As teenagers, we’re all warned that the “real world” is tough and unforgiving.

We’re told to prepare ourselves for success to mitigate challenges and give ourselves a shot at happiness.

Of course, we have no reference point for any of this so it doesn’t really resonate emotionally. As a result, we blow it off, living it up out of high-school (YOLO) and into college while, unbeknownst to us, the pressures of this “real life” have already begun to close in around us, like the trash compactor in Star Wars: A New Hope.

At the end of the day, I understand that life has roadblocks, and life is like school – you’ll be tested; we gotta pass it.

– DJ Khaled

Congratulations, you’ve now been accepted into the school of life. Now the question is, how do you graduate? How do you come out the other end well-prepared to live a happy, productive, and fulfilling life?


There are four steps:

1. Have your heart broken (then learn to love yourself)

First, and most likely the soonest of the points on this list, go out and have your heart shattered into a million tiny pieces.

Once you’ve done that, reel from the pain for several months, consider getting back together, and then wise up.

As soon as that’s done, realize the importance of loving yourself. Understand that you can only love someone– and attract someone that will love you– to the degree that you love yourself. The more you love and appreciate yourself and the more aware you are of your own self-worth, the better.

2. Fail hard– really hard (then get back up)

Next, fall flat on your face– really hard.

Screw up a “once-in-a-lifetime” job interview, start a business and then watch it crash and burn, or start a passion project that goes nowhere because you have no self-belief or motivation.

Once you’ve done that, get back up. Start a new business, schedule twenty job interviews, or give that passion project another go. Stand taller knowing you’re better, faster, stronger than you were before, like Terminator 2.

Know that every time you get knocked down, that failure isn’t defeat but a stepping stone to greater motivation, a harder work ethic, and pure white frustration that makes you damn-near unstoppable.

3. Do something you hate (then learn how to follow your heart)

Once you’ve failed horribly– bonus points if you do these both at the same time– you need to get locked into a job or a life that you absolutely hate. Think Office Space.

There yet? Good.

Come face-to-face with your own discontent and realize that everything you’ve done up ‘til now was manipulated by the hive mind and social expectations. Sucks, I know.

Done? Good.

Now, stand up, say screw it all, follow your heart, and realize what you were meant to do all along, with your allegiance to social expectations blown up like Will Smith in Independence Day.

4. Lose something dear to you (then learn to appreciate all that you have)


Photo Credit: Ethan Sykes on Unsplash

Finally, when you think you’ve got it all figured out…lose something.

But not just anything, something dear to you. A childhood pet, dream job, your pride, or even…someone you love.

Mourn your loss and reflect on the good times, wondering how you’re going to move forward. Feel like it’s no good getting up in the morning.

Next, flip the script and realize how much you still have. See the smiling faces and loving presence of those around you; the value of the work you do each day; the beauty of the rising sun, blue sky, and moonlit sky; the freedom to explore a wondrous and incredible world.

Learn to appreciate everything you have and have yet to experience. See contentment in the ever-present flux of pleasant and unpleasant experiences and find peace beyond the roller coaster of emotions.

Congratulations, I’d say you’ve passed. Then again, who knows what the grading system is…