On the morning of my 20th birthday, I woke up rather unceremoniously at 5:40 AM (I guess even now I’m still excited to wake up for birthdays). But, seeing as it was before 6AM and I could still sleep for an hour or so more, I tried to go back to sleep. Unfortunately, I was restless. So I wrote this list instead, to sum up the big lessons I’ve learned in 20 years.
1. Karma is real, and you’re living it right now.
The positive energy you put out into the universe will come back to you. You smile, they smile back. It’s simple. Unfortunately, it goes both ways. The negative energy? That’ll come back to you too. It’s a cycle, but it doesn’t have to be a vicious one.
2. Say yes.
Opportunities to change and grow are all around you, but how will you ever learn anything if you don’t join in? I’ve met and surrounded myself with amazing people just by saying yes to just about everything. Be like Jim Carrey in Yes Man, but with discretion.
3. If you don’t know, ask.
Don’t let the fear of looking stupid ever hold you back from learning something new. After all, not knowing is the first step on the path to mastery. And also, don’t just try to do it and assume you can “fake it ‘til you make it”. Ask for help.
4. Practice gratitude. For everything.
Especially the little things. They’re what you’re going to miss when you realize they’re gone for good. Try this: before you go to bed each night (you know, that awkward time where you’re laying in bed trying not to remember every embarrassing thing you’ve ever done), think of one thing you were especially grateful for during your day.
5. Say thank you. To everyone.
Especially the bus driver. Or anyone you think doesn’t get thanked enough. Or to people who work their asses off so you can do what you need to get done. Find an excuse to thank someone, and do it. And when you say it, mean it.
6. You are surrounded by wonderful people.
Don’t forget it. And don’t let them forget it either. Maybe buy them a cookie – everyone likes cookies. Or, see lesson #5.
7. There are no shortcuts.
Hard work will get you where you want to go. Nothing else will. Not luck, not chance, though they may open opportunities for you (see lesson #2). There are no cheats in real life. There are also no skips. So, work hard.
8. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
How old are you really? I know responsibilities weigh us down at younger and younger ages. Something I realized that works as a metaphor for not taking yourself too seriously – Will you sit on the floor or in the chair? The day you stop sitting on the floor is the day you become an un-fun adult for good. You’re not a grown-up yet. In fact, none of us are. Sit on the floor.
9. Learn to use your innate abilities.
Everyone has an innate ability – something they’re just naturally good at. For me, it’s talking. The ability to talk yourself into or out of any situation is invaluable. But, like in the Wizard of Oz, you must ask yourself, “Am I a good witch, or am I a bad witch?”. Try to use your powers for good.
10. (Real) Relationships are hard.
They take a lot of work. You want the relationship? Do the work. When things get dark and you become uncertain of yourself and your abilities, they will become torches that will light your way and give you strength. I don’t just mean dating-relationships. I mean your relationship with EVERYONE.
11. Always go out of your way to do nice things for others.
Not because they will owe you one (although they will, muahaha), but because when you were 10, you would have looked at yourself following this rule, and though you were a good person.
12. Don’t procrastinate.
When you procrastinate, you stand in your own way. Get out of your own way and get it done now. When it’s done, you won’t have to worry and you can just go out and have fun.
13. Your way is not the right or the wrong way.
Just because you do something one way and someone else does it a different way does not mean that you are doing it right or that they are doing it wrong OR vice-versa. If you’d shut up about who’s right and who’s wrong for once, you might realize you’re standing in front of an opportunity to learn how to improve.
14. Go outside.
I don’t care what you do out there. Just peel yourself away from your screens (phone, computer, TV) every so often. Your brain and body and emotional health will thank you. Go lay in the grass (always lay in the grass). You’ll thank yourself later when you’re having your moment of gratitude.
15. Treat yo’self.
You’ve been working hard? Good. Buy that pint of Ben & Jerry’s. You’ve earned that long, hot bubble bath. Self care is incredibly important to good mental and physical health. It’s okay to take a break.
16. Keep a calendar/journal/to-do list.
And keep it well. Organization is half the battle to achieving your dreams. If you’re organized and you have a goal of where you want to be, you’re almost halfway there already. This also helps you to avoid procrastination (see lesson #12).
17. Go for shock value.
People will often judge you on your outward appearance. It is up to you to shock them with who you really are. I’m 5’2” and I work at a hardware store where I’m often lifting 40lb bags of dirt. When I offer to help, I get sized up and chuckled at much more often than my other coworkers. Dude, stand back, cause I’m about to blow your mind and move all 25 bags of compost into your truck bed.
18. Be authentically beautiful.
The most attractive smile is an authentic smile. If you enjoy your life and the things you do in it, it will show up on your face. If you’re having fun, you’re going to look like you’re having fun. To be beautiful, be yourself, but the happiest self you can manage. To sum it up, a Roald Dahl quote for you: “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
19. Do it the right way, or not at all.
Don’t half-ass anything. If you’re only going to put in half of your effort, then what was the point of putting in any effort at all? You’re just wasting your time if you’re not going to try.
20. Take ‘can’t’ as a personal challenge.
You’ll do things that amaze yourself and others if you do.