30 Things I’ve Learned

I can’t believe it–I’m thirty.  That realization still hasn’t fully sunk-in for me–the fact that I’m this old or the fact that I’ve made it to this point in my life.  I didn’t have any expectations that I would make it this far, and I honestly believed that I wouldn’t live to see this day.  Goes to show how life can surprise you and how much things can change, I guess.

The last few years, I’ve made an effort to put up things that I’ve learned that have had a big impact on my life over the course of the previous year.  I’ve learned a lot this year and changed a lot as a result.

I’ve grown to understand that not everyone will know or understand me, and being that one of my worst issues centers on the fact that I seldom feel valued or wanted, that unmet need arises in the worst ways.  The fact that I also don’t know how to value myself or be happy outside of achievement and external validation has made some aspects of my life difficult.

But in the last couple of months, I’ve spent more time trying to understand what makes me happy and I’ve tried to become more comfortable with myself.  The idiosyncrasies, the nerdiness, the weirdness–all of it.  I won’t always be liked or understood, and I’ve been learning how to accept that.  I won’t lie: it’s hard.  Harder than a lot of things I’ve tried to do for myself, but one day I hope it’ll be automatic.

Here’s 30 things that I’ve learned this year (or I’ve been reminded about):

1. No one will advocate for you except you.

There isn’t anyone else on Earth that knows you nearly as well as you do, and they don’t know your life any better than you do.  If you don’t advocate for yourself and for the things that you want, no one will.

2. Trust is not given, it needs to be earned.

Some people will go out of their way to ingratiate themselves or work at appearing worthy of your trust and time–most of the time, these are people who, whether unconsciously or not, become emotional sink-holes and perpetual time-sinks.  If people aren’t showing up, aren’t proving themselves worthy of trust, and aren’t able to give you the kind of experience you’re looking for, just drop the expectations on the floor and walk away.

3. Lives are not lived in vain–so get on with living.

There will be naysayers, doubters, and downers throughout your life.  The worst of them will try to actively sabotage your success and your excitement.  Others just won’t get it and will try to discourage you.  But here’s the secret: don’t let them.  Your volition is your own, and anyone that would diminish your energy or downplay your interests deserves neither your time nor your attention.  Do what makes you happy without compromise.

4. The truth is often more complicated (and damning) than you might think.

Whether it’s digging to find the truth about abuse in the family, a search for meaning and purpose, or struggling to make sense of the world, the truth is often complex and multi-faceted.  Allowing for perspectives other than your own and trying to see things from one other than your own can help bridge gaps and build relationships.

5. Know your worth (and don’t let other people dictate it).

Your worth is not dictated by your job, your car, your clothes, your hair, or your body dimensions.  Your worth is exactly what you believe it to be.

But more specifically, you need to know your worth in relation to the journey you have been on–how far you’ve come and how far you have yet to go.  No one’s journey is pre-ordained or set in stone, and expecting your journey to mirror someone else’s will only make you unhappy.

6. Your journey is unique (same as everyone else’s).

Every individual’s journey is going to contain its own set of circumstances, its own side-paths, twists, turns, thrills, chills, and–you get the idea.  Nothing is predictable or set in stone, and as a result your journey will change wildly.  Sometimes right before your very eyes.  Sometimes it’ll be happy and ecstatic, other times it might feel as though a star is collapsing in your chest.  Sometimes you have to just let it go and recognize that your journey will often change directions and will change you in the process.

7. Be okay with just ‘being okay’.

It’s hard for a lot of perfectionists and go-getters to understand or accept, but sometimes you have to be okay with just being okay.  Some days you won’t be able to lift that weight, to carry that load, or bear that burden–and that’s okay.

8. Don’t settle.

Settling is a tricky business.  On the one hand, once you know you’ve found something that makes you happy it can be comforting to settle into a rhythm or a routine or to finally feel as though you’ve “arrived”–and that’s okay.  We all seek it to some extent.  But what keeps us growing and keeps life fresh is change, challenge, and the unknown.  Throwing yourself headlong into something new and recognizing that you will be okay on the other side is one of the easiest ways to experience it.

9. Experience life.

Try everything.  Literally anything.  If there’s an introductory course, a class you can audit, an interest, a hobby, anything–run, do not walk, toward that experience.  A life spent in simplicity can be rewarding in its own right, but at this point in history there’s no reason not to try.

10. Fear is not a motivator.

Negative reinforcement and consquences fail more often than not for kids and animals, so why do it to yourself?  Energy spent on fear is better spent on anything but.

11. Love is the ultimate motivator.

Love people, love food, love challenges, love yourself, love as much as you are capable.  When your life experience is colored and motivated by love, you’ll often find that you spend less time playing the blame-and-shame game.

12. Self-care isn’t selfish–it’s essential.

Sometimes it’s a night in, other times it’s a day out.  Whatever recharges you, lets you be your truest self, and gives you a sense of flow, center, or purpose to your life, chase it.  Or don’t, your call.

