72 Life Lessons For My 36th Birthday

I had this idea that today, on the day I turn 36, I’d do some reflecting, with the goal of coming up with 36 bits of wisdom I’ve accumulated over the years. I thought it’d be a good exercise, you know? And then I came up with an idea for how to make it even better.

So I reached out to my best girlfriends – my closest, most incredible circle of humans, who just so happen to also be some of the wisest people I know – and asked them to tell me what they’ve learned now that they’re in their 30s, so I can spend the next 36 years learning from them.

Here are 72 life lessons – the first 36 from me, and the rest from the brilliant, extraordinary women in my life, who make me smarter and stronger and better every single day.

  1. Please, oh please wear sunscreen every day (on your hands and chest, too).
  2. Ask your grandparents questions.
  3. Be generous with praise, and give credit where it’s due.
  4. Learn how to say “thank you” when someone gives you a compliment.
  5. Don’t. Date. Musicians.
  6. Own your successes – they’re not just “lucky breaks.”
  7. If someone does a good job, let their boss know.
  8. If you notice something especially lovely about someone, tell them about it.
  9. Tell the truth, even – especially – when you really don’t want to.
  10. Mental illness is not something to be embarrassed about, nor is asking for help to deal with it.
  11. Walk on the sunny side of the street whenever you can. (Literally.)
  12. When something you love gets ruined or broken or lost, let yourself be sad for a second, and then let it go. Even if it’s a very, very special thing…it’s still just a thing.
  13. Meditate.
  14. Call your mom.
  15. Have a really, really, really good password. And use that Keychain thing.
  16. Learn how to admit you were wrong.
  17. Learn how to say you’re sorry.
  18. Learn how to accept an apology.
  19. Good bedding is worth the investment.
  20. When a friendship no longer makes sense in your life – even if you don’t exactly know why – it’s okay to let it go.
  21. If someone is hurting you the same way over and over and over and it’s not a relationship you want to or can cut off entirely – a parent, say, or a sibling – you can make the choice to change how you engage in the relationship. Do not allow other people’s issues to wreak havoc on your emotional state.
  22. Talk less, and ask more questions. Most people just really want to be heard.
  23. You should be kind whenever you can. You can always be kind.
  24. Have one really fast, delicious recipe that you know by heart, and keep the ingredients to make it in your house at all times.
  25. Buy the cheap wine, and the expensive cheese.
  26. Learn when to put away the camera. You don’t need to take a photograph of every moment of your life.
  27. Wear what makes you feel confident, even if it’s “boring” or other people don’t like it.
  28. You may not always be the most talented one in the room, but you can always be the one who tries the hardest.
  29. Most people talk about doing things and never actually get around to doing them. Be the one who gets it done.
  30. Stick to your commitments, even if you don’t want to. Keeping your word is a show of respect for yourself and for others.
  31. Stretch every night.
  32. Take your vitamins.
  33. Don’t ignore your eyebrows.
  34. Stop feeling guilty about not having written a book/written an album/embarked on a career as a CIA agent. Figure out whether you actually want to do that thing, or just think you should want to. If it’s the former, do it. If it’s the latter, let that shit go.
  35. When someone is cruel, it is because they are in pain. Try to remember that before you decide how to let their words or actions affect you.
  36. Don’t let anyone else tell you who you are.
  37. Always punch up, never down; it’s how good comedy works, as well as fair politics. If you are trying to decide who to side with, it is almost always historically correct to go with the person or group with less institutional power.
  38. If someone tells you that a word or concept hurts them, and you have another way to express yourself, use another word.
  39. Give people the benefit of the doubt (at least until they’ve proven they don’t deserve it). Miscommunications are so easy, especially now with technology being the main way we keep in touch.
  40. Sometimes people will want to be in your life more than you want them to be in your life (for whatever reason). You don’t owe them anything. Surround yourself with people that you are a “Hell yes” about and that are a “hell yes” about you back.
  41. Take other people’s lived experiences seriously and listen when they try to tell you about them.
  42. Guilt is not only a terrible emotion; it is a waste.
  43. Speak up. The chances are you aren’t the only one thinking it, and others will benefit from learning they aren’t alone.
  44. Give people the benefit of the doubt, rather than relying on other people’s judgements or your own preconceptions – you probably don’t know their whole story. – Liza
  45. Every situation has a silver lining. Your goal should be to find it.
  46. Don’t shit where you eat.
  47. Floss, even when you don’t want to.
  48. Don’t. Date. Actors.
  49. A wise man once said that the measure of success is how many smiling eyes you have around you. Say things to people that make their eyes smile.
  50. Don’t play the stock market. On average, you lose money (including fees), no matter who invests for you. Instead, invest in an index fund: it diversifies for you, which means it’s not very risky, and it gives you a healthy return.
  51. Keep your circle tight. When it comes to the relationships in your life, it’s about quality, not quantity.
  52. As you go through your day, try to notice the little things every once in awhile – a breeze, the softness of your shirt, the sound of traffic in the distance. It keeps you grounded and mindful.
  53. When you’re in traffic and stressing about being late, worrying will not get you there faster. Breathe, and be safe.
  54. No one has ever calmed down by being told to “calm down.”
  55. Don’t take anything for granted. Especially the people you love.
  56. Fleeing the country for short (or long) periods of time is very, very good for mental clarity. Go travel.
  57. Only keep people around who make you feel calm.
  58. Unsubscribe from every newsletter or J.Crew special offer that comes your way. You do not have time for that nonsense.
  59. Eat vegetables at all your meals.
  60. There is a quote that says that the true definition of hell is dying, and then coming face to face with the person you could have become. Fear is so powerful and holds us back from so much. The choice to be brave is a choice you will never regret.
  61. Make it a rule to take time off from social media at least once a week.
  62. Don’t contort yourself trying to accommodate someone else’s needs. Compromise is important, but if you are finding that you’re walking on eggshells whenever you’re with someone, that person is not your friend, and not a true love. Let them go.
  63. Every person deserves love. Luckily, you have unlimited reserves of this precious resource. Give it away.
  64. Dessert tastes a million times better when eaten before dinner.
  65. When things seem awful, overwhelming, or anxiety-inducing, ask yourself if you’re going to remember this when you’re old and on your deathbed. If the answer is no, try to keep some perspective and let it go.
  66. Don’t take things personally. People’s reactions are less about you, more about them.
  67. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, make a list, and then check off the boxes.
  68. People are what’s important: your family, your friends, yourself. Most everything else is just extraneous noise.
  69. Don’t be afraid to fail spectacularly. Try, and if you fail, try differently again, and again, and again. Trying – not succeeding – is the important part.
  70. If something has already happened, and you can’t change the outcome, don’t waste your time worrying about it.
  71. Stop being afraid of the word “selfish.” We are allowed to take care of ourselves.
  72. Hugs help.
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