I’ll try to make this list not too cheesy… but I sense it’ll be hard when writing about all the lessons I’ve learned in my brief (yet so long at times) time on earth – I’ll try to be as genuine and blunt as I can be, but since I tend to be a nostalgic one, I’m putting the disclaimer upfront that this text may quickly fall into a predictable list of clichés.
The big 30 hit differently than expected – especially with everything going on in the world in 2020. But without further due, here is my curated list of 30 lessons I’ve learned in 30 years of life.
- Time is the most valuable resource we have, period.
Granted, a lack of money can be limiting and frustrating to the point that it defines our daily life, but the lack of time is… lethal. This lesson has yet to be completely integrated into my brain, but I already know it’s the most important one. Not only your time, but the time you have to spend with others, which reminds me of this amazing albeit terrifying post from the wonderful blog Wait But Why. Not saying that money, success, and all the luxury this world has to offer are not worth pursuing, but we need to always keep the perspective of time, what it can offer and what it can take away from us.
- The only thing you have in common with some people is the fact that you eat and breathe.
I used to go about life, believing that most people think more or less the same way as I did. I couldn’t have been more wrong! First, there are about as many perspectives of a situation than there are people on earth. The fact that our upbringing and experiences somehow shape the way we think, behave, speak, and act has been emphasized (by orders of magnitude) in the last 4 years of my life, when I moved to a completely new environment in Delaware, USA. I had traveled often and to many different places before, and I’ve noticed cultural differences in different countries/cities, but the fundamental realization that some individuals are convinced of completely different “concepts of life”, is fairly recent. I also noticed that convictions are more and more ingrained in people as they age. In the progressive city of Montreal, where I mostly hanged out with college-educated young professionals, I’ve internalized that most people had been exposed (and open) to diverse cultures, were fairly curious about the world and traveling, and were skeptic about concepts that go against the principles of science (religion talks aside – that’s another story). But now, I’ve realized, and still try to adapt/accept, that MANY people will rationalize the idea they WANT to believe in – in any way they can. Social media really hasn’t helped in that way… If I had a dollar for every stupid argument that was brought to me through a dubious Facebook article!
- You are not as important/irrelevant as you think you are
Both extremes of this spectrum are false – consequently you shouldn’t be narcissistic OR self-conscious. Unfortunately, society is not a movie where you are playing the main character. Everything doesn’t revolve around you and everything won’t fall apart without you. You are part of a system that integrates into larger systems. Yes, you have the power to influence them, but there will come a day where you’ll die, and things will continue to go on without you. We’ve been brainwashed through movies to believe that things truly revolve around our little beings, and it’s really hard to let that go. But I think a lot of happiness and relief is to be found when you let some of it go…
- What you hate about people is most probably a character or a trait you envy!
How many times have I thought to myself “ugh this girl is so obnoxiously loud”! Well, I’ve come to accept that I truly envy women who have no filters and don’t think twice before saying what they think – loudly and assertively – I am a long way from there, and I envy those to whom it comes naturally.
- It’s okay not to know things.
One thing I’ve been working to let go since the beginning of my working life is the image of a professional who knows it all. First, it’s ridiculous to assume that one person has all the answers, regardless of the fact that they’ve gone to school or specialized something. Every situation and problem is unique in its own little way, thus expecting to have the best solution for each situation, on the fly, is simply unrealistic. Thus, the best skill to cultivate is not forcefully trying to learn more facts and figures (which I really tried to do in my early career – to a fault), it’s to expand your network of trusted experts (so you can always know who to bounce ideas off of), but also to build tools and systems that makes it “easier” to find the best tailored answer.
- It’s all relative
What happens next in your life might really matter to you. Actually… it’s EVERYTHING to you, but it means nothing to your next door neighbor. Sonder: realizing that every individual you encounter has a life filled with their own unique events, concerns, emotions, experiences, etc. Your life, and therefore how you experience everything, is shaped by your experiences and how your mind is trying to rationalize unpredictable chaos into a narrative that makes sense to you, on a day-to-day basis. In other words, as someone famous already said, there’s not reality, only perception.
- What matters is your mindset.
This one is a lesson that I am actively trying to materialize in my daily life and it goes like this: there are no limits in what I (or you) can do in this world. Life is a crazy adventure that you shape, and that only happens once. I have spent too much of my life being passive in this life, and being compliant to what was being asked of me – fulfilling expectations of other people. It’s not the way to go. The way to go is to be assertive, and to live life to its FULL potential the way YOU want it (with the caveat of never harming others in the way). The result, I’m 30 years old and struggling to articulate what I want out of life, and what I want to offer this world in this life – when deliberately choosing these two elements, and acting on them every single day is explicitly what life is about.
