30 Lessons From 30 Years of Living

Fun Fact: That red little sack and water bottle were all I packed for my trip to Machu Picchu.

Fun Fact: That red little sack and water bottle were all I packed for my trip to Machu Picchu.

You’ve probably seen one of these before: a list of lessons a person wants to share when they reach a certain milestone. When I was traveling through Peru back in 2014, I had a short conversation with an overconfident, random guy on the street. He introduced himself as a blogger and upon hearing that I was going to Machu Picchu the following morning he said to me, “The world has enough photos of Machu Picchu” and walked away. Ummmm… what a downer! Just because something’s been done a million times before doesn’t take away its value to the person experiencing it for the first time. Well, this list is kind of like my picture of Machu Picchu. It’s been done a million times before, but I still found writing it equal parts challenging, rewarding, and fully worth doing.

 1.     Leaving home is a great way to realise who you are as a separate entity to your family and friends. I’ve had the biggest mind, body, and spiritual growth spurt as a result of living in Australia for four years. I truly believe it’s important to leave home for a prolonged period of time at least once in your life to allow for deep change to take place.

2.     Don’t let ”Yes” be the automatic response. Pause, tune in, then decide. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I blindly agreed to something only to completely regret it later. All because I didn’t think it through before eagerly saying “YES!” When someone asks you to do something you’re not actually sure you want to do, pause and consider the pros and cons of your decision. If it’s in person and you can’t afford to take a long pause, simply say you have to check your calendar first and that you’ll get back to them with an answer asap. This will give you time to think it through more and make a decision that is ultimately right for YOU.

3.     You don’t owe anything to anyone. No one owes you anything either. Being around entitled people is the worst, right? Ever had a friend or family member who just expected or demanded something from you simply because they felt like they deserved it or you owed it to them somehow? No, thanks. No one needs that in their life. Establishing clear boundaries will help with this. Protip: Stay aware of not slipping into this entitlement yourself.

4.     Make spending time in nature a priority. When I was in Japan, my friend said to me something along the lines of, “You are noticeably happier when you’re outside in nature. Whoa.” And I think this is true not just for me, but for all of us unless you’re allergic to grass or the sun. There are a zillion positive side effects to spending time outdoors, from enhanced creativity to better sleep. It really helps to make it out in nature at least once a week, even if it’s just a walk around your local park. Breathe in the trees!

5.     Establish clear boundaries whenever necessary in all areas of your life. Boundaries or rather a lack of them are the reason for many of our problems. I had a hard time with this, especially in my 20’s, because I simply didn’t know how to say no or clearly state my needs in many situations. This led to negative dynamics (people trying to take too much or overstepping boundaries), which turned into a breeding ground of resentment and toxicity. It’s so important to clearly state your needs. I’m still learning how to properly do this, but starting small helps.

6.     Differentiate between what’s important and what’s urgent. Pretty self explanatory.

7.     Being drunk sucks and so do most drugs. I’ve gone through periods in my life where I drank and partied a lot. Anytime I drank a lot or dabbled with drugs though, I usually felt like shit and made stupid decisions I later regretted. In the last four years, I’ve made it a point to barely touch any alcohol or take any drugs and (no surprise here) my wellbeing has skyrocketed. At least for me, I’ve learned it’s not worth it. I feel at my best completely sober in any given situation. The initial discomfort is worth the benefits.

8.     Validating someone else’s feelings doesn’t invalidate your own. How hard is it not to defend yourself when you feel under attack? I know it’s really hard, but the truth is most people aren’t trying to attack you, they’re just trying to tell you how they feel. All they really want you to do is acknowledge their feelings. You don’t have to agree with how they’re feeling (you might think they have no reason to feel X over Y) but that doesn’t mean you can’t respect their feelings anyway. It’s not your job to decide how someone should feel about a certain situation. There are no right or wrong feelings, psychology 101. This has been hard for me to learn but man I’m glad it’s finally sticking.

9.     Don’t waste your time on anyone who tries to belittle you, even if they call themselves your friend or family. I now have a zero tolerance policy for anyone who doesn’t fully want the best for me. Constructive criticisms and challenges are completely welcome, as long as the intent is genuine and the execution is done in a loving way. Seriously, don’t stand for anything less from anyone. And if you find that someone is being a drainer to your life, have a chat with them about it before totally cutting them out. Maybe they’re not aware they’re being a drainer. Either way, you usually know what friends are really friends and what friends are really leeches.

10.  In any given situation that feels confronting, remember to view the situation from multiple perspectives, not just your own. This has helped me immensely. Whenever I start to play the role of victim in my head, I try to remind myself to think of ways I’m not the victim. This usually snaps me out of my mental drama and introduces much needed balance to my train of thought.

11.  Making art for art’s sake and making art for money are two very different and separate things. This is a huge one. Whenever I get caught up in only creating work for clients, I start to think I hate photography. But that’s totally false. I love photography, client work included, I just hate when I don’t make time to take photos purely for myself.

