Thirty years used to be more than a lifetime a few centuries ago – but it still sure feels like one today.
Partially to honor some great people whose birthday life lessons I’ve loved reading in the past few years, and partially to add to the circus that my birthday weekend’s become this year, here are thirty lessons I’ve been blessed enough to learn in the thirty years I’ve spent on this Earth.
#1 Family’s always got your back. People go away, you go away, sometimes you meet again, sometimes you don’t. Those that matter stay (middle of the night call, ranting about your partners and about your paydays being late stay.). It just takes some time (khm years khm) to recognize what’s what.
#2 Second chances are real. Not only that – they’re vital. Thank goodness. And they don’t only apply to you, but to those you spend your life with, too. The easiest thing in the world is to judge and the hardest to accept that we are all, in the end, simply human. …well, maybe it ain’t that hard after all.
#3 The only one you’re responsible for in the long run is yourself. Everybody else’s got themselves to answer to, first and foremost. Then you can spend your lives together and share whatever you see fit. But you can’t make anybody do something or don’t do something, other than yourself. This particular feeling brings great freedom and great responsibility at the same time.
#4 You will change. And you will survive. Change is growth, and adaptability is survival. And that pesky fear that tries to root us in place is just a reflex, one we can use to our benefit when we face it head on. I always tend to go back to Anya in Anastasia, and the inescapable urge to put down roots. But sometimes swaying through the gales gives you better chances of survival than breaking with every single change of the wind’s direction.
#5 Don’t let anyone ever make you feel like you don’t deserve what you want. The person I’ve heard this from most recently (well, not the precise quote, they’re not exactly the 10 things type) was a person who had many times made me feel exactly that way in the past – which is how I knew they were right. Lesson learned! (And our relationship’s way better now because they’ve grown up a bit in the years that have passed, too.)
#6 Doing what you like (at least with a little bit of your time) is crucial. Oftentimes it will feel like what you truly enjoy doing doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, especially if you like, let’s say, sewing or writing. But, staying alive matters a lot, and I’m a firm believer that “hobbies” help immensely with just that (also, dexterity!).
#7 In the end, we will all be judged by the courage of our hearts. Courage is hard. But cowardice is harder. You get to choose – and you get to live with the consequences.
#8 No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Planning is hard, adjusting the course of action is harder, but both are needed to fulfill your wishes – even the simple ones, like, buying a new tablecloth for your dining table. Or getting a new tattoo done before you’re thirty. (I didn’t manage to do either!) Sometimes, though, the plans that fall apart completely are those which bring you the best of times, like, umm, when your first novel after decades of writing turns out to be a historical paranormal romance with werewolves. I couldn’t have foreseen that, not by a long shot, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
#9 Kobayashi Maru. Yes, sometimes the plane/ship/effort has to go down. Sometimes you have to lose. But the lesson, repeated again and again over the years, was this – it will be okay. Shit will happen, stuff will end, you will suffer – and, in the long run, you will be okay. That’s the part that’s so hard to remember – and that’s the part that matters the most.
#10 Learning is fun even years after you’ve finished school – but now you get to choose what to study! Stuff I’ve dabbled in in the past decade include, but are not limited to, dressing up like a grown up (hard), wearing color (harder, at least if you want to coordinate), wearing clothes labeled as very masculine and very feminine (surprisingly easy!), entrepreneurship (level: beginner), American accent (thanks, Pat Flynn!), saving money (probably biggest challenge of all, and I fully expect it to be the most rewarding), frugality, minimalism (a great passion of mine), sewing, cosplay, boardgaming (suspiciously hard at first, incredibly fun later).
All of the above have had great impact in my life, and I have already used many of those “skills” for personal and professional growth. Yes, when you’re proficient in a foreign language, it brings more opportunities your way. When you dress better, you feel better, you work better, you get better results (and feel even better yet!). Oh, and cosplay is everywhere in my life these days, including the library, so, yeah, everything. None of the above mentioned things get taught in schools (at least they didn’t in the Nineties and Oughts in Croatia). All of them provide me with great challenges and greater enjoyment and I wouldn’t give them up even for good money.
#11 Having a pet is not nearly as scary as it seems from the outside. I had to live it to know it, though, and I’ll be forever grateful to my partner to presenting me with an opportunity I couldn’t really refuse last November, finally (nor did I want to). The cat’s a menace – and I’m having the time of my life. Life goals!
