Guess what? Yesterday was my 24th birthday! I think for one of the first times in my life (and probably the last time) I wish I were turning a few years older than I am today. Wait, what? Yes. Older. 24 still feels like that kind of awkward pre-teen stage of your twenties when all of your slightly older friends can drive and go to R-rated movies without their parents. However, in this case, those “slightly older friends” are starting families and lifelong careers – things I can taste, but I know I’m not ready to swallow. In an effort to remind myself (and hopefully you!) how awesome every year of life is, I created this list of 24 of the most important life lessons I’ve learned in the past 24 years.
A couple days ago, during a wonderful birthday dinner with my partner, we talked about how crazy it is that it’s almost May. But then he reminded me that the past four months may have gone by quickly, but so much has happened since the new year – I quit my old job and started a new one, moved to a new apartment, and even got a dog. The illusion of time is a funny thing. This list of 24 life lessons reflects that same mentality – that the years of our lives may fly by, sometimes perhaps too fast or too slow, but when we really take time to analyze everything we’ve learned, the end result is magnificent. Shall we get started?
- The only meaning your life has is the purpose you give it yourself. If you consider our individual size in terms of the earth and the universe, we are all just cute little specks, like the amoeba of the galaxy, except about a gazillion times tinier. It is up to us to create our own meaning and know that even though we can’t create the sun, we can still add a little sunshine to our communities.
- You can never know what it’s like to be someone else. Every person you meet has experienced years and decades of great and horrible memories that have been smooshed together to create the exact person they are. Everything they do, say, feel, etc is just an extension of all these messy pieces acting together. We can never understand it because we’ve never lived it. Act accordingly and treat people with respect, knowing we’ve all come from different places and experiences.
- Don’t try to fit square pegs into round holes. I received this advice after asking my dad for wisdom while going through a breakup. He reminded me that the breakup was for the best and that often, even though people show us signs that they’re not right for us, we ignore these signs and try to convince ourselves that things are working, even when they’re not. It is our job to decide when we’re forcing something even when it doesn’t exist. And then it is our job to gracefully walk away.
- Don’t believe everything you hear. I remember when I was in high school and my dad sent me to a “law camp” in an effort to convince me to become an attorney. I didn’t end up becoming a lawyer, but I did meet a judge who handled many homicide cases in Los Angeles. During the camp, I got to interview him and asked him for a piece of advice, to which he told me not to believe everything I hear. Of course, it’s fitting for a man who sentences criminals, but the phrase is so useful for all matters of life, especially in terms of knowing that no matter what you hear, there’s always another side to the story. Without even thinking about it, it’s become my silent mantra.
- We are all just human beings. Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to be a celebrity? What about someone who lives in poverty. Sometimes I think, “what is Beyonce, or some other random celebrity, doing right now?” I always imagine that she’s sitting on a beach chair drinking $30 mixed drinks out of a pineapple, but really she’s probably just doing laundry or taking a nap. It is comforting to think that everyone, from the most tyrannical world leaders to the kindest pals you know are all just human beings with the same needs and basic desires.
- Surprise them. At a previous job, my boss asked me to plan an event for one of our sponsors with the simple instructions of, “surprise them.” I loved that advice. When we surprise people’s expectations, we make ourselves and our message memorable.
- Always look your best. This may be the product of having a hairstylist mom, but I believe it’s important to always look well put-together. Why? So many things in life happen by chance, and even though we have plans and schedules, we never really know who we’ll meet or what we’ll end up doing the moment we leave our houses. In my opinion, it’s better not to risk that chance.
- Give yourself deadlines. Do you relate to the phrase “works best under pressure?” Then consider that this deadline pressure mentality, and in other words, time-specific goals, are not only for school and work. If you want to accomplish something, give yourself a deadline, and better yet, give yourself lots of small deadlines to finish big things. It’s when we lazily list things out without prioritizing and dating them that we find the same repeat items on our to-do lists month after month, waiting eagerly to be crossed out.
- Do you know the golden rule? Well, in college I learned the platinum rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”Though the original “treat others how you’d like to be treated” expression is well-intentioned, it doesn’t reflect that all people are different and have varied ideas about what is right and preferred. It is not our job to see others as ourselves, but to see them as…them.
- Don’t eat the yellow snow. In this case, don’t buy into beauty hype, no matter how wonderful someone looks or appears. Define your own standards of what beauty means to you without succumbing to the pressures of society to conform your body and appearance.
