13 Observations (and Life Lessons) at 33

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Thank you for the many wonderful birthday wishes, amigos! May your blessings be doubled in return for each of you and your families. While I have your social-media-assisted attention, here are some observations and free life lessons at 33.

1) 33 is old. According to Russians, since Jesus did his last marvelous acts and had his final supper at 33, it means this age brings real adulthood. Having 2 kids confirms only the obvious.

2) Your level of happiness (and meaning in your life) is very much based on the quality of humans around you every day. Spend time only with good people that wish you well and stay away from a-holes who don't mean well. Life is too short and precious to waste on negative emotions. You are the average of the 5 people you spend most of your time with. Let that sink in. No wonder I'm a kid at heart ;)

3) Fix yourself ASAP. Life is too short to beat yourself up about the past and your current shortcomings. Get help, if you need it (and we all need it at some point). No human is perfect. Sleep as well as you can regularly (kids permitting). Eat only what you need to function well during the week and treat yourself on the weekend.

4) Create hard and fast rules around work hours and being with family, as well as your finances. Planning is much more important than you can imagine, especially if you're a "free spirit." Plans can become broken, but without a framework, you won't have a point of reference. If you don't separate work time from family time, you'll harm both sides of the (often non-existent) divide.

5) Take a weekly Sabbath from the mundane, electronic and inertial. It's a gift, so embrace it and don't squander it!

6) Minimize all the *stuff* (crap) around you. Live and tread lightly. Cut the cords holding you back in the past. Stop buying *stuff* to feel good. It never makes you feel good for long. Embrace experiences over said *stuff.* Even if you end up doing something far out of your comfort zone, you will learn SO much just from pushing yourself beyond your disgust, biases, expectations, etc.

7) Be good to all people, especially the jerks. They need it most. Be late for the bus because you helped someone. Do something nice and productive that you're not paid for at least once a day.

8) There is no ideal free time to be creative. It never comes, so don't hold your breath waiting for it. Write, paint, act, speak, find inspiration and express it NOW, not tomorrow and not later today. Keep a notebook and write down your experiences. Memory is notoriously selective and only gets worse with age.

9) Be that magic mentor that you've always looked for. Be the first to help others without seeking anything in return. What goes around, comes around. Always, eventually, often much later, but it does.

10) Negotiate. This time, every time. All relationships - with family, friends, bosses, strangers - are a form of negotiation. Negotiation is not zero-sum, but it always brings value over saying and doing nothing.

11) Live and let live. Life is too short to judge others (and yourself) negatively. Look for the best in people, but always have your eyes open. Everyone is flawed, everyone has been through pain and trials. Learn from each person, whether for what to do or NOT to do in life. Forgive others easily - and yourself, no less so. Don't let the small stuff kill you. Use the 80/20 Principle in everything you undertake. Plant new seeds every day. Write down new ideas and start new ventures when possible. Create a healthy daily routine and the good habits to go with it. Stick with it and leave room for error and experimentation.

12) Be grateful for the people in your life and the circumstances of your life. It's here today, gone tomorrow. There is always a billion or two out there living with much less in opportunity and resources than you and in much worse conditions. Your potential is far beyond what you know and what you let yourself.

13) No one - NO ONE - owes you a damn thing in life. Not your parents, not siblings, spouses, children. Hard as it is to accept and process, this fact also makes you more grateful and motivated to treasure the good and helpful people in your life.

Enjoy the rest of your day!

[Lifehack.org post] 23 Proven Strategies to Get Through Any Hardship - and Thrive

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[Originally published on Lifehack.org] Nobody sets out in their life to fail, get hurt by others or get ill, go bankrupt, take on massive debt, take punches from the world until they die.

But when these things inevitably happen - sometimes in a row - it can completely take the wind out of your sails. We have the choice to see the tests as something necessary to improve our lives or otherwise as needless misery.

Most of us grow up setting long-term goals and hearing that quite anything is possible. Then, we encounter more and more resistance as we age - from competition at an ever higher level - and from "circumstances."

At every level, starting with your college, you are striving for the top 10% (or better). For grad school, then top jobs, it's always the top 10% of that old 10%. That's how survival of the fittest works, we're told.

Except that fitness is but one small factor in the battle to swim through the darkness to the mythical and distant island of "success." Intelligence and pure hard work are critical, but over-rated. So is luck. That's why A students end up working for C students often.

Grit is the key ingredient for those that "make" it to the top of any field. Work long enough on any problem and you'll make some headway, often quite a lot. Even if not the smartest, wisest or the fastest worker, you'll outlast, outwork and ultimately outperform the smarter, wiser, faster folks.

A Russian saying puts it best. "The slower you go, the farther you'll get."

Those with true grit have generally overcome some combination of big childhood traumas, failures in their business and in family and personal setbacks. Yet they have persevered because they felt that life was worth continuing, that all the challenges were there for some big purpose well beyond themselves.

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In my own life, I grew up in a single-parent home, then emigrated here from Soviet Russia, put myself through college and then law school, managed to survive New York despite Recession, unemployment, massive debt and setbacks in my business and a lot of mini-traumas on the way. Yet, here I am, much stronger than before, more focused, healthier and wiser than before - and more accomplished.

What's worked for me? An over-riding sense that difficulties come and go, always for good, for growth. A discipline to get through certain problems to the end and also knowing when just to let go.  A wealth of patience and a boundless curiosity. Knowing my place and mission in this world and always seeking to improve and change for better - for my own sake and my family's.

These are the detailed strategies I've used to weather through great challenges and come out ahead:

1) Get a grip on life. Stop just surviving and learn to thrive.

First, break the vicious cycle that keeps you miserable and frustrated, poor and running in place. If I can do it, you most certainly can, as well.

2) Value your time above everything else and others will learn to value your time above all.

It's your most precious resource and is always diminishing.

