If you are following my Instagram or know me as a person then you know I am more about visuals than words. But I manage to write and share my personal thoughts here with you, every now and then.

mustafa sheikh 30 lessons i learned in my 30s
@mustafa_sheikh

Last year I turned 30. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into a whole year. All that fast-paced life barely allows you to sit and reflect and suddenly I see we are at the end of May 2020. Just a few months away from my next birthday again.

However, what’s been different this year is the world-wide lockdown. It did massive damage to the world, and to the individuals. But what it also did is that it gave us all that time, to slow down and to take a break. Like a chance to watch life 120 FPS slow motion.

I have been working from home for almost two months now. Every morning I get to sit by a window with natural light, city views a cup of tea. A perfect workstation, as well as a sweet spot for all my thoughts. Which brought me to the question, what all did I learn? In 30 years of my life, almost 10 years of working as a commercial visual artist.

All the experiences, from personal, and my work life. All that, why don’t I just list them down somewhere. So here it is:

1. Your worth is what you believe your worth is

You define your worth. Put your best quality work out there but also charge for the best quality. In the last year, I issued invoices of $200 and also $22,000. What brand image you create of yourself is up to you. However, it is very important to remember that if you claim to be one of the best. You should also aim to deliver the best results. Give your clients one of the best results they have ever seen (especially if you practice freelance and are in any sort of visual art form). Set high standards for yourself and always try to do better than the last time. Then cash all that effort as your brand image.

2. Strangers and friends might be there for you more than your family.

You may deny it but it’s true. Maybe I was just lucky, but I had friends who did for me more than my very close relatives. Keep the good ones close to you. Also, with a wise group of friends, you’ll be lucky to learn a thing or two about life, keep that with you forever.

3. You don’t have to be drunk to have fun

In my opinion it is a misconception that you have to be drunk to have fun (similar applies for any sort of drugs). I always loved good music and was fortunate to attend some of the biggest music festivals in the past years. I had a great time, had lots of fun and all that without alcohol. Don’t get caught up in the “Let’s get drunk” gang. Have fun your way. Your liver will thank you later.

4. You can outgrow people or an organization

It’s quite possible. As you move forward, there will be times when you feel you no more belong to that group of friends or the company you work in. Your goals are different now. Your perspective of life has changed. It’s not equivalent to ditching someone. It’s simply that you grew out. The same can happen with the organization you work for. The skills you might have to offer may not be really needed in the organization you work for. Maybe all they need are robots and monkeys. If you have more to offer but it’s not appreciated, you have simply outgrown and there’s nothing wrong with that.

A simple example could be, imagine you are an IT expert. However, you work at a real estate company and you do a data entry job. With your skill, you could give them a real estate online portal. But the organization doesn’t need you to do it, all they want you to do is enter clients data and prepare the worksheets. You get paid just fine for it but you know you could have put your skills to better use if you worked, let’s say for Microsoft. That’s simply because you have outgrown. The next step is to meet your best fit.

5. Everyone is fighting a war

Be kind and be humble. You may think someone’s just being an a**hole to you or always want problems for you. But what do not know is what they might be going through in their personal life. It might not be easy for them to keep a balance in those circumstances. Be kind. Ask them if there is any way you can help them. If you can’t do any of that, at least just smile.

Just know whatever someone’s doing to you, it’s not that they purely just want to hurt you. Maybe they are fighting a war you are not aware of. Give people a chance. You’ll be surprised how sometimes those “enemies” will turn into some of the great friends you’ll have.

6. You can go broke, times can change real fast, save that money

Did you see the effect of Corona virus on businesses and individuals? Millions have lost their jobs. Huge organizations have wrapped up their business. Massive salary reductions for all industries, around the world.

That’s when we see that the saying “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” is actually quite true.

Always be prepared for the unforeseen, FINANCIALLY. In fact, it is pretty wise to start your saving plans from an early age. In Middle Eastern countries, we do not really have a concept of pensions, so it’s ideal we save a percentage of what we earn. Call it your pension, for you, from you.

7. It takes courage to stand out and not follow the trend, but it’s worth it

Whether its work, social media, art, music, fashion, whatever it is that you do. It is very easy to be a follower. It takes courage to create your own, to be an original. But in the end, it’s all worth it. Instead of following the sheep mentality, try to be original.

8. Without discipline in life, you can achieve nothing

DISCIPLINE is everything. I have never met anyone successful who got there without a disciplined life. Have a schedule, respect, and follow it. It’s acceptable to get lazy sometimes, we all do. But it’s important to not lose the direction altogether. “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”

9. Pencil and paper will never go obsolete

I learned that there’s this connection between hand, human brain and lead pencil on a paper. You start to realize it even more if you draw. But even your life-goals, if you really want to achieve them, write them on paper. Forget about all the techy apps. There’s something about the human brain to hand connection when you write things down. Get yourself a diary, a notebook. Start writing, from your everyday tasks to your long term goals.

10. You cannot make everyone happy unless you are an ice-cream seller.

At work, in personal life, amongst your relatives or friends. It’s not possible to make EVERYONE happy. It’s one of the lessons I learned the hard way.

11. Haters gonna hate, Yeah

Haters are your fans, who are just confused. On your way up, you’ll make friends and you’ll make enemies. You’ll meet lovers and haters. There will always be someone unhappy with what you are doing. And when you are not doing anything, you’ll still have someone talking behind your back anyway.

What other people talk about you behind your back is none of your business. The fact is, maybe in the next 10 years of time, those people may not be even a part of your life. So why care really.

If this doesn’t make sense, go back to point number 10.

