24 Things I’ve Learned in 24 Years

In honor of the vaguely esteemed and unimaginably vain Matthew Cole Madeiro, now on the tail end of his twenty-fourth birthday celebrations. When pressed with the question “and what have you learned?” Madeiro was quick to offer the list that follows:

1. Make every day count. My life mantra. This is my Big Deal — the four words that keep me smiling, walking, and trying to make a difference.

2. Common sense is not common. If it were, I wouldn’t be writing this post.

3. Ask the (damn) question. Consider this: feeling dumb/stupid/silly, you can hold that question in. Alternatively, you can risk it all, raise your hand, and ask someone who knows the answer. Do the former, and nothing changes. You still feel dumb/stupid/silly. Do the latter, and you risk momentary embarrassment to learn something in the process. Which makes more sense?

4. Don’t be afraid to change. If there’s any one facet of yourself that you don’t like, change it — take the steps necessary to correct the behavior. Your genetics, I’m glad to say, do not dictate how you live your life, and your parents’ approach does not have to match your own.

5. Don’t be afraid to apologize. It hurts, sometimes. It can suck. But a simple “I’m sorry” goes tremendous lengths toward saving the situation, and being able to admit when you’re wrong — that you’re not perfect — might just be key to surviving this world with your sanity intact.

6. Look back with a smile. I’ve been a sappy poet, a middle-class emo kid, and a nose-to-book library fanatic at varying points in my life. The first two are (more than) a wee bit embarrassing, but I try and look back with a smile — knowing they’ve helped shape who I am today, and knowing that all these different phases make me so incredibly, delicately human above all else.

7. Eat everything (at least once). Even the fried grasshoppers. Even the head cheese. Even the ant egg guacamole. If you only get one shot at this big, blustering, beautiful thing called life, why wouldn’t you try and explore every part of it? Why not cultivate an adventurous spirit? (This might apply to more than just food).

8. Listen to bad music. You know that modern pop song that secretly makes you want to dance? You know that song that everyone publicly craps on, but you not-so publicly enjoy? Embrace it. Three to four minutes of happiness, I think, are always worth having — even if they come from something all the cool kids like to hate.

9. You don’t always have to eat. Whether you’re hip to fasting or not, the point stands: if you’re not hungry, you don’t have to eat. No one is forcing that fork into your mouth. And it’s better, I think, to risk upsetting a friend for all of five minutes than to let peer pressure put something unhealthy on your plate.

10. Go to bed. Proper sleep is one of the few things that we truly, absolutely need, so why in the world do we sit awake in bed and check our Facebook feeds instead?

11. You can’t do everything. But you can damn well try.

12. It’s okay to cry. Don’t let any societal misconceptions about manliness, ruggedness, nor torrential levels of testosterone convince you otherwise. If you can watch the first 15 minutes of Up and not shed a single tear, please submit yourself to science.

13. “Being thin and eating bacon is a lot better than being fat and eating bread.” You knew Paleo would creep up somewhere, right?

14. Take pleasure in simplicity. The simple things, I promise, will last you a lot longer than everything else.

15. Nothing is black and white. Don’t let the media or modern American politics suggest otherwise. If twenty-four years have proven anything, it’s this: the sooner you accept that life is complex, messy, and multicolored, the better — and happier — you’ll be.

16. Don’t forget to say thanks. For your friends, for your family, for every single part of your life that has helped you become who you are today. Personally speaking, I owe a lifetime of gratitude to my mother and father, both of whom have sacrificed a tremendous amount to raise my brother and myself in the kind of household that encouraged our growth.

17. Do the work. Success only rarely happens by accident. The formula to create it, in fact, tends to involve just two ingredients: lots and lots of work, and doing it well. This is a good thing.

18. Keep your phone in your pocket. We’ve come to rely on them as easy escapes — easy ways to distract ourselves whenever we’re bored, uncomfortable, etc. Rather than falling back to your iPhone, then, why not try and actively change the situation? Why not try and live life, then, instead of reading other people’s tweets about it?

19. The world is not out to get you. It’s easy to think otherwise, sure, when TV and the media paint life in a pretty harsh light: a murder on every corner, seething violence in the big city, and every dark alley a home to something that most definitely wants you dead. This might come as a surprise, but you’re not surrounded by villains. The people around you, in fact, are far more similar than you might think: a little nervous, a little hungry, and desperately wanting to be happy — and, y’know, alive — for as long as possible.

20. Slow down. We get wrapped up in this life of productivity, going as fast as possible from the minute we first sit up in bed. Here’s a different take: go slow. Realize that nothing happens overnight, and realize too that you have a long, full life to accomplish everything you’d like to do. (Coincidentally, I am terrible at this).

21. Don’t be afraid to take a break. Following from the point above, don’t be afraid to take some time off and recharge. It’s not a weakness, it’s not indicative of a massive character flaw on your part, and it’s most definitely not going to derail your progress. It will let you recharge, however, which is too often a process we reserve for our electronics and nothing else.

