Some say youth is wasted on the young. Others say wisdom is wasted on the old. If you listen up and play your cards right, you can avoid both cynical predictions.

We all start out young and dumb. A blank sponge. That’s just the way it is. We learn as we go, through trial and error. Experience brings maturity and wisdom – hopefully before we’re too old to benefit from it. At least that’s the plan.

I learned everything I know, including these pearls of wisdom, the hard way, through experience. I’m not sure there’s any other way to do it. On the outside chance that reading them will help accelerate the process, I offer them to you. God speed.

1. Shut up and listen

We spend more time talking, tweeting, texting, sharing, updating, posting, commenting and pontificating than ever before. We’re not actually learning or accomplishing anything, unless you consider getting attention or being distracted an accomplishment.

2. How little you know

When you’re young, you think you know everything. After a while you learn that you don’t. After an even longer while you learn that you don’t know very much at all, and how little that matters. Knowing stuff is not great. Knowing that you don’t is.

3. Face reality

Wishes, dreams and fantasies are great for kids, but when you’re all grown up, the sooner you learn to face what life throws at you and the repercussions of your own behavior, the better. Good things do not come to those who wish things were different.

4. When to act

There are times to take action and times to sit quietly and observe. Figuring out which situation calls for which response is the most important recurring decision you’ll have to make every day of your life.

5. Take risks

You’re not entitled to much of anything in this world, and that’s a good thing since you wouldn’t really appreciate anything that’s handed to you. There’s no greater joy or achievement than taking a chance and working hard to see it pay off.

6. Do less 

We spread ourselves too thin and make definitive choices based on limited information. Both are flawed strategies. You learn what you’re good at and enjoy doing through experience, trial and error. Find that one thing and focus on being the best at it.

7. Be genuine

Nobody ever made it big by trying to be like someone else. Following others’ habits, routines, principles or way of life just makes you a clone. Have the courage to carve your own path. Stay true to yourself and be the genuine you.

8. Success is the enemy

Success breeds overconfidence and hubris. It can cause you to ignore facts and cut corners. It also attracts competitors. For those reasons, success is its own enemy. When everything is going gangbusters, look out below.

9. Make good decisions

This may come as a shock, but there is only one thing in this world that you have control over: your decisions. That’s it. The only way for you to change the outcome of your life is by making good choices. That’s what matters most.

10. Keep your word

Reputations take forever to build and no time to destroy. Do what you say you’re going to do. Meet your commitments. Nobody is going to shower you with riches until they know they can count on you to get important things done right.

For more on what it takes to make it in this crazy competitive world, check out Steve’s book, Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur.

Image credit Tjololo Photo via Flickr

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