30 things I’ve learned

I’m 30, what are the things I need to know?

I’ve been working on this post since before I turned 30 years old and had this thought, what have I learned in the last 30 years? I started working on this list and have been editing and tweaking it since. I took a long pause from the blog and creativity in general and now that I’ve come back, it feels like the right time to publish.

Here are 27 things I’ve learned in the last 30 (and a half!) years:

1. There’s no shame in asking for socks for Christmas. Good socks cost a lot of money, and it’s so worth it to have nice, soft, wool socks that keep your feet warm and dry. It’s kind of the perfect gift because it’s something you might feel silly spending £20 on yourself, but you’re happy to buy them for someone else. And the person who gets them is all, “Score! Awesome socks!!” (this probably does not apply to anyone under the age of 20).

2. Gratitude is the key to happiness. Count your blessings, focus on the positive, truly feeling grateful for all the gifts in your life. I guarantee you will feel happier.

3. Stillness, patience, courage. This was a really important mantra passed on to me by a friend from his yoga teacher. It’s so easy for me to fret over things, but this mantra always brings me back. First of all, stillness. That hyper energy of worry is so useless – lose it. Patience – I’m always racing to the next thing and want to have answers and a plan, but patience reminds me it’s ok to wait, it’s ok to not have a plan, it’s ok to be uncertain. Courage only appears when you are scared. It’s ok to be fearful, but don’t let it make decisions for you.

4. Culturally accepted labels and categories for people are irrelevant and wrong. My high school wasn’t really very cliquey, but even so, as a kid I was pretty sure that you couldn’t be a good artist and also be athletic. They just seemed like two totally different worlds to me back then. I chose to be an artist and neglected a huge part of myself for most of my life because everyone else told me I wouldn’t like it. Labels are convenient for bad script writers and marketing executives who want us all to fit neatly into 8 purchasing types. Forget labels. Try everything, you just might like it.

5. Brutal honesty in everything. We almost never say what we really mean. Being that honest takes a lot of courage, both to say what you feel, but also to figure out what you are actually feeling. I think it’s always worth it. Especially in relationships. If something is going wrong, don’t just stay quiet and then call it off when you’re frustrated. Be honest about what is upsetting you, both to yourself and others.

6. We know nothing. We know everything. I don’t think it’s possible for the human mind to understand everything in our universe in the ways we have prescribed science to look for answers. Words too fall short of so much understanding; many cultures teach if you can put a word to something, you’ve already misunderstood it. At the same time, in moments where I see the beauty and synchronicity of life, the oneness of all existence, I feel I already know everything I need to. 

7. It’s important to do meaningful work. We spend most of our days at work. I spend about 228 days at work every year. If I spend 50 years working, that will be over 11,000 days at work in my lifetime. That’s a lot of my time on this planet. I want to be sure that is time well spent. Can you imagine if everyone who didn’t believe in what they were doing quit their jobs on Monday? What a radical shift we’d have to make as a culture!

8. Listen to your heart. Instincts count for so much more than we give them credit for. People don’t make decisions based on fact. Quite literally, the part of your brain that makes decisions doesn’t work with language based thoughts, so any decision you make has to be interpreted by another part of your brain to explain it in words to anyone else. That may explain why sometimes you decide something but you can’t quite put into words why you decided it. Don’t question its validity just because the wordy bit of your brain can’t understand it.

9. The earth is our home and partner. The earth isn’t an inanimate object meant to be destroyed to fill the holes in our hearts. It’s a beautiful system that has taken millions of years to evolve into its current state of balance. Even if we suck out every last resource, it will find a new balance, but we will make living with and on it exponentially harder for those who come after us. I don’t have kids yet, but I’d like the future people here to enjoy a beautiful, healthy and balance planet.

10. You are worthy of love. So many insecurities start from not understanding this one. Someone isn’t into you, doesn’t like your outfit, thinks what you said in that meeting was stupid, doesn’t like your jokes, or wishes you’d never entered the room – these are opinions that say a lot more about the opinion-haver than they do about you. They only have power over us when we believe one person’s opinion invalidates us entirely. Believing you are worthy of love no matter what anyone else thinks of you will ground your confidence unshakably.

