This week will mark the 20th piece that I have written since I started this here blog back in February. In that spirit, I’ve decided to come up with a concept for this one that ties into that number. So here’s what I’ve got. Now that I’m a few years into my thirties, it’s pretty wild to think about how my feelings and philosophies have evolved since I was just a kid trying to figure out how life works. So without further ado, here are 20 lessons I learned in my 20’s in no particular order.
20) Things don’t always happen for a reason
This may fly in the face of your beliefs, and if you are the kind of person that believes that everything does happen for a reason, please don’t take this to mean that I’m saying you’re wrong. I’m only speaking to my experience. Everyone gets thrown countless curveballs over the course of their existence, and oftentimes there may seem to be no rhyme or reason why. What I do believe is not so much that there’s a universal explanation behind those things happening, but that if you respond to those events in a constructive way, life has a way of putting you right where you’re supposed to be, whether that be mentally or physically.
Having said that, sometimes life deals people a particularly shitty hand, and the hills they have to climb to overcome those things may seem more like mountains. That’s why I have to stop short of saying something cheesy like “anything is possible with the right attitude!” because life is a lot more difficult than any dumbass motivational poster with a cat on it can capture.
19) You are the only person who can prioritize your own happiness
Happiness is not a given. If you’re like me and you’ve struggled with depression, you know how exhausting it can be to try to dig yourself out of it. Leaning on people you love is an important part of finding your way. And there’s no doubt that having a strong support system is hugely important. I’m blessed to be able to say unequivocally that I do. But it took me making some extremely difficult decisions and making my happiness a priority to get to a place where being content with my life and my surroundings is at least the baseline that has set me up to be able to move forward. No one else is going to do that for you.
18) No one should be defined by what they do for a living, because nobody is just one thing
I used to work in sports radio in New York. I loved that job. Now I work as a server in a restaurant. I can’t say I love it. But when I talk about what makes me who I am, neither of those things would be one of the first five or six things I would mention. I have occupational goals for myself that I haven’t attained yet. But even if and when I do, it won’t be what defines me. That’s because before I would describe myself by what I do to make money, I’d tell you about the character attributes that make up who I actually am. I’d tell you about how I try to present myself to the world. It’s only as we go further down the list that I’d mention that, oh yeah, I also love writing and broadcasting and that those are things I’m passionate enough about that I hope to be able to monetize them enough that one day I can make a living.
17) Change isn’t always good, but when you decide to make the change yourself it usually is
I absolutely detest the phrase “change is a good thing!” That’s because every one of us has had to endure a change in their life that they didn’t ask for and they didn’t want. But when you decide that you need to make a change for the better, pulling the trigger on those kinds of decisions often lead to the most fulfilling experiences imaginable. Case in point, my decision to leave radio and the only home I’ve ever known to come to Vancouver and start anew. My life is so much better for that decision. It’s changes like that which I decided to make for myself that have always been the ones that have paid dividends.
16) You can’t half-ass love
I’m sure many of us have been in a relationship before that we were in just for the sake of being in a relationship. That has never, and will never be enough to make love work. Hell, I was in a relationship like that for six years at one point. It wasn’t fair to either one of us. All it did was make the heartbreak feel worse when it inevitably ended. If you love someone and want to be with them, you either go all in or you don’t go in at all.
15) Work to live, don’t live to work
This is not to say that having a strong work ethic isn’t important. But no one should have to be in a position where 80 to 90 percent of what their life is made up of is working. There’s an exception to this if you genuinely love what you do. But in those cases, working and living are often more intertwined. For most of us, six or seven-day work weeks are draining and leave you with little or no time to actually experience what life is all about. Even if you have to make room for fun in your schedule by planning it out ahead of time, fucking do it. Because devoting too much of your time to working a job you don’t love is an absolute soul sucker.
14) Mistakes are a part of the process
Hey, guess what? You’re gonna fuck up. A lot. Embrace it and learn from it. What’s the old saying about the definition of insanity? It’s when you keep doing the same things and expecting different results. Try doing things whichever way you see fit. Fail at it. And then try it again a different way.
13) There is no use in trying to curry favor with people who don’t give a shit about you
This could apply to anyone from a boss to a friend. But when people make it abundantly clear that they don’t have your best interests in mind, there is no use in trying to win them over and have them come around. That shit just ain’t gonna happen.
12) Set boundaries
To be honest, this is one that I still haven’t fully learned yet. But I’m working on it. If you feel like people are regularly taking your kindness for granted and walking all over you, it’s likely because to some extent you’re allowing it to happen. Put your foot down when someone crosses the line. It may be uncomfortable, especially when it’s someone you care about who is responsible, but if they care about you, they’ll respect what you’re saying. You don’t have to put up with bullshit just to make it easier for people to like you. Take a stand when you feel like you’re being taken advantage of.
11) Talk less, listen more
When people come to you with a problem, it’s not always advice that they’re looking for. Sometimes we just want to feel like we’re being heard. So many of us keep our feelings bottled up inside because we don’t want to bother anyone else with our bullshit. But I would hope we’ve all had the experience of how liberating it can feel to just say the things we’re thinking out loud to someone who isn’t going to judge or feel it necessary to respond. Oftentimes the response can come off as defensive or just be completely unnecessary. There’s a lot of power that can be derived from simply hearing someone out and validating what they are feeling.
10) Never deny what you’re feeling
Don’t say “I’m fine” if you’re not fine. That isn’t a show of strength. It’s a show of denial, and it’s 100% counterproductive. Communication is everything. There’s also a difference between allowing yourself to feel sad as opposed to wallowing in it. The former is not only acceptable, it’s important. The latter is when it’s time to do something about it.
