Last week was my birthday. I’m 33 years old. If you’re counting, that’s the same age Jesus was when he was crucified (unrelated). Like everyone else I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing with my life. I could write about how “life is a journey” blah blah, but no thanks. Last year I celebrated my birthday with a post about Facebook birthday greetings (still relevant tho) but this year I thought I’d put out a list.
A quick caveat: By no means do I know what I’m doing with my life. Some people see me as successful, and I suppose I fit into some mold. I’m finally out of debt but I don’t own much, and I’m not sure why that might matter. So, for a little record of my life and what I’ve learned, I thought I’d share your typical internet birthday list. From where I’m standing, I feel I’ve got enough experience and knowledge to be relevant.
I’ve spent a lot of this past week reflecting on my life, on my goals, and on a plan for the future. Forbes put out their 30×30 list earlier in the week which I found surprisingly triggering. It brought up a lot of anxiety and a lot of reflection on what successful might mean to me. I still don’t have an answer, but while I was putting together this list, I realized I still have some value and insight worth sharing, so here:
33 Things I’ve Learned in 33 Years
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1. Pay your taxes on time
Ugh. Let me tell you a story. This was a hard lesson to learn. Starting my own business was not easy, especially considering I had no idea what I was doing, and despite looking—could never quite find a mentor to really advise me. Without knowing what I was doing, without the business know-how, without any investment, I just kept doing my thing. I knew there were certain things I needed to do, but I just couldn’t quite manage. When I eventually did catch up with the legal requirements, it was not a pretty scene. In conclusion: pay your taxes on time.
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2. Avoid late fees and debt at all cost
This one goes way back. I had a teacher in elementary school, likely the same one who taught us how to write a check and balance a checkbook (lol does that even happen anymore?). But I also remember learning something about debt from this teacher. Sure, you could take loans out for big purchases to avoid depleting any savings, or, in the long run and if you’re in a position that makes it possible, buy it up front and avoid all the additional interest. More money in your pocket.
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3. Live abroad for longer than 6 months
I’ve written this before but my semesters studying abroad, and since then my experiences living abroad in Tel Aviv and most recently Berlin are 100% the best decisions I’ve made in my life. Living outside your comfort zone, away from familiar friends and family—you’re forced to make decisions. It’s an opportunity to learn not just about another place or culture, but about yourself. The challenges of living abroad are numerous, but the takeaways are too great to pass up.
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4. Don’t be afraid of sex
It’s beautiful. And fun. And it’s so deeply personal but it doesn’t have to be. Lose some of those inhibitions forced upon us by society and embrace the connection.
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5. Spend money how, when and where you want
The greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life wasn’t simply quitting my job to travel around the world. Rather, it was that experience of taking my savings account and deciding right then and there that I would spend it however the hell I wanted to. Ultimately that led to 15 months traipsing around the globe, but you might choose to spend your money another way. And you should.
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6. Learn to cook
Food is essential and I don’t really understand why so many people are afraid of it. Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, but even if it’s not your thing, you still need to know how to cook a few things. Learn some signature dishes, staples you can use to impress friends or when you’re sick at home and just need to take care of yourself. Even better: learn the intricacies of cuisine, spices and foods, and take the time to try new things with your cooking.
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7. Don’t trust your colleagues
A little grim, I’m sorry. And this is going to contradict something I say further down, but here’s the thing: like it or not, we live in a capitalistic society and we’ve largely been trained to be competitive. Personally, I’m a terrible secret-keeper (sorry everyone who has ever known me), but some things are better left unsaid.
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8. Get a job
Listen, I get it that everything looks amazing from over here. People keep labeling me a digital nomad and I’ve tried to resist the term as long as possible. But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t know anything about life if I hadn’t worked in a handful of different companies first. The experience of working with coworkers, coffee breaks, pointless meetings, working late and on weekends, Christmas parties—they’re things worth experiencing. Life as an entrepreneur (or hell, a digital nomad if you’ve got to label it) isn’t always as grand as it looks.