13. Surround yourself with people that you know and love.

This shouldn’t have to be said, but I’ve had to re-learn this particular lesson a lot over the last year.  There are certain people that can be beneficial, and there are others still that you’ll find will need to be walked away from.  That distinction has been hard for me to figure out, but it’s been utterly indispensible in finding the people that I’ve needed in my life.

14. Stop tolerating toxic people.

You know the type: always telling you what you can’t do, telling you exactly what your problem is, trying to talk you down from your ambitions.  The people spreading negativity without any reason to.  The people perpetually stuck in the past.  The ones who just can’t seem to let go.

Those are the ones you need to let go of.  The ones you should have the courage and the respect for to tell them right to their face how toxic their behavior is and how you love them enough to want to see them move past it.  It’s hard, but worth it.

15. Love and respect people enough to tell them the truth.

How you feel, how they make you feel, how they act, how you act, how their behavior harms or helps you or them–none of it should be taboo or off the table.  A relationship of mutual respect and love is what really delineates a full life and one left yearning for more.

16. Get organized.

Everyone has a phone or computer capable of using the internet with access to things like Google.  There’s no reason to not have a calendar, to not set reminders, to not set your bills to auto-pay, and to not know exactly what you owe or are owed monetarily.  There’s no reason not to be able to know when you’re committed to something and when you’re not.  And there’s certainly not a reason to not get organized, not when it’s free.

17. Curate your life ruthlessly.

Don’t love it?  Don’t keep it.

That clothing you never wear?  Donate it.

That piece of outdoor gear you’ve never used?  Sell it.

Those CDs you never listen to?  Rip them, then sell them or donate them.

Those books you’ve already read or never seem to get around to?  Donate them.

Those events you keep getting invited to but never seem to go to?  Unsubscribe.

In short: if you don’t absolutely love it, don’t keep it.  There will be less things to clean-up, less things to look after, and less reason to fret if something happens.  You’ll also find that you have more out of the deal:

More space to breathe and stretch.

More time to think.

More time do what you’re really interested in doing.

More freedom.

18. Be okay with not being okay.

The state of “not being okay” is more-or-less the default.  Discomfort, distress, and discontentment are the hallmarks of a life lived with introspection and understanding, not marks of weakness or moral failings.  I’ve found that the more work that I do both on myself and in the physical world, nothing is “okay”… and that’s perfectly fine.

19. The rest of the world falls into two categories…

  • People who know who you are and care about you.
  • People who couldn’t give less of a damn who you are or why you’re alive.

Ignore the second category, and carefully curate the first one.  You’ll thank yourself later.

20. You are not:

  • Your job
  • Your title
  • Your socioeconomic class
  • Your car
  • Your sport
  • Your interest
  • Your hobby
  • Your condition
  • Your illness
  • Your disease
  • Your fucking khakis

21. You are:

  • A living, breathing human being.
  • Act accordingly.

22. Don’t neglect your health.

Mental health, dental health, ocular health, bodily health, spiritual health–any of it.  The more often you check in with yourself and take care of your health, the better off you’ll be.

23. Stick to the basics.

Doesn’t matter if you’re packing for a trip, getting groceries, getting a car, finding a computer, or a new job.  The closer you stay to the absolute basics, the less complicated your life becomes overall.

24. Pay your debts (and try not to accumulate any at all).

This country is absolutely turgid with resources that it should be a crime to pay full price for anything, but people seem to do it anyway.  Buy used, buy refurbished, buy from friends or neighbors.  Rent when you can, buy when you have to.

25. You’re weird and unique–just like everyone else.

Whether or not people actively cultivate that label or image, everyone has their idiosyncrasies and “rough edges”.  You have a bunch of them too, they just might not be as obvious to you as they are to other people.  Learn to love them, and you’ll find yourself.

26. Sometimes the thing you want the most is the worst thing for you.

Struggling to make friends?  Work on being happier by yourself first.

Finding it hard to find meaning in your life?  Get out and travel.

Sometimes what you’re striving and straining so hard to obtain or achieve is actually the opposite of what you actually need.  Go the opposite direction and ask the hard questions first, then revisit your wants.  I’d wager you’ll find something different there when you come back to it.

27. Never stop learning.

We live in the most information-rich period in human history with instant access to nearly any topic imaginable and resources to calculate and ask for the answers you need.  There’s no excuse to avoid learning.  YouTube, WikiHow, and even just performing a Google search can get you on-track to completing a task or learning something new.  So what’re you waiting for?

28. Read.

Poetry.  Science-fiction.  Fantasy.  Trade magazines.  Medical textbooks.  Anything.

The more you read, the more knowledge you have at your command, and the less ignorance will keep you from doing what you mean to do.

29. Not everyone will understand (or even like) you.

Like a lot of art forms, sometimes your target audience isn’t who you expect.  Not everyone will “get you”.  Not everyone will enjoy your company.  Not everyone be there for you.

The sooner you recognize and accept this, the easier life gets.

30. It’s not about you.

That argument.  That misunderstanding.  That fear.  It’s not about you specifically, it might be about what you represent or the identity you bear.  The ways in which people might respond to you might not be about you at all and instead might be reflections of what’s going on in their own heads or hearts.  It’s not necessarily your fault, and it’s not about you.

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