The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Personal Advice to Self

I’m almost 70 years old. I wish I could travel back in time. If I could, I would sit down with myself at 18 years old and give this personal advice to self.

I can’t time travel, so I’ll just write this article instead.

Here are the top 10 personal advice to self-lessons I would pass on:


The most important currency in life is time 

personal advice to self
Personal advice to self.

 I had a family friend who spent much of his life saving up money to eventually live the life he always wanted.  After decades of saving, he was involved in a tragic accident.  He never had the chance to live the life he always dreamed of.

Money is important, but time is even more important.

Utilize money to help you find more time.

Time with your family.

Time with your friends.

Time with your spouse.

Time with kids.

Time with people you want to help.

There are 525,600 minutes in a year. How do you spend your time?

Health is a top priority

If you can’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of anyone else. Treat your body as your #1 priority.

How do you do this?

Be conscious of how your body feels – I love cupcakes. I love chicken nuggets. I love burgers. When I was a kid, I used to eat tons of this stuff and would feel just fine. Seriously, I used to eat 36 chicken nuggets in one sitting! Nowadays, if I eat any of these, my body feels off.

If I eat a fruit and vegetable smoothie though, I feel lighter, energetic and healthier.  Your body sends you signals all the time when you eat. Pay attention to them. And nourish your body. You probably won’t be perfect. I’m not. I still eat a burger from time to time.

But if you try to keep your body healthy more often than not, you’ll be in much better shape long term.

Make time to exercise by establishing a routine – We are creatures of habit. Create good habits when it comes to working out. One way I was able to consistently workout is to have it on my schedule for 5:30 PM every day after work. I also gave up my car in the city (I live in San Francisco), so the only way for me to get home is by running or walking.


Take risks

There is a risk to not taking a risk.  It’s complacency.  It’s stagnancy. When I was young, I was really afraid of taking risks. I was afraid to join startups, even after being in the technology field for thirty years.

Finally, I saw a friend of mine join a really hot startup, and he convinced me to make the jump. When I started one just six years ago, it was one of the best decisions of my life. I went into a role with a steep learning curve, learned how to build up a business unit from scratch, and traveled to over ten cities in a year. I met some of the most amazing people at work – some of which will be friends for life.

Another quick example: I know nothing about building websites. And yet, two months ago, I built one from scratch with a friend, and now my blog has 500 subscribers. 

Embrace risk and have a bias towards action. Action drives results.

The reality is that you usually can’t be 100% certain about anything until you experience it.  So dip your toes into the water.

Speaking of risks…

take smart risks
Take smart risks.

Take smart risks

Maybe you shouldn’t dip that toe in the water. Not all risks are worth taking. Thinking about the expected value, you can get by taking that risk and make sure it’s a smart bet. Don’t be foolish and take a risk that doesn’t have the appropriate upside. Do as much due diligence as you can in advance.

It’s okay to put the phone down

Today, I was waiting for onboard my flight from Boston to San Francisco. I was looking at my phone, and after getting mental fatigue from staring at a screen for an obscene amount of time (1.5 hours with only small breaks in between), I decided to look at everyone around me.

Guess what I saw? A ton of people with their heads down…looking at their phones. Sometimes getting a ton of information on demand isn’t always a good thing.

The next time you have dinner with friends, put your phone down. You’ll probably have a great conversation and a lot of laughs.

The next time your father tells you about his day, really listen to what he’s saying.

The next time you’re traveling in a foreign country, take in an amazing culture and immerse yourself. Learn the language. Try the different foods. And put down the phone. Unless you’re taking an Instagram photo.  #BecauseSomeFoodsAreInstagramWorthy

Less is more

When it comes to stuff, you don’t need a lot of it. Somewhere along the way, we were told that accumulating material goods resulted in happiness. While money will be important for necessities like food and shelter, using it to accumulate a ton of stuff doesn’t typically equate to happiness.

Stuff has administrative debt.

