50 Life Lessons in 50 Years

Today I embark on my 2nd half-century on the planet. With acknowledgement to all of the wonderful people who have served as my sources of education and inspiration, here are a few lessons I’ve learned from the first 50 years: 

Relationships, Parenting, Family & Friends

1.   FIND PEOPLE WHO SHARE YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR. The 2 most important people in my life laugh at the same things that I laugh at. Everything else is easier when you have that going for you.

2.   JUST BE PRESENT WHEN NEEDED. You don’t have to be perfect to be a great friend or family memberCCortello 015 Fam 3 Gens (father, mother, sister, brother, aunt, uncle…) – You just have to be there. Showing up, in good times and bad, despite their shortcomings, is 80% of what they need.

3.   THINK BEFORE YOU ACT. YOUR KIDS ARE WATCHING. Everything you do affects your children. If you have kids, pause and think before you act. The greatest impact you can have on the planet is raising a thoughtful, compassionate, hard-working member of the next generation.

4.   LIFE MUST BE LIVED, NOT JUST TAUGHT. We want to protect our children from mistakes, failure, heartache, and pain. But in the end, we have to let them live their own lives, because amidst all of those emotions and experiences are life’s greatest lessons…But you have to live ’em to learn ’em.

5.   PARENTS DON’T HAVE ALL OF THE ANSWERS. Children, have compassion for your parents. We are endlessly seeking answers to all of life’s questions just like you, and we don’t have as much time left to figure it out.

6.   GIVE HUGS OFTEN, SAY I LOVE YOU, AND GATHER TOGETHER. I was fortunate enough to be born into an extended family that lives by those principles. If you aren’t that lucky, be the person who starts changingCCortello 016 KCC your family culture.



9.   PEOPLE ARE ASSETS, but not all have the same strengths. Don’t judge others or condescend because they don’t think, act, or achieve in the same way that you do. Everybody can operate at genius levels in some capacity (Brian Tracy), and you can learn something from everyone you meet. I’m a relatively talented musician and a decent writer, but lift the hood of my car and my sheltie and I have roughly the same chance of diagnosing the problem.

10.  LET GO OF YOUR GRUDGES. That person you resent, envy, or despise isn’t wasting a moment obsessing over YOU. Holding onto those emotions is like drinking poison and hoping they get sick. Move on.


Life, Attitude, and Well-Being

11.  LIFE’S SIMPLE PLEASURES ARE THE BEST. If you can’t find joy in the simple things in life, the joy you find in fancy, expensive things won’t last.

12.  THIS IS THE TIME TO REMEMBER (BILLY JOEL). If I’d have known how much time I’d spend with CCortello 009 IA Fest Bebopfamily and friends reminiscing about and fondly remembering days gone by, I would have appreciated them more at the time. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking life will get better when I achieve this or acquire that. All we have is this moment in time.

13.  LIVE CURIOUSLY. New experiences will give you a reason to look forward to tomorrow. Observations will provide a compass for finding opportunity.

14.  DO SOMETHING CREATIVE EVERY DAY. Creative ability is like a muscle – it either strengthens with use or withers with inactivity. And there are few things more gratifying than creating something from your own imagination that never existed previously, whether it’s a song, a painting, or a new business.

CCortello 006 Kim-Date15.  KARMA IS REAL…and it can cut both ways. Treat everyone with respect. When you find yourself possessing skills and/or experiences that others on the planet are in need of, answer the call and trust that the rewards will come.

16.  TAKE CHANCES. The safe choice short-term is often the dangerous choice long-term. Take chances – calculated and thoughtfully planned, but take chances.


18.  YOU EITHER LIVE A LIFE BASED ON LOVE OR FEAR. MOVE TOWARD LOVE. Your happiness will be determined by which one controls your actions the greatest percentage of time – Love or Fear (Google “Jim Carrey commencement speech” for a more eloquent commentary, or watch the Albert Brooks movie Defending Your Life).

19.  INTUITION IS A POWERFUL VOICE. Once upon a time people who followed their gut instinct or intuition were seen as “just winging it” in life. There’s a growing school of thought that intuition is your subconscious processing all of your past experiences in order to help guide you in your decisions in life. Prior to making CCortello 003 CJDmost of the poor decisions in your life, wasn’t there usually a voice inside of you saying, “What are you doing!?” Take time to get away from the noise in your life, do a little introspection, and don’t ignore that voice of intuition.

