30 Lessons I’ve Learned in My 30 Years on Earth

People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing,
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin,
When I say that I’m o.k. they look at me kind of strange,
Surely your not happy now you no longer play the game.

– John Lennon

katy animals

Well, it’s happened.  I’m 30 years old!

I have emerged from my teenage years and my twenties alive and wiser, and I think that I’ve learned a few things in the last thirty years on this planet that I’d like to share with all of you.

My gut feeling is that people don’t change.  Who you are when you’re born is more or less the person you are when you die.  Yes, it seems that people lose their minds and change suddenly, but I think that generally, there are signs for almost everything.  I am so the same person I was as a baby – an introvert, a homebody, an animal lover, a reader, and a girl who loves movies, food, and music.  Reaching my thirtieth birthday is a milestone, because I feel like right now, I am completely happy with who I am and the choices that I have made up until this point in my life.  Have I made mistakes?  Hell, yes.  Eating cans of buttercream icing is so not the best choice in the world, but you know what?  I’m still alive!

I think that the key to my general happiness is that I have grown to accept and love the person that I am.  I do my best to treat myself well and I have tried to create a life and career where I can share my gifts but still be comfortable and happy when I wake up every day.  I think that’s really the key to a happy life.  If you think your lifestyle is weird or unconventional, then good for you!  There are enough boring people in the world.  If you feel different and you’re worried you’re not “doing what you’re supposed to be doing,” then ask yourself a question: are you hurting anyone? Are you being a productive member of society?  If the answer is yes, then journey on.

In the words of Ole Golly in Harriet the Spy:

There are as many ways to live in this world as there are people in this world, and each one deserves a closer look.

Here are thirty tidbits I’ve learned in my thirty years!

1) Your convictions make you the person you are.  Never compromise your core beliefs, even if you feel like you’re totally alone.  You’re not, and sooner or later, you will find like-minded people.  Remember, good things come to those who wait.

2) Patience is a virtue.  If you don’t see something you like, wait until you do.

3) Body hair is not disgusting or “uncivilized.”  Wear yours with pride, even if you’re the only one in the gym locker room who doesn’t look like an airbrushed Barbie doll.

4) The perfect body doesn’t exist.  Do the best with what God and your wonderful genetics have given you.  Don’t obsess about stretch marks, acne, or fat rolls.  Don’t look at Pinterest or the Victoria’s Secret magazine for thinspiration.  Those models are insanely airbrushed, so much so that their body doesn’t actually exist in nature. There are bigger problems in the world.  Be thankful that you are healthy enough to be in reasonable shape, and then move on.

5)  Don’t take your kids to the aquarium, zoos, petting zoos, or the like.  I think we are finally having a revolution in this world about what we have done to animals over the last hundred years or so.  If you want your children to learn about animals, rent them a DVD, go to the library and check out a book, or visit a museum.  Don’t punish wild animals for your own selfish interests — they belong in their own habitat, not in ours.  Watch Blackfish and learn about the horrific sacrifices that these animals face for our entertainment.

6)  Try not to snark too much online.  This is something that I really have enjoyed doing over the last fifteen years or so, but if you must engage, keep the sassiness to a minimum.  There are some people who are just not going to see your point of view no matter what, so stop banging your head against a brick wall.  State your opinion, and then let it go.

7) Count your blessings on a daily basis.  We have a tendency in this culture to get bogged down by insignificant detail — just browsing our magazine collection sometimes makes me want to lose my mind — do we really need to know another five snack ideas to cure boredom?  Rather than focusing on the negative, try to list a few things that you are thankful for – whether it’s your health, your pets, your hair, or your family.

8) It’s okay to say no.  Remember when you were a kid and you couldn’t opt out of going to birthday parties, school lunches, class trips, etc?  Those days are over.  It’s your life, and if you don’t want to do something, you don’t have to — that goes for work parties, boozy brunches, bar parties, etc.  If it’s not your thing, say no.  That being said, don’t be a total hermit — you need to show up for the important stuff — a friend’s wedding, a baby shower, these are things you probably don’t want to blow off.

9)  Going it alone is okay.  You don’t need a boyfriend, a girlfriend, or a sugar daddy to get through life.  Ultimately, we are born alone and die alone, so make peace with yourself and who you are before trying to meet someone who will complete or define you.

10)  Learn the art of stillness and silence.  This is something that comes naturally to me but that I see loved ones struggle with a lot.  Too often we are wound up, running from one chore to the next, chugging coffee and grabbing our keys to run off to the next item on our agenda.  Take a day, or better yet, a weekend, and do nothing but take long baths, read, write, and watch movies.  Learn to be in the moment, you will be surprised that what you put off today wasn’t that important and can easily been done tomorrow.

