tHere are thirty life lessons from my first 30 years on earth.

1. Move away from home.

Moving away from home allowed me to heal and grow and come back full of love.

I’ve left the place I call home twice. Chicago, the place I grew up, I left the day after I turned 19. And I left Las Vegas after 9 years of adulting there.

I had to leave home to figure out which parts of me I wanted to keep and which parts I had to let go of and to figure out who, and what, matters to me.

I had to leave home to love home.

Leave home, you can always go back.

2. College can open doors, but college debt closes them.

College opened doors for me. I had experiences I wouldn’t take back. Even though I didn’t use my degree for years post graduation, it came in handy when I decided to teach English while traveling. It is also something I can build on if I choose to go back to school later (which I have been contemplating).

But I wouldn’t be singing the same tune if I was drowning in student debt….

Luckily, I went to an inexpensive university (UNLV) and was able to pay off my loans quickly. (Even though I wasn’t working in the field I studied).

Get a bachelors degree if you can do it on the cheap. Working a job you hate, to pay off loans, for a degree you aren’t using, sucks.  

3. Your younger siblings look up to you. 

Even when I thought my little sister thought I was the biggest dork on the planet, she was looking up to me. Throughout her entire life she has been watching the way I move in the world and taking notes. She watched me take big risks and saw me fail, recover, and succeed- more than once. Many of my decisions have shaped who she is today.

Your younger siblings are watching you, do better.

4. Taking time away from technology is freeing.

Dear lord- this took me far too long to realize and even longer to successfully implement. Traveling helped. You might think that not being able to use your phone because of the hefty international fees would put a damper on your trip but it doesn’t. On my first trip to Europe, not being able to use my phone forced me to focus on the present moment. It was liberating. I surprised myself by how well I could navigate a foreign city with just a paper map and local assistance.

As I got more travel savvy, I switched phone plans and now my phone works virtually everywhere in the world, at no additional cost. Don’t get me wrong, having a phone that works as soon as the plane lands has it’s benefits, but I miss the days of forced technology fasts!

Now that I have experienced the freedom of not using my phone, I am intentional about leaving it behind or shutting it down. It isn’t always easy, but the freedom is worth it!

Power down, disconnect, unwind, and trust yourself!

5. Money and material possessions do not define you.

(NOTE: Money and stuff are important if you are lacking basic necessities like food, shelter and clothing. I have been privileged enough to have an adequate, even abundant, supply of these things throughout my entire life.)

Beyond necessities, money and stuff mean nothing. When I didn’t have much money, it was easy to believe it didn’t matter, but once I got some, I got attached.

When the money came, the upgrades followed. I moved into a bigger house and bought a newer car, the latest phone and fresher clothes.

It took me longer than it should have to realize money and stuff are means to achieve a goal, not the goal itself.

You are not your bank account or your stuff. You are SO much more.

6. You are not your hair.

Outside of a few impulsively short haircuts in my youth, my hair was long and brownish until my mid twenties. Around my 26th birthday it started getting shorter and blonder. A few days before New Years 2016, I buzzed my whole head. Not bald, but short short- less than an inch long on top and even shorter on the sides and back. Since then I have rocked an undercut that has been dyed every color you can imagine!

People assume the content of my character based on how my hair is cut or colored. Some of the character traits that have been projected on me describe me perfectly, others are completely unfounded, and the majority are accurate sometimes and completely inaccurate other times. The people relate to me changes drastically depending on how my hair looks!

I am dynamic. I am not your fantasies or your fears.

What you look like does not define you.

7. Take a risk. Fail. Learn a lesson. Take another risk.

“I learned just do it… You get courage in your fears right after you go through it…” -T.I., Goodlife

Take risks! Every risk I’ve ever taken, from moving to Las Vegas to opening the salon to selling all of my stuff to traveling indefinitely, has made me more courageous. Even when things didn’t work out the way I hoped they would, I learned something I couldn’t have learned any other way.

Do it. 

8. Love yourself.

“Of all relationships, the ones we have with ourselves are the most important. We make ourselves vessels for the love that we wish to receive, by first pouring that love into ourselves.” -Londrelle, Eternal Sunshine

Traveling solo, living alone, and eating out by myself have helped me get to know myself, accept myself, and eventually love myself for exactly who I am. It is liberating.

