My 34th birthday is rapidly approaching, and I thought it would be nice to compile a “34 Things” list. I’m certainly not the first to do this, as seen here, here, and here. Maybe it’s something about the nice round number 34 that evokes the need to document concrete proof that life has meant something. This past year, in particular, has brought quite a bit of emotional and spiritual growth. So, without further fluff talk, here are 34 things I’ve learned in 34 years.
1. Relationships change, but this is not always a bad thing. Sometimes relationships change because we’re growing, and we outgrow the relationship. Sometimes they change when geography gets in the way. We tend to get closer or farther from people throughout life, usually exactly as we need to. It’s some strange cosmic pull that keeps everything in an oddly perfect balance. Sure, sometimes it hurts, but it also allows for great possibilities.
2. Life is better when you’re not broke. You thought I’d say something like “money isn’t everything,” didn’t you? Well, it isn’t. However, life is better when you have some and you aren’t living paycheck to paycheck. This isn’t always a choice, of course, but I’ve learned that it’s better to work a little harder if it means my quality of life will be a little nicer. Maybe I’ll have a different perspective by next year’s list.
3. Like your job. I would write, “love your job,” but this isn’t always possible either. However, if you don’t at least like your job, then what are you doing? Most of us have a choice to look for work that is fulfilling, engaging, and salary-appropriate. If you don’t feel this way about your job, get that resume polished!
4. Pets make everything better. I cannot imagine my life without my pets (two chihuahuas and a cat). It would certainly be easier to travel, and my schedule would become much more flexible, but I just can’t imagine not coming home to those little furry faces that love me unconditionally. No matter what mood I’m in, what I’ve accomplished or not accomplished that day, they are thrilled to see me, every day.
5. For god’s sake, have a sense of humor! I should have made this #1. Of all my traits, I think I’m most grateful for my sense of humor. Or at least, it’s a very close second to my intellect. The two go hand in hand, really. I find that a witty sense of humor is the most attractive quality in another human being. There is nothing better than laughing with friends.
6. I really need to learn to cook. I’m hoping that next year’s list will have something about how much better life is when you can cook for yourself. At a certain point, take-out every night gets pretty lame.
7. There is always time for a hobby. Up until this last year, if someone asked me what I did for fun, or what hobbies I had, or basically any question about how I spent my free time, I’d stare at them blankly and usually reply with something like, “oh you know, I’ve got my dogs, and I’m into technology.” Sadly, that was a crappy, vague reply. Fortunately, my answer to that has changed (of course, I still have my dogs but they are not my “hobby”). Today I can answer that with discussion about karate, yoga, biking, writing, and meditation. Yay for growth!
8. You are not half of a person if you are not in a relationship. This is a point I have to remind myself of today. It’s easy to get caught up in feeling like you’re 50% complete without a “better half.” I mean, we live in a very couple-centric society. But, I’m still 100% of a human being all by myself. It will be nice to meet a compliment at some point, but that’s what she should be – a compliment, not a completion.
9. Go after what you want. I think I learned this point in my early 20s, when it came to my career at least. I’ve been blessed with confidence in the work place, and I’ve been fairly successful at climbing the ladder in a few different industries now. So my point, if you want a promotion, go after it. It will not likely fall in your lap unless you work above your requirements and above expectations. They say you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. I say, you should DO the job you want, AND the job you have (within reason).
10. Spend more money on activities and experiences, and less on things. I would rather spend $300 a month on my karate and gym memberships than on clothes or accessories. I’d rather spend $1200 on my summer vacation than a nicer television. Sure, it’s nice if you can do it all, but I’m still on a budget. To me, life is more about the experience than the prize.
11. This is clearly not an original thought, but I can say that I do believe it’s better to be happy than right. I’m not always perfect at adhering to this, but I am much choosier with the battles I pick. I am much less likely to correct someone today, or to argue a point regardless of how certain I am that I’m right. I guess this is a part of humility. Again, I’m not always there, but I’m improving.
12. Read often. This is another point that I’m reminding myself of as I type this. Read novels, magazines, articles, biographies… read about what interests you. Otherwise your world remains pretty small, your intellect remains stagnant, and your ability to have meaningful conversation starts to decrease.
13. Get up early, even on the weekends. Don’t get me wrong, I sleep later on the weekends, but I no longer sleep past 10:00 am, like I used to in my “younger” days. This is partly due to my dogs needing to go out, but honestly they are pretty lazy and don’t wake me up. I’ve just learned that it is better for my overall rhythm to voluntarily awaken at a normal hour. And, I get more done!
14. Always carry a light sweater. This is self-explanatory, although this is another self-reminder. It could be 95 degrees outside, but there is always an A/C set to Arctic Freeze somewhere.
15. Be nice to the wait staff. These are the people in charge of what goes into your food, and I don’t, for a second, doubt that there are some spit-happy waiters out there. For this reason, I rarely complain about the food unless I ordered a fish that is still swimming when delivered. Even then, it depends on how much it may be swimming. I can adapt.
