Monday, June 1, 2015

30 Lessons Learned Before 30

                                                                20                    24                    30

I’m 30.
I’ve searched my scalp for grey hairs. I have NONE. YAY!
I’ve taken about 10 selfies today and any wrinkles below my eyes were there 5 years ago. I ran a 5k. I sweated out all my toxins in a 105-degree hot yoga room. Regardless, if I’m not getting older, I’m dead and I am obviously still working on my fear of mortality. I’d like to say that this age snuck up on me, but 20 feels like another lifetime. This time a decade ago, I was probably staring at the Pacific Ocean on the USS Higgins sailing towards the Persian Gulf, lost in my daydreams. I was a size 16, insanely uncomfortable in my own skin and loathed every moment my friends wanted to snap photos with their new, state-of-the-art digital cameras. I was carrying on a flirtatious banter with a married man 11 years my senior who would later ditch me in Thailand for a prostitute. I’d just discovered Jack Johnson and was about to discover Myspace. I was beginning to develop a vision of the woman I wanted to become. 

                                                               In Thailand in 2005. Age 20.

In 10 years, I’ve finished a Navy Enlistment. I’ve traveled to Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, Thailand, Hawaii, Dubai, Bahrain, Guatemala, Peru, Spain, France, England, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, and Germany. I’ve driven across the United States about 10 times. I’ve lived in San Diego, Long Beach, Berkeley, Alaska, Atlanta, Charlotte, Greenville, South Carolina, Tampa, and now Seattle. I graduated from UC Berkeley. I fell in love. I got my heart smashed by a man who now has a wife and baby. I got a dog that I loved more than anything in the world. He died. I slept with a lot of guys. I wrote and published a book that documented about half of them. I lost 10 dress sizes. I reincarnated exercise routines from Muay Thai to rock climbing to Crossfit to distance running to hot yoga. I went vegan. I lived on an organic farm. I cut a lot of toxic relationships out. I made a lot of true friends. I outgrew a few. My parents and I cut each other from our lives. I learned that my little brother would stand by my side through anything and everything.

                                                                Guatemala. Age 23.

I’m working on myself. I’m learning how to differentiate worthy and unworthy relationships. I’m working on balancing a social life with my ambitions. I’m trying to figure out if I want my own family. I’m striving- more like struggling- to become a more patient person. I’m insecure, hot-tempered, and easily jealous. I’m still very self-conscious about my body. I really need to work on thinking before I speak. But I’ve done some major growing. So, before I embark on my new decade, I thought I’d make a list of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my 20s.

1.     Take care of your body. There’s a reason that piece of advice is so cliché and predictable. Social media allows us to take a good, close look our high school classmates and the affect of cigarettes, tanning, drinking, drugs, junk food, and stress has on our aging process. Seriously, quit treating your body like shit. Toss the cigarettes. Say no to drugs (marijuana doesn’t count). Put on some sunblock, go on a hike, and cook some vegetables for dinner. And drink your Kombucha, dammit. 

 2.     But find a balance with taking care of your body. Everybody has their own standards for a happy life. There are some people who are overweight and, although I’m not convinced they are, say they’re perfectly happy with their bodies. They feel that sacrificing food isn’t worth a thinner frame. I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum from letting it all go to obsessively exercising and starving myself. Neither made me happy. I love being healthy and active, but food (and alcohol) is also a fantastic part of life. It’s a way to celebrate and bond with one another and that’s not something I want to miss out on. I eat very clean and healthy. I exercise daily. But I do dinner with friends to and enjoy all kinds of food when I travel. That’s my happy medium to go along with my medium figure.

3.     Look at your life though the eyes of your 80-year-old self. I once traveled through Guatemala with a 76-year-old Canadian rancher in our group. I was 23 at the time and very worked up about the airport losing my bag. My frustration with it all nearly ruined my first week there. He told me that when he was young, he let simple things like that bother him, but as he got older, he let little stresses in life slide. When we’re young, life seems infinite. But death doesn’t discriminate and it could happen to anyone anytime. So, you have to look at life in the grand scheme of things and realize that we get way too wrapped up in so many petty things. When we’re old and looking back on our lives, we won’t remember some date that didn’t call us back when we were 23 or a spat between a coworker over stealing our apple from the fridge. When we’re 80, we aren’t going to care about people who didn’t like us. We have to take every obstacle we face and ask ourselves if it’s really going to matter a day, a week, or a decade from now. The majority of the things we stress out over are not worth it. 

                                                                  Hollywood. Age 24.

4.     Be a person you like. We all want love. We all want affection and admiration.  But there will inevitably be people determined to hate you no matter what you do. And chances are, their approval isn’t worth your struggle to get it. I know it’s hard to stop caring about what others think. I am still reminding myself not to care every day, but it does get easier.

