33 votes

What's an important life lesson that you learned far later than you should have?

What was the lesson, and how did you learn it?
What factors kept you in the dark for so long?
How would things have been different had you learned it earlier?

22 comments

  1. [8]
    kfwyre Link
    I grew up ultra frugal. I genuinely thought we were poor most of my life because of how my parents raised me. I learned to brush my teeth by using only the smallest dab of toothpaste, and then I...

    I grew up ultra frugal. I genuinely thought we were poor most of my life because of how my parents raised me. I learned to brush my teeth by using only the smallest dab of toothpaste, and then I learned that even a seemingly empty tube was hiding a few extra uses that could be yours if you flattened it out against the countertop. And then I learned that you could cut the tube open and skim the insides to get a couple more brushes out of it before throwing it away!

    We did stuff like that with everything. Saving parts of sheets of paper that didn't have writing on it, or paper with writing only on one side. Food was never thrown out, no matter how little, and we would find creative reuses for everyday items all the time in lieu of throwing them away.

    Turns out we weren't poor, my parents were just penny pinchers with hoarder tendencies and a little bit of financial paranoia. As such, we made every dollar go as far as it could by making whatever it bought go as far as it could. Furthermore, we also never spent full price. On anything. Ever. My parents believed that buying anything full priced was tantamount to getting scammed. Instead, nearly everything was bought on sale or with coupons, usually both. My parents would always encourage me to maximize my allowance, and I was doing excessive comparison shopping from an early age, before buying even small items. Sales and savings were the dominant--nay--only way I knew how to shop.

    Fast forward to me becoming a gainfully employed adult, and the neurosis that my parents modeled and unintentionally fostered took strong hold. I now had disposable income, and what did I do with it? I bought things on sale.

    What things? Anything really. It was honestly less about what I was getting and more about the experience of getting it at discount. Physical goods were a treat, but they're ultimately limited by the physical space you can put them in. Digital goods, however? Almost limitless.

    My Kindle and Steam libraries are an embarassment. I could put off buying games and books for the next 5 years and still not get through what I accumulated. I got everything in there on the cheap. Most of my Kindle books were $2 or less, from the daily deals or price drops. A big chunk of my Steam games are from sales, where I would sort by price discount and buy almost anything that was 80% or more off. But the real killer was Humble Bundle. Those were simply too good to pass up. And so I never did, and not passing up led to piling up, and now I have an unnecessary, unfinishable, and honestly uninteresting hoard to show for it.

    The life lesson I learned way too late in all of this is that sales aren't savings--they're spendings. You are not gaining any money in a sale. You are losing it. You might be losing less than you would otherwise, but you are still, unconditionally, losing money. It's patently obvious to most anyone, and I should know better by now--I do know better by now--but sales have a way of rewiring my brain so that I fall right back into their traps. It's like the indulgence of a monetary FOMO under the premise of responsible financial decision-making. They make me feel like I am doing the right thing! Look at how much money I'm saving!

    Of course, it's the complete opposite, and my hundreds of unread books and games (among other things in my life) are an awful testament to the fact that I've spent more on "things" overall than I would have if I'd instead paid full price for only items I was truly interested in. That's not saving--that's spending. Saving is the act of moving extra money to my holding account, not buying cheap shit and patting myself on the back for it.

    I wish I could say, now that I'm aware of the exploit, that my brain has been patched and is no longer vulnerable, but it's unfortunately not true. I found myself eyeing the Humble Monthly subscription just yesterday not because I actually want it but because I could get a coupon for it! Yuck.

    I also wish I could say that I'm still young and blame it on age or immaturity, but that's also not true. This is a lesson that's come genuinely later than it should, and I feel like it's one I'm going to have to continually relearn as I age. Old habits die hard, and this one never seems to be able to get all the way to 100% off.

    39 votes
    1. [3]
      Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
      I'm sorry, but this reminds me of the old sitcom trope where the wife tells the husband how much money she saved him that day, because she bought a dress/shoes/jewellery that costs hundreds of...

      The life lesson I learned way too late in all of this is that sales aren't savings--they're spendings. [...] They make me feel like I am doing the right thing! Look at how much money I'm saving!