9) Prioritize self care
This feeds back into what I was talking about with the whole “don’t live to work” message, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to give yourself a break if you need to give your brain a rest. Get outside. See your friends. Be with family. Or if it’s what you really need, just stay inside and do nothing all day. Play video games. Read a book. Listen to music. Some people might refer to some of these things as distractions or a waste of time. But I’d tell you we all need to be distracted from the grind of everyday life from time to time. This shit is exhausting.
8) It’s ok to ask for help
Independence is a wonderful thing. But if everything you do is an independent venture, you’re fucked. We all need to lean on others to keep going sometimes. Surround yourself with the right people, and feed off of each other. Needing help isn’t a sign of being weak. In fact, having the wherewithal to understand that you can’t do it on your own and reaching out to those you trust to help you is an indicator that you’re mentally tough enough to understand that what you’re exposing isn’t your weakness. If anything, all you’re exposing is your humanity.
7) Strive for improvement over perfection
No one and nothing is perfect. So don’t try to make it perfect. Just make it better. Even if you take a step back, understand that’s normal. Progress is never a straight line. There will always be peaks and valleys. Just stay with it and you’ll be fine as long as you’re approach is sound.
6) Romantic relationships won’t “fix” you
If you are self-aware enough and feel like you still have a lot of work to do on yourself, getting into a committed romantic relationship may be the worst thing you can do during that process. Being lonely sucks, but I find that to be much more preferable than heaping your baggage onto another person in hopes that they can help lift you out of your issues. A romantic partner shouldn’t be there to play the role of savior. That’s not a symbiotic relationship, and it can be extremely harmful.
5) Understand that you don’t always understand
Lord knows I’ve faced my share of difficulties throughtout the course of my life, but all things considered, I’ve lived a pretty blessed existence. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around some of the things that those less fortunate than myself have had to endure. That’s one of the reasons why this attitude of “just lift yourself up by your boot straps” that so many people have towards those living in poverty bothers me so much. Compassion runs woefully thin in our modern society. And that’s a goddamn shame. It’s infuriating to people who are struggling to hear condescending advice from people who have absolutely no grasp on what it’s like to be in their position. So to all those who think they have the answers to everyone’s problems, you don’t. So knock that shit off.
4) Comapring yourself to others is useless
This has been a tough one for me. I tried carving out a career for myself at a place where I was surrounded by people way more accomplished than me. Even now, I look at the amazing work being done by some of my friends and former coworkers and it makes me feel inferior by comparison. But I recognize I have to stop that. Everyone is on their own timeline, and just because you may not be where you want to be yet doesn’t mean you won’t get there. The comparison game is not only useless, it’s damaging to your confidence and your overall psyche. Just do you.
3) Never read the comments/replies
I mean, of course I do read them. But I almost always regret it. Social media is a wonderful thing in a lot of ways, but it’s also a cesspool of human misery. I’ve vowed to do my best to never take to heart the thoughts that some anonymous jag has submitted from behind the safety of their keyboard. You know what’s all the rage these days? Rage. And most of it is useless bullshit that you’d be better off not even allowing to enter your mind.
2) Strive to do things that scare you
Facing down fear is an oppprtunity for growth. There are things that I strive to do with my life that scare the shit out of me. But that’s part of the reason I want to do them. I remember how nervous I was about hosting a three-hour talk show on the radio. But that experience is on a short list of the cooler things I’ve ever done in my life. In fact, when I think about what scares me, most of that fear comes from the worry that I will invest my time and energy into something and put myself out there only for the people in my audience to hate it. But there’s also an inevitability that not everyone is going to like everything I do. Embrace the fear. Many times it helps you rise to the occasion.
1) Maintaining a positive mindset is as rewarding as it is difficult
Oh boy. After all that talk about not wanting to be cheesy, I’m ending on a note that could be on one of those cat posters. Oops. But this one is just too true not to include. Let me make this clear. When you’re depressed, it’s very easy to succumb to negative thoughts. All you have to do is nothing. Feelings of sadness are intrusive, and can take over a depressed mind with ease.
Recognizing the need for change and then enacting that change are two separate steps in the path out of that cycle. The first one is easy. The second step is anything but. But with a change in mindset and the help of others, you can get to a place where you find yourself on the other side of that negativity, and you’ll likely find yourself in a place where life is actually easier to live. Don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean everything will always be peaches and cream. There isn’t a permanent fix for depression. But that’s why I used the word maintaining a positive mindset. Just like any piece of machinery, our brains need maintenance from time to time. So be kind to yourself.
When I was at my deepest depths, I was the one who treated myself the worst. In my own mind, there were times I felt I was worthless and that my life was hard because that’s what I deserved. That’s a dangerous way to think. It wasn’t easy to reverse that mental pattern, and it took some massive change, but coming out on the other side of it has allowed me to frame things in a more positive perspective. That doesn’t mean I’m free from the struggles that dealing with depression entails, but I am better equipped to deal with them now than I have ever been before.
I’ve still got a lot to learn. At 33, I’m a young man with so much still left to experience and grow from. Even though my 20’s weren’t necessarily the best years of my life like many people seem to think of them as, they sure did teach me a lot about how life works. I hope none of what I wrote here comes off as preachy, because that certainly wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to share some thoughts about how growing up has informed my perspective.
If anything I’ve said here strikes a chord with you, I’d love to hear from you about your experiences. Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @MaxMadeATweet. I hope you’ll be back next week when I will likely go back to writing about something a little less weighty. Until then, take care of yourselves.