Life is too short to figure everything out on your own. When you learn from the wise, you eliminate a lot of guesswork.
A life well lived requires reflection, thoughtful choices, and deliberate action. This list of quotes on living well is evidence of that. While determining the “wisest people” is certainly subjective, these individuals taught me lessons that changed my life. Hopefully, they can change yours too.
Tap into your “circle of competence”
When we were kids, our parents told us we could grow up to be whoever we wanted.
This isn’t true. At least, it’s not true if you want to excel at whatever you choose to become. You can try a career path, a business, or a lifestyle not suited to your strengths, but the process will be difficult and demotivating.
So you have to figure out what your own aptitudes are. If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don’t, you’re going to lose. And that’s as close to certain as any prediction that you can make. You have to figure out where you’ve got an edge. And you’ve got to play within your own circle of competence.
Make your life easier and play to your strengths. More than ever, people desire to do work they love, find their passion, and feel a sense of fulfillment from what they do. If you want to feel passionate about something, get good at it. Passion doesn’t just fall in your lap—it’s a byproduct of competence.
Develop your competence and stay inside your “circle of competence” to be successful in a game you know how to play. Your circle of competence is the small handful of skills, areas of knowledge, and expertise you have.
Charlie Munger is Warren Buffet’s business partner at one of the most successful investment companies ever, Berkshire Hathaway. They made it a point to avoid investments in industries they didn’t understand, even if other investors were making tons of money in those industries.
Think of areas you naturally gravitated toward in adolescence.
Ask your friends, family, and peers what they think you’re good at.
Odds are, you have a good enough idea. Your intuition is strong. Take educated guesses at what to try, actually try those things, and stick with them long enough to see real results.
You can achieve a lot with pure effort
One of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read wasn’t written by a Nobel laureate, a rocket scientist, or a monarch. It was written by a bodybuilder.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has one of the simplest yet wisest philosophies I’ve ever encountered.
He used this philosophy to:
Become the 6-time Mr. Olympia champion. Many people say he’s responsible for the spread of gym culture and making it popular to lift weights.
Build a multi-million-dollar real estate portfolio.
Become the highest-paid actor in the world.
Become governor of California, the largest area he could choose to run for office, given he wasn’t an American citizen.
The philosophy is simple:
There are no shortcuts—everything is reps, reps, reps.
If you want to get big and strong, the more you eat and repeatedly move large pieces of metal, the bigger you’ll get.
Arnold knows how to live life well.
He learned how to become a real estate investor by studying thousands and thousands of real estate listings.
He took many acting classes, which never made him an Oscar winner, but combined with his physique, helped him become one of the biggest—if not the biggest—action heroes in the 80s.
Then he parlayed the fame, combined with becoming a student of politics, into being the governor of California for eight years.
It’s a step above the “believe it and you will achieve it” philosophy touted by most self-help gurus. It’s the attitude that you can achieve extraordinary accomplishments through pure effort.
Practice perspective, acceptance, and focus
Marcus Aurelius was a famous Roman emperor who many people consider one of the most important minds in the philosophy of stoicism.
He wrote notes to himself about how to live life well in a journal of sorts, and those lessons he taught himself would become “The Meditations.”
The book is filled with wisdom, not about how to create the perfect, trouble-free life, but about the ability to handle what comes your way.
Here are some life tips and lessons direct from Aurelius, along with ideas for implementing them.
You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
It doesn’t always feel like you have control over your mind, but you should practice focusing on how you interpret events because perspective is everything. Two people can go through the exact same situation, but have different reactions, draw different lessons, and take different actions.
Again from “The Meditations”:
If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
Stoicism is about continually focusing on one of the few variables you can control. It can be as simple as labeling emotions correctly when you feel them. Nothing can cause you to feel a certain way. You choose how you feel, even if your choice feels forced on you by what you’re experiencing.
Aside from your thoughts, most other factors are out of your control, so you shouldn’t try to control them.
Learn how to practice acceptance:
Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve your circumstances. It means you should let go of feeling like you should have a particular set of circumstances to feel content, happy, or fulfilled.
Those feelings have to come from you, and you have to focus on generating them from within to avoid living like most people do—controlled by what happens to them.
Embrace the small moments of life because adversity is inevitable
“Tiny Beautiful Things” by best-selling author Cheryl Strayed is a book that compiles the advice she gave in a column called Dear Sugar. She shares advice based on personal experience, and she shares a lot of the often heartbreaking details about her life—like abuse, infidelity, drug addiction, and more.
