Tomorrow, I turn 35. It's a little bit hard for me to wrap my mind around that. While I know that 35 is certainly not old, it's older than I feel. Admittedly, some of my disbelief about turning 35 has to do with the fact that I haven't had some of the life experiences (namely, marriage and babies) that most of my peers have, at least in this region of the country. I know that the comparison game does me absolutely no good so rather than focusing on the things that are absent from my life at age 35, I am choosing to reflect on the many amazing experiences I've had over the last 35 years. Experiences like travel, professional accomplishments, marathons, etc.
In addition to the wonderful experiences I've had over the last 35 years, I've also learned a lot of valuable life lessons. There are many I could list out but I thought I'd limit myself to 7 - one for every 5 years of my life.
1. You do you. This is a lesson that I've really come to learn in my 30's. The beauty of getting older, at least for me, is that you come to accept yourself for who you are and you stop apologizing for that. "You do you" means being unapologetic about who you are, what your priorities are, and how you choose to spend your time. It's finding what works for you in terms of relationships, friendships, career choices, fitness, and other aspects of your life. I'm continuously trying to put this lesson into practice and I'm certainly not doing that perfectly, but I've made progress over the past several years.
2. You are not your career. Even though, "What do you do for a living?" is often the first question a person asks when they first meet you, it does not need to be the number one thing that defines who you are. Granted, there is nothing wrong with working hard to advance your career and finding new ways to challenge yourself at work but it does become problematic when you are connecting those advances and successes to your worth as a human being. I started to realize I was falling prey to that line of thinking and over the past 1-2 years, I have worked to limit the extent to which my career defines who I am.
3. Money spent on travel is money well spent. I have never regretted the money I have spent on travel and doubt I ever will. Traveling has opened my mind to new cultures and ways of living but it also makes me thankful for the life I have built back home.
4. ... But saving is important, too. The counterpoint to spending money on travel is that it's also important to save. I learned this lesson the hard way in 2013 when my job was relocated to Charlotte. The severance package was small and I did not have enough savings to feel comfortable with taking the risk of being out of work for awhile, so I felt "forced" to make that move. Since then I have really focused on saving so that I will never be in that kind of position again.
5. You are responsible for your own happiness. I spent a good chunk of my 20's thinking I'd be happy when I had a different/better job, or when I was in a relationship, or when I was at my "happy" weight, or after I ran a marathon, and so on, and so forth. In my late 20's and early 30's, I learned that all those externalities shouldn't determine whether you are happy. I have made steps to create a life that makes it easier to be happy, like moving to an urban setting, but happiness truly has to come from within. I think this is an important lesson to learn before entering a committed relationship, because if you can't be happy on your own, being in a relationship is not going to fix that - at least not for the long-term in my opinion. While my relationship makes me happier, Phil is not responsible for making me happy - that's my job.
6. Building your "tribe" is essential. I've been through a lot of change over the last several years which has taught me that it's so important to have a wide range of friends with similar values to support you through the ups and downs of life. I've also learned that this tribe of people may change over the years in ways I wouldn't have imagined and that is OK as people grow and change, and grow closer or grow apart.
7. Comparison is the thief of joy. Thanks to social media, we are so much more aware of what others are doing and, in general, I don't think this has a positive impact on our level of happiness. I try to remind myself that it's not fair to compare the reel of my life, which includes the good and bad moments, to the highlights of life that others are sharing on Facebook and Instagram. I have to remind myself of this very often as it's a conscious choice to not play the comparison game.
In closing, while I'm a bit weirded out by my age, I'm very excited to celebrate this birthday as I get to spend it on the beaches of Riviera Maya in Mexico with my love. We'll be mostly disconnected from social media and such as we opted to not have wifi in our room so that we could really disconnect from the outside world on this trip. But I'm sure I'll find time to stop into the lobby to read my birthday emails and Facebook posts at the end of the day. I'm excited to spend the day soaking up some vitamin D, relaxing, reading, and doing whatever else strikes us as fun that day!
What are some of the best lessons you have learned in life thus far?