TIME Careers & Workplace

What Biggie Smalls’s Accountant Taught Me About Life

In this photo from Sept. 28, 2005, Bert Padell talks behind a tower of signed baseballs on his desk in his office in New York on Sept. 28, 2005.
Bert Padell talks behind a tower of signed baseballs on his desk in his office in New York on Sept. 28, 2005. Gregory Bull—AP

This is what the "Accountant to the Stars" had to say about life

Remember this song by 112 feat. B.I.G. and Mase, “Only You?” In Biggie’s first verse he says, “Room 112 where the players dwell. And, stash more cash than Bert Padell, inhale.” Padell was his accountant, I bet you didn’t know that. Apparently, they had a pretty tight bond as Padell was mentioned in more than one interview.

In 2010, I was helping build a little startup called Progenex (the company has since gone on to become the title sponsor of the Reebok Crossfit Games, and the number-one nutrition product across the entire sport of Crossfit, but that’s another post). We were in an aggressive capital raise to launch and scale the business. I flew out to New York to track down some “big money players” with the team.

Read more: Russell Simmons’ No. 1 Rule for Success

I met a long, odd list of interesting people during that trip. None of those people stood out to me as much as Padell.

Padell has a long list of a high profile clients. Referred to and known as “Accountant to the Stars,” Padell’s client list is a who’s who of every popular celebrity and athlete since the mid 1900s. It includes every player on the New York Yankees since the 1930s, Madonna, Robert DeNiro, Alicia Keys, Ja Rule, Faith Evans, Run DMC, Diddy, Wycleff Jean, Russell Simmons, Lou Panella, Carl Banks, Mary J. Blidge, Toni Braxton, the list goes on and on.

I remember walking into Padell’s Manhattan penthouse office and being utterly amazed. His office looked like a museum of celebrity memorabilia. Before sitting and discussing business he gave us a tour of his penthouse museum. He showed us Babe Ruth’s original signed contract with the Boston Red Sox. He showed us a baseball display of endless Joe Dimaggio baseballs, and explained that he had signed Joe Dimaggio’s signature so many times (seeing as he was his accountant), that his version of the signature was more authenticated than Dimaggio’s.

Read more: From Oprah to the Kardashians: 6 Celebrity-Inspired Business Lessons

He showed us pictures with every relevant celebrity and athlete since as far back as the 1930s, from the Rat Pack to Britney Spears. There were gold records signed by anyone and everyone in the music business, baseballs, posters, jerseys, all sorts of movie memorabilia. It was very impressive and showed us the vast range of high profile clientele Padell was accustomed to dealing with.

We had our meeting, and before leaving I remember turning to Padell and asking him a question. I was 25 at the time, and intrigued by what I considered to be his “wild success.” I asked him, “if there was one piece of advice you could give me about having a successful career, what would it be?” I’ll never forget what he said.

Figure out what you love, kid, and do it forever.

He then passed me a signed copy of his latest book, and we left. I haven’t seen him since then, but his advice has always stuck with me. It’s great advice, not just for business, but for life. Building a successful business from the ground up isn’t easy, and it takes hard work. He started off as the towel boy for the Yankees and over an entire lifetime became “Accountant to the Stars.”

I guess when you figure out what you love, it’s easy to do it forever. Maybe the hard part is figuring out what you love.

Read more: 3 Entrepreneurial Lessons to Learn From Kanye West

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

TIME astronomy

Astronomers Discover an Ancient Solar System That’s Very Similar to Our Own

Old Solar System
This artist's rendering made available by Tiago Campante and Peter Devine shows the Kepler-444 star system, surrounded by at least five earth-sized planets. Tiago Campante, Peter Devine—AP

Kepler-444 could help pinpoint when planets started to form

Astronomers have discovered an ancient solar system very similar to our own that dates back to the “dawn of the galaxy.”

Using NASA’s Kepler telescope, a team of international scientists found a star named Kepler-444 and five orbiting planets that are similar in size to Earth, the BBC reports.

Kepler-444 was formed 11.2 billion years ago, making it the oldest known system of its kind.

“By the time the Earth formed, the planets in this system were already older than our planet is today,” said Dr. Tiago Campate, the lead author of the study.

The discovery comes after four years’ of observations taken from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.

Researchers say the discovery of older Earth-sized planets could provide scope for the existence of life on other ancient planets.

[BBC]

TIME psychology

Living Life Without Regret: 3 Secrets From Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

First, what do we regret the most?

And for the big picture: what do people regret the most before they die?

1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

2. “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”

3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”

4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

So what can you do to live a life without regret?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME psychology

Research Shows These 5 Simple Things Can Help You Live to 100

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 150,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

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Read next: 14 Timeless Rules to Keep You Sane

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

How to Be Compassionate: 3 Research-Backed Steps to a Happier Life

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Science points to a crazy number of benefits from being more compassionate:

Not too shabby.

Which raises a good question: if it does all this great stuff, why the heck aren’t we more compassionate?

The World Is Working Against You

Our lives are a lot more focused on numbers and economics than love and compassion these days. Everything is dollars and cents, hours and minutes.

