27 things I've learned by the age of 27
I was born 27 years ago this week, a couple days before a full moon, and smack dab in the middle of a heat wave. I came into the world a little early; supposedly my due date was closer to July 4th. But that was all the way back in 1988, and now here I am in my late 20’s (already lamenting that I can’t say “mid-20’s” anymore… sob) with a fair amount of earth-time under my belt, a couple battle scars, eight tattoos, and a hell of a lot more teeth. Getting to the almost-thirty-years-old zone has put me in a bit of a self-reflective mood, and I’ve been thinking about all the information, screw-ups, victories, celebrations, and lamentations I’ve racked up so far, and what it all amounts to. Or does it amount to anything? Do I need it to amount to something?
The bigger questions might have to wait till a later birthday (check in with me around my 50th), but I know that, so far, I’ve accrued a collection of interesting/ weird/ funny/ hopefully helpful nuggets that just might be of interest to you, too.
1. Being outside is important
I can’t believe how much time I HAVEN’T spent outside as an adult. When I was a kid, I ran around like a wild child in the great outdoors, or would even just hung out outside because it was different scenery than inside the house. These days I try to do everyday stuff outside when I can. Am I reading? I try to take the book outside? Have an errand to run? I try to ride my bike. Nature tends to give everything a different perspective. I like that.
2. Sometimes things are as bad as they seem
Yes, I’m already going there with the downer. But I’ve noticed that when I’m going through something rough, one of the least helpful things I commonly hear is “nothing is as bad as it seems.” Well, sometimes it is. Sometimes things are the honest to goodness pits. But that’s okay. It’s okay to be incredibly sad or frustrated or overwhelmed. Denying those feelings will accomplish nothing. What’s important is that we notice those feelings, and don’t allow them to consume us.
3. It doesn’t matter what major you pick
This is purely based off of my own experience, but I was a Philosophy major in college and I absolutely loved it. I didn’t care about all the skeptical looks I got when I would answer the “what is your major” question from older adults. I really enjoyed my studies and they kept me very focused. Now I’m a writer, which had been my dream career since I was old enough to read (ask my mom and dad if you don’t believe me). Everything worked out.
4. You can’t change other people
You can try and try and think if you just say or do or wear or think the exact right thing, it will change another person’s mind or their personality. This is a recipe for disappointment and conflict. There is absolutely nothing anyone can do to change any other person, and that’s a great thing. Do you want other people to have the power to change you? No.
5. Relationships are (wonderful) work
Contrary to the tropes of romantic comedies, E.L. James novels, and teeny bop pop would have us believe, every relationship is going to require work. It’s normal for things to need tweaking and maintenance and compromise. The real question we have to ask is whether or not the relationship feels worth the work. If it does, you’re alright. If it doesn’t, there’s nothing wrong with re-evaluating things. But even the closest friends and the most intimate couples have to put in the sweat from time to time. It’s worth it, though.
6. Therapy is an amazing tool
I’ve been in therapy for just about three years, and it’s one of the best things I could possibly be doing for myself. You don’t need to be in crisis or have “serious issues” to benefit from therapy. Just having the non-judgmental space to process whatever comes up in your life is an unbeatable tool to have in your self-care belt.
7. Ask all the questions
I know, sometimes it’s difficult or embarrassing. But it’s such a weight lifted to know what the heck is going on, even if it feels like your pride might get beat-up in the process. Just ask any question you have. After some practice doing this, I’m so much happier just being able to let myself ask any questions I have. I’ve learned so much, and it has done wonders for my confidence.
8. Don’t stop reading
Even as an avid reader, I will go through dry spells where I won’t pick up a book for a couples months. What’s weird is that I can sort of feel it internally when I haven’t been reading, and it’s a bit of a red flag that signals: “you’re not taking time for yourself. If you’re too tired to read, you’re too tired. What changes do I need to make?”
9. Phones can be the devil
Ohhhh all the drama and heartache and anxiety I could have avoided if the beautiful, terrible cell phone had never been created! But also, all the missed parties, and late night chit chat. The point is: I have had to learn not to let my phone be a crutch if I’m feeling down or nervous. If I feel compelled to reach for my phone for no particular reason, it usually means I’m trying to avoid something. Whether it’s boredom, or work, or nervous thoughts, I now know better than to depend on my little screen for help.
10. Nesting is super important
My goodness what a difference a couple of framed pieces of art, candles, and a clean room can have on my mood. Investing in the areas we spend the most time in can be relaxing, and ultimately very rewarding when you know you have a comfortable landing spot waiting for you at home.
11. Take the criticism
Sometimes we’re wrong. I’ve probably been wrong about five times in this piece already. Sometimes getting criticism, called-out, or otherwise corrected can sting and feel like an attack. But when criticism is coming from someone I trust, I will at least consider it. Even if I ultimately disagree with the criticism, I’ve still learned something about myself.