      I'm sorry, but this reminds me of the old sitcom trope where the wife tells the husband how much money she saved him that day, because she bought a dress/shoes/jewellery that costs hundreds of dollars... "but it was on sale, so I saved you money!" :)

      You're not the only one who falls for the "sales = savings" trick. The reason the companies keep doing this gimmick is because people keep falling for it. It's not just you.

      11 votes
      1. kfwyre Link Parent
        Indeed! I cannot stress enough that even though I am aware of the tactic and understand it at a rational level, I am still somehow susceptible to it. Presumably lots of conditioning, plus other...

        Indeed!

        I cannot stress enough that even though I am aware of the tactic and understand it at a rational level, I am still somehow susceptible to it. Presumably lots of conditioning, plus other factors in my life that would feed compulsive shopping/consumption.

        I'm reminded of the clothing retailer JC Penney. They are famous for having tons of sales and rotating discounts. I grew up reading their circulars every week, and almost every one promised it was the "BIGGEST SALE OF THE YEAR!" which I believe was a calculated tactic where they would just put slightly more items on sale than last time so the claim was technically true each time.

        In 2012, under a new CEO, the company said it was going to do away with its sales shenaningans and offer instead a "fair price" for all of its wares. As you can probably guess, it went terribly, and they walked back the policy and reinstated their previous discount scheme.

        On a surface level, it actually makes perfect sense. If you sell a shirt for $20, the customer gets a $20 shirt. If you sell a shirt for $20 but say it's originally $80, the customer still gets a $20 shirt, but they feel like the shirt is better because of the associated "price" AND they get the pscyhological boost of feeling like they have gotten a bargain. What's going to be better for sales? Definitely the latter.

        In fact, I think more than anything that's my problem: I've effectively conditioned myself to enjoy the feeling of a sale rather than the sale itself, and therefore seek it out even when I know it's bad for me, a waste, or something I don't genuinely need or even want.

        5 votes
      2. Grand0rbiter Link Parent
        Everybody Hates Chris has a lot of these. The wife says she will save money because it's on sale and Terry Crews says that she will save more by not buying it.

        Everybody Hates Chris has a lot of these.

        The wife says she will save money because it's on sale and Terry Crews says that she will save more by not buying it.

        4 votes
    2. [4]
      reinier Link Parent
      Isn't the real lesson you could learn from your parents to minimise waste? Buying things on discount that you don't need actually creates waste so that's indeed no good. But having a focus on not...

      Isn't the real lesson you could learn from your parents to minimise waste? Buying things on discount that you don't need actually creates waste so that's indeed no good. But having a focus on not wasting money, food, time and energy is a great lesson I would think.

      6 votes
      1. NaraVara Link Parent
        Marie Kondo actually helped me with this. People get fixated on her decluttering process, but that's really just a vehicle to change your relationship to your stuff. The idea isn't that you should...

        Marie Kondo actually helped me with this. People get fixated on her decluttering process, but that's really just a vehicle to change your relationship to your stuff. The idea isn't that you should just buy and dump stuff in a cycle of consumption. You develop a sensitivity to what you actually need and what actually makes you happy so you only get things that you know will foster joy in the future.

        5 votes
      2. PopeRigby Link Parent
        That's what I was thinking. There's something to be said for being resourceful with what you buy. You spend less money, and end up helping the environment as well.

        That's what I was thinking. There's something to be said for being resourceful with what you buy. You spend less money, and end up helping the environment as well.

        3 votes
      3. kfwyre Link Parent
        While resource conservation is certainly a lesson that we can take from them, it was not the reason they did what they did, nor do I feel that I grew up with a good sense of that. It was never...

        While resource conservation is certainly a lesson that we can take from them, it was not the reason they did what they did, nor do I feel that I grew up with a good sense of that. It was never about the bigger picture of, say, environment or the society, but instead a much more self-centered view of "this is good for ME." Furthermore, we did buy a lot of stuff we didn't actually need--we just did it on the cheap or in bulk!

