I turned 30 a few weeks ago. My twenties have been...well, my twenties have been tumultuous. They have been painful, gorgeous, brutal, and filled with growth and adventure.
My mom, who is 62, reminded me on my birthday that 30 might seem like the oldest I'll ever be, but I'm really still so much at the beginning of my life. This is wisdom I thought I already knew, but is so easily forgotten when I feel like I've come to the end of my rope. Every age I've ever been has felt like the oldest I'll ever be. It's hard to see beyond into the next year, much less the next ten, twenty, and beyond.
There are, however, some truths I have discovered, and lessons that I have learned in these first thirty years of living. A lot of these truths are things I know in theory, but struggle with or simply have not been able to follow through on in my own life. Some I have been able to put into practice on a regular basis. Some I've had to learn the hard way. And I'm sure there are a few I will think differently about ten years from now when I'm writing a blog post about turning forty. But that's kind of the beauty of life, isn't it?
I considered trying to make this list an even "Thirty Things I've Learned In Thirty Years of Life", or something clever like that, but then I decided not to force it. I got to 19. So without further ado, below are 19 Truths I've Collected from 30 Years of Living.
1. Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle. I've seen various versions of this floating around the internet, attributed to many different sources, but they all speak to the same thing: Give people the benefit of the doubt. The crabby woman bitching at the cashier might have just come from the hospital where her mother is sick with cancer. The man cutting you off in traffic might have just been dumped by his girlfriend. At the end of the day, everyone is just doing their best, even if it doesn't look like it from the outside.
2. Begin before you don’t. It's easy to spend lots of time planning instead of taking action, and then suddenly years have passed and you're still in the same place. The days are long, but the years are short. DO STUFF.
3. Take the scenic route. Choose the narrow path that curves along the lakeside. Commute along the crest of the hills instead of sitting in smoggy traffic in the valley below. Always, always choose the road that hugs the ocean, or switchbacks up the mountain instead of cutting through it. It is so worth it to take the extra time from Point A to Point B, in order to surround yourself by a little more beauty.
4. You can’t be too much for the people who are meant to be in your life. At some point in my late teens or early twenties, I started to feel ashamed of my emotions - their abundance, their intensity, their dominance. It's taken me this long (and it's still a work in progress) to realize that the shame I was feeling was because I was allowing people into my life who weren't meant to be there, who were telling me I should be something different than I am. I'm now able to spot the difference between those who suck my soul out, and those who open it up: A soul sister who will scream profanities with me off the side of mountains, and lets me sleep on her couch and cry for four days straight when my heart gets broken. A man who wipes my tears and tells me he loves me because of the way I express myself, not in spite of it. A friend who acknowledges my insecurities and phobias and then comes back to me with vulnerabilities of her own. Those are the kinds of people I plan on keeping around.
5. The more you know, the less you need. I've spent the years since college being a voracious learner in a way that I never was during my time being formally educated. Something about not having papers to write, or tests to study for, woke something in me, and I finally understood what the whole point of education is. My interests have varied wildly, but in the last handful of years, they have begun to take on a theme, mostly centered around the environment, food systems, materialism, and the way we as a society spend far too much time passively consuming and generating waste instead of thinking critically and creating sustainable lives. We let companies tell us what to want, and then buy it. We are obsessed by the idea of a bargain, so we spend as little of our money as possible on more stuff with a shorter shelf life, instead of spending more money on higher quality things that won't need to be replaced as quickly. We don't pay attention to where our food comes from, or the effects that our lifestyle has on the land where it's grown, or the people who are doing the growing. We toss out vast amounts of food, plastic, packaging, clothes, etc. every year, and close our eyes to the harm we're doing to the planet. It's hard to change our habits, and I am by no means doing even a fraction of what I know I could be doing. But the reason this saying - "The more you know, the less you need" - spoke to me so loudly when I first heard it is that it put into words something I had already noticed about my own small lifestyle shifts: the more knowledge I've gained, the more my choices have started to slowly align with that knowledge. Simply put, I've become more conscious about the things I bring into my life, and the actions that I take. Do I need ten new shirts for every new season? No. Is it worth it to spend a little more money on food that sustains my health and the health of the planet? Yes. The point is to think critically and pay attention. And keep on learning.