Until I learned to value my time above all, friends, family and everyone I met could easily manipulate me (on purpose or not, doesn't matter) into spending my precious time on useless conversations, behaviors, habits, etc. In the end, learn to recognize patterns in your own behavior and the behavior of others to avoid wasting time on conversations that bring no useful, constructive effect to your life or the life of the other person/people.

Once I set limits and acknowledged the obvious bad habits in myself and others to engage in useless conversations - where I wasn't improving someone else's life or my own or was otherwise learning and taking something useful away from the experience, suddenly, I saw my time in a completely different light. Others started valuing my time much more and productivity went up a great deal.

3) Create good habits and get rid of bad ones. Keep a consistent (and consistently healthy) daily regimen.

This is a really basic, but under-appreciated point, especially for young Invincibles. A solid and consistent daily regimen will keep you in one piece through the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs.

Here are 12 easy life-changing habits you can start today. Sleep 7-8 hours a night, EVERY NIGHT (and here are 9 ways to improve the quality of your sleep). Wake up early to take advantage of the most productive (morning) time. Get up and stretch from your chair every hour. Pack a healthy lunch and healthy snacks (almonds and other nuts, PopChips, fruits, etc.); eat out sparingly. Take good care of your digestion, because if you don't, you'll be miserable too often to function well and die too soon from chronic disease. Walk around quickly as often as you can to get exercise. If you hate the gym like me, do push-ups every morning. Take the stairs, not the elevator, as much as you can. Take good care of your hygiene (don't be lazy at night), especially your teeth and skin.

Learn how to relieve your stress in safe and reliable ways. Have close friends and family around. Minimize (ideally, eliminate) the time you spend with people that add negativity (jealousy, envy, wasting of time, perpetuation of bad habits) and stress to your life. Exercise regularly. Eat well, consistently. Sleep well. Have a glass of red wine once in a while. Reinforce good habits with others who have them.

Learn to control your impulses. Outrun, outwalk, outcrawl, make a detour around temptation. Acknowledge your limitations and outsmart yourself. Simply stay out of the context where you can't control your impulses. Simply keep away from unhealthy food, activities, relationships, spending, people, language, influences, etc. Be smart and cautious enough to nip trouble in the bud.

Learn to say no to people. This is by far one of the most important skills and habits of all. Practice makes perfect.

4) Take good care of your mind.

Find a highly recommended therapist with a sliding scale to help you dig through and unpack and throw away all the awful baggage from childhood that's holding you back from seeing yourself in a healthy way and moving forward with life and succeeding. Drop the stigma. Create good habits around positive thinking, stress relief (see above).

Get rid of toxic thoughts and overcome their effects on you.

Kill all your sacred cows and really start living.

Make no mistake - your mental health (or lack thereof) will make you or break you.

5) Eliminate negativity from your life as much as you can, day in and day out.

Be relentlessly positive, even while remaining a realist pragmatist. This means removing people that put you down or shower you with jealousy, envy and unproductive and unhealthy ways to spend time. Minimize listening to depressing music and watching depressing movies. Manipulate your mood for the better with music that lifts you up and keeps you moving forward.

Value your time above all (see #2).

6) Develop a Negotiation Mindset in all your dealings with people.

Practice negotiating for cheaper coffee or fruits at the farmer's market, where you have nothing to lose. Research, understand and internalize your true value to employers, business partners, landlords and all others you deal with. Be confident about your capabilities and set your limits when you go in to negotiate. Come in with concrete and measurable facts about what you've done, on what budget and time frame, how much money and time you've saved the team and company. Practice with a coach or a no-holds-barred friend beforehand.

Before I ever negotiated for anything, I was hampered by all sorts of insecurities and hidden scripts in my head that were passed down from parents, siblings, friends and cultural vectors. When I met my wife, who grew up in Morocco and negotiates for a living, the paradigm was turned upside down. In Morocco, NOT to negotiate is insulting and looked down upon. Locals always know the true price and the "acceptable" margin.

EVERYTHING is negotiable.

I slowly untangled my own hangups about negotiation, learned to understand my own true value to an employer or business partner or vendor in each case and started practicing with negotiation in a Moroccan bazaar, where there was absolutely nothing to lose.

With time, I successfully negotiated a full-time offer with benefits after being offered a contract. At that job, I ended up negotiating a 23% discount ($45K off) on financial management software - far better than expected for a company of our size. I then negotiated a cap of 1% on rent over 5 years (saving the company $17K). At another job, I negotiated $10K and better benefits/perks higher before starting. Since then, I've negotiated big discounts (20% or more) on everything from moving company expenses to rent, consulting rates, car rental fees, credit card fees, hotel chain points, coffee and all sorts of other large and smaller purchases.

After a while, developing a negotiation mindset has not only saved (and made) me tens of thousands of dollars, but also given me confidence and competence that are priceless. It's a snowball effect that consistently opens up big savings, perks, freebies, extra points and other "hidden" benefits.

The rule with negotiation is simple: If you don't ask, the answer is always no!

7) Connect to something higher than yourself through meditation and finding your roots (culture, religion, nationality, etc).

Put yourself in a context where you feel connected to where you came from and who you are, so you will have the bedrock for growth in your personal life.

My own experience with becoming an observant Jew has been a very long and winding road full of potholes and false turns. I've also learned to balance the various parts of my identity in my own way - Russian-American, Kentucky boy, New Yorker, writer, lawyer, financier, entrepreneur, etc. Every person's path is quite unique and frankly, it should be. Cookie-cutter transformations are often false and rarely last.

8) Practice gratitude daily, right after you wake up and before you go to sleep.

Literally count your blessings each day. Say thanks as much as possible to others, especially your family and close friends (where would you be without them and their support?). Write thank you notes by hand to others to set yourself apart in their mind.

Here are 10 things to be thankful for RIGHT NOW.

9) Live frugally, within your means. Organize, understand and regularly manage your finances. Find ways to make more money, not just to save and scrimp.

Not knowing the full picture of your finances will be a constant source of stress and family argument. It's actually critical to your health and well-being. Take it seriously and get your act together ASAP.