11) Exercise.  Whether it’s walking, biking, dancing, swimming, or going to the gym, the best way to obtain a good body image is to see your body in a functional way rather than merely an aesthetic way.  When you are strong, you feel more confident and tend to be less anxious and depressed.

Which leads me to:

12)  Mental health is not something to take lightly.  You know how fitness junkies will look at a person and know exactly what they eat and how often (or not) they exercise?  I’m a little bit like that with mental health.  I see so many people on the hamster wheel going at knots and working themselves sick, barely enjoying their lives.  If you don’t feel right and your medical doctor has assured you that there’s nothing wrong, go another route and see a therapist or a psychiatrist.  There is absolutely no reason to feel miserable and anxious every day of your life, and asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness.  There are resources out there to help you, and you should use them.  Additionally, mental health days are okay too — if you’re feeling totally overwhelmed, call in sick and take some time for yourself.  Detox, and start again tomorrow.

Bloomsday Dublin

13) Travel is important.  There is nothing I can think of that has the same value as travel does.  No matter how much time you have spent reading local color writing or deciphering Ulysses, you will never know what it feels like to walk the sprawling paths of a former plantation in the deep south, or to feel the breeze on a perfectly sunny summer day on the hills amidst the rhododendrons in Howth.  You just can’t get as good a sense about other parts of the country and the world as you do seeing them in the flesh.   If you have the means to do it, map out an interesting trip and go for it.

14) Slow down.  Life isn’t a race.  Sure, it’s great to take extra credits in high school so that you can be ahead a semester in college, which means you’ll graduate a year early.  But then what?  From a financial standpoint, it’s great to save a year’s worth of college tuition, but what did you miss in that extra year?

which brings me to my next point,

15) Education is never a waste of time.  As a librarian, I’m very familiar with online resources and careers that can be obtained on the web.  These are fantastic, particularly for those with children, disabilities, and work schedules which prevent them from attending college and graduate school in a traditional scholastic setting.   But too often we tend to focus on the end result — the diploma.

But what about the process?  

What about staying out until 2 am with your classmates and a scholar who wrote the guidebook for James Joyce’s Ulysses that you’ve been using all semester?  What about concerts, poetry readings, and clubs?  These are things that you can’t put a price tag on, and things I remind myself of when I pay my student loan every month.  However, in retrospect, I would have gladly earned my library degree online.  It wasn’t an academic degree, and the coursework didn’t require as much groupwork or collaboration as my undergraduate degree did.

That being said, you have to know yourself.  Not everyone is a school person, and I understand this.  Additionally, some degrees lend themselves to online learning more than others.   Don’t get caught up in the rat race that often plagues high-school juniors who want to go to brand name schools.  Do your homework, shop around, visit campuses, and make the right decision for you.  I went to a SUNY for my undergraduate degree, much to the chagrin of some people, and guess what?  The recession of 2008 happened and I didn’t end up in loans exceeding 200,000 a year. Jobs come and go, but no one can take your education away from you.

16) Read often.  Whether it’s history, fiction, health, or commentary, reading is one of the best mental exercises in the world.  It also makes you a better writer and improves your vocabulary, in the long run.  When I met Frank McCourt in 2001, I was just embarking on the dreaded “where am I going to go to college” journey.  When I told him I enjoyed writing, he looked me in the eye and said, “whatever you do, don’t sign up for one of those college writing classes.  Read.  Read everything you can get your hands on.  And suffer.”  While I have nothing against creative writing schools, I understood what he meant.  Don’t get lost in the scene, focus on the work, and the rest will fall into place.

Catskill Animal Sanctuary

17)  The way a person treats animals reflects the type of person they are.   This isn’t to say that everyone who eats meat is a vicious monster.  But the next time you make a new friend, pay attention to the way they interact with your pets.  Do they get annoyed when no ones looking and kick the dog?  Do they pet your cats even though you aren’t looking?  I truly believe that if someone has a strong opposition to animals, there’s a screw loose somewhere in their machine.

18) Keep gossip to a minimum.  Don’t get me wrong, I loves me some good gossip.  Blame it on the all-girls’ school.   I think it’s a natural way to blow off steam and have a little fun at work.  I do it.  You do it.  I’m sure most people do it.  But when I do, I do it about superficial things.  I never, ever talk about people’s children, their marriages, or their personal lives.  That’s just crossing a line that you don’t want to cross.  Also, be careful who you confide it on the job.  There are very many wolves wearing sheeps’ clothing…

19) Movies and television don’t rot your brain.  Okay, I’m sure there are studies somewhere saying that when you watch tv, your mind starts to eat itself, but I find that movies and television are as worthwhile as books.  Okay, I said it.  Have a good film education — see the classics, and try to watch different types of films than just the big blockbusters.  It’s like the difference between reading literary fiction and James Patterson.