#12 Thou shalt not judge because thou hast made mistakes, too. It’s a funny story, actually, because I’ve heard this particular gem of a proverb from a friend who I’ve judged to the known corners of the world, someone who still judges me every time we meet (no worries, I judge them too, we’re just those people). It’s worth remembering, though, especially if you’re prone, like me, to have too high expectations out of literally everyone, yourself included. If you’re human, you’ll make mistakes. No way around that. Nothing wrong with that, either!
#13 Four strings are better than six. For some people, they might not be. But for me, they very well are. (Short fingers!)
#14 Writing means community. It may be NaNoWriMo. It may be a writers’ circle at your local library. It may be people you’ve never met liking your “Published Author” impersonation from across the globe. It may be as simple as outing yourself as a writer while having coffee with a stranger and having them go “wow”. I’ve spent the first decade of my writescapade as a lone wolf, sharing that part of my day only with my closest family and a few patient (and endlessly polite) non-writers around me.
Luckily, the second decade was way more productive. I got to meet local fellow writers, online fellow writers, several editors, a few publishers, and one amazing person who constantly cheered me on through the hell that November 2017 has been and who often quotes “So what?” whenever I come up with yet another obstacle to whatever I wish to do with my writing next. None of where I’m at at this point in life would’ve been possible without a writing community, and for that I am eternally grateful.
#15 You get to set your own pace in life. Even though it oftentimes feels like everybody else dictates your daily schedule, in the end, you get to decide what to do with your free time (and even if you get any), you get to decide how much you sleep and who are the people who will get most of your attention. Unless you’re struggling hard with providing for your family (and if that’s the case, #15 doesn’t apply and good luck!), you get to say no and you get to say yes to the things you want.
A basic example would be that I’m a hopeless early riser, which means I’m usually dead to the world around 11PM, which can be a problem if you’re regularly dealing with jerks who happen to be night owls who also happen to have no respect for your time whatsoever. Sometimes, the only solution is to gently walk away, and by doing exactly that (with varying levels of resulting drama) I have managed to get back my sleep schedule. And it is so worth it. I get more done (like writing or blogging or sewing, all of which takes hours of my life, every week) in the early hours, and I feel better for it, and the people around me benefit from it directly. Yup, I get teased a lot for falling asleep in the middle of boardgaming marathons. And yes, sometimes I do miss out on things. But, more often than not, it turns out the rewards in mental and physical health are more than enough in terms of compensation.
This lesson scales well, too. Do I want to spend another weekend in a crowd, doing something that’s not only exhausting, but gets too predictable at a certain point? Do I want to miss another week of my favourite tv shows just to do something I don’t even see as valuable, maybe not even necessary? Yeah, saying no is hard. But letting other people run your life is way, way harder.
#16 You can have it all, just not at the same time. No, I didn’t watch that show often enough to find this beautiful truth there – I had to google it. But, once I stumbled across it, it resonated so deeply as to qualify for this list, even though it’s something of a new revelation-turned-lesson for me. It’s freeing, to know I’m not the only one struggling with life choices and goals and desires and dreams. All that really matters, in the end, is knowing what your priorities are and defending them to the death.
#17 Being hurt doesn’t make you unlovable. There are so many ways to apologize for other people’s behaviour and their treatment of your time, your respect and your feelings. Sometimes, though, it’s worth remembering that you don’t have to make their choices, you get to make yours. Understanding that you do get to start anew more than once in life was quite hard for me because at certain points I just used to conclude, dunno, that I’m not worth the effort as a general rule, I guess. Ha! (And a ha-ya! And then I’d kick her, sir.) Well, guess again.
#18 “Adulthood isn’t an award they’ll give you for being a good child. You can waste… years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just . . . take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I’m sorry you feel like that, and walk away. But that’s hard.” [LMB, A Civil Campaign] (Ekaterina for life <3)
#19 You can do whatever you want to, but the things that matter most will take time. So, you want to publish a book? Take 22 years (and five years’ worth of wait for that particular book). You want to make a Queen Hippolyta costume? One month, give or take. You want to learn English? Ten-plus years (to get it right). Reach the job position of your dreams? Sixteen years or so. Start your own business? Not really sure, we’re not quite there yet. I wouldn’t have understood this as a child, but looking back from a certain standpoint, all those years don’t really feel like much – and the elation of success is endless.