        I should also mention that my story with my parents is a lot more complicated than I've laid out. What I shared is true in the lived sense, and I offered it here to give context to the lesson I learned. Unfortunately, it's far from a complete picture. My upbringing was marked by trauma, pathology, and deep repression rooted in religion.

        Not only did we rarely throw things out, for example, but my parents would go through our trash every single week looking for contraband and as a way of keeping tabs on what we kids were up to. In hindsight I also realize that was probably somewhat driven by their hoarding tendencies, as occasionally they would pick out things that presumably still had utility, but it was primarily a method used to enforce compliance rather than conservation.

        I will say that now that I've gotten older, I've been able to develop a much healthier relationship with my things. Others have mentioned Marie Kondo, and I will gladly add my name to the list. She helped me fundamentally change how I view possessions in my life, as have other writers about minimalism. While I can't say that I live a minimalist life yet, I'm continually taking more and more steps in that direction.

        3 votes
  2. [3]
    mrbig (edited ) Link
    Ending a relationship is not the end of the world. I spent a lot of time both being and making other people miserable because of the silly notion that I should "stick with it", even with...

    Ending a relationship is not the end of the world. I spent a lot of time both being and making other people miserable because of the silly notion that I should "stick with it", even with everything pointing to the contrary.

    Related to that, Freakanomics taught me that, if you must give up, then you should give up early. Time spent on something you shouldn't be doing is a huge opportunity cost. This is not the same as making harsh decisions: do weigh things carefully and rationally, but, once you've combed all the data, don't waste any time because you're ashamed to tell people you're starting over. Just go ahead and do it.

    12 votes
    1. [2]
      SuperGracchiBros Link Parent
      Just ended a long term relationship that hurt like hell to end, because I realised we were heading in a direction that would make us both resent each other. This is good to read.

      Just ended a long term relationship that hurt like hell to end, because I realised we were heading in a direction that would make us both resent each other. This is good to read.

      4 votes
      1. mrbig (edited ) Link Parent
        Break ups are hard for everyone. But understanding they're an almost unavoidable part of being an adult helps put things in perspective. Hope you're well, my friend.

        Break ups are hard for everyone. But understanding they're an almost unavoidable part of being an adult helps put things in perspective. Hope you're well, my friend.

        4 votes
  3. [4]
    Pilgrim Link
    A couple years ago I decided to blame myself first for any failing, even those that are obviously not my own. I coupled this with an equally firm decision that I cannot change others. Contrary to...

    A couple years ago I decided to blame myself first for any failing, even those that are obviously not my own. I coupled this with an equally firm decision that I cannot change others. Contrary to how it might sound, this has been tremendously freeing.

    If something doesn't go well I stop and think "What could I have done differently in that situation?" instead of "What could have/should have the other person done differently?" I put the ownership on myself to change my behavior because I recognize that I cannot change others. And if the answer truly is "I could not have done anything differently" then I'm free from those nagging poisonous thoughts of "If only they would have done ..." and "Well, they should have done..." I can't change the past and I can't make people's decisions for them.

    Obviously I'm not perfect and I do fall back into that old headspace now and again but I've found the more I stay out of it, the easier it is.

    A positive side effect is I think it's making me stand out at work as we're in a naturally adversarial relationship with our QC department and most of the other engineers complain constantly when a problem is found in their code. I just thank the QC person and move on and what I've found is they are much more forgiving now (we still fix the issue of course, just without a lot of hullabaloo).

    8 votes
    1. Catt Link Parent
      This was exactly my experience a few years back. Being able to start with myself and then move outwards has been really freeing! Coupled with that, for me, is taking control of what I could...

      This was exactly my experience a few years back. Being able to start with myself and then move outwards has been really freeing!

      Coupled with that, for me, is taking control of what I could control. I was really unhappy with work a few jobs ago and had a friend told me to just work on my resume, even though I wasn't looking for a new job. It really helped.

      4 votes
    2. [2]
      moocow1452 Link Parent
      Were I to take on this philosophy, I'd have to compartmentalize on things that were "actually" things I had agency over, verses things entirely outside of my control, less I would be stuck in,...