11. It’s ok to be sad. I tend to rationalize my feelings a lot, so this one was a hard one for me to learn. My whole life, I’d been taught as soon as you feel something, you should analyze it to death to make sure it’s valid. Most of the time feelings are based on a ridiculous and untrue assumption, so you can just toss it out, right? Nope. Turns out you actually have to feel things, even if you know the feeling is irrational or unreasonable. And that’s ok! Everyone gets sad. Everyone gets angry and upset and depressed. Feel it out, think it out, and then move on, but don’t try to skip any of the steps.

12. You already know the love-of-your-life. Who else loves all the same movies, bands, and weird foods as you? You! Kinda cheesy, but you do have the most in common with yourself! Why wouldn’t you want to hang out with yourself? Getting to know yourself and what you are passionate about sets you up for success not only because you’ll understand how to make yourself happy, but also because you’ll attract people with whom you are truly compatible.

13. Joy is the other side of fear. Fear is a tough emotion. It often makes decisions for us and prevents us from doing things we are drawn to. Usually fear is based on an irrational assumption or imagination: I can’t go swimming in the sea, what if I drown? I can’t call that guy, what if he laughs in my face? I can’t submit that idea, what if it ruins my reputation? Acknowledging fear and putting it aside to follow through with something you are moved to do is actually just called courage. Courage moves us to the other side of fear where joy is waiting. Swimming in the sea is amazing, connecting with other people is inspiring, and sharing new (“good” and “bad!”) ideas moves us all forward. Fear is a teacher and a gateway to joy.

14. There is a lot of power in how you spend your money. Much of the western world is currently run under the assumption that the best thing we can create together is economic wealth. Because the focus of so much of our work is making money, one of the best ways to vote for and support ideas you want to see flourish is to put money towards them. Likewise, if there’s a value or idea you do not want to see flourish, do not spend your money supporting it. It sounds obvious, but so many of us (myself included!) buy things without considering every purchase as a vote, condoning and supporting that business’ practices.

15. Bad shoes suck. Ugh. I hate bad shoes. Do not buy them because they look cute and will really match that dress. You will regret it when they are filling up with your foot blood! Birkenstocks were cool again in 2014 – anything is possible. Be comfortable. Your old-lady-self will thank you when you don’t have crazy bunions. Also, looking good at the price of feeling comfortable is silly.

16. Human connection is all around you. (there are enough people here to have a million loves and a million friends). As an introverted person, I sometimes get stuck on this one. It’s so easy for me to be with people I know or just by myself and to not even look outside of that comfortable bubble for connection with anyone else, but every time I do, I’m rewarded with a positive experience. People (for the most part) are really lovely, open souls who are eager to give you a smile and a nice chat. I’ve found this in unexpected places (like the night bus) and they are some of my favorite stories from living in London.

17. Observe, don’t judge. We all have things we’d like to change about ourselves, but when you see something popping up (even if it’s repeatedly popping up), it’s better to kindly observe it than judge it. The first approach helps you to recognize and support yourself to making positive changes whilst the latter way just makes you feel awful.

18. Seeking attention through health problems is a good way to be sick all the time. How many people do you know who seem to always have a cold or a scrape and seem to almost brag about it? I get it, feeling cared for and loved is great. But why seek care and love through illness? That just means you’ll be sick all the time. And wouldn’t you rather be cared for and loved because you’re awesome?

19. Take responsibility for your emotions. When you feel something, don’t blame anyone else, even if it seems like they are the direct cause of your emotion. Feel what you are feeling, but also ask what you are feeling and why you are feeling it. Figure out the assumptions you are making. Be self-aware. Take responsibility for your own reactions, especially jealousy.

20. Be conscious of your use of technology. Technology has enabled so many wonderful things in my life – like hearing my two year old nephew say “hello!” to me from 5,000 miles away. But there’s a time and a place for it. Be conscious of how you are using it in your life. Also, don’t use your mobile phone at the table. It’s rude.

