Life Lessons Learned at 23 Year Old (Rules for Vicarious Living)

“The number one rule in life is to set and live up to your own standards.”
― Clyde Lee Dennis


I love lists. Always have and always will. And let’s be honest, time (especially my own) is much too valuable to waste. Over the past few years, I have been constantly coming across other people’s lists for how to live. Their creeds. Their mantras. Their ideas. Their ways to improve life as a whole. The more of them I read, the more and more I began to think about what my list would be. What “unwritten” rules do I use to consistently govern my own actions? I decided to no longer let my rules be “unwritten.” When I first started to write this post I was set on “23 rules I’ve learned in 23 years.” But in writing, as in life, things don’t usually go how you plan them. Things escalate. Change happens. Adaptability is king.

Regarding My Life Lessons:

I just want to preface my list of life lessons by stating that it is a combination of concepts, ideas, quotes, and beliefs. Some of these I stole (thanks, John Romaniello), some of them I thought of, and some just seem obvious but needed to be stated.

Because I’ve lived a different life than you, have my life lessons list will be tailored to my goals, dreams, and past experiences. I also decided to make it a little less theoretical and more reality-based by adding commentary and context on a good portion of my rules. I hope that this will give them more of a crystal clear meaning and add more enjoyment to the reading.

I’m only 23, so if any of my rules seem a bit “ridiculous” or “idealistic” then please have patience with me because I have yet to be jaded or hardened by the world. Most people are capable of holding themselves to a higher standard than the status quo of society. This list will give you insight into who I am and what I value.

Please take each rule with a grain of salt and understand that I take very few things seriously. I try to approach all situations with humor and wit. Now I do believe that many of these rules are universally true, but still I AM NOT making suggestions on how YOU should live YOUR life. These are simply MY rules for MY life. And please trust me, I am exceedingly and eternally aware of my imperfections and flaws.

I know that some of these life lessons may come across to some as either stupid, naive, arrogant, idealistic, or petty; that’s fine, because I have at times been all of those things— just hopefully not all at the same time 😉

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, let’s get into the lesson learning.

