Yesterday, I celebrated my thirty-second birthday, and reflecting on the past 365 days has reminded me what a crazy good/bad year it’s been. I faced a big-time break-up last August. I moved to a new apartment in November. I attended my first meditation retreat in January. I learned about loving without expectation. My book was published in March, which was a lifetime dream come true. I underwent surgery in July. I had some serious disappointments and some majorly uplifting moments. It’s been a year of big change, of feeling like a grown-up and also feeling like I don’t know when I’m ever going to be an adult. The ups and downs of my thirty-second year tie in quite perfectly with one my favorite songs, Taylor Swift’s “Innocent”:
It’s alright, just wait and see
Your string of lights is still bright to me
Oh, who you are is not what you’ve been
You’re still an innocent
It’s okay, life is a tough crowd
32 and still growin’ up now
Who you are is not what you did
You’re still an innocent
Since that song debuted (back in 2010!), I’ve always felt a connection to those lyrics, wondering where I would be and how I would feel when I turned 32. While those were written about Kanye West and his infamous interruption of Taylor’s acceptance speech, I’ve always felt connected with that notion that, even in my thirties, I wouldn’t feel like a grown-up. I would have some regrets, yet I would still be an innocent in many ways. And that’s pretty much exactly how I feel.
Listening to the song on repeat lately as inspired me to think about what I’ve learned over the past 32 years. So many ups and downs in this crazy thing called life, and the good and the bad have taught me so much about myself and the world. I know I’ve still got so much to learn, but today I’ve drafted a list of what I know so far…
1. YOUR DEFINITIONS WILL CHANGE. (Thanks, J, for inspiring this one!) I’ve learned that what you think of big concept words (like “love” and “career”) will change over time, and will constantly keep changing. What the word “love” means to you at 20 isn’t what it will mean to you at 30.
2. GRATITUDE IS EVERYTHING. It might sound cliche, but gratitude is emphasized often for a reason. The more you focus on what you have, the harder it is to waste energy on what you don’t have. Every time I’ve focused on feeling grateful, my attitude (and life) has changed for the better.
3. SLEEP IS ABSOLUTELY VITAL. I’ve always been a big believer of sticking to a bedtime (even in college, when the word “bedtime” has lost all meaning for most students), but the less I sleep, the less positive I’m able to stay. I also feel like I learn a lot from my dreams, too, and you can’t have those without sleep!
4. IT’S OKAY TO ACT LIKE A KID. Having a childlike sense of wonder is, sadly, something a lot of adults lose as they get older. I’ve tried to hang on to mine as much as I can, indulging in as many kid-like activities as I can get away with. Being a kid is fun and it doesn’t have to stop when you’re a grown-up.
5. BEING ALONE CAN BE GREAT. As an introvert, I’ve never had trouble being alone. In fact, alone-time is necessary for me to recharge after spending time with others. I used to feel like time spent alone wasn’t quality time when I was younger, but I’ve learned to embrace the moments of solitude.
6. CLOSE FRIENDS > LOTS OF FRIENDS. I’ve found that it’s more important to have fewer close relationships than to have lots of superficial friendships. This might not be the formula for everyone, but, for me, connecting on a deep level with people is rewarding, and it means focusing attention on the most important relationships.
7. IF YOU’RE UNSURE, IT’S A NO. Though I’m still working on mastering this one, I have noticed a pattern: when I’m not sure about something (a situation, a relationship, etc.), it’s usually because there’s something that’s not right about it. Doubt is there for a reason and it’s important to listen to it.
8. PUT THE PHONE DOWN. Another one I’m still working on is putting my phone down more often. Whenever I have my phone tucked away, I have more fun, better conversations, and more meaningful interactions. It’s hard to step away from technology sometimes, but it’s the only way to really embrace the tangible, IRL moments.
9. IF YOU’RE UNHAPPY, LEAVE. I’ve been in many relationships and friendships in which I was unhappy and I just stayed where I was because it was more comfortable than changing. This is not a good plan. If you’re not happy for a long period of time and for good reasons, leave. Life is too short to waste it in unhappy relationships.
10. IT’S OKAY TO SAY NO… Never one to shy away from stating how I feel, I generally don’t have trouble saying no when I need to, but there have been some situations in my life when I said yes and I should have said no in an attempt to please others. Don’t do this. Saying no is saying yes to yourself.
11. … BUT SOMETIMES SAY YES. However, on the flip side, I’ve said no to a lot of invitations because they would’ve put me out of my comfort zone. I’ve learned to be more open-minded and to say yes to invitations even when it would be easier to say no. Sometimes you have to push yourself a little.
12. YOU KNOW THE ANSWER. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to trust myself. Deep down, I always know what’s best for me. A lot of the time I ignore that voice that has the answer and do what feels good in the moment and that doesn’t always go so well. Trust — and listen to — yourself.
13. YOU CAN DO WHAT YOU LOVE… I’ve been so fortunate to be able to do what I love for a living. As a writer and designer, I spend my days creating content and (hopefully!) inspiring others, which is what I’ve always wanted to do. No matter what your dream is, you can do it (if you’re willing to put in the work).
14. … BUT DREAMS WILL COST YOU. Working for myself is hard. There are challenges I never anticipated. There are highs and lows (like any job), but these are closely tied to my whole life, not just a day at the office. I had to (and continue to) sacrifice a lot to do what I love. It’s worth it, but it’s work.
