21 Life Lessons I’ve Learnt for 2021

It’s probably a relief that 2020 is basically over now. In a year as scary as this one was, a year of constant fear, heartwrenching headlines, a global pandemic, and all the loss that came with the year, it’s no wonder that we might be tired. Many of us are ready for 2020 to just stop, and for us to begin 2021, a year full of hope, with the possibility of a brighter future.

Thankfully like all things in life, the year wasn’t all bad! As a result of the many situations and experiences that the year has provided for myself and my loved ones, there were so many precious life lessons that we’ve learnt this year, and I’m super excited to be able to share them with you all today! So let’s get straight into it!

1. Your health, your wellbeing, and your loved ones come above all else.

Not only physical health. After a year like this, mental health is more important than ever. Sometimes it’s okay to not be at your very best, and you need to take care of yourself. Health is wealth. This leads into the next part surrounding the top 3 core pillars for wellbeing.

2. The Importance of S.E.E.

Sleeping, Exercising and Eating. I know, I know, you’ve probably heard the three come together countless times to the point that it seems cliche, but the fact is, that it’s likely that you haven’t put forward your best efforts for at least one of those pillars. Personally for me, after applying all of those 3 pillars to my life, I’ve noticed my wellbeing, and my happiness increases significantly. So if you’re interested, for the next year, join me on my goal of sleeping the 7–9 hours every day, exercising for at least 15 minutes a day, and eating at proper times, by establishing a good routine. It’s so easy to get swept up by bad habits, and by sleeping, exercising, and eating right, you’ll make it much more likely that you’ll be happier, healthier, and more fulfilled during these stressful times.

3. Avoid the regrets of the dying.

Among the millions of excellent books out there in the world, I happened to stumble upon a summary of a book called “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” which in no particular order are as follows:

a) I wish I hadn’t worked so much. [by the first one it seems more geared towards people working on things that didn’t fulfill them]
b) I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
c) I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
d) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
e) I wish that I had let myself be happier.

So to avoid these pitfalls, I do something that Paul Graham talks about in the blog post “Top of My To-Do List,” where I have specific action items every single day on my todo list that prevents me from ever having those regrets on my deathbed, so they’d be:

a) Pursue your dreams.
b) Work on what fulfills you.
c) Say what you think.
d) Invest in your friendships.
e) And literally be happy.

This is something that I hope to continue for the rest of my living days.

4. You are your biggest enemy.

This one was a big one, and over time I started to realize that the hardest fight is often against yourself. I’m talking about the times where your mind starts putting you through imposter syndrome or tells you can’t do it, or that you aren’t the right person for something or you start thinking what others will think of you or whatnot. I’ve come to realize that after just doing stuff, that those thoughts are untrue 99% of the time. Knowing this, it’s probably better to just ignore them. Unless whatever you want to do is physically dangerous or is going to harm someone else, lean into the fear that you have and just do whatever you want to do anyway.

5. “I get to,” instead of “I have to.”

This is the idea of saying “I get to do” x, y, and z, instead of “I have to”. Frequently I used to get caught up with the second one, and it would result in me being less likely to get things done, and it would make me more miserable. After I ended up switching my own language up, I noticed that things became more enjoyable and I started to appreciate how lucky I am to be able to do whatever it is that is on my to-do list, and etc. Shout out to some of my TKS friends and Directors that put me on this! I think this was also one of the bigger shifts this year, and it also ties into the next lesson of Practicing Gratitude.

6. Practice Gratitude.

It’s really straightforward. Just never take anything for granted no matter what, and start having more appreciation for the little things in life. Tons of studies have shown how it increases happiness, mood, and helps shift your focus towards the good things in life. This is super important to also realize because there’s most likely someone else that’s going through or has gone through what you’re currently experiencing and if you can just internalize that all you can do is make the best of it, I think that’s really powerful to have.