It’s a raw book that shares the type of wisdom we need; wisdom that doesn’t ignore the often dark realities of the human condition. The themes and ideas from the book can help you navigate a life that inevitably has trials and tribulations but also some amazing moments.
Life is a series of small moments. If you’re not careful, you can waste your life by only looking for big milestones while missing the simple pleasures (which make up most of your life).
My takeaway? Enjoy the moment as often as possible.
Here are more ideas on how to live life well that I learned from the book:
Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it.
It’s impossible to live a life free of suffering. We all have storms and tragedies that we’ve either been through or are headed our way. There’s nothing you can do but accept that it’s part of life.
Too much time is spent wishing certain things hadn’t happened. Whatever happens, do your best to find a way to use it.
You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.
Also, it’s important to keep yourself open to life’s experiences, even if you’ve been through traumatic ones before. Don’t close yourself off to the future because of what happened in the past. Be resilient and find a way to move forward.
Do what you know to be the best option deep in your heart. Do that repeatedly. That’s a life well lived.
Build wealth, happiness, and focus on the internal game
Naval Ravikant is considered by many to be one of the world’s wisest living philosophers.
He’s an entrepreneur and angel investor who started to share his little bits of wisdom online.
Those pieces of wisdom became so popular they were compiled into a book. He has published viral Twitter threads on ideas like “How to Get Rich (Without Getting Lucky).”
Here’s how I’d sum up Naval’s philosophy: Build wealth and learn to be happy at the same time by realizing they’re not mutually exclusive goals.
A fit body, a calm mind, a house full of love. These things cannot be bought — they must be earned.
How do you earn the “good life”?
Here are some life tips I learned from Naval:
Build profitable skills: “If you’re good with computers, if you’re good at basic mathematics, if you’re good at writing, if you’re good at speaking, and if you like reading, you’re set for life.”
Start building your skillset so you can translate it to wealth down the road.
Let go of your need for approval: “Ignore people playing status games.”
Build wealth because it’s good for you and your family, not because you want to impress other people. Focus on the internal game—you vs. you—instead of what other people think about you.
Use leverage: “Figure out what product you can provide and then figure out how to scale it.”
Focus on yourself: “The most important trick to happiness is to realize happiness is a skill you develop and a choice you make.”
You can change your entire life just by focusing on your skills. You can focus on the skill of making money, the skill of becoming happier, the skill of finding new skills to develop.
Don’t take yourself too seriously: “You’re going to die one day and none of this is going to matter.”
Don’t become a nihilist, but realize that you shouldn’t overly concern yourself with any of this.
Naval’s philosophy holds the contradictory idea that you should do and be everything while understanding your goals aren’t important at all.
Win these games to understand they weren’t worth playing in the first place.
Get rich to realize money isn’t important. Achieve big goals to know they don’t have the power to change you (only you do). Climb that mountain to find out the journey was the most important part.
Lean into your passion, endurance, and authenticity
Charles Bukowski, an alcoholic who spent most of his life doing menial jobs, is one of the wisest people I’ve ever encountered. He eventually became an author and wrote multiple semi-autobiographical novels about his life.
The books share brutally honest truths about life and ideas on how to live well—even if his entire life wasn’t exactly a case study on how to be a model citizen.
Yet he still found purpose in life. He found the one thing that was worth working on for years—writing. He wrote for decades before landing a book deal and becoming famous.
One of my favorite quotes from him: Find what you love and let it kill you. Find something that’s so compelling you’re willing to dedicate your life to doing it. Don’t hesitate.
If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. […]. It could mean mockery—isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way.
He talks about how absurd most people’s lives are. How, given our short time on earth, our priorities should be much different. Instead, we focus on the trivial instead of what really matters.
People are strange: They are constantly angered by trivial things, but on a major matter like totally wasting their lives, they hardly seem to notice.
Don’t be one of the people this happens to. Snap out of it. Realize that what Bukowski is saying is, “We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus!” Life is so fleeting and short that we should spend time loving each other, finding missions worth pursuing, and focusing on what matters instead of getting caught in petty trivialities. Put simply, we should live life well.
The biggest lesson I learned from Bukowski is that you should do whatever you want to do, be whoever you want to be, and live however you want to live—consequences be damned.