52 Life Thoughts

by | Apr 6, 2022


I’m 52 today. Younger than some. Older than most. Older but not old?

Regardless of the categorization of my age, I have 52 thoughts about life I’d like to share. Things I’ve been collecting for some time now.

1. Life is both tragic and hilarious. Sometimes at the same time. Due to the tragic and difficult aspects, it’s crucial to see the hilarity when it happens and revel in it.

2. Everybody has at least one superpower – something that they do better than most people. Life is better when we spend more time developing and practicing our superpower(s) than when we focus on improving things we’re not good at doing.

3. Be fun. You’ll enjoy life more. You’ll have more friends. Life will be better than not being fun. Seriousness is over-rated.

4.. This: “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing.” – Annie Dillard.

5. And this: “Look at your goals. Look at your behavior. Does your behavior match your goals?” You are what you do.

6.. “There are no ordinary moments.” – Dan Millman. Experience the bloom of the present moment – even washing the dishes can be an extraordinary experience if you let it. We can also benefit from living fully in the moment of unpleasant experiences. Adopt “Mile 21 Thinking.

7. There’s no such thing as an “adult.”

8. Having a good attitude is the lubricant that makes life work better.

9. The universe is almost 14 billion years old. Earth 4.8 billion. Our lives pass in an instant – not even a blink. How much money you make, what your job title is, and how fast you ran the New York City Marathon are absolutely inconsequential.

10. Only an incredibly small percentage of humans – think Hemingway, Einstein or Da Vinci – are remembered past three generations. The only true legacy we leave (if at all) is our genes. And even they mutate and change as they pass through the generations. Striving for legacy and immortality is a waste of time. Do what you love. Spend time with those you love. Be the best version of yourself you can be.

 11. Success (however you define it) requires focusing on and prioritizing other people. Focusing just on yourself will only take you so far.

12. Opposing things can be true at the same time. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.” Learning to avoid black and white thinking and embrace the dialectical is essential to being a worldly-wise person.

13. We are hardwired to dislike uncertainty. Our desire for certainty leads us to make bad decisions and fool ourselves and fail to see the world as it really is. Learning to sit in the discomfort of uncertainty is one of the most productive skills we can develop. “Don’t do something, just sit there” is a powerful mantra.

14. My favorite definition of a leader: someone who has followers. Thinking about that answers a lot of questions about how to lead.

15. Happiness is a result. Not a goal. It results from doing other things. Having purpose. Helping others. Loving. Laughing. Attitude. Exercise. Relationships. Experiences.

16. Likewise: money and wealth are results, not suitable goals. Instead, money is a possible end result of doing things well that you love.

17. Your purpose(s) is not something out there that you find. Rather, it is something mined – you create it.

18. Giving > Receiving

19. Reading Books > Scrolling the Internet

20. Real-life Interactions > Social Media Interactions

21. Bad things don’t just happen to other people. Sometimes they happen to you. Or to a loved one.

22.. The future will be way different than we think. I’m reading a book published in 1994. Not quite 30 years ago. Almost nobody had a cell phone. The Internet wasn’t a thing. 9/11 was 7 years in the future. We had to watch TV shows when they aired unless we recorded them using a videotape. I owned a portable CD player. Coffee mainly came in a can – not a bag. And so on. The future is largely unimaginable.

23. Now is the best time in the history of humanity to be alive. Hopefully, we can still say the same in a few decades.

24. We’ve evolved to pay attention to threats. That’s because, from a survival perspective, more bad things can happen to us than good ones. But it also means that we worry more than we need to.

25. To say that we learn more from failure than success is a cliché. But true. One of the best things that ever happened to me was a major failure.

26. There is opportunity hidden in nearly every mistake. Silver linings abound if you look for them.

27. Being a realist > optimist > pessimist. But there’s a place for all three. Apply these mindsets wisely.

28. “Losers have goals; winners have systems.” -Scott Adams. Progress and achievement come from habit and process. Just doing little things over and over consistently.

29. Frustration drives achievement – satisfaction leads to stasis (i.e., “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it). But too much frustration leads to giving up. A proper balance of frustration is necessary for progress.

30. It takes a lot of work to have an informed opinion. So, it’s okay not to have an opinion about everything. A few weeks ago, I overheard a conversation where one person asked another what he thought was going to happen in Ukraine. And the person responded with an opinion. If he had he just said, “I don’t know” he would have seemed smarter to me.

31. “Truth” is whatever your social group believes. That means that things we each view as inviolable facts may not really be true outside of our group. People who believe things you view as “crazy” don’t think their beliefs are crazy. It follows, then, that views that you hold are judged as crazy by others.

32. You can’t change someone else’s mind with facts and statistics (I know — I’ve tried a lot). If their group believes differently than you do, no amount of discussion is going to change how they think. Instead, ask them about their opinions. Learn from them. It’s possible that their views will expand your worldview.

33. ”We fall in love with people and possessions only to be tortured by anxiety for them.” – Alan Watts

34. Knowing how to fully, completely, and absolutely apologize is a primary skill of a fully functioning human.

35. Vulnerability is strength.

36. Constructive criticism is a gift. If on the receiving end, put ego aside, and accept it as such. Appreciate the gift the other person has given you. For example, my writing has improved due to my editors ripping apart what I write and telling me why.

