Flirting with a Quarter-century: 25 Lessons in 25 Years

Every year when my birthday begins to peek around the corner I get this gnawing need (read: unavoidable obligation) to look forward. I spend the days leading up to my birthday setting goals and intentions for the year ahead — all in the spirit of experiencing, achieving and doing even more than the year before.

This year, I decided to do things a bit differently. Instead of looking forward, I reflected on the truth and wisdom that has filled my past. On the eve of my 25th birthday, I reflected on each year of my life with the intention that the past would inform the future. The following are 25 lessons I have learned in my first 25 years of life:

1. Tweak the truth of 107 billion people. For the better half of my teen years and early twenties, I was obsessed with asking people the question “What is the meaning of life?” I spent a lot of wasted energy passively consuming everyone else’s answers, and had a terribly difficult time trying to fit all these contradicting truths into my one life. Slowly I realized everyone’s puzzle pieces were never going to create a cohesive picture of me.

Instead of passively consuming others’ truths, we should customize them so that they accommodate our unique lives and selves. Benefit from others’ wisdom, but make it work for you. Take some and leave some. Subtract some of their experiences, inject some your you-ness.

2. Forget FOMO, worry instead about FOMY. Fear of missing yourself. Did I just make that up? Yes. Is it kind of silly? Yes. But honestly, how many times do we go somewhere or do something, out of FOMO, but we’re not even there with ourselves or others? Too often, we go places and do things out of fear, not because we’re grounded in ourselves. What if you missed out on you? The opportunity to grow and to know yourself deeply, and the endless vast potential that your spirit is so capable of. What if you missed out on you? The unique special individual that you are? Let your actions be not guided by FOMO but FOMY.

3. Sometimes, saying no is actually saying yes. I gave this advice to my friend about a year ago. At the time I wasn’t even applying it to my own life (it’s always easier to give than to take advice, eh?) Now I live my no’s and yes’s with more intention and discernment. Because sometimes by saying no, you are actually creating space, time, energy for yourself, and possibly for a yes somewhere else that will serve you even more.

4. Stop creating divisions in your life and start paying attention to where things blend. Is this good or bad? Should I follow my brain or my heart? “Is life the journey or the destination? We are constantly demanded to see the world in dichotomies, definitions, and divisions. This sort of black-and-white thinking is incredibly reductive, because life is so much more complex and blended; it’s not just one way or the other. When I started to realize that the answer to so many of our questions is both, my perception and understanding of the world expanded.

5. Get comfortable with your own paradoxes to live into the fullness of who you are. When asked what’s your background?? I’d stutter; I’m half Iranian, and half American, but struggled to identify with either. (How can I be of two countries that are not on good terms with each other?) After living in France and India, I started calling myself a “Global Citizen,” but I realized that I didn’t even know what that meant (aren’t we all citizens of this globe?) One day, I met someone who shared with me she’s full Finnish and full Japanese. And it all hit me — it was only my mind that was preventing me from being both. I could be full American and full Iranian. And I’m also a million other contradicting things that don’t make a lot of sense conventionally, but who cares? It’s what makes me, me.

6. Don’t let your definition of life become static. Why always be in search for a constant? Seeking definite and all-inclusive answers to questions such as, Who am I? or What should I do with my life? is not only incredibly anxiety-inducing but can be very limiting to your path and growth. Yes, perseverance, determination, and commitment are very admirable traits. But why pursue something you’ve grown out of, if you don’t absolutely have to? If you don’t want to? This is just wasted energy and time. Redirect yourself. Set new visions for yourself. Every moment you live brings to you the opportunity for a new beginning. We were never meant to be inert beings anyway. So, mix it up. Surprise yourself. Stretch into yourself often. Explore & be free to (re)create yourself and your life.