7. Normal doesn’t exist.

There is no normal. I think this was the central ground throughout the whole year. I see the term normal as the standard that you’re used to, and the thing is that depending on the situations, environments that you’re in, that “normal” is going to change, and you’ll adapt. For many of us, following the new way of life is the new “normal.” It’s also key to remember that shit will always hit the fan, and things will go wrong because life in and of itself is not perfect. I’ve had so many moments this year where I’ve been thrown out of the loop, but just readjusting and working on what I can control has been helpful.

8. Find what matters to you.

In a brilliant interview with Naval Ravikant and Samantha Ryan, Naval talks about generally the 4 big contributors/building blocks for an ideal life (for most people) which are as follows:

a) Physical Health
b) Mental Health, Wellbeing, and Happiness
c) Relationships
d) Money, as well as Work

This really begs the question. At the end of the day, what do you truly care about? What brings you happiness, and are you looking in the wrong place for it? How much are you dedicating towards those 4 buckets at the moment? The importance of self-discovery and purpose really shines through here. As well, another quote that touched me was on by Naval where he says:

“The ideal life would be one where you had a hobby that as a byproduct made you money, you had a hobby that as a byproduct kept you healthy, you had a hobby that as a byproduct made you smarter and more creative” — Naval Ravikant

Keeping that in mind, what does that look like to you?

9. Be mindful of how you spend your time.

This one’s something that I’ve found to be really important. The key is that you’re intentional about how you spend your time. Do what matters to you, do what you care about, do what you love. That still means remembering to take breaks though. You obviously don’t need to be productive at all times, but as long as you’re intentional about your time, and managing it in a way that works for you, that’s perfect. To take it to the next level, I’ve also installed an app called WeCroak, and it sends reminders at points in the day about death to keep me on track with what I care about.

10. Improvisational Productivity and Avoiding Endless Planning.

There’s a balance between planning and actually doing things/executing on them, and I came across the term improvisational productivity, which talks about how you’re less likely to do things the longer you wait between writing it down, and actually doing it. That’s simply because the fun of having a plan is fun, but all that’s left is just the work that comes with it. Moving forward, I’m going to be really mindful about this in 2021, and focus more on just spending the correct amount of time planning things, but focusing on executing. Planning only gets you so far. Live in the now.

11. Don’t compare yourself to others.

This can be such a dark path to go down, and some people have different thoughts about this. I personally think that compare myself or yourself to others is useless if you don’t use it in the right way. Suppose you’re not as good as someone else at a certain thing, and you directly compare yourself with them, it’s most likely going to make you feel horrible, and in some cases demotivate you. If you get to a point where you’re better, then you’ll probably become complacent and think it’s okay to chill and wait around for others to catch up. What I like to do instead is to compare myself to myself. At the end of the day, if I’m better than who I was when I woke up, that’s all that matters. I do value looking up to people, but that doesn’t mean compare, you can certainly use them for motivation of course.

12. Actions speak louder than words.

This just makes sense. It’s so much more valuable to show results instead of talking about things, and the best way to do that is to shift for a Bias Towards Action, and just do it. This means reducing the time from thinking about doing something and actually doing it. Think of how you used to do show and tell in elementary school. You’re older now, and it still applies. The idea is that you show, and as a bonus, you can tell. Don’t switch up the order.

13. Stop treating life as a zero-sum game.

By this, I mean not thinking that there can only be ONE winner in life. Think about things in the long term perspective and don’t only focus on competing to the bone with other people only to have damaged your friendships and personal relationships. It’s so easy to get caught up, since growing up, it’s likely that we learn that competition is such a big part of everything, and to a certain extent, yes, but by not treating life like a zero-sum game, you’ll probably be happier.

14. Don’t lie to yourself.

Lying to yourself is probably the worst thing that you can do, probably even worst than lying to others, because then over time you don’t trust yourself anymore. This means don’t make excuses to yourself, don’t lie, and keep promises that you make with yourself. I can’t stress how valuable this has been, and it took a third eye, a close friend to point this out to me in one of my more difficult times this year!

