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How to Wake Up Smiling: The 9 Decisions That Led to a Life I Love

When reading “The Warren Buffett Way” I came across a line that has been running around in my head ever since — “You only have to get things right a few times. 12 investment decisions in my career have made all the difference.”

Having recently turned 40, it seemed like a fitting exercise to follow Warren’s lead and get down on paper what my personal best decisions have been that have led me to a place where most days I wake up smiling.

Last year, when talking to my dad about the realities of getting older, he hit me with the following words —“The saddest part about getting older is seeing how intellectually dead some of my friends have chosen to become.”

Few sentences have frozen me more.

And after I let them sink in, I made the decision then and there to make curious my baseline and as a result the idea that “anything is possible” has actually become possible.

Life is not about being the smartest person in the room, or the strongest or the fastest.

Life is about walking through as many doors as you can and learning a new something, seeing a new somewhere and meeting a new someone.

Life is about staying intellectually alive — and I cannot thank my dad enough for smacking me in the face with that reality.

“I have no special talent. I am passionately curious.” — Albert Einstein

2. I finally decided to get my ass into shape

Ten years ago I welcomed in my third decade in the backroom of a dive bar in Central America with copious amounts of alcohol, cigarettes, and enough “extracurriculars” to wake up a dead horse. I weighed in at a cool 220 pounds (I am 5’9) and had serious bouts with anxiety and depression, despite leading a life that looked great on paper.

Today I weigh 155 pounds, can run for days, go toe to toe with my two little boys, and outwork most people half my age, and this is only because I decided to get brutally selfish in terms of my own health and wellbeing.

“When you make your health your #1 priority the rest becomes so much easier.” — Tim Ferriss

3. I decided to ask my wife to marry me

Last week I was talking to a 26-year-old creative and he complimented me on doing some pretty cool things recently, which I thought was nice. Then he kept talking, and when he did, the following words came out — “Man, can you imagine where you would be if you did not have a wife and kids to slow you down?”

Being that I am 40 means that I was once 26 also, so I did not give him the lashing out that I wanted to, but walking home that day I couldn’t help but think just how wrong that guy got it.

The secret to success is to keep good company.

And when it comes to good company, there’s no one better than my wife.

Full stop.

“The most important thing in the world is family and love.” — John Wooden

4. I decided to listen to understand people instead of only waiting for my turn to speak

I wrote in a recent post that because of my stutter I grew up a good listener, but that was a lie. Just like most people I was so caught up in what I was going to say, I never actually listened to anyone (even more so since I stuttered because I was so stressed out about having to actually talk).

I am not sure what the Myers-Briggs code is for a stutterer with ADHD who never really listened to anyone, but I am pretty sure it is D-I-C-K.

Fortunately for me, I had a great speech therapist who recognized this and taught me to prioritize listening to others in order to get over my stutter (smart huh?).

She forced me to make a habit out of writing down three things I learned after each conversation, and somewhere along the way I slowly began to stop worrying about what I was going to say, and I started to actually listen to what other people were saying — and instantly my relationship and career dominos started to fall.

“Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” — Larry King

5. I decided to get off the couch

This past month I have been to two kid birthday parties and I am very proud to say that I was the dirtiest and wettest person there.

I was the only adult to get in the pool. I was the only adult to fill, throw, and destroy water balloons over a bunch of three-year-old heads. I was the only adult not wearing any shoes.

You can either give your kid a bath or you can get in the bath. You can either sit in the park or you can play in the park. You can either eat dinner or you can learn how to cook.

This past decade I have chosen the latter and it has made a world of difference.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” — George Bernard Shaw

6. I decided to do what scared me the most instead of doing what I wanted to do the most

Everything I love today, I once feared.

Every. Single. Thing.

was petrified to take a sales job, but over time it led me to the work I love.

I was scared to death to leave a life I was not happy living behind, to start over in a new country where zero friends and zero work opportunities were waiting, but it led me to the love of my life.

I was absolutely terrified to start a family, but could not imagine a better life than the one I have with my wife and our two little ones.

Confidence does not only come from getting things right. Confidence comes from trying, and I am proud of the fact that at least I decided to become a “trier.”

“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” — Henry Ford

7. I decided to stop keeping score

The beauty of getting older is that the longer you live the more patterns begin to emerge. I plan to go into more detail about this in the future, but one of the most glaring patterns is how the more good deeds you do today, the more good deeds will come back to you tomorrow, as long as you are just a little patient.

We can all think of a time when we did something nice for someone and it either went unnoticed or it was not repaid. But try not to get too frustrated with people and give lifetime — despite what people say, life is long.

“Keeping score is for games, not friendships.” — John Maxwell

8. I decided to stay away from complicated and embrace simplicity

A few years ago a friend recommended that I take a few minutes and write down everything I enjoy doing. After I was done he looked at me and he said, “What are you so worried about money for? Everything you love is either free or extremely cheap.”

This year I will earn a fraction of what I did a decade ago, but my smile is ten times bigger and this is because I finally took the time to identify what creates my smile and my answers were simple.

I love spending an obscene amount of time with my wife and kids. I love talking to old friends and making new ones. I love getting out into nature. I love reading and I love writing. I can do all of these things every day and I would be willing to bet so can you.

“Hack away at the unessential. Simplicity is the key to brilliance.” — Bruce Lee

9. I decided to proactively thank and compliment people

Like a lot of us, I have a tendency to get so caught up in what I am doing, and what I want to accomplish, that I forget that the people around me have dreams too.

In order to get over this bad habit, the last few years in addition to having my own “to-do” list, I also have a list of what the people I care about are doing, and each day I make my rounds to either encourage them or thank them, and I know I am a better person for it.

“Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” — G.B Stern

  • Get curious.
  • Make your health a priority.
  • Keep good company.
  • Shut up and listen.
  • Keep moving.
  • Stop living in fear.
  • Stop Keeping Score.
  • Embrace simplicity.
  • Make an effort to be kind to people.

Don’t make it harder than it has to be.

Kindness is forever cool and simplicity will never go out of style.

Thank you for reading.
And supporting this article.
I never would have thought it would launch my writing career.
— Michael

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