20.  IF YOU’RE ANGRY, LOOK WITHIN. That’s usually the source.

21.  DON’T BE TOO PROUD TO ASK FOR HELP. If you’re suffering or engaged in destructive behaviors, reach out for help. It takes courage to suck it up, forget your past and move on. It takes greater courage to confront your issues head on and CCortello 002 Fam-3understand how your fears and insecurities are affecting you today. Scrap your pride. It’s too important to you and the people around you.

22.  FOLLOW YOUR OWN DREAMS. The greatest limitations are those imaginary, psychological ones we place on ourselves when we say “I can’t.” Once you’ve made up your mind to accomplish something, every other obstacle is just a speed bump.

23.  START WORKING ON YOUR DREAM TODAY. In the last 10 years I’ve written and independently published 2 books and recorded a 12-song CD with 6 originals. I get exhausted just thinking about the work it took, and I’m not sure I could do it again. WHAT DID I LEARN?

CCortello 011EdDebChiNo one ever says they aren’t going to accomplish things important to them, they just put them off one day at a time until it’s too late (quote from unknown source). Just do a little bit at a time, but GET STARTED TODAY, and DO A LITTLE EVERYDAY. In 3 years you’ll either say “I’m so happy I started 3 years ago” or you’ll be in the same place you are today. The time will pass anyway, but tomorrow is guaranteed to no one. GET STARTED.

24.  HELP OTHERS, BUT DON’T FORGET YOURSELF. You’re no good to others if you’re not mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy.

25.  DON’T COMPLAIN OR CRITICIZE. We all do, but I find the less I do it, the more peaceful I am.


27.  LIFE ISN’T ALWAYS EASY. In fact, sometimes it’s miserable. Work through it and trust that you are gaining skills and knowledge that will serve you and those around you well when you need them the most.

28.  THE WEIGHT IS OVER. Like most people, my weight has varied (across about a 20 lb. range) most of my adult life. It’s a never-ending battle, but here’s my 2 cents on losing weight: 1) Snacking is inevitable, so keep healthy food around. 2) When eating out, always leave something on the plate to take home, no matter how small. 3) A little larger portion of protein, a little smaller portion of carbs. 4) Soft drinks are my Achilles, but try to substitute water or tea instead on occasion. 5) Treat yourself every once in a while, and don’t beat yourself up when you do. 6) If you’re eating as a comfort to soothe emotional issues, the last 5 tips are useless. Refer back to life lesson #21.

CCortello 008 Fam-3 SBS Grad29.  KEEP YOUR PROMISES AND APOLOGIZE QUICKLY WHEN YOU DON’T. Trust is difficult to earn, and easy to lose. Live up to your promises in life and apologize quickly when you don’t – principles that are simple but not easy.

30.  NO DRESS REHEARSALS IN LIFE. My cousin Joseph always says, “There are no dress rehearsals in life.” He’s right. This is the real deal. Seize the moment. Live with the intention of ensuring that you’ll have no regrets about things you didn’t try, say, or accomplish in life.

31.  BE COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR IMPERFECTIONS, YOUR PAST, AND YOUR MISTAKES. Humans are insecure and so afraid of showing our imperfections and struggles. So we put on a facade and hope the world doesn’t see us for who we are. What a shame and oh, the irony. Our flaws are precisely what make us human, CCortello 012 Craig-Kim Mardi Grasand sharing those imperfections and struggles can be the greatest source of comfort to others. Forgive yourself and stop beating yourself up over your decisions from the past. Until you learn to love yourself, you won’t find satisfaction from anyone or anything else.

32.  GET BACK IN THE RING. KEEP PUNCHING. When life beats you down, just keep answering the bell. If you just keep swinging in life, you will eventually land a few knockout punches, guaranteed.

33.  CELEBRATE YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS. Sometimes we’re so focused on the next goal, the daunting task ahead, and the challenges confronting us that we forget how much we’ve accomplished. Make a list and reflect on occasion. It will give you the energy you need to press on toward your next success.



34.  NEVER STOP LEARNING. Pay for training if you need it. Read a book. Watch how-to videos. It’s never been easier to find learning resources. Your employer owes you nothing but the paycheck for services rendered.