7. Everything is made up. Opinions, ideas, rules, systems. They’re all made up by human beings. We have created our best explanation for nearly everything. No one has the ultimate answer(s). We’re all just making it up as we go. This list you’re reading is completely made up. People who we look up to, who appear they know all the answers, and have their sh*t together? They too, are making it up as they go (or at least did at one point). Everything is: All. Made. Up. When I first realized this, I felt depressed. I thought to myself: How meaningless and hollow is this all? but now that it has settled in, a tremendous freedom has been unleashed in knowing that I can forge my own truth as I continue to live. We’re all in this together, making it up one moment a time.

8. Running away from emotions is running away from life. We as humans are incredibly fortunate to be able to witness and experience such a vast spectrum of emotions, feelings and thoughts. Running away from these, whether they be sadness, pain or a challenging thought, is ignoring the truth, wisdom, and gift(s) that they offer. Millions have felt a same if not similar experience before you, millions are feeling the same right this very second, and millions will continue to feel the same into the future. Embrace the rawest rawness of your reality. Connect with your uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, and emotions. They are your link to yourself and humanity.

9. Don’t forget to identify yourself as him, her and them. I used to often butt heads with a colleague. I was so focused on getting what I wanted and needed from him as his manager, that I completely forgot to see him as an individual, a human being, with his own wants and desires. One of the more profound moments of my life happened one day when I decided to look directly into his eyes, and wholeheartedly whisper, “I am you.” In the flash of one moment, I experienced all of his suffering and struggles as well as his greatness and beauty. I saw him as me, and me as him. In that moment it clicked to me that we each have this stunning ability within ourselves to exercise an incredible amount of empathy for each other. Rooting ourselves in each other and in our shared humanness can be refreshingly humbling and centering. It can even shift relationships and the way that you interact with people. I challenge you to try it the next time you look into the eyes of someone, or a group of people: “I am you.”

10. How we judge others is an unconscious reflection of how we judge ourselves. When you judge something someone & decide that you don’t like it — you’re reacting to the past and present you and all the biases and experiences that come along with this. I try to look inward when I judge someone. I tell myself: Ah, this is something you are probably unhappy with within yourself. What if one part of you could say yes to this person with an open heart? Being compassionate to others is actually being compassionate to yourself. By bringing this person love or at least good thoughts, you may just be able to move past your own issue(s) and judgements of yourself.

11. Experiencing others’ X can bring us infinite X. Humans are remarkably receptive. We usually only tap into this incredible gift unconsciously and in an unhelpful way (ever felt someone’s negative energy ruin your good vibes?)

I’ll never forget one day while sitting in a cafe in San Francisco, a lady sitting near me had this gorgeous uncontrollable laugh. Every 5 seconds she’d burst out in joy. Her laughter filled the room and felt like it was pushing the threshold of 85 decibels. And it was So. Damn. Annoying. Because it was incredibly loud? No. Because I was jealous. I wanted to be so unapologetically filled with joy like her, but instead I was incredibly stressed, staring at my computer with an approaching deadline. Then I tried something. I released the resentment, reframed the way I thought about her laughter, saw it as harmless joy that I too could feel, and said to myself, I’m going to receive some of this lady’s joy. I am going to feel it. And it worked. Before I knew it, I was giggling to myself each time she unleashed her own laugh. By experiencing her joy, I became joyful myself.

So, how is this infinite? It’s easier, faster, cheaper, to experience other people’s experiences. Just go out to a park and people watch for example. Of course it’s not as deep as experiencing it as our own, but if it’s experienced in multitudes, the result can be endless. Also, we only have the time and psychological bandwidth to experience a finite amount of things that may elicit, say, joy. But we have a infinite bandwidth to experience other’s experiences. Plus, joy and other good stuff is all around us. Experience them as your own.

12. Nothing really matters, and yet everything matters. This is one of the most striking enigmas to humankind. When I say nothing really matters, I’m not suggesting we belittle ourselves to the point we feel the desire to quit ourselves and our lives, because, well it doesn’t matter right? What I’m suggesting is that we should be careful of our attachment to expectations and not give such heavy weight to the outcomes when they don’t match what we had planned. On the other hand, everything we do matters. We’re so incredibly connected. Someone’s action in Guangzhou, China from today will be affecting someone in Johannesburg, South Africa tomorrow. Let’s hope it was a smile or hug.

13. Kiss this world: A kiss is usually an incredibly beautiful and intimate exchange. But why is it that we so often limit our expression of intimacy to only take place in sexual relation to another person? What if we dared to get intimate with our inner and outer worlds? What if we used our 5 senses as a direct channel into the spirit of each object, experience, or person we are with? Be vulnerable. Dive in. Embrace fully and connect deeply to yourself and that around you. Lust for life. Be so still or go so fast that you break the barriers of what you once knew and what you could know. I ask you: How will you kiss this world? (Shameless plug: kissthisworld launching soon!)

14. JUST DO IT. Brilliant marketing slogan, Nike. No but seriously! Less thinking, more doing. Learn from rapidly doing, instead of endlessly thinking. Action is almost always better than inaction. Because if we don’t do anything, nothing happens. If we DO do something, the very worst that can happen is that we will learn something. There was like 47 times I thought to myself, Should I post 25 lessons in 25 years? What will people think? Is it original enough? But I realized that the journey of writing these lessons will be meaningful for me and if it helps one person, that’s great! Still paralyzed? Write down your “do” into mini-steps for the next 60 days. Look at this list everyday. Release your excuses, unleash your potential, and go get doing. One step at a time, then a mile, then a galaxy!

15. Give 2x more than you need. You can’t always change what you want or need. But you can change how much you give. Give (through love, actions, etc) twice as much as you crave for yourself. Look at your world with the question: How can I love? How can I give? Not Who will love me? or Who will give to me? Because really, why be so demanding or withholding? The result? You will find some of your needs will actually be satisfied by your giving. And the bonus? Your giving will bounce off of others, right back to you.

16. Thoughts and beliefs become reality. The key to living the life you want is realizing what you want and then believing in it. This may come across as severely reductive, but in reality, leading the life you want has less to do with whether or not you are able to right now, and has more to do with whether or not you believe you can do it. Together, your thoughts + beliefs will either create or destroy you. Think well and believe deep my friends.

17. Be unapologetically you. Don’t be sorry for who you are, who you were, or who you may want to become. Don’t give away your power. Be strong and proud. The reality is that there are 7+ billion of us hurtling through space and time right this very second. And our fascinating turn on this playground-universe won’t last long. This is your time to live your life, not his or hers, or theirs. This is your journey, your gorgeous journey. Its meant for you to cultivate, to create and to celebrate. Don’t compare yourself to what others are doing — they’re also on their own journeys. (If you find the need to compare, compare all the similarities you share). Give yourself the freedom to do your own thing. Create your own dance, sing your own song. Crush the imposter! Take off your mask. Be unapologetically you. Because seriously, tell me, what’s the purpose of life otherwise?

18. Navigate life with the spirit of a child and the wisdom of an adult. I grew up with about 130 brothers and sisters (my mother led a preschool out of our house). I was always enamored by children. They’re all the things we want to be: entirely curious, present, free, unabashed, genuine, positive. But they’re also all the things we can’t be (if we want to remain a member of society) think: temper tantrums, too present to be any kind of future-oriented, hitting, slapping, biting whoever whenever you would like!

But what if we chose to live our lives with both the wisdom that comes from experience and the soulfulness of being a child? We would be able to live fully but deeply, sensibly but unreasonably, grounded but soaring. It’s all there, just needs an invitation to come out and play, with wisdsom.

19. Give yourself permission. Experiencing, doing, feeling, being what we want to is oftentimes inaccessible because we simply think we are not deserving. By giving yourself permission to do what you want, you’ll realize things like happiness are not that complicated. I became 10x happier on the day I said to myself, You know what? There’s no reason you don’t deserve to be happy. And so I allowed myself to be happy. I gave myself permission to flourish. What are you starving yourself from right now? A part of you won’t allow yourself to realize how simple your fulfillment could be. Give yourself the liberty anyway. Kindly tell that part of you, “No thanks. I’m giving myself the permission to feel, think, be, experience what I want and need to do.”

2o. Go on a date with yourself at least once a week. The most challenging, fulfilling, and important relationship will be the one you have with yourself. So spend time with yourself. Treat yourself, be it intellectually, emotionally, creatively or even materialistically. Invest in yourself by doing something that you’ve always wanted to do. Respect and cherish yourself. Do anything and everything you can to fall in love with yourself. You would do most if not all of these things for someone that you were dating, right? Why not for yourself? The journey of life is so much better (and easier!) when we befriend ourselves.

21. Travel throughout your inner world by traveling throughout your outer world. Your soul is a gorgeous and endless topographic treasure. Make it your priority to explore it. How? Traveling throughout your outer world is an unparalleled opportunity into traveling throughout your inner world. When everything around you is foreign, you become familiar to yourself. You are compelled to look yourself directly in the eye. You realize your boundaries and then extend them a bit.

I’ve had the privilege to live in 4 countries and travel to 40+. Everyone always asks me how I do it. The truth is, I am probably no more financially solvent and/or as busy as most of you. But I make traveling a top priority in my life. It comes before a lot of other very important things. Be careful with your excuses with this one. No cash? Travel to a nearby town/city or even a park. No time? Take a day trip. Still not down? Travel your inner landscape by free-writing, going on a walk by yourself (sans phone), or bringing something to life (poem, artwork, a table).

22. Dare to Admire. What if we lived in a world full of compliments? What if every time you thought something nice about someone, you actually said it to them? Why do we withhold what can only spread good? Is it fear or pride? Keep it in mind that your pride and fear are probably so much less important and impeding compared to the good that could be spread if you just shared. You’ll never really know how your words will affect someone’s day, week, month or even life. Your admiration may rewire the way they think/feel about themselves! Also, admiring and celebrating others actually builds and reveals confidence and self-esteem. It’s there in your mind and heart. Why not share with the world?

23. Do what you really want to do. Okay, we all have responsibilities. But how many other things do we wind up doing in our daily lives that 1. We don’t want to do and 2. We don’t actually have to do? Before I had this realization, I’d spend a lot of time going to places I didn’t want to go, doing things that I didn’t enjoy, spending time with people I didn’t relate to. Why? I hadn’t gotten clear about what I really wanted to do and who I wanted to do it with. I thought life would figure itself out for me and perhaps, that I didn’t really have that much of a choice. And honestly, sometimes I didn’t enjoy doing what I wanted to do because I thought it was selfish. But really, the opposite is more selfish than anything. Next time you’re faced with a decision, ask yourself, what do I really want to do?

24. Actively Exercise Knowledge: Imagine your life. All the conversations you’ve ever had, all the things you’ve ever read, heard, saw, experienced. You’ve probably learned a million different times, maybe even 100 million different times. So why are we not the wisest of creatures of all by age 25? Yes, we may have millions of pieces of experience and information in our minds, but if we don’t actively exercise our knowledge and wisdom, most of them will dormantly just sit there like pretty little gifts that are still wrapped up. I used to get so frustrated when I would learn from an experience, but continue to make the same mistake again and again. Then I realized, when you learn something, you don’t automatically retain it and practice it for ever. There’s effort involved. Knowing is not enough. We must constantly go to the knowledge gym actively flex these knowledge muscles.

25. ??? This one’s for you to reflect upon. We experience an implausible amount of ideas, thoughts, feelings, and social media statuses every day. How many of us take the time to dive inwards? To reflect and process? To make connections or have realizations? To let it all seep in? So I ask you: what’s one lesson you learned in 2015 (or if you want to dive deeper: in the last X years of your X years of living)? Take a moment to write this down on a sticky or piece of paper, hang it up, and if you feel called, share with us below.