I turned 26 over the weekend and have been alternating between ‘I’m still so young!’ and panic attacks. It’s been an eventful two and a half decades, and I’ve learned a few life lessons. Some are generic, some are sentimental, all are true.
1. Travel. Travel, travel, travel, travel. Just go. Anywhere. I promise you will not regret it. This could be an entire post in itself, but to sum it up, the life lessons, stories, emotions, beauty, challenges, happiness, intelligence, compassion, and awe that you will experience while traveling can never be taught or gained at home or at a desk.
2. Talk to your siblings and get to know them as human beings, not just as people you grew up with. But also remember that you did grow up together, and therefore can relate in a way no one else can.
3. Brush and floss every day, twice a day. Especially if you have an addiction to coffee and red wine.
4. Spend a little more money on better alcohol. Hangovers get worse with age, (as I discovered the morning following my birthday), and drinks are actually supposed to taste good.
5. The exception comes in Italy, where you should drink house wine 80% of the time.
6. Drink black coffee. Milk is not always on hand, sugar is bad for you, and it tastes better anyway.
7. Berries and leafy greens.
8. Ask the hard questions. Ask them of yourself to find out what you really want, and of others so you don’t waste your time or theirs.
9. Curiosity is one of the greatest traits you can have. Be constantly curious about the world around you, and you will be constantly amazed and inspired.
10. Be Midwestern nice.
11. Learn another language. It’s good for your brain and your social life.
12. Always miss home a little.
13. Appreciate nature. Seriously. Just go outside!
14. Don’t wash your hair every day. It doesn’t need it and it’s a waste of time and money. (It will look better too).
15. Contrary to popular sayings, your parents are not always right. But, there probably is a method to their madness. Be respectful, learn everything you can from them, and hope you can be as sane, (or sometimes as insane in the best ways), as they were.
16. Embrace your love of both Beyonce and Bright Eyes. Eclectic taste is a sign of character. (Right??)
17. Cut out toxic friends and say no to doing things you know you’ll dread agreeing to later. You’ll feel bad at the time but it’s SO liberating once it’s done.
18. Read the newspaper every day. Ideally, read multiple newspapers every day. (And news magazines. A subscription to Foreign Policy or the NYT Opinion pages actually does make you a better human being).
19. Stay in touch with your best friends from childhood. Your inside jokes will be just as funny once you can all drink and are finally in the same city after years of living apart. They knew you when you were awkward with glasses and braces and making ‘creative’ (read: really weird) Halloween costumes. And they’re still willingly talking to you.That must mean something.
20. Spending a little more on higher quality clothes is worth it. (If only I could follow my own advice on this one).
21. Those things you’re passionate about? You know, the ones you work on even after work? The ideas that come back into your head day after day even when you’re too busy to focus? Those things are what you should be doing with your life. As some quote says, “The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling.”
22. Trust people. Around the world, despite nationality, race, or religion, people are inherently good. I truly believe this, and have been in enough scary/could have been terrible situations to serve as living proof.
23. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Cliché? Yep. And there are plenty of other clichés I should put on this list because they’re absolutely true. Every time you make a life decision and are panicking about it, something wonderful happens to show you made the right decision or to help you out. Like Paulo Coelho said, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Or, as someone said to me recently, “Impossible is nothing.” This was right after I quit my job and it couldn’t have been more perfect. To get even more cliché zen on you, everything really does happen for a reason, and it all really does work out for the best in the end. (Ok I’m done and I’m sorry).
24. Still, don’t be lazy. Hard work and good luck go hand in hand.
26. You’ve probably made a lot of bad decisions. Accept them and get over it. Let it go. You’ve probably made a lot of good decisions too. Reflect on them and let the inertia of those good decisions carry you through life. And when all else fails – call your mom, drink a bottle of wine with your best friend, or book a plane ticket. Those are my go-to remedies and they’ve never failed.
And for much more valuable life lessons than mine, listen to this.