Being single and childless, and without property, stability, or a vision of how I want my life to look on my 30th birthday, I had initially thought I’d honor this “milestone” by attempting to aggressively tear apart the inescapable socially constructed milestones and expectations that bring us misery.
But I’m pretty sure I’ve already done that, and I mean when else am I gonna be able to justify a 30-point listicle of life advice?
Now you might be thinking, Why the eff would I listen to someone whose life appears in disarray? Well, because other than some (temporary) existential anxiety and grief surrounding the departure from my 20’s, I’m super freaking content with life. Way more content than I ever thought I’d be, especially considering how I used to relate to myself and the world.
And believe it or not, I tossed conventional life and chose this disarray. So I boiled down to 30 points the wisdom I’ve gained from a decade of conversations with clients and a lifetime of trying to understand myself. Enjoy.
1. Change is inevitable and uncomfortable, and you’ll survive it: We go to great lengths to avoid change or to ensure we’re totally prepared for it, but you can never totally prepare. Change/transition is inevitable and uncomfortable, and we can choose to view it as liberating or devastating. Humans are adaptive and I promise as long as you survive, you’ll survive.
2. You can’t just “choose” happy during shitty times: Moments and periods of difficult feelings are likely there for a reason–to tell you something. And contrary to what the happiness industry wants you to think, they don’t go away by “choosing” happy. Instead, give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling, turn inward to the emotions, and figure out what they’re trying to tell you.
3. You are going to die, but acknowledging this will actually make you happier: Death awareness causes anxiety (hence the big 3-0 causing me all sort of angst); but acknowledging our mortality also allows us to appreciate the time we have here, and experience perspective about the shit that doesn’t matter. So think about death–it’ll make you happier. Oh, and while we’re being positive, you’re also aging. So quit hating on your bod, and appreciate your health and mobility should you be so lucky as to have both.
4. You have way less control than you think. Like, none: Control is an illusion we create to alleviate our anxiety around having no goddamn control. Like it or not, you can’t predict what’s coming down the pipeline. That said, you do have control over how you treat yourself (and your relationship to yourself if the longest and most important one you’ll have in life). So choose to be supportive and encouraging rather than critical and punishing.
5. Expectations cause suffering, especially unrealistically high ones: The expectations you place on yourself and others, are causing your frustration, disappointment, shame, etc. But we naturally create expectations because we don’t like uncertainty. Have the same expectations for yourself that you would for a friend or loved one–unrealistically high expectations paralyze us and set us up for feeling shitty. And be open to changing your self-imposed expectations based on your mood, sleep, energy, health, life circumstances, resources, etc. etc.
Also, consider what you’re imagining is going to happen, or what “should” happen, and actively imagine multiple possible outcomes. It will help you detach from expectations.
6. Media wants you to feel crappy–Industries make their money by telling you you’re not good enough: You know what happens when you’re told you’re not happy enough, not attractive enough, not thin enough, not successful enough, not cool enough, not married enough? You buy shit. Media is meant to make you feel shitty. Consume with caution (and be honest with yourself about how social media makes you feel).
7. “Happily ever after” isn’t a thing, and thinking it is will leave you perpetually resentful: The idea that life should look how it does in movies and stories sets up an expectation that it’s going to look like it does in movies and stories. And then it doesn’t, and we feel like we’ve failed. Remember you will never reach a state where you don’t experience the pain that accompanies life. Grief, heartbreak, disappointment, sadness, anxiety, guilt, hurt, frustration, etc. etc. are natural responses to our ever-changing and unpredictable lives. So learn how to support yourself through the tough stuff.
8. Comparison can make you feel better or worse real quick: Start to notice where you’re comparing and how it makes you feel. Try to keep your eyes on your own page for the most part, but when it’s impossible, make sure you’re seeing the whole spectrum of experience–not just the ones you perceive to be “better” than yours. A.k.a. perspective, gratitude, the Oprah stuff. And for eff’s sake, stop following people on social media whose accounts leave you feeling inadequate!
9. Whether or not others change is not up to you: So don’t let your happiness depend on whether or not they do.
10. You will never have this moment again: So wake da fuck up. Don’t sleepwalk through life. Plus, “waking up” is necessary for having influence in our lives. Practice paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations mindfully (with acceptance and compassion and without judgment), and without reacting. It will give you more time to choose how to respond, rather than reacting impulsively.
11. That job title, salary, number on the scale, asset, or milestone isn’t going to bring you lasting happiness: There will always be another one for perfectionism to attach to.
12. No one gives a shit about your insecurities. They’re all way too focused on their own. Also, no one has it all figured out, especially the ones who claim they do.
