26 Lessons In 26 Years On Planet Earth

Kate Ward
Kate Ward
May 4, 2018 · 10 min read

Today is my 26th birthday.

To start this celebration on the most depressing note I can think of:

  • If my fate is the same as my mom’s (and her mom’s) that means I’m now officially over halfway through my life.

That said, I feel deeply grateful to be alive today. Not everyone makes it to 26, and I’ll be damned if I squander it wondering when I’m going to die.

I only share this thought because I think it’s important to remember — that we are all headed towards the same end zone. Milestones like birthdays are only important in so much that they give us a reason (however arbitrary) to reassess and redesign.

On every birthday in my twenties I’ve reread this email from my mom:

The words: “everyday with you is a best day for me” get me every time, but that’s besides the point.

The quote in subject line is what I’m after:

“At 20, everything is possible and tomorrow looks friendly.” — Jim Bishop

At 20, I was happily lost, dazed, and confused. I was just deferring all the important decisions and conversations into the future, hoping that it would just work itself out. I didn’t have the slightest inclination as to what may be possible.

And I certainly wasn’t expecting tomorrow to be friendly — I was destined to be extremely hungover, attempting to stomach a Dunkin’ Donuts bagel just in time to start appropriating culture for an excuse to day drink (Cinco De Mayo).

Same pretty much goes for 21, 22, 23, 24, and 25. I mean not the bagel, the hangover, and the appropriation necessarily (I grew out of those things, thankfully) but you get what I mean.

The majority of my twenties have been painted black by the grief of my one-of-a-kind mom. The one who sent this incredibly kind email, and who, from wherever she is now, is still guiding me forward.

I’ve wondered every year since: could she have possibly known, I’d be sitting here reading it again trying to pull some wisdom from her words?

Probably not. I certainly couldn’t have expected to.

But I’m lucky I can. Because today, on my 26th birthday, six full years after receiving the above email, everything finally does seem possible and tomorrow looks almost sickeningly friendly.

With that, I want to share a 26 item list (go figure) of some important lessons I’ve learned in my 20s because of the struggle, the grief, and everything else:

  1. “Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Shakespeare said that. So did the Stoics. So did like every smart person to ever live. This is such a powerful belief to have — to be able to step back and see every event in your life as neutral. This is not a moral statement; it’s more about personal perspective. My favorite thing is to ask: “What have you gained from this awful thing?” For example, my mom dying helped me reach a level of compassion that I never would have otherwise.

You’re amazing for getting to the bottom of this list, even if you just skimmed (I’m 100% okay with that). I love you.

Also, if you like learning things, reading, and/or listening to podcasts, sign up for my once monthly shakedown of the best books, articles, stories, and podcast episodes I’ve found here.

Yes, I called it a shakedown because it’s a damn shakedown and it’s dope. Also it’s my birthday…and I’m going to pull that card… so, please?

Kate Ward

Written by

Kate Ward

Writing here about grief, vulnerability, philosophy, life, and strategy. e: bykateward@gmail.com