Have a lot of clothes?  The debt is a bigger closet.

Have a fancy luxury car? The debt is a high insurance premium, costly maintenance packages, and a huge headache if you ever get into an accident.

Clean out the clutter and donate it.  I do this at least once a year. Ask yourself – “Do I need this?”

Simple is good.

Personal advice to self … more is better

Wait, didn’t I say “less is good?” Well, there’s an exception to that rule. More is better – At least when it comes to experiences. Traveling the world can expand your horizons. You can learn new cultures and redefine the way you see the world. Who knows, you might even meet the love of your life while traveling.

Money used for experiences can be life changing.

Speaking of currency…

Not every fire is a real fire

Nelson, you need to start working on this (insert perceived work catastrophe here) right now!  Fix it!

I call those work fires. I used to hear about work fires early on in my career a lot.  And I would pull my hair out in the process. Yes, sometimes these work catastrophes had to be fixed immediately. But not all of them. Sometimes, people would forget about it after a week. Even if it wasn’t fixed.

So take a deep breath, realize it’s not (usually) the end of the world and size up the situation. And then fix it. But don’t let it get to you. Own it.

Go 3 “Why’s” deep

less is more
Less is more.

It’s easy to get caught up in the tactical parts of life and work all the time. When I was building an iPhone app with my two co-founders, we had an idea for a dating app. At one point, we ended up rolling out a few different features for the app.

One change was to gate the app after three swipes and to ask people to share the app on their social networks before they could swipe more. “Brilliant!” we exclaimed. “We’ll get so many more users on this app.” Or so we thought. The new feature didn’t make an impact at all.

When we huddled during our next meeting, one of the co-founders, Steve, challenged me on the app. Looking back now, asking the 3 Why’s would have helped us tremendously. Here’s an example below:

Why are you building this app?

“There’s a huge business opportunity since there’s a gap in this niche dating space.”

Why do your users want to use this app?

“Because they want to fall in love.”

Why are you goals different from your users?

There was a long silence on the phone.

My mind was blown. I realized this whole time that the right way to build a product is to have an extreme passion and obsession around driving an amazing customer experience. My core why should have been “help people fall in love,” rather than “it’s a great business opportunity.” I had been thinking about it wrong the entire time and the 3 Why’s exercise helped me see that.

So what did we do?  We went back to the drawing board.

Last, but not least, be yourself

You’re weird. You’re unique. You’re different. And that’s awesome. Be the great person you were meant to be.

When I was young, I used to smile during conversations all the time, even when I wasn’t feeling happy. I thought “Gosh, this will make people more comfortable talking to me because I look happy all the time.”

One day, one of my best friends pulled me aside and gave me some sage advice (I’m paraphrasing): “Hey bud, you know, sometimes when I think something isn’t funny, I don’t laugh for the sake of laughing. If I don’t find something interesting or I’m not happy at the moment, I won’t smile either. I want to show people exactly what I feel.

That was a game changing moment for me. Ever since then, I’ve always tried to do exactly that. I want people’s experiences with me to be 100% genuine and transparent. After all, isn’t that the best way to deeply connect with someone? Be authentic. Be yourself.

Be all the awesomeness you were meant to be.



The bottom line


These are things that we already know, of course. They are not rocket science and shouldn’t be.

This list of little things simply reminds us of what we have forgotten. Then it is up to us to put these lessons (or reminders) into daily use through persistence and practice.

Remember … your experience and learning trumps all!




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More reading on learning from Digital Spark Marketing’s Library:
The Nine Most Valuable Secrets of Writing Effective Copy
How Good Is your Learning from Failure?
10 Extraordinary Ways for Learning to Learn
Continuous Learning Holds the Keys to Your Future Success
 Mike Schoultz is a digital marketing and customer service expert. With 48 years of business experience, he consults on and writes about topics to help improve the performance of small business. Find him on G+FacebookTwitter, Digital Spark Marketing, and LinkedIn.




The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Personal Advice to Self