Put away at least 6-12 months of earnings as a cushion in case of unemployment or unexpected expenses. Carefully monitor your credit through carefully (Credit Karma, for example). Automate monthly bill payments, monthly savings and investments. Use budgeting tools to control your spending. Understand your cash flows and their timing clearly. Pay off your debts ASAP, starting off with the highest-interest loans first. Find ways to make more money by using your existing (or adding new) skills by freelancing, consulting, coaching or otherwise creating an online business. Learn to live frugally without completely forsaking a lifestyle you actually enjoy.

Living frugally is a virtue, but of course never quite easy, especially if you're used to a certain level of lifestyle. However, it often means the difference between "a little more fun now/misery later" and "a little less fun now/happiness a little later."

On a practical note, when you "deprive" yourself of material things you're used to, you find out that you truly need very little except basic necessities to get by. You will learn to be incredibly resourceful with food, entertainment, budgeting, hosting, dating, finding freebies and discounts and planning ahead. Even though it may seem like an awful chore for the first some time, living frugally actually forces you to become more independent and self-confident in your life choices, focusing you on what's truly important - experiences above material things.

When I was 9, I helped Mom buy a car for us, so she just had to give a check and we owned the car. At 15, I convinced her to buy a house, despite a shaky job and finances. My approach to money became to spend ahead of making money, which led to awful credit card debt that took years to repay. It caused me to move out of New York for a few months when I couldn't afford rent after law school. A lack of foresight, research and planning (aspiration without the perspiration) led to a quarter million in student loans from law school right when the Recession hit.

Only when I got married and saw down with my wife (who has always had a much healthier relationship with money) to review our finances, did it hit me just how much my ostrich-in-the-sand attitude had cost me in dollars, sense, time, late payments and opportunities in life. Before this, I had no idea how to budget or understand cash flows, or visualize the full extent and terms of my student loans.

Once I bit the bullet and learned how these things actually work, I felt greatly empowered to get rid of my student debt, optimize credit card spending to maximize points, to negotiate for discounts and otherwise take control of saving and spending. Now, it's hard to imagine my head was in the sand all this time.

10) Look internally for meaning, not to material wealth, circumstances or to other people.

Stop comparing yourself to others. Liberate yourself from the chains of jealousy and envy. Your only relevant measure of success is against your own potential, which is always much greater than you can imagine at your lowest. Seek experiences, not material goods. Stick to your ethics and morals and never stray from them for anyone or anything.

My mother's a neuroscience professor and two grandparents were doctors, so I grew up really wanting to be an MD/Ph.D. After my grades tanked in college, it became just Ph.D. After a year in my Ph.D. program, I left with the heavy weight of parental disappointment. I worked for a year and went to law school, realizing mid-way that law was not for me. In the depths of the Great Recession, I went into finance to make a living and realized after 3 years in that I was not doing anything enjoyable or working to my potential. That's when I left to start my own company in health tech and ended up working for two other startups  in the space, doing finance/operations, then product management.

Despite burnout, soul-searching, lots of criticism from family and friends, I persevered to find my sweet spot in helping health tech companies launch and scale quickly. All these experiences - both good and bad - have given me a thick skin and discipline, a better understanding of my virtues and faults, a great set of skills I use in all areas of life and a much clearer sense of what gives me meaning and happiness professionally and personally - and what doesn't. All of this is well earned and priceless as life experience.

In short, every person's path is different. Some find their way quickly and others take their time. Neither guarantees success or failure. The journey is just as important as the destination. Keep plowing - and constantly sowing new seeds - through the hard times. Work hard (and smart). Learn as much as you can along the way and you will certainly find your meaning and purpose in the process.

11) Always plan ahead and prepare with as many specifics as possible.

Break down goals into specific tasks. Set deadlines for each task. Track your progress. Celebrate small wins. Use project management tools to help you optimize the process. Set unrealistic, crazy goals - then research how successful people have achieved such goals. Follow their model. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Creative, artistic types have the hardest of times doing this. Having been born this way, I've nevertheless forced myself to break down lofty goals like publishing a novel, getting into a new industry, making a certain salary by a certain age, paying off student debt, understanding and managing my finances, etc. The first novel took 7 years. The second took 7 months.

Careful, realistic planning that involves small tasks, specific timelines and budgets brings the lofty into the realm of the possible and doable.

Minimize the number of daily decisions you have to make.

Prepare your lunch the night before. Choose what you're going to wear tomorrow before sleeping. Think Zuckerberg and his famous hoodie and Steve Jobs with his turtlenecks.

12) Research every person you deal with in business and personal life and have a clear picture of what you're getting into ahead of time.

A couple hours spent on due diligence now can often save you months and months of untangling yourself from a-holes and frauds, fake friends, failed joint ventures, lawsuits and other nightmares. Caveat emptor.

Before I learned to take myself seriously and set boundaries and rules, I used to fall for all sorts of schemes, one-sided friendships, bad deals, gigs that went unpaid, etc. Once I learned to dig deeper beforehand, this dramatically changed my preparation for dealing with every person I met by choice. Now, before I meet someone, I know exactly where they are coming from, what are their motivations, how I can help them and how they can help me. This makes all interactions instantly more useful and valuable for both parties and cuts out the BS to get right to the point of how we can work together to help each other.

13) Keep a journal and write down your experiences, both good and bad.

This is one of the best ways to give yourself therapy and perspective on what you've been through and how you've persevered. It is also critical to collecting new ideas and sowing new seeds daily.

In my case, keeping a notebook and pen always handy to take down observations, ideas, new concepts, things I overheard on the subway, lines of poetry, beautiful pieces of art or music I saw or heard, my craziest and most desperate thoughts at my lowest and amazingly inspired reflections at the highest - are all chronicles I can look to anytime to see my own development as a son, husband, father, writer, lawyer, financier, traveler, negotiator, etc. It's always invaluable to remember who you really are and what you're capable of when circumstances make you forget.

14) Always take the long view, but show up for the small things every day.