20)  The vegan diet will not kill you.  When I first started leaning towards veganism about five years ago, you should have heard the comments that people gave me. When I told them my reasons for going vegan, they always came back to, “But….protein!”  The fact is that you do get enough protein, especially if you eat a balanced diet.  Yes, you can make yourself sick on a vegan diet if all you eat are processed carbohydrates and junk food – but that’s something that happens with any diet.  The fact is that there are startling reports outlining the benefits of a plant-based diet.  I urge you to read Eating Animals by by Jonathan Safran Foer, The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, and The Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn.  Also watch Forks Over Knives – it’s a great documentary with lots of facts and little preaching.

katy hair

17) Let your hair air-dry once in awhile.  People always ask me about my hair (I’m actually considering doing a hair video blog, thoughts?) and why it’s so healthy and shiny.  I think one reason is that I don’t blow-dry it unless it’s absolutely necessary.  Take a weekend and leave your hair alone – wash it, let it air-dry, put it in a bun, whatever.  You will be shocked by how much better it feels.

18) Treat everyone equally – whether they are the CEO of a major company or the person who cleans the bathroom at your workplace.  Don’t disrespect waitstaff, janitors, cashiers, and other working people.  It’s just wrong.

19) Good manners really do matter.  It doesn’t matter if you have a fancy education or make six-figures — people will forever remember how you made them feel.  Does your home feel welcoming and inviting?  Do you write thank-you  notes?  Do you bring host or hostess gifts when visiting friends or relatives?  These things matter.  Gifts don’t have to be expensive, it really is the thought that counts.  I choose to be around people who exercise good manners and I tend to avoid those who don’t.

Puppy training at Guiding Eyes for the Blind

Puppy training at Guiding Eyes for the Blind

20) Volunteer work puts things in perspective.  Are you having a bad day? Whining about something petty?  Research local organizations and find out if any are in need of volunteers, whether it’s a hospital, a school, a library, or any other type of non-profit entity.  Chances are that they are in need of help and happy to have you ask.  Anyone can write a check to a charity, and believe me, I know this is important.  But there is something about giving your time and looking into the eyes of those you are helping.  My school required quite a bit of volunteering in middle and high school.  As a matter of fact, volunteer work was part of our weekly schedule – we visited places like local nursing homes, Headstart programs, and the convent associated with our school.  We visited with the sick and elderly, played with children, and sang to nuns.  They were so happy to see us, and we were able to brighten their day just by nature of what we were doing.  Often times we don’t see just how fortunate we are and how able we are to help others.  Volunteering is such a great way to give back and even more importantly, it gives a sense of accomplishment and pride because you are doing it out of the goodness of your heart, not for a paycheck.

21) Don’t constantly badmouth yourself.  I have spent a lot of time with people who are always beating themselves up for one reason or another, “oh I’m so fat, I can’t believe I ate two pieces of cake,” “I can’t believe I’m late again, I’m so lazy,” “I’m such white trash, I didn’t go to college.”  Enough.  If you don’t respect yourself, how do you expect others to?  Who cares if you’re a little overweight or didn’t go to college?  Get up every day, get dressed, take pride in who you are, and expect respect from everyone around you.  If they don’t give it to you, maybe you should re-evaluate why they are in your life.

22) Not everyone is cut out for to work in the financial field.  It seems that there is a focus right now on what you’re going to do when you get out of school.  It seems the only places that are hiring right now are banks and positions in the business field.  People say things like, “I’m not going to major in American History because I’ll never get a job.”  Okay, that might be true, to some extent.  Maybe you won’t get a job being a historian, but what doors will that degree open?  What will you learn about yourself and your interests that might guide you to the next phase of your life?  I know doctors and bankers who studied History, Foreign Language, and English for their undergraduate degrees.  Why is that relevant?  The banker’s fluency in Chinese and French allowed him to interact with representatives in France and China, and he rose to Vice President of his bank.  Now this doesn’t happen for everyone, and I think you should go into it knowing that there is a chance you won’t get a job that perfectly utilizes your undergraduate degree.  However, I don’t believe we should be pushing our future generations into careers that make them ultimately unhappy and unfulfilled.  It’s like trying to squeeze a rectangle into a triangle-shaped hole.  Sooner or later, they’re going to burnout or end up resenting their jobs.  More importantly, it’s going to create a very unbalanced society.  Imagine a world with only bankers!

23) Giving to others is a gift unto itself.  If you have the means to give to others — whether it’s through physical gifts or by giving your time — it’s a gift.  Take pleasure in being generous when you can.

