7 Things Everyone Should Learn Before They Die

Woman reading book

“I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” ~Vincent Van Gogh

I attended an interesting event a few nights ago. It featured ten speakers who spoke for ten minutes each on ten things you should know before you die.

The speakers included TV and film stars, CEOs, cover-shooting photojournalists, traveling journalists covering natural disasters, and HIV survivors. As you can imagine, there was a wide spectrum of perspectives shared.

Here are a few of the lessons that stuck out for me. A lot of these can profoundly change your mindset, how you view the world, and how you choose to react to things. You just need to take a step back and put things into perspective, which leads us into our first one.

1. Maintain perspective.

A journalist told a story of how he traveled to Haiti after the devastating earthquake that hit them a few years back. In the capital of Port-au-Prince many of the homes had fallen apart, and people who already had nothing were now living in small plots of land in public squares in the city.

The separations between each family’s plot were drawn in by hand, with tents and tarps set up overhead.
In one particular plot was for a seven-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy.

The speaker spoke a bit of Creole French and asked the people in neighboring tents which family these children were with. They replied, “That is the family.”

The seven-year-old girl and one-year-old boy’s parents and older siblings had been killed. She was now responsible for this baby.

This is where the notion of perspective comes in. The next time you’re upset at traffic, or someone is taking too long in the checkout line, or someone hasn’t texted you back quickly enough, take a step back and ask yourself, in the grand scheme of things, is this really worth being upset about?

The book Unbroken drove this point home for me. Reading what this man went through quickly made me realize, if I were privileged to be born into a first world country (Canada) in the current peaceful time, I have absolutely nothing to complain about. A reminder to myself the next time Netflix is slow to load something…

2. Take care of your health.

Health is the gateway to happiness. If you are not living with your fullest energy and vibrancy, how can you expect to get the most from life?

This was the main message from a middle-aged woman and entrepreneur who broke the status quo and went her own way in life, much to the dismay of her parents. She dropped out of school and traveled the world, falling into a few rough crowds on the journey and eventually settling in Toronto.

There, she visited a local fresh juice place that ended up changing her life. She fell in love with how the juices made her feel and the energy they gave her, and ended up opening her own juice place called “Juice for Life” (which her Jewish parents hilariously thought was called “Jews for Life” at first). She’s now the founder and CEO of Fresh Restaurants chain in Toronto.

Anyone who knows me knows health is massively important to me as well. I always pose the question: Is it not a bit crazy to think that people will spend more money on their car, their fashion, and accessories than they would on their body?

Ask anyone with a serious illness what would they rather have; they all would give up everything they own to get healthy and undo the damage that was done.

3. Be true to yourself and your calling.

If you are living and doing something that doesn’t align with you, how can you ever be truly happy and enlightened?

This was the main message from the founder of Yuk Yuk’s comedy club, a popular spot in Toronto.

You can imagine the reaction he got from his friends and family when he told them he wanted to enter the comedy business. This was his passion, however, and he knew from experience that if he was doing something different, he would rarely be at peace or be inspired.

When you find something that aligns and resonates with you, you will know it from the energy it gives you.

The Vincent Van Gogh quotes sums the message here up quite nicely: Would you rather die of passion or of boredom?

4. Don’t be afraid to stand out.

When you go your own way and make your own path, you alone write your legacy.

This was the motto of a female photojournalist who spoke to us. She joined the world of journalism in the sixties and seventies, when it was completely dominated by men. She was different from what was considered the norm and despite ridicule, sexist remarks, and being seen as lower, she used it to her advantage.

Being shorter than the male photographers, she was always in front of the pack, allowing her to capture some of the closest, most personal photos. She became one of the first females to have their photos published on the cover of multiple well know magazines, and went on to be the prime journalist covering Terry Fox’s run across Canada.

It is your inherent right to challenge the status quo. Never be afraid to forge your own destiny due to the thoughts of others. People may laugh at you because you are different. You could pack up and quit here, or you could feel sorry for them because they are all the same.

As well, never be afraid to challenge why things are the way they are. After all, this is the very question that has forged almost all innovation mankind has ever done.

5. Don’t play the victim.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the speakers was a girl born with HIV. She was abandoned by her parents and adopted by a supporting family with nine other adopted children.

Her new family took her in with love and put her through school like a normal child. But when the other children’s parents found out she had HIV, it was no longer normal. They refused to invite her over to birthday parties and sleepovers and forbade their children from being friends with her.

She could have closed up and felt angry at the world, but instead she took a position of power and action. Now in her late teens, she has spoken globally, on major TV networks and YouTube, to educate the world on HIV and how ridiculous it is to “ban” your kids from socializing with someone who has it.