22. Never stop learning. That’s easier said than done given the plentiful ways we have to distract ourselves, but the Internet is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s a portal to a land of lost time, pointless status updates, and Facebook stalking, and on the other it’s a learning tool like no other in this world. Choose wisely.

23. You get one shot. That’s debatable, sure, but the idea is a useful one. Realize that you might only get one shot at this and act accordingly. Work hard, play hard, and try and expose yourself to as many things — as many ideas, dishes, countries and personalities — as possible. I think I’d rather look back on a long, full life than one spent too afraid to live it.

24. Be kind to yourself. If there were one message I could imprint on every person, young and old, who populates this planet, this would be it. We’re human, right? For better and for worse, for good and for really, really bad, we’re all emotional creatures — prone to mistakes, prone to accidents, and prone to never forgive ourselves for both. Don’t do that. You’re stuck with yourself for the rest of your life, so why not try and get along?

What’s on your list? Sound off below!


  1. Rebecca (giddyfreckles.co.uk) says:

    I LOVE this. Particularly the point about common sense not being quite so common… :)

    Also, number 24. ‘Kindness’ is my word for 2012. I hope to be kinder to myself, and allow myself to make my heart happy. To really listen to my soul and follow my instincts. To truly write my own life script for once.

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Perfect, Rebecca. :) That’s exactly it: allow yourself to be happy, now, and to convey that kindness through your every thought and action in life.

  2. Lee says:

    Matt, you’re amazingly wise for a “kid” young enough to be my grandson. In fact, you’re just amazingly wise, period. Happy New Year to you!

  3. Jen says:

    I concur with Lee, you are amazing! You give me hope in today’s youth. I have a 21 year old, and let’s just say I read your post to encourage me to believe that he too will grow up one day. What do you think your parents did to help promote wisdom, maturity and faith?

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      That’s a great question, Jen, that I’ve been kicking around over these last few days.

      I think it comes down to two factors:

      1. Curiosity. I read books like nobody’s business as a child, a habit which my parents encouraged by reading to me nearly every night when I was a kid. My appetite for books, subsequently, became an appetite for knowledge — an unending desire to know more, see more, do more, etc., and to do my best work at everything I can do.

      2. Support. My parents have given me unconditional support in some of my wackier adventures (California, traveling alone through Eastern Europe, a wild two weeks in Mexico, etc.), the end result of which is that I believe, wholly and unwaveringly, that I can do anything. All of that travel, too, made me realize just how little I know about the world, which I suspect is a kind of maturity in itself.

      I know there are a dozen other things that have come into play, but I believe those two take top honors. The rest are bits and pieces I’ve picked up throughout life: a firm resolve to never settle, an inherent tendency to study my own actions and reactions and try to change them for the better, and the sometimes stark realization that this is it — this is my one chance to live one hell of a meaningful life.

      I’m not overly religious, see, so I’m left with an interesting idea: I have to make this one life count as much as I possibly can. That’s a little morbid, I guess, but it keeps me moving, and it keeps me hungry for everything I can possibly uncover.

      This answer rapidly turned useless, haha. But maybe it’ll help? :)

  4. Heather says:

    Great list! I love your posts & they always seem to come at a time when I need an extra boost!

  5. Pippa * Jeanne says:

    Great post, Matt, I’m keeping this bookmarked!

  6. Kelly says:

    It’s perfect. Thank you for another amazing post.

  7. Laurie says:

    Brilliant list, Matt…I love #8! I was a little kid in the 70′s, and will always love disco ;)

    I also love #3, it’s one I’m really wanting to get better at. Questions keep life from stagnating. i want to get better at asking them, and honestly answering them when asked.

    On my own list this year is “Allow other people and situations to be as they are.” They will anyway, no matter what we think! There is such peace in acceptance and non-judgment (and probably more room for constructive change, as well)

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Thanks, Laurie. :) #3 is difficult for me as well, but there’s a certain bliss in being able to ask without any worries or concerns for self-image.

  8. Gip @ So Much More Life says:

    I was 39 on Christmas, and that’s a strange age to contemplate. On your list, I disagree with number 7 and especially like number 8 and number 24.

    I wonder if I’ve learned 39 things yet?

  9. Gaye Dimmick says:

    I love your list….I am going to add to it for the 51 things I have learned in 51 years

  10. Mia says:

    Love it!

    I just gotta say, I walked out during the first 15 minutes of watching Up on DVD. It was too, too sad. Walked back in for the ending and still cried just hearing what had happened. Anyone who doesnt cry at the start of that movie isn’t worth knowing.

    Other than that, I love your wisdom, it’s a great list! xx

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      I know, right? Up surprised me for the first 15 minutes alone, but I’m starting to think it might be the best (and most emotional) film that Pixar has put out yet.

  11. Francesco says:

    Great post Matt,

    Keep sharing your wisdom, I will try to follow all but two or three of the points on your list :-)


  12. Moriarty Lecter says:

    Hi Mate!

    Such a wonderful post! I am really look forward for one more book from you.:)

  13. Grace says:

    Lesson 15 and 24 are very important to me. They make life better, more interesting, and compassionate. Thanks for sharing all the wisdom you’ve gained in your 24 years!