5.     It is not your job to convince men to like you. Friends, relatives, magazines, coworkers, and men who love to chuck unwarranted advice my way have pointed out time and time again the things I do “wrong” with dating. I talk too much. I way too open and honest. I leave little mystery. I “put out” too soon. I fill in them in on my risqué writing and of course, that gives them the indication that should be treated like the whore I am. Boys will be boys, right? Guess what. Because females have gained financial independence, it is no longer our job to strategize and entrap men into matrimony. Every relationship I’ve been in was built on a foundation of good-spirited manipulation. That’s how far too many romantic relationships start. As Taylor Swift stated in Blank Space women tend to, “Find out what you want and be that girl for a month.” (Yes, I totally just quoted Taylor Swift). But would you rather a man fall in love with you or an illusion that’s bound to fade away? Be yourself. And if you’re remotely interesting, you’re bound to face a lot of rejection. Tons. About 90% of the men I’ve been with have left me- not the other way around. And I’m okay with that. I believe that the right man will fall in love with every quality that scares the rest of them. 

                                                                       Peru. Age 25

6.     Don’t bash other women. Up until a couple years ago, I was horrible with this. In my early to mid twenties, I was off and on with a guy who lived on the opposite side of the country. Our relationship was a very unhealthy 2-year cycle that consisted of him wanting me when he didn’t have me and then pushing me away when he had me. I was never the only woman in the picture. There was always an ex from high school he was bound to hook up with when he went home or a random girl from a boy’s night out. I spent every weekend dissecting his Facebook page and studying the photos of every single female who he recently added or posted on his wall or commented on a photo, desperately seeking flaws and ways to make myself feel like I was the superior person. Reality was that I was wasting time and emotions on a man that didn’t want to be with me. And I was being a pretty shitty person in the process. Those women weren’t my enemies. They were strangers that I was using as punching bags. I haven’t spoke to the guy in years, but I still feel really shitty for all of the harsh things I said in false hopes of making myself look better.

7.     Don’t be an asshole. Nothing good ever comes from being an asshole.

8.     Be about something. There is going to be a time when you feel like the world is ending. People will betray and abandon you. Loved ones will die. You may lose your money. You may lose yourself. So, you need a reason to live- a passion that will be there for you when people are not. 

                                                                      Paris. Age 26.

9.     Travel. I almost always do yoga in the morning because, chances are, if I put it off until the evening, something will come up. I have a higher chance of making it to the gym on a regular basis if I go early. Traveling works the same way. We just don’t know what we’re going to get buckled down with later in life: a family, career obligations, or a crisis. So travel in your twenties. You’ll have plenty of destinations to last the rest of your life.

10. Do things alone. The majority of my traveling has been solo. If I waited around for other people to be ready to go with me, I’d never end up going. Plus, going places with people requires compromise and also robs you of a lot of opportunities to meet new people. I’ve gone to concerts, movies, restaurants, and foreign countries alone. And those experiences have been equally as gratifying as sharing them with others. 

                                                                   Alaska. Age 26.

11. Toss the timeline. What freaked me out the most about turning 30 were the expectations I had of it. I was supposed to be married with children. I was supposed to have a stable, predictable career and a house and a dog. But then I realized that the life I expected was significantly more boring and less fulfilling than my real life. And what I’m learning more and more from talking to others is that life is never what we think it is going to be- and on the rare occasion it is, it’s usually a dull, stifling fate. Time is kind of irrelevant. Some people live 10 minutes. Others live 100 years. We age at different paces too. I’ve seen people look and feel half their age and twice their age. At 23, my 76-year-old traveling companion kicked my ass in hiking. So, the only deadlines, standards, and expectations we should follow is the one we set.

12. Your true passion in life is what you’d be doing if somebody handed you 100 million dollars.

13. Your loyalty, love, and devotion must be earned. My emotional priorities have been completely out of whack.  Even though he never treated me well, I always put my stepfather on a pedestal and glorified every scrap of kindness he tossed me. I was always the one person in the family who called every cousin, aunt, and uncle for their birthday. In the Navy, I spent every day of my leave visiting a family that I later found out didn’t really like me. I blew thousands of dollars on plane tickets to see parents that ditched me on Christmas for romantic getaways, never took time off work to spend with me, and had my “farewell dinner” before departing for my ship without me. I remember having to practically force friends to go out with me for my 21st birthday. The ones who happily came were the ones I took for granted. Love interests were even worse. My ex boyfriend always told me my expectations of him were too high. But the fact is, I loved him more than he loved me. I was willing to do more for him than he was for me. Since then, I’ve learned to read people. I’ve learned to take a step backwards and allow them to show what kind of relationship we are going to have. I’ve allowed them to earn what they want from me and that defines what I reciprocate. 

14. But give back to those who deserve it. You better be there for the people who have been there for you. If your friend takes you out for your birthday, you better mark your calendar for theirs. If they show up at your event, show up at theirs. If they buy my book, I will of course buy their handcrafted necklace. Find a balance between being a doormat and being completely self-involved. 

                                     Losing myself and struggling to get me back. Atlanta. Age 27.

15. Treat yourself the way you want to be treated. People can be awful. We can find ourselves trapped in toxic relationships in every form, from the men we date to our best friends to our own mothers. But at some point, we have to take ourselves out of the victim role. So, set your standards and walk away from the people who don’t meet them. You have the power to sculpt your life and the people in it.
16. Remember every day that you are going to die. Yeah, it seems morbid. But it’s real. Death is inevitable. Rather than live in denial of it, know it’s coming so you can fully appreciate life. Even if you're working really hard for a future, make sure you have a present too.