37. Other people also live complex and extraordinary lives – even those with opposing political views or living in other countries.

38. What we remember doesn’t reflect the reality of the past. Our memories are full of holes and gaps. And what we do remember is almost entirely in the context of the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences. We make these experiences fit within narratives that don’t 100% reflect the reality of past events.

39 A few years ago, I asked a friend how his ski trip was. He said, “Great – I didn’t fall even once.” I ski differently. I can’t imagine skiing in such a fashion that I never fell. As I’ve reflected on this, I think it may be a metaphor for how we view living life. In some areas of my life, I definitely judge success by not falling. Maybe I should shift my view.

40.. While I can’t be 100% certain, I think we probably only live once. I think about this a lot. It makes each day more precious (tick, tick, tick, tick).

41. Our bodies are the most magnificent possessions we’ll ever own. By far. Thinking of your body as something you own is a useful thought experiment; how should you treat your most prized possession? Exercise it. Feed it well. Give it enough sleep. Take it in for checkups. Etc.

42. Practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful things we can do. It’s good for us physically, psychologically, and socially. It makes enhances our overall sense of well-being and promotes happiness. IFOD on gratitude.

43. Almost nobody thinks of themselves as a bad person. From asshole bosses to petty criminals to racists, everyone justifies their actions in their heads in a manner that preserves a positive view of themselves.

44. Everybody struggles. People’s lives may look perfect from the outside, but there’s more going on under the hood than you know.

45. If you aren’t making progress towards a goal, stop and ask yourself if you want it bad enough. Are you willing to do what needs to be done to achieve the goal? If not, change goals. This concept is summarized by the quote: “Everybody wants to be a beast until it’s time to do what real beasts do.” Love that.

46. I recently heard somebody declare a “judgment-free zone.” While I appreciate that sentiment, I don’t think judgment-free zones exist. We’re all judging all the time (some of us more than others).

47. At each age I ask myself whether my 20-year old self would be pleased with my current self. What things would my earlier version be like, “well that sucks” or “wow, that turned out well.” It’s a useful thought experiment.

48. A good way to check in on your life is to buy a lottery ticket (especially when it is hundreds of millions of dollars). Think about how you’d change your life if money weren’t an issue. Then ask yourself how many of those things actually require money. For example, if you’d quit your job because you don’t like it, maybe that is a sign you should switch jobs anyway.

49. I read once that the most important thing you can do as a parent is to be kind to your children. I think that’s true.

50. When you get a bonus, take a bit of it and buy something you really want. The money that just goes into your savings, investment, or regular spending won’t be memorable. Buying something tangible will remind you of the hard work you put into earning the bonus.

51. Pretty much everyone likes to talk about themselves. So ask other people about their lives, and then listen. It’s a great way to develop a relationship, be a better friend, and makes you seem smarter.

52. Everyone has imposter syndrome from time to time. Right now, I’m wondering whether I should post this list at all. Why do I think I have any insight into life.


  1. These are excellent insights, John. You are not fooling yourself — you have real wisdom!

    • Thx Chris

  2. Happy birthday!

  3. Wow ,Such a generous gift- # 18 comes into play! Love # 29,31& 31.
    May you have a happy & spiritual
    first day of your new year.

  4. Today is the day to say, I’m grateful you were born and that our paths have overlapped.
    Happy happy birthday to you!

  5. Happy Birthday John,

    Great ifod. Full of wisdom and words to live by. So many of those resonated with me personally.

  6. 41. Our bodies are the most magnificent possessions we’ll ever own. By far. Thinking of your body as something you own is a useful thought experiment; how should you treat your most prized possession? Exercise it. Feed it well. Give it enough sleep. Take it in for checkups. Etc.

    What a great context. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Happy Birthday John – and thanks for the list – I identify with each and every one!

  8. Yep, thanks and happy birthday! If you actually are an imposter, your cover remains safely unblown … hopefully unlike those candles on your favorite cake.

  9. Happy Birthday John!

    I always enjoy these posts

  10. Happy Birthday Son. I am, of course, proud of your professional accomplishments. But, I’m also proud of the wisdom you have gained through the years and your willingness to humbly share your knowledge. If anyone wants to know the “real” John Jennings they just need to read your IFOD’s.

  11. I’ve always enjoyed your IFODs, including this one (Happy Birthday!). Many wise words.
    I’ve also really taken to your reading lists and because of your choices, read many of them myself (The Invisible Life of Addy LaRue was a favorite so far!). Thank you for being such an open, humble and vulnerable writer/blogger.

  12. Happy Birthday, John. And thanks for your IFODs. They show wisdom beyond your years.

  13. Solid list, John. Glad you published it, despite #52.

    Loved especially “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives….”

    Carpe diem.

  14. Incredible. Best IFOD to date. Thx for all u do for us. Luv2Nap

  15. Happy birthday, friend!

    Re: #52. I, for one, am grateful for your insights. Thank you for being generous with your wisdom.

    Re: #40. Memento Mori!

    Re: #03. Enjoy your special day!

  16. Happy B Day!

  17. Wow that is quite a gift you have given us!
    Thank you and Happy Birthday!


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