61 Life Lessons – A Work in Progress

I turn 61 years old this week. Hopefully, I am both older and wiser. I recently heard wisdom described as lessons you have learned in your life once you shed the associated emotion. I like that. 

A friend shared an article that Jon Gordon wrote when he turned 52, in which he shared 52 lessons he had learned in his life. I shared it with leaders in my school district and encouraged them to think about their own lists. I then followed my own advice, and that led to this post. Like the Spinal Tap amplifier that has a volume control that goes to eleven, which is clearly louder than ten, 61 lessons is certainly more than 52. And therefore, louder?

I’ve done a good deal of reflecting to come up with this list. I have also looked through my old blog posts to capture the life lessons I have written about. And I already know that this list will change as I keep examining it. Within minutes of putting it out there, I will wonder how I ever left off something super important, and I’ll ask myself why I included such a trivial lesson. That’s OK. Like all writing, you do what you can in the time you have, then press “publish,” though you know you could always make it better.

Again, I appreciate those who share their thoughts on my writing. I’d love your takes on my life lessons and I’d enjoy hearing about your own life lessons. These responses make the conversation so much better.

Without further ado, here is my list, at least as of March 13, 2023.


  1. I’m happiest when I am completely in the present moment.
  2. And I’m even happier when I am in a state of flow.
  3. The only person responsible for my happiness is me.
  4. Having a positive attitude makes your life (and others’) way better.
  5. Cooking food for others makes me genuinely happy.
  6. Worrying is a waste of time and effort. (I know this to be true, and yet I still waste time on it. I’m a work in progress.)
  7. Try not to see problems in life as huge and overwhelming. My friend Pat loves this quote by Anne Lamott:Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” We need to address our problems bird by bird.
  8. Vacations are a great way to feel that we have time affluence. But we should strive to seek that feeling of being time rich in our daily lives as well. Living like The White Rabbit (I’m late! I’m late!) is no way to live.
  9. Laughter is a cornerstone in my life. I try to surround myself with people who bring joy and laughter into my life. And I try to do the same for those I am around.
  10. Strive to be kind and grateful as many times each day as you can. The positive impacts of both are underrated.
  11. Never be mean, and, to the greatest extent possible, stay away from mean people.
  12. Venturing into the unknown keeps us young. I love adventures, though I’m not a thrill seeker. Some of my favorite memories stem from vacations as a kid and as an adult that did not go exactly as planned. That’s why I try not to overplan my vacations, something that not everyone in my two-person household agrees with.
  13. Family is the main course of life. And having great neighbors is like pie for dessert, or better yet, pie with ice cream, which is the best dessert. Great neighbors who are friends you can talk with, play with, and learn from make life far more enjoyable and far more interesting.
  14. One of the beauties of getting older is being less career-driven and more life-driven. It is freeing. Kris Krisofferson wrote, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” The older I get, the more freedom I feel.


  1. You don’t lose weight by exercising more. What you eat is 90% of the battle. And the less processed food we eat, the healthier we’ll be. I know this to be true, and I love good food. It’s just one of many struggles in my very good life.
  2. Aerobic exercise helps us to live longer; strength training helps us to live better.
  3. And by combining both of those, we Don’t Let the Old Man In. Through hard exercise and good nutrition, we can swim against the relentless tide of decay and, even at my age and older, actually grow stronger.
  4. Having a coach makes me work harder and smarter.
  5. Sometimes getting better is just about not giving up. Professional Golfer Tony Finau, after he finally won his first professional tournament said, “A winner is just a loser that kept on trying.” I remember my dad helping me to get through long bike rides by saying, over and over again, “There’s just one more hill.” Even if he wasn’t telling the truth, he helped me persevere. 
  6. Healthy competition makes me better, and I love it. My beliefs about healthy competition, whether it’s pickleball, golf, swimming, cornhole, pingpong, or seeing how many rocks you can throw into that can over there, are that I really like winning, I don’t mind losing, and, most of all, I love playing the game.
  7. COVID sucks. Our era’s global pandemic stole too many lives and turned our world upside down. 
  8. The world’s longest living people prioritize family, belong to a strong and caring community, eat unprocessed food together, and move throughout the day.
  9. Maximize habits that are healthy, caring, and/or productive. And minimize your ones that are not. 


  1. Teachers who focus on memorization are missing the point. Memorization is nice, but it’s not the goal of learning. Understanding blows the doors off of memorization.
  2. Teaching is a spectacular career. I feel very fortunate to have hundreds of students that I still know and keep in touch with. 
  3. Being a lifelong learner (Steven Covey calls it Sharpening the Saw) is what it’s all about. It starts a flame if we can imbed that in mindset of the children we teach. It keeps us happier and makes us better if we make it part of who we are.
  4. We all need heroes. Among my heroes are my mom and dad, my amazing siblings, my wife and sons, my high school principal (Father Tribou), Jackie Robinson, Abraham Lincoln, and  Vin Scully. And now I know that I need to think more about this list, as it is quite incomplete. More later.
  5. I try to keep a sense of wonder about nature. I am awed by all that I learn about Earth, its 23.5 degree axis, its relation to the sun, moon, and planets in our solar system, and our tiny spot in our universe. I have so much to learn, and I’m looking forward to that learning.
  6. The teacher as coach model works far better than the traditional teacher model. I loved teaching Advanced Placement US History, mostly because it transformed me from teacher into a coach. Coached correctly, every student in the class feels that they are working together to meet college-level standards.
  7. My hope for each student is that they have at least one great reason to go to school each day. It could be a teacher or subject they love, a sport they are passionate about, something artistic that gives them meaning, or their daily conversations with the school custodian. One thing can make all the difference. Having more than that is even better.
  8. Our non-metric measurement system makes no sense. Acres, tablespoons, hectares, feet, Fahrenheit, and miles – they are arbitrary and nonsensically related. It’s something I hope we can remedy in my lifetime. The mathematical beauty of the metric system is far more understandable. I will be writing a future blog post on my aspirations for the United States in this regard. We kind of have a non-metric calendar too, which also in my opinion, has all kinds of problems.  But that’s for a later post. 
  9. There is magic that happens in schools. If I only listened to the stories I hear from people who come into my principal’s or superintendent’s office, I might think I was in a school or district with nothing but problems. But when I get out of my office and into the classrooms, I am reminded of the powerful lessons and beautiful moments that occur in our classrooms every single day. I am proud to be an educator.