Economics is an incredibly powerful tool but when you assign a price to everything and dismiss feelings, you can enter dangerous territory. Homo economicus is a sociopath.

I’m sure some of you think this is naive or silly. That things have always been like this. You’re wrong, by the way.

The Google Ngram viewer is an amazing tool that allows us to look at how often terms have been mentioned in books over the past few hundred years. (Big thanks to my friend Spencer Glendon for his insight here.)

How does “economic” fare against “moral” and “compassion” lately? Um, well…

economic-moral-compassion

Are we focused on our compassionate ethical duties to one another? Or the stuff we want want want?

i-want-i-must

Are we thinking more about principles and charity — or markets?

market-principles-charity

(For more on how giving can make you more successful, click here.)

There aren’t many forces pushing back, reminding us to be compassionate in today’s market-driven world.

What does the research say still teaches us compassion?

Grandmom does. Seriously. But Grandmom, as awesome as her oatmeal cookies are, can’t fight the whole world by herself.

So what do we do?

The Solution Is All in Your Head (Kinda)

Here’s what’s interesting: research shows compassion is contagious. When we feel it toward one person we’ll extend it to others around us even without realizing it.

This idea might be new to you and me but Buddhists have known it for over 1000 years. (I’m late to the party on a lot of stuff, frankly. Still not caught up on Mad Men, either.)

Buddhists call it “metta” (there’s actually some funky punctuation to it but there’s no way I’m gonna find that on my keyboard so just roll with me here). More commonly it goes by the name “loving-kindness meditation.” Buddhists use it to increase compassion.

Here’s the problem: LKM is pretty much the ground zero of self-help corniness. What does Buddhism say are some of the benefits of loving-kindness meditation?

Via Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness:

Devas [celestial beings] and animals will love you.

Devas will protect you.

External dangers [poisons, weapons, and fire] will not harm you.

You will be reborn in happy realms.

My first reaction? I think we’re done here. Thank you for calling.

Scientists have recently figured out something about LKM though: it actually works.

No, you’re not gonna be immune to fire and poison and, no, woodland elves will not build you a treehouse. But as for that compassion part? Yeah, it really does the job.

Via Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation:

The researchers also found that both meditating groups showed greater thickening of the insular cortex, a part of the brain associated with regulating emotions, and more activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that assesses the emotional content of incoming stimuli, than did the non-meditating control group. The investigators concluded that the practice of lovingkindness meditation trains the brain to make us more empathic and more capable of reading subtle emotional states.

And that’s far from one isolated piece of research. A 2012 Harvard study showed:

Overall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.

No, you don’t have to convert to Buddhism or believe in funky celestial beings. It’s an effective secular exercise for your compassion muscle.

(For more on the benefits of mindfulness meditation and how to do it, click here.)

So we have the answer right? Loving-Kindness Meditation to the rescue. But how do we do it?

The “How To”

Like I said, the process comes off as way corny — but it makes sense.

How do you feel when you think about loved ones? Warm and fuzzy. Why keep pictures of your kids or your partner on your desk or in your wallet? Even more fuzzies.

That’s the goal here, really. We want to broaden the fuzzy. Fuzzy momentum, if you will. Extend the fuzzy feelings from those you already are compassionate toward to neutral and even to difficult people.

The best instructions I’ve found (that have no scientific jargon or mentions of woodland spirits) come from 10% Happier, the great book by Dan Harris:

1. This practice involves picturing a series of people and sending them good vibes. Start with yourself. Generate as clear a mental image as possible.

2. Repeat the following phrases: May you be happy, May you be healthy, May you be safe, May you live with ease. Do this slowly. Let the sentiment land. You are not forcing your well-wishes on anyone; you’re just offering them up, just as you would a cool drink. Also, success is not measured by whether you generate any specific emotion. As Sharon says, you don’t need to feel “a surge of sentimental love accompanied by chirping birds.” The point is to try. Every time you do, you are exercising your compassion muscle. (By the way, if you don’t like the phrases above, you can make up your own.)

3. After you’ve sent the phrases to yourself, move on to: a benefactor (a teacher , mentor, relative), a close friend (can be a pet, too), a neutral person (someone you see often but don’t really ever notice), a difficult person, and, finally, “all beings.”

Yes, it sounds silly but studies show it works.

Don’t get too worried about details. It’s not a magic spell and this ain’t Hogwart’s. You can customize it. The important thing is wishing others well and expanding that feeling from those you feel strongly about to a wider and wider circle of people.

(For my interview with Good Morning America anchor and meditation-skeptic-turned-believer Dan Harris, click here.)

Time to round this up and build a path forward.

Enough Reading. Time For Doing.

Give loving-kindness meditation a shot. Or you can go straight to the next step and help others. Support. Give.

Volunteering makes us happier. Too busy? Ironically, studies show giving our time to others makes us feel less time-strapped.

Seriously too busy? Then show a little compassion by buying lunch for a friend. It’ll make you happier too.

Via Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending:

By the end of the day, individuals who spent money on others were measurably happier than those who spent money on themselves — even though there were no differences between the groups at the beginning of the day. And it turns out that the amount of money people found in their envelopes — $5 or $20 — had no effect on their happiness at the end of the day. How people spent the money mattered much more than how much of it they got.