12. Keep them guessing

Choose wisely what you share, when, and how much of it you share on the internet. Do not go all-public about your private life. It will save you a lot of headaches. But what’s even more important is to keep your next move always to yourself. Keep them guessing, what’s your next move or your next travel destination, what you had for lunch, your financial or business goals, and just anything else that you can keep private.

13. Don’t be afraid to love

It takes courage to let your guard down. To not build walls around you. But do not be afraid to love and to express it. It can be life-changing when you meet the right person. It also can derive a lot of your life goals and add meaning and reasoning to a lot of things you do.

14. Self-love is first love

If you cannot love yourself, you cannot love anyone else either. It’s just as simple as that, I won’t write a long paragraph about this one 🙂

15. Without great solitude, no serious work is possible

Find a spot, a place where you are with you. You’ll get to learn a lot about yourself, built a connection with yourself. In simple honest words, solitude has always been a superpower for me. I am able to think a lot more clearer. I can come up with the most creative ideas and have better problem-solving strategies. By this, I do not mean for you to isolate yourself from the world. All I am saying is, do not underestimate the power of your alone-time. It can be magical for your brain and for a clear thought process.

16. Diamonds are created under pressure

In 2013 I was reporting to a company’s CEO, who would say, without pressure, one can’t even sh!t! It might sound funny or weird but it was metaphorical of course.

With time I learned, that sometimes only under pressure we can come up with the best of our abilities. Pressure makes us stronger, tougher. With time I also developed the skill to perform under pressure, without any slip-ups.

That’s where I came across this amazing quote by Ernest Hemingway “Courage Is Grace Under Pressure” which means that no matter the circumstances if you can stay calm and focused on the task, and not swayed by emotional outbursts, anxiety or anger, that is real courage.

17. Manners maketh men

Simply, give respect, and get respect. Nobody likes an ill-mannered person. They might not say it on your face but if you are ill-mannered, that’s how people will remember you.

18. Early is On Time, On Time is Late, and Late is Unacceptable!

When you show up late, the message you convey is that the person you are meeting is unimportant. Nobody likes that. If you have known me in person, you’ll know I AM NEVER LATE. In fact, always 15 minutes early. I have lived in some of the world’s busiest cities with the worst traffic conditions, road blockages, and whatnot. Never was I late for a meeting, even if I was to meet a friend for coffee. I have set a rule, no matter who it may be, I never wait for anyone more than 20 minutes (unless they were stuck somewhere and they already notified me). It’s simply because I respect my time.

I respect people enough to show up on the agreed-upon time. I expect the same.

19. Trust in God but tie your camel

Believe in God (if you do) and keep believing. All I am saying is, God (any God) tells you to take safety precautions too. If you go standing in middle of a busy highway, God won’t save you. Believe in whatever you believe, but always take the best precautionary measures that you can.

20. Confidence is quiet insecurity is loud

The quote itself is very self explanatory and it’s actually quite true. Watch out for the people who brag about who they are, their achievements, business skills, etc etc. Remember, a lion will never have to tell you it’s a lion.

21. In a negotiation, never make the first offer

Just one of the famous negotiation tactics taught in many places and published in many papers. If you can, always wait for the opponent to make the first offer.

22. Take the responsibility

It takes courage to take responsibility. At the same time taking smaller responsibilities trains you to be able to take big ones in the future.

Do not run away from responsibility, take it before it takes you.

23. Learn to say NO

It took me almost 28 years to learn this and I am still learning it. If you cannot do something, just don’t agree to do it. If there is something that’s out of your capability, just is straight forward honest about it. If a job or project is not worth your time or effort there is no harm in saying no. If you cannot make it for that birthday dinner. Don’t promise and then not show up. It’s horrible and I must admit I was that person too, at least a few times. I am learning and you can too.

24. Give credit, take the blame

Be the bigger person. It’s very easy to blame someone for your own lacking or a mishap. It takes a courageous person to take the blame (where necessary). But never hesitate or step back from a chance when you can give someone credit for something good that they did. It could be your co-worker, friend, parents, teachers even an online coach who perhaps taught you a thing or two about life. Give that credit.

25. Spend in experiences, not things

First 4 to 5 years in Dubai I was very focused on buying all the latest tech gear I could buy. With time I realized I barely used them after a few months. All that money wasted. Some of those things, in fact, are still packed. The fastest home-based cloud setup, the fastest MacBook Pro, the newest mirrorless camera. I think it was a stupid idea. Things go obsolete after a certain time.

What doesn’t get old are life experiences. I started traveling and sharing my experiences. The stories I always came back with or the moments I can look back to are just PRICELESS. Invest in adventures, in relationships, in experiences.

26. Play with passion or not at all

Do not do things half-heatedly. Game, work, profession, whatever you choose to step in, go full power, or just don’t.

27. You can learn to draw or take photographs

You’ll hear often, this or that person draws so well because they were born with god-gifted talent, or that they went to this art school. It could be true I don’t know, but what I do know, by practice you can be just as good. Hardwork and practice beats talent. Don’t let people tell you otherwise.

If you cannot afford to go to an expensive art school, teach yourself from books, from the internet. If you are not sure of buying that expensive camera today, start with what you have. Start with your phone camera. All you need is that spark of madness.

28. Newton’s Third Law is real

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Choose your actions wisely.

29. There is no shame in not knowing something

That’s just a this Russian proverb:
нет позора в том, что ты не знаешь; позор заключается в том, чтобы не узнать.
There is no shame in not knowing; the shame lies in not finding out.

If you don’t know something, you don’t have to be embarrassed about it or feel any lesser. It’s okay to not know everything. But if you never make an effort to learn it, then there’s the problem.

30. Call or visit your parents whenever you can

Call your parents, they miss you. You are probably all that they have.

I am not a writer but a photographer. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on this article. Please feel free to write your comment below in comment section.

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