Don't get too high with the highs in life and don't get too low with the lows. Always find a way to press ahead. If you take good care of yourself, you will have a long time to work on important problems with your full energy. 5 years is a good reference point for how long it takes to become a top expert in your field and generate solid revenue in the process.

Rome wasn't built in a day. Don't waste your time planning to be the first to build Rome overnight. I've failed many times trying to build castles from cards overnight. The big successes all took a really long time, lots of hard work and evolution and constant improvement to materialize.

Keep your eyes on the prize. Find ways to stay focused. Constantly prioritize things in the order of what gets you to your goals fastest and most effectively.

Shoot for 1% improvement each day in whatever you're working on (a trait, a project, a relationship, etc.). Otherwise, you'll burn out and give up too fast.

15) Use the 80/20 Principle in your interactions with people and in the work you do.

Don't kill yourself softly with perfectionism. In the end, Getting Sh*t Done always beats Perfect, but Unfinished. Think Most.

Use the concept of MVP (Minimum Viable Product) as a guiding principle when building something.

16) Don't do it alone.

Cultivate mentors and advisors (in real life AND online, in the knowledge of others who write about overcoming the same problems).

Learn from every person - both what to do and what NOT to do. Read widely and voraciously on the experiences of others with the issues you're having. Nothing that you're going through, no matter how difficult or painful, has not been faced by someone, somewhere in the world, who's lived to tell about it.

Enlist help from friends and family to keep you on track and accountable, as well as motivated and encouraged. However, don't rely on everyone being on board with what you're doing. It often takes at least a partial success to make even the closest people to you to see the value in what you're doing.

17) Keep challenging yourself in small ways daily. Don't just react. Be proactive.

Take the stairs. Get up an extra 15 minutes early even though you fell asleep late. Take a walk even if you're tired. Do an extra lap around the park. Hold yourself off from buying that nice-looking danish. Out-walk, outrun temptation just this once.

This way, you'll show yourself you're capable of greater things than you imagine. You'll slowly push your limits out a little, then a little more. Eventually, this builds into a competition with yourself. This grows into a discipline and habits that are good for health and wealth and productivity, etc. It's always working on the little things that are attainable from day to day that yields the greatest of results.

Maybe it's just a personality type, but I've always felt driven to push myself beyond laziness (despite being lazy), to remind myself that I'm capable of small physical and intellectual feats that I managed when younger. This means taking a cold shower (15-20 second) every single morning, signing up for a half-marathon one day and jogging 4 miles in the park after not running at all for 6 years, taking the stairs with 40 pounds of groceries, waking up early to go to synagogue despite sleeping far too little, speaking French even when I can use English, writing essays in Russian after emigrating at 9, and many other small and big challenges I set for myself on a daily basis over the years. Maybe it's a way to stay young at heart.

The point is, it works quite well to keep me physically and mentally nimble despite all the setbacks and hardships in life, the bad logistics and circumstances and other things I can blame when I don't feel up for doing something. Oh, did I mention having a kid? Nope, no excuses.

18) When you fail, fail quickly and cheaply.

Learn from your mistakes and never make them again. Going forward, avoid jumping blindly into any new venture, relationship, debt, career, trip, religion or scheme. Always do your research ahead of time on the people involved, cost, previous successes and failures for others who've been through it. Always get a second, third and fourth opinion. Always look for a cheaper, better, faster option of whatever you're considering. Don't trust "gut feelings" until you've analyzed in depth all the relevant data to understand the likelihood of success (and failure).

Take calculated risks. See how others who have done the same thing have fared over the short and long term. Read and ask questions on Quora, Reddit, in related forums and in person. Crowd-source solutions from your networks. You'll be shocked how much useful and highly relevant information you'll find out there to solve just about any problem you can ever face.

19) Get fired at least once.

Make no excuses when it happens. Take a short time to let the strong emotions pass. Understand without resentment and emotional attachment what went wrong, how to fix it and what you need to learn from the experience.

When you get fired, figure out what you need to do differently to improve your performance. Don't just blame the boss for being an a-hole and unreasonable. Are you in the right industry and role? Are you more of a start-up person than corporate or are you too risk-averse?

When I was fired once, it was incredibly painful, since it stopped income flow, disappointed my loved ones, shook my confidence and burned bridges. But I got up, rebuilt myself, understood what went wrong after the emotions died down and moved on with the difficult, but necessary lessons.

The key is not to dwell on the disappointment, but instead to see it as something you can (and must) fix. Understand the root causes (you may just suck at the job or care little for what you were doing; it was a bad cultural fit, the wrong role, wrong industry, company size, etc.; likely, it's some combination of all of these). Now, look inward to understand better who you are, what role you're happiest in and then find the company that will nurture and push you in that role, then the appropriate industry and title.

Here's how to find out what you're really meant to do in life.

Here's how to find out whether you should work in a startup or stay corporate.

Here's how to find your career personality type.

20) Live in New York City or London or Paris or other large metropolis for at least a year or two - ideally more.

You will go through many difficult, but amazingly fruitful growth experiences, which will sharpen your mind and craft and earning power and knowledge of human psychology far beyond anything you could imagine if you stayed back home.

Yes, you will fall for many schemes at first and make many blunders and likely fail in a few relationships and business ventures. But you will also build a thick skin, an appreciation for finishing what you start, a taste for competition with the very best and for always doing things at a high level and quality, for good food and drink, for great company, for what exactly it takes to be successful anywhere (you make it here, you'll make it anywhere).

You'll often be at the edge of the cliff and at the bleeding edge of everything cool and interesting and important - often at the same time. You will have the best time of your life even while totally miserable - if you survive long enough. You'll make your best friends - and a few enemies, if you're really good at something.

21) Dig deep to understand what ROLE you want to play in an organization. Forget industry and title. Figure out what you really want to do in life.

Are you happiest as the caretaker who makes sure everyone else around is healthy and has everything they need to do well in their roles? Are you most comfortable as the subject matter expert everyone goes to? Does it make you feel good to delegate to others and keep hammering the company mission and vision? Do you love selling others on the company's mission and product?