The great TEDx talk by Harvard professor Michael Norton explains it here.

Whatever you do, the key word here is exactly that: do. It’s not think compassion and you will act more compassionate. It’s act more compassionate and you will feel more compassionate.

Meditation expert Sharon Salzberg recounts an old story that sums it up better than any research abstract.

Via Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation:

A grandfather (occasionally it’s a grandmother) imparting a life lesson to his grandson tells him, “I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful, fearful, envious, resentful, deceitful. The other wolf is loving, compassionate, generous, truthful, and serene.”

The grandson asks which wolf will win the fight.

The grandfather answers, “The one I feed.”

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 151,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Hollywood

19 Huge Hollywood Stars Who Never Won an Oscar

Lauded as they were, their glass display cases lacked a certain gilded statuette

When Oscar nominations are announced every January, the conversation turns quickly from who got nominated to who got snubbed. And people tend to react with more indignation over who’s missing than in celebration of who’s been recognized.

For many, this year’s disappointments include the absence of Selma director Ava DuVernay from the Best Director field and star David Oyelowo from the Best Actors group, as well as the lack of recognition for The Lego Movie. The lack of racial diversity among the nominees has led, naturally, to a viral hashtag: #OscarsSoWhite. It’s enough to make you think that perhaps an Oscar is more the result of a manipulative multimillion dollar campaign than merit alone.

But the snub has been around since long before the age of Internet outrage, when gossip was relegated to soda fountains and opinions took days to make it from type-written notes to a Letters to the Editor page. And although we tend to associate Hollywood’s biggest stars with that bald, naked mini-man of gold, many of history’s most remembered actors and actresses never got their hands on a statuette.

On the actresses’ side, Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner and Dorothy Dandridge had to settle for nominations alone. Perhaps Natalie Wood and Jayne Mansfield would have been recognized had their lives not been cut so tragically short. Some actresses gave up a great deal for the roles that would leave them empty-handed—Janet Leigh, who was nominated for Psycho but didn’t win, spent the rest of her life afraid of the shower.

Among their male counterparts, things weren’t all bad. Richard Burton, nominated seven times for films including Becket (1964) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966), could substitute Benjamins for toilet paper if he wanted, as one of the highest-paid actors in the world at his peak. Peter Sellers, born in England, could take comfort in his two wins at the BAFTAs, Oscar’s cousin across the pond. And Steve McQueen could wipe his tears of dejection on that clean white t-shirt, though many, to be sure, preferred him without one at all.

Many repeated oversights were corrected, if not fully, with honorary Academy Awards doled out to stars in their golden years, although none of the actors and actresses pictured above even received one of those. For them, alas, money, fame, and a place in the annals of history would just have to suffice.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

TIME advice

An Important Piece of Life Advice for Those 30 and Younger

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Here’s a clear opportunity to avoid a future regret

Answer by Karl Pillemer on Quora.

I spend a lot of time interviewing older people about their lives (I’m a gerontologist by profession), and in one project we asked them the question: “What can young people do to avoid having regrets when they come to the end of life?” We found that one big thing people their age often regret is not traveling enough when they were young. Indeed, one of the most important messages they have for younger people is to travel — and to do it now.

A woman in her late 80s told me that among the most regretful elders she knows are those who put off travel until it was too late — a mistake she almost made, had it not been for her husband. She said:

Because they all wait until they retire. But my husband was the one that said, “I’m not waiting until I can retire, who knows what things will be like then.” And it’s true. How do you know if you are going to be able to travel later? I look at my father, who died young, and never was able to travel much. So if you can, without hurting your financial or social or family life, try to do as much traveling as possible while you are young.

So here’s a clear opportunity to avoid a future regret: Travel in your first 30 years, while you have the time, the openness to experience, and the energy. This message comes from some of the elders who delayed travel until it was too late. One 86-year-old I talked to expressed no complaints or regrets. But she had spent her life close to home, and it was with a very wistful look in her eyes that she told me simply: “I always wanted to go to Hawaii, but I never made it. Oh, it’s too late for me.”

I can hear some people saying: That’s all well and good, but how can we afford it? The elders counter that argument by saying that travel is so rewarding, it should take precedence over other things younger people spend money on. The key is travel’s value specifically for the young; it broadens their horizons, helps them to find a focus for their lives, and challenges them in new ways.

Of course, travel is by no means only for the young — although the elders do realistically note that the older you get, the more difficult it is to withstand the rigors of travel. Seeing the world and exposing oneself to different cultures is also important in the middle 30 years and the last 30 years. Travel is just that important to feeling like your life has been well-lived.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some of the things you should avoid or try doing in your first 30 years of life?

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME space

Cousins of Earth Found Deep in Space

Don't blink: This has been Kepler's field of vision for most of its time aloft as it has searched for tiny flickers around candidate stars
Don't blink: This has been Kepler's field of vision for most of its time aloft as it has searched for tiny flickers around candidate stars NASA

A flock of planets in their suns' habitable zones boost the odds for extraterrestrial life

When NASA scientists declared the planet-hunting Kepler telescope hopelessly crippled in the fall of 2013, the mission’s founding father and principal investigator Bill Borucki pointed out that its useful life wasn’t necessarily over. For one thing, there was reason to believe Kepler could use some clever engineering tricks to keep finding new worlds—which it has. For another, the probe had collected such mountains of data since its 2009 launch that it would take months or even years to plow through it all. There could well be major discoveries to emerge as the backlog was gradually processed.

