I celebrated my 32nd birthday this month and wrote up this lil’ list of things that I’ve learned over the years. Truth be told, I’m still learning some of these! Would love to hear from you in the comments big, little, silly, weighty things that you’ve learned over your years!
1. Learn to cook.
Believe it or not, I didn’t cook a ton before I got married, but I had a few good recipes up my sleeve and it’s so fun to be able to prepare a meal for friends. Learning to cook doesn’t mean you have to understand how to make the perfect soufflé or have every kitchen gadget. It can be as simple as making a really good pot of spaghetti or chili.
2. Serve others.
Over time, you will (hopefully) find that it is much more gratifying to give than to receive. Be generous with your time and money: give to charitable organizations, serve the homeless, adopt a refugee family, sponsor a child and write them letters, invite people into your home, be inventive with how you serve. Be kind to everyone you come across. If you have kids, teach them to do the same. They will learn from your example and you are giving them an invaluable gift by helping them understand the richness that comes from giving of yourself.
3. Trust your instincts and act on them.
Your gut is usually right. You can probably think of a time you were grateful you went with your gut, you can also probably think of a time you wish you had. The job that doesn’t seem like a good fit? Don’t take it. You think someone is being dishonest? They probably are. You’re intuitive. Trust that feeling.
4. Don’t wait until things get really bad.
I’m not advocating flakiness, but if you find yourself in a bad situation, job, relationship, living arrangement, etc., figure out a way to make changes or get out before things get really bad.
5. Feel free to fizzle out bad friends.
Don’t abandon friends in need, but if you are surrounding yourself with people who are bringing you down more than lifting you up, it’s time to let go and get some good, encouraging people in your life.
6. You are what you eat.
This is something I wish I had understood earlier. In college, I ate way too much sugar and processed food, drank way too much caffeine, and just generally didn’t worry about what I was putting into my body because I had a fast metabolism and thought I was “healthy” because I worked out. I also suffered from major fatigue, hormonal acne, raging PMS, almost daily headaches and migraines, and just general illness. I am far from perfect when it comes to food, but I am overall much more mindful of what I put in my body now, and I have so much more energy and almost none of those other symptoms.
7. Adopt an active lifestyle.
Join a gym or invest in a membership to a specific studio- barre, yoga, kickboxing, crossfire. So you don’t like the gym? Get outside, go hiking, go for a walk, take up yoga on your patio or in the park, find free meet ups in your area, check local resources for yoga, running groups, hiking groups, etc. Make a habit of getting your body moving. You don’t have to be a gym rat or a workout junkie to stay active!
8. Learn when to say no.
The world will not end because you said “no” to taking on one more thing. Know what you’re capable of, say yes to the things that are worthwhile and meaningful if you can, and politely decline those things that you can’t do or don’t want to do.
9. Be mindful of the material possessions you take on.
Acquiring stuff is easier than getting rid of it. Having less stuff is so freeing, that’s why there are so many books written on the topic and also why capsule wardrobes are all the rage right now! Having moved 7 times in the last 5 years, it has forced us to purge a few times and we’ve taken on a lot less as a result. I’m currently sitting in a house I’ve lived in for a year and literally NOTHING has been hung on the walls. And you know what? It feels totally great.
10. Set specific goals and write them down.
Putting pen to paper with respect to your goals is actually scientifically proven to help you achieve them. Set big but achievable goals and write them down. Revisit them once a month and take one step at a time to achieve them!
11. Learn what works for you.
I don’t just mean what types of clothing flatters your body and what type of hairstyle flatters your face, though I wouldn’t neglect that! I mean learn your preferences for your life and own them. If you’re not a morning person, so what? You know that your most productive time is in the evening so use that to your advantage. Are you really tired and grouchy at night? Save the serious discussions for daylight hours. You really hate running? ME TOO. There are other types of cardio. Running is boring anyway. Learn what you like and design your life accordingly.
12. Work hard- seriously.
Whether it’s work, friendships, relationships or personal projects, do the work. Hold yourself to your personal highest standard. Work harder than anyone else. Look back and you won’t have regrets.
13. Know when to quit.
This seems contrary to #13, but if you’re working really hard at something, it should be worthwhile, it should fill you up. If it’s really not a good fit, it’s ok to quit rather than pour all your energy into something. I signed on to do a freelance writing project that sounded great during the initial discussion, but once I was sent the first assignment, I just knew it wasn’t going to work for me. I immediately let them know, and while they were a little disappointed, it saved everyone a lot of time. I don’t think I would have done that in my 20s, but then again, I stuck with things (jobs, relationships) longer than I should have and I’m glad I’ve learned it’s ok to let go when it’s really not working out.
