The lessons a quarter century on Earth will get you:
1. Read. Read. Read.
Man and woman have been writing since damn near the dawn of time. Read something. Read anything. It is almost impossible to be worse off from the experience; you can only learn from it. Whatever has happened in your life, chances are someone else has had a similar experience and written about it, too. They are there to help, inspire, and uplift. Best thing books will teach you? Dare to dream. Nothing is impossible in the world of literature.
2. Ignore the doubters.
“That’s a really difficult industry to get into.” “Is there any money in that?” “How are you going to manage that?” “Maybe you should get into finance instead.” Other people will always try to put limits on what you can do, most likely because they’ve done it to themselves. Ignore them. Some of the most miserable people I’ve ever met were also the wealthiest, only because they sold out or gave up on their dreams in return for financial security, but also a security from the possible ridicule of family and peers. There’s no point being successful on paper if you’re not successful as a person. Successful people encourage others rather than tearing them down. Ignore the haters and follow your dreams.
3. Eat real food.
Food is fuel. They’ve said it countless times and I’m saying it again: you are what you eat. I know because I’ve tried it both ways. Blessed with a fast metabolism, I was able to hide my dirty deep-fried secrets from the world. And don’t even get me started on cake. Needless to say, I felt like shit. I was tired all the time, prone to mood swings (more than usual) and my skin was erupting in magnificent fashion. For me, that was the worst part. Through my vanity I learned that kidney beans, quinoa and chickpeas taste better than they look (not THAT much better but…). You can only benefit from eating better and learning how to cook: your skin glows, your food costs less, and you’re full of energy.
4. Establish a fitness routine.
It’s less about how it makes you look and more about how it makes you feel. Setting and achieving goals in the gym (or otherwise) gives you a sense of accomplishment. Pushing yourself beyond what you thought was possible instills confidence. It is one of the best ways to manage depression. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it doesn’t suck for the first three months or so. It does. It really does. But if you set up good practices now, it will serve you in the future. Can’t afford the gym? The park is free. No excuses.
5. It’s OK to not know what you want.
A decade ago, I thought that by now I’d be married with kids. Nope. Not even close. In fact, I’m very confused as to what exactly I want at all. There is so much pressure on teens and young adults to have it all figured out by the time they’ve graduated. If you’ve managed it, great, but it’s also OK to still be figuring out while you bartend to pay the bills. And don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed for just enjoying your life without thinking past today. If you find yourself struggling with it, follow your talents. Still no luck? Take a few different classes at an adult education center. You never know where it could lead.
6. Travel alone.
This was one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done. It was only a few days in a European city, but it was important step toward my growth as a person. It strengthens your independence and your bond with yourself. It is vitally important to shut everyone off, listen and get to know yourself. I enjoyed time—not just by myself, but with myself. Don’t wait for anybody else, just do it.
7. Take a self-defense class.
This one applies to all, but especially women living alone in a city. Take a class that will teach you the basic skills you will need to distract a perpetrator long enough to run away. Learn how to punch or kick. Even better, learn how to elbow or knee. Again this type of pursuit results in increased self-confidence, but may also save your life. Or at least your wallet.
8. Look people in the eye.
Looking people in the eye is an underrated yet powerful communication tool. Poor eye contact, which may be due to shyness, can be mistaken as disinterest. What I’ve learned, however, is that good eye contact inspires powerful feelings of connection. It portrays confidence and conviction. It lets the other person know that you are interested in and engaged with them. It encourages them to do the same. Sustained eye contact allows and encourages people to go from passive receivers to active listeners. The practice of doing so will also create more confidence and assertiveness in yourself. It is part of the groundwork necessary for real communication.
9. Don’t take no shit from nobody.
Excuse the poor grammar; it just sounds sassier this way. Others may argue that it is sometimes necessary to take some shit from your boss as you engage in ass-kissing and ladder-climbing. I think that’s bullshit. Whether it’s your floor manager or the obnoxious ass at the end of the bar, you deserve to be treated with respect. This doesn’t need to be addressed aggressively or defensively. Take your emotions out of it. Ask them why in the most inoffensive manner. “Why are you talking to me like that?” “Why are you behaving like this?” A direct question demands a direct answer. They are forced to stop and think about their actions. They will either find a way to justify it or they’ll back off.
10. Respect everyone.
Everyone deserves respect. The easiest way to gain respect? Give it. It’s that simple.
11. Learn how to accept a compliment.
This one has literally taken me decades. OK, maybe just two, but it still counts. Too many people, including myself, distract from a compliment by laughing it off or finding a way to tear themselves down. Next time, try this instead: Look them in the eyes and say “Thank you.” Thats’s it. Learn how to give compliments, too. If you like someone’s makeup or outfit, tell them. If you think they’re funny or hardworking, tell them that too. It costs nothing and could just make someone’s day.
12. Open up emotionally.
Bottling up emotions sometimes feels like the safest and smartest option. You’ve got other shit to do; you don’t have time for emotions. Worse still, it’s too painful to deal with so you bury it where no one can find it. Except it finds you. At the most inappropriate times. It is extremely hard to bare your soul to even the closest friend, but being able to express your hurts in a safe environment has a freeing quality. Will it make the pain go away? No, not immediately, but the more aware and accepting you are of your emotions, the easier it is. There is power merely in saying something out loud. Empty the bottle little by little. Experiences are meant to be shared.
Why are we always told to act our age? What good does that really do? What does it even really mean? Jokes, teasing, pranks, playing tag, pillow fights, water guns, monkey bars…whatever. Just don’t take things too seriously. Stop worrying about what other people will think and go play.