17. Have morals. This doesn’t mean to follow the Ten Commandments or not have sex before marriage because your grandmother told you it was right. But have your own understanding of right and wrong. Set boundaries and stick to them.  
18. Keep a savings account. My parents weren’t savers. My friends in my early twenties always made fun of my financial cautiousness because I hated paying $10 for parking and wouldn’t dare throw down $500 in one shopping trip. After knowing poverty, I developed the understanding that nothing was permanent. My house could catch on fire. I could lose my job at any moment. I could get in a horrible accident. Anything can happen. I found my savings account saving my ass on multiple occasions.
19. But spend money on things you care about. I hated spending money for a club cover fee or designer heels- the things my friends in my early twenties liked to buy. But I have no regrets 

                                                            5 months into veganism. Age 28.

18.  High school doesn’t end after high school. I hate to break it to you, but the cliques, the popular kids, the favoritism from the teachers, the ridiculous, unnecessary but always present drama is everywhere. A restaurant, an office, the military, the white house- there is immature bullshit anywhere and everywhere groups of people are required to be together. Make the best out of it. This is where the “be about something” comes in handy. Keep your eyes on that prize.

19. You’re not obligated to be attracted to anyone. This piece of advice is for women dealing with the men who mumble “nice guys finish last” with a pout every time they don’t get what they want. Just because a guy buys you a drink, takes you to dinner, picks you up, and does the rest of those steps for that proper courtship song and dance doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person for not being into him. Dates are for trying each other out. If he wants to buy somebody, he can get an escort.

20. Learn as much as you can. This world is huge and beautiful with an endless amount of knowledge to absorb. If you can afford it, go to college. Read tons of books. Watch documentaries. Go to film festivals. Visit museums. Learn a new language. Go to a poetry slam. Take every day to learn something knew.

21. When you’re in despair do two things immediately: eat healthy things and immerse yourself in nature.

22. Have some friends with beliefs completely different than your own. Whether you hold clashing political, religious, or cultural beliefs, it’s really healthy to have friends who think differently than you. It will challenge you, encourage you to keep in open mind, and train you to relate to all kinds of people.

23. Never think you’re too good for a job. Yes, the millennial generation got shafted. My thoughts on that are an entirely different can of worms I’ll open in my next book, but the silver lining is that our generational poverty has humbled us. We are living in a world where employer loyalty is scarce and we could lose our jobs at any moment. So if you’re lucky enough to be comfortable, remember not to treat those who aren’t as if they are less than you. Life has a funny way of knocking us off our high horses. Any of us could easily end up washing dishes. 

                                                              Weight loss transition.

24. Let relationships fade. Sometimes even our best friendships run their course. It’s a basic instinct to try to pull them back, but too much struggle usually leads to a nasty split. Understand that nothing is permanent and that some people grow apart.  Just let it go.

25. Most of the time, you’ll end up being glad you didn’t get what you wanted. I’ve dealt with a lot of rejection: jobs, guys, and even my family. Then, time goes by and I realize that I wouldn’t want to be with that guy I dated at 22. I see that the jobs I didn’t get would have distracted me from pursuing my dreams. Even-no, especially- my lowest period of being rejected by my family turned out to be my liberation from a severely toxic environment. That rejection ended up gaining me tons of confidence, perspective, and landed me in a new city that I love. I’m grateful for every rejection I’ve ever gotten.

26. Be nice to people- especially customer service employees. I’m really ashamed of how many times I’ve been rude to a phone customer service representative for a cell phone company, the DMV, or a bank. Because they’re behind a phone, they seem faceless and inhuman. But when I put myself in their position, I just think of them dealing with being one person after another’s punching bag when, chances are, they’re not at fault for anything in the first place.

27. Don’t lie.  The truth always reveals itself. All people do is talk. Your “privacy” is just an illusion. If you’re honest, you won’t have to worry about keeping your stories straight.

28. Don’t be afraid to reincarnate yourself. Your life doesn’t have to be mapped out and carved in stone after high school or even college graduation. You can always move to a new city, change careers, or die your hair. If you don’t like your life, get a new one. If you don’t like yourself, change. 

                                                          Author photo shoot. Age 29.

29. Channel negativity into productivity.  No, I didn’t read that on a bumper sticker or a poster in my dentist’s office. It’s my own cheesy slogan, but it rings true. The best way to heal from pain is to use that energy into bettering yourself or your life. If you’re lucky enough to have an artistic outlet, use that. Use that pain to pursue your career, to get in shape, to tackle a new hobby, or even to clean your house.

30.  At the end of the day, you are the one who has to answer to your decisions. So make sure that you are living your life for you. Do what makes you happy and surround yourself with people who support that.


  1. I love this. Happy Birth(month) fellow gemini ... welcome to the dirty 30's. in a few years when I exit, I'll let you know what I learned ;)

  2. Holy Shit . This just blew my mind .