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9. Keep a studio/office/workspace separate than your home
While it’s important to have a job, it’s also important to have a clear division between work and home life—especially for the self-employed and the freelancers. After a certain age, and with a comfortable income, it’s worth investing in a separate workspace. Artists have been doing it for centuries with studios.
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10. Drink more water
Because, duh. It’s delicious and refreshing and essential for life. Just please avoid plastic.
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11. Use moisturizer
I used to not believe this little life hack, but moisturizer really does wonders for your skin. I only started regularly using moisturizer (this one, at $30) in my 30s, but I wish I’d started sooner. While I’m sure it helps with my skin, it’s also just a good habit to include in a regular morning (and evening) routine.
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12. Spoil yourself when you can
It’s valuable to indulge in things—big and small. Especially these days with the onslaught of social media and news; take time out of your schedule to spoil yourself. Whenever I’m feeling a little down, or homesick, I look for those things that remind me of something joyful—and I buy. Sometimes it’s a spur-of-the-moment trip to see a friend, or maybe it’s just a Snickers bar.
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13. Write often, publicly and privately
Words are so powerful and when you learn to express yourself with words, there’s really nothing like it. I often find myself unable to express myself just how I want (and that’s valuable too), but writing your thoughts down in a stream-of-conscious style is as cathartic as it is useful. Many successful entrepreneurs talk about the importance of writing lists and goals and simply by writing and then repeatedly reading them, it creates a sort of mantra to help you achieve whatever it is you want to achieve. As a collective society I think we’ve lost a lot of trust in words, but they’re still there and sometimes it’s the only way to get an idea out.
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14. Read even more often (books, magazines, everything and anything)
If writing is an opportunity to express yourself, reading is the chance to discover new ideas, thoughts and things. Every writer will tell you one of the best things you can do is to read more. It provides perspective and it’s a simple enough way to disconnect from our ever-persistent reality and escape into something else. I’m a strong believer in the power of fiction but while fake news destroys the world, true fiction offers something special—a way to see the world.
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15. Call (don’t just message) your friends for advice
We have a tendency to rely on our phones for everything. And I’m 100% afraid of phone calls, often anxious before any potential business call, but every time I call to speak with a friend (usually via WhatsApp voice call), I feel comfortable. For someone like me, often traveling and far away from my many loved ones, speaking on the phone with my friends is a simple and easy comfort. It’s a simple sort of therapy.
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16. Buy more gifts
Even better: buy more surprise gifts. Sure, we all slog through the holiday season and buy all the gifts we’re supposed to buy. But, as we get older, the other gifts that we used to buy for friends and family slowly taper off. Birthdays are fun, but sometimes gifts turn into simple “I’ll buy you a drink!” offers. Gifts are such an easy way to connect with one another, and honestly, they don’t need to be given for any other reason than a “hey, I’ve thought of you.”
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17. Learn new skills regularly
After graduating from whatever level of education you get to, you might think “this is it.” But in all honesty, education never ends. Throughout your 20s, as you experience new things and explore more ways of the world, it’s important to keep your education going. Take a community class on figure drawing, study web design, take a culinary course, learn how to give erotic massages. There are just so many things to know in the world, and taking classes to learn those new skills from professionals are going to propel you further.
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18. Forgive your friends
We’ve all got blemishes on our past. And once you’ve made peace with yourself, it’s easy and important to forgive those that may have wronged you. Or if you were in the wrong, to simply ask for forgiveness. It’s so important to simply “move on” and the first step is simply re-creating those connections and asking (or giving) forgiveness. It’ll make the rest of your life that much easier.