I've had the fortune to work in many different roles, industries and companies over my career. I've built my own business, advised and consulted countless others, worked with the CEO and janitor and everyone in between. I've done finance and operations, product and project management, strategy, marketing, writing and everything in between. I've worked with every personality type from the relentless micro-manager to hands-off delegator to perfectionist and introvert subject matter expert.

Each person I've worked with has taught me a great deal about what kind of person I am and want to be, about what role makes me happiest and most comfortable (as well as what roles I hate), about the type of people I want to work with (and will categorically, never work with again). Industry and title are important only after you know that you're a good and natural fit for the role you'll be doing and the company where you'll be doing it, working with the right type of people that will bring the best out of you on a consistent basis.

This way, you will do the best work of your life.

22) Sow new seeds every day.

Listen much more than you talk and absorb others' knowledge and understanding of the world! Get out of your comfort zone to meet new people (at meetups, museums, markets, interesting events, not bars). Write down 10 new ideas a day on a notepad (and be religious about it). Read new books. Take courses. Learn new languages, skills and facts. Take on new projects and internships. Find new ways to make a name for yourself (and generate revenue in the process). Write thank you notes to people who've helped you to stay in touch. Visit new places. Take a new way home. Experiment with new foods and ways of seeing the world. Most importantly, always keep moving forward and have no fear! Never stay still.

You simply never know when a random bit of knowledge will help you get ahead in life, when knowing another language or culture or having a certain skill or worldview will get you in the door of your dream job, when the simple (but rare) ability to listen and empathize with another human being may find you a spouse or new best friend.

My own experience has seen me starting to write a handful of books (novels, self-help and others), tens of articles, meeting tens of thousands of interesting people, changing careers, hearing and telling hundreds of stories, speaking in 4 languages at one dinner table, traveling to 4 continents, taking on far too many projects at once, starting several businesses, learning about my capabilities and limits and countless other amazing experiences I wouldn't trade for anything, despite the many false leads and dead ends.

23) Just show up (and be on time).

As the cliche goes, this is indeed half of what makes someone successful. Just showing up consistently puts you ahead of the great majority of people in just about anything you do, especially things you do well. Do it long enough and you'll accomplish great things by persistence alone, even if others have more intelligence, speed or savvy than you.

If there is a "secret" to how I've gone through all the hardships in my life, it's definitely this last point. I've been lucky to know people that are more intelligent, faster and more savvy than myself. But the biggest successes generally come from those that have worked a long time at something, regardless of what others think or say.

--

As you inevitably go through life and fail sometimes and get frustrated, take more punches, know that it's all for something, never just to make you suffer.

Grit and determination will get you through whatever hell you're going through. Don't give up and don't listen to naysayers. Everything that comes your way, you can ultimately handle (trust me). Just keep going!

Later in life, you'll come to see what blessing all the hardship really is. All the same, may your journey be easy and fruitful! I'll be rooting for you.

**And, as ever, if you have any questions at all, please do get in touch!**

Are there other proven strategies you’ve used to get through difficult times? Please share them with the Community in Comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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Like what you see? Visit BlueprintToThrive.com for more great strategies and tips for better health and wealth, plus improved productivity.

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Yuri Kruman is a Healthcare Product Manager, published author and contributor to Money Magazine, blogger at BlueprintToThrive.com and health tech entrepreneur based in New York.

*The views expressed herein are his own*

How to Think Like an Immigrant To Get Ahead of The Curve

DeathtoStock_NotStock (Ed. Note: This post is dedicated to my amazing mother, Inna Kruman, who has endured tremendous hardships and sacrificed a great deal for her children's success - and still managed to "make it" in America despite staggering odds. I take my metaphoric hat off to her and thank her to no end. This is her story as much as it is mine.)

It is no secret that America's success is tied in many ways to the success of immigrants. Placed squarely in a system that rewards the hustle, many have succeeded - well beyond their wildest dreams back home.

Every successive wave of immigrants has brought its own inventiveness and chutzpah, language, culture and a way of thinking - and of doing things - in other words, its own mentality of immigrants.

Partly because of luck (ability to enter the U.S. and then to be protected by its Constitution, then the fact of living in a time when information flows so easily) and partly due to pluck (work ethic, knowing what you're working for, a challenger's mentality), new immigrants have been successful in so many spheres - yet more and more, with time.

Look at the founders of top startups, the top financiers, consultants, lawyers, politicians and musicians, academics. Increasing numbers of the most successful people in America were born abroad or here to parents born abroad - whether from India and China or Korea, Russia, Israel, Nigeria and France. The list goes on and on.

If we discount specifics of their origins and cultures, we can find the fuel, the fire, the *thing* (or things) that makes these people tick and break through barriers, time after time.

Being an immigrant myself - and yet, quite thoroughly American, at once - I've thought and read a lot about X-factors that all others - not just immigrants - can use to get ahead.

From what I've seen it isn't origin or nationality, religion, gender, even education level that can answer for this great effect.

Let's ask the questions that so many immigrants have answered for themselves in order to become successful here (and likewise elsewhere in the world):

1) Why did you come here, in the first place? What were you running from back home? Repression? Death? High taxes? Lack of opportunity?

The answer for the great majority of us - whether born elsewhere or in the U.S. - is some or all of the above. You're here because of opportunity, because of freedoms - reasons that are clear and stark. Streets may not quite be paved in gold here - and it's getting even harder just to "make it" - but it's still much better than alternatives.

When you're escaping from regimes that want to kill, repress you or just take away your chances to develop as a human and professional, you know exactly what you're working for and why. It could be to feed your family or to get an education and to do exactly what you want to do in life. It could be wanting just to be yourself, to make life better for your kids, to start a business or to make a differenceYou have a purpose and a mission and the energy to follow through.

Failure is very costly and you can't give up. Alternatives are very scary. Your family, your life depend on your success.

