In rounding up on 33 years of living (a shave less than 2 months from now, to be exact), I decided on making a list of 33 of the most powerful or poignant lessons learned in those years of life.
I strongly believe that each and every one of us have much to offer in terms of life lessons and insights to others, as well as a host of riches ever at the ready that we can learn from others, if only our ears are poised and our hearts open to such. In fact, I would venture to say that within almost any and every conversation or social interaction, you can learn something. Whether a smaller insight or thought, to a huge, life changing revelation.
Though I didn't do this last year, I did such a few years ago. Making a list similar to the one following this intro. You can read that list here if you wish. An entry from a couple years ago titled "30 things Ive learned in my almost 30 years."
Without drawing from that prior list, here are the 33 things Ive learned over the last (nearly) 33 years. I look forward with thrill and hunger towards the further depths of learning, life lessons, insights, and growth I will continue accruing. The ways I will develop, shift, and change in continuing on this adventure called life. In the meantime though...
1. Chase, do not meander leisurely after but instead race after the few things that make your heart truly sing and soar. They are the aspects of your life that make it meaningful, awesome, rich, and full.
2. The people you love, and yes even the good ones, will at times hurt you, disappoint you, let you down. This isn't necessarily evidence of the relationship or person being a bad one. As humans, this by nature means we are flawed. Each of us having both good and bad inside. Part of truly loving means acknowledging this, it means seeing both sides of someone and still loving. Acknowledging this life truth is also how one learns the art and bravery of forgiveness.
3. Conversely and off the point above, there will be some people in your life within which the bad far outweighs the good. People who, whether you love them or not, aren't healthy, who might be toxic, manipulative, even cruel or downright bad. There are some people who you will need to let go, and some of them will even be people you love. This will be heart wrenching, and really, really hard. Its also necessary for your personal emotional wellbeing and life happiness over the long term.
Therefore, even while knowing that within each of us there is both good and bad, this is not license for accepting and allowing continually harmful, hurtful, toxic behavior from someone. Each of us need to asses, and carefully, the people in our lives. Those we choose to be close with, their behavior and heart should be, by far and large, outweighed with good rather than bad.
4. What you put into your body directly affects how you feel. Your energy levels, your mood, emotional state, the way your skin and body looks, your sex drive, many things. Its SO important to be both mindful of and vigilant with regards to what you put into your body. It distinctly affects, and thus reverberates out into a plethora of other aspects of your life.
5. Off the point above, how you approach your personal health in general does the same thing with regards to how well (or not) you feel and function. Getting enough sleep. Carving out and having protected, sacred time for connecting and spending time with people you love. Doing things (outside of work and the everyday mundane) that bring you joy and light your heart. Surrounding yourself with emotionally healthy and good people. Nourishing your mind with great books, further learning, pursuing new insights and knowledge. Maintaining a healthy weight. Exercising several times a week. Not putting things into your body like drugs, smoking, too much sugar, nor too much alcohol.
All of this has direct and distinct effects on the quality of your life. With regards to your overall happiness, your mood, energy, how your body looks and feels, the ways you think, the fulfillment you derive (or not) from your life. Health must be a top priority.
6. Pursue adventure and travel. Purposefully go outside your comfort zone, and often. This is where true growth and a distinct sense of being the most alive is found. Shake it up. If your life is ever the same, a constant routine and rut, this is where souls slowly but surely wither. You get one time on this earth, and time is ticking as we speak. Explore as much of it as you possibly can, while you can. Be curious, be daring.
7. A big one Ive learned through personal experience. Love completely and fully. Even if you are scared, and even more so, in spite of it. Again, one life, one time on this earth that's slipping away in every minute of every day. Do not waste a single minute in which you can be loving passionately, fully, madly. Be the romantic who believes in magic. Write love letters. Tell that person just how special they are to you. Risk it. Make gestures, little and large, and often, to show people how special they are to you, what they mean to you. Be creative. Have fun with your love.
8. Magic is everywhere, if only you know to look for it. And part of what makes magic is actually within you, if you so choose to create and feel it. Magic can be found in a certain song. It can be glimpsed in a particular look between two people. Its found in a starry sky, or an especially joyous moment. Magic can be seen in an unexpected moment of kindness, warmth, generosity. Magic can be felt in words. Magic, miracles, wonder, and awe. Its everywhere. You just have to choose to see it.
9. Books. People, reading is hands down the most powerful, cheapest, fastest way to change your life for the better. You can learn so much, anything and everything really, from books. Chose any life topic, you can learn about it. Music, gardening, how to be a better writer, how to improve your relationships with others, becoming a skilled communicator, forgiveness, chemistry, biology, cooking and baking, photography, travel and adventure, you name it, you can learn about it from books.
Further, in reading, you get to occupy not just one life (the experience you are in, day to day), but other worlds, other lives, perspectives, cultures, and experiences. When gripped within a powerful, exciting, awesome book, there isn't much else more fun than waiting with bated breath to dive back into the story within which you are wrapped up.