12.  Admit when you’re wrong even when it burns. Especially when it burns. Swallow that stupid pride.

13.  Respect your body and your mind despite the ongoing social pressure to do otherwise. Partying, staying out late, drinking and drugs are how lots people have fun. But having fun doesn’t have to mean destroying your body and your mind. I feel like this is often forgotten in our 20’s, but it’s worth trying to keep in mind.

14.  Talk less, listen more. This takes practice.

15.  Getting clear on your values is a game changer. I think the first time I wrote my values down was four or so years ago. This is ridiculous. Children in primary school should be taught the importance of this exercise.

16.  Blaming other people robs you of the introspection necessary to learn important lessons about yourself. Take responsibility. It’s so much easier to blame other people for something going pear shaped than admitting you could’ve done things differently, but then you don’t learn about yourself which is what’s most important. One of my favourite quotes illustrates what I mean: “Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.”―Jerzy Gregorek

17.  Stick to the routine. I love spontaneity. Especially in my early 20’s I prided myself on being super spontaneous and carefree. I still love spontaneity, but what I love more than spontaneity is my routine. I love that I eat pretty much the same thing every morning, that I wake up at the same time seven days a week and do the same exact routine in the mornings (meditate, journal, read), go to the library on Tuesdays, eat pizza every Thursday. You catch my drift. It’s a paradox, but routine actually gives me the freedom I searched for in spontaneity. Because I have routines, I can have the freedom (time) and mental space to do the things that I want.

18.  There are worse things to be than “boring.” A lot of people I admire, whether I know them in real life or not, would be considered boring to an extent. They’re often not flashy or loud nor do they go out of their way to appear to have a larger than life existence. I’ve found that often times the people who aren’t constantly trying to be special or weird are truly special and weird. Many an interesting person I’ve met are quite inconspicuous.

19.  You can’t fit everything into the schedule. Less is more. Take it from me, who for too long tried to do it all and always ended up frazzled and rushed. You can’t do it all. (I’m still mastering this.)

20.  Being challenged by someone doesn’t mean they are the enemy. Being challenged on our perspectives is how we grow and learn. Seek being challenged. Try to accept the challenges gracefully. If you find that you’re feeling threatened by someone who is simply challenging your point of view, it’s probably safe to say your ego needs a checkup.

21.  When people are assholes, they are in pain.

22.  Seek to understand instead of react. Easier said than done, but the minute we start to slow down our reactions and opt for mindfully responding, our lives change.

23.  Happiness will not come when X happens. If you can’t be happy now, you won’t be happy anywhere in the future either.

24.  Exercise is as important as the food you eat. Our bodies and brains are incredible machines. Truly. I am in awe of my body and how it functions and keeps me alive. It’s so fucking smart beyond anyone’s comprehension. If I cut myself, it just KNOWS what to do to repair itself. AUTOMATICALLY. WTF. Our bodies are incredible!!!! Maybe if we all took a moment to acknowledge how amazing our bodies and brains are and how lucky we are that they’re keeping us alive, we’d take more time to treat them with respect. Treat your body like the temple that it is, for real. Eat well and get your ass moving. I know I feel a thousand times better about myself and life when I eat well and break a sweat.

25.  Be extremely selective about who you spend your limited time with. Again, don’t waste your time on assholes.

26.  Always stay open to learning. Acknowledge that you know very little. This is imperative. Equally as annoying as our friend who feels entitled is the friend who knows it all. I know I’ve been both of these friends before, in particular the know it all. I love information, I read feverishly and I teach part time… so I often get caught up in the “I know better/more” scenario. I’ve found it humbling to realise how much more I can learn from or about people when I let myself be the student.

27.  Don’t live your life like it’s a profound grocery list with an infinite amount of boxes to tick. I have to stop myself from living my life this way and I see so many people living exactly like this. This is something that irritates me in myself and irritates me about others; when nothing seems enough and you just keep moving from one goal to the next to the next to the next like a dopamine addicted goal machine without ever taking the time to actually slow down, enjoy the moment and bask in the glory of simply being. This phrase is a reminder to myself about my own values, about not engaging in a pointless race against others and about how important it is for me to slow down. If I don’t constantly remind myself to do this, to slow down and remain present, my autopilot wiring takes over and I will run myself into burn out because I don’t stop.

28.  There is beauty and poetry in growing roots in one place. In noticing when the seasons change, in having traditions, in the familiar.

29.  Constantly being busy isn’t a sign of success or progress. It’s most often a sign of poor prioritising and poorer time management. Being busy isn’t a badge of honour. Burn out benefits no one.

30.  Success is being genuinely comfortable in your own skin with nothing to prove to yourself or others. I’ve thought a lot about what success is to me and I think this is the answer that feels the most true. Feeling like you have to prove yourself is a heavy burden to carry around. I remember different times in the past when I thought I had to be stronger, more knowledgeable, more cultured, more fun, more daring… mostly just to try to gain the approval of people I didn’t even like or respect. This could’ve been avoided simply by lovingly accepting myself and acting from a place of “I am enough” instead of “I’ll be enough when…” I’m still not 100% comfortable in my own skin, but I’ve come a long way. Even just acknowledging that feels pretty nice.

Join the conversation. Which of the 30 lessons stood out to you? What important lessons have you taken away from your 20s? Share with us in the comments. :)