15. The Odyssey Plan.

This is something that two of my favourite Youtubers, Ali Abdaal and UnJaded Jade have talked about before, and as they’ve mentioned it’s extremely powerful. I’ve learnt so much about myself with that, and it’s provided me a greater sense of clarity and direction moving forward. Essentially it’s an exercise from Stanford University’s Life Design Lab which has you answer the following three questions:

  • Write out what your life will look like 5 years from now if you go down your current path.
  • Write out what your life will look like 5 years from now if you take a completely different path.
  • Write out what your life will look like 5 years from now if money and societal obligations are not a factor.

This really opened my eyes and helped me realize even more that I have options and I have the privilege and luxury to choose, and for most people that will hold true as well. For that I am grateful.

16. The Power of Accountability and Clarity.

This speaks as well to the previous lesson. Clarity is really powerful because it can give us a good idea of what we want and where we want to go. Figuring it out to some extent with various tools like the Odessey Plan is important, and it’s also okay to not know exactly what you want straight away. Once you have the clarity, you then need to execute it. Frequently, I’ve found that there are so many resources that exist online to help you learn whatever you choose, but often times, there’s a lack of a community. That’s the reason I joined TKS, where I can work alongside some of the most ambitious teens in the world to exponentially grow my skills and work on projects that really matter, the goal being to create a massive impact in the coming years. (More on them at the end of the video). All it takes is some form of accountability and a way to get help if you’re stuck, so the key is to surround yourself with like-minded people, or friends that can keep each other accountable. I’m working on something that directly fixes this problem so make sure you sign up for my newsletter to hear more about that when it comes out.

17. Alone does not equal lonely.

Sometimes that means needing to learn how to live with yourself and enjoy your own company. In the current world, it can be really difficult to get the social interactions that we typically need as human beings, especially for extroverts. Even as someone that’s in the middle of being introverted and extroverted, I’ve found it difficult this year. Slowly I’ve learnt how to get better at it and learnt that spending time with yourself plus being okay with your own company is a really good skill to have. Make sure you make a conscious effort towards connecting with friends and schedule time to spend with them, since it’s much more difficult to stay in touch with them.

18. Forgive yourself and be kind to yourself.

We’re human, we mess up and that’s okay. In some cases, it can be really difficult. Moving forward, the most important part is forgiving yourself, learning from it, and picking yourself up.

19. Compassion and understanding go a long way. Seek to understand then be understood.

In a time where we’re so divided and polarized, it’s rare that we’re able to truly try and seek to understand those that think and behave differently from us. Particularly on difficult and sensitive subjects. A mindset that I’ve learnt that has been really beneficial for me is focusing on seeking understanding. This means asking questions and being truly curious to understand why people think the way they do and how that’s led up to their current conclusions. With that, it’s also the idea of having strong opinions, loosely held, where you’re willing to change your views if new information, reasoning and/or evidence prove valid. This is extremely rare because it’s difficult, but by implementing this, you’ll be able to broaden your horizons and reach new heights.

20. Choose yourself by balancing self-improvement and self-acceptance.

I remember growing up and hearing the term, be yourself. And although it’s extremely powerful, I’ve never truly liked the phrasing of it. Instead, I’ve come up with something new called choose yourself, because that allows you to be authentic at your core while loving yourself, but also allowing you to grow and mould to be a better you in the coming months and years. It prevents us from limiting ourselves since almost all of us have some form of flaws.

21. Understand your own values.

Last but not least, figuring out what you truly care about and your values will be really important in a world where there’s so much noise. Have certain principles and don’t stray from them no matter what. I’ll go more in-depth into this in a future video, but I’ve found this to be extremely powerful, and important given how we live in a world where we’re constantly fed things and told to do certain things with our lives. Having your own values and understanding them allows you to truly live your best life.

Thank you so much. Have a Happy New Year, stay safe, and well. That’s all for today. Bye-bye for now.

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Kevin Liu

Kevin Liu

16-year-old TKS Innovator, and AI Enthusiast, working on developing a legendary skillset to solve the world’s most important problems