26 lessons in 26 years.

I’ve rotated around the Sun twenty-six times now and have spent an embarrassingly long time musing about my life and trying to wax lyrical about what I have learnt. We all recognise the universal truths like, ‘treat people how you would like to be treated’ and ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’. But these are the truths I have learnt – either the hard way or in softer, more subtle ways.

1. The most important relationship in your life is the one you have with yourself. There isn’t much to unload with this one. You are the most important person in your life.

2. If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else? The great Rupaul once (every episode) said this and it encapsulates the importance of healthy self esteem and self love. Only when we can recognise our own magic and undeniable force can we appreciate the. majestic nature of others. This foundation of esteem allows us to love, forgive and accept others more openly.

3. Don’t have regrets. My mum gave me this piece of advice when I was in the midst of dating as a seventeen year old and sauntering off with a man I liked. This gave me the room to make my own decisions and exert autonomy over my body. This relationship didn’t work out but I am glad I explored it because..

4. Some people really are who you think they are. I learnt this from the previously mentioned relationship. Dating someone who you think is questionable only leads to confusion and (wait for it) questions! I hate to indulge and believe in bad reputations but sometimes they are quantified.

5. Most people aren’t thinking of you. If eschewing the advice of ‘don’t worry about what people think of you’ seems cliched, clunky and sometimes difficult, accepting that most people don’t really care about you also gives you the freedom to do what you like.

6. People only know what you show them. – Lydia, my prac teacher told me this after she read some poetry in my work book. Up until this point, I thought I was all over it. Giving people little snippets of insight and keeping myself closed off and cool. Her little nugget of truth cascaded over my walls and urged me on to show more of myself.

7. Vulnerability is strengthening. It is frightening to reveal your pain, fear, weaknesses but it allows people to understand you and to empathise. People connect through helping. one another. When I acknowledged. and shared my limitations and suffering, I felt relieved. My family, friends and support networks strengthened around me. I heard a great line just recently, by Jay-Z himself, ‘you cannot heal what you don’t reveal’.

8. Communication is key. Express yourself. Words are important! They can ensnarl, unleash, connect and disrupt. My life became easier once I told people how I wanted to be treated and how I wanted to live.

9. It’s not that serious. Life can be cruel and pure ecstasy. Take advantage of your sanity and realise you are in control of your reactions and reality. Life begins, then it ends. You command the in-between.

10. Living in your own head gets lonely. The flow on from creating your own reality often means isolation in one’s mind. Let people in! They might teach you a thing or two.

11. Don’t hold onto grudges. My mother has been preaching this my whole life. Holding onto anger only poisons your life. Every now and then, I will hear a track in my mind when I am ruminating (sulking) about old pains and new grievances. This can be very difficult but no more than it is to hold on to pain.

12. Your instinct is never wrong. Listen to it. My gut has growled and rampaged when I have been on the wrong path (or the wrong person). It’s remarkably quiet when I am on to a winner.

13. People do the best that they can, at the time. I read this in Louise L. Hay’s ‘You can heal your life’. This mantra gave me the insight and compassion I needed to navigate the rather strange characters that pop into life.

14. Humility is powerful, but sometimes it’s hard to get there. My own experience with confidence and healthy self esteem went from boastful exclamations of my worth, to quieter affirmations in a journal to accepting that I am no better and no worse, just different. A favourite Serbian proverb of mine is, ‘be humble for you are made of earth; be noble for you are made of stars’. I vocalised my ‘self’ to the point someone asked me who I was trying to convince (Thank you, James). By quietening down, I have let others find out for themselves.

15. Like attracts like. You are the sum of your closest friends. If you find that you are surrounded by people you don’t like, take a look in the mirror and figure out what it is that you are attracting.

16. Accept your family. I have a vast extended family, with all sorts of people woven through. As a child, I loathed qualities of my mother that I now cherish and strive to be like. She is fearless and radical and truly doesn’t give a fuck. But as an eight year old (and an 18 year old) seeing your mother not wear shoes or give unpopular opinions is horrifying! I’m so glad that my brothers are more accepting than I was.

17 a. Licking your wounds helps. I was very wounded for a very long time. Against the pleas of all my friends, I would not move on. This makes my skin prickle with shame and cringe. But ! I did get to experience heart break and really wallow in it for a while. I was creative, daring, getting great marks at uni. I pooled my internal reserve into ‘surviving’ and pretending that my soul wasn’t filled with caustic acid.

17 b. You have about seven minutes to feel sorry for yourself then you’re just being an arsehole. We have all been there. Something hasn’t worked out and we feel severely put out. Life can truly suck and rather than drowning in self pity, frolick in it. Enjoy the murkiness, learn to swim. The get out, dry yourself off and move forward.

18. Falling in love at 21 is worlds apart from falling in love at 25. But it feels the same. Ha ha I know! The same butterflies raging and running rampant inside, the sleepless nights, finding any excuse to see them, no appetite because you’re so caught up in the present. This rush is like no other and I understand why people fall in love every day. But the little grain of experience that felt like a rock stuck in a shoe helped. It helped to be appreciative of the man I had fallen in love with and dance with delight in his sincerity and openness. Trust replaced fear and insecurity.

19. Authenticity is more valuable than originality. I read this recently in ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s exhausting trying to come up with something brand new and completely original. It’s so often comes across as contrived in the end. But authenticity is within our grasp.

20. Tell the truth – you don’t have to keep track of what you said. – Rebecca Smith. This has served me well. Navigating adolescent and adult female friendships and romantic relationships can be a minefield. Avoiding lying is one way to safety. It will still land you in trouble but at least you have some scraps of integrity to hold on to.

21. Butter and cheese pasta is a real meal. Boil a large pot of salted water. Add too much pasta for one. Drain, but keep a little of the pasta water to thicken the sauce. On a low heat with the same sauce pan, add a big knob of most luxurious butter you have on offer. Lots of pepper. A pinch of smoked paprika. When this is bubbling away, add any cheese you have hiding in the fridge. I love lots of parmesan and a little bit smoked cheddar. Stir! Chuck in your drained pasta. Stir until the pasta is covered in a silky later of cheesey buttery sauce. Bon Apple Tea!

22. A cup of tea can cure nearly anything. Or several cups. There is such pleasure in a hot cup of tea, especially shared with a loved one.

23. Stop being afraid to put yourself out there. Smile at strangers; eat alone; take yourself out for dinner. Go overseas by yourself. Relish in your solitude. I have spent a lot of time some prior to having a partner. It is now my challenge to carve out time alone. Like right now. Popping along to ‘Thinking of you’ – Sister Sledge at a cafe in Byron Bay.

24. Love liberates – Maya Angelou. I have been loved my whole existence. By my parents, brothers, friends and lovers. Love gives you the certainty to push boundaries and question yourself. Love gives you the keys to unlock all your crevices and baggage.

25. Every so often, your whole body and soul will tingle with excitement! Savour this, its pointing in the right direction. The feeling that envelops your whole body with light and giddiness. The other side of the awful pit in your stomach.

26. And lastly, listen to your mother! She is (almost) always right!

What lessons have you learnt?

How do you propel yourself forward?

Who has inspired you as an adult?