I’ve always learned a lot from listening to my elders, so I figured that for my birthday, I’d like to pass along a little cheat-sheet of things I hope you can learn from me.
1. Embarrassment will never kill you. True, you will never get old enough to want to be embarrassed, but — if you’re lucky — you won’t let the fear of embarrassment dictate your decisions too long. Not everything that is uncomfortable should be avoided. Honestly, you’ll find that you have the most amazing experiences and create the best memories when you risk a little embarrassment.
2. (Almost) Everything that you’ve been told is important, isn’t. It’s okay to dial all of that back, simplify things, and focus on who is or isn’t being loved instead of what you do or don’t have. This includes “accomplishments” that are rather arbitrary. Cars, houses, degrees, collections, hobbies, routines, jobs,… if it’s not supporting your joy or your inner-humanitarian, it’s really not important. Question everything about your life and make conscious choices about what you do and don’t want to include.
3. Being vulnerable is amazing. It also opens you up to being hurt very deeply, but again, that won’t kill you, and you can’t have any of the really good stuff unless you risk being hurt.
4. Being alone is infinitely better than being with the wrong people. If you’re tempted to be with the wrong people because you feel lonely, there are lots of ways of dealing with that. Be of service to someone, feed someone, clothe someone, listen to someone who just needs a shoulder. Rescue a dog, a cat, ferret, something that will provide companionship and snuggles so that you’re not tempted to fill that space with something or someone that doesn’t love/support you. Even when it’s approached as a ‘temporary fix’ that will serve a purpose and then be over, I’ve watched many dreams and livelihoods die as a result of buying into this ‘comfortable’ existence. Don’t sell yourself short.
5. Seeing people with an open heart is better for you than judging their facade. Generally speaking, we try to present the world with our best self, but every one of us have had off days (weeks/months/years), and many of us aren’t real sure what our best self is. If you were having a “less than my best self moment,” how would you hope people would see/treat you? Not only will showing more compassion reduce the amount of defensiveness creeping into our interactions with others, but it also relieves you of the job of keeping track of other people’s transgressions (which is more liberating than one might guess).
6. Change your mind. Choose a new path, choose a new career, do something crazy, try new things. Everything is new and exciting when you’re young. This doesn’t actually have to change. That’s a choice. People will tell you that it’s not a choice and that you should continue on your path without deviating because it’s safe and stable. Don’t believe them. They got the same advice from someone else, believed it, and are passing it along. They may not even know that it’s bad advice, but you can choose to live in a way that proves it. Remember this: you are not your resume. What makes a good resume does not necessarily make a good life. Make your choices accordingly.
7. Expect a myriad of reactions when you make choices that are different from the status quo. Some will react with cautious-amazement, intrigued by your choices but waiting to see how that works out for you. Some will see your choices as an affront or a judgment on the decisions they have (or haven’t actively) made and will lash out at you… or avoid you entirely. Some will enthusiastically support your choices, either joining you in doing the same or living vicariously through your stories. While some will simply return to focusing on their own lives and not pay much attention to yours. Try not to take any of this too personally.
8. Buy really good shoes, but not too many of them. Without a doubt, there is a huge difference between a $10 pair of shoes and a $60 pair of shoes. You’re only going to get one pair of feet for your lifetime and those feet will affect your joint health, back health, and overall activity level. Respect your feet. Do not wear uncomfortable shoes. Ever.
9. Wear something that makes you smile. Be it a hat, a bow tie, silly socks, outlandish underwear, your favorite shirt, whatever. I once wore a tiara to brunch and received no fewer than 7 thumbs-up from mature women who told me that my attitude about life was exactly right.
10. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do with your body. Likewise, don’t do anything with your body to spite someone else. Your body is your house. It’s where you live and you don’t get to move into a new one because you don’t like this one anymore. You’re responsible for its cleanliness, upkeep, state of repair, decor, the company it entertains, and what’s stored in the attic. If you wouldn’t store your ex’s belongings in your attic or decorate your home to spite your parents, treat yourself with just as much (if not more) consideration.
11. Find your joy. And it may be rooted in more than one thing. I know that my joy is found in creating and helping, which can be translated into lots of different things — photography, drawing, painting, pottery, carpentry, cooking, feeding people, HopeMob.org, Kiva.org, Sevenly.org, donating clothes, etc. Once you find your joy, you can fill your life with all the many, many ways and things that bring you JOY (not to be confused with pleasure — nothing wrong with pleasure, but it’s not as long-lasting or life-affirming as joy, so healthy doses of each are a good idea).
It all comes down to…
12. You get to write the story of your life. Make sure you would want to read it.