6. Listen to your intuition. Go with your gut. The events in life I regret the most came about as a result of me not doing this. This has gotten easier to do the older I get, because in my experience, the better you know yourself, the more your intuition's voice is able to be heard above all the other noise. And if it seems like your intuition is wrong, that means it's not your intuition speaking any more; it's fear, or perfectionism, or other people.
7. Own your shit. This one is the soul sister of #6 - similar, but not exactly the same. Listening to your intuition is a completely internal matter; owning your shit brings you outside of yourself. Owning your shit means telling your story, in all of its beautiful, messy, mistake-ridden glory. In the same way that ignoring my intuition has caused me pain, the times when I have remained silent, both to myself and others, are the times that have led to the most heartache. The people I admire most are the ones who did not follow a generic, prescribed formula for their lives, but instead followed what Cheryl Strayed calls the "burning core of truth" - she says, "...If there’s one thing I believe more than I believe anything else, it’s that you can’t fake the core. The truth that lives there will eventually win out. It’s a god we must obey, a force that brings us all inevitably to our knees....When you have that feeling, the only question left is: are you going to do it later, or are you going to do it now?" When I read that for the first time, I started to sob. Because here's the thing: owning your shit is scary. It is terrifying. It can wrench you apart. It's not comfortable. I struggle with this one big time. But the beauty and fresh air of honesty and laying bare my naked soul that has resulted from the times that I have owned my shit? Worth it every time, even if it takes awhile to get there.
8. That being said, not everyone needs to know all of your secrets. In her Super Soul talk, Brené Brown discusses trust being like a marble jar; each small moment of trust in a relationship is a marble, and these marbles slowly fill the jar up until it's full. She talks about how she only entrusts her biggest secrets and vulnerabilities to those whose jars are full, who have shown themselves to be trustworthy with intimate information and to not judge but to listen, respect, and work through possibly shameful things with her. This is one that I am still working on myself - if one person is going to know something, I tend to want to just tell the whole world, but I'm learning to be more careful with valuable personal information. And the marble jar isn't a one size fits all; sometimes one mistake can cause the entire jar to be dumped out, and other times you can think the jar is full on both sides, but a full jar doesn't necessarily mean the same thing to everyone. I've learned that if you want to find out who your soul friends are, the marble jar is a useful measuring stick, but an even better tool is to fuck up really, really big - like, monumentally big - and then watch to see who sticks around.
9. Continuing that line of thought, my parents are the two best friends a girl could ask for.
10. There is no ill that nature cannot alleviate, even if just temporarily. Thus far in my life, I have not been able to find anything that soothes me more than a walk through the forest, a nice steep hike up a mountain, the crashing waves of the ocean, the ceiling of stars above the desert, or the wind blowing through the prairie. The thing I miss most about living in California is my proximity to so many beautiful landscapes that I love, because they were my escape when I just needed to get. the. hell. out. of. dodge. Nature reminds me of my place in things, the enormity of this world that we live in. It is a balm. It gives perspective.
11. Live a little. Those who have traveled down a few dirt paths, through some mud pits and brier patches, up some mountains and off some cliffs, have more wisdom, empathy, and open hearts. Truly living can be painful - actually, it will be painful. But it's also freeing. And taking the easy road and coasting through life on automatic almost always ends up causing more problems in the long run. The opinions I trust most are from those who have tried and failed and risked and bared their souls to the world, not those who do things because "that's just the way it's done". I've noticed that the people who have played it safe their whole life tend to be the most judgmental, usually because it is so much harder for them to see outside of their comfort zone. No one is better than anyone else. Good people sometimes do bad things. We all have stories. We all have flaws. We all make mistakes. But the biggest mistake of all is assuming that you are morally or intellectually superior to someone else because they made different decisions than you, have different political beliefs, or are pursuing something you don't understand. Especially if you don't take the time to actually understand where they're coming from.
