Tuesday, September 17, 2013

27 Things I Learned by 27

Today marks my 27th birthday. It's been a lovely fall day, the type where you wake up with blankets wrapped around you, but spend the rest of the day taking in the warm sun and enjoying the gentle breeze. My birthday day has been quite relaxing: no unpacking, no major household projects. Just...fun stuff. I went on a run through my old stomping grounds, which includes an area in Massachusetts that is nothing short of cow country. I then ventured off to a new "relax and recharge" yoga class, where the yoga teacher noted to the class (after logging my sign-in into the computer) that it was my birthday, and added "Abby's birthday" to the various things we should be grateful for today. I enjoyed my usual Dunkies iced coffee and I finally got to check out the antiques shop by my house. I've been decorating for fall and just enjoying the day. Much needed, after how hectic this summer was.

However, going back to my new age, I think the only way to sum up how turning 27 feels for me is by paraphrasing Jessica Simpson's reality show "Newlyweds".

(stay with me here).

In one episode, Jessica bemoans turning 27 because, "27 is almost 28, which is almost 29, which is almost 30." Which sounds absolutely absurd, but it's true. I felt something change in turning 27, more so than I ever did at 25 or 26. It's like every pretense I could've had -- any chance that I could pretend like I'm still college-aged -- is taken away. And now I'm an adult. Doing adult things.

A lot has happened since I was "college-aged". I've gotten married and bought a house (two things I thought I'd never do). I've traveled, moved, wrote, got rejected, wrote some more. I've realized that the career I thought was tailor-made for me wasn't right for me after all and I had the chutzpah to leave it, even though I had no clue what the future held. This might be the delusion talking, but I feel like, with every year, I grow a little more sure of myself and find a little more insight into life. Below are the 27 things that I learned from experience in my 27 years on this planet. And may the future years bring only more important lessons.

1. Forget imagining what the future holds. Even immediate future. Things will never happen exactly as you expected them to. Sometimes they're better; sometimes they're worse. And sometimes they're just different. Don't worry about it. Things always have a funny way of working themselves out.

2. The older you get, the more you'll find people who are perfectly content with mediocrity. And the older you get, the easier it becomes to potentially slip into that safe, unchallenging life, because mediocrity is predictable and predictability means no risks. It's easy to say "no regrets!" when you're 16, but it takes work and risk and a touch of fear to make your life something worth telling your grandchildren about.

3. Don't for a second think you'll never be scared to follow your dreams. Because there'll come a time when you have to sacrifice more than you planned on, as well as a time when you'll have to stick your neck out for the 1,000th time even when the previous 999 times resulted in failure. That's scary. And it only gets scarier with age. But it's either that or the mediocre life. You choose.

4. The world owes you absolutely nothing, so fight for what you can get, and be damn thankful for what you already have.

5. Most people aren't out to harm you. They're just out to better themselves and don't care if they harm you in the process.

6. Avoid anyone who has to publicly prove or state their personality traits. If someone is actually "nice" (or "too nice"), they don't need to tell you that. If someone is actually intelligent, they won't try to prove it at every turn. The same for people who are "cool" or "unique" or "fun to be around". Twenty-seven years of human interactions has shown me that people who have to state it tend to be the opposite of it.

7. By the same token, people who complain about drama nonstop actually feed off of it. People who perpetually talk about "haters" look exactly as delusional as the couple from "Kitchen Nightmares". Gordon Ramsey walked away from that couple, as you should from those type of people.

8. There is a direct relationship between the amount of energy you put into gossip -- celebrity or local -- and the level of satisfaction you have with your everyday life. There's no other way around it.

9. Help and care for those around you. It's the only sustainable type of happiness out there.

10. At the end of the day, nothing feels better than something you accomplished on your own. And anything worth doing is worth doing right. Invest your time and resources. Don't half-ass it.

11. Create. It doesn't matter if it's a poem, or a woodworking project, or a scrapbook, or a stack of blueberry pancakes. It will make you happier than any television show could ever hope to.

12. You might study relentlessly for a career in a certain industry. You might fight tooth and nail to start up your own company. You might finally get to where you think you want to be, only to realize that the dream was temporary. And that's okay: some dreams aren't meant to be forever. And it doesn't mean that the dream is dead: it simply means the dream has been satiated and you have moved on. Going after a series of dreams – and being unafraid to leave the ones that stopped being dreams long ago – is almost an admirable way to live a life. Beats many of the alternatives.

13. Life throws you curveballs. Accept it, and understand that accepting it will not make the curveballs any easier.

14. The adult world is an incredibility isolating place, but it teaches you to value good company. It also gives you an out when you need to ditch bad company as well.

15. Your body is filled to the brim with the potential. But that potential doesn't last forever. Or even a long time. Make use of it.

16. Eat like you give a damn. Your metabolism has been in a tailspin since your teenaged years. And food manufacturers really don't care if their food will make you balloon up. Eat right and exercise, if only to keep up your energy levels (because that drop in metabolism also means a drop in energy).

17. Strive for constant self-improvement. But don't for a second think it stems from not liking yourself. In fact, I'd be willing to argue that the biggest success stories come from people who loved themselves and, through that love, strove to better their abilities and station in life.

18. There is nothing more frustrating than stepping out of your comfort zone and learning something completely new. Especially when you're used to immediately picking something up. Sometimes you need to make an ass out of yourself in order to expand your horizons. In fact, you almost always will have to make an ass out of yourself before you can expand your horizons.

19. Sometimes people just aren't going to like you. But that doesn't give you an all-access pass to be wretched to them. Don't give people an actual reason to hate you.

20. Assertion is key. Some people are more than happy to abuse your good nature. There is no fairy godmother who will make things right (usually). Stand up for yourself.

21. Work smart. There are no gold stars in the real world. Be efficient.

22. There are some very unhappy people in this world. Don't let them make you unhappy as well.

23. A town is a town. A city is a city. They are nothing more than various lots of land arbitrarily drawn out and governed. They have streets, buildings, stores. And jobs of many varieties. Like thousands upon thousands of other places. Of all the things that can "keep" you in a town, the town itself is not one of them. The possibilities are endless once you realize this.

25. Those who can, do. Those who can't, sit back and criticize. It's a lot easier to tell someone what they are doing wrong than actually do something themselves.

26. There is no clear-cut formula for "finding yourself". Some swear that the only way you'll find yourself is if you backpack through Europe your first year out from college (and everyone else is just screwed). Everyone has their own way of figuring out who they are. But I will say this: it doesn't magically happen after a three-week stint in Europe. It doesn't magically happen after a year-long stint in Asia. It comes gradually, through various contexts and experiences. Through interactions of all shapes and sizes.

27. Lastly, the definition of "you" that you spend so much time learning will change. You'll realize aspects of yourself out of no where. Some will be pleasant surprises. Some will be grim realizations. Sometimes you'll feel like you have no control over what defines "you". Take it in stride. As Yogi Berra said: don't take life too seriously. You'll never make it out alive.

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