Stuff I Wish I’d Learned …

Photo by Roan Lavery on Unsplash

By Rob Shaul


1) To Cowboy Dance

This isn’t trivial. I’ve always been a nerdy introvert in my high school, college and post-college years, it was really bad. Simply put, it’s pretty hard to meet girls when you’re a socially awkward, nerdy, introvert who has absolutely no game.

I went to a different high school each of my last three years, which made things worse, and the 10% female population at the Coast Guard Academy meant I didn’t have a serious girlfriend in college.

After college, I married the first girlfriend I had. I married way too young … ended up getting divorced with two kids …. horrible.

I’m convinced knowing how to cowboy dance would have helped. Girls love to cowboy dance, and here in Wyoming, the few times I’ve been to the Cowboy Bar, I’ve seen pretty girl after pretty girl beg to dance with the one or two older guys who could lead the western swing. I’m convinced cowboy dancing would have helped with my serious social anxiety, as I wouldn’t have had to say much to meet girls/women. I’ve yet to meet a woman who doesn’t love to cowboy dance.

And perhaps, with more experience with women in my life, I would have not been so quick to marry so young and would have avoided the hurt I caused to so many others with the divorce.


2) When someone asks for your advice, give it to them.

Often when young I asked for advice and the people I asked hedged. Either they didn’t want to hurt my feelings or felt they weren’t in a position to judge.

For years I did the same when asked for advice. Not anymore. If someone asks for my advice, or what I think, I’ll tell them, straight up.

It’s your friends who tell you when you’re fucking up. Your enemies certainly won’t say anything.

Now, after giving my direct advice, I’ll always add, “My advice is free. It won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t take it.”

This frees both of us up. The person receiving the advice doesn’t feel obligated to take it. And this allows me to be honest and direct.


3) Take Vacations

In the military, I always worked to max out my vacation and generally worked at another job when I finally took time off.

After the military, I was simply so poor trying to get my business off the ground, I didn’t take a vacation for 10 years. All the time I justified it by how much work I was getting done.

I’ve matured, and grown, and have finally learned that getting away from work, makes my work better and me more efficient at work. The “space” from work vacation affords allows me to come back refreshed, recharged, and excited about the job – no matter what it is.

This can be taken too far, of course. I’ve written before how I’ve never met a man who worked only for the weekend or vacation to be happy. The Stoics advise that it’s okay to take time off but to never drift far from your life’s purpose – which isn’t a vacation.

However, work dominated my life from my 20s to my mid-40’s, and I regret it. I wouldn’t have missed anything by getting away from time to time, and my life would have been richer.


4) 99% of Choices Don’t Matter

The Paradox of Choice is a famous economics book by Barry Swartz which discusses the gyrations we all go through by making choices – both big life choices like careers and marriage, to small everyday choices like product purchases and that day’s wardrobe. The book is fascinating and demonstrates that if we have more than 7 choices for something, we often end up not making a choice at all and that it’s best to be a “satisficer” …. not to look for the perfect solution, but simply take the first one that will work and move on.

What stuck out to me and what I’d wished I’d learned much earlier is that 99% of our choices don’t matter. What you wear that day, what sneaker you buy, what table you sit at for lunch, etc. – we can agonize over stupid stuff like this and drain energy and happiness from the important stuff in our life.

Some choices do matter – big life choices like career, where you live, marriage, etc. Some little choices matter as well – like not smoking, eating clean, wearing a seat belt, flossing, etc. It’s best to develop these small health and wellness-related choices into habits, so you just do the right thing, without having to make a decision.

But most decisions don’t matter – so be decisive and move on.


5) Gratitude

Human nature is pessimistic. We see the glass as half empty, not half full. We dwell on what is wrong, rather than what is right. We take the good in our life for granted …. don’t make healthy choices, treat our friends better than we treat our family, blame others, etc.

Gratitude is a light that cuts through this blackness. Taking a step back, identifying and acknowledging the good in your life gives you perspective. It’s a potent weapon against self-pity, negative thinking, and small-mindedness.

True gratitude is also a pathway to the present. So much of our thought is wasted on past regret or future anxiety. Gratitude forces us to acknowledge the good in our lives in the here and now.

I’m a classic untalented overachiever. With this comes a curse of always driving toward improvement, and often being chased by the fear of knowing how quickly what I do have can disappear.  It can be frantic.

Gratitude has an amazingly calming effect.  It’s helped me find delicious moments of solace.


6) You don’t have time

In my 20s, 30s and even 40s, I thought I had plenty of time left, so I readily put stuff off – vacations, learning new things, starting projects I’d always wanted to complete, spending more time with my kids. Now, at 51, I’m panicked because chances are, I’ve got no more than 24 years left. Just 24 more hunting seasons, just 24 more skiing seasons, just 24 more Wyoming summers, just 24 more years with my kids.

It gets worse. Age is catching up with my body. I’m currently recovering from my second kidney infection in a year. Foot surgery last year has left me with constantly swollen, sore, numb right foot which I’m not sure I can squeeze into a ski boot. Overall my strength in the gym has declined, and my max heart rate is 20 beats slower than it was 20 years ago – which means my endurance isn’t what it used to be. I get sore more often and recover slower. I can’t do multiple long days in the mountains as I could do just 5 years ago.

In other words, now when I thought I would have time to do some of the things I’ve always wanted to, physically I’m not sure I can do them. It’s very possible I missed the window because I thought I’d have more time.

Colossal mistake.

At work, I’ve always pushed with a sense of urgency to get things done, but in my personal life, I’ve allowed the years to coast by. Bucket list fishing and hunting trips have been put off to “next year”, personal projects kicked down the road, opportunities to visit and connect with family and friends carelessly brushed aside until “next year.”

Learn from me. You don’t have time.



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