- Everyone has something to teach you
From the superstar in your screen to the homeless person you cross on the street. Every single person can write their own life lessons and they’d all be brilliant, and you’ll always gain some perspective. Be humble, stop judging, and open your mind to others’ hard earned lessons.
- Your value offer lies in the ways you are unique
In a world of 8 billion people, it’s easy to want to follow the crowds (whatever you’re into, you will likely find a crowd), but with time you’ll learn that if you really want to leave a mark in this world (and it’s okay if you don’t), incarnating your true self – while still working to become the best version of you – is truly the path forward. The easy path? I don’t think so, first because it takes a while to figure out what truly resonates with you (it’s a lifetime process), and also because going against the crowds is an active and uncomfortable process that few are willing to actively choose everyday. I’m certainly not done figuring out who I am, but I did start the process of acting and speaking according to myself – and having tough conversations in the process.
- Being great at something takes time and dedication
I’ve only done one true manual project from scratch in my entire life. Last year, I restored a table – and the process was intense – I ended up doing the whole thing twice. But, now when I look at my dining room table in the perfect color, and looking good and strong – I can help but smile. This process and the feeling you get out of it cannot be shortcut – an doing it over and over, that’s what will make you an expert, because you went through the prepping, the sanding, the painting, the cursing, the finishing touches countless times. You put in the blood, sweat and tears – and so it goes for everything else in life.
- Introversion is a thing
I consider myself very social. I need to have a circle of friends to vent to, to laugh and drink wine with, and to forget the heaviness of life once in a while. I also truly enjoy talking to strangers and having surprisingly deep conversations on a bench park, for example. But, with the years going by, I’ve realized that I do need time alone to re-energize – my spirit, my confidence, my creativity. I really think that it’s an energy thing – I’m way more intuitive (sensitive) to the vibes and feelings of those surrounding me, thus it can get really heavy really fast, and I do need some time to recuperate and be able to fully enjoy the next night out.
- The World is a chaotic place, and our mind is simply trying to make sense of it in a way that we can function day to day.
It’s true, and this realization came from a book that my therapist suggested I read. It really opened my eyes to the fact that our brain (and our mind) are mostly tools that continuously work in the background to build logical systems that make sense for us, so that the world we live in (which is completely out of our control) is not overwhelming us on a daily basis. Truth is, if we spend our time thinking about every little thing that has a chance to go wrong in the next year (heck, days?!), most of us might spend their days wrapped up in blankets, petrified.
- Creativity is associative memory that works exceptionally well
I’ve observed this more than I’ve rationalized it. So many times, the best of my ideas came from looking at a “problem” X multiple times, at different moments, and at some point, and idea Y draws itself from stuff I’ve seen/read/observed before (or was derived from these observations) – and shapes itself to be a perfect “solution” to my “problem”.
- Resilience is key
Build resilience for yourself: financial, physical, and mental. The sooner, the better, period.
- The main benefit of optimism is resilience in the face of setbacks
One thing is for sure, life has a curveball coming for you right around the corner. If it’s not a layoff or a break up, it might be a global pandemic that halts the world as we know it. Optimism, or what some like to call hope, truly serves a purpose here. It bridges the tough situation you’re in to the next stable or happy place. In doubt, always choose optimism.
- Learning to be you is a trying and never-ending process, but it’s an essential part of a happy life
As an individual, there are things that resonate with you and some that completely put you off. As you become a young adult, you test and try things/situations/people to know and understand your limits and preferences, and as you grow wiser, you learn to accept them, and learn to assert them. Now, I’m not saying that a being is an immutable thing and that we shouldn’t strive to go outside of our comfort zones. But, pushing your comfort zone further within the realm of your authentic self is where and when you get true happiness. Not there yet, myself.
- As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. If you don’t, you’re gonna miss most of your life – Buddha
Most of what characterizes life is the little moments. The walks with your dogs, that skinny dip in Florida with your boyfriend, that refreshing gelato while visiting Rome alone at 22 years old, the silly jokes and family gatherings during the winter holidays… We often spend our present thinking about future plans, and future goals, but when you do that the present moment is lost – and truth is, there is a limited amount of present moment, for all of us. Be there, and be intentional in all your movements. This one is very similar to lesson 1 – which emphasizes it’s importance.
- Whatever you choose to be, be a good one
I was as naïve as one can be about this. I thought that choosing a good degree in a good school will get you the career – and consequently – the life of your dream. I’ve even judged too many times many “blue collar” workers. But this is NOTHING but a lie folks, let’s lift the veil, open the curtains, wake up people! This is a storyline we’ve been fed since we could walk (like the one about buying a house, getting married, working, and retiring old). You can be a carpenter, happy, and millionaire, and you can be an artist, broke, but still enjoying every single second of your life because you live for the exchanges, and the artists you get to collaborate with. You should choose the way you want to live your life. But whatever you choose, give it your ALL – that’s how you die happy. I’ve learned THIS particular lesson the hard way, and am still struggling to find what really is my “dream career” today, entering my thirties.