12. It’s OK not to have a specific goal
For most of my life, I was the very definition of goal-oriented. On the plus side, goals keep us focused, motivated, and accountable. But especially for perfectionists (looking at myself in the mirror, here), sometimes goals can just cause more stress, or make us so focused that we don’t see anything but our goals. Lately I’ve been trying to go with the flow (as trite as that may sound) and seek whatever drives me at the time. If it changes, that’s great. On to the next!
13. Take photos with people in them
My eight grade science teacher told me this one. When you go on outings or vacations or any event that necessitates photography, don’t take pictures just of the sites. You can buy postcards with the Grand Canyon on them, but you can only get a picture of you and your four best friends looking down into the Grand Canyon if you take it yourself. Having people in the picture really enhances the memories the photo can offer.
14. Please, for the love of god, cry sometimes
This is coming from a blue ribbon winning cry baby, but I maintain that crying is a totally healthy and normal response to a variety of situations. Just let it out. (I even think it’s OK to cry at work sometimes. They’re only tears.)
15. Try making your own stuff
Even though I have never been much of a DIYer, I get so much satisfaction out of homemaking certain things. I like to knit scarves, make tea with loose leaves, and make my own cleaning products. Far from a chore, it has become a hobby I truly enjoy.
16. Meditation helps. Seriously.
I’ve meditating off and on for a year now. Let’s just say that I do a lot better in life when I’m in the “on” stage. There’s been a lot of hype surrounding meditation over the last couple of years, and it turns out it’s for good reason. Meditation gives you the time and space to explore your thoughts, and teach yourself not to react to anything, but rather to mindfully choose a response. I mean it when I say it’s a life-changer.
17. Go for the lobster (if you want it)
I’m a vegetarian but recently let myself cheat to try a lobster while I was on vacation in Maine. I cried a little before the lobsters went in the pot, and looking at it cooked made me so sad I didn’t think I would actually be able to eat it (also I thought it would be gross). Well, I did eat it, and it tasted SO GOOD. I will never eat a lobster again because I felt so bad for Roger (yes, I named the lobster), but I’m glad I got to experience it. And Roger, seriously, I’m really sorry.
18. Nothing will ever make a break-up easy
Honestly, I’ve tried it all. I’ve tried hiding under the covers for days while sobbing into my pillow. I’ve tried distracting myself with a million new hobbies. I’ve tried crafting elaborate plans to win back my beloved. No matter what, it’s always going to hurt like hell. If my heart gets broken, I do what I can to take care of myself (read: see friends, don’t drink, stay busy), but I know that there’s no surefire way to speed up the healing. It’s normal for it to hurt, so lovingly care for yourself through the pain. It’s worth it.
19. Do stuff alone
The first movie I ever saw along in theaters was Kate and Leopold (no judging!). I think I was 13, and I’m glad I had that experience when I was still pretty young, because throughout the years I’ve never had a problem doing things on my own. I’ve eaten in fancy restaurants alone, gone to many movies alone, and gone on vacation alone. I like knowing that I can entertain myself and enjoy my own company.
20. Go to the doctor
Ugh. Instead of staying up until 1am reading terrifying message boards about all the ways you are probably going to die of like 12 rare conditions, just dial up a nurse’s hotline, wait to make an appointment. If you don’t have insurance or money is tight (I have been in both of these situations), try searching around for clinics or doctor’s offices that have a sliding pay scale, or are willing to work with people who don’t have insurance. I’ve always regretted it when I haven’t prioritized my own physical health.
21. Sex doesn’t have to be trivial
Or rather, the way you feel about sex is important. Embrace it, own it, share with anyone who is safe to share it with. It’s a great part of life, so don’t feel like you need to trivialize it because it’s “just sex.”
22. Living without a TV is possible (if only for a day)
Going without a TV (the one or two times I’ve done it) has been surprisingly easy. To come totally clean I would still watch Netflix on my computer, but that made it so TV was something I did on my own to chill out, instead of having the television act as a social catalyst. Oh, and also, living without television means you will get really good at playing solitaire and you will read a lot more.
23. Someone should buy me a dog
Just slipping this in here because I really, really want a dog. Come on, it’s my birthday.
24. Say thank-you like, all the time
I LOVE saying thank you. If someone from customer service helps me out, I always tell them how much I appreciate their help, if someone holds the door for me, I say thanks, if someone does me a favor they get 10 thumbs-up and heart emojis. Being grateful for the little things puts me in such a good mood.
25. Sleep outside
There’s nothing quite like this. The pitch black can be a little overwhelming, but sleeping under the stars is one of the most tranquil and moving experiences I’ve had in my entire life.
26. Try out the messed-up haircut thing
We all need to know what feels like to really have jacked up hair and live with it for a little while. It’s maybe a bit mortifying at first, but then you kind of get over it and it’s liberating as hell. So next time someone royally screws up your ‘do try to give yourself a couple days before going in to get it fixed. Or just let it grow out!
27. Take care of yourself
If there is absolutely only one thing I’m glad that I am learning how to do, it’s to take care of myself. Nothing could be more important than setting aside time to make sure that you’re OK. <3
(Image via Comedy Central)