5 Essential Life Lessons You NEED To Learn Early In Life (2021)

Throughout my travels, I’d like to think I’ve messed up in enough strange and exotic situations that it would be practically impossible not to have learned something about how life works.

The world can be a weird place.

And life? It can be beautiful one minute, with the sun shining on your face and a stomach full of delicious local delicacies…and the next minute you could find yourself broke, destitute, and living under a bridge. Ok maybe that’s a little extreme, but you get the gist.

Our lives are made up of little choices. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them.

Yet even with the vast amount of discrepancies and directions we all tend to travel in, one particular thing has remained true for each and every one of us.

We all have a desire to live our lives to the fullest.

Life is not for someone else, but for ourselves.

So with that idea in mind, I have compiled a list of life lessons that I believe are essential to that instinctual quest to live fully and rest our eyes at the end of the day fulfilled.

And truth be told, these life lessons apply to everyone and at every age. But personally, if you’re in your 30’s and haven’t done these, god help you.

Your 40’s are gonna suuuuck.

Hopefully, though, there’s still time. So read on my friends — the world awaits you.

What Are The 5 Essential Life Lessons You Should Learn Early?

These are 5 nuggets of wisdom it took me years to uncover. I battled self-doubt, self-judgment, and a whole lot of self-criticism.

Yet I’ve found that no matter how much money I have, or how much success I believed I have achieved, these lessons hold true time and time again. I’m grateful for having learned them early in life.

So in no particular order:

  • Figure out how you learn
  • Decide how to become your own doctor
  • Don’t be afraid to start over
  • Choose wisely who you take criticism from
  • Get comfortable listening to your gut

Take action on just one of these lessons, and watch your happiness grow. Watch the world open up. Watch the control return.

Let’s talk about each of these lessons, and why they’re so important.

The 5 Essential Life Lessons

1: Figure Out How You Learn Best

Congratulations, my friend.

You, like many others, are probably guilty of packing your brain day-after-freaking-day with useless junk. Every day we are subjected to a barrage of factoids, movie quotes, and the painfully clear details of Kim Kardashian’s Starbucks habits on Tuesdays.

It’s no wonder that the moment you’re tasked with learning something important…alas. You’ve discovered that you’ve forgotten HOW to learn skills like you used to.

I believe this happens more in your 30’s than at any time else. Your 30’s are an amazing time for growth. You’re young enough to be agile but old enough to make good decisions. The sky is the limit.

But growth means challenges, both physically and mentally. Pushing yourself to your own edge intellectually. There’s no rule that states this kind of behavior is only for a younger generation. As someone interesting, you should never, ever stop learning. No matter your age.

Life is learning. And learning breeds life.

One of the big life lessons, you have to get out there and explore
Younger Josh says “You just got to get out there. You’ll figure it out along the way.” (yes, there is fear behind those sunglasses)

So that’s why learning “how you learn” is such a very, very important skill to have…and it’s one of those life lessons you much teach yourself in the world.

Let me give you a real life example.

I went back to school in my 30’s to get a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Boston University. Turns out (…and I found this out later) that while I was there BU was ranked as the toughest school in the United States to get an “A” in. (edging out MIT, Harvard and other giants)


Had I known that ahead of time, it would have been intimidating.

Yet of the most important things I did in retrospect? Constantly experiment with different ways to learn and retain lessons and info.

Until that faithful day where I nailed down what really worked for me.

(in case you’re wondering, it was re-writing lecture notes in a way that made sense to me, in a Moleskine notebook, for every class, for 3 years. I took care in making them very clean and very organized. This helped me get straight A’s in incredibly competitive, highly analytical classes. Eat it, nerds!)

Another one of the big life lessons, you have to learn HOW you learn. It’s a big part of life!
I went back to engineering school at 30. I had to learn A LOT.

Point is, there are SO many ways to learn in the world nowadays. YouTube, audiobooks, live tutors, virtual tutors…the list goes on.

Experiment with ways to learn until one clicks. Trust me, this is a skill that will take you far in life.

2: Decide To Be Your Own Doctor

Look, don’t take this the wrong way. There are plenty of health issues that are unavoidable, unfair and absolutely tragic. And I have the utmost respect for those squeezing the best life they can out of dark circumstances.