Lesson: A sense of urgency and limited alternatives are key to immigrant mentality. It means being traumatized by parents' worries, but it also means you'll give it everything you have to "make it." Figure out what your purpose and mission in life are and apply all your energy to pursuing them!

2) What kind of problems have you had to solve while growing up? Were you the head translator for the family? Chief earner? Troubleshooter? The family's guide to how "The System" works? Did you start working early, as a kid? Were you negotiating constantly because your funds were low? What did you have to sell to stay afloat (let's hope not organs)? What sort of hustle did you have to run?

When you have had to solve hard problems since your childhood, you're not daunted easily. Whether it's problems of logistics, lack of money, human conflicts or the other issues you'll inevitably face, you will break through or go around walls other find too high.

Lesson: Take on challenges you think are too hard. Push yourself out of your comfort zone with people, the job you do, the things you're willing to do to broaden your experiences (travel, take on internships in other fields). In short, take risks and don't follow the straight path (if you have the luxury of not breaking your bank or starving your family, in the process).

3) What motivated you when growing up - and what remains of that to motivate you 'til today? Was it a simple goal - to go to college - or to make more than your parents or the trappings of great wealth? How hungry were you growing up to be like all the "real Americans" - or otherwise, like rich, successful people where you came from? How hungry were you to escape your circumstances - poverty or lack of education or a lack of access? Are you an optimist by nature? Do you push forward because looking back is not an option?

Lesson: What drives you in childhood will generally drive you well into adulthood. If you weren't driven as a kid, find your passion, mission and purpose in life by learning from others, learning about yourself and trying different things (and taking calculated risks to do so). Once you know where you're going and why, you will be driven to succeed all the more.

4) What was your style of work in childhood? After you learned to put out fires through fast wits, how quickly did you learn to plan and save and manage people? What gets you through life as a kid may be either incredibly helpful as maturity or incredibly hurtful as delusion when you hit adulthood.

Lesson: If you were lazy as a kid, you were probably just coasting along on your intelligence alone. If you were a hard worker then, you always will be. A work ethic is something you can gain once you go through the difficult process of finding purpose in life, a mission and the means to achieve it.

Everyone has the energy and work ethic inside them to succeed. Intelligence (as opposed to, and in concert with "street smarts") can be gained in the process, at least enough thereof to be successful.

Street smarts is in many ways more valuable than intelligence, if you're doing anything that involves business and selling (and the great majority of professions and daily transactions today do just that, whether directly to customers or to bosses, employees, etc.) All of us have no choice but to Always Be Selling. 

5) How hungry are you always to be learning? Maybe your love of learning is inborn. Was it a hunger that you've always had or because your parents pushed it? Likely both. Because you're hungry to learn and get better and get up out of the metaphorical ditch where you grew up, you will outlast, outwit, out-learn - and most importantly, outwork - the other guy who didn't grow up with the same "stimulus." You'll feel like the underdog at least until you "make it" to where you want to be - and likely for the rest of your life, on some level.

Lesson: If you weren't born with that hunger, DEVELOP IT! Every person wants to succeed and be the best at something and has that capability deep inside. Develop a hunger by listening to, reading about and imitating others that have it. Fake it until you make it. Or better, work hard, stay hungry and achieve your potential (without worrying so much about opponents or those who've doubted you, etc.)

6) Did your parents invest everything in you, so your life can be better than theirs? You have to pay it back by taking care of them AND pay it forward to your kids. That means you feel the pressure and inherited neuroses. But yet, it also means you're grateful and will get somewhere - or else, you'll feel you have betrayed the sacrifices made for you.

Lesson: If others haven't invested so much in you (and of course, someone has invested in you along the way or you wouldn't be alive today), Invest In Yourself. Value your time and energy. Filter what goes in and out of your body (specifically your mouth) and mind. Resources and time are finite. Invest in yourself by always learning new things, taking care of yourself and by focusing your efforts on the most important people and goals in life.

7) Are you used to looking for loopholes or dealing with discrimination against you? Are you used to having to get around barriers set up to trip you and make you fail? Think Soviet Russia, Commie China, corrupt India.

Lesson: When faced with adversity, you learn that no barrier is too high, no system is too corrupt, no repression too strong to hold you back from achieving your goals. The chip on your shoulder trains you to move mountains by habit. When you have to do this in a (relatively more fair and just) system like the U.S., you will go that much farther and faster than those without that resilience.

In addition, when it comes to innovating and seeing things from a different angle and with different eyes, your ingenuity in getting around discrimination and the selective rule of law will help you a great deal to see connections between people and systems others can't. It's a great asset. To develop this, craft your career as a HYBRID. Work in different industries, constantly learn new things from other disciplines, meet new people from different backgrounds, write down your ideas constantly and find relationships between your ideas and others'.  

8) Were your earlier failures and hard knocks traumatic for you or your family? Have you had to risk a lot and failed and had to face the serious consequences? You've learned to take calculated risks, to think and plan things through very carefully, to make the best of very little time and money. This will help you "see around corners" and help you avoid and minimize mistakes in business and in life.

Lesson: If you were always careful to avoid risks, cultivate yourself to take calculated risks. There are times in life when you have to go for broke, but even if you do, you should always maintain safeguards to avoid losing everything in your life. If you were always a risk taker, cool your heels. In Russia, we say, the slower you go, the farther you'll get

9) Were you frustrated when young by others being unable to understand you or where you're coming from? Did you desperately want to be understood and liked? Then you likely learned how to speak clearly and get across just the message you wanted and nothing more and nothing less.

Lesson: Know your audience at all times and tailor your message accordingly to be understood. This applies equally to all people and all contexts. If you know how to communicate with people - both in speaking and in writing, plus non-verbal cues, you will be golden.

9) Did you have to learn to negotiate early, out of necessity? Negotiate cheaper prices, faster service, for fees to be taken off, to push forward and not be deterred by a-holes?

Lesson: Don't take limits others set before you as gospel. You can always negotiate - and get past those limits AND WIN! If you don't ask, the answer is always no. (And you'll be shocked how often the answer is yes). Even if you're shy, practice negotiating at a market for something small in large volumes.

