My birthday is fast approaching, you guys. My eleventh twenty-ninth birthday to be exact, and this year I have decided to celebrate by giving everybody a ton of unsolicited advice. This is not without precedent, though; it has for many years been my habit at other people’s birthday celebrations to ask the honoree, “What have you learned this year? What advice can you give us from another year of living?” I feel like it goes without saying that the average birthday person answers by staring blankly at me, offering no new wisdom to the wanting.
So this is my revenge. For my thirty-ninth birthday I have written thirty-nine pieces of really solid, hard-won life lessons for you. In my heart, this information is sort of dedicated to my nearly grown daughters and my little sisters and nieces, as well as to any women or girls who might bend a listening ear. If I think I know anything in life, it’s only because I did it wrong first. Repeatedly. I believe it was it Elanor Roosevelt who said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” Okay. Today, here are items one through fourteen.
#1. Life passes by so quickly. This may sound cliche, but cliches are often rooted in truth. Take life slow and easy when you can. Choose to be happy every single time you realize you have a choice. Soak up as many details as possible. Notice your people, count your blessings, and breathe deeply.
#2. Wear sunscreen. If you are a little younger than me, than you were probably raised with this habit anyway, but I am here to tell you that even if you like some summer color (I happen to like a LOT), you absolutely must protect your face, shoulders, collarbone, and hands. Find other fun ways to “blush.”
#3. Be careful how you witness your most passionate beliefs to others. What you think of as zeal can in fact be a very destructive act of self glorification. True spiritual witnessing should be loving. If you’re brandishing political beliefs, then you probably already know the risks. Good luck.
#4. When making changes to your home, be careful that you do so with a good, positive spirit. Your mood and your memories from that day have a way of imprinting themselves into the paint, the upholstery, and the curtains. It is no fun to repeatedly see a dried paint drip on a light-switch plate that reminds you of a harsh word said out of impatience. Conversely, it’s wonderful to pass by paintings and pillow covers that remind you constantly of very real love and very deep laughter. Let those redecorating days be fun and loving, silly and memorable, for all the best reasons. If you’re cranky, try to turn that attitude around before arming yourself with a paintbrush or even rearranging furniture.Your physical home is definitely made up of non-physical details.
#5. At all costs, protect your natural teeth. Avoid stepping on metal garden rakes that want to smash your mouth and steal your two front teeth. While we’re on this topic, also never ever do something called the “Duck Walk” on a slick gym floor; never walk backwards in a hallway with concrete walls; and never do underwater flips in concrete pools with your eyes shut. Also, go to the dentist regularly. Find a great dentist you don’t mind visiting and brush, floss, and swish that pretty mouth like your future smile depends on it. Because it totally does.
#6. Cultivate Joy. Joy-making is a constant process, and it is attacked from all sides, all the time. So you must continue to plant seeds of joy everywhere you walk and do your best to protect them, grow them, and share their fruits whenever possible. The joys you cultivate in life will feed you through hard times, and they may even help someone else. Also, I am pretty sure you are responsible for your own joy. It’s very personal, so do not depend on anyone else to grow it for you, not even your closest friend or your soul mate or your parents or children. They all have their own to tend, and the better everyone does individually, the more we all have to offer.
#7. Speaking of cultivation, try growing your own food. At least once, try growing something edible, either a salad or some herbs or a few rows of sweet corn or tomatoes. Wherever you live and whatever your lifestyle, there is some gardening you can do to feed yourself, and the experience will change you. Just try it. Don’t waste energy being intimidated by science or success-fail stories; all you really need is dirt, sun, water, and seeds or plants. Give yourself this gift.
#8. Hold a service job. I am of the strong opinion that young people, before they truly step out into this big beautiful world, should spend some time working in a service industry. Wait tables, work a retail sales job, clean, do kitchen work, etc. And do it well. Earn your money doing physical work that relies on having good manners, a strong work ethic, and a dash of humility. It will serve you later in life in ways you cannot imagine. And enjoy and appreciate that job! Make happy memories. Be proud of your work product no matter what your title or position.
#9. “Under-Promise and Over-Deliver.” This is a lesson I learned from one of those retail jobs I held, a thousand years ago. For emotionally driven, enthusiastic souls like me this mantra is tricky to execute, but the results are lovely. How much better is it to surprise someone with much more than they expected rather than disappoint them with less! My husband is really good at this, and I am trying to be better.
#10. On that note, try not to make promises when you’re really happy or permanent decisions when you’re really mad. This is another something that sounds cliche, but it’s good advice. Let your emotions normalize a bit before slashing and extending things all crazy-pants style.
#11. Meditate. Investigate different methods of meditation, find one that suits you, and practice it regularly. I happen to see yoga, for example, as a nice compliment to a healthy prayer life. I also have learned to prize the time I spend running; it helps me clear my mind and scrub away negative emotions. Some people find certain hobbies meditative. Walk circles, chant, burn incense, draw mandalas, string beads, read scriptures, read, write, do whatever steadies and frees you, and do it often. Find little rituals that help you maintain a clean and healthy center of being.
#12. Learn to love thrift stores, garage sales, auctions, and castoff treasures. Even if you are wealthy beyond measure and can afford to buy new stuff, give yourself the gift of the hunt. Besides saving a ridiculous amount of money, you will learn things about yourself. You will discover your own sense of style instead of being a trend follower; you will feather your nest with layers of things that no one else has; and you will ever so gently fight the tide of consumerism. It’s a great skill to hone in youth, when resources are usually limited. Then later in life, when you have a little extra money sitting around, you will be happy to know how to hang onto it. Handsome and I like to say that we don’t shop that way because we’re poor; but it’s because of shopping that way for so long that we’re not poor. Wait, did I say that right? You get the idea.
#13. First things first. Prioritize your work and stick to your plan as wisely as you can. Let the less important things fall away first. This style of working has a cumulative effect on momentum.
#14. Train your heart and your mind to be positive. Through experiences, with some effort, train yourself to see the best in people and to see the upside of whatever you are facing. This is not the same as just sticking your head in the sand. Instead, face your problems squarely but learn to see the best possible outcomes before they happen. Trust that good things are in store for you, and love people for the best version of themselves, even your perceived enemies. That’s what you hope they will see in you, too, right? Be confident in the possibility of everything. Life is so good and beautiful!! Don’t waste it by dwelling on darkness or difficulty. Except for the lesson learned, I wish I could go back in time and reclaim all the hours and days and years lost on negative thinking.
Okay, those are my first fourteen pieces of birthday wisdom for you. I know your head is just spinning right now and that you can’t wait for more! (hahaha) Tune in as the week progresses for two or three more installments of Unsolicited Birthday Advice.