And finally, reading teaches us how to be human. This goes for both fiction and nonfiction. Even within fictional stories, these are based on real human dilemma, emotion, experience, and challenge. We can learn and garner new ideas for life, different ways of thinking, alternate ways of approaching our relationships, assistance in navigating through life's challenges, all within books.
Reading expands you. It fills you. Enriches you. Widens your heart, eyes, and ears. Reading is adventure, escape, knowledge, entertainment, and growth.
10. Celebrate birthdays and holidays. Take the time to make people you love feel just that: loved, and special. So few take the efforts and thought to do this nowadays. Be one of the few who does. Your recipients will not soon forget it. Make holidays and birthdays memorable, personal, special. The people you love will revel in it, and you will feel great as a result. Plus, it just makes things more fun.
11. Spend time outside every day. You'll see, the second of stepping outside, energy and a sense of expansion will set forth filling your lungs, body and being. The outdoors is awesome for the human spirit. Even if you dont feel in the mood, do this. You will be happy you did, each and every time. Going outside heals and refreshes.
12. Do not take your romantic partner, nor your closest friends and those family members whom you love deeply and are close to, for granted. This is something you will, without question, regret later on down the road. You get one life to spend with these people. A life that's fleeting and fast. Choose carefully those in whom you invest and decide to be close with. Then revel in them. Put your heart and focus into them. Love and connectedness, not things and money, are what result in the most joyous, rich, satisfying life.
13. Never stop pursuing personal growth. When you stop growing, this is when your spirit begins to die. Continually strive to keep evolving into a better person, while also loving who you are. Listen to other people, and learn from those who are wise. Pay attention to gems of insight that can be added to your life, making it richer, brighter, more informed, better. Pursue and explore new interests. Read about things which you do not know. Challenge yourself to consider alternate thoughts and viewpoints. Be curious, and never stop being so.
14. Conversely, be careful about what you take in, mentally and emotionally. There are a lot of toxic people, as well as messages and ways of thinking, throughout our culture and lives. There will even be well meaning people in your own life who may offer advice at times which is distinctly awful or just not applicable to you and your situation. Be vigilant of this. Have a filter and sift, considering carefully, what you choose to take in as your own. This is called having good boundaries. Just because someone offers an opinion or insight does not mean its right in general, nor right for you.
Side note: on the flip side though, just because you dont like something someone you love says doesn't necessarily mean its wrong ;-). Sometimes, important things need to be said which initially hurt to hear or upset us, though they may be true, need to be said out of caring, and ultimately in the long term, helpful.
15. Tough medicine and a stark truth, but here goes. You are directly responsible for your own life. You are the author of your own life story, so to speak. If there is something within your life with which you are unhappy, be it your romantic relationship, a particular friendship (or, lack there of), your job, where you are living, etc, this is largely within your control. Continually and often, we grossly underestimate the power each of us has over our own life direction and outcomes.
Dont get me wrong, there are some extenuating circumstances out of our immediate control. Also, awful things sometimes happen. As an example, something like struggling with a mental illness or depression is no joke. Its a serious, very real thing and is not something you can just wish or take away. Life also entails losses, death, failures, some of which we also have no control over. However these are also very often circumstances with which we still have power to work. Seeking help, deciding on taking care of ones health vigilantly- even when its hard, choosing to move towards emotional healing, attempting to find support, etc.
I am not saying that we control everything that happens to or befalls us. Not even close. What we do control is how we react to such, how we move through it, the ways in which we choose (or not) to attempt healing, growth, and health. What we choose to hold on to and allow, versus what we choose to stand up against/for, or let go of. If we reach out (or not), for help when needed.
We are largely the controllers of our lives and thus, our own happiness. If we dont like something, are unhappy with an aspect of our life, its up to us to take charge and change it, to reach out for support or guidance, to seek change/progress, or even in some cases, letting go and altering course entirely.
16. Apologize when you're wrong. Its the fastest way to repair hurt or damage between you and someone else, assuming your apology is genuine and thoughtful. Rarely, or even never apologizing? A recipe for relationships slowly being chipped away at, and eventually ruined.
17. Enjoy dessert, as life is short, and the sweet stuff makes life, well, sweeter. However, dont eat too much of it. Ive learned this the hard way over the years, and still I struggle with it. Eating too much sugar wrecks havoc on your health, both in the short time and especially over the long term. It ruins your skin too.
18. Take the time, and yes, it will mean going out of your way to do so (this is ever the case in anything you decide on doing and making a priority, it takes efforts and actively choosing to do so) towards being thoughtful and romantic. Each week, ask yourself, what is something I can do for my partner that will surprise and delight them, as well as let them know how much I like/love/adore (you insert the adjective) them. This will be one of the best investments you ever make.
19. Find a hobby, at least one, that lights your soul on fire. This will add immense richness to your life. It should be one that, while engaged in, time falls away. This should be something separate from your job. Otherwise though, it can be anything. As long as it both adds to your life, energizes you, and is good for you.
20. Love sometimes entails sacrifice. Love is sometimes, and even often, about being there when it isn't so easy. About going out of your way. Extending yourself. This isn't to say one should be a doormat, not at all what I am saying. What I am saying is that love is about giving. Its not just about finding the right partner, its also about being the right partner.
