My 6th grade English teacher asked us to write an essay about our futures. We could write anything our twelve-year old hearts desired—where we’d be living, what we’d be doing, who we’d be loving. We got to map the general trajectory of our life, write our dreams down on paper, and bring clarity to what we felt the future might hold.
(I still love doing this exercise, by the way.)
My life hasn’t quite turned out like I expected. In my essay, I was married by 22 and had two kids by 26. In reality, I was married at 28 and I’m cuddling my only baby—a fluffy, white furbaby who barks at passersby and poops in the kitchen when she’s nervous—as I write this. But it’s so much fun to think about the future; to imagine who and what and where we’ll be.
It’s also why I like to reflect on the past—to see where I’ve been and how far I’ve come and what I’ve learned. All of that affects who I am now and in the future. So I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately.
Because on Thursday, I turn 30 years old.
I know it’s not particularly old (and, to some, not particularly young), but it feels incredibly significant to me. It feels like a milestone, a badge of honor. I have made it this far—with a lot of bumps and bruises, to be sure, but so much more to be proud of and thankful for.
I don’t claim to know everything at (almost) 30, by any stretch of the imagination, but I have learned a bit—usually slowly, occasionally painfully—in my first three decades on this earth.
This week, I want to share some of what I’ve reflected on lately. These are just a few of the lessons—both personal and professional—I’ve learned (though am not always able to successfully put into practice) in my short 30 years on this Earth.
Though these are my unique, individual lessons, I hope that—regardless of the number of years you’ve been on this earth—you’ll be able to learn a little something from them too :)
- There’s always more where that came from. There will always be another client, another promotion, another paycheck. As hokey as it sounds, when you’re grateful for what you have and acknowledge what is (and has been) abundant in your life, you’ll notice that there will always be more of what you have, what you want, and what you need.
- Get clear about what you want. You can’t get it if you don’t know—clearly—what “it” is. You might even try my 6th grade English teacher’s exercise: imagine what your future holds a year from now, five years from now, for the rest of your days. Get super clear on it and figure out that one next step you need to take to make that happen. (But also, don’t get bummed when not everything goes as planned; everything happens for a reason. #anotherlesson)
- Some people won’t like you. And they will never like you—whether there’s a valid excuse for that or not. They will find a reason not to like you, even if they have to make one up. And also, that’s okay. It doesn’t really matter what they think of you, so long as you know that you’re an honest, kind person who’s doing the best she can. (I’ve learned this one, but I’m still getting used to it.)
- You can be spiritual without being religious. I was turned off by the concept of organized religion pretty early on, so it was a journey for me to realize that I could believe in God without believing in Christianity, for example. But understanding that I can have that relationship and determine my own spiritual practice has been the best (and possibly biggest) lesson of this past year.
- Be present. Ahh, this one sounds so cliche—but it’s oft-repeated for a reason. And it’s also really fucking hard. Stop worrying about the past—it’s futile. You can’t change it. Similarly, you have very little control over the future. Do what you can right now, in the present moment, to be the person you want to be and build the life you want to have.
- Forgive yourself—what’s done is done. Learn from it and move on.
- Write something. Every day. Even if you don’t ever plan to share it. Especially if you don’t ever plan to share it.
- You have the same 24 hours as everybody else. You. Me. Beyonce. Time is the one thing we all have—and none of us gets any more or less of it. So use yours wisely. Be generous with, but protective of it. Use it to do the work you want to do, spend time with the people you want to love, and take care of the one body and soul you’ve been given this lifetime. Don’t waste it.
- The customer isn’t always right—but they (and you) always deserve to be treated with respect. Basic human decency is something we should strive to practice in every area of our life. It may not be easy, but it will never be the wrong move.
- Feel your emotions, then move on. Whether you’re sad, mad, ecstatic, or “meh”, admit it, allow yourself to really feel it (and understand why you feel that way, if you’re not already sure), then move on. Don’t avoid your feelings and don’t wallow. Accept them, then do something about it. You have this one precious life to live, remember?
- Willpower is a finite resource. It is not something you can summon at will and it does not come with unlimited access. Though you can strengthen it, it will wane every day and as you do tasks that require a lot of it. Use your willpower when you have it on only the most important things.
- Go out of your way to create important moments—in your life and the lives of others. I learned this one when I heard Carlos Whittaker speak at The Yellow Conference this past August. Be conscious about creating special moments in the lives of other people—whether by telling a stranger you like their shoes or just sending a note to remind someone that you love them. I guarantee you every single one of those moments will be just as special to you.
