oday is Thursday, the 16th of May and I am 32 years old. I’m writing these words in the weeks leading up to my birthday but I have a feeling I will wake up on my 32nd, unfold myself from bed, make sure all of my limbs are still there, look for something new or older or different and all I will find is the same. Growing up and old isn’t usually about meaningful change all at once. It comes in slow and creeps up on you and what you’re left with is the things you picked up in between. You fill in the gaps with what you find and over time you start to put together some knowledge and opinions and hopefully you become a more fully realized you. While I’m almost certainly not there, I am getting there, and it turns out I’ve learned some shit.
Take heed and take heart:
1. Nothing is more important than your health. When you’re young and full of energy, you have no idea, and I say that very aware that one of the most popular things for old people to complain about is that young people believe themselves to be invincible. It’s a matter of perspective, but I’m not really old yet and I’m not really young anymore (is this middle age?). Checking in on your physical and mental health is absolutely something to be conscious of. If you feel a lack of energy in your life, try resting more - or if it seems more serious, go to a doctor. Feeling drained? It could be a simple solution of taking a weekend off, or seeking out a therapist. Whatever it may be, your health is something to take care of on the highest level.
2. Being nice is really cool. Treat people well. Smile. Make dad jokes and puns, even if people roll their eyes. Be silly and fun to hang out with. Don’t be aloof and don’t always try to be cool — but definitely always be rad.
3. That said, know when to stand up for yourself. Try not to be a doormat by default. Know when to be a door because nobody is going to stand up for you other than you.
4. Failing is actually learning. You’re not perfect, but you’re not your mistakes. Human beings are ungainly creatures. We’re a mess of motivations and the result is also usually a mess — sometimes a sublimely beautiful one. Anxiety and guilt are constant looming monsters in my head. And even if I can’t help it and even if they feel very real, I know on some level I create these things based on perceptions I have that are overblown or totally fictional. This is the part I’m bad at — it’s important to remember that I am not infallible and neither are you or anyone else that’s a human being–and none of us should we be. We all deserve a break sometimes and it doesn’t make sense that I’m the last person I’m willing to give a break. It’s ok to be vulnerable and to wear your imperfections on your sleeve, or at least not locked away in a safe behind a painting. People will still accept you.
5. Getting outdoors and exploring is one of the best things you can do for your mind and body. Deadlines and business and everything else fade away and it’s just you the ground you have to cover.
6. Getting recognized for the work you do is deeply satisfying. It makes the hard part of hard work worth every late night or early morning–and it makes work, your occupation and where you spend most of your time, inherently more valuable than a paycheck. Day to day acknowledgement doesn’t look like a pat on the head or straight up mad props. Instead it shows up in places you don’t see directly, like respect from your boss and your coworkers — an unspoken understanding that you are trusted to do what you do. It’s the benefit of the doubt that you will do a good job — and can be told when you do not do a good job. That reputation of competence and hopefully eventual mastery is awesome.
7. Relationships take work, even when they seem great. Sometimes (oftentimes) it’s just very easy to let things be carefree, light and unspoken, but that’s not always the right thing. Even when you both agree as to which carpet to get or what to eat tonight or why you’re incapable of doing anything responsible with your sweaty workout clothes or why he/she won’t fold her laundry in the bedroom you share — even when all those things are overlooked and unspoken because it’s easier to let an infection go ignored and fester below the surface and because you both love each other — take time to talk to each other and figure some stuff out.
8. Time spent with people who mean the world to you is time very well spent.
9. Have something competitive in your life. It’s important, holds you accountable, and challenges you.
10. Have a motor and be meticulous. There are studies that I won’t link to, ironically because that would mean spelunking in my browsing history to track them down, that show us that hustle is one of the biggest indicators of success. Show up consistently and show up early. Be reliably hardworking. Be that woman/man that is just up to stuff. People know you have irons in the fire or pots boiling on the stove or whatever metaphor you want to use for motherfucking hustle. You’re not going to be good at everything all the time and you will have more failures than successes but being present and hard at work on upping your game all of the time will take you further and higher in life that it seems like it should. And if you’re having a difficult time getting something done, turn off the internet.
11. Cynicism is easy. Making fun of someone or something is easy. It’s a cheat and a listless default to just be dismissive. It takes almost no effort. You know what’s not so easy? Being optimistic or pragmatic or almost anything other than cynical is harder, requires more thought and is much much more valuable.
12. Don’t ever talk about anything you want to do or are thinking about doing. Don’t ever tell anyone anything, except maybe a few trusted people in your life. Keep your secrets secret and only talk about your work and accomplishments once you’ve done them. Be cagey and don’t show your cards because of this one weird and probably somewhat misrepresented science fact: when you talk about your plan to do or finish something sometime in the future you hijack your brain and light up the same pleasure center that actually accomplishments lights up. You get the same satisfaction without having yet accomplished it and, because your brain already reaped the rewards, you are now a whole lot less likely to ever follow through.
13. Feel free to use a credit card and bask in those sweet reward points, but only if you pay off the full balance every month. Credit card debt grows like cancer cells and is almost as scary.
14. Meditate. When I learned about the real tangible and sciencey benefits you can get from it, I started meditating daily, and it has changed a lot of my cognitive patterns for the better. Sometimes I don’t meditate for a day and I notice how my mind is slowly turning back into a pile of garbage. I can’t transcend the mortal plane, but I can use meditation to stave off anxiety or become more focused.