Life Lessons Learned at 23

  1. Whatever you are, be a good one. It doesn’t matter if you’ve chosen to be the President of the United States or a heroine dealer; throw yourself fully into it, give it your all, and own it.
  2. Life is all about perception and timing. Our perception is based on our experiences. Life is all about HOW we choose to view things and WHEN we are viewing them. You can meet the perfect person, but if the timing is off, it doesn’t matter.
  1. Don’t be arrogant about things you’ve had no control over. In regards to things such as: gender, race, ethnicity, size, family, nationality, etc. Some people were blessed genetically. Some were fortunate with where they were born or who their parents are. If you’re one of these, don’t hold it against others who weren’t. Because in the end it was just luck.
  2. Remember that people aren’t against you, they are for themselves. People will do things that hurt you. You’ll feel betrayed and back-stabbed, but keep in mind that most people don’t see it as betraying you as much as they do helping themselves.
  3. Read. Books. Magazines. News articles. Comics. Quotes. Anything and everything. Reading makes you more interesting, more intelligent, a better writer, expands your vocabulary, and though I can’t prove this, I think it makes you a more useful human being.
  4. Work Hard. Play Harder. Life is about more than collecting a paycheck. Yes, you should work your ass off, but you should also know how to step away and enjoy yourself.
  5. Show love. Never hold back from giving a compliment as long as you mean it. There is never a bad time to say something nice to someone, and people will love you for it.
  6. Travel. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”– Mark Twain
  7. Be more curious than certain. Open yourself up to possibilities. Don’t dismiss something just because someone tells you to.
  8. Write it down. Your memory is shit.
  9. It’s not the years in your life; it’s the life in your years. Another case of quality trumping quantity. As Neil Young said, “it’s better to burn out than fade away.”
  10. Never play cards with a guy who has a city in his nickname. Vegas Vince, the Cincinnati Kid, Texas Tim—all dudes to stay clear of.
  11. In no situation is it ever okay to pop your collar or wear crocs. No exceptions.
  12. You can say no to shit you don’t want to do. I don’t believe in the idea of “obligation.” Yes, there are things you “should” do. And yes, sometimes not doing these things will have consequences. However, there are very few things you “need” to do. For example, I hate helping people move. Do people still ask me? Yes. Do I help? Rarely. Do they complain and try and make me feel guilty? Definitely. In each circumstance, evaluate what it is going to cost you and what it can do for you. If there is absolutely zero benefit, and you truly don’t want to do it, don’t do it.
  13. Sun’s out, guns out.
  14. Keep a journal. Putting your thoughts out there makes you feel better and gives you a different perspective. “We write to feel life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” – Anais Nin
  15. If a girl hasn’t read the Harry Potter series, don’t bother dating herSorry, I’m just not interested in women without a soul or lacking good taste.
  16. Create. It can be a painting, a book, a joke—anything. Leave something behind not just for yourself but for other people as well. Creating things is what pushes our limits and advances society. It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to.
  17. Everything in moderation, especially moderation.
  18. Don’t judge what people do in the bedroom. If it’s consensual and not with children, why even care? This extends to what type of people, how many, or in what way they do it.
  19. Take the lead. Always suggest days and times to meet instead of leaving it up in the air.
  20. Play chess.
  21. There is no such thing as a multi-purpose sock. Dress socks with dress pants. Athletic socks with sneakers. You’d think this would be common sense by now.
  22. If you say something behind someone’s back you’ve got to be willing to say it to their face. Otherwise, shut your damn mouth.
  23. Don’t own a lot of things. Except books.
  24. Drink at least a gallon of water each day.
  25. Learn to ask for the things you want. Doesn’t matter if it’s for business or pleasure; people are not mind readers. No one is going to know what you really want unless you tell them and make a strong case for why you want it.
  26. Do random and crazy shit just to have the storyWhen you look back on life, those moments will be the ones you remember and want to tell people. We don’t look back and remember the nights we got enough sleep.
  27. Give Credit. Don’t steal other people’s ideas. If you got it from someone or somewhere else, drop their name and give them a shout out.
  28. Learn how to cook. By your late 20s, you should be able to cook at least 3 legitimate meals. You can only live on Mac and Cheese, Ramen Noodles, and spaghetti for so long.
  29. Don’t chew on glow sticks. At least not near other people’s eyes.
  30. Always be the first to reach for the check. Do this even if the other person invited you out. If they put up a strong fight, let’em have it.
  31. Make words like “sir, ma’am, miss, please, and thank you.” staples in your vocabulary People respond to manners and respect—plain and simple.
  32. Ice cream is the perfect food for a second date.
  33. Floss.
  34. Don’t date a woman with another man’s name tattooed on her body. The presence of such a thing implies one of two issues: unfinished business, or a tendency to make irrational decisions. Neither of these is worth dealing with.
  35. Do something you hate. Try it at least three times just to make sure there’s no chance of you liking it.
  36. It’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask permission.
  37. Date a girl who reads. Inspired by the “Date a girl who reads” poem by Rose Marie Urquico. Read it. You’ll understand.
  38. Don’t argue about religion or politicsTo be clear, having an argument is different from having a conversation. People believe what they believe. And it’s usually better to tread lightly regarding these two topics. And when voices start to be raised, it’s time to change the subject.
  39. Develop a signature toast. Mine is still a work in progress, but I am currently using “To living life forward” until I find the perfect fit for me.
  40. If you go through a break up or have a falling out, feel free to delete that person from your life. No, I don’t care how petty or shallow this sounds. You can’t go forward if you’re constantly looking back.
  41. Network like a fiend. Your network is your net-worth. You can’t be good at everything, therefore it is important to know people who are better at stuff than you so they can help you out when you need it. And you can do the same for them.
  42. Buy the jeans that make your ass look the nicest. Only rule that applies to jeans. Luckily for me and my wallet it, Levi’s fit me like a glove.
  43. If you don’t remember doing something, it doesn’t count. This theory comes particularly in handy with situations involving alcohol.
  44. Identify your flaws and work to negate the ones you can. I, for example, am a terrible speller—but I’m working on it. I also may be allergic to bees. Sadly, that one is out of my control.
  45. Tip generously and outrageously. Not because you have a lot of money, or because of the 1% chance a waitress might give you her number; but because at some point this week, some jerk stiffed her, and it ruined her week. You just fixed it. Karma will be kind.
  46. Learn to be a Jack of all trades. In this day and age, there is no excuse for being uninformed. Between the internet and the people you surround yourself with, you should be able to educate yourself on any topic.
  47. Try not to not have enemies. But if someone insists on making themselves one, take out their knees and go for their throats.
  48. “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.” -John Waters
  49. Good Vibes. Don’t be negative or associate with negative people. There’s enough negativity in the world without putting more out there or letting it hover around you.
  50. Try EVERYTHING. Try everything you can find time for. But when you do, go all out and commit for the required length of time.
  51. Resolve conflicts quickly, privately, and without anger. Throwing a tantrum never helped anyone and getting angry and sputtering tends to hurt your cause. As for privately, there’s no reason to take something public except if you are looking for attention. And no one likes an attention whore.
  52. Finding a sports team to hate is as important and finding one to love. And probably more satisfying.
  53. Always remember people’s names and use them in conversation. It makes them feel special and seems like you care. There is no sound so loved as our own name from someone else.
  54. Have standards but not expectations.
  55. Find what you love and let it kill you. “All things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.” -Charles Bukowski.
  56. You’re not really married until you have kids. Enjoy the freedom and lack of responsibility as long as you can.
  57. Get comfortable making eye contact. Eye contact is a sign of confidence, interest, and respect. All three are essential to success in any situation.
  58. It’s okay to let yourself go, as long as you can get yourself back.

Next Step (Your Turn)

Obviously, I’m going to suggest that you make your own life lessons list—and you’re likely to simply ignore that suggestion and just treat this piece of writing as a just another blog post. But, I would like you to really do it. Here’s why I think this has value:

Firstly, sitting and taking the time to actually write out what is important to you, and how you think you should behave reveals a few things. The most obvious of these is that you actually have to decide what to include; in other words, really think about your values. I find that just doing that makes you a bit more mindful.

Take a moment and think about the rules you actually follow in your day-to-day life; then think about all the rules you’d like to follow. You might be surprised at the difference in these two lists. Put another way, you might be surprised at the number of rules you’d “like to” live by that you’re breaking every day.

Secondly, writing anything down makes it real—it creates tangibility. I firmly believe that by writing down a list of behaviors you’d like to adopt, or rules you’d like to abide by, you are much more likely to do just that. It creates a concrete system of assessment; a definite lens through which you can filter your view of a situation. Where once there was only an idea, now there is a guiding thought process and a behavior.

Having such a list will make you much more likely to follow the things on it. I know this, because it’s been working for me. In addition to typing it all out as above, I hand wrote all of my rules in my journal (not the descriptions, just the rules).

Feel free to share some of your rules in the comment section below.

Stay Gold.

Todd Smidt

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