"Yes, but I'm still a millennial!" That was the smugly defensive response I recently had on auto-pilot to everyone and anyone that wished me a "happy birthday" last month when I turned 33 (according to Wikipedia, millennials are 18-34.) Somehow -- despite the fact that I am celebrating another year of life, newfound wisdom and health -- I felt this defensive need to justify my age; that, yes, I am still in the same demographic subgroup as the cool kids on Snapchat (which I'm finally starting to understand. Yay me!)
While it took me 33 years to truly, truly love who I am and know my worth, I'm also plagued with moments of anxiety about my age (like when I realize most of the celebrities I follow on social media -- Kylie Jenner, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, etc., are at least 5-10 years younger than me) and more recently, when I took to heart the advice my 14-year-old cousin for a good week (a freshman in high school) once told me: "if you don't get 20 "likes" on anything you post to Instagram or Facebook, "delete immediately" to avoid embarrassing myself.
So while I am no expert on life and continue to make 764.5 mistakes each and every day, here is a compilation of what I have learned and know to be true at the age of 33 (in no particular order of importance.)
1. You really don't know what you have until it's gone. This may be the most painful life lesson for anyone to have to learn. I never thought my younger brother would die and that instead of a family of five, we're a (very happy and close) family of four. But still: learn from my mistakes. Don't take anything or anyone for granted -- make sure everyone in your life knows how grateful you are for them and how much you love them. Send that text, make that call. Cherish the small moments, because they truly are moments, that, at any moment, could be taken away.
2. Someone that's nice to you but not nice to the waiter is not a nice person. People often show their true colors unintentionally -- pay attention.
3. "The most important relationship you have in life is the relationship you have with yourself." ~Diane von Furstenberg. Personally, I wasted so much of my teenage years, twenties and even the first year or two of my 30's with a zillion insecurities and beating myself up over the "coulda, shoulda, woulda's." We all f**k up so forgive yourself and take time to write down your best qualities, daily successes (no matter how small) and what you're grateful for. Appreciate who you are and how far you've come.
4. A drama-free and boring life is actually an amazing thing. In my 20s, everything had to be exciting: my career, nights out, relationships, etc. But with all the excitement, came a lot of angst. I now actively avoid situations, people and places that may reignite said angst.
5. There is no situation or life change that will make you happy if you don't appreciate what you have right now. How many of us have thought... "I'll be so happy when I .... lose 10 pounds/get a promotion/get engaged/fill-in-the-blank." I have learned happiness and life is all about the little moments that make you smile and feel good - not the "big ones" where you thought you'd finally "arrive." And even when you do "arrive," guess what: there is a whole new bag of challenges you didn't even know existed. Happiness comes from appreciating the small "big things" that happen to us on a daily basis.
6. The people that stuck by your side when you weren't very loveable are ones to never let go of. And that may not resonate with you until months or even years later, but remember: it's never too late to say thank you to anyone who showed you kindness when you weren't very kind. "Everyone wants to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down." - Oprah
7. Holding onto grudges and anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die -- Buddha. Once you accept we're all just struggling to get by, it's easier to forgive and let go. Forgive others, and forgive yourself.
8. Adult friendships are a lot of effort and sometimes hard, but no excuses -- we're ALL busy. Between Facetime, Whatsapp, Text (and whatever new technology that has sprung up since I've written this down) there are no excuses not to maintain regular contact with loved ones. For instance: my best friends from college live hours away in Rhode Island and are busy juggling marriage and children while I'm navigating single life in NYC, but we have a group text where we catch up (really where we just talk a lot about how much we love wine and other funny things that happen to each of us on a daily basis) But, it's just this feeling of closeness and comfort from maintaining and fostering friendships.
9. Memories over money, always. I know this is cheesy, but one thing I know to be true is this: don't live a life so consumed with work that it becomes second-nature to miss happy hours. Or if your friend is planning a bachelorette in Las Vegas, save up and GO. In the end, you won't remember slaving over your laptop but you will be telling your grandkids the crazy things you got up to "when you were young!" (remember what we got up to in Vegas, Julie, Nikki and Elisa? Priceless.)
10. Go to therapy -- you probably need it. Make self-improvement a priority (because we all have s*it to work out.) We spend all this time at the gym to be physically fit, so why not make your mind mentally fit? Being the "best" version of ourselves takes daily work, but well-worth it.
11. Open the good wine, use the nice sheets and burn the expensive candle. Stop waiting for the "perfect" moment -- enjoy life now.
12. Attitude and perspective are everything. The same exact thing can happen to multiple people, but each person's individual perspective on life determines their own reaction and how much they choose to let it impact them (and like I've written about before, life is so much easier when we choose to think positively and expect only the best.)
13. Make your bed. The state of your bed is the state of your head. I don't know where I heard that, but it makes sense.
14. You can't start a new chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one. For me, it was only when I learned to shed my emotional baggage including a failed long-term relationship from my 20s that left me with a lot of hang-ups was I able to move on and start a new life for myself. Sad shit happens to all of us, but don't let the things that have happened to you harden your heart or prevent you from future happiness. Find a way to let it go and learn from the experience.