21. Be present. I used to hear this bandied around a lot as an excuse for not calling that friend that moved out of town, not preparing for the future, and not processing the past. I don’t think “being present” is an excuse to ignore anyone outside of your current sight, or a reason to not think about what you want and where you want your life to go, or a reason to burry past trauma and feelings. If we were all totally present all the time, we would not need to process the past or imagine the future because it would all be happening in the same moment. Instead, I think “Being present” is about tuning into the moment you are in. It’s about appreciating bird songs in the morning, the steam rising off your coffee, the rise and fall of your own chest. It’s about being conscious of where your thoughts go. It’s about turning off the negative chatter and tuning into where your heart is leading you. We are drawn to certain things, people, experiences – being present is listening to that draw and following the pull. Your heart may lead you to staring at your hanging plants twirling gently in the breeze for twenty minutes. It might lead you to taking a trip solo. It may even lead you to leaving your job. Being present is listening for that instinct and following it.

22. You can’t change anyone else and it’s not fun trying. If you are a person that likes to have the answers, and you are a person that likes helping people, you might just be a person who is attracted to someone who could benefit from your advice and guidance. That can often be a wonderfully rewarding relationship if you are working on an old car together, but it’s not so great if what you are working on is your relationship with that very person. If you make this person your partner, you run the risk of spending your entire life thinking, “this relationship would be perfect if…” It also means you spend the entire relationship not quite getting what you want/need and your partner feels they are never good enough for you. Real change is a process that can only be sparked from within.

23. Your thoughts are more powerful than you realize. Each thought you have is a small piece that defines your reality. Some people think the universe works with your thoughts and helps you create whatever it is you focus on. Other people think your thoughts merely act as a willful frame work for your life and as such influence and even dictate its direction, the direction of your choosing. Whether the universe is in cahoots with you or not, what you think about definitely ends up appearing in your life one way or another.

24. It’s ok to like Justin Timberlake. I went to a university where your music taste was the most important thing about you. It could gain you entry to the coolest hip kids or secure your demise amongst the normal sheep kids. Liking a pop band was pretty much a social-death sentence amongst this society of indie music lovers. Liking Justin Timberlake was not something you spoke openly about. It was to be shared with those few friends with whom you could let your hair down. But you know what? Justin Timberlake makes some really fun music and I refused to hide it. As it turned out, there were a lot of people at my school who liked his music too. Admitting you liked pop music became this badge of confidence; I am so confident in my music taste, I have no problem admitting I like pop music, because some of it is really good. So there.

25. Passion, integrity, freedom. After a year of focusing on stillness, patience, and courage (see learning 3), I was ready for the next step. I thought about what I wanted to cultivate that year and this is what I came up with. Passion – to really be excited and energized by whatever it was I was involved with. Integrity – remembering this value from my past that I had gotten a bit soft on through various influences and rediscovering what it means as an adult has been such a confirming exercise. I think integrity is mostly about honesty in all things. So far this has never failed me. And freedom – embracing the infinite possibility of life. What a mantra! It’s hard to live up to sometimes, but repeating it helps set me on the right course.

26. Eat good food. I am learning this one more concretely as I get older: if you eat bad food, you feel bad. It makes a lot of sense really. Our bodies can only be made up of what we put in them, so naturally if you put shit building blocks in, what kind of building do you get out? Good food makes your body work better, feel better, and look better. Respect the temple of your body – you’ve only got the one!

27. The purpose of life is to recycle and create. I’m still working on this one, but I had this thought the other day, thinking about how all the atoms we are made of were once in stars, how all the beautiful systems here on earth take the waste product of one system and turn it into the energy of another (the plant’s waste product of oxygen feeds so many other creatures for example). It occurred to me that the purpose of life is not really to just reproduce, but it’s to fit elegantly into this system whereby things are in a constant cycle of destruction, recycling, and creation. That’s what everything else in the universe does, so why not us? We have long associated creating with godliness, but why not also breaking down? Why not also the system of turning one thing into another? Instead of extracting wealth, generate wealth with what you use and discard; fit perfectly into the great system.


What life lessons have been important to you so far?