14. Treat yourself.
You are amazing; treat yourself like it. That dress you’re in love with is on sale? Buy it. You’ve had a rough week and feel like ice cream on the couch? Do it. Life’s too short. Pushing yourself to better, higher things is always admirable, but don’t forget to take a break and reward yourself.
15. Say “no” to yourself, too.
As I’ve said above: Treat yourself, but also recognize that limits need to be put in place for certain things. Bad habits arise as a result of being a little bit too easy on yourself. Enjoy a candy bar once in a while. Do not allow yourself to have a candy bar every day, even if you want to. Whatever it is, if it starts becoming a detriment to your health, relationships, or even just your wallet, learn to draw a line. In my own experience, I’ve found it easier to cut it out and introduce it back into my lifestyle gradually without allowing myself to get back to previous consumption rates.
16. Fear is not always a bad thing.
Learn to distinguish your fears. That feeling you get alone in a dark alley when you suddenly hear slow, heavy footsteps? Bad fear. Or maybe it’s good fear? Anyway, the other one is the one you feel when you think about quitting the job you hate. Or when you get a flash of what you want to do in the future but think “Nah…I could never do that.” Ask yourself what are you really afraid of. Fear releases adrenaline, the “fight or flight” hormone. In most situations, fight. Use your fear to propel you rather than hinder you.
17. Don’t do things half-assed.
Half-assed efforts get half-assed results. Put all of your attention and effort into the task at hand. Stay present and try to ignore distractions. At the very least, it makes you more efficient with your time.
18. Appreciate what you have.
If you’re reading this, chances are, you have everything you need. Happiness comes from within. It comes with gratitude for the blessings in your life. If you have a roof over your head, food in the cupboard, and people that love you, you’re probably doing better than most people in the world. You know what I’m grateful for? My bed. After a long day on my feet, nothing feels better than a warm, comfortable bed. Too many people go to sleep on something other than this. Be grateful for the small things like this, not just once, but often. Spread that appreciation to the other gifts in your life and your happiness will blossom.
19. There is a difference between being busy and being productive.
Be smart with your time. Filling your day with “things you should do” while avoiding what you really need to do is a waste. You may be fooling everyone else, but you can’t fool yourself. Busy feels as it does because it draws another state with it: unfocused. “Busy” people martyr themselves by taking on too much, procrastinating, and refusing to focus on the most important tasks at hand. To free up time, give all of your concentration to what you’re supposed to be doing. Focused work = productive work.
20. Never give up.
Fall down seven times, get up eight. Get up nine and ten too while you’re at it. Whatever you want, strive for it, passionately, purposefully, and powerfully. The only limits are those placed by our own minds. Try it. Decide that you are going to do something and just do it. As for roadblocks and brick walls? I was always under the impression that a brick wall was just a big obstacle. What I learned recently is that you should use it, at least initially, as a time to reflect. Ask why. Is the universe directing you elsewhere? Maybe the brick wall is an important aversion. Maybe not. In that case find a way over, under, or through. Either way DO NOT GIVE UP. Failure is a fact of life; it is what you do with it that counts.
21. Learn to accept the things you can’t change.
While I’m all for fighting and not taking no for an answer, some things are out of our control. Accept them. They may be signs to stop, refocus and change directions. Or they will lead you in a different direction without you even realizing. The important thing is to let go and have a little faith. The universe is unfolding as it should. And don’t forget to keep your attitude in check, too. In the words of the late Maya Angelou: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
22. Feed your soul.
Do something just for you, be it dancing, knitting, or judo. If you lack the funds or time to take up a hobby, take a walk. Alone. Or try meditation. Or yoga. Both of which can be practiced at home. Be sure to realize the difference between doing something for yourself and feeding your soul. Doing something for yourself may just involve an episode of X factor and a cup of tea. While these moments are important, they will not feed your soul. Try something you’ve always wanted to do but never have, whatever your heart calls for will be answered by the soul.
23. Do not be afraid of your potential.
Bigger than the fear of failure is probably the fear of one’s potential. There is a voice in all of us that imagines us as more successful, innovative, and creative beings. The imagination of happier, more fulfilled beings is attainable. Yet when we see these things, we turn from them, afraid. Afraid of actually obtaining them. Afraid of actually being happy. Afraid of trying and failing. Ditch the fear and adopt the practice of embracing and working toward your potential.
24. Let the little things go.
At the root of “don’t sweat the small stuff” is patience. Patience is a seemingly underrated characteristic. Getting angry won’t delay the train any less. Frustration doesn’t make the queue go any faster. Be patient; think of something else; enjoy or observe your surroundings. People appreciate patience as a rarity. You may even be rewarded for it. But it is its own award, too. Be patient. Breathe. Let it go.
25. Love yourself.
This, by far, is the single most important thing you can do for yourself. It is as essential as water. Love yourself. Radically. Love yourself in the heights of happiness and equally in the depths of despair. Go further than just accepting yourself for who you are. Celebrate yourself. The more you love yourself, the easier everything else becomes. Fill yourself with love and it will spread to everyone and everything else in your life. You will become a better friend, lover, and colleague. You’ll walk taller and laugh louder. We live in a shame-based society where anything you do is judged and compared to whatever somebody else has done. Life is too short. I’m still working on this one too. But as soon as I began, all the other lessons I’ve learned started to fall into place. If you’re not sure how to do it, pretend. Stare at yourself long enough until you see the things that make you beautiful and unique. It could be a freckle or a scar; the way you laugh or how your hair falls. Practice it loyally every day, even if just for a moment or two. It is consistently one of the best things I do with my day. And then something beautiful happens: it multiplies. Love begets only love. The more I love my flaws, quirks, and idiosyncrasies, the more I love those of others. Spread the love. Sprinkle the love. Throw it around like confetti. Just never forget it begins with you.