- Air your dirty laundry with the people who can help you “wash” it…not everybody on your Facebook feed. See a therapist (ain’t no shame) or lean on the people you are closest to; those who can give you smart, objective advice. Use Facebook to connect and share information—you know, things that require the wider audience it offers you.
- Perfection doesn’t exist, so stop waiting for everything to be perfect and just do your thing. Make your thing. Put said thing out into the world. Repeat.
- Be grateful. Acknowledge what you have and be thankful. Do this more—so much more—than thinking about everything you lack.
- Other people aren’t thinking of you (whether positively or negatively) nearly as much as you think they are. Try to remember that when you’re spiraling because of others’ perceived thoughts about you.
- Tell the people that you love that you love them.
- It’s okay to care what people think. Just make sure it’s the right people. That (insert political affiliation opposite yours) commentator on XYZ News? That family member or frenemy who always talks about you behind your back? That anonymous Internet commenter who spends more time insulting your work than making work of their own? You have my permission to not care. You need not give any fucks.
- ABL: Always Be Learning. A college education is all well and good, but it’s not the only way to learn. Seek out new learning opportunities—whether through classes on Skillshare or adventures on the road—and seek them out for the rest of your life. And, on that note, read. I don’t care if you claim to have never “been a reader”. Start being one.
- Treat your significant other as well (better, in fact!) as you would treat a stranger in line at the grocery store. Don’t save all of your polite behavior for those you don’t even know—though, of course, I recommend being polite to them, too! We tend to expect those we love the most to shoulder the most—our bad moods and short tempers and clipped conversation. Let’s not. Let’s learn to shoulder (most of) our own shit and treat our loved ones to the same kindness we’d show a stranger.
- Get a dog (or a cat or a turtle, or some animal you must love and care for). It’s not hyperbole to say they will become your best friend and make every single bad day better in a heartbeat. I swear it.
- Do NOT be ashamed of your guilty pleasures. Oh, I’m just supposed to ignore the fact that Vanderpump Rules is one of the most entertaining shows on television? Fuck that. I’m a smart, accomplished woman. (I gather you are, too.) You’ve made it this far—while watching trashy television and reading “chick lit” novels on the beach and otherwise, too. DO YOU.
- You needed those past romantic relationships (even the really—really, ahem—short and/or shitty ones). Every single one changed you and taught you and made you the (confident, happy, loved and loving) woman you are today. Be glad for them.
- Go ahead and compare yourself to others. I know you always will. Just be smart about it. What is it that they have that you want? Is it something you truly want, something that will change your life for the better? Then figure out how you can get it! But if it’s just hundreds of Instagram likes? Reassess—then redirect—that jealousy into something that’s worth wanting, and worth the work to get.
- On that note? Facebook and Instagram and Twitter Likes? MEAN NOTHING. Stop basing your self-worth on the social applause of others. Whatever number of Likes you may get, you are worth so much more than that. I promise.
- Your family—or those who deserve your family-like devotion—isn’t always those related by blood. It’s the people who are there for you, who support you, who love you without condition. Your best friend’s son? He can be your nephew. The cousin you’re closest to? You can consider her a sister. You get to decide what the people in your life mean to you—and it shows in the way you treat them, support them, love them…and vice versa.
- Don’t let other people decide the work that you do. You will spend so much of your life working; spend that time doing work that you love. I’m not saying it’s easy—perhaps you’ll have to take a significant paycut or do the work that brings you the greatest joy after “normal” work hours…but it’s always possible. Stop making excuses (or complaining about your job) and take the fucking leap already.
- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Seriously. Whether you’re opposing political affiliations, you worship different deities, or your baseball teams are longtime rivals, just try to imagine what the other person is going through in any given situation and in life. And be kind. Just be kind.
- Avoid debt AT ALL COSTS. (See what I did there?) I have yet to encounter a situation where it’s worth it.
- You are enough. Do you hear me? ENOUGH. Just as you are right now. And you always will be.
Perhaps sixth grade me didn’t know exactly when I’d be married or when I’d have kids—but she knew I’d grow up to want a partner I loved and a living, breathing, adorable creature to take care of. She planned on it; she dreamed of it. And, no matter when they did, those things eventually came true.
And that’s the greatest part about reflecting on lessons learned and planning (or, dreaming) for the future—whether on your 30th birthday, on New Years Eve, or on any random day of the year. You get to see how far you’ve come, how many of those dreams have come true, how you have slowly become the person you knew you’d be—even if the details are slightly different than you’d planned.
I’ve got a lot more I’m dreaming of for these next 30 years.
Do you have any life lessons to share? Let me know in the comments below!