#20 Good music can be incredibly hard to find, which makes it even more worth the quest these days. I was raised on vinyl rock, so contemporary music can be a bit difficult for me nowadays. Even when I do find an artist I love, they change their sound too much in a few short years and then I have to give them up because I can’t relate to them. Other times, though, I know of someone from the news or media and then I happen to hear a song or two and I love them so much and I once more get astonished as to how much my own taste in music has changed and keeps changing. On the other hand, whatever you want to listen to, you can, right now, if you’ve got your handy gadget and a decent wireless connection. (I sound so old now, aiyeeee…) It’s an incredible world all around us, and we take it for granted. Fun times.
#21 Love is not something you can run out of if you give too much. It’s not a pool you can empty at any time, not something reserved for one person, or two people, or seven people (and, maybe, one cat). Love is not something you can measure, or compare, nor should it be. The only real measure of anything is happiness. So, there’s no need to be afraid to love. (Try teaching that to the incredibly awkward kid I used to be!)
#22 You decide on what freedom really means for you. We’re all so gloriously different that no two people would stick the same definition on freedom, nor should they. The only things that matter are that you choose, and that you do no harm to others with your choices. Wow, this isn’t nearly as easy to express as I thought it might be, but it’s worth it. Let me put this in another manner – so, what is freedom for you?
#23 Nothing compares to the real outdoors. Yes, my relationship with the great outdoors keeps constantly changing, but some things stay the same throughout the years, and this one I’m quite positive about – I will always feel good when I’m out there, especially if the “out there” means “mountains” and if I’m not cold (not a fan of fun in the snow, sorry!). The fresh air, the scenery, the sweat and exhaustion… yup, all of it forever holds a special place in my heart.
#24 It’s easier to understand people if you understand their family background. That is to say – we’ve all been told different things ever since birth, many of which we later came to accept as our beliefs. Sometimes a person’s generation (the years of their birth etc.) dictates a lot of what they hold true, and many times someone’s level of self-reliance and self-confidence stems directly from what their parents used to tell them while they were growing up (and yes, it works both in terms of positive and negative messages). It’s really hard to choose something different, often because we’re not even aware of other choices – but we still do it. Family matters a lot. But freedom matters more.
#25 Being bad at something doesn’t make you incapable of being successful. Math used to be my doom. But, the things you really need in your life, you’ll eventually learn – or find a way around them! And there are innumerable ways to “succeed” in life without needing to rely on something (math) whatsoever, no matter what elementary education tells you (“nothing matters more than math”). Ugh, math.
#26 Some people will simply not understand. Or, to borrow lyrics from Pink, via Glee – they don’t like my jeans / they don’t get my hair. And that’s all there really is. No matter how hard you work and how much effort you put into understanding others, and they you, there will always be things some people don’t get, and there will always be people who simply don’t get you. (Let’s just hope no one dies because of that, but I guess it’s too much to ask, isn’t it?)
#27 Nobody’s got their shit figured out. Many, many people look like they do, walk like they do, sound like they do and make you feel like you don’t. But in the end, we’re all in this weird little thing called “living” together, some people are just coping better. Don’t let them bs you – and do your best to make an effort at being a person, and not bs others, too.
#28 Respect above all. Because, without it, we’d all still be struggling to find our way out of the marsh and dying before we’re two and choosing who gets to vote (umm… humans?) and endless (virtually endless) other crap history has already proven to be useless, harmful and ugly. So, if I tell you not to call me a dyke unless you’re a dyke yourself, if I try to explain that “they” is a perfectly acceptable alternative to “him” and if I do my best to google every new variant of human expression I find online until I understand it, my only ulterior motive is to spread the notion that respect is not expensive, or hard, or politically correct – it’s the only choice. (Yeah, I’m an idealist – and no, it didn’t take me thirty years to realize that.) There is no way in hell for everybody to accept you for who you are – so your only choice is to accept everybody for what they are. And, sometimes, all you can do is outlive the jerks.
#29 You’ve no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story… because everybody loves to play god, but no one ultimately gets to choose how we’ll be remembered. We can just do our best to play our role honorably.
#30 The future is not set. This is one of the “hard” lessons, but at the same time, one that gives me hope the most. It’s been one hell of a ride, and I’m sure that what comes next will be even better and even worse than my wildest dreams.
Bring. It. On.
Cover photo by Neven Ćubić, Liburnicon 2017.