15. Don’t worry about what other people think because none of those other people think about you. They only think about themselves.
16. Be on social media, but don’t live on social media. As someone who attended college during the golden age of digital cameras, all stuffed with memory cards overflowing with photos of nights spent young and drunk and free from both responsibility and guilt–photos that incidentally needed a place to live and to be shared–there are literally thousands of pictures of me on social media. Nobody needs that many pictures of themselves, much less of me, and now my life between the age of 19 and about 27 is just about as well remembered by anyone who cares to go clicking and liking as it is by me. Social media is a very good tool to stay connected with the people who’s lives have intersected with yours, but at some point how much do you want your life to be everyone else’s life?
17. Stand up for people who don't have the resources, courage, or platform you might.
18. Someone once told me “If it doesn’t make you happy and it doesn’t make you money, don’t do it.” Looking at your life in any way that’s binary is probably a little too acute but it is a good general rule. We get caught up in all the satellite thoughts and space debris that orbits around each one of us–what will happen if we don’t show up, which and who’s feelings we will hurt, what we will miss out on–but most of the time life is just that simple.
19. Be cognizant of how food makes you feel after you eat it. That is just as important as how it tastes. Make the dietary choices today and slowly you'll see progress of how the food you eat makes your energy levels feel.
20. It is perfectly fine (and a good thing) to drift away from people you were once close to. Interests change, orders of importance in characteristics are re-ordered, and there's nothing wrong with that. Just because a connection may end, doesn't mean it has to end on a bad note. Accept the memories and move on.
21. Be accountable. Show up on time. Do what you agree to do. If you’re wrong, say you’re wrong.
22. Listen to enough music so that you have five or six songs in the chamber at any given time that emotionally just cut you open and spill your guts. Fire them up loud in your headphones to enhance or create awesome moments that are only your own where, at least for the length of that song, you are pure purpose and meaning and dazzling energy shooting forth from your eyeballs.
23. Make and keep habits that take wasted thought out of our life. Put your keys in the same place every time. Buy enough headphones so that you can just put headphones everywhere and you never spend time looking for headphones. You get worse at making decisions as you make a bunch of them throughout the day, so create structure and conveniences that let you save your cognitive energy and best decision making for the places you actually need it.
24. Your twenties are a great time to try a lot of different things. You are allowed to — and should — see a lot of the world, make a lot of friends, kiss a lot of people and try a lot of new skills. But at some point — maybe it’s 30 but maybe it’s 25 or 45 for you — it is time to get all chess grandmaster on the world and focus. Figure out what matters to you, focus on those things and let the other things fall away. Forget about fear of missing out. I’m glad I missed out because it means I spent my time doing something I care about with someone I like. There’s not anything better than this going on out there. Keep the people you love close and spend time doing the things you love. Be focused on what you care about in life and cut out the rest of the noise. It is just noise.
25. Drink, but don’t drink too much. Be careful with alcohol. It’s fun and delicious and it will probably be the cynosure of some of the best nights of your life, the kind you talk about 20 years later over babies with ear infection diagnoses and brunches with bottomless mimosas, but it also makes it far too simple to do something you regret. Tread lightly.
26. Carry around a notebook and a pen all the time. Write down your half-baked thoughts, your fully-baked ideas and your recipes for no-bake cookies…and your manifestos and song lyrics and plots and schemes and sonatas and haikus and limericks and calculations and anything else in your head. Nobody ever needs to read any of it but thinking is a muscle and the voice in your head has some real shit to say. The more ideas you come up with and the more you see a thought through to its conclusion the better you will be at both. The more information you bring out of your head, the more information it will provide. Yeah, you can actually get better at thinking. Plus looking through your old notebooks is like a time warp back to parts of life and places in your mind you forget about.
27. Try not to worry about things outside of your control. This is one of the hardest things in the world for me. I’m very good at worrying about what might happen or what I’ve done and how people might react or really anything outside the realm of my decree. I can’t control any of those things or the millions of other things I’m concerned about and worrying about them is a tremendously large waste of time and effort.
28. Have an opinion about absolutely everything and be eager to express it. It sounds hard but it isn’t that hard. Think about something one level deeper than the surface and you’ll find an insight or an angle. You will become a better conversationalist and a more interesting person. You will be more influential. You will be perceived as more intelligent. Seems like it is worth having some opinions.
29. Give your phone a rest. Smart phones are invaluable tools but they are also ruining our relationships and abilities to be social. They’re blowing up our powers to be present. You don’t have to live off the grid, but maybe just put your phone out of sight and mind when you come home after work. Use it like a phone. If you begin taking baby steps towards working your phone out of your life in small ways I guarantee you will have better conversations and be better connected to real human people in your life. Instagram can wait.
30. When dealing with interpersonal matters, let empathy be your guiding light. If you are unsure of how a statement or proposition will be received, imagine that you are receiving it, and evaluate your emotional response. It is very likely that it will be received the same way from you. When someone tells you their problems, rarely do they seek a solution — what they really want is empathy and understanding.
31. Sometimes you have to follow your heart. It won’t always work out and it doesn’t always make sense but how are you ever going to know if you don’t try to find out?
32. Learn to love yourself. Without excuses, unconditionally and full-heartedly.
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