      Were I to take on this philosophy, I'd have to compartmentalize on things that were "actually" things I had agency over, verses things entirely outside of my control, less I would be stuck in, "All consequences of all actions can be traced back to me and my failings, thus I am responsible for every bad thing that happens to me, so I'm ultimately guilty of neglect in regards to all unknowns." Or is there a stipulation in that sometimes things happen, and even if you aren't responsible, you have to deal with the consequences?

      3 votes
      1. Pilgrim Link Parent
        I think the core of it is to ask yourself what you can change about yourself and your approach and if that would have affected the outcome positively. If there is nothing you could have done, then...

        I think the core of it is to ask yourself what you can change about yourself and your approach and if that would have affected the outcome positively. If there is nothing you could have done, then you accept it and move on. Does that help?

        1 vote
  4. [2]
    VoidOutput (edited ) Link
    I've found out about several linked lessons in the past few years. just because I want something, even dearly, doesn't mean it will necessarily be good for my life overall. if the prism through...

    I've found out about several linked lessons in the past few years.

    • just because I want something, even dearly, doesn't mean it will necessarily be good for my life overall.
    • if the prism through which I view life is "I don't have this thing yet", then I will never be happy. Because that thing very rarely actually makes me happy or contributes to my life the way I thought. And there's always something else to want.
    • I should work on myself instead to strive towards happiness.

    I was in heavy depression because of being trans and not being able to transition. After some time, I let that dream go. Some may call it repression but I disagree, I think I simply recognized an unattainable goal for what it was - at least that's what it was in my head. I'm in a better headspace now.

    Disclaimer for other trans people: if you want to transition, please do. Do not let my one-off example discourage you.

    7 votes
    1. eutrimonia Link Parent
      If this stuff floats your boat I highly recommend reading up on the concept of Virtue Ethics specifically eudaimonia, which (broadly) is about seeking how to flourish through habit rather than...

      I should work on myself instead to strive towards happiness.

      If this stuff floats your boat I highly recommend reading up on the concept of Virtue Ethics specifically eudaimonia, which (broadly) is about seeking how to flourish through habit rather than being happy. The wiki may be a bit terse based on your exposure to philosophy but a quick StartPage or DuckDuckGo search will yield more accessible knowledge. I believe the CrashCourse series on youtube also cover Eudaimonia and it is certainly covered in The History of Philosophy Without any Gaps but takes 50 or so episodes to get to the Socratic philosophers if I recall correctly.

      5 votes
  5. euphoria066 Link
    It took me too long to learn to vocally appreciate things and people that I like. I'm fairly shy and reserved in general, so it feels completely bananas to be like "I'm really having a lot of fun...

    It took me too long to learn to vocally appreciate things and people that I like.

    I'm fairly shy and reserved in general, so it feels completely bananas to be like "I'm really having a lot of fun hanging out with you, friend!" especially because, duh, I'm here. But it turns out that it's actually pretty nice to say things like that to people, and to have people say things like that to you. Also just noticing when you're having fun, etc. It's a bit like mindfulness in a way that you appreciate your life more by actively thinking about it. Doing this strengthens your appreciation for the things in your life, and it strengthens friendships. Everyone likes to be appreciated. It also makes you realize things you don't appreciate sometimes, and then you can remove stuff from your life that isn't serving you well.

    I would attribute the tiny change in my life's perspective to this quote by Kurt Vonnegut: “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'” which I read in an article about his death. That's something.

    7 votes
  6. DanBC Link
    Start putting money into your pension as soon as you can. Live frugally, and dump money into savings and a pension.

    Start putting money into your pension as soon as you can. Live frugally, and dump money into savings and a pension.

    5 votes
  7. duality (edited ) Link
    That concepts, our thoughts and perspectives, are really just illusions. When we develop as humans, one of the first thing (for most of us) is the development of language. We learn simple sounds...

    That concepts, our thoughts and perspectives, are really just illusions.

    When we develop as humans, one of the first thing (for most of us) is the development of language. We learn simple sounds have meaning. We begin to use those sounds in reference to very powerful forces in our lives. "Dad", "Mom", "Me", your given name and more begin to shape a "reality" that we interact and grow in.