- It’s not about where you live, it’s about who you are
I used to think where you live (up to the neighborhood and the street corner) was a key component of your personal identity. That is also so far from the truth – and I’ve even realized that most people that endorse this type of idea (or ideal) are mostly pretentious douchebags that I’d never vibe with anyways. From the remote corners of Japan, to the agricultural lands of Delaware, some of the best and plentiful people I’ve met were so far from the city centers – where too many are just inhabited with FOMO. I’ve learned to appreciate defining myself as an individual, before defining myself as part of a “group”. In a world where we are all connected through optic fiber, anyways, wherever you are in the world – you can create great networks and your opportunities.
- Regular Self-Assessment works
I really haven’t had a traumatic life – yes I’ve had struggles, but we all do, and I don’t think mine stand out in an extraordinary way – which I’m thankful for everyday! But, through these struggles, I’ve encountered many mental breakdowns, from anxiety, to low self-esteem, to incapacitating panic attacks. I know they’re part of life, and I know it will happen again – but a good way to help you progress in the long run is through objectively going back and having a second/ third/ fourth look in things that worked or that completely failed, in your life. It may be hard to do so – and it’s more a process than a goal – but, it is worth the discomfort.
- Workout! It’s good for maintaining your body on point, but it’s also the best stress reliever
I used to suck at working out – until I’ve realized that it’s about taking care of myself, and nothing else. And, that if I cheated a workout, I only cheated myself in the process – and that’s completely pointless.
- Being a pushover just won’t work
It’s cute for a little while to act as an innocent little girl – but people get tired of that and you’ll get tired of it yourself. Being confident and assertive in what you need and how you can bring value to a situation – whether we’re talking about work or relationships – is the only way to go.
- Travel, travel, travel
Travel is the best teacher in life, period. About life, and about you.
- You have a circle of influence
You don’t need to have thousands of followers on social media to have an impact. You have an impact, every single day – on your close circle (however big it is), and everything you do, they see. You can – and should strive to – empower through inspiration.
- Adjust your message to your audience, and have conversations, not interventions
This one is also another one I’ve learned the hard way, and still learning to perfect. As good as your intentions are (or as knowledgeable you are on a topic), people won’t listen to you (let alone respect you) if you don’t make the effort to speak to them in terms they can understand, and relate to. Trust me, I’ve tried all the wrong kinds of communications – from throwing stats and data, to acting like a know-it-all professional. What work is understanding what your audience cares about, truly listening and understand their viewpoint, and framing your message in terms of just that.
- You are not only One thing
I think that for generations, people have grown accustomed to describing themselves in only one lens: their profession. But, as this new era of social media and gig economy continues to develop, people (at least younger generations) are more open to the idea that you can do something but not be defined by it – and that you can have and most likely will have many different careers in your life. But, also that you can be everything you choose to put forward, at the same time. A mom, a writer, an engineer, an entrepreneur and a creative cook all wrapped up in one, for example!
- We need people to thrive
I’ve been denying my need for close friends for a few years when I moved to a new country. Yes, my old friends will always be part of my life (and accessible whenever I need them to be), but they’re not there physically, period. And if you want a fulfilling life, and – let’s face it an interesting/entertaining one – you need other people than your partner and your colleagues to bounce around ideas on, and talk about everything an nothing! Everyone needs a close tribe they can reach out to.
- Life just isn’t fair
Truth is, a lot of your odds are decided at birth – where you were born, your race, the wealth you’re born in, any genetic disease or disability, and your aesthetics. All this, my friend, are key characteristics of how you will experience life, and the opportunities that are presented to you – and if you don’t hit the lotto – it’s okay. Yes, you will experience envy for all the others who are offered things and experiences that you can only dream of, just because of the way they look and sound but hey – truth is the earth is NOT a fair place. The sooner you accept that and choose to intentionally act on what you can control, and stay optimistic – the best the outcomes, in my opinion.
- You are the only designer of your life
You may be surrounded by the best people, but only you are accountable for you and how your life turns out – not your parents, not your best friends, not even your partner. You were born alone, you will die alone, and between the two you will be placed in many difficult situations that only you will be accountable for and need to face alone. All the choices you make will have an impact (small or large) on your life – and you need to not only accept that, but embrace that! Understand that you hold the real power of where your life is going to go next – and it’s up to you to create all the good memories you will be able to refer back to during your last moments.
- You will die not having accomplished everything you wanted to, and that’s okay
Accepting this fact – truly accepting it – will lift a weight off your shoulders. But accepting this fact surely doesn’t mean sitting around waiting for death. To me, it means acknowledging the preciousness of each moment you are able to savor and use it intentionally/meaningfully, with optimism. Always.