Turns out he was right. Speaking at the American Astronomical Society’s winter meeting in Seattle today, astronomers announced the discovery of eight planets orbiting in their stars’ “Goldilocks Zone”—the region where temperatures are just right for water to exist in liquid form, a requirement for life as we know it.

“We’re not claiming they’re inhabited,” emphasizes Guillermo Torres, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, lead author of a paper that describes the newly identified worlds. But astronomers do know that if a planet has significant amounts of water on its surface, and if it has a heat-trapping atmosphere like Earth’s, it’s ticked off two very important items on the biology checklist.

That’s the case, at least, if the planet has a surface—and unlike many of the exoplanets discovered so far, at least four of these worlds almost certainly do: they’re small enough to be rocky like Earth, not mammoth gas blobs like Jupiter or Neptune. One of the planets, known as Kepler 182f, was already described by another group last year, so this is more of a rediscovery. At the time, 182f was by far the Earthiest planet ever found, given its size and likely temperature. But two of the brand-new ones, says co-author David Kipping, also of Harvard, known as Kepler 438 and 442, respectively, are even more tantalizing. Kepler 182f is technically in its star’s habitable zone, but is thought to be quite cold nonetheless, at the outer edge of what is considered a good candidate for life.

Kepler 438, however, is just 10 percent larger than Earth and gets about 40 percent more energy from its star than Earth itself does, while 442, which is 20 percent larger than Earth, gets about 30 percent less. Neither is a perfect match, but both are better than 182f.

The bad news is that like the vast majority of Kepler planets, these new ones are too far away to be examined directly for signs of life, even with the next generation of giant Earth and space-based telescopes currently on the drawing boards. They’re also too distant for their existence even to be confirmed with 100 percent certainty. Kepler does its work by looking for a slight dimming of a parent star as a planet passes in front of it. But since other effects can produce a similar dimming (a background star passing in front of another one, for example), the gold standard for confirmation is to measure the gravitational tug a planet exerts on the star it orbits. If the wobble is there, and if its rhythm matches that of the dimming, it’s a slam dunk.

That can’t be done in this case since Kepler was not designed to analyze wobble, but the astronomers were able to accomplish the next best thing: they used software known as “Blender” to simulate all of the ways a planet candidate might be fooling observers and rule them in or out. In this case, says Kipping, the new finds have “been validated with 99.73 percent confidence as true planets.”

There’s one more thing, aside from their slightly larger size and the somewhat different levels of energy they absorb that keeps these planets from being true twins of Earth: they orbit “orange dwarf” stars that are smaller and dimmer than the Sun. But in some ways, that actually makes them more promising. Back in the days of the first exoplanet discoveries in the 1990’s, nobody was thinking much about anything but planets around Sun-like stars as possible places life might exist.

The discovery that a different species of star can be home to at least a distant cousin of Earth only widens the category of worlds on which biology might have taken hold. At the moment, we are still—as far as we know—alone in the universe. But that’s a moment that could be coming to an end soon.

TIME advice

10 Life Lessons to Excel in Your 30s

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Be good to the people you care about

A couple weeks ago I turned 30. Leading up to my birthday I wrote a post on what I learned in my 20s.

But I did something else. I sent an email out to my subscribers (subscribe here) and asked readers age 37 and older what advice they would give their 30-year-old selves. The idea was that I would crowdsource the life experience from my older readership and create another article based on their collective wisdom.

The result was spectacular. I received over 600 responses, many of which were over a page in length. It took me a solid three days to read through them all and I was floored by the quality of insight people sent.

So first of all, a hearty thank you to all who contributed and helped create this article.

While going through the emails what surprised me the most was just how consistent some of the advice was. The same 5-6 pieces of advice came up over and over and over again in different forms across literally 100s of emails. It seems that there really are a few core pieces of advice that are particularly relevant to this decade of your life.

Below are 10 of the most common themes appearing throughout all of the 600 emails. The majority of the article is comprised of dozens of quotes taken from readers. Some are left anonymous. Others have their age listed.

1. START SAVING FOR RETIREMENT NOW, NOT LATER

“I spent my 20s recklessly, but your 30s should be when you make a big financial push. Retirement planning is not something to put off. Understanding boring things like insurance, 401ks & mortgages is important since its all on your shoulders now. Educate yourself.” (Kash, 41)

The most common piece of advice — so common that almost every single email said at least something about it — was to start getting your financial house in order and to start saving for retirement… today.

There were a few categories this advice fell into:

  • Make it your top priority to pay down all of your debt as soon as possible.
  • Keep an “emergency fund” — there were tons of horror stories about people getting financially ruined by health issues, lawsuits, divorces, bad business deals, etc.
  • Stash away a portion of every paycheck, preferably into a 401k, an IRA or at the least, a savings account.
  • Don’t spend frivolously. Don’t buy a home unless you can afford to get a good mortgage with good rates.
  • Don’t invest in anything you don’t understand. Don’t trust stockbrokers.

