Tomorrow is the twenty-seventh anniversary of the day I was expelled from my mother’s lady bits.
While on the journey to 27, my mind and my heart have expanded exponentially. So much so that I can hardly contain my enthusiasm for all that this life holds for me. I have more zest for life than I could have ever imagined possible and I’m more at peace with who I am than I ever have been. To celebrate, here is a list of 27 things I’ve learned and explored this year.
1. We must love. You know the saying, “tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” right? I know, such statements sound so obvious on the surface that we often dismiss them with a wave of the hand. But it’s the cold truth, a truth so profound that perhaps we can only discuss it with little cliched statements. But we must love, even if it breaks our hearts. Because unless we love, our lives will flash by.
2. Slow down. Rushing is rarely worth it. Sometimes it’s OK to wait a little longer for something. Why rush if you don’t have to? Why not enjoy the journey?
3. Happiness is not for sale in any store. We can’t buy happiness. Hell, it sounds cliche to even say that, and yet we search the aisles and shelves and pages on Amazon in search of something more, something to fill the void. But we can’t fill the void with stuff. It doesn’t work that way, no matter how hard we try or how much stuff we buy, because that stuff won’t make us happy. At best it will pacify us momentarily.
4. Success is perspectival. I used to think I would be successful after I graduated college and obtained a “real job”. One where I made a lot of money to buy nice things. Making a lot of money doesn’t make you successful. There is nothing wrong with earning money, but money alone won’t make you happy. A shiny new car or a closet full of fancy clothes doesn’t make you successful. There is nothing wrong with owning things you enjoy, but material possessions alone will not bring you bliss. For me, success isn’t about achieving something in the future, but about doing something right now that I love.
5. You must make change a must. I knew that I wanted to change my life for the longest time. I knew I was unhappy, unsatisfied, and unfulfilled. I knew I didn’t have the freedom I wanted. Once you understand these things on an emotional level you are able to turn your shoulds into musts. I believe that that is the pivotal point, that is when you get leverage, that is when you are compelled to take action. Thus, a decision is not a real decision until it is a must for you, until you feel it on your nerve-endings, until you are compelled to take action.
6. I’m not cool and I’m cool with that. At least I’m learning to be ok with that. I’ve wasted a lot of time, money and energy on worrying about how other people perceive me and trying my hardest to make sure everyone likes me. Well guess what? IT ISN’T POSSIBLE. There is no way I can make everyone like me. It’s way more fun to forget about all of that and just be myself.
7. Question everything. All we are taught in schools, and all we see in the media has a worldview that we’re meant to conform to. Figure out what that worldview is, and question it. Ask if there are alternatives, and investigate.
8. We create our own reality. We have the power to break mental patterns that no longer serve us, and we have the power to consciously choose thoughts that empower us. It’s only a matter of breaking old habits and creating new ones.
9. The best things really ARE free. There are few joys that equal a good book, a good walk, a good hug, or a good friend. All are free.
10. Do less. Most people try to do too much. They fill life with checklists, and try to crank out tasks as if they were widget machines. Throw out the checklists and just figure out what’s important. Stop being a machine and focus on what you love. Do it lovingly.
11. Gratitude is one of the best ways to find contentment. We are often discontent in our lives, desire more, because we don’t realize how much we have. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, be grateful for the amazing gifts you’ve been given: of loved ones and simple pleasures, of health and sight and the gift of music and books, of nature and beauty and the ability to create, and everything in between. Be grateful every day.
12. Let go of expectations. When you have expectations of something — a person, an experience, a vacation, a job, a book — you put it in a predetermined box that has little to do with reality. You set up an idealized version of the thing (or person) and then try to fit the reality into this ideal, and are often disappointed. Instead, try to experience reality as it is, appreciate it for what it is, and be happy that it is.
13. Compassion for other living things is more important than pleasure. Many people scoff at vegetarianism because they love the taste of meat and cheese too much, but they are putting the pleasure of their taste buds ahead of the suffering of other living, feeling beings. Compassion is a much more fulfilling way to live than closing your eyes to suffering. Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu. You can be perfectly healthy on a vegetarian/vegan diet.
14. Appreciate every damn moment. Life is exceedingly brief. You might feel like there’s a huge mass of time ahead of you, but it passes much faster than you think.
15. Learn to say “no”. I used to have difficulty saying “no” (sometimes I still do). I was always trying to be nice to others at the expense of myself. After a while, I realized all these times of not saying “no” (when I should) were really bringing me down. I was spending a lot of time and energy on everyone else and leaving no time for myself. I’ve realized if I want more personal time, I have to say “no” sometimes. “Saying “No” doesn’t mean you are being rude; neither does it mean you are being disagreeable. Saying “No” doesn’t mean there will be conflict nor that you’ll lose opportunities in the future. And saying no most definitely doesn’t mean you’re burning bridges. These are all false beliefs in our mind. At the end of the day, it’s about how you say “no”, rather than the fact you’re saying no, that affects the outcome. After all, you have your own priorities and needs, just like everyone has his/her own needs. Saying no is about respecting and valuing your time and space. Say no is your prerogative.”
16. But also learn to say “yes” more. Last year I spent nearly 3 months in Italy, Croatia and Hungary. While traveling, I learned that saying “yes” to opportunities I’d normally say “no” to ended up adding so much value to my trip. Some of my best memories are from just saying “sure, let’s see/do/experience/try that”. Don’t be afraid (though DO be cautious), let go, and see where it takes you.
17. Undream and live free.
18. Wash the dishes to wash the dishes. This is the term from Thich Nhat Hanh that I use for “living in the moment.” My friend Amy shared it with me and it’s been in my heart ever since. From The Miracle of Mindfulness, An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation: “If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not ‘washing the dishes to wash the dishes.’ What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact, we are incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future — and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
19. We are often scared for no reason. Just ask yourself “what am I afraid of?” We are usually scared of things that don’t have a real impact on our lives (or that we can’t control, so we’re worrying for no reason).
20. Love who you are and the world will fall in love with you. Finding validation and seeking love from another person through ANY relationship is a self-destructive path. By fully accepting, loving and respecting myself, I will no longer attract those relationships rooted in fear, insecurities and disempowerment.
21. Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make us perfect. I am not perfect, and I never will be. I make mistakes and bad decisions, and I fail at times. I stumble, fall. I am human—a mixed bag, nuanced, the darkness and the light—as are you. And you are beautiful.
22. The past does not equal the future.
23. Stay true to yourself. I have the tattoo on my arm to remind me of it everyday. If it doesn’t feel right, if it doesn’t feel good, if it doesn’t feel like you, then don’t do it. I’m much happier when I follow this advice.
24. Openness is just as important as honesty. Openness is more complicated than honesty. Openness involves being honest, while painting an accurate picture, shooting straight, not misleading other people, and being real. Openness is far more subjective, and you have to be honest with yourself before you can be open with others. This doesn’t mean that you must put your entire life on display. Some things are private, and that’s OK too.
25. The other fish don’t know where they are going either . If you find yourself swimming with all the other fish, consider possibly going the other way.
26. Meditation is one of the most important habits to establish . Sitting your ass on a pillow and doing absolutely nothing for a few moments each day will broaden your horizon, strengthen your self-awareness, and heighten your inner clarity.
27. Life can be so much better with less. When I was 16, I wanted more. When I was 24, I wanted even more than that. So, I worked harder, earned more, spent more, to have more, only to owe more. I was exhausted at the end of the day and tired when I woke up most mornings. I ate on the fly, fell behind, ran late and could never catch up. Sound familiar? It takes living without it to realize how clutter and having too much affects your life and takes away from your freedom and creativity.