31 Lessons to Teach my Son before I Die


Father and son

I was thinking the other day about the man I hope my son will one day be. I was imagining him with the qualities I hope he acquires.

And then I wondered if I was adequately teaching him the traits I envisioned him having. A sense of urgency to be sure the lessons are taught while I’m still here to teach them swept over me.

This is the result …

31 Principles of Life

1. Life doesn’t dictate your attitude. But your attitude dictates how you’ll experience life. Changing your attitude will always be the shortest and most permanent route to changing your life.

2. Love and forgive. The degree to which you are able to truly love as an expression of your character, not merely as a feeling, the more you will be willing to forgive. The more you are able to forgive, the more you will be free to love. They go hand-in-hand.

3. You won’t want to go through life tied to your own history, to the mistakes you’ve made, the former people you’ve associated with, the problems of the past. So don’t hold others to theirs.

4. Learn to laugh at your own mistakes, mishaps, imperfections and ego. Everyone else is anyway. And you will eventually. So why not do it preemptively in real time?

5. Invest regularly in your own human capital, in the development of your ability and talents, in your knowledge and education. Learn every day. Don’t rely exclusively on formal modes of education. Learn on your own. Get excited about it. Read. Study. Challenge yourself. Develop. Improve. There will be no investment that pays greater dividends. Remember, opportunity is a byproduct of ability and ability is the residue of knowledge put to action. So skimping on knowledge circumscribes opportunity.

6. Control your thoughts. They are pregnant with the rest of your life. (<– Tweet this)

7. Be loyal to your friends. Be deeply loyal to your family. Be fiercely loyal to truth.

8. You are an amazing creation of a God who knows and loves you. You can therefore rise to any height you’re willing to climb. You have the potential inside right now, as you are, for something so much more than most people settle for. So don’t settle. The greatest views in life are from on top the highest mountains. The highest mountains are those that are climbed the least often by the fewest people. Climb the highest mountains. Even if you don’t reach the summit, the view from halfway up is better than from the bottom of the mountain you never started climbing.

9. Be sure people always come before things. Never let your family be the sacrificial lamb you place at the altar of other pursuits.

10. Happiness is the natural consequence of living your life consistent with the universal principles upon which a happy life is predicated. While there certainly is subjectivity in happiness, there are objective conditions that must be present in the happy life at its highest form. Discover those universal principles of happiness, work at consistently living by them, and enjoy reaping some pretty amazing results.

11. Always be true to yourself so you never feel the need to be false to anyone else. (<– Tweet this)

12. The mind is sacred ground, so treat it that way. Take only worthy things into it. Reject that which corrodes and corrupts and demeans and dirties. Treat your mind like a sponge that never releases its liquid, whose very fibers are stained with the color of its thoughts. The mind will absorb whatever you feed it; It will retain the filth as much as the noble. So fill it with those ideas, thoughts and images you would want to have reflected in the mirror of your life. Because over time, it will be.

13. Cultivate wisdom, lead with compassion, learn with humility, act with courage.

14. Seek to love more than be loved and you will be loved much more than if you seek it directly.

15. If you put God first, everything else will fit into the right place at the right time and in the right amount.

16. The greatest battles you will ever wage will be on the battleground of your own soul. We are dual-natured. We have noble impulses and ignoble ones. Feed the noble and starve the ignoble. That’s a battle you must win. Your happiness and self-respect rely on it.

17. Make the things that matter most in life the things that matter most in your life. Limit the time you spend spinning your wheels in the sand of the unimportant and trivial. And never let the important derail your pursuit of the most important.

18. Passion comes as much from how you approach the work in front of you as in the particular type of work that happens to be there. Cultivate passion for what you do. It transforms it into something you love doing.

19. Remember to regularly check the oil in your car, the batteries in your flashlight and the integrity in your character. (<– Tweet this)

20. The easiest way to love what you do is to do what you love. The second easiest way isn’t too bad either. It’s to get really good at doing it. Competence tends to breed passion. And passion makes work something less like work and more like fulfilling a life-mission. Not a bad way to go about making a living.

21. Never do in private what you wouldn’t want the public to find out about. And these days, they’re likely to find out anyway. Someone will likely Facebook it by the end of the day!

22. Live life like it was the only one you were going to get and like it mattered how you lived it.

23. Character is a much more accurate voice exclaiming who you are than popularity, personality or status. So let your moral character speak so loudly no one can hear the gossip spoken about you by lesser minds.

24. Do what matters most first. Then, if you run out of energy, time or means, you will at least have accomplished the things that matter most – which is more than most people will be able to say.

25. Procrastination is the best way to make bad things worse and good things bad. (<– Tweet this)

26. Beware the thistles of Pride and Selfishness. But never confuse them with the blossoms of Confidence and Self-respect. Root out the former and water the latter.

27. In relationships, two halves never make a whole. They only make two broken halves desperately clinging to each other in the vain hope that by virtue of the union, they become complete. Don’t look for an incomplete half to fix. Bottomless pits of need never make very reliable friends or spouses or parents. Look for a spouse who will make a great parent to your future kids. Date with that in mind. You will never marry someone you don’t date, so don’t date someone you would never marry.

28. You have a moral duty to discover the principles of happiness and work at applying them throughout your life. You will be a better spouse, a better parent, and closer friend a more neighborly neighbor, a kinder employer, and better employee and citizen for doing so.

29. If you can’t sing, sing anyway. If you can’t dance, dance anyway. Life is too short to be concerned with what other people think of your song and say about your dance.

30. Let patience be your first response, kindness be your first reply, courage be your default setting, faith be your first inclination, curiosity be your first question, perseverance be your longest answer, gratitude be your spontaneous condition and love be your first, final and only method.

31. And finally, my dear son, know that my heart will always be filled with you. I will be a part of the fabric of your life because my thoughts will have been taught, my example will have been seen and my love will have been felt your whole life. And while my words and example and love will have been flawed, they will have indicated a way of living, of thinking and believing, even if imperfectly, that I hope illuminates a path that entices you to the greatest adventure you will ever have.



  • What’s on your list of lessons you would want to teach your son or daughter?
  • It would be awesome if you would share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Photo by me (me and my son last year)