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19. Create your own community
In this hyper-connected day and age, it might seem easy to find a community. But ugh—it is not. Social media was meant to connect us, and in many ways it has, but it’s also pitted a lot of us against one another and provided outlets for every extreme good and bad. Despite this feeling that I have a gazillion friends, I still always feel a little bit lonely. So like every other good millennial, I’ve realized we have to build our own communities, our own support networks. It’s easy to get lost amongst social media followers and friends, so the best thing you can do is to simply create your own community.
Related: What is Community?
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20. Trust yourself
Trust is something you have to learn. It takes training and confidence and an ability to understand risk but still to…just go for it. Trusting others is one thing, but trusting yourself is that much more challenging. I don’t know about you, but I live in a pretty constant state of self-doubt, so the journey to trusting myself has been a long one. But rewarding. Once I started to trust more of what I was doing, to stick to my guns and to stay confident—that’s when I found my most successes.
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21. Quit something
While it’s important to stick with things through to the end, it’s equally important to quit things. Especially vices. We sometimes find ourselves on the wrong path—whether it’s drugs or cigarettes or any other number of unhealthy vices. The ability to stop yourself, to look at what you’re doing and to simply quit: that takes strength.
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22. Listen to strangers
Whether it’s just listening to their stories, their experiences or their terrible advice, listening to a stranger suddenly requires you to think in a different way. There’s a human urge to relate to strangers, but an important aspect of empathy, too—both can conflict with one another. Listening is a relatively easy act and by opening up with strangers, your own experiences will be infinitely greater.
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23. Don’t be afraid to cry
As I’ve gotten older I’ve really learned the value in crying. To the point that it’s probably annoying for friends because no matter what type of movie I watch in a cinema, I will inevitably end up crying. Opening up your body to emotions that are physically overpowering is a strange and surreal experience.
Related: OMG I recently watched this clip from Conan O’Brien where Bryce Dallas Howard cries on command and it’s absolutely beautiful.
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24. Know your limits
We have a tendency to believe we can achieve anything, and while I will hold on to that belief for-ev-er, it’s still important to know and understand your own limits. I wouldn’t let those limits restrict your imagination, your beliefs or your drive, but still: know what they are. That’s the only way you can overcome.
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25. Talk more openly about your reality
Growing up as social media came into our world, I’ve seen how some things have changed. I think social media has allowed us to both simultaneously be more honest and open with one another while also working in the opposite way. When Twitter and Instagram came into the system, suddenly we were all able to shout our opinions and show our personal worlds. We created a collective understanding on a deeply personal level across cultures and countries.
Over the past few years, however, there’s been a shift where a lot of our reality has been distorted. Raw, unapologetic truths are no longer the norm; rather, social media now propels us to only show our best selves. There are books and books and books and books on the subject, but here’s the thing: once you ignore a lot of the noise and just get back to presenting your own truths, your own realities and emotions—no matter what the rest of the world does—you’ll find your own sanity. It’s why I almost quit Instagram (still thinking ‘bout it), but also why I’ve just stopped giving a damn and I think it’s paid off with more fun, enjoyable and brutally honest observations.
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26. Take last-minute adventures
Oh hey. I just returned from a weekend in Geneva—a trip I booked last Wednesday to depart on Saturday. This isn’t my first time taking impulse adventures. They’re a way to add a bit of excitement to your life—and they don’t have to be expensive, either! Take your car and go to Six Flags randomly one day. Or book a surprise weekend away for a loved one. Take a few hundred dollars and set aside for a random, last-minute adventure. It’s worth the joy of discovery.
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27. Do something alone
We live in an increasingly chaotic world; there’s a lot of noise. And sometimes the simplest way to find clarity is to simply be alone. Personally, solo travel is still one of my favorite ways to experience a new place. But there are other ways to do things alone as a way to self-reflect: movies, restaurants, spas.
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28. Donate to a cause
It doesn’t have to be time, it can also be money, but we’re living in the new #woke age. So might as well get to it. I’ve committed myself to a handful of beliefs and causes over the years. Priorities change and nothing is forever, but it’s important to be active in your local community.