One reader said, “If you are in debt more than 10% of your gross annual salary this is a huge red flag. Quit spending, pay off your debt and start saving.” Another wrote, “I would have saved more money in an emergency fund because unexpected expenses really killed my budget. I would have been more diligent about a retirement fund, because now mine looks pretty small.”

And then there were the readers who were just completely screwed by their inability to save in their 30s. One reader named Jodi wishes she had started saving 10% of every paycheck when she was 30. Her career took a turn for the worst and now she’s stuck at 57, still living paycheck to paycheck. Another woman, age 62, didn’t save because her husband out-earned her. They later got divorced and she soon ran into health problems, draining all of the money she received in the divorce settlement. She, too, now lives paycheck to paycheck, slowly waiting for the day social security kicks in. Another man related a story of having to be supported by his son because he didn’t save and unexpectedly lost his job in the 2008 crash.

The point was clear: save early and save as much as possible. One woman emailed me saying that she had worked low-wage jobs with two kids in her 30s and still managed to sock away some money in a retirement fund each year. Because she started early and invested wisely, she is now in her 50s and financially stable for the first time in her life. Her point: it’s always possible. You just have to do it.

2. START TAKING CARE OF YOUR HEALTH NOW, NOT LATER

“Your mind’s acceptance of age is 10 to 15 years behind your body’s aging. Your health will go faster than you think but it will be very hard to notice, not the least because you don’t want it to happen.” (Tom, 55)

We all know to take care of our health. We all know to eat better and sleep better and exercise more and blah, blah, blah. But just as with the retirement savings, the response from the older readers was loud and unanimous: get healthy and stay healthy now.

So many people said it that I’m not even going to bother quoting anybody else. Their points were pretty much all the same: the way you treat your body has a cumulative effect; it’s not that your body suddenly breaks down one year, it’s been breaking down all along without you noticing. This is the decade to slow down that breakage.

And this wasn’t just your typical motherly advice to eat your veggies. These were emails from cancer survivors, heart attack survivors, stroke survivors, people with diabetes and blood pressure problems, joint issues and chronic pain. They all said the same thing: “If I could go back, I would start eating better and exercising and I would not stop. I made excuses then. But I had no idea.”

3. DON’T SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE WHO DON’T TREAT YOU WELL

“Learn how to say “no” to people, activities and obligations that don’t bring value to your life.” (Hayley, 37)

After calls to take care of your health and your finances, the most common piece of advice from people looking back at their 30-year-old selves was an interesting one: they would go back and enforce stronger boundaries in their lives and dedicate their time to better people. “Setting healthy boundaries is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself or another person.” (Kristen, 43)

What does that mean specifically?

“Don’t tolerate people who don’t treat you well. Period. Don’t tolerate them for financial reasons. Don’t tolerate them for emotional reasons. Don’t tolerate them for the children’s sake or for convenience sake.” (Jane, 52)

“Don’t settle for mediocre friends, jobs, love, relationships and life.” (Sean, 43)

“Stay away from miserable people… they will consume you, drain you.” (Gabriella, 43)

“Surround yourself and only date people that make you a better version of yourself, that bring out your best parts, love and accept you.” (Xochie)

People typically struggle with boundaries because they find it difficult to hurt someone else’s feelings, or they get caught up in the desire to change the other person or make them treat them the way they want to be treated. This never works. And in fact, it often makes it worse. As one reader wisely said, “Selfishness and self-interest are two different things. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.”

When we’re in our 20s, the world is so open to opportunity and we’re so short on experience that we cling to the people we meet, even if they’ve done nothing to earn our clingage. But by our 30s we’ve learned that good relationships are hard to come by, that there’s no shortage of people to meet and friends to be made, and that there’s no reason to waste our time with people who don’t help us on our life’s path.

4. BE GOOD TO THE PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT

“Show up with and for your friends. You matter, and your presence matters.” (Jessica, 40)

Conversely, while enforcing stricter boundaries on who we let into our lives, many readers advised to make the time for those friends and family that we do decide to keep close.

“I think sometimes I may have taken some relationships for granted, and when that person is gone, they’re gone. Unfortunately, the older you get, well, things start to happen, and it will affect those closest to you.” (Ed, 45)

“Appreciate those close to you. You can get money back and jobs back, but you can never get time back.” (Anne, 41)

“Tragedy happens in everyone’s life, everyone’s circle of family and friends. Be the person that others can count on when it does. I think that between 30 and 40 is the decade when a lot of shit finally starts to happen that you might have thought never would happen to you or those you love. Parents die, spouses die, babies are still-born, friends get divorced, spouses cheat… the list goes on and on. Helping someone through these times by simply being there, listening and not judging is an honor and will deepen your relationships in ways you probably can’t yet imagine.” (Rebecca, 40)

5. YOU CAN’T HAVE EVERYTHING; FOCUS ON DOING A FEW THINGS REALLY WELL

“Everything in life is a trade-off. You give up one thing to get another and you can’t have it all. Accept that.” (Eldri, 60)

In our 20s we have a lot of dreams. We believe that we have all of the time in the world. I myself remember having illusions that my website would be my first career of many. Little did I know that it took the better part of a decade to even get competent at this. And now that I’m competent and have a major advantage and love what I do, why would I ever trade that in for another career?