13. Reality is subjective: There are no objective truths (with the exception of this list 😀 ). “The rules” are social constructions, and following them or believing you should follow them can actually cause you harm. Only follow them if it serves you. Also, your parents don’t always know what’s best. Don’t continue to internalize their voices unless they’re supportive, and don’t continue trying to please them if it’s causing you grief.
Also, our realities are influenced by the language we use, internally and externally. Try to rid your vocabulary of evocative words like good/bad, right/wrong, selfish, lazy, should, idiot, stupid, fat, better, shitty, pathetic, etc. etc.
14. It all comes back to sensations, and all sensations are impermanent: Anything outside of us in life only affects us because we experience it sensationally in our body. So basically, our bodies react to life and our job is to remember it’s just a sensation and it will pass.
15. Be selfish, but don’t be an asshole: “Selfish” has a bad rap. You should be selfish–no one else is at the helm of your life. Always putting others first at the cost of your own needs will lead to burnout and resentment, which doesn’t serve anyone. Just consider how your actions will make others feel, and don’t be a reckless asshole in the process of doing you.
16. We make any difficult experience a thousand times worse by judging ourselves for feeling: Doing so creates guilt, shame, anxiety, frustration, anger, etc. for feeling whatever we were feeling in the first place. Pain x struggle = suffering. Quit struggling and alleviate suffering.
17. Sometimes distracting and avoiding are necessary: We call it “coping.” Eventually, challenge yourself to go into the pain, but permit yourself to run for a bit if that’s what you need to do first.
18. Growth doesn’t happen without discomfort: And success doesn’t happen without risk of failure. Welcome all of it.
19. Conflict is inevitable and people don’t always have to agree: Disagreeing doesn’t mean anyone is bad, wrong, or hates each other. It just means they have different subjective interpretations of the world. Learn how to have uncomfortable conversations–it’s a seriously underrated skill (Psst: it all comes back to ‘dem sensations).
20. Seeing life as your teacher and finding meaning in suffering is the way to get through shitty times: It’s the most effective way of “finding the positive.”
21. When others judge, hurt, or abandon you, it’s almost always because of their own shit: So take it with a grain of salt. The whole shaker, actually. And if you find yourself feeling triggered, impatient, or irritable around certain individuals, it’s probably your own shit. Go inside and figure it out.
22. Intuition is more significant than you know, but still ought to be studied. Your gut can either guide you to happiness or keep you stuck in an unserving pattern. Definitely hear what it’s saying, but don’t be a lemming to it (Sidebar: remember Lemmings? WHERE DID THE TIME GO??!)
23. Finding joy in the process is a secret to happiness: It’s cliche AF, but enjoying the scenery, The feeling of our hands on the steering wheel, the company of the hitchhikers we pick up along the way… that’s more significant than the places we visit on the “journey of life.” Also, be wary of goal-setting: It can really keep us from enjoying the journey, and it creates expectations, which creates suffering.
24. Our minds are not separate from our bodies: Our minds are processes of information gathered from our brains and bodies. We’re not conscious of all of it. You can access and process your unconscious awareness through movement, meditation, and dreaming. Do more of them.
25. It’s Okay to not know: We change our minds anyway (which is also okay).
26. It’s Okay to be uncomfortable: It’s just part of the process. We get our bearings and work toward getting comfy again, but somewhere in there we have to be in a mess, and we’re usually in our mess for longer than we want to be.
27. Sometimes being compassionate and respectful leaves people feeling hurt: You’re allowed to break hearts, set boundaries, and give feedback to others that’s ultimately serving but that might initially sting.
28. Happiness depends on connection: connection to ourselves (self-compassion and knowing ourselves), connection to others (romantic or otherwise), connection to purpose (meaning), connection to the present moment (mindfulness), and connection to something greater–a god or the Universe or nature or consciousness or humankind (spirituality). When disconnected, we experience anxiety, depression, and shame. See where you’re disconnected and nurture those areas of your life (or read this to see the steps described in more detail).
29. Understanding the relationship between hope and acceptance is important: Hope and acceptance are mutually exclusive.You can’t be in both at the same time. Sometimes we go between the two multiple times a day, or multiple times a minute. Hope can keep us from moving on, but it can also help us keep on keeping on. It’s easier to default to than acceptance–acceptance is generally more effortful, and more of a practice. But over time, it gets easier.
30. We’re all in this together: You knew I was gonna end on this one. Whatever you’re experiencing, it’s not new. It’s part of the human experience. We all struggle. We all feel inadequate. We all think we’re broken. We all feel pain. We all suffer. That’s what unites us. We’re all in this together.
Now excuse me while I throw on some Jay and spend my 30th on a plane with my old pal, Death Anxiety. Back to NYC I go to keep wondering and fumbling :D.