Today, I turn 30. People wiser than me have created better lists about what they’ve learned thus far, and I don’t want to be too redundant. But a close friend asked me to share my thoughts, and I couldn’t refuse.
1. Respond with grace.
I’ve always felt incredibly urgent and overly reactive. To counteract this I’ve learned to read the situation and respond with a little more grace. A “thank you” instead of protesting a compliment. An acknowledgement of disagreement or agreement, with a mental note to return to the conversation later if necessary. A calm acceptance of constructive criticism.
Maybe it’s just a scribble, or one word. You’ll thank yourself later — we all think our memory is stronger than it actually is. For more, see Oliver Sacks on writing, via Brain Pickings.
3. It’s ok to be alone.
I’ve learned to love being alone (which is really just spending time with yourself). We contain worlds within that we never bother to explore. Yet we go gallivanting around, hungry to plunder worlds external to us before we even understand ourselves. Find excitement in the self.
4. Be open and kind.
Talk to strangers. Offer to help. Smile often. A friend told me, “Leave the world better than you found it. No matter how small the ‘better’ may be. Never give up trying to do this.”
5. Stay curious and learn as much as you can.
While half asleep the other day, I wrote down: “the ability to learn and love is what makes us human.” What a privilege it is to be able to learn. Read books and look up definitions. Ask questions, even the hard ones with possibly no answers.
6. Say what you mean. If there is something you want, ask for it.
“You don’t have to go” is not the same as “I want you to stay.”
7. Move your body.
Exercise regularly. It matters not how you look doing it, or what you do. Dance to Taylor Swift alone in your room. Lift one dumbbell. Shake your hips while brushing your teeth. Do 5 pushups. Jump on the bed. Start small, and do it daily.
8. Be reverent.
There was this moment when I got out of bed and stood up for the first time after getting hit by a car. I was filled with reverence for the feeling of standing, the ground under my toes, the weight of my body. I told myself I’d never forget it.
Stop for a moment. Look up. Watch the trees and stars as a child would. Study your mother’s hands while she works in her garden. Have reverence for this life’s moments, this earth’s beauty, this body’s incredible form and function.
9. Understand that life’s not a game of musical chairs.
Don’t settle just because you think the music has paused and you feel like everyone else has found the right chair. Find the place, person, career, and rhythm that is right and ready for you.
10. Learn to love the process.
Really, the journey is the reward. It’s daunting to learn new things because being a beginner can be frustrating. Have wonder and learn to love the process of it — cooking, meditating, exercise, foreign languages. Chopping vegetables was terrifying to me, and now it’s a source of calmness.
11. Create and believe in your personal brand of beauty.
I am absolutely still working on this one. The thousands of hours you spend 1) stressing about looking skinny 2) working out to try to be skinnier 3) worrying about what you ate in case it makes you less skinny is not worth the few hours you’ll spend wearing a bikini. Wear what makes you feel like you can be yourself, even if it’s yoga pants daily. Hold your head high. Create beauty from the inside.
12. Don’t be so careful. Be brave and act mighty.
Jump off the diving board. Lose that game of chess. Cry in front of someone. Make a first-try batch of curry that is way too spicy. When she asks you to dance, say yes. Tell him or her “I love you,” even if it terrifies you. Meet boys on subways. Be willing to be thrown off-balance — it may change your life.
13. Be comfortable with the unknown.
Almost nothing is certain except death. Which also means that most things are ephemeral, even if we create ideas of permanence or forevers. The future can be anything. We don’t have to be sure. We don’t have to create false definitions to make ourselves feel better. There’s a whole ocean out there, and the horizon beckons.
14. Remember that love is a renewable resource.
These past five years have brought a lot of heartache into my life. I remain the strangest mix of hopeless romantic and stone-cold cynic about love, but perhaps I want to be convinced that optimism is the right outlook. A friend asked, “Have you ever been deeply in love, had your heart broken, and been unable to love again?” Tears came to my eyes as I shook my head “no,” knowing that each time I least expect it, love finds me again. I marvel and think how lucky I am that each love has been even stronger than the last. Fall in love. Isn’t it beautiful that we can and have the freedom to? Forgive, and replace regret or stubbornness with love. It truly is one of the greatest secrets of life.
15. Don’t take your family for granted.
Tell your sister that you’re proud of her. When you go home and your mom makes you homemade wontons, ask for seconds. Take a minute longer to hug her. Ask questions about her garden. Tell your father you love him, though you may associate him with stoicism. Call them all more often.
“Never hurry, never rest,” said Goethe. And, quoting Ellison, “Had the price of looking been blindness, I would have looked.”
This is our one life. Tell me we will never get used to it. Cheers to the next decade ahead.