It's mah birfday! I'm 35, so I'm officially no longer a youth (according to the ANCYL). It's funny, because when I was a kid, I always felt much older than I was - my Mom used to say I was "seven going on seventy-seven". And I feel like I've grown younger throughout my life, like Merlin, so I'm expecting to hit my preteens somewhere around my 60s, and finally get super into boy bands and TikTok. As a consequence, this midlife birthday feels like the first time I am the age that I feel I am inside, if that makes sense. I'm 35, and I feel 35! No longer young; not yet old. "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita", midway through the pathway of our life, as Dante put it.
I wanted to share 35 things I've learned about life in my 35 years, but the truth is that the older I get, the more I feel like I don't know a damn thing about the world, in a way that's extremely liberating. So take these not as lessons learned, but as lessons I'm still learning.
35 lessons I'm learning at 35
- Life is very short, and one day you'll be dead. Your time on this earth is your most precious limited resource.
- It's never too late to do something. You are always allowed to change your mind. You know more now than you knew back then. Don't be held hostage by a younger version of yourself, out of stubbornness.
- Don't be a jerk to yourself. Never talk to yourself in a way that you wouldn't talk to your best friend.
- This applies to your body, too!
- Choose to be kind. Even when it's hard. Especially when it's hard. It makes the world better, but it also makes your own life easier. Buddhaghoṣa: "Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."
- Don't trim off parts of yourself to be more palatable or "serious" or to fit into someone else's box. Your interest in Scottish folk dancing, your love of obscure Jamaican heavy metal bands, your ability to wiggle your ears... it all matters. It will all make sense in retrospect. Bring your whole self to your work. Bring your whole self into your relationships. Don't throw any of yourself away.
- You actually have very little time to spend with the people you love the most. By the time you leave home, you've already spent most of the hours with your parents you'll ever spend with them. The good news is that you can make choices to prioritise spending time with the people you care about.
- Friendship is a skill that you can practice being better at. And it's worth practicing: friends make life so much better.
- Honesty is a radical act. Usually when we're dishonest, it's because we don't want to hurt people or let them down, or because we fear that they won't love us if they see the ugliness inside of us. Honesty really hurts in the moment. But the dividends it pays are usually worth it. That said, beware people who use radical honesty as an excuse to be unnecessarily cruel.
- You don't have to get drawn into debates you don't want to have. You can honestly just stand up and leave a pointless dreary conversation! It's the most deliciously liberating feeling.
- Music didn't get bad; you just stopped listening to new music. On that note, hang out with people older and younger than you.
- Art isn't something you need to be good at to do; it's a fundamental human activity. Make art like how kids make art. Start learning that instrument you always wanted to learn. Sing songs you only remember half the lyrics to. Make up stories with your friends. There's no Art License you get from the Art Council that gives you permission to be an Artist who makes Art.
- Nothing lasts forever. Everything is impermanent. Enjoy it while you have it; but don't grasp for what has passed.
- You don't have a body. You are a body.
- The best rule I have for love is to always try to "turn towards" your partner(s) - respond to their small bids for attention and affection. We're all just tiny babies inside who crave acceptance. Love is a lifelong game of improv's "yes, and" rule.
- Yes, love does require work, but not THAT much work, jeez. If you've been agonising for weeks about ending a relationship then just end it. If someone makes you feel shit about yourself, end it. You can't fix disrespect. You really can't fix contempt. I've never regretted walking away from a job or a relationship. I have regretted not walking away sooner.
- Don't predicate your happiness on anything. You can't wait to finish your degree to start being happy, or get a promotion, or lose weight, or move, or win the lottery. You already deserve happiness.
- Similarly, you can't wait to be ready before you try the things you most desperately want to try. You will never feel productive enough, skilled enough, mature enough. You just have to try, as your imperfect self, right now.
- Be careful of your mind's ability to create its own reality. If you look for kindness in the world, you'll see it. If you look for things to feel grateful for, you'll see those too.
- Love the work itself, because there's no way to know what the outcome of the work will be.
- Life is full of grief and suffering and tragedy and meaning and beauty and joy and kindness and love and contradictions. As Rilke says, "Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final."
- You will almost certainly live at least some of your life with a disability, or a chronic illness, or with severe pain. Be patient with people. Help to build a more inclusive world. Don't fall too much in love with your own competence.
- Pain can be a gift that brings you more deeply into the world.
- Beware certainty. Many seemingly contradictory things can be true at once. In fact, they almost certainly are. There are no goodies and baddies. Your brain a storytelling engine, but reality is more complicated than the stories we tell about it.
- Try things you think you hate again. Your tastes change! I thought I hated olives until I was 27 then realised I friggen love them.
- You can't learn anything unless you're prepared to look like a fool.
- You never have to grow up in any way you don't want to. There is no rule that says you have to stop wearing dungaree shorts at thirty. You are allowed to love anime or superhero movies. You never have to develop an opinion about the best brand of bathroom taps.
- Don't worry about what other people think of you. Most of the time, they're not even thinking about you.
- Be specific about both compliments and feedback. "When you did X, the consequence was Y, and it made me feel Z".
- Write thank you letters to people you're grateful to.
- You'll probably be grappling with the same few core issues throughout your life, sorry. More Rilke: "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." Still, go to therapy, it helps!
- Go for more walks.
- Everybody's nuts, and that's fine. All people, once you get to know them, are absurd and hilarious. In my experience, the people who think they've got fewer issues and are more "rational" than other people are just less self-aware. Finding a partner is finding someone with a compatible flavour of crazy to yours.
- The people you love will visit you in your dreams after they die. I don't know how this works, just that it's true.
- Don't try to brute-force the jar open. Just whack the edge of the lid with a spoon a few times to break the seal. Voila!