10 Most Valuable Lessons Learned over the Last 10 Years
As the last decade came to a close, I took some time to reflect on ten years of my life since 2010, all the ups and downs, accomplishments and disappointments.
It has been an exciting and unpredictable journey with several truly transformative experiences, including building a successful career in finance, climbing mountains, volunteering for a suicide hotline, doing Ironman races, building friendships, ending an unhappy long-term relationship and launching my fitness and health coaching business.
I’m sharing ten most valuable lessons I’ve learned over the last ten years along with some major takeaways that might help you in your journey. I also hope this article may encourage you to look back at the last decade of your life, celebrate major accomplishments and reflect on your own lessons (if you have not already done so).
Lesson 1: Life does not always go according to your plan. Accept it just the way it is
Over the last 10 years I have had an interesting and exciting journey, but my life has not gone the way I thought it would go.
When I started my MBA at Columbia Business School, my career goal was to land an investment banking job with one of the major banks. I spent a lot of time and energy on the recruiting process, but could not get the job I wanted, which felt very disappointing.
Upon graduation, I joined a rating agency as a credit analyst focusing on financial institutions. That job gave me a healthy work-life balance and allowed me to pursue several hobbies and interests outside of work, which completely changed my life.
What seemed like a failure to land an investment banking job after my MBA turned out to be a great opportunity to have a successful career in finance and a fulfilling personal life.
We all set expectations for our lives and want events to unfold in a certain way. We create specific outcomes in our mind’s eye and feel disappointed, frustrated and unhappy when our lives do not go according to our expectations, which happens most of the times.
The only way to live a happier life is to let go of your expectations of how your life is supposed to be and accept it just the way it is.
Lesson 2: Get comfortable being uncomfortable
One of the hobbies I picked up after business school was mountaineering. I started with hiking Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, which rises to 19,340 feet (5,895 meters) above the sea level.
I still remember that feeling of awe I experienced standing on the summit, watching a moonset on one side of the mountain and a sunrise on the other side, shaking from cold and feeling completely exhausted, oxygen-deprived and ecstatic.
After Kilimanjaro, I climbed Aconcagua in South America, Elbrus in Russia, three volcanoes in Ecuador and Denali in Alaska.
There are several reasons why I climb mountains. I enjoy the feeling of being connected with nature and being surrounded by magnificent views. I love traveling, exploring and meeting like-minded people from around the world.
But there is also another aspect of climbing that draws me to the mountains. It is the way to test my limits, to see how far I can push myself and experience the pleasure of overcoming pain and discomfort.
It helps me to discover my resilience and inner strength. Climbing teaches me to look for humor even in the most challenging situations and stay positive.
You don’t need to subject yourself to the extremes of climbing mountains. Life can make you feel uncomfortable as you apply for a new job, decide to open your own business, train for a race or break up an unhappy relationship.
Just remember, that uncomfortable feeling means that you are moving forward. If you can be comfortable being uncomfortable, you'll be able to handle whatever situation comes along in your life.
Lesson 3: Don’t underestimate the power of tiny habits
Creating daily routines, building good habits and getting rid of bad ones has also become one of my pastimes. It is fascinating to realize how small daily actions can have a huge positive impact on my life.
Some of the powerful habits I’ve developed over the last decade are consistent exercise routine, healthy eating, daily planning, reading, listening to Audible, journaling, meditation, getting up with the first alarm (my most recent life-changing habit).
There are several habits that I’m still working on, including going to sleep before 11pm, waking up before 6am, working out in the mornings and cutting the time spent on the phone.
Some people argue that habits and routines are boring. I find daily routines very helpful, especially when my life gets busy and chaotic. They create a structure in my life that enables me to manage my time better and get stuff done.
Daily habits do not depend on your motivation, will-power or mood. They are just repeated actions that later become automatic and do not require any thinking or decision-making.