10) Did you value experiences and people more than material things - because you had few material things, to begin with? Did you have to forgo spending money on entertainment or travel or a car or a house to save up to pay for college or to start a business or to feed your family? If so, you already know that experiences and people are more important than material things can ever be. Money certainly CAN buy many conveniences - including time - but it can't buy taste, happiness (beyond basic necessities and the comfort of not worrying constantly about finances), sincerity, true friendship, love or loyalty.

Lesson: Seek great experiences and surround yourself with great people in your life. Seek meaning, not happiness.

11) Did you have lots of nasty surprises growing up - whether financial, cultural, social, legal, etc.? Did you not fit in, in school? Did you look and sound different from other kids? Did you get harassed just for being who you are? Did you have to deal with sudden money shocks? A flooded house? A broken car? Well, then you know that you can't worry about things you can't control.

Lesson: Work on what you can control - how you speak, how you look, what you know, what people you associate with, what you eat and drink and listen to and look at.

Don't sweat bad weather, traffic, a-holes at your job or angry customers or when the IRS says "pay more taxes" and the like. Life is too short and stressful to be adding nonsense to your busy mind and schedule.

12) Were you taught early on that nothing is beneath you? Your family may have been something truly special back at home, but here, it is All Hands On Deck. 

Were you the one who got assigned the chores of dishes, trash, mowing the lawn, watering trees and plants, going for groceries, proof-reading and researching and so on? Your family may have been rich sometime ago, but now you're here. You have no servants or house help. You ARE the servant and house help. You can't outsource the tasks. You don't get paid - it's just your duty and your payment for the food and drink and electricity that you enjoy.

Yours and family's merits back at home now mean quite nothing. Because you are not squeamish to roll up your sleeves and work, you'll make a grateful and efficient worker and absorb the lessons quickly and MOVE ON. You will have empathy for others coming up behind you - you'll have been there, in their shoes. But then you'll also know why you are going through the hard times - to afford the help, to make life better for your family and self. At least you know you're in a place that values work and industry and gives you chances to succeed.

Lesson: Be self-sufficient to your best ability. Learn to rely on #1 before you ask for help. Be grateful for all things that come your way - both good and bad, the difficult and easy. Learn your lessons quickly and move on. Do not get stuck. Don't dwell on failure or your "circumstances." These always can get worse or better. The good part is, you can change them for yourself. Back in the mother country, you would likely have no choice - or chance.

So make the coffee by yourself and sweep the floors and clean the toilets now. When kids come, you'll be grateful that you know to GSD (that's Get Sh*t Done).

13) Have you had to learn another language and culture on the fly? Have you had to learn to understand, think and speak like people with whom you didn't have much at all in common then? Well, you've been changed for the better by the experience. You've had to open your mind, expand your horizons, gain empathy for others and take roads you never thought you'd travel in life. It's made you stronger, more resilient and confident in your worldview.

Lesson: learn other languages and cultures. Travel and live in other countries for a while. You will gain wisdom and understanding of others that will give you great friendships and unique insights into others, as well as teach you different approaches to a fulfilling life and success in business. 

Knowing another language (or 2 or 5) will serve you in amazingly useful ways throughout life.

Now go forth and hustle like an FOB immigrant! Approach life with that same zest and humility and optimism! You'll be SO glad you did!

Are there other important lessons you’ve learned about becoming successful from being an immigrant in America? Please share them with the Community in Comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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Like what you see? Visit BlueprintToThrive.com for more great strategies and tips for better health and wealth, plus improved productivity.

Follow us @Blueprint2Thriv

Yuri Kruman is a Healthcare Product Manager, published author, blogger at BlueprintToThrive.com and health tech entrepreneur based in New York.

*The views expressed herein are his own*

How to Kill All Your Sacred Cows and Really Start Living

RQQMTMI7Z1 "Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see. It's getting hard to be someone, but it all works out. It doesn't matter much to me." - The Beatles

"Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you." - Proverb

--

Most of us, regardless of our family's finances or background, grew up with certain people and concepts that remained untouched and untouchable - our sacred cows.

"Grandpa is a saint because he survived the Holocaust."

"My life is so hard because my parents messed me up in childhood." 

"I'm not good with money because I'm an artist." 

For example. when you grow up as a "really smart kid" but financially (and psychologically) insecure, you always worry about the next calamity and bill to pay. You start associating wealth with happiness and blame "circumstances" for your problems. As an adult, you find yourself unable to plan your finances - well, no one taught you.

You let others exploit your insecurity and take your precious time and money for themselves, make you feel guilty and obligated to them. You give of your time and resources selflessly not just because it's the right thing to do - but because you expect your "smarts" and accumulated "good karma" to bring you financial comfort and the company of good people.

When this doesn't magically materialize, you double down on your frustration and guilt, even as you double your hope that something, someone - hell, anything, anyone - will come to "save you." It doesn't happen. After enough vicious cycles, you begin to understand that the world is unfair and that you have to work just as hard as everyone else, despite your intelligence and good deeds. You're starting late, but pick up many lessons along the way, as you deflate your self-importance and start working like no tomorrow to get ahead.

Through all the many upheavals in my life over the years - whether in the ups and downs of romantic relationships and friendships, career trajectory, paying off enormous student loans while surviving in New York, becoming religiously observant, starting a family, learning to live with my flaws and warts (just as much as appreciating myself for the good things) and unpacking all the baggage from childhood as I raise my own daughter - I have learned that killing the sacred cows of my childhood and upbringing is both the most difficult / painful and also most liberating and rewarding process I have ever undertaken.

Here are the lessons I've learned that have helped to set me free:

1) Meaning trumps happiness. When you chase happiness as the end goal, you stunt your growth through painful or difficult experiences. Happiness is going through the process, not the goal. It is often ephemeral and doesn't last. When you seek meaning in life by asking hard questions of yourself and of others (Why am I here? What is my mission in life? How do I achieve it?), you are seeking a framework by which to live and that's with you every moment of the day, not just when you finish something you start or win a prize or reach a goal.

