So many people moan about getting older (and I’ve been known to do so on occasion…), but the other day I had this thought: There’s no greater gift than another birthday. It’s a tad cheesy, yes, but it’s so true. What could be better than being given an opportunity to be here, to keep living, to experience the highs and lows of life, the unexpected twists and the comforting consistencies?
There have been many times, for many reasons, that I wasn’t certain I would celebrate another birthday and so, while I’m not always this obsessively grateful (though I’d like to be!), I do feel particularly thankful as my birthday rolls around each year. I am here and, while it’s certainly not all sunshine and rainbows, I am so glad to be adding another candle to my birthday cake.
In celebration of the big three-three I’ve rounded up a list of 33 things that I’ve learned over the past three+ decades. Below is a video in which I chat about these lessons (click here if you can’t see it), and, if you’d rather read them, they’re written below that!
You have control over your attitude.
External factors play a huge role in how you feel, but it’s so important to remember that you — and only you — control your attitude. At every single moment, you are able to choose what you focus on. And what you focus on can have a huge impact on how you feel and act.
The “wrong” thing is sometimes right.
I’ve learned from trial and error that “good” and “bad” or “wrong” and “right” isn’t always as clear as we’d like it to be. Sometimes the “wrong” thing is actually the right thing to do. And sometimes…
The “right” thing is sometimes wrong.
… what seems “right” is actually wrong. Just because someone (or society) tells you something is the right thing to do, that doesn’t mean it is. I’ve learned to take the right / wrong dichotomy with a grain of salt. It’s up to you to choose what’s right and wrong.
Keep your mind (and heart) wide open.
Open-mindedness is absolutely vital for making the most of life. You don’t have to agree with everyone or everything, but I’ve found that listening to others (with an open mind!) makes everything easier (and more interesting!).
Figure out what you really love doing.
I’m fortunate enough to have figured out what I love — writing and creating — at a very young age, but I’ve seen way too many people just floating uncertainly through life. Figure out what you love doing (even if it’s weird!) and do it as much as you possibly can.
Try as many new things as you can.
Admittedly, I’m not the most adventurous soul, but every time I’ve ventured outside of my comfort zone and tried something new, I’ve learned something about myself or the world. I’m still working on this lesson, but I know it’s so important!
Have a goal other than “to be happy.”
I’ve talked about this before, but happiness shouldn’t be your goal. You cannot and will not be happy all the time. Chasing happiness will not make you happy so find a goal or a purpose that’s not your own personal happiness.
Finding the good in a situation pays off.
Optimism has always been a challenge for me (which is why I started this site!), but every single time I’ve chosen to focus on the positive in a situation, it’s made things better. Look for the good. Always.
It’s okay not to like what others like.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life is that it’s okay not to like what other people like. Likewise, it’s okay to be into stuff that other people think is weird. Life is short; don’t waste it following trends you don’t care about.
Hate and resentment are never, ever useful.
This probably isn’t the most earth-shattering lesson, but it’s one that too many people forget. When you hate, resent, or hold grudges against others, you only hurt yourself. I love T.Swift, but bad blood is just bad news.
Society’s rules don’t have to be yours.
You don’t have to follow society’s rules just because they’re there. I don’t want to get married or have kids or work a typical 9-to-5 job even though those are things you’re “supposed” to do. It’s your life; don’t let your society dictate how you live it.
You can change any time you want to.
Just because you were a certain way before doesn’t mean you always have to be. You can change — the way you feel, the people you’re with, the job you have, the place you live — any time you want to. It won’t always be easy, but change is always possible.
Pay attention to how people make you feel.
How does it feel after you’ve spent time with someone? Pay attention to that. If you feel drained, that person is no good for you. If you feel uplifted, pull that person closer. Choose to surround yourself with people who make you feel good.
You define what the word “success” means.
Success is whatever the hell you want it to me. My new favorite quote (by Sarah Jones) is: What if joy was my only metric for success? Determine what you want your metric for success to be and measure you life by that. (Tip: It doesn’t have to be money, a fancy title, or a perfect family.)
Treat others how they want to be treated.
The golden rule — “treat others how you’d want to be treated” — isn’t so golden in my book. You’ve got to treat people not how you want to be treated, but how they want to be treated. Don’t know what they want? Ask!
Never, ever stop being thankful.
