When I was about 16, I started writing a list—a “Things I’ve Learned Lately” list. (Creative, I know.) I’d add to it every month, or every few months once I discovered firsthand how “busy” adulting is. I don’t know why I started writing these life lessons; I think it had something to do with a saying I’d heard once. To paraphrase because I hardly remember what I made for dinner last night, let alone the exact wording from something said in passing 15+ years ago, I believe the saying went something along the lines of: You’ll keep being given the same problems in life until you finally learn the lesson. So, being an honor roll student and believer that writing things down commits information to memory the fastest, I started taking notes. And now, as I sit in my favorite café rereading these entries as I approach the start of my 30s, boy am I glad I did.
Some lessons are empowering, others sad or funny, or things I learned the hard way (like, “Don’t text while walking down stairs,” or, “Chocolate croissants are a luxury, not a necessity”). Some are repeat entries—I am the first to admit I’m a work in progress—and some were amended years later after what I thought was a lesson about me failing miserably turned into something completely different. And maybe some of them you’ll relate to.
Disclaimer: This is not the full inclusive list of things learned in my lifetime.
There’s a difference between saying sorry and being sorry. If you stop thinking of apologizing as admitting you’re wrong, and instead view it as remorse for hurting another person, that’s how you can apologize and mean it.
2. People don’t notice or care when you don’t wear mascara.
You don’t have to look perfect every day. You’re the only one who expects that of yourself, so chill.
3. Be specific.
Don’t ask for less than what you want, or you will receive less than what you want. Be specific.
4. Self-care is not a waste of time.
Staying in on a Friday to have a glass of wine and read a book is OK. Or dancing the night away instead is OK, too. However you need to “do you,” just do it. Make the time for the things that lift you up, so you can help lift others in return.
5. Don’t hoard good intentions to yourself.
Even if people might not deserve your kindness, give it anyway. It doesn’t have to be a rare commodity. If you throw kindness out into the world, it’ll make its way back to you.
6. A comprehensive list of things that will make you feel like an absolute badass:
white water rafting, bungee jumping, completing a half marathon, skydiving, telling your truth… There is a theme here, and it’s facing a fear head on.
7. Sometimes a haircut is more than just a haircut.
Ladies, you know what I mean. Sometimes you just need a little help seeing yourself in a new light.
8. How to accept the apology you never receive.
Not everyone has learned lesson #1, yet. They will eventually, so until then, just pretend their apology was lost in the mail and move on.
9. If you see the crazy eyes, RUN.
The crazy eyes are not just rumors. They are real and should not be ignored. Best to avoid said man or woman, as there is no known cure.
10. The healing powers of a spontaneous dance break.
Stress is immune to dancing. Let the rhythm take control.
11. Invest in people, not things.
Shoes get worn out. Clothes fade. iPhones break. People and the memories you create will fill you up much longer than any material item. Make your investments wisely.
12. Schedule time for your creative outlets.
Whenever you’re working on something, be it painting or writing or making music or woodworking, and you forget to check the time or your text messages—make more time for THAT.
13. Never accept a drink from a stranger, even if he looks “normal.”
14. It’s OK to “break up” with friends that aren’t growing with you.
Some friendships are seasonal. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad friend if your seasons no longer align.
15. You don’t need a special occasion to do something special.
Drink that fancy bottle of wine on a Tuesday if you want. Saving things for “later” can turn into “never” a lot faster than you’d think. The present is special enough.
16. Always, always wear sunscreen.
Broad spectrum. Minimum SPF 30. And don’t forget to apply it to your neck. Skin cancer is no joke.
17. It’s a fine line between being determined and being stubborn.
Determination is admirable, like J.K.Rowling living on welfare yet determined to bring Harry Potter to life. Whereas stubbornness is resistance to change. If sticking the course hurts you, that’s being stubborn. It’s hard and won’t always feel graceful, but you have to learn to let it go.
18. Coffee, running and Gilmore Girls will get you through even the worst day.
This too shall pass. But in the meantime, find the things, however odd, that will help it pass a little easier.
19. Reality is in the eye of the beholder.
Two people can be at the exact same event and see completely different things. Be aware of your lens and try to look at life through others’.
20. Write down your goals.
Funny story. In 2016, I wrote “publish something significant” as one of my goals for the year. Not one month later, I was introduced to an editor at SUCCESS who loved a story I’d pitched to an ex-colleague who thought it would be a better fit for SUCCESS. Writing down your goals solidifies your commitment. Use pen.
21. When in doubt, call your mom—she just
How many cups of water to make rice pilaf? What’s my tax bracket? What grade was I in when I got my braces off? SHE JUST KNOWS.
22. Baby steps will still get you to where you’re going.
It may take you longer to get there, but movement is what’s important. Don’t be ashamed to go slow.
23. Despite social media’s best efforts, no one is actually keeping score of how “cool” you are.
Live in the moment and not the story.
24. When you have that deep nagging feeling like you should say something, say it.
Whether you call that your intuition, or God, or your conscience, LISTEN TO IT. It knows more than you do.
25. Life’s hiccups are less like speed bumps and more like bowling bumpers.
When things don’t work out, it sucks, but that’s only because you set the wrong expectations. Bad things thrown into your path won’t slow you down if you let them guide you in a new direction.
26. You don’t need closure to move on.
You just need to decide you’re ready.
27. It’s wonderfully liberating to have a hotel room ALL TO YOURSELF.
As a woman, when telling someone you plan to travel solo, you get one of two reactions: confused (why would you want to do that?) or terrified (but, stranger danger!). It’s not as scary as people make it out to be. Don’t miss out on an awesome experience just because you’re the only one with PTO.
28. Ask for support when you need it.
People are busy, and no one can read your mind. If you need something, just ask. You’re not a burden to the people in your life who matter.
29. Irony makes life interesting.
Don’t take things so seriously. If you can’t stop and laugh at yourself, or a predicament, you’re going to be stuck on a very long ride around the sun.
30. Gratitude is the AllSpark.
Being grateful is the source of happiness. Though sometimes what you have isn’t exactly what you wanted, there’s still something to be thankful for. Search for the silver lining, even if you have to pull out a microscope to spot it.
May your lessons be learned swiftly, and only once!
Related: 30 Things to Do Before You’re 30
Megan Nicole O’Neal is a writer with a passion for storytelling, traveling and whenever possible, mixing the two. The UCLA alum lives in Los Angeles; more specifically westside coffee shops with equally strong wifi and dark roasts. Connect with Megan on Twitter at @megan_n_onealor her website mnoneal.com.