Many people constantly place blame on everything and everyone and make themselves a victim. Why did this happen to me? Why can’t I make more money? Why am I stuck at this job?

The world doesn’t owe you anything; you were not born a victim. Yet when you look around how many people do you find complaining about their situation but not taking any action or effort to improve it?

The world gives you so much to work with if you work with it and put in the effort.

6. Re-direct your energy.

An actress told her story of failed audition after failed audition while witnessing other people’s success. She knew she could have gotten caught in the negative energy of envy and blame—upset that others were getting roles, getting paid more, or traveling more.

She didn’t go this way, though; she knew envy can be channeled into focus and motivation.

The lesson in here is quite simple. Instead of wasting energy being angry, envious, or jealous of those with more success, redirect that energy and ask, “What can I learn from this person to improve my own life?”

As a result of doing this, she re-auditioned for a part she hadn’t received and was so motivated she ended up blowing them away and getting the role on the spot.

7. Give your attention.

One of the speakers began his talk with a severe stutter. The energetic crowd grew quiet, not knowing how to react. He then switched to a more fluent voice and told the audience he suffered with this stutter for the first twenty years of his life.

When he was a young teen, he worked at one of Vidal Sassoon’s salons, doing odd behind the scenes jobs where he didn’t need to speak, like sweeping and tidying up after customers. Most people didn’t give him the time of day or would mock his difficulty in speaking.

One day it was announced that Vidal Sassoon himself, the CEO, was coming to visit their Salon. Vidal made a point to meet with everyone, from the highest manager to the ones attending to the cut hair on the floor.

When he approached the young boy, he asked what his name was. The boy tried to respond but was too nervous, and his stutter was so severe that he just could not get his name out. Vidal smiled, crouched down in front of him, and said “It’s okay, son, I have all the time in the world.”

The greatest gift you can give someone is your attention. Never allow yourself to get in the mindset that people are “below you,” because even the smallest conversation can make someone’s day. People will forget many things, but they will always remember how others made them feel.

Imagine a world where everyone learned the lessons above from a young age. It’s possible, but starts with each of us.

Woman reading image via Shutterstock

About Paul Milano

Paul Milano teaches systems and habits to create a powerfully productive, charged lifestyle. His articles have been seen by thousands where he coaches people on how to activate their body for high performance, meaning, energy, focus, and productivity. Download his free guide with simple steps on how to boost your energy and productivity levels each day at

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  • Dan

    Great Article. Thank you for the precious reminders Paul.

  • Jasmine

    Thank you for this! It’s a great reminder of how to live your life. I was especially moved by the story on giving others attention. People’s words and actions can make such an impact on others. Happy Holidays everyone!

  • Paul

    Hey Dan, thanks for the comments, it was a great experience with lots of little reminders to take forward!

  • Paul

    Hey Jasmine, glad to hear you enjoyed and have an amazing holiday yourself. The story on giving others attention I was also really moved on when listening live at the event, it’s a powerful message.

  • Apolônio

    This site confuses me. In another page I see an ad for “8 reasons to buy” something, and a “click here” button – which I didn’t click, & never will. It has always been my understanding that Buddhism & cheap commercialism don’t match.

    So I start reading this text, & the first thing is a quote by Van Gogh where he says he’d rather die of passion than of boredom. Again, how very NOT Buddhist. Passion is desire, & the whole point of Buddhism is to defeat desire. But this entire text reads like a self-help coach trying to instruct us on how to be our most productive, so we can be good pawns for the maximization of capital that will allow the 1% to get even richer at the expense of our work – all the time believing we’re being dilligent in pursuing satisfaction of our desire.

    But I digress. What really gets at me is item 5 above. It never ceases to amaze me how self-help writers can completely ignore the most important lessons of their own case studies. What is, for example, the most significant fact about the HIV-positive girl how was “adopted by a supporting family with nine other adopted children”?

    Obviously, it’s the fact that she was adopted by a supporting family with nine other adopted children. For all the s*** that happened in her life, she was indeed showered with love from people who apparently had no shortage of love whatsoever (NINE adopted kids!)

    Life doesn’t owe me anything, fair enough. But it’s also fair to wonder how come life grants so much free love (I’m not even talking about money or material things) to some & none to others. Was the girl being somehow compensated for the HIV? But again, why she, & not also the many thousands of kids who are also born with it – most of which never get adopted by a loving family, & will die after only a few years of a miserable life?