- Meditation practices inspired by the TV series, Lost, are sometimes not half bad. I will probably write an entire post about Lost one day. Keiji and I are in the midst of season three and thoroughly addicted (no spoilers, please!!). Anyways, there is one scene when one of the characters, who is a doctor, describes a time when he made a huge mistake during surgery and nearly killed his patient. In that moment, he decided to count to five while letting in as much fear and anxiety as possible. As soon as he was done counting, he forced the fear out and drudged on, stitching her up and saving her life. Sometimes we need to let the fear in briefly and accept it for all that it is…and then shove it out and move forward.
- If all you’re doing is examining you’re not living. Sometimes it’s nice to just “be.”
- Call me a hippie, but I believe that all answers can be found in nature. Why? Nature always acts in equilibrium and only does what is necessary for its survival and to maintain this equilibrium. Everything else is just excess. Sometimes when I’m working through problems or thinking about my values, I look to nature and consider what the natural way of things would be without this clunky consciousness I have to lug around.
- Easy jobs are not necessarily a good thing. Last year I had a job that paid me well and was so.freaking.easy. At first, it sounded like a dream, but after a few months of feeling like I lacked any purpose for eight hours a day, I realized money and a relaxed work day were not worth feeling like I was regressing in my day-to-day life.
- How to not walk into someone heading your way: look in the direction you plan to walk. There is a 99% chance the other person will assume you’re going to walk that way and they will end up walking the other way. I figured this out after living in Tokyo and having too many awkward encounters where I’d literally run.into.people who were walking in my direction. After learning this lesson, I’ve stopped dancing with strangers in the middle of crosswalks.
- Make shit happen. In college, I co-led an orientation program for incoming freshmen, and at each of the nine programs, I had to give a speech of advice to 500 new freshie faces. I went a little vulgar in my advice and used that phrase to make sure it’d stick. To this day, I still think about why it matters so much to me. Sometimes I feel blocked by a lack of courage. I can be sensitive to others’ opinions and use what I think others will think about me as a way to inhibit me from moving forward. To me, those three words are the badass Melyssa who doesn’t care about any of that. The Melyssa who only cares that she’s doing what she loves, even if it feels a little uncomfortable sometimes.
- Every single person has insecurities. Knowing this should help you navigate number 18.
- If someone is rude, catty, or mean to you, it is often a reflection of their own reality and insecurities. This thought often helps me when someone says or does something that hurts me. Usually the meanest people need the most love.
- Don’t cry over lost iPhones. This is my modern version of “don’t cry over spilled milk.” But in all seriousness, losing material objects is not worth complaining over or crying about. Not ever. Not even a little. If it’s replaceable, then it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of your life.
- You only look as stupid as you’re willing to let yourself appear. The key to life is confidence. If you don’t have confidence, fake it until you do.
- Time management is more like time priority. I once read somewhere that we should stop saying that we don’t have time for something and start saying, “it’s not a priority” and see how that feels. Often when we tell ourselves that we have too much to do, it means we haven’t prioritized our time and instead are trying to do everything at once. Thinking of time in terms of priorities also makes sure we focus on the things we love rather than just trying to “get it all done.”
- Don’t let pride cause you to forget why you’re fighting. One of my worst traits is probably that I’m painfully loyal. Does that sound like a good thing? Probably because I used the word loyal instead of stubborn. I have strong beliefs in the things that matter to me, but sometimes while arguing for my values, I have to stop and ask myself – am I still fighting because I believe the other person is wrong or because I don’t want to admit that my values aren’t perfect? This is a lesson I’m still learning at times, but it’s important to take the pride mask off occasionally and throw in the towel.
- It doesn’t matter who you are, whether or not you’re embarrassed, if it’s not your thing, if you’re a guy, etc – you should tell people how much and why you appreciate them, often. It is amazing to me how grateful people can be after you tell them a few wonderful things you’ve noticed about them – literally as if they’ve never heard it before in their entire life. People deserve to know how special they are and how they have impacted your life. Assume no one else will spill the beans. Tell them yourself. Tell them often. Human beings need each other. We are only as good as the encouragement and support we receive from the people in our lives. Don’t underestimate the power of a letter of appreciation or thanks, either.
- Number 24 already? It only makes sense to end with some advice from Dumbledore, right? “‘Tell me one last thing,’ said Harry. ‘Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?’ Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure. ‘Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?'”
If you got this far, thank you. These lessons became more personal than I expected them to be and I feel empowered knowing that I’ve learned so many wonderful things in my life so far. Perhaps I want to be older for this same reason – to know now what I will know later. But I need to remember that life is a process and most of the fun of learning comes from figuring out the lesson. Here’s to a new year of lessons to be learned. I hope you’ll join me for the ride.
What important lessons have stuck with you over the years? Also, since it definitely doesn’t have to be your birthday to write a __ lessons in __ years post, if you decide to write your own, let me know and I’ll link it back here. :] I’d love to read the beautiful things you’ve learned in your own life, too.