15. TAKE YOURSELF SERIOUSLY. You deserve the same respect and careful consideration that you’d offer to others. This is your one life, I’ve learned, and it’s up to you to take it seriously and make the most of it. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have fun, but it’s important to take yourself (and your future) seriously.
16. YOU CAN’T CONTROL IT ALL. No matter how many times life has taught me this lesson, I think I’ll always struggle with it. I enjoy being in control, but there’s a lot of life that is out of our hands. We cannot control it all. Learning to let go of control is the best way to handle life’s unexpected ups and downs.
17. YOU’RE BRAVER THAN YOU THINK. This year in particular, I’ve learned that I’m stronger and braver than I thought I was. When faced with difficult situations, you’ll be surprised at how brave you’re able to be. Courage comes out when you need it, and it can be surprising sometimes. Embrace that bravery.
18. IGNORE YOUR COMFORT ZONE. Whenever I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone, I’ve either learned something important about myself or had a really wonderful time. It’s still hard to do this sometimes (I love my comfort zone!), but the older I get, the more I realize how much I can benefit by stepping out of my routines.
19. NOTHING IS FOREVER. This might sound depressing, but it’s actually inspiring. The good times don’t last forever so you better enjoy them. And the bad times don’t last forever so you know you’ll get through them. Sometimes I want things to stay as they are, but this lesson is one of the greatest things I’ve tried to learn.
20. FORGIVENESS BRINGS PEACE. If someone has hurt you, it can be so hard to forgive, but I’ve learned that forgiveness is the key to peace. The sooner you forgive, the more peace you’ll have. In a related lesson: forgiveness doesn’t equal acceptance. It’s about freeing yourself, not others.
21. EMBRACE WHAT YOU LOVE. Who cares if your favorite day is Halloween or you want to fall asleep to the sounds of 30 Rock each night? Embrace what you love, even if others don’t get it. When I like something, I tend to really like it. Some people think this is silly, but I’ve chosen to embrace my enthusiasm rather than try to stifle it.
22. AVOID NEGATIVE PEOPLE. It took me a surprisingly long time to learn this one (perhaps because for so long I was pretty negative myself), but it’s so, so important. Avoiding negative people (or limiting the amount of interactions with them) can change your life in the most amazing ways. Life should not be wasted on those that bring you down.
23. GO OUTSIDE MORE OFTEN. I’m not what you’d call an outdoorsy girl, but I do love nature. Too often, I enjoy nature from the other side of a computer screen, but I’ve learned that I benefit a lot from going outside (even if it’s just for a little bit!). Real life nature cannot be replicated and it’s so inspiring.
24. YOU CAN CHANGE. For so long, I was set in my ways. I never thought I could change the things that made me unhappy, and for that I suffered. When I opened up my mind to the possibility that maybe I could change, that was when good things started to happen. Changing is hard, but it’s always possible if you believe in yourself.
25. DOGS ARE LIFE-SAVERS. Dogs have literally saved my life on more than one occasion. I cannot imagine my life without them. Not everyone is a dog-lover, I know, but those who are know just how healing and important they can be in your life. They are so good at staying present, too, which is always so inspiring.
26. TRY TO STAY IN THE NOW. The desire to stay present is one of the reasons I started Positively Present in the first place, and it’s still a challenge for me. I know how important it is, but it’s hard to stop my mind from wandering to the past or the future. But the point is: I keep trying. It’s hard work, staying present, but I’ve learned how important it is and I keep at it.
27. MISTAKES WILL BE MADE. Like all of us, I’ve made mistakes. Some I still shudder to think about, but that’s a part of life, isn’t it? We all do things we’re not super proud of, but it’s important to accept these mistakes, try to learn from them, and do the best we can not to make them again. There are no erasers in life, but we can change what we write in the future.
28. YOU WILL GET OVER IT. No matter how terrible the loss or heartbreak, you will get over it. Time truly does heal all wounds. Sometimes it takes a long, long time, but one day you look up and the pain isn’t so clear anymore. Day by day, it fades a little bit. It’s important to remember this when times are tough.
29. MAGIC IS FOR REAL. There are things that happen in life that are truly magical. You never know when these moments will happen, but when they do, it’s pretty amazing. Shooting stars. First kisses. Unexpected rainbows. Little bits of magic happen all the time, and I’ve learned to keep an eye out for them.
30. BE AWARE OF YOUR THOUGHTS. I’ve learned that what you think about is what your life becomes. Your thoughts make up your world, which is why it’s so important to be aware of them. I’ve learned to pay attention closely — and to choose to redirect my thoughts to a more positive path when necessary.
31. KEEP AN OPEN MIND. One of my most popular blog posts is this one, and I think it’s for good reason. Having an open mind is very beneficial. It changes you — and the way you see the world — for the better. It can be challenging to do at times (especially with long-held beliefs), but I’ve learned that it’s always worth the effort.
32. FALL IN LOVE WITH YOURSELF. This is perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned over the past 32 years: self-love is the foundation for all of your relationships. If you don’t love yourself, it’s impossible to love someone else. Self-love means respecting and caring for yourself. Doing these things (always!) will improve every aspect of your life.
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