Thursday, October 13, 2016

35 Bullet Points for a Fulfilling Life

Today I am 35 years old. In celebration, I'm going to Catalina and going without my cell phone or the internet for the day.

I also assembled a list of 35 things I've learned / ways of life that I recommend investing in. At first I thought it would be hard to come up with 35 of them, but in fact it was not. I actually came up with 36. I hope you find them useful, whether you're older, younger, wiser, or more naive than I am. And I hope you have a wonderful next trip around the sun. I'm planning to enjoy mine, because most of it will not be in 2016, which for so many has been hilariously bad.

FOREMOST: Life is choices, my dear. Quoted directly from Ann Landers's daughter Margo. This applies to just about every situation. You always have a choice, as a human being, even if both sides of it are bad (i.e. die or give in to the Emperor). You are responsible for what you choose. I think of this approximately eighty times per day. Everything else is secondary, which is why there are 35 additional lessons, because a) I cheated and b) I couldn't bear to make this lesson just one of 35.

The rest are in no particular order. Here's something to listen to while you read:



1. Always wave at babies.

2. Take care of your teeth. They're bones, lifelong exposed bones, and you don't mess around with bones. Flossing is annoying, but just do it. Every night. It hurts less the more you do it and it really makes a difference.

3. You never know / never assume. The rude receptionist could be caring for her dying father; the lady in the BMW could be an orphan who used to live in a garbage dump; the respectable teacher could be beating his wife. You don't know what people's lives are, ever. Best to be kind and ask questions rather than behaving based on your assumptions, which, unless you are Sherlock Holmes, derive from very little information.

4. Use big chunks of time wisely. By which I mean: what are you going to wish you did five years later? If you wait to go back to school/look for a new job/start trying for a baby until you feel "ready", that's six months longer in the future that you weren't living a better life. I'm not saying 100% carpe diem always! but rather, think about how you use (for example) the year ahead to your advantage rather than letting it slip by unused.

5. Leftover sushi's never as good as you think it's going to be. Just toss it.

6. Politics doesn't matter. Remember Michael Dukakis? No, you don't. Nor Humphrey nor Mark Foley. Let go of the infuriation cycle. The world isn't going to explode; it's going to inch this way and that until you die. If you don't believe me, look at your Facebook feed from four years ago this time. Oh, right, all those things Mitt Romney did that made you mad. Yeah, that was worth getting upset about.

7. "Normal" is a waste of time. Comparing yourself to what you think is normal or what the world tells you is normal is plain old stupid, because no one is normal, no one is average, everyone has sharp edges or webbed toes or a personality disorder diagnosable by DSM-V. Do you, and stop worrying about the fabled normal.

8. Don't wait until you're desperate to ask for help, or to offer it. 

9. Spend as much money as you can on decent bedding and paper products. Life is too short for scratchy sheets or toilet paper. The best paper towels are Bounty, full stop. You're wasting your money on cheaper stuff. The expensive stuff will last longer, and poor sleep is the most efficient way to tank your quality of life.

10. Not everyone has to like you. 

No, I mean it. Really let that one sink in. It's not a big deal if people don't like you. There are people you don't like, right? And it's not a personal insult to them, it's just how it is? There you go. Shrug and find people who do like you.

11. Get right with your mammalian qualities, the sooner the better. Everybody poops. Everybody vomits and bleeds. To try and keep yourself clean from life is to deny unavoidable parts of your own humanity, and you will be miserable unless and until you accept this dirt. The first time you have to clean a stitched-up wound or change a diaper (a baby's or an adult's), you'll melt down, unless you've come to terms with this stuff beforehand.

12. Take notes when people tell you nice things about yourself. You'll forget these things more easily than the bad things you say about yourself, and writing nice things down helps you remember and reread when you're feeling low.

13. High heels are just foot-binding. Don't buy anything that deliberately decreases your mobility.

14. With different phases of your life, friends come and go, unfortunately. Hold on tightly, let go lightly.

15. Generosity is unbelievably attractive; bean-counting invariably leads to heartbreak. I don't advise learning this one the hard way.

16. Leggings are not pants. Sorry. By which I mean, wear them as pants if you want, you do you, but don't be deluded, they just aren't pants. No more than pantyhose are.

17. Figure out what flatters you and buy clothes like that, rather than following trends. I look good in bootcut pants and high-waisted dresses. If I try to wear flowy hippie shirts or one-shoulder tops, I will look stupid, because of the way my body's built, doesn't matter how thin or young I am. Finding clothes that genuinely flatter you means you'll look good in what you wear, no matter what happens season on season.

18. Boundaries are magical. Set them, stick to them, and people will obey.

19. Bitterness leaves you hollow; graciousness fills you up.

20. Carry a notebook. If you can't, or you think that's only for creative types, carry a pen. It will come in handy.

21. Always play tennis with people better than you. This from my mother, long ago, and it has helped me immeasurably. If you continue to play tennis with your peers or with people you can always beat, you'll never improve at tennis. Make friends with people you think are smarter than you, and you'll learn more. Take jobs you think are too hard for you, and you'll rise to the occasion. Reach, don't stoop. It's not as velvety-sweet for your ego, but it will make you better.

22. Be mild with difficult people to defuse them. Works with hysterical people, negative people, angry people, hateful people. Matching their emotion rarely works, but mildness makes them look like what they are.

23. Lean in to pleasure. Whatever that means to you.

24. Don't waste time with books you don't like or movies that are obvious. Life is too short. You already know you'll never read all the books or see all the movies [sound of distant wailing], so why go see the next Seth McFarlane movie? Why keep reading if the book hasn't created a chemical reaction in you during the first 50 pages?

25. You are not defined by the approval of others, and anyone who says you are wants to control you. -Carolyn Hax.

26. Invest yourself in something, anything, or your life will slither out of your hands like sand. That investment may take the form of having children, or going to church, or working for a nonprofit, or supporting your friends, or loving Star Wars, or or or. There's an enormous variety of love to give, of passions to invest yourself in. Do it. Don't hold back.

27. Look for patterns and structures underlying the world. Your comprehension will regularly grow richer. The patriarchy; design, in general; language; longitude and latitude; racism. The further underneath you go, the more you'll find. Keep looking. Don't be lazy about this.

28. You don't need to understand art to like it. I've been reading more poetry this year, and man, I wish I hadn't waited so long to make a habit of it. I still don't understand what it's doing, and I still don't know why I like this poem and not that one, but I can't go back to not reading poetry even if I never get it.

29. Silence, and a well-placed "wow", are as magical as boundaries. The perfect comeback is overrated. Silence makes people listen to themselves.

30.  Tell someone about your symptoms in case something goes wrong. Doctors will find it easier to take care of you if your best friend knows that your left arm's been hurting for a couple of weeks than if no one knows anything.

31. Try incredibly hard to overcome confirmation bias. It's poisonous.

32. It's possible to hide a gross habit forever from everyone but your spouse. 

33. Choose to be fascinated. You can be bored or fascinated by anything, from a conversation with Stephen Hawking to an ant crawling across a rock. There's always more happening than it looks like. Choose fascination and your life will not disappoint you.

34. Vulnerability is lovable, unless the people you want to love you are sociopaths. 

35. Money comes and goes. A good pair of leather boots is forever. 


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