“In a word: focus. You can simply get more done in life if you focus on one thing and do it really well. Focus more.” (Ericson, 49)

Another reader: “I would tell myself to focus on one or two goals/aspirations/dreams and really work towards them. Don’t get distracted.” And another: “You have to accept that you cannot do everything. It takes a lot of sacrifice to achieve anything special in life.”

A few readers noted that most people arbitrarily choose their careers in their late teens or early 20s, and as with many of our choices at those ages, they are often wrong choices. It takes years to figure out what we’re good at and what we enjoy doing. But it’s better to focus on our primary strengths and maximize them over the course of lifetime than to half-ass something else.

“I’d tell my 30 year old self to set aside what other people think and identify my natural strengths and what I’m passionate about, and then build a life around those.” (Sara, 58)

For some people, this will mean taking big risks, even in their 30s and beyond. It may mean ditching a career they spent a decade building and giving up money they worked hard for and became accustomed to. Which brings us to…

6. DON’T BE AFRAID OF TAKING RISKS, YOU CAN STILL CHANGE

“While by age 30 most feel they should have their career dialed in, it is never too late to reset. The individuals that I have seen with the biggest regrets during this decade are those that stay in something that they know is not right. It is such an easy decade to have the days turn to weeks to years, only to wake up at 40 with a mid-life crisis for not taking action on a problem they were aware of 10 years prior but failed to act.” (Richard, 41)

“Biggest regrets I have are almost exclusively things I did *not* do.” (Sam, 47)

Many readers commented on how society tells us that by 30 we should have things “figured out” — our career situation, our dating/marriage situation, our financial situation and so on. But this isn’t true. And, in fact, dozens and dozens of readers implored to not let these social expectations of “being an adult” deter you from taking some major risks and starting over. As someone on my Facebook page responded: “All adults are winging it.”

“I am about to turn 41 and would tell my 30 year old self that you do not have to conform your life to an ideal that you do not believe in. Live your life, don’t let it live you. Don’t be afraid of tearing it all down if you have to, you have the power to build it all back up again.” (Lisa, 41)

Multiple readers related making major career changes in their 30s and being better off for doing so. One left a lucrative job as a military engineer to become a teacher. Twenty years later, he called it one of the best decisions of his life. When I asked my mom this question, her answer was, “I wish I had been willing to think outside the box a bit more. Your dad and I kind of figured we had to do thing A, thing B, thing C, but looking back I realize we didn’t have to at all; we were very narrow in our thinking and our lifestyles and I kind of regret that.”

“Less fear. Less fear. Less fear. I am about to turn 50 next year, and I am just getting that lesson. Fear was such a detrimental driving force in my life at 30. It impacted my marriage, my career, my self-image in a fiercely negative manner. I was guilty of: Assuming conversations that others might be having about me. Thinking that I mightfail. Wondering what the outcome might be. If I could do it again, I would have risked more.” (Aida, 49)

7. YOU MUST CONTINUE TO GROW AND DEVELOP YOURSELF

“You have two assets that you can never get back once you’ve lost them: your body and your mind. Most people stop growing and working on themselves in their 20s. Most people in their 30s are too busy to worry about self-improvement. But if you’re one of the few who continues to educate themselves, evolve their thinking and take care of their mental and physical health, you will be light-years ahead of the pack by 40.” (Stan, 48)

It follows that if one can still change in their 30s — and should continue to change in their 30s — then one must continue to work to improve and grow. Many readers related the choice of going back to school and getting their degrees in their 30s as one of the most useful things they had ever done. Others talked of taking extra seminars and courses to get a leg up. Others started their first businesses or moved to new countries. Others checked themselves into therapy or began a meditation practice.

As Warren Buffett once said, the greatest investment a young person can make is in their own education, in their own mind. Because money comes and goes. Relationships come and go. But what you learn once stays with you forever.

“The number one goal should be to try to become a better person, partner, parent, friend, colleague etc. — in other words to grow as an individual.” (Aimilia, 39)

8. NOBODY (STILL) KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING, GET USED TO IT

“Unless you are already dead — mentally, emotionally, and socially — you cannot anticipate your life 5 years into the future. It will not develop as you expect. So just stop it. Stop assuming you can plan far ahead, stop obsessing about what is happening right now because it will change anyway, and get over the control issue about your life’s direction. Fortunately, because this is true, you can take even more chances and not lose anything; you cannot lose what you never had. Besides, most feelings of loss are in your mind anyway – few matter in the long term.”(Thomas, 56)

In my article about what I learned in my 20s, one of my lessons was “Nobody Knows What They’re Doing,” and that this was good news. Well, according to the 40+ crowd, this continues to be true in one’s 30s and, well, forever it seems; and it continues to be good news forever as well.