  1. When we camped as kids, one of our jobs was to leave the campground better than we found it. That’s how I try to treat my short time on Earth.
  2. Storytelling is essential in our lives. Great books and movies are wonderful stories, and, like visiting old friends throughout our lives, they are worth reading and watching again and again.
  3. I love a great museum, and I never need to spend more than one hour on any museum visit.
  4. I love lifelong sports, like swimming, golf, and pickleball, and my desire to get better at each of them, even at age 61, is one more reason to enjoy each and every day.
  5. I am an omnivore, but based on what I’ve learned about health and the planet, I am trending in a plant-based direction. And I don’t care what my son Ryan says; eggplant parmesan is an outstanding dish!
  6. Jill’s grandfather Charles Richards was right. When 5:00 PM arrived, he would often say to his bride, “Ah, Velma. This is what all of civilization has been working its way toward – the cocktail hour.”
  7. Writing these blog posts has become an important part of who I am. Joan Didion wrote, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” However imperfect I am as a writer, I love that it makes me both introspective and reflective. My thanks to my friends Dawnalyn, Jen, and Heather, as well as my son Ryan and my wife Jill for their constant insights, edits, encouragement, and friendship. I would not be the writer I am without you.


  1. We parents need to strive to find that perfect balance between adequately protecting our children and overdoing it by being a helicopter parent, or worse, a snowplow parent.
  2. Family dinners should be mandatory in family households. The ritual and the togetherness provide a rock of stability and solace for families.
  3. At a certain point in our children’s lives, the natural consequences for their poor decisions are far worse than any consequences we can assign. That’s when we move from the parental authority mode to the parental mentor mode. I have loved making that transition.
  4. Never let your kids beat you in any game, and celebrate when they finally do it. After that . . . it’s on.
  5. One of the hardest moments in our life was dropping our youngest child off at college. Jill and I are extremely happy in our empty nest, and we miss our kids terribly. To me, that means I’ve been lucky in marriage and child raising.
  6. Thanksgiving is by far my most favorite holiday. It’s the only day truly focused on family, with the added layer of celebrating family through cooking and food. What’s not to love?
  7. Albus Dumbledore said, “It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Ability can open doors, but good choices and hard work are what can lead to success. Parenting is about making and modeling good choices for your children, and guiding your children to do the same in their lives.


  1. Do the best you can to save at least 10% of your salary, and when you get a raise, use part of that to increase your savings. It’s easier to save when you never felt like you had the money in the first place. Read Rich Dad Poor Dad by Richard Kyosaki, and make your children read it when they become teenagers.
  2. Don’t be afraid to change jobs. I’ve applied for many new jobs. Those applications have been both unsuccessful and successful, eventually leading to a career spanning seven jobs in five different school districts. I have absolutely no regrets.
  3. I am at my best when I spend one hour a week prioritizing my activities for the week, and 10 minutes each morning prioritizing my activities for the day. Steven Covey’s Big Rocks lesson is timeless.
  4. For those of us who are actually working to make the world a better place, and in doing so suffer the slings and arrows of critics, Theodore Roosevelt’s The Man in the Arena speech can give us strength.
  5. Marie Kondo has shown me the light. Without going overboard, we should all make the effort to minimize the “stuff” we have, keeping only what we truly love, and making our homes and offices more simple and organized in the process. Then we need to do our best to not undo what we’ve done.
  6. The Lego Movie was spot on. Everything is cool when you’re part of a team. I’m lucky to have been a part of so many wonderful teams in my career. One of the best things about going back to work as a superintendent has been getting to know and work with a new team of educational leaders who inspire me and make me better each and every day.
  7. I don’t think that a career has to give you purpose in life, but my goodness, I feel so fortunate that my career has given me four decades of a purpose-driven life.
  8.  Do everything you can to avoid credit card debt. Suffer through not having stuff you want (and sometimes need), pay off your balances, and live within your means.
  9. Dance like nobody’s watching, and email like it will be on the front page of the LA Times the next day.
  10. Winston Churchill was right when he said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” For all of its problems, past and present, I feel extremely fortunate to be an American.


  1. A good marriage gives a person the strength to deal with just about anything.
  2. My mom’s unconditional love helped me to believe in myself, even back in middle school when I had very little going for me. I would not be who I am without that love. Thanks, Mom.
  3. Love is the greatest risk of all, and the pain associated with having a loved one be ripped out of your life is unimaginable. But . . . We can survive the unimaginable. In fact, if we let ourselves, we can thrive.
  4. Knowing we are not alone in our battles makes those battles more manageable.
  5. Jean Valjean had it right: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think!

– Mike

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