Gratitude is E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. It’s taken me a long time to learn this (mostly because I thought it was just a cheesy cliche), but gratitude really is life-changing. The more you practice it, the better your life gets. Seriously. Dooooo it.
Self-love is the foundation for all love.
Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is that, if you want to love and be loved, you have to love yourself first. Loving who you are vital to creating good relationships, discovering an ideal career path, and just generally loving life.
Worrying serves no practical purpose.
This one is tough. I’ve learned the lesson countless times (how many times I’ve worried about something that never happened!), but I still struggle with anxiety and worrying. I’m working on it though!
Bad times pass. So do good times.
When you’re going through a tough time, it seems like it’ll never pass, but guess what? It always does. And so do the good times. When things are bad, know they will pass and hang in there. When they’re good, know they will pass and appreciate every joyful moment.
When it’s time to let go, do it.
Another lesson I’ve been taught over and over again by life, but still struggle to master. Letting go is hard for me, and I tend to cling waaay longer than I should to people and situations. I’m working on channeling my inner Elsa and learning to let that shit go.
You can be scared and still be brave.
It’s taken me awhile, but I’ve finally realized that bravery isn’t an absence of fear. Being brave is about being scared and facing a situation anyway. We’re all scared of something; instead of running from the fear, face it. You’ll be glad you did.
Notice what’s going right.
This goes hand-in-hand with gratitude. So often we’re focused on what’s going wrong in our lives – which is normal, don’t worry – that we forget to recognize what’s going right!
Don’t romanticize the past or future.
The past and future aren’t real, and, likewise, memories and visions are only ideas, not reality. Rather than wishing I was elsewhere, I’ve learned to focus on making the most of the present. If you’re gonna glamorize something, let it be the now.
You cannot control other people.
No matter what you do, say, or think, you do not have control over other people. Yes, there are times when you can probably manipulate someone, but that doesn’t usually end well. When you realize you have no control over others, you’ll find a profound sense of freedom within yourself.
Go into it with absolutely no expectations.
Expectations only lead to disappointment. You can have standards, but don’t have expectations. You’ll only be let down by situations and people. And going into things with no expectations can lead to amazing experiences.
Take note of what excites your heart.
What makes your heart start beating fast? What do you want to talk about for hours? What excites you? Pay attention to those things — no matter how small — that get you feeling inspired and enlivened. They will tell you things about yourself you never knew.
It’s good that not every wish is granted.
For the past few years, I’ve been making the same wish on every star I could see. It hasn’t come true and I’m starting now to see why. There’s something better in the works. If your wish isn’t coming true, it’s for a reason. Trust.
You’ll make time for what you really want.
You all the things you don’t have time for? It’s because you don’t want to do them. We all have the same amount of time in every day. What you want to do is what you’ll do. I always have time for the things that really matter to me — and you do too.
The less you need, the more you’ll have.
It’s taken me a long time to learn this one, but I finally realize that the rush that comes from material things doesn’t last very long. Yes, I still love stuff, but I realize now that it’s extra, not essential. (Hint: what’s essential isn’t something you can purchase at a store.)
Not all thoughts are worth believing.
Not everything you think is a fact, and it took me awhile to realize this, but once I did, it was life-changing. Always take a closer look at what you’re thinking and ask yourself if it’s absolutely, definitely true. Your mind is a wild place and so much of it is imagination.
Notice mistakes you make repetitively.
I’m really great at making the same mistakes over and over again. What can I say, it’s a skill. 😉 But, seriously, I’ve learned to pay attention to mistakes I make repetitively and look closely at them. They teach me things.
Learn something new every day.
Knowledge is power. The more you know, the bigger your world gets. And, if you’re reading this, you’re fortunate enough to access to the internet, holder of so much knowledge. Use it to up your power. Soak up that info like a dry sponge; learn as much as you can!
Always choose love over fear.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that almost everything you do, say, think, feel can be traced back to love or fear. Those two things govern so many of our choices and beliefs. Pay attention to which one is guiding you and strive to give love the lead. You’ll never, ever go wrong by letting love guide you.
So, here I am, nearly 33, and those are some of the most important things I’ve learned so far. Not bad for only 33 years! I hope you’ve either recognized these as some of your own learned lessons or you’ve found some inspiration in them. Life is one great big classroom and the more you learn, the more progress you’ll make and the better your life will be. I’d love to hear the lessons you’ve learned so far in life! Share them with me in the comments!