    As the years go on we develop a whole identity out of concepts that we invest with emotion and meaning. Things that happened to us, our social circles and status, our jobs and rolls in society. Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with this and actually we need our concepts and stories to function in society.

    That said, this process creates an inherent error in that by default we treat these concepts and identity as reality instead of referencing reality. We interact with our thoughts, feelings and stories as if they were absolutely real rather than relatively real. This "unconsciousness" keeps us trapped in old toxic patterns and causes much of the suffering on the planet. This is how minimization and demonization work; propagandists create a concept of "the other" that is small and evil. e.g. "Democrats support killing newborn babies!". For humans that are unaware of how this happens they start to imagine evil people that are dangerous and scary because they are going to come steal and murder your baby. Taken to an extreme humans murder each other because they've reduced "the other" to an immanent threat.

    Beyond society, it causes problems at a personal level. I personally had some very toxic coping mechanisms and self-beliefs that drove me in my early 20's. I didn't believe I was lovable. I believed I was destined to become an addict like my father. I had created a toxic identity that ruled my life. I thought there was no escape and it destroyed my first family.

    The hardest thing about learning this however is that it's a sort of anti-concept. Mindfulness, Presence, "Be in the moment" are all concepts that try to point to this practice. I describe it as simply being aware of your thoughts without buying into your thoughts. But regardless it's only something that can be experienced, not intellectualized.

    When my life shattered I met people that taught me about these processes in our mind and I started to see that the stories about myself and the world that I bought into were just stories. At that moment I started interacting with the reality that was happening to me right now rather than interacting with stories in my head.

    In other words, the only thing that is real is this moment. The moment in which you are reading this. Everything else, your future, your past only exist in your head. When are you thinking about the future? Now. When are you thinking about the past? Now. Therefor you can only ever change anything now.

    I really can't describe how powerful it is not to interact with the world through all these stories. Stories put there by our parents, cultures, countries and our selves. When we interact with the reality presented to us in the present moment without the judgments of our stories and pain, we can more clearly see our next steps toward the life we want to live. I personally went from broke, with a broken family to living one of the best lives I could imagine with a fabulous family, work environment and almost no fear or anxiety.

    I believe that had I learned this skill at 20 rather than 29 I wouldn't have destroyed my first marriage, I also think I would have excelled in my career much sooner. That said, I wouldn't change a thing about my journey here. I have a life worth living. I only hope I can continue to share it with my friends, family and children. :-)

    Edit: Edited some phrasing for better clarity.

    3 votes
  8. Catt (edited ) Link
    My relationship with stuff, and I mean that in the most general sense - trinkets, useful things, sentimental things, digital, and so on. It's going to sounds cliche, especially now that spark joy...

    My relationship with stuff, and I mean that in the most general sense - trinkets, useful things, sentimental things, digital, and so on. It's going to sounds cliche, especially now that spark joy is such a marketing term, but reading an article called The gift of death and Kondo's book and going through the process really has changed how I feel about my things. Not all good, for example, I can no longer buy (or accept for free) any little thing...Everything feels wasteful to me. Overall, I realized how many expectations and hopes and fears I was carrying with my stuff. For better or worst, it was all baggage.

    It would have been nice to know this in university. Maybe because I was far from home, but I brought and bought a lot of little comforts that in the grand scheme of things probably don't matter, but would have made moving and flying so much easier. I left for school with a duffle bag (picked up my computer there) and shipped home like ten boxes of stuff (about half I didn't even open until I started the konmari process).

    3 votes
  9. mbc Link
    I wish I was able to realize that more people liked me than I gave myself credit for. There were so many times, looking back, where a girl was into me but my oblivious self didn't realize it. What...

    I wish I was able to realize that more people liked me than I gave myself credit for. There were so many times, looking back, where a girl was into me but my oblivious self didn't realize it. What an idiot I was. I think it was because I was a goofy looking kid who wasn't that outgoing. Nobody was interested in me then, so I figured nobody ever would be. Turns out as I got older, I got better at being social (though I still suck at it) and grew into my own body. Ah well, the past is the past. Make today good, don't worry about stuff that can't change.

    3 votes