You never know when a new life lesson is about to occur. You can't plan for them.  They just seem to sneak up on you when you least expect them. There are times I wish they had come a bit earlier in life to save me from my foolishness or, at the very least, from the wasted time and energy of learning things the hard way.

All that being said, I am very grateful for all the lessons that have helped me on my journey. Some of the lessons I share below were harder than others to grasp. Some I didn't learn until after I was 40. And I am sure there are new ones coming after next year when I turn 50.

Here are seven of my biggest lessons for success. Although it would have been nice to learn them earlier, I'm glad to have them in my back pocket now.

1. Collect People

I've always been a pretty good networker. I'm not overly social, but I do like interaction with interesting people, and I like to help where I can. I often meet successful people, but it takes time to establish mutual trust and interest. It wasn't until age 40 that many of the people I had known for 15+ years reached positions of power and success. Maintaining relationships with peers has brought great help in times of need and great opportunities along my journey. Cultivate relationships in a genuine and generous manner, and those people will continue to support your efforts for success.

2. Plant Seeds

Another realization I gained at 40 was the value of time--not as a commodity, but as an ally.  In my youth, I wanted to outsmart the process so I could speed the path to success. Now I use the passage of time to my advantage. Some of the most amazing things in life develop gradually. Great business models and effective marketing programs can take 3 to 5+ years to develop.  That seems too long for today's impatient millennials, but time invested becomes a barrier to entry for competitors. Looking back, I am fascinated by the way that seeds I planted unknowingly more than a decade ago now bear valuable fruit. These days, I happily use my perspective to plan for harvests decades from now.

3. The Only Approval You Need is Your Own

Early on, I constantly battled against insecurities. I needed accomplishments for reassurance and rarely felt confidence from success. I wasted time and energy being uncomfortable in my own skin. It wasn't until my first book in 2004 that I believed my public credibility was worthy and began to relax a bit. Only when heeding a good friend's advice to simply "Decide to be confident" did the path to success become less fettered and distracted. Today I only seek my own approval and attract people who appreciate what I have to offer. The rest are welcome to look for guidance elsewhere.

4. Desire Outweighs Potential

As an entrepreneur, I see potential in everything and everybody. As an employer, this got me into terrible trouble. I would hire people on potential without checking desire. Of course nearly every applicant wanted the job, even when they didn't. Then in 90 days, the excitement of the new job wore off, and we all realized we made a horrible mistake. I now put people through rigorous testing for desire (including myself) when new opportunities arise. Spend time thinking of the implications down the road. Don't ask the question Can I do that? Ask the question Should I do that?

5. Pay Yourself First

This sounds like a selfish approach, but actually it is a logical one. However generous you want to be, you really can't help others from a position of weakness ... just like in an airplane, where you're told to secure your own oxygen mask before helping a child. To offer legitimate guidance and support, you must be strong, stable and secure financially and emotionally. The easiest way to get there is to set your materialistic needs low, secure a happy home life and maintain a healthy body. Then, and only then, will you be ready to help others selflessly and abundantly.

6.  Civility Is Strength

As a New Yorker, I know what it means to live around rudeness. And while I thrive on the directness of my fellow city dwellers, there is a time to sit back and let things pass. Being polite and cordial or even passive doesn't automatically make you a doormat. You don't have to be rude or pushy to get what you want or to appear strong. And you certainly don't have to fight every battle. Today, I find that I accomplish more by allowing others to panic and get excited. Then I weigh in with careful thought and consideration. Before you get anxious and jump into the fray, ask yourself: Is this the highest and best use of my time and energy?

7.  Appreciate Every Experience

I've had my share of good times and bad. It's been a bumpy ride, to say the least. But I have yet to live a day where I didn't learn something, connect with someone of value or observe inspiring beauty. And for that, I am always grateful. I hope you are too.

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