12. True love is a real thing, and it is pure and good. I've experienced both bad and good love. The bad love has been enough to make me a lifelong cynic, but the good love...hoo baby, the good love is enough to make me believe in anything. I've experienced true love for myself, and seen it exemplified in the relationships of others, and it is a glorious thing to behold. True love lacks fear and deceit, and blossoms from vulnerability and intimacy. It is worth everything to those who give and experience it. It is tangible; it lights up a room. Now that I know the difference, I know to never settle for anything less.
13. There's no shame in not having an office job. My first "real world" job was for the shipping industry, and I spent my days in a cubicle, slowly dying inside. I quit after a year and a half, and since then, I have done what feels like #allthejobs under the sun: dog walker, personal assistant, nanny, hostess, production assistant, outdoor recreational leader, receptionist, and the list goes on. This isn't to say that this specific path is right for everyone; some people love going to the office every day, especially if it's in a field they're passionate about. And doing life this way can definitely lead to less job security, more financial stress, and a more hectic schedule. But for me, it has also led to more opportunities to grow my photography business and pursue creative endeavors that I found myself being too burned out to focus on when I was in an office from 9-5 every day. It's a fine balance, and sometimes I do consider giving cubicle life another try simply for the sake of a guaranteed paycheck, but the point is that going to an office each work day is not the only way to be an adult. I'm seeing this become a more common worldview as the gig economy grows and people start getting creative about how they earn their money.
14. Moving across the country is worth it.
15. Learn to do shit. I have fallen in love with the idea of self-sufficiency, and learning to do as many things as possible for myself, ranging from building my own furniture, making my own dishes, and growing my own food to learning how to change a tire and construct a really, really good campfire. This has become a driving force in my life, but is completely overwhelming, because the list of things I don't know how to do is long, and just seems to keep growing. It's much easier to be lazy. But the feeling of creating something with my own two hands is addicting, and not being dependent on outside sources for every single aspect of life is such a freeing concept that I believe it's worth the extra effort.
16. You can't control others. This one SUCKS. People need to come to things in their own time. You can try to convince them to see your way, or do what you want them to do, but at the end of the day, all you can really do is explain yourself, say how you feel, and then let go.
17. It's important to care about things. I love it when people geek out about stuff, especially if it's something obscure that I know nothing about. I participated in an animal tracking club for awhile last year, and besides learning a lot, it was so fun to be surrounded by people who cared so much about examining a patch of dirt or sitting still in the woods, listening to birds talk to each other. Being passionate, having strong feelings about topics, actively pursuing dreams and goals - that's the stuff of life. Unfortunately, it also seems to be something people get made fun of for doing, starting at a young age - the people who spend hours on things that matter to them often seem to be completely misunderstood. I have friends who could spend hours, days, weeks on what other people would deem as a pointless hobby, but they get so much joy from it that all that time spent is completely worth it to them. One of my favorite quotes by Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project, is, "Enthusiasm is a form of social courage". When you're enthusiastic, it simply means that you care. And caring drives change, innovation, growth, and progress, both in our personal lives and society as a whole.
18. Temporary Total Life Disruption is worth it. Emphasis on the temporary. Making big changes disrupts our comfortable reality, and often veers our lives in a completely different direction than we were planning, which can feel like the actual end of the world. But those changes are often incredibly necessary, and lead to a happier, more fulfilling life overall. And ultimately, nothing stays disrupted forever.
19. Be brave. My father recently said this to me at the end of a long conversation about the direction of my life, and the things I want to do with it. He said to take risks and do the shit that scares the hell out of you, because that's the space in which growth happens, and it's how to make your dreams a reality. They're just two simple words, but they've really stuck with me. They've become one of my mantras, a source of courage when it seems like I'm going to be swimming in circles forever, or can't see the light at the end of the tunnel; when I'm ashamed of something bad that I've done, or feel paralyzed by how insurmountable the mountain of life seems. Be brave, be brave, be brave.
Cheers to many more years of life lessons to come.