I turned 35 this week and these are my 15 most important life lessons:

1. Work-life balance is a myth 

We get sold on the idea of equilibrium in our life, that we can balance career, family and our interests. The truth is one thing is going to take centre stage at any point in your life. Success requires sacrifice, same as for building a family. Stop seeking work-life balance and do one thing really well for some time. 

2. Passion is overrated, go for purpose

Passion is a burning desire to do something. How many of us wake up with an uncontrollable desire to pursue something? When someone says he is passionate, chances are he is purposeful, could be for making money or changing the world. Find a mission that drives you and stop chasing passion. 

3. Health is wealth

We spend our lives seeking success and take our health for granted. Do not wait for a health scare to start taking care of your body. Money can be made but it can be hard, if not impossible to get your health back. Make health a priority, then you can conquer the world. 

4. Money does bring happiness until it does not

Money is not the root cause of all evils. Financial stability brings contentment and the ability to enjoy doing what you love. Money worries can leave you stressed when you are living paycheck to paycheck. Making money can also become addictive and happiness will plateau, that is, there is a point where more money does not bring any more happiness. 

5. Your core values drive your life

We think that our decisions are driven by external factors affecting our life, but our intrinsic values subconsciously impact our direction in life. Without introspection and observation, we cannot ascertain what these values are and we sometimes spend decades not knowing what we stand for and just running on autopilot.

6. Age is not equal to maturity

We grow with life experiences but true maturity only comes with struggles and surmounting obstacles. Some of us hide in our comfort zone and give in to what is the easy option. In so doing, we lose the ability to acquire wisdom and often, it results in mid-life crises and the lack of emotional maturity to confront the realities of life. 

7. Everyone has baggage, irrespective of status

It is tempting to believe that rich and successful people cruise through life but everyone has his share of deep-seated issues or fears. Some carry resentment from their childhood, some are trying to battle low self-esteem by compensating with addictions, some have been hurt by a life event. Everyone carries baggage but the self-expression is stifled by the pressures of society. 

8. Do not take life seriously, you are both living and dying 

Life plays cruel games and there is a tendency to worry over minor concerns, with the eternal fear of ‘what are people going to say’. Each minute you live, you are also dying. Learn to take everything with a pinch of salt and at the same time, embrace and enjoy the present. 

9. Work can be play and not only a job

We have been conditioned to think we need to take a job and go through the grind, to earn a salary and wait for the weekend or holidays to enjoy our well-served breaks. The smarter ones among us have made work their playground, work is not a 9 to 5 punishment but a place for stimulation and playing to our strengths. 

10. Mean comments towards you has nothing to do with you 

Sometimes, people say mean things. Do not take it personally. Comments that are hurtful reflect back to the owner, the projections of their own internal state of affairs. 

11. Walk away from toxic people

 Toxic people abound, whether in the workplace or in life. There are many characteristics that define a toxic person but the main trait is the way he or she makes you feel, in all likelihood, demoralized and questioning yourself. Walk away. Cut all contact if possible. You cannot change these people; they are doomed for life. 

12. Actions speak louder than words

Characterize a man by his actions and not his words. Easier said than done. It is very easy to fall for words; they can be very powerful. Words trigger emotions, words sway. If actions do not follow the promise or the beautiful words, you will know you are dealing with a talker and not a doer. 

13. Everybody is pretending, some are better are it

If there is one thing that the pandemic taught us, it is that no one has all the answers. Not the experts, not the world leaders and not the academics. Yet, we still act as if everything is under control. Some countries have suffered dire consequences, because their leaders pretended to have mastered the situation. It is OK to pretend, if it is to protect everyone. Sadly, the inability to accept that we do not know plagues today’s leadership. 

14. You will never be ready

The perfectionist in you is blocking you from pursuing your goals. The phrase ‘I will do it when I am ready, that is when I have earned this degree or have this amount of money’ is a killer of dreams. You will never be fully ready; you will forever be waiting for the tipping point or a sign that indicates that it is time. Take a leap of faith and embrace the consequences. 

15. Listening is the most important skill in life 

So many people listen to talk. Some people monopolize conversations simply because they do not know how to listen. When you are listening to someone attentively, you are showing presence and you will glean snippets inside the person’s mind, what he wants and what he needs. To be fully present with someone is a gift and active listening is a hard skill to master. But it will take you places, both in business and in personal relationships.