21. Having good boundaries. Crucial to having a healthy and happy life. Without good boundaries, you will have a lot of trouble in relationships, and throughout your life. Likely often feeling mistreated, taken advantage of, sometimes guilty, intimidated, resentful, you name it. This is one of the best things I have ever learned, and still am seeking further knowledge, learning, and practice on it. Boundaries are a challenging thing to get sure of and strong with. But as you do, your life will improve, as well as your relationships with others.
22. Put your all into your work. Find something you enjoy going to and doing each day, and give it your all. This is not one in the same as "living to work," and thus sacrificing relationships, quality connections, other pursuits, and allowing it to suck lots of focus from the rest of your life. Its important to keep those boundary lines generally clear, barring sometimes extenuating circumstances. If you want to have a fulfilling other side of your life too (love, deep connections with others, joyous adventures, passionate hobbies), you must get good at this, which will happen through practice. So absolutely give your work and career your all, while attending to the rest of your life with just as much heart and priority.
23. Its important to strike a middle balance between "who knows what will happen tomorrow, so I want to enjoy myself today" and "saving for a rainy day." Too much in the direction of either extreme will take away from your life to some degree, adding strain and anxiety. If you never save a dime, ever spending it all, this lends to anxiety perpetually hovering. However, if you save every cent, never allowing yourself to adventure and enjoy things along the way, this is a recipe for a Scrooge-like existence and fairly dull, restrained life. Find a middle ground in there.
24. Pets add a sense of calm, love, and joy to your life. The type of pet is of course, totally up to you and dependent on ones financial situation, ability, and lifestyle. However, having a pet of some sort adds much happiness to your days. Once you have one, you'll understand completely.
25. Dance. Better yet, dance with people you adore and/or love. Friends, lover, family, you name it. Dancing, if you can let go of the self consciousness (because really, everyone else is far more worried about how they look then giving a crap what you look like), is such a blast.
26. Continually try new things. Yes, routine is comfy. Its easier and feels good, going to the places you already know and love. Doing the same thing each day, taking the same route, eating similar foods every week. Its safe and feels reassuring, easy, comfortable. Its also wildly boring, as well as numbing and growth stunting.
Push yourself to do something totally new, at least a few times each week. Try a new restaurant. Eat a food you've never sampled before- because, how can you find new favorites if you never try different things. Walk a different route. If you eat lunch at your desk every day, take a walk outside while eating instead. If you always call someone on the phone who lives far away for chatting, ask them about a Skype chat one time instead. Give a new TV show a shot, one which you wouldn't normally consider. Same for books, pick up a book that wouldn't typically be your taste but which the synopsis draws you anyway. Attend a brand new exercise class to see what its like. Select an ice cream or cake flavor to taste which you've never tried before. You get the idea ;-)
27. Consider some of the goals of your life. Choose one, and decide you will complete it within the year. This gives you something to work towards, a thrilling purpose and striving. Do this every year.
28. Redecorate something in your home, or just add a new flourish and change something up every few months. You'll feel refreshed and energized for the following weeks.
29. Dont cancel on people. Of course, in a rare emergency or in falling very ill, absolutely. Dont be a flake though. This is, at its lightest, highly irritating. At its worst, downright disrespectful, and even relationship ruining. If you learn that someone cannot be counted on, that you never know if they will show up or not, if you are unsure whether their promises or words carry weight, if their actions only sometimes match their words, this will affect the relationship and in a bad way. Be the person who keeps their word. Who others know they can count on. Whose words match their actions.
30. Be humble, along with quietly confident. Sounds easy, but a lot of people aren't. Instead either tending toward having little to no confidence or wildly arrogant/self righteous.
You have skills and abilities that will trump others in that particular arena. Other people have loads of skills, abilities, and accomplishments of their own which will trump yours. Neither of you is "better" or "worse" than the other. Both of you have much to offer, differing strengths, and awesomeness, as well as things at which you aren't so hot- and thats ok too. This is what makes each person special, and different. We are skilled in differing ways, with varying gifts to offer.
31. Letting go hurts. Most of the time, a lot. It can even feel soul crushing. Yet, that isn't necessarily reason to avoid it (which many people do in order to avoid such pain, much to their detriment over time). Sometimes, no matter how painful it feels, a goodbye is necessary and healthy for the bigger picture of your life.
32. Choose joy. Every day, there will be things to be irritated by, pissed off at, disappointed with. There will also be aspects to each day which are beautiful, relaxing, joyous, fun, and fantastic. Choose to find and see the latter, as much as you possibly can.
33. Play games. Be silly. Laugh. Dont take yourself too seriously. Joke around. Have a lot of fun. Being alive is a pretty incredible and heart rending occasion, in and of itself.
34. And one more, a bonus if you will, for good measure. Love yourself, as often as you can. There will be times when that is hard. Times you will feel disappointed by or angry with yourself. Learn from this-find the lesson within, then grow from it and do better next time. As much as you can though, choose to see and focus on what is beautiful, special, or good in you. This will result in your having a much happier, brighter life.