Things I wish I knew when I was 18

Seven insightful lessons on living a better life


Five years ago, I crossed a social milestone when I turned 50. The import of that milestone, however, dawned upon me only a little later. One fine morning, I woke up to this reality: I was on the other side of 50 now. I could not believe how quickly the years had melted by. In some ways my life had literally passed by in a flash. Fifty years! Don’t they just go in a blink? I could not get the chance to relish or enjoy them as much as I should have.

So, call it Life’s Rubric or just advice from my own life to navigate your remaining life better. Here are seven earthy insights with just one caveat — never stop using your head but always follow your heart.

Insight 1: Don’t waste time being a perfectionist. Don’t seek perfection in life or from the people around you. This is the perfect recipe to heartburn and stress. Accept chaos and be tolerant with mediocrity. Don’t be overcritical of your loved ones. You will be the happier for it. Life is rarely fair or linear, so don’t brood on that. It’s usually grey and seldom black or white. I struggled to overcome this one for a really long time.

Insight 2: Business is personal. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. We spend more time at our workplaces than we do with our family members. All this mumbo jumbo about separate professional and personal lives is just MBA jargon. It’s a pedantic mousetrap. Make your business personal. You must respect and enjoy working with the clients and peers that you work with. In many ways that is more important than several other criteria of our workplace. I was lucky to master this very early in my life. I have tried to avoid working with people I don't respect or like.

Insight 3: Stop making five-year plans. We all know who makes five-year plans and the fate of such plans. It's a pedestrian exercise. John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making plans.” There is a fair amount of merit in the phrase 'analysis paralysis'. Please don’t over-plan your work or life. Above all, don’t lose spontaneity. A conditioned mind is the nemesis of creativity and lateral thinking. I feel you invariably miss the forest for the trees when you focus on the long term. It's always better to travel than to arrive. Remember, in the long run, we are all dead.

Insight 4: Wisdom is, well, so passe. We are all expected to get wiser as we get older. However, our society has bound wisdom in a very narrow definition. One that I have always avoided. Wisdom should never be about wearing masks, procrastination, controlling every impulse and reaction, and being politically correct. This is a shallow corporate mantra at best. So let me recommend this — retain the child in you. Don’t lose your innocence, curiosity, excitement, or even petulance. Above all, be impulsive at times. And by the way, never restrain a generous impulse. Trust me, you will feel younger even when you get to be 56.

Insight 5: Life begins outside your comfort zone. Sometimes routine can overwhelm your life to an extent that you forget where you came from and where you are going. Someone once said that the only difference between being in a grave and a rut is the depth. I believe that. Learn or do one thing that you fear every month. Your skill is not the purpose of your life. Follow your passion and remember that passion trumps ability every time. You need to explore the width and depth of this life and everything it offers. Suck the marrow out of what it offers.

Insight 6: Stay happy. I think it was Chad Michael Murray who said in an episode of One Tree Hill, “Happy looks good on you.” Well, happy is not just about smiling. It's more of what I call an internal sunshine thing. We spend way too much time, like clever politicians, trying to please everyone. Discover your relationship with yourself first. You can’t make anyone else happy unless you are happy yourself. Be self-serving to that extent and embrace selfishness as a virtue. You will be happier for it. Though I'm not too sure about the people around you. The man I trust least is the one who says I am doing this for others.

Insight 7: Slow down and get a life. Discover the joy of your internal world. Fall in love, explore the joys of indolence and nothingness. Simon and Garfunkel captured this beautifully by singing, "Slow down, you move too fast/ You got to make the morning last/ Just kicking down the cobblestones/ Looking for fun and feeling groovy..." The quality of our life can improve by slowing it down and not perpetually accelerating it. We need to experience this stillness. Make your life last. 

We live in a world vitiated by micro bytes and Wifi. It's a synthetic teflon-coated world where we buy happiness with plastic and emote electronically. Don’t let it ever get to your soul. If you can, try to express yourself. Always express your love. Especially to your parents. They will be gone before you know it. Trust me on this one. Our deepest regrets are not about what we say or do but about what we did not say and did not do.

Finally, stop running in the rat race. There is a good reason it's called a rat race! Don't worry about the others. The person in the mirror is your only competitor. So live life like a game of golf and find your sweet spot early in life. Be competitive with your own self and work on your own handicap. Do try for a hole in one but play percentage golf as often as you can. And always be aware that it's all about being on the early morning greens. So, enjoy your drive as much as the game. Live your life with a sense of gratitude.

Neeraj Batra is the co-founder and chairman of OnCourse Vantage and tweets at @batra_neeraj