Today is My Birthday! 5 Lessons I’ve Learned That Have Changed My Life

By: Peter Nguyen
Last Updated: July 4, 2016

July 4th is a very important day for all Americans.

It’s my birthday.

Every year, I sit down and reflect on the things I’ve learned. I often write these down in my personal journal. Last year, I shared some thoughts on life in a Tweetstorm before jumping out of a plane (I do not recommend it).

This year I’m going to share 5 important lessons I’ve learned since turning 33:

1. It’s Never Too Late To Begin


Exactly 1 year ago today, I was at a crossroads.

I wanted to stop designing menswear, something I devoted the last 10 years of my life to. Starting over at 32 made me feel like a big losers.

What did I do?

I reached out to old bosses, mentors, and friends. I talked to people whose careers and lives I admired. Hell, I even e-mailed strangers I’ve followed through the years.

Some felt like losers starting over at 24. Others struggled with this feeling at age 40.

They all felt like losers right before the part of their lives I admired started. 

I love hearing from readers who are in their 40s who are finally working on their personal style.

Whatever goal you have your eyes set on, whether that’s changing careers, improving your personal style, or getting into shape, remember that being better 1% than you were yesterday still means you’re improving.

My friend Amber once said “Today is exactly one year from where you were on this day, last year. So every day is a New Year.”

I love this way of thinking. You don’t need to wait until January 1st to start. Each day is an opportunity to begin something new.

I like to think of my life as a 90 minute movie, and I’m 33 minutes in.

There’s still plenty of time for character development.

2. Don’t Get Mad, Get Productive


My birthday is one of the few times out of the year where I have free time to fly back to California to see my family.

This year, I was supposed to fly out on Friday the 1st. Thanks to a thunderstorm, we circled the runway a few times over the course of seven and a half hours.

The captain finally told us the flight was cancelled. People were pissed.

I turned to my brother and told him “Let’s grab some food, take a cab back to my apartment and figure it out in the morning.”

Peter in his 20s would have called Virgin America out on Twitter for “ruining his birthday trip”. He would be yelling and complaining along with other passengers out of comradery.

But that’s not getting him to California any faster.

I’m not suggesting becoming a robot. It was annoying that I had to go back home and reschedule a flight. It sucked that I have one less day with my family that I had planned. But we have to pick our battles.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

I could spend the next day angry, upset, and annoyed, then fly out to California.

Or I could enjoy another day with my brother and girlfriend in New York, and the fly out to California.

Both scenarios end with me flying out to California.

I had to choose if I wanted to start with being upset or not. So I chose the latter.

3. Confidence is Created


Every so often, I get an email from a reader telling me they love my outfit recommendations, but they’re not confident they can pull it off.

My response to them is always the same: Try it out for a few weeks and you’ll get used to it.

Back in college when I started dating seriously and was looking for some tips, my friends would tell me to “just be confident”.

It never worked. Confidence isn’t something you will into existence, it’s something you create.

Would you tell yourself to “Just be confident” when you first start driving to help ease your nerves and make you a better driver? No!

You slowly drove more and more. And the more you drove, the more confident you got at driving.

I was more confident on a date in my mid-20s than I was in my early 20s, because by then I’ve been on a ton of dates. I got more confident with my writing the more I wrote. I got more confident with taking risks in life the more risks I took.

All confidence is is experience in a different outfit.

4. Give 10x More Than You Take


(I originally wrote this as part of an answer to the Quora question “What things should I master/get really good at before 25 that will give me the best head start in any career?”)

There’s a great video by Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk where he gets brutally honest with a guy he just met who asks Gary to give his company a shout out.

Everything in life comes down to the quality of the relationship: your family, friends, business, romantic interests.

The man in the video is a perfect example of how to approach relationships wrong. He tried to take before he developed a valuable relationship. To develop a relationship, you have to give. And give a lot.

Picture meeting someone on the 1st day of college. You get friendly, talk about your majors, swap numbers to set up study times. The next day, they’re texting you, asking you if they can borrow $100.

Would you give it to them?

Probably not.

But if your best friend of 5 years (who’s saved your ass a handful of times) hits you up, you’ll be sending him money before he could start telling you why he needs it.

Gary calls this “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hooking”. Psychologists call this The Law of Reciprocity.

When someone does something nice for you, you have a deep, psychological urge to return the favor. Studies have shown that the return favor often far exceeds the original kind gesture.

To say it another way: When you do something genuinely nice for someone, they’ll WANT to repay you with interest.

When I was designing menswear, I never thought about the guy that would end up wearing the clothes. I always thought “How can I show people I’m a talented designer?”

It was always about what I could get out of it. It’s no surprise to me now how stuck and unfulfilled I felt in my career.

Now I help guys one-on-one with their style to improve their lives. It’s an extremely fulfilling career where I get amazing e-mails like this:

Screenshot 2016-07-04 at 9.44.00 AM

I stopped thinking about what I could get out of it, and started thinking about how I could help others. And it’s changed my life.

5. Sleep


Your 20s: Bragging about how little sleep you got.
Your 30s: Bragging about how much sleep you got.

Lack of sleep is a symptom of a larger problem. For me, it was working too much.

There’s a good reason working too much is the list of the top regrets of the dying.

Lack of sleep affects the quality of your work, the quality of your relationships, the quality of your life.

Sure, there are times when you have to grind and put in a few extra hours.

But you should feel sleepy from lack of sleep, not exhausted.

If you find yourself constantly exhausted from lack of sleep, it might be time to take an honest look at what you’re staying up for.

I hope you enjoyed some of these thoughts.

When I started The Essential Man a year ago, my goal wasn’t to be another men’s style blog. My goal was to help guys improve their lives by improving their personal style.

If The Essential Man has helped you in any way, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Thanks for reading! Here’s to another year!

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