“Most of what you think is important now will seem unimportant in 10 or 20 years and that’s OK. That’s called growth. Just try to remember to not take yourself so seriously all the time and be open to it.” (Simon, 57)

“Despite feeling somewhat invincible for the last decade, you really don’t know what’s going to happen and neither does anyone else, no matter how confidently they talk. While this is disturbing to those who cling to permanence or security, it’s truly liberating once you grasp the truth that things are always changing. To finish, there might be times that are really sad. Don’t dull the pain or avoid it. Sorrow is part of everyone’s lifetime and the consequence of an open and passionate heart. Honor that. Above all, be kind to yourself and others, it’s such a brilliant and beautiful ride and keeps on getting better.” (Prue, 38)

“I’m 44. I would remind my 30 year old self that at 40, my 30s would be equally filled with dumb stuff, different stuff, but still dumb stuff… So, 30 year old self, don’t go getting on your high horse. You STILL don’t know it all. And that’s a good thing.” (Shirley, 44)

9. INVEST IN YOUR FAMILY; IT’S WORTH IT

“Spend more time with your folks. It’s a different relationship when you’re an adult and it’s up to you how you redefine your interactions. They are always going to see you as their kid until the moment you can make them see you as your own man. Everyone gets old. Everyone dies. Take advantage of the time you have left to set things right and enjoy your family.” (Kash, 41)

I was overwhelmed with amount of responses about family and the power of those responses. Family is the big new relevant topic for this decade for me, because you get it on both ends. Your parents are old and you need to start considering how your relationship with them is going to function as a self-sufficient adult. And then you also need to contemplate creating a family of your own.

Pretty much everybody agreed to get over whatever problems you have with your parents and find a way to make it work with them. One reader wrote, “You’re too old to blame your parents for any of your own short-comings now. At 20 you could get away with it, you’d just left the house. At 30, you’re a grown-up. Seriously. Move on.”

But then there’s the question that plagues every single 30-year-old: to baby or not to baby?

“You don’t have the time. You don’t have the money. You need to perfect your career first. They’ll end your life as you know it. Oh shut up… Kids are great. They make you better in every way. They push you to your limits. They make you happy. You should not defer having kids. If you are 30, now is the time to get real about this. You will never regret it.” (Kevin, 38)

“It’s never the ‘right time’ for children because you have no idea what you’re getting into until you have one. If you have a good marriage and environment to raise them, err on having them earlier rather than later, you’ll get to enjoy more of them.” (Cindy, 45)

“All my preconceived notions about what a married life is like were wrong. Unless you’ve already been married, everyone’s are. Especially once you have kids. Try to stay open to the experience and fluid as a person; your marriage is worth it, and your happiness seems as much tied to your ability to change and adapt as anything else. I wasn’t planning on having kids. From a purely selfish perspective, this was the dumbest thing of all. Children are the most fulfilling, challenging, and exhausting endeavor anyone can ever undertake. Ever.” (Rich, 44)

The consensus about marriage seemed to be that it was worth it, assuming you had a healthy relationship with the right person. If not, you should run the other way (See #3).

But interestingly, I got a number of emails like the following:

“What I know now vs 10-13 years ago is simply this… bars, woman, beaches, drink after drink, clubs, bottle service, trips to different cities because I had no responsibility other than work, etc… I would trade every memory of that life for a good woman that was actually in love with me… and maybe a family. I would add, don’t forget to actually grow up and start a family and take on responsibilities other than success at work. I am still having a little bit of fun… but sometimes when I go out, I feel like the guy that kept coming back to high school after he graduated (think Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused). I see people in love and on dates everywhere. “Everyone” my age is in their first or second marriage by now! Being perpetually single sounds amazing to all of my married friends but it is not the way one should choose to live their life.” (Anonymous, 43)

“I would have told myself to stop constantly searching for the next best thing and I would have appreciated the relationships that I had with some of the good, genuine guys that truly cared for me. Now I’m always alone and it feels too late.” (Fara, 38)

On the flip side, there were a small handful of emails that took the other side of the coin:

“Don’t feel pressured to get married or have kids if you don’t want to. What makes one person happy doesn’t make everyone happy. I’ve chosen to stay single and childless and I still live a happy and fulfilled life. Do what feels right for you.” (Anonymous, 40)

Conclusion: It seems that while family is not absolutely necessary to have a happy and fulfilling life, the majority of people have found that family is always worth the investment, assuming the relationships are healthy and not toxic and/or abusive.

10. BE KIND TO YOURSELF, RESPECT YOURSELF

“Be a little selfish and do something for yourself every day, something different once a month and something spectacular every year.” (Nancy, 60)

This one was rarely the central focus of any email, but it was present in some capacity in almost all of them: treat yourself better. Almost everybody said this in one form or another. “There is no one who cares about or thinks about your life a fraction of what you do,” one reader began, and, “life is hard, so learn to love yourself now, it’s harder to learn later,” another reader finished.

Or as Renee, 40, succinctly put it: “Be kind to yourself.”

