy something else cheaper, such as bycicle or motor cycle. Anyway, I get so many great points there…

  5. Good read, especially the “Do the Right Thing Even When it is Unpopular” and “Be Charitable”. Great article !! Thanks.

  6. Great article- especially point number six about “taking responsibility”…Most people don’t take responsibility for their actions and end up pitying themselves when things don’t work out as they had hoped…thanks for the pointers 🙂


  7. “Take action now, with a picture of your future in mind.” That’s it, right there. If you had to narrow this list down, you would have captured the key ingredient to an extraordinary life in that one sentence.

    Of course, it’s hard to figure out what we want sometimes, but the effort itself is worthwhile. Very nice food for thought.

  8. “Be True To Yourself”

    Wow- I’m glad that one was first. I think that this is the first step to an extraordinary life.

    Personally, this one has been difficult for me. I find myself at times not staying true to what I believe in. Usually when this happens, I see it and move away from the bad path I was on.

    Sometimes, however, I pay for the mistake. I’m sure this holds for everyone. I try to remind myself of this every day. Thanks for providing today’s reminder 🙂

    Cheers and Best Wishes,

    Brad Spencer

  9. Great list, with one quibble: if you make $10k a month it is easier to give away $1k than it is for someone with $1000 to give away $100, because the person with $10k can afford it better (losing $1k will not seriously impact their ability to survive or live comfortably, if you only earn $1k, losing $100 very well could).

    Live within your means: don’t rack up debt means don’t rack up debt trying to be charitable when you can’t afford it either. Which doesn’t mean you can’t give to charity, there are many other ways to give back and that don’t require money. And even giving as little as 1% ($10 a month for our poor individual) would make you feel better emotionally and physically.

  10. 3. Avoid Debt – Exactly. So many people spend their lives trying to catch up on mouting credit card bill and loans, quickly getting stuck in the rat race forever. My philosophy is: if you don’t have the cash, don’t buy it. (Should be interesting when I try buying a house though!)

  11. You’ve compiled a terrific list here, Steve. I would venture to say that most people already know the core keys listed here, but they are a great reference point for when things get a little out of hand in a person’s life. Thank you for this post and keep up the great work 🙂

  12. I found your website via Stumble and have been reading articles for the last hour. I want to say thank you for your valuable insight and positive attitude!!! You are now bookmarked and will be visited frequently.

  13. Well said! Great Work!
    It is so much important to pay attention to little details everyday in our daily routine like good or bad thougths. They will always guide us act in the way we choose .
    So be conscious, believe in yourself, be good for others save money and follow your dream.

  14. Simplicity in what is reflected in this readings,it inspired me to be introspect what it necessary to exorce my energy on things that can me my life complete and steadfast

  15. The truth about reading after college hit home…it took me almost two years before I picked up a book for entertainment or personal growth. Now I read three books at a time (not as hard as you might think). But the idea of investing in my education is quite timely. And will move forward on getting my MBA – an investment in me and my family.

  16. Hi Steve,

    Stumbled on this post. Glad I did. Good read for a Sunday afternoon. Some of your advice I’m already following … some of it I definitely need a bit more work on.


  17. I liked that a great deal. #3 is especially true these days.

    Debt, and government encouraged debt especially, is social control. The British government has allowed the financial sector to entice people with incredible cc balances, the government (a Labour government, no less) has introduced tuition fees and allowed house prices to get to levels where normal people can’t afford them without crippling debt, and the government has ripped the arse out of the private pension schemes.

    Britain is a nation of borrowers and we have no savings. I’m just glad I escaped debt and then the country a few years ago.

    Great post. Thanks.


  18. Its always good to read your own thoughts expressed by somebody else. Steve – you are one of them. Would like to add a quote from ‘East of Eden’ – John Steinbeck: “And this I believe, the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.”

  19. I would definitely add “Keep your momentum” on here. Oftentimes it’s easy to start working on a project when you’re very excited but then the work ethic fades away when the novelty is gone. Finding ways to keep yourself excited and thus keep your momentum up is extremely important.

  20. @Subin,

    No, not perfectly. But I try, and I am making progress. In my view progress is the best we can ask of ourselves, perfection would mean an end, and there is no end. We should not strive for perfection only improvement and progress.

    But after I began focusing on these and many other things, the progress and improvement in my quality of life has been dramatic.

  21. THE most boring website I have had the misfortune to stumble upon! Get a grip and write something interesting next time please…

  22. Scary, really scary – I refer to the book stats that you quote.
    I cannot imagine my life witou books – it would be aen empty and cold hell…

    As for everything else – well, if only I had the strength!
    I have quoted you on my blog (which is in russian, but that should not be too bad, is it?)

  23. Great article, but I would have added take care of your health. This has to be one of the most over looked things for people to prepare for. Without good health nothing else matters, it is the number one reason for people to go bankrupt.

    And without good health how can your life be extraordinary?

  24. This is so gooood, thank you, thank you. This article has put back what was lost. I hope many are as fortunate to read this article and adhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *