10 things I’ve learned in my 23 years
I just turned 23 on Wednesday. Yikes.
To commemorate said milestone, here are ten intentions I’ve cultivated for my life, borne of hard-won insights that years of stumbling towards happiness have given me.
- To surround myself with good people. I chased a lot of things in the name of happiness, but now I know without a doubt that surrounding myself with good-hearted people who care about me is the foundation of my happiness and health. And I’ve been blessed with some particularly incredible humans in my life. May I continue to be so lucky.
- To have high standards for what “good” means to me. “Good people” are those who make me feel good to be around them. Period. Full stop. Doesn’t matter how much love they profess, how close our blood ties are, or if we share years of history and closeness. They have to care in intention and in action, and they have to meet me halfway. Because that’s what genuinely nourishing human relationships are. If it’s broken, honest communication coupled with an investment of time and effort into healing the relationship is important, I think — but only up to a certain point. It takes two to tango.
- To play. Life has enough grind and hardship. And I’ve spent enough days living for tomorrow, or for the next salvation, whether it’s getting into a good school or a good job (and then what?). It’s a tough mentality to shake, but I don’t want to be stuck in Grass Is Always Greener land. I want to live like each day is a microcosm of my whole life. And if I were to live each day like I want to live my life, I want there to be laughter, play, and lightheartedness. Always.
- To follow inspiration. If I have any superpower, it’s an insatiable, consuming intellectual curiosity, about anything and everything. But it comes in waves, and like some capricious muse, it picks its own desired focus at will, impervious to my reasoned volition. But I’ve learned to trust these impulses, no matter how seemingly arbitrary or sudden. Deciding on a mysterious but seductive whim to become a certified yoga teacher one summer after my freshman year at Brown was one of the best, most consequential decisions I’ve ever made — just to give one example. Its ripple effects on my career, surprisingly, have far exceeded my expectations of a summer that seemed so trivial. Now I know to trust these urges that come from inspiration.
- To do the scary thing. Every accomplishment worth attaining, everything in my life I’m proud of has come to me because I dared. I’ll feel like a success so as long as I continue to redraw the edges of my comfort zone, over and over and over.
- To work hard for what I want. I can count one major moment in my life when I worked as hard as I possibly could for something and I didn’t get it. (Thank goodness I didn’t— but that’s another story.) This pivotal moment taught me the unexpected: that giving my all to something that mattered to me and failing to achieve it didn’t make me defeated — it made me feel stronger. It fueled me with a resolve like I’d never known. I felt proud that I’d given my best, and it didn’t matter that I’d technically failed. Now I know that for me, trying is the thing that feels good, and not winning.
- To be authentic. It’s probably no coincidence that authenticity is one of the qualities I most admire in a person. It took me the better part of my teenage years to break out of the shell of who I thought I had to project to the outside world and to own the person I really am. It’s still a continual process, but the beauty of this discovery lies in its paradox: I feel loved and loving when I stop trying to be lovable and start just being myself. This is a very intentional part of my day now, and it manifests in ways big and small: I won’t say things that don’t ring sincere to me, I don’t fake smiles anymore, and I’ll make a point to dress in exactly the outfit that feels like the truest expression of myself that day. These may sound trivial, but to me they are expressions of the core of self-love.
- To start my day off right. This is just as much about what I don’t do as what I do first thing after I wake. When I start off my mornings by checking my Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, I feel slave to my weaker self. I feel held back by a scattered, reactive energy for the rest of the morning, if not the whole day. But when I begin with My One Simple Thing, I feel victorious for the rest of the day, knowing that I put myself first. My OST isn’t set in stone, but it’s usually some variation of a quick meditation, making my bed, followed by an outdoor morning run to rejuvenate my body and wake my mind. This regimen makes me feel like champ, and even more so the earlier I wake up to do it.
- To know who I am and what I want, always. This clarity simplifies every decision for me, big and small. It gives me a sense of inner power. And dare I say it: when I’m most in tune with this self-knowledge, I’ve noticed that it also gives me more magnetism, confidence and a freedom to bring my full self into every interaction. And it also gives me boundless drive and determination. As elusive as this self-knowledge can be, when I am able to uncover it and to align my life with it, it’s truly a superpower.
- To resist my ego. My ego is reactive, temperamental, immature — by definition. It’s myopic, and following its impulses tends to leave a trail of chaos in its wake for my more reasonable adult self to mend. Not an optimal way to live. But I’ve found that there’s salvation hidden in each little moment when my ego wants to be spiteful, pouty, petty, indulgent, or lazy. There’s strength in using those moments to deny my ego its petty little pleasures, and to instead feed the part of me that wants to act with wisdom and maturity. The standoff between my ego and my better, wiser self is a continuous work in progress. But it’s a challenge I see myself getting better at with each passing year.
These aren’t — and hopefully don’t come off as — preachings. I know only what works for me. These are intentions I hold, and I suppose you could say they collectively constitute a personal manifesto of sorts. I’m sure this list will change, but crafting these convictions as they stand today into written form will hopefully give me something to look at to remind myself each day the kind of life I want to live, and the kind of life I want to look back on.