CCortello 010 Leadership Challenge35.  FIND YOUR “ELEMENT” IN LIFE. When you are in your “Element,” work energizes you. When you are not, work drains the life out of you. Find the work and activities in life that put you in your Element and pursue them relentlessly. The world doesn’t need another miserable nine-to-fiver. (See the book The Element by Sir Ken Robinson or anything else he’s written, said, or done)

36.  FIND PEOPLE WHO ARE SUCCESSFUL and who have the skills and attitudes you hope to attain and hang around them, talk to them, or just read about them. It’s a cliché, but you can’t learn to fly with the eagles by hanging around with turkeys.

37.  PASSION + APTITUDE + VOCATION = SUCCESS. There are things you love to do, things in life you’re good at, and things that you can earn a living doing. If you find something that fits in all 3 categories, you’ve hit the jackpot.CCortello 013 UConn Book

38.  PUT IN THE WORK. Choose a vocation that you find rewarding, but understand that not every hour of every day is an exercise in self-actualization and fulfillment. Sometimes you just have to do grunt work and make sacrifices until you’re valuable to your company and your customers.

39.  LUCK = PREPARATION + OPPORTUNITY. Luck happens at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. People who complain about other people who are lucky wouldn’t know an opportunity if it hit them in the head and haven’t done anything to be able to capitalize on it anyway.

40.  FOCUS AND FINISH. Multi-tasking is a fallacy and a buzz word. I’m much more productive when I focus, don’t get distracted from the task at hand, and see it through to completion. 


41.  OWN A DOG. No creature spreads happiness so generously and unconditionally.

CCortello 004 CD42.  MUSIC IS MAGICAL. Playing and listening to music can be as spiritual an experience as there is on earth, and the benefits are immeasurable.

43.  MY FAVORITE THINGS. Pelicans in flight, Spumoni from Angelo Brocato’s, writing, songwriting, my son’s laughter, my wife’s smile, waves hitting the beach, clouds, comedies (Groundhog Day, Tommy Boy, My Blue Heaven, Napoleon Dynamite, Let it Ride), streetcars, sunsets, guitars, pianos, The Beatles, Steely Dan, Todd Rundgren, dogs, the view of Jackson Square from Washington Artillery Park, helping a customer make the right purchase, Bocce Ball, Fantasy Football, A golf course early in the morning, family gatherings, and a breeze coming off Lake Pontchartrain – These are a few of my favorite things.

44.  NEW ORLEANS IS A TREASURE. With all of its flaws and quirks, New Orleans and its people are among the greatest treasures in the world. I’m thankful everyday to live in the midst of such a unique setting and population. The resilience demonstrated in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is a source of immense pride.CCortello 014 LP Book



45.  GOD BLESSES THE WORKING MAN. There are people who wake up every day and do real work – physical, exhausting, demanding work in sometimes extreme conditions over long hours for less money than they CCortello 005 Fam-3 Saintsdeserve so that the rest of us can enjoy life’s creature comforts. God bless them all. And if they get to cut in line at the Pearly Gates and get better seats than me at Heaven’s Auditorium, well they’ve earned it.

46.  PRAY FOR STRENGTH, NOT FOR ANSWERS. This one comes from Mother Theresa. If you’re not a spiritual person, read it anyway. You can still learn from those who are:

“I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”

~ Mother Teresa


When All is Said and Done…

47.  YOUR LIFE IS YOUR OWN. When you’re on your deathbed the only person who has to be happy with the life you’ve chosen and the decisions you’ve made is you. People-pleasing for their reasons and not yours is a recipe for misery.CCortello 001 SB Fam

48.  IT’S THE SMALL ACTIONS THAT MAKE A LARGE LIFE. In life, everyone wants to accomplish something on a grand scale to achieve a certain level of recognition, fame, or immortality. But when it’s all said and done, your life is more a collection of millions of small moments and actions. The sum of your actions during those moments and the impact you have on the world and others – That’s your legacy.

Groundhog Day is one of my favorite movies of all time because it illustrates that principle so well. Do the best you can each and every moment, be the best person you can be in whatever small way you can, and each action is a ripple that becomes a wave of goodwill.

49.  SHARE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED WITH OTHERS. If you’ve lived on this planet for a couple of decades or more, you’ve learned something valuable that can benefit others. Life would be better in a world full of educators. Share your knowledge and experience generously before it’s too late.


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