But then there are some folks with health issues that make you step back and say…”I mean, what did you expect?”

One of the greatest life lessons is to become your own doctor

This is what I mean by ‘be your own doctor.’ Take some responsibility for your own health and well-being. Realize that no one is going to step in and save you, my friend.

It’s up to you to save yourself.

Wake up to the fact that (most times, anyway) the companies and agencies responsible for providing your “nutrition” and advice about your lifestyle absolutely DO NOT have your well-being and best interests at heart. I know, I know…shocker.

Point is, do your own research.

Study yourself, study your body. Listen to your body.

I don’t have to tell you (if you live in the US) that health insurance premiums are ridiculously expensive.

Here’s one of my favorite life lessons, you put good things into your body, and you’ll get good things out!
My tastebuds like hashbrowns. My 37.2 trillion cells? Not so much.

While you may not be able to avoid medical treatment completely (think broken leg from that electric skateboard you told your friends would be a ‘great’ idea), you can play the long game and keep yourself healthy by making good decisions with what you eat.

Or don’t eat.

My humble advice to start? Stop. Drinking. Soda.

3: Don’t Be Afraid To Start Over

Like the photo says. Yup.

One of the great life lessons to learn is to not be afraid to start over in life.

Just because you started down a path in your 20’s doesn’t mean you need to follow it. Sometimes, we need a reset button — and you shouldn’t be afraid to push it.

Maybe you want to travel. I don’t mean travel like you did in your 20’s, where life is one big fire-pit Thai party on a beach during a full moon. In your 30’s and beyond, travel takes on a whole new personality. Rather than see the world as your personal party destination, you start to see deeper into people’s lives.

Deeper messages begin to click. Lessons begin to form.

Or, instead of traveling, maybe you want to quit your job. Start a new career.

Look…no matter how old you feel right now, no matter how much you want to say “nah I’m too old to start over” …resist that urge. That’s the easy way out, and you will regret it later in life.

You’ll wake up in 5 years feeling worse than you do now, kicking yourself that you didn’t start today. Willing to give anything to travel back to this moment and switch gears.

But guess what? You don’t have to worry. Because you’re in this moment now.

Go, explore.

Push yourself into strange situations that will help you grow. Challenge yourself, damnit.

That is the key to success.

Want some ideas on where to start? There is so much opportunity out there — here are my thoughts on the matter.

4: Choose Who You Take Criticism From

Only take advice or criticism from people who have been in your situation and no one else.

Everybody will have an opinion. Spend 30 seconds on Facebook and you see this loud and clear.

But not everyone formed that opinion from experience. The only people you should listen to are the ones who had the courage to try what you’re trying in the first place.

Here’s one of my favorite life lessons -- don’t take criticism from people who have not been there in life.
Sniff…”That anyomous Facebook profile said my idea was bad. I’m gonna quit” said no successful person, ever.

Do your own thing. Take advice from people who have been there.

Those who stepped foot in the arena.

Listening to anyone else is like getting wrong directions from a stranger in a strange town. When you realize they had no idea what they were talking about, sometimes it’s too late or you’re too tired to go back.

5: Become Comfortable Listening To Your Gut In Life

You would think because you’re older and “wiser” now, you may have gained an edge on your gut. You would be wrong.

We all have a ‘truth’ that rings for us. You need to start listening and acting upon it.

The best life lessons of all are those you learn by experience.
Put yourself in situations (and robes) that make you feel alive.

Find out what turns your crank. Focus on it and respect it. It will show you the way.

Do these things and you’ll look, feel, think, play, and enjoy life, young.

Unless you drink soda while doing all of them. Then all bets are off.

A Final Thought

We’re all just trying to figure this out.

You may not agree with any of the above life lessons, and that’s ok. You’ve had your own experiences, your own adventures. You’ve got your own scars and stories.

And isn’t that all that life is, really?

To life, amigos.


Last updated January 2, 2023 by Josh Koerpel

Josh Koerpel

Josh has spent the last 15 years working from the road as a ship captain, wilderness guide, mechanical engineer, marketing director and software developer.

He currently lives aboard his 32′ sailboat “Albatross” in Key West, Florida.

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