Many readers included the old cliche: “Don’t sweat the small stuff; and it’s almost all small stuff.” Eldri, 60, wisely said, “When confronted with a perceived problem, ask yourself, ‘Is this going to matter in five years, ten years?’ If not, dwell on it for a few minutes, then let it go.” It seems many readers have focused on the subtle life lesson of simply accepting life as is, warts and all.

Which brings me to the last quote from Martin, age 58:

“When I turned forty my father told me that I’d enjoy my forties because in your twenties you think you know what’s going on, in your thirties you realize you probably don’t, and in your forties you can relax and just accept things. I’m 58 and he was right.”

Thank you to everyone who contributed.

Mark Manson is an author, blogger and entrepreneur. This post originally appeared on MarkManson.net.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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5 Ways to Respond When Your Family Asks What You’re Doing with Your Life

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Turn that dreaded holiday tradition into an opportunity

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This article originally appeared on Live in the Grey.

So… what are you doing with your life?

This question, often asked around the holiday season by a family member with seemingly too much time on their hands, is known to send many a millennial reeling into a pit of despair. It feels like nothing you can say will satiate the underlying question you suspect is at the bottom of this ruthless confrontation—“What’s your plan for how to stop being a failure already?” It can put you on the defensive, to say the least.

Fret not, because this dreaded holiday tradition can actually be a good thing. Think of it as a vicious sucker punch that makes you realize you need to work on your reflexes and be prepared. (This might actually also be a lesson you learned from family during the holidays.) By demanding that you be able to articulate some sort of response, the “what are you doing with your life” conversation can push you to define what you want to yourself. So instead of approaching the conversation unarmed, take a moment to ask yourself what you want. And be prepared to share it with loved ones who genuinely want to be let in. That said, it’s still a tricky question to navigate so we came up with a few tips to help prepare you for battle. Now say it to yourself: you will make it through.

1. Share Your Immediate Goal Instead of Your Whole Life Plan

Instead of getting bogged down by the daunting idea of what you are going to do with the entire rest of your life, consider what your goals are for the next year, the next few months or even the next few weeks. Acceptable answers include: “I’m planning a few meetings with friends in the (____) industry to see if it could be a good fit,” or, “I’m taking an Coursera class on (____) to gain a new skillset and see if I enjoy the work,” or “I’m working on a side project to add to my portfolio while I save up money.” Be sure to preface this with something smart-sounding like “I don’t feel like it makes sense to plan ten steps ahead right now when life is changing so quickly, but I do know what I want to do right now.”

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2. Be Brtually Honest

Remember that if you don’t see or talk to your relatives very often, their questioning may be coming from a place of legitimate wonder, not just worry. It could be their way of showing that they care about what’s happening in your life. They will be most alarmed when you seem to have no goals or vision at all, so as uncomfortable as it may be, your best alternative is to let them in a little. If you’re at a difficult crossroads in your career path, don’t put all your efforts into sugar-coating it. Explain what’s really going on. Maybe you say something like, “I thought I wanted to dedicate myself to (___), but it struck me this year that it just won’t make me happy. So now I’m focusing on figuring out how I can pursue something more meaningful.” If you share your struggles with your family, not just your high points, you may be surprised by their support. They could even offer you an unexpected contact or useful advice. At the very least, by explaining what you’re looking for, they won’t keep bothering you with “opportunities” that don’t fall in line with your actual interests.

3. Go Vague: Share Your Values and Ultimate Goals in Life

As you have these conversations, one thing to keep in mind is not to let the smaller picture interfere with the bigger picture and let you lose sight of your values. You can make sure to avoid this is by answering family question with what you ultimately want out of life. Whether that’s becoming a recognized leader in your field, adding something new and unique to the world, or finding the stability to build a family, it will clarify what makes you happy in life and what doesn’t. Perhaps your relatives, as many of us often do, assumed you both prioritize the same things and were offering you the advice they would want. By clarifying where you’re coming from, you won’t be comparing apples to oranges in every conversation.

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4. Explain Your Career Goals and Choices in Terms They Understand

It’s a certifiable fact that career trajectories for younger generations just don’t look like what they did for our parents and grandparents. We tend to job hop, switch career trajectories and embrace jobs and industries that didn’t even exist a couple of decades ago. This can make our life choices all the more difficult to explain. One approach to remedying this distance is to compare your situation to something in your relatives’ wheelhouse. Do you manage social media for a brand? Instead say that like marketers and ad agencies, you represent the voice of a brand for customers.

Another approach is to explain what the purpose of your job (or dream job) is, while skipping the technical description. You want to work at a data analytics consulting firm? No no no, you want to help identify patterns for companies to give them an edge against competitors. To be clear, it can be a dangerous road to begin this conversation. You may end up explaining the internet for hours on end. Your best shot is to give the condensed explanation with as many people around as possible so you don’t have to repeat yourself.

5. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, BE THANKFUL

You might try every trick in the book and still be faced with a puzzled look and disapproving nod. It won’t always be possible to get everyone on your page, but at the end of the day, you’re family. Use that! (And we mean that in the most loving way possible.) Try saying this: “I’m thankful that even though you may not understand where I am right now, you care enough to ask.” Depending on the feedback you’re getting, you can even add in a little, “and I know that you’re there for me no matter what.” Self-fulfilling prophecy!

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