The only way to develop a habit is by doing an action repeatedly until it becomes a usual part of your daily routine. There are different opinions on how long it takes to build a new habit, ranging from 21 days to 90 days.
Just pick a simplistic task that you can get done without any motivation and stay as consistent as possible for the next 30 days to build a new habit.
Lesson 4: Our running shoes have magic in them
Running has become an inseparable part of my life since 2014, when I completed my first half marathon followed by the NYC full marathon and a 60-kilometer (37.2 miles) race two weeks after the marathon.
An interesting fact is I could hardly run three miles on a treadmill without stopping at the beginning of 2014. However, it did not stop me from deciding to sign up and train for the races.
Running has not only considerably improved my physical condition and fitness level, but it also makes me feel happier. It goes beyond the “runner’s high,” a feeling of euphoria caused by chemicals released in your body during a run.
Running gives me clarity and brings a feeling of peace and balance. It also reduces stress levels and improves my mood and sleep.
Running has made more mentally and emotionally resilient. Some of the lessons I learned during training and racing have helped me face challenges in other areas of my life.
No matter what level you are starting at, you can make running a part of your life and reap its multiple benefits.
Lesson 5: Time is the most valuable asset we have
We all have the same 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week and about 8,760 hours in year. It’s up to each of us what we do with that time.
I had many days and weeks when time would just fly. It felt like I never had enough time for the activities that I needed to do. I was constantly trying to find a balance between several priorities, all of which competed for my time.
This motivated me to do a time experiment for several weeks and track my time on an hourly basis. By tracking my activities for two weeks, I could see exactly how I spent each of my days.
This data allowed me to reallocate my time to better align it with my goals. It also made me more aware of the time I wasted on social media and checking my emails and enabled me to gradually reduce those time wasters.
While tracking your time could feel overbearing and you might feel that you waste valuable time by tracking it, I strongly recommend that you try it for a week (or at least for a couple of days) to become more aware of how you spend your time.
Lesson 6: Take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and actions
I’ve come to accept the fact that I am responsible for my own thoughts, feelings and actions. Nothing and nobody can make me think or feel certain way. It is my own choice how I respond to an outside environment.
I can’t always choose or change the circumstances of my life. I can’t change my past. I can’t change the actions of other people. There are a lot of things in the world and in my life, which I have no control over.
However, in any given set of circumstances, I have control over my attitude and my actions. And that makes a huge difference.
When your life does not go according to your plan, your mind often goes into a “victim mode” by default. What if you could replace the question ‘Why did this happen to me?’ with ‘What do I need to learn from this?’ or ‘What value can I get out of this situation?’
Every day you have a choice how to live your life. There is always something you can do to change your life and move in the direction you want to go. Focusing on what you can do — right now — and taking action can give you the ability to move forward.
Lesson 7: Your body is the only place you have to live
As my life revolved around work, friends and my hobbies and I tried to juggle multiple goals, I did not have too much time to rest and recover.
There was always something to do, somewhere to go, another workout to squeeze in and never enough hours in a day.
I constantly felt tired and exhausted when I trained for my races. Gradually, I started learning that rest and recovery (R&R) should be an inseparable part of my fitness regimen and my daily life.
R&R comes in different forms. These include proper sleep, hydration, nutrition, exercise and stress management.
I read a lot of research that shows all negative impact that sleep deprivation can have on our brain and body. It took me several years to develop a regular healthy sleep routine.
Going to bed earlier, getting seven to eight hours of sleep, working out and eating healthy meals not only enhances my physical energy, but also improves my productivity, focus and creativity.
I gave up my belief that taking time to rest was being lazy. I realized that my productivity improved after I started scheduling downtime.
I usually work in two hours intervals and take short breaks between those work sessions. I also take some time at the end of each day and on the weekends just to unwind both mentally and physically.
You’ve likely heard that you should get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day, sleep seven to eight hours each night, eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, drink eight glasses of water and eliminate processed foods from our diet.
Even if you can’t follow all these recommendations, small healthy daily choices can make a huge difference in your life.