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s very easy, specially when you’re one of the lucky ones, to try & sweep other people’s bad luck under the rug by labelling it “playing the victim” when one of those people voice their discontent at the fact that many of us were screwed by chance (or God, if you believe in one.) We’d appreciate it if people who had the good fortune of a healthy Attachment relationship with their caregivers would at least recognize the extent to which that contributes to their outlook & agency in life, instead of punishing us twice over – we were already punished by being denied the Attachment we deserved, and then again when people try to make us feel bad for our incapacity to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. No one can, but lucky people love to tell themselves and the world that, if they were us, they’d surely be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, because they have the “right attitude.”

    But I guess it’s all business, right? You couldn’t sell “well, yes, indeed the world is a s****y place & life isn’t really worth living when you’ve had too much bad luck”, but you can sell “break free from the past, find happiness in the present, get excited about the future.”

  • NoWorriesBackupDotCom

    Awesome article…. shared it and tagged a bunch of people on Facebook!

  • Martin

    When someone complains, he shows us the dark site of his life (or thorns of his rose). And then when he envies, he sees only the bright site of someones life (or blossoms of its rose).

    When we compare this sites, the result we called “luck”.

  • Apolônio

    Care to tell me what’s the “bright side” of the life of an African kid who is born only to starve for a couple of years & then die a slow, painful & abandoned death? Or of a girl in Bangladesh (or NYC for that matter) who is born only to become a sex slave at the age of 10 & then die of drug overdose at 18?

    I wasn’t even gonna reply to your post, but in a short few lines you accused me of at least two character flaws: of being envious & ungrateful. Not to mention the insinuation that the concept of luck, which I used, is but a discoursive construct used by bitter losers to deny the fact – what you boldly assume as fact, that is – that life is fair & that everyone’s life is a fair & just equilibrium of good & bad things.

    I think the examples I gave at the beginning are evidence enough that there is no such metaphysical equilibrium; some people’s lives are too disproportionately bad, & that’s probably what scares the hell out of people like you, because then it means that some lives are disproportionately good, & yours might just be one of those.

    But it’s not like you’re gonna accept that you have a lot going for you that you never earned or deserved, but got out of blind luck. You’ll rather go to lengths to deny that there’s such a thing as luck at all. Which includes accusing people who challenge your beliefs of being morally flawed.

    The way I see it, you’re the flawed one here, sir, on at least two counts: hypocrisy, when you defend the false notion that there’s never an imbalance between the goods & the bads in any one person’s life, & cowardice, when the reason for doing so is because you don’t want to deal with the moral consequences of admitting that the universe doesn’t really care at all, & the only way that privileged people like yourself could really ever help others would be by giving up on part of your privilege – instead of using it as a platform from which to accrue even more privilege, for example by using Buddhism to sell peace of mind on some website.

  • Dee

    Happy Holidays, Jasmine. This article was indeed beautiful and inspiring. Thanks to Paul for writing it. The story about the young boy and Vidal really touched me. Patience is something I lack, but i will cultivate more.

  • This is a beautiful reminder of what’s truly important. I love the Vidal Sassoon story. Makes me want to go buy some hair products in gratitude to him! 🙂

    Thanks for this!

  • I enjoyed reading this post. I truly believe we all have something to be grateful for and that there is always somebody out there worst of than you.

  • The Intentional Tortoise

    “the greatest gift you can give someone is your attention” that is so perfectly put, thank you

  • Quoc Huynh

    It’s imperative to start young b/c it will build a solid foundation to improve upon.

  • Lee

    So I am going to die because I get mad at people in traffic or because I feel bad for myself because I got robbed for thousands of dollars and lost my job because of it haven’t been able to find another so that’s a reason for the universe to give me cancer. Idk what to think anymore I am trying to stay positive but it’s hard… I can’t afford to save my own life I am starting to give up slowly but surely I am well aware people have it worst but losing everything and then possibly losing my life in the most torturest way possible idk how to feel other then it, is what it is I have eaten healthy most of my life I worked out all the time now i lost it all I am just slowly feeling my body giving up I don’t feel bad for my self anymore but I do feel bad leaving my mother here with doctor bills instead of retiring her all this information I have is about to be gone i am going to have to come back to this planet that looks like it’s on its last leg. Thank you for everything I read I hope I can beat this and get my life back on track but the universe has its plan for me….

  • natalie

    then kill yourself if thats what you really believe and tell others that are less fortunate than you to kill themselves too because obviously thats the only solution your eyes can see. The writer of this blog never said life isnt shitty. If youre trying to find reasons to not kill yourself then fucking listen to what others have to say with an open mind. Stop being ungrateful. yes your life is probably super shitty. probably worse than mine. But who is to say whose life is worse than whose? But is death really the answer to problems or will it only create more? Who says that after you kill yourself youll be happier? Nobody can say because nobody knows. So you can be an asshole all you want but its not going to improve anything in the world or the universe. Stop being a fake asshole.