There is no rainbow with bliss at the end when you reach a certain stage in life or income or when you get to live in an amazing place or to meet celebrities or people you admire. You still have your mission in life to accomplish, your problems to solve and your potential to achieve. Get moving!

2) Your sh*t stinks just as much as everyone else's. Be slow to anger; be slow to rebuke your fellow by casting the first stone. The failure or character flaw you see in someone else is often the failure or flaw you have in yourself. But this doesn't mean you should lie down and let others trample all over you, either.

3) You're not a special butterfly. Don't treat yourself like one. You're neither an idiot nor genius, immune to mistakes or to disease, bad judgment or stubbornness. You have no special exemptions in life for being an introvert or sensitive or an artist or a billionaire or famous. Light is the best disinfectant (-L. Brandeis).

You have to play by the same rules as everyone else, even if some people you know may not be playing by all the rules.

Do things correctly and well, then meaning and money and respect (and other blessings) will come to you. Treat others well. Have a plan for your career and finances. Research carefully all big decisions and do due diligence on all people you deal with. Take small bites and chew slowly.

4) Even extraordinary people and people you greatly admire are still living the breathing the same air and are fallible and mortal and sometimes annoying and impossible. Mentors, celebrities, parents, siblings - they all fit into this category, no matter how much wiser, older, smarter, more experienced they may be. Don't replay the gospel they've taught you without questioning it critically. You have your own story and your own potential to guide you and inform your decisions. Understand why your parents or grandparents want you to become something particular in life - and then follow your own drummer (but you better learn to drum, first!) They might be compensating for something they lacked as kids or adults. Make your own path, regardless of whether it coincides with what they want or not.

5) You are not exempt from the rules of life - whether physical or moral, spiritual, financial, legal or otherwise. So learn all the rules and live by them. Don't take shortcuts on substance (it never works). Health (physical and mental) has to be constantly maintained and doesn't maintain itself. You have to practice what you preach and be the same inside and out (or you'll implode with hypocrisy). You need to understand who you are, why you're here and what you're meant to do in order to make it far in life. You have to organize your finances and maintain them actively or they will overshadow everything else in your life. You're not immune to the law, just because you're smart and know your way around the system. You must have all the relevant information to make decisions effectively. When you take risks, do it in a calculated and intelligent way (but do take them!). When you do act impulsively, at least have the good taste and the sense to stop with diminishing returns.

6) No one owes you a damned thing in life (unless by law or contract), regardless of what you've done for them. Learn to be grateful and self-sufficient to what degree you can. Don't rely on people completely; if you do, you'll always be disappointed.

7) When you assume, you make an a$$ of you and me. An oldie, but a goodie. Always do your research and due diligence, especially when it comes to your housing, schooling, potential mates, finances and all other big and important decisions. Again, don't rely on others completely to inform or advise you correctly. Always have your own opinion and data to back it up. Always have a backup plan. Oh, and nobody owes you a damned thing except by law or contract (see #6).

8) Your mate may be the greatest person in the world and the love of your life. But he or she is very much human and fallible and makes mistakes and sometimes misunderstands the world - just like you. That's fine and perfectly normal and you love him or her despite - or perhaps because - of it. That's why you two are complements to each other. Pick your battles. Learn to communicate well. Solve problems together. But don't put your mate on a pedestal where she or he's unreachable, un-reproachable and inaccessible. That's a recipe for resentment of the other, self-destruction and a broken relationship.

9) Beyond the basics, money brings you no extra happiness. Don't live life saying to yourself, "I'll do X only when I reach $Y per year in salary." Do what you can now (while you're young and unattached) without taking out irresponsible debt to do it. Travel, meet people; seek experiences, not things.

10) Your superstitions and scripts from childhood hold you back. Get rid of all your lucky rabbit's feet, four-leaf clovers, omens, talismans. Stop thinking every fourth year will bring you luck. Stop avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk. OCD and superstitions are weak-minded "remedies" to deal with uncertainty that only lead you to act irrationally and avoid evidence / data when making decisions. Superstitions lead you down lots of dark alleys with no good end. Dig deep to find these and how they negatively affect your life.

11) Align your religious beliefs with rational / practical life lessons. Your religious beliefs should not hold you back from common sense and practical considerations for how to organize and live your life. The two should be complementary in that religion should give you a wider perspective for who you are, why you're here, what lifestyle you want to live and how you want to raise a family and achieve your life goals.

12) Every person and circumstance you meet in life (no matter how annoying or enchanting, difficult or delightful) is there to teach you life lessons (sometimes positive, sometimes negative), to help you improve as a human being and professional and to help you move forward. Be kind to others; you don't know what the other person's going through. It's likely just as difficult for him or her as it is for you. Make the best of each encounter and circumstance. Don't dwell too much on disappointments or difficulties. Solve your problems as best and as quickly as you can and move on.

By following these principles, I have managed to rid myself of often-debilitating fatalism and a sense of hopelessness defined by circumstances - whether financial, professional, inter-personal or otherwise. This doesn't magically solve all problems, but it makes them more manageable.

The most difficult part is recognizing that there are many such scripts running in one's head that prevent making decisions effectively, planning effectively and implementing one's decisions. Years go by before one gets sick of one's own nonsense and resolves to change and clean out the junk from one's mind.

I hope this will help you to acknowledge all of the scripts attaching themselves to the decisions you make every day. Once you do, you can start the process of unwinding the weeds from your flowers, so you can continue growing.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Now go forth and uncover it for yourself!

Do you have other sacred cows you've killed to transform your life? Please share them with the Community in Comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

– –

Like what you see? Visit BlueprintToThrive.com for more great strategies and tips for better health and wealth, plus improved productivity.

Follow us @Blueprint2Thriv

Yuri Kruman is a Healthcare Product Manager, published author, blogger at BlueprintToThrive.com and health tech entrepreneur based in New York.

*The views expressed herein are his own*