24) Not everyone is going to like you.  While I consider myself lucky because I am the type of person who is generally liked, I’ve come to realize that some people just don’t like me.  It used to bother me, because it’s important for me to be liked, to a certain extent.  But now I’ve realized that it’s okay.  It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, it just means that this person and I just aren’t on the same wavelength.  Don’t try to convince people who don’t like you that you should be friends, it’s a waste of both your energy.

25) Sometimes you need to cut people out of your life.  This includes partners, friends, and family.  Yes, family is a blessing and you should count your blessings every day.  However, not everyone’s family is filled with love, compassion, and generosity.  If there are members of your family who make you feel less-than, are unaccepting, or simply cruel, then you can elect whether or not to be around them.  Just because they are related to you doesn’t mean that you need to sacrifice your sanity to fulfill an obligation.  Now this doesn’t mean that if you are unhappy in a marriage you can simply walk away — of course not.  But you have the power and the ability to choose what you want in your own life.

26) No matter what, people are always going to comment on your choices.  For me, the biggest struggle is that people always think I am a hermit.  I had a neighbor say that they always saw my car in the driveway, and that I shouldn’t be home so much, I should be out with my girlfriends.  I had a hairdresser who always asked why I didn’t have a boyfriend.  I had a nail technician ask why I wasn’t going out on New Year’s Eve.  My point is that no matter what you do in life, people always feel they can comment on it.  If you make once choice, people will ask why you didn’t make the other.  It’s just people’s nature, and there’s nothing you can do to change it.  It’s tempting to respond with sarcasm, as I have done in the past.  “You’re vegan, where do you get your protein.”  “You’re a red-meat eater? How’s that cholesterol?”  But going down this path often has little benefit.  Learn to smile and nod, and then move on.

27)  Learn to dismiss people.  And no, I don’t mean waving away a member of the wait staff(what is this, the Titanic?)  But there are people who are leeches: if you give them an inch, they take a mile.  Ask how they are doing and they’ll say, “Oh, not so good.  I’m getting divorced, I gained 50 pounds, and both my kids were just arrested for marijuana possession.  Do you know of a good lawyer?  I need one, because the last one I had didn’t listen to what I had to say….”

Learn to cut them off.  Be respectful, but don’t engage.  If necessary, pretend you’re taking a phone call or that you suddenly have to be somewhere.  Walk away.  As a public librarian, I’ve had people talk to me about all sorts of things, none of which had to do with my job.  I learned to escape, and you should, too!

28) Politics are a way to divide people.  Yes, politics often involve very important issues — abortion, gay marriage, healthcare, etc.  But I truly believe that all the correspondence, the pundits, the debates — they are a way to distract people and pit one against the other.  You have your beliefs, I have mine.  Agree to disagree.  But don’t spend every waking moment commenting angrily on blog posts of those who don’t share your opinion.  There are bullies out there who are just looking to engage you so they can prove you wrong at every point.  Don’t give them the benefit.

29) Life is not fair.  There are wealthy people who work a third the amount that you do who get gigantic yearly bonuses and a salary that would pay for a house in a year.  That’s not okay, but it’s the way it’s always been and likely the way it will always be.  Can you work to change your life?  Absolutely.  Can you try to change policies and make your workplace more equitable?  Absolutely.  But you can’t change all the problems in the world.  You can do the best you can, and know that you did your best, but know that there will always be injustice, no matter how hard we try to stop it.

30) Laughter is paramount.  I’ve met so many people, and the ones that I choose to befriend always have a good sense of humor.  Why is this important?  Because life is hard, and life is serious.  It’s filled with chance, hardship, heartbreak, and lots of work.  Learn to laugh at yourself and find the humor in situations.  It’s a state of grace.

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Categories: Mindfulness

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3 replies

  1. That’s a pretty good list of lessons.

    And happy birthday!

  2. 30 years have passed for you, and as you say – you’re still alive. May the next 30 be as exciting and well spent as the first 30.

    I’ve tasked myself with trying to figure out where the ‘travel photo’ was taken – Quinn’s Funeral Home wasn’t a good clue as there are many of them but there are two in proximity to Dublin, Ire. But the Tour Buses in Dublin are green.

    And the license plate on the bus didn’t resemble Ireland’s style either. But there is a Phoenix Park in Dublin.

    So on the basis of that, and the period dress – I am going to guess Ireland – the photo may have been taken in Dublin.

    Am I right? Or how wrong am I?

  3. Thanks so much, Mike! The travel photo was indeed taken in Dublin during Bloomsday in 2006, heart of the Celtic Tiger and before the bubble burst.

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