Lesson 8: Everything you want is on the other side of fear
I’ve learned that the only way to move beyond my fear is by exposing myself directly to what I’m afraid of and doing things that scare me.
My resolve to overcome my fear of cycling motivated me to sign up for my first triathlon in 2015.
I used to enjoy riding a bike as a kid till I got into an accident. Although I did not get any serious injuries in that accident, I was too scared to get on a bike for over 20 years. I realized that my fear of cycling was completely irrational, but I couldn’t do anything about it.
As I was writing my New Year’s resolutions on January 1st, 2015, I decided to register for New York City triathlon, which would require me to relearn how to ride a bike. In the spring I bought my first road bike and in July 2015 I completed my first Olympic-distance race.
Next year I completed a half Ironman distance race, followed by a full Ironman race, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2 mile run.
I’m still a cautious cyclist, especially after a couple of crashes I had over the past several years. I admit that cycling is my least favorite part of triathlons, but I do enjoy the sport. I still feel anxious about riding fast and riding in traffic, but it does not stop me from pursing my dream to complete 12 Ironman races and participate in the Ironman World Championship.
We all have fears, even though nobody likes to admit it. Experiencing fear every now and then is a normal part of life. But living in constant fear can be physically and emotionally exhausting. It may also limit your full potential and prevent you from reaching your dreams
If there is something you are afraid to do because it seems scary or difficult, just take small steps towards your goals and do things that you are afraid of. You’ll find out that your fear is often imaginary, and you might be making a big deal out of nothing.
Lesson 9: People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime
Over the last decade, I met a lot of people, created some lasting friendships, had several long-term relationships and went out on numerous first dates.
I believe that every person whom I meet comes into my life for a reason.
Some people provided me guidance and support when I was going through challenging times. I felt a strong emotional, intellectual and physical connection with some people and shared adventures and life experiences with others.
Friendships and relationships often come to an end. Sometimes you slowly drift from one another as you have different life paths. Other times relationships end with a break-up.
It hurts when relationships and friendships end, especially when you have invested a lot of time and energy into those people.
No relationship is ever waste of time. If it did not bring you what you wanted, you can learn a lesson about what you don’t want. However, it’s a mistake to stay in an unhappy relationship for the sake of not being alone.
As I looked back at some of my long-term relationships, I realized that I stayed in an unsatisfying relationship for too long because I was afraid that I would not be able to find another man and start a family.
It took a lot of courage to end that relationship and get back to dating. In this new decade I hope to find a partner with who I want to spend the rest of my life.
All friendships and relationships have ups and downs. The difference between happy and unhappy relationships is the balance between positive and negative interactions. The “magic ratio” is five-to-one: for every negative interaction in a relationship, there are five or more positive interactions.
There is no point in staying in a relationship if it brings more resentment and negative experiences into your life than connection and joy. Life is too short to be unhappy.
Lesson 10: Just do it
The most important lesson I’ve learned over the last decade is the only way to achieve my goals is by taking action. While positive attitude, empowering thinking and visualization have some merit, thoughts without actions get nothing done.
I used to overthink whether I should pursue certain endeavors, trying to weigh the pros and cons. I also spent a lot of time on planning, just to find out that my plans almost never went according to my expectations.
I still believe that analysis and planning are important. However, at some point you have to get out there, start doing the work and figure out the rest as you go along. Otherwise, doubt and fear can overtake and just kill your dreams.
I’ve also realized that instead of waiting for inspiration, motivation and perfect circumstances, I just need to take some small action to get the ball rolling.
Motivation is often the result of action, not its cause. Getting started on a task creates momentum and generates motivation to keep going.
If you want to achieve a goal, do something every day, seven days a week. No matter how small a step could be. Even a five-minute task. Resolve to persist until you succeed, no matter how hard it becomes or how long it takes.
You will experience a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and control about your life when you know that you have the ability to take action and go after your dreams.