15. No matter where you are in your life right now, know things will change. My mom has always reminded me of this when I've experienced heartbreak; career disappointments, etc., "This too shall pass," which has helped me. It's a powerful phrase that reminds us that nothing is permanent -- good or bad. If it is a negative situation, know "this too shall pass." On the other hand, if it's a positive situation, it can teach you to embrace the good you have now, because, that too shall pass.
16. Surround yourself with positive people. They say you're the average of the five people you hang around most. Spend your free time with those that see the good in everything and everyone -- those that encourage you and inspire you. The ones who help you look at life from a different, and more positive lens. The person who lifts others up with a positive outlook rather than the person who brings you down with a pessimistic attitude.
17. Negative thoughts attract negative things; positive thoughts attract positive things. For example, maybe you were out to dinner last night and complained to your friend about how slow the service was. Fast forward to 1pm today when you got a call from an unhappy client complaining about a proposal you submitted. You get what you give - in this case, you attracted the complaint by giving it out; it just returned in a different form. Conversely, let's say you helped a stranger who didn't realize they dropped something on the street and then a day later, you get free tickets to the Yankees game -- you also attracted that through kindness. It's the Law of Attraction (here's a great article from Business Insider: 12 Ways The 'Law Of Attraction' Can Improve Your Life)
18. The older I get, the less I know. Being an adult doesn't mean you're wise nor does it mean you have everything together. For me, it's the complete opposite. When I was younger, I really thought I knew everything. Now, I am often faced with situations where I have no answers. Am I doing the right thing? Did my email to a colleague come off bitchy? Should I have not sent that last text? Whatever. I am okay with the fact that I often don't "know" the answer, but that's okay because I'm learning from it all -- the mistakes and successes.
19. Stop complaining. This is/was a really tough habit to break for me, but venting somehow leaves me feeling worse and my mood is soured. Also: science shows complaining changes your brain chemistry. If you actually have a problem to complain it, figure out how to solve it. Griping does nothing but sap you of energy.
20. We create our life story and what happens next. We have the power to break mental patterns that no longer serve us, and we have the power to consciously choose thoughts that make us feel good -- it's just matter of truly wanting to change old habits with new ones.
21. Being a victim is easier than taking responsibility. No matter what has happened, I've found people are kind and understanding if we take ownership to our own actions -- being passive and pointing the finger only pushes people away. No one like to be around negativity.
22. You can't make anyone change, but you can change how you respond to them. I have experience on both ends -- and I've learned people will only change if and when they want to.
23. If there is a situation that's keeping you up at night, write it down. What helps me is to write down the thing I'm worried about and then list why I'm worried about it. The logical part of my brain helps calm me down from what could be a restless night of cyclical thoughts of doom and anxiety, followed by feeling cranky and stressed upon waking.
24. No one worth knowing cares about your job title; how much money you make; what brand your shoes are or what kind of car you drive. And if they do -- they shouldn't be in your life. The people that love you are just happy to be in your company; the other stuff is just meaningless "stuff."
25. "Hurt people hurt people" Yehuda Berg. It really is as simple as that. I've been on both ends of this spectrum and this I know from experience: the way others treat you is just a reflection of how they feel about themselves -- sometimes they justify it, sometimes they blame it on others, and sometimes they don't even know they're doing it. I still take way too many things personally, but I remind myself of this daily.
26. You don't need to apologize for being sensitive and emotional. I used to dislike how sensitive I am and was constantly apologizing and trying to justify my feelings. I thought it made me weak. But I have learned to truly love and embrace this trait. The grief process of losing my brother has molded me into someone who unapologetically loves and cares deeply. It's who I am and the people in my life love me for it.
27. You can never get time back. The world moves fast and quickly and time is something we can never get back. The years fly by. It's important to be content with every area of your life -- the things that are bothering you now, will they matter in five months? Five years? Look at everything in perspective -- the choices you make now matter.
28. Call your parents once a day. Check in, see how they're doing and share parts of your day with them. My mom said to me once "a parent is only as happy as their unhappiest child." So share the small victories with them; it's what they live for. We are so busy growing up, we forget they are getting old. One day they won't be here and you will wish you did.
29. It's not what you say, but how you say it. I just finished Aziz Ansari's new book and a big part of our society's disconnect, according to his research, boils down to the tone of what you're saying or trying to convey on text or email. A "Thanks." vs. a "Thanks!" mean two different things when written; punctuation matters. I have definitely overused my fair-share of "!" and also accidentally conveyed a harsh tone when my intention was to be light and breezy. The lesson here: important conversations are best had in-person, where this no room for miscommunication.
30. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don't bring up the past." - Dalai Lama. This is so important -- keep it on the current situation only; bringing up old resentments will only make everything worse.