14. Consider buying used.
Not everything, of course! But seriously consider thrift stores, garage sales, and Craigslist for clothes, furniture, baby goods (except carseats!) and cars.
15. Fake it til you make it.
Ok, not if you’re a surgeon or something, but act with confidence, ask questions, hone your craft and keep learning!
16. Silence is golden.
Still waters run deep, as they say. Sometimes, you just really actually have nothing to say. That’s ok- keep your mouth shut! You’ll seem smarter and you may just learn something.
17. Stay in touch.
If you think of someone, reach out to them. I’ve maintained so many relationships over the years simply by sending a quick email or text. Sometimes, someone is going through something and you’ve reached out at just the right time. It’s also fun to keep up with people all over the world and have friends in lots of different cities! I also love it when we’re able to host out of town friends- I think relationships are the foundation of life.
Like, REALLY listen. Be prepared to listen more than you speak, don’t try to think of how you’re going to respond while the other person is still talking. Practice being totally present with another person- they’ll treasure your company and you’ll learn more by listening than by talking.
19. Put your phone away.
Seriously. Put it away, especially on dates, at dinner, with friends, at the movies. Linking back to #19, just be present when you’re with others.
20. Don’t beat yourself up.
We are our own worst critics. Let’s stop doing that. Encourage each other, encourage yourself. We all fall from time to time- pick yourself back up, learn from your mistakes and keep going.
21. You’re not fat.
Or maybe you are- I don’t actually know that for a fact. But chances are, you’re not as fat as you think you are. If you honestly need to make some changes, then do so. Otherwise focus on your health, how you fuel your body, your mindset, your self-talk and propelling yourself forward. Obsessing over your thighs in the mirror is holding you back, dude.
22. Speak up.
Don’t be obnoxious or interrupt your boss or something, but speak up for someone if they’re being bullied, speak up for those without a voice, speak up if you don’t understand something, speak up if you have a question, speak up if you need more information to do your job right, speak up if someone is being rude- even if they’re being passive aggressive. I’ve found a simple, “Wow, that was rude” or, “That was a really strange thing to say” can really work wonders on people who think they’re being sneakily passive aggressive. Also, as a bonus: don’t be passive aggressive, we’re onto you, bro. If you have something to say, say it directly and kindly.
23. Invest early.
If your job has a 401k, max that puppy out. If you’re changing jobs or quitting your job altogether, don’t cash out- roll it into an IRA (Individual Retirement Account). Save at least 10% of your income, and if you can’t do that, save as much as you can and work up to saving more.
24. Speaking of investing, invest in relationships and experiences, not things.
25. Also speaking of investing, invest in yourself.
If there’s a course you want to take or something you need to invest in to improve your skills or propel yourself to the next level, do what it takes to make it happen! A year from now, you’ll wish you had and 5 years from now, you’ll really wish you had!
26. Stop comparing yourself to others.
There will always be someone more successful, richer, smarter, prettier, in better shape than you. Be the best you that you can be. And if you’re comparing yourself to celebrities or models, seriously stop. The girls in the magazines don’t even look like the girls in the magazines, trust me.
27. You actually can change.
Start changing the script in your head. Stop telling yourself “I’m not a ____ person. I could never do that. I don’t possess ____ quality.” You have the ability to make changes, you can do hard things, and you are totally able to accomplish what you put your mind to!
28. Learn from your mistakes.
We are all human, we all make them. Mistakes are part of life and how you handle them has a direct impact on the quality of your life.
29. Let go of perfection.
Be willing to take a step, make a change, put yourself out there and know that you will make mistakes, feel awkward, get rejected. Dust yourself off, adjust if necessary and try again.
30. Don’t try to fit in.
You’ve probably figured this one out by now- when you’re in high school, it feels so important to try and fit in, but we’re not in high school anymore! It can be a little scary, but not everyone is going to like you. Just be you. You’ll find your tribe. There is nobody quite like you in the whole world. Embrace that!
31. Don’t take things or yourself so seriously.
Learn to laugh, even when you’re having a bad day. Laughing about how bad your day is going is way more fun that crying about it or dwelling on it. There will be many times in your life where you can’t control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them. Live a little, let go.
32. Wear Sunscreen.
Sigh. If only I had been more vigilant about sunscreen in my teens rather than slathering myself with baby oil and lounging by the pool for hours on end. Sunscreen is your friend. Wear it everyday, even in the winter, even if you aren’t going outside. Skin cancer is no joke and fine lines sneak up way earlier than you think they will!