16. Don’t hit “send” immediately. This was a long and painful lesson for me. I have a tendency to be very trigger-happy on electronic communication. I do have the “undo” lab installed in gmail so that I have an extra 10 seconds or so to think about the email I just sent. However, I will actually let things sit as drafts for a time before sending. I’ll do this with texts too, now, at times. I have found that things can be easily misunderstood through e-communication, so I have been putting more focus on effective and clear dialogue.
17. A good haircut can really brighten your day.
18. It’s better to invest a little more on quality, rather than buying multiple, cheaper items. For example, I’d rather spend $500 on a decent bike than $200 on a cheap bike that will crap out within a year. Then I’d be spending $200 a year on bikes rather than the long-term purchase of $500. I learned this lesson from my ex-husband, to whom I’m grateful. I’ve been able to slowly accumulate nicer items and leave the discount goods for the “kids.”
19. Technology is friend as much as foe. In other words, I need to find that healthy balance. It is difficult to not grab my phone every fifteen seconds to check for any notification from the variety of useless social media sites I’m on. I imagine I’m not alone in this. However, it’s very convenient to be able to find the answer to any question, the location of any store or restaurant, or the name of that one guy who was in that movie with the other guy, you know, the one with the beard who dated that actress in the 90s….
20. Leave the hotels for the honeymooners. Now this is obviously a preference, but when I travel, I’d much rather stay in a (safe) hostel or an airbnb room than spend my money on a hotel. This is partially for cost savings, but mostly due to the experience. When I travel to a new city, I really want to experience the city as if I were a resident. I tend to avoid most tourist attractions as well. Hotels are nice, but they are a little too cushy and sheltered for my taste.
21. Be on time. I once heard someone put it this way: When you’re late to meet someone, you’re robbing them of their time. If you agree to meet at 10:00 and show up at 10:15, that’s 15 minutes you stole from the other person. Clearly, things happen, but habitual tardiness is a no-no. Ever since I heard it put this way, I have put much more effort into being prompt for all engagements.
22. Be selective with your circle. Friends are great to have, and everyone that you meet and like can serve a purpose in your life. You may have park friends, shopping friends, movie-going friends, dinner friends, bar-hopping friends, etc. However, your circle, that tight group of people that you go to with the big things, should be carefully selected. I’ve found this to be true, anyway… after quite a bit of trial and error.
23. Drink more water.
24. It’s okay to not have the answer. I used to be so afraid of saying “I don’t know.” However, I’ve learned that it’s okay to not know everything about everything. Today, I say. “I don’t know, but let me find out.” It shows just the right amount of humility and willingness. And, thanks to Google, I can usually find out just fine.
25. And another reminder to self, make eye contact. This comes so easily to some people, but I really have to make an effort. And I don’t mean in day-to-day conversations only, I’m also referring to just being out and about on the street. Clearly this does not apply to the crazies (because that’s exactly when you don’t make eye contact), but I have found myself walking down the street and missing people I know because I’m not paying attention. That simple act of eye contact makes all the difference in connecting with my fellow human beings.
26. Always say “you’re welcome,” and not “sure,” “no problem,” or “yep.” I learned this very, very recently. I do think this varies depending on your region, but saying “you’re welcome” is so much more polite than any alternative.
27. Smile in your driver’s license photo. I don’t care what they say. You’re stuck with that thing for years. Mine looks like a mug shot.
28. Do not post a rant about anyone online ever in any setting, ever. It does not matter if you think you’ve mastered privacy settings, or if you delete it five minutes later. If you post it, it’s out there on the internets, with all the cats. This is another lesson I had to learn the hard way….more than once.
29. Eat breakfast.
30. The more you avoid your fears, the bigger they become. The only way, for me, to conquer fear is to face it. I have yet to successfully will away specific fears from the comfortable seat of my couch. Maybe there is a way, but I have not encountered it. I am reminding myself of this as I approach the date of my next flight.
31. The saying is really true, holding a resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It’s the most useless, destructive emotion. Is it an emotion? I’m actually not sure how you’d classify resentment, but whatever it is, it’s useless. I think I’ve improved significantly in 34 years with my ability to let these go. Many of them, anyway. This is another work in progress. And the progress comes from a lot of fantastic assistance from my circle (see #22).
32. Take time to play. We forget this. Sometime during the teenage years we start to feel like playtime is for kids. We’ve got more important adult-y things to do. This is not so! I guess what we define as “play” changes and varies depending on preference, but the important thing is, fit some playtime in the schedule.
33. Mind your business, because it’s the only business you have any control over anyway.
34. Perhaps a culmination of several of these points, and a good way to conclude the list, don’t take yourself too seriously. I tend to be my worst enemy, and I tend to be harder on myself than anyone around. But life is short, and I don’t want to waste it holding myself to some standard of excellence that’s forever unattainable. Don’t get me wrong, I am probably always going to be A-type, but I’m okay with that, happy really. Ultimately, I want to strive for that balance between persistence and patience, determination and acceptance. It’s a fine line, and hopefully I still have another 60 years to master it.