Know what’s happening around you, get involved, try to make a difference. When change does come (and it does, I promise—sometimes just slowly), the euphoric feelings are almost unbelievable. And, to be completely honest, donating yourself to a cause is a great way to counter any sort of depression or anger from the state of the world.
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29. Life is pretty boring
Coming at you from my life as a travel blogger, I can tell you overwhelmingly, we all live surprisingly boring lives. I think, as humans, we have a tendency to over exaggerate our importance, but largely—life is kind of boring. We all eat, sleep, drink (hopefully more water), and work.
Sure, there’s a lot of exciting things going on and you can fill your time up with activities, but we’re all on a similar path more or less. Work. Rest. Eat. Sleep. The occasional holiday. This shouldn’t depress us, though, because even though most of our lives are pretty mundane, that’s okay. Life goes on. We do things, we make things, we change things and life will go on and on and on…. It’s all good. Just a bit boring, that’s all.
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30. Save your pennies
Listen, I get it. I’ve had savings accounts at various points in my life and then I’ve spent them on things. Last year, a cover story from The Atlantic reported how many Americans just don’t having savings anymore. We live paycheck to paycheck. It’s absolutely the story of my life, but since reading that article last year I’ve made a concerted effort to get back on track with a savings plan.
I recently signed up for two easy investment tools meant to encourage savings with minimal effort (hey, that’s my mantra) and now I’m using both the RobinHood app and Acorns app to try and save more pennies. Acorns is super easy to use and simply rounds up your payments from your credit and debit accounts and invests it automatically. RobinHood provides a bit more flexibility with free stock trades—plus the bonus of getting a free stock (potentially even an Apple stock!) when you sign up.
Learn more: Sign up with RobinHood App with my link for a free stock (I’ll get one too—it’s the perfect birthday gift!) or download and sign up with Acorns for a free $5 added to your account (and mine!).
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31. You’re probably cooler than you think you are
This past weekend with my sister, I pretty much spent the entire time telling her how cool she is and how cool her life is, while she simultaneously told me the same. We each figure the other is cooler (spoiler: she’s cooler—she just doesn’t post on Instagram), but that in itself is pretty revealing. Jealousy has become a natural part of our lives and we all presume others to live way more exciting lives than our owns. Wrong. We’re actually much cooler than we think—it’s just hard to see from where we’re standing.
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32. Set goals
I’m a notorious list-maker, writing to do lists on scraps of paper and carrying them with me until they disintegrate. A lot of these lists are short term goals and things I need to do, but setting long-term goals (usually in 6-month spurts) has been an important part of my sanity for the better half of the last decade.
Whether it’s a goal to save $1,000 in 6 months, to plan a trip to India, or to just spend more time with your family—it’s easy and useful to set these kinds of goals. New Year’s Resolutions are meant to work like this, but those are almost always going to be unattainable—set your goals on a different timeline than the calendar year (birthdays make great time markers) and you’ll find it easier to stay on track.
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33. Stay through the credits
Patience is a virtue blah blah blah, but here’s the thing: it’s true. One of my biggest pet peeves might seem a bit crazy, but I absolutely have to stay through the movie credits of any film I see in a theater. It’s partially out of respect for the artists and thousands of people who contributed to creating the film, but it’s also just a necessity to digest the experience before moving on.
We’re often so rushed in our lives, moving from screen to screen throughout the day and when you’re sitting in a dark movie theater as music blasts out and thousands of words rush past your vision, your mind may suddenly find itself relaxed. There’s a calmness to waiting for the next thing, the next thought, the next action. It’s why I always stay through the credits. And why you should too.
A brief moment of respite, the chance to discover something new, and the opportunity to appreciate. Yes, that’s a metaphor for everything else on this list and a summary of what I’ve taken out of my 33 years.
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Life is pretty grand, isn’t it? Thanks for the birthday wishes. I hope you learned something.