I'm turning 32 in eight days. I suppose it's a reflective time on the past 32 years of my life that has taken me down more paths than I can recount. Some were realllllly not cool and others were more than I could have imagined for myself. I'll take that balance. And I've learned things, often the hard way... that's sort of my process. I am, in all ways, a "work in progress", but one that I've come to own and appreciate despite all my mistakes, short-comings, and flaws.
And... if I'm honest, I'm pretty fucking happy - that in and of itself is a victory.
So, to celebrate my #prettyfuckinghappy state of being... here are 13 things, yes, 13 (because of absolutely no good reason) that I've learned along the way... I would say I'm telling you so that you can learn from my mistakes, but you have your own mistakes to make, I'd hate to take that opportunity from you. Consider these musings from an aging woman who has absolutely no authority to be giving anyone advice about anything that goes ahead and does anyway.
1. Emulate children and animals. There is nothing like the love and light of their innocence and joy. Don't abuse the trusting place where that love is given to you, it's the most genuine on earth. Be worthy of it's giving, strive to love others in its likeness, and celebrate it at every opportunity.
2. "To find yourself, think for yourself." — Socrates
Cultivate and celebrate self-reliance. Be YOU. Do not worry about what other people believe you should be doing or what they think is best. At times you'll be told you're foolish, irresponsible, or even wrong... but only you know your own truth, so live it. Be proud of your life in its entirety. As my friend Casey says, "Jam out with your clam out."
3. Accept responsibility for your life. If you want to enjoy the benefits of #2 then you better be willing to accept responsibility when it all goes to shit sometimes. And ohhhhhh yes, it will go to shit sometimes. Don't make excuses. Whether you did something wrong or something "happened" to you because of the way of the world, it doesn't matter. Own it. It doesn't have to remain, either. Make it better, make it different, make it no longer relevant, make it meaningful... make it something. Your past and your experiences help determine who you are, often those things are out of your control... but you get to decide what to do with it all at the end of the day. Do better and expect better of yourself than what you've been given.
4. Say "I'm sorry" and "thank you." When you screw up, say "I'm sorry" first. You're going to hurt people. Tell them you recognize that fact immediately and don't tell them the 100 reasons why you did it, or why it was "okay." It wasn't. Don't pretend it was. Then, live in a way that shows that you won't do it again. And more importantly - DON'T DO IT AGAIN. When shown kindness, however small, be thankful and express that thanks. It's amazing how that can be contagious.
5. “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” ― John Muir
Explore the world often and all of it's beauty, but take care of it every day to keep it that way. We get one planet, treat it in kind. Start with your house and your neighborhood, recognize that we're all connected and we are all responsible. See what you're protecting! Visit the mountains, lakes, rivers, oceans... spend time in nature and appreciate the gifts we are spoiling daily with bad behavior. Global warming is real... And you can't revel very long in the beauty of a trashed planet. (Here is a start, watch this PBS John Muir documentary. http://video.pbs.org/video/1883108297/)
7. "Not all who wander are lost." - J.R.R. Tolkien
Take risks. You get one shot at this life, make it a good one. Jump out of planes, fall in love, take trips to faraway places, pursue the job of your dreams, however impractical it seems to the onlooker. This is where the best stories begin. "I remember this one time that we got lost in the snow at 2 AM in the Green Mountains of Vermont in a blizzard..." kind of stuff.
8.Be pretty fucking happy. Yes, BE. And add the expletive to the sentence. And I don't mean, "try to laugh every day" or "pursue happiness" in a passive sense. I mean LAUGH and BE FUCKING HAPPY. It's okay to be sad sometimes too, but it's not okay to stay that way.
9. “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” ― Henry David Thoreau
Listen completely. Invest your time and energy in the lives of others sometimes - especially to your elders and those in need. If it's not something that comes naturally, cultivate this practice. Time is precious and limited, but the stories and the perspective are priceless. Be present in something other than your life and your drama sometimes.
10. Geek out. Never stop learning. Have interests, hobbies, and past times... READ books. Read about sea shell classifications, articles about Russian scientists who swim naked with Beluga whales, and how to grow a hanging garden in your backyard. Watch documentaries about ancient mummification practices, modern art, and Neanderthal DNA ... start random conversations on message boards online with people who share your interests. Sign up for a class on how to throw pots, get Scuba Diving certified or learn sign language, train for a race, volunteer at a hospital. There is a lot of cool stuff out there. Find it your own brand of cool stuff. I revel in my inner nerd.
11. Patience grows with having children and traveling often. It's a trait I never thought I'd possess in the quantities I do today and I'm oddly grateful and astounded.
12. Change stuff that isn't working. You can't fix everything but you're never without options. Being powerless is an illusion. Decide you want something else and do what it takes to make it happen. It doesn't happen just because you say so, you have to actually work for change, but it's worth the effort.
13. Love. *sigh* I'm no expert, in fact, my track record would tell you I'm a failure in this department many times over. But I come to accept love is a rare and precious, but often tricky concept... it's not usually a lack of love that breaks people apart or even a lack of wanting to love.
There is a very subtle but very powerful difference between someone who loves a person in spite of who and what they really are and someone who knows a person, really knows them... and in that knowing, loves what is there. It's the difference between being tolerated and being celebrated. It's the difference between a passive acceptance of a person and the undeniable recognition of a soul. The first kind of love can last and even endure... the second kind of love won't die.
Hold out for the second kind...