Make time and space for yourself. Do things for yourself, by yourself. Love yourself.

9. You don’t have to spend time with people you do not like.

I have learned to consciously remove myself from the presence of toxic people or set boundaries for engagement with them. From family and close friends to people I just met, I am under no obligation to spend time with people I do not like.

Assess your relationships and set boundaries.

10. Read books.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” -James Baldwin

In high school, even through much of college, I did everything I could to avoid reading. I was unfocused, distracted, and had other priorities. Using the internet, I managed to get As without ever reading much of anything. As long as I got an A, I was satisfied.

In my mid twenties I turned to books in an effort to understand myself and the world around me. I opted to listen to audio-books while I drove or walked my dog. I was shocked by how well I could focus on the audio as long as I was moving my body. The connections I made to certain stories and authors and what I learned from them shocked me even more.

In the past few years I have consumed more books than I ever imagined I could. Each one has forced me to grow and change. Books opened me up to new ideas, validated ones I’ve had for years, and transformed my life.

Read (or listen to) books!

11. Write. 

“The best part of writing is not the communication of knowledge to other people, but the acquisition and synthesizing of knowledge for oneself.” -Ta-Nehisi Coates

When I was younger I would write occasionally. I liked the idea of writing but didn’t have the discipline to write with any consistency. Around 2014, I dedicated myself to writing (Which, non-coincidentally, was around the same time I started reading more).

Since then I have written over 1000 pages in journals, blog posts, poems and short stories. I don’t share the vast majority of what I write. I write to process the world around me and within me.

Even if you have no interest in sharing what you write, write to process information and experiences for yourself.

12. When you know better, do better… It’s painful not to.

There have been many times I’ve seen the light and chosen to ignore it. I waited too long to end a bad relationship, I stayed at a job I had outgrown, and I didn’t change my diet after I discovered how bad it was for my health and the environment. The internal turmoil I experienced from continuing to do the wrong thing, when I knew the right thing to do, was painful.

Change isn’t easy and you will experience growing pains. But the pain you feel from growth is a good pain. A purposeful pain. A healing pain. A pain with an end in sight. Whereas the pain you experience from inaction cuts deep and will continue to make you suffer until you do better.

13. It is okay to not want children… or to not know if you want children… even at 30.

When I was 16 I would have told you I wanted 4+ children. At 21, I would have said 2. But in my mid to late twenties, I started to wonder if I ever wanted children, or if I just wanted what I was taught to want? Did I internalize the belief that the only way for a woman to be successful/fulfilled is to become a mother? Is that true? I don’t know… but I don’t think so.

If I ever have children, it will be because I decided it was something I truly want, not because I feel pressured by society to have them.

Question your desires. Ask yourself where they originated and if they actually make sense to you. 

14. Learn from experience.

I learned more during my 10 months of traveling and 6 months of subsequent research than I did in my entire academic career. Traveling, researching, and sharing my experiences has impacted me in ways formal education never did.

Life experiences have shown me what matters and what I want to learn more about, what I need to learn more about, and how I can use that knowledge to make a positive impact on the world.

Everything that happens to you is trying to teach you something, pay attention. 

15. White privilege is real.

“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.” -Peggy Mcintosh, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

“White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.” -Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

“Being privileged doesn’t mean that you are always wrong and people without privilege are always right. It means that there is a good chance you are missing a few very important pieces of the puzzle.” -Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race

White Privilege Definition: inherent advantages possessed by a white person on the basis of their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice.

Many events that transpired in my first thirty years of life built upon and in conjunction with one another to awaken me to what it means to be white in the world. These experiences go back to my childhood but my most recent travels through Asia drove home the reality of white privilege.

Acknowledge your privilege!

16. Anti-racism work is necessary.

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” -Angela Davis

“If you live in this system of white supremacy, you are either fighting the system or you are complicit. There is no neutrality to be had towards systems of injustice, it is not something you can just opt out of.” –Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race

The western world was founded on white superiority. Despite the colorblind rhetoric of the last few decades, racism is woven into the fabric of our society. Children socialized in the west internalize racist ideology unknowingly. As these children grow up they uphold the structural racism of this society whether they like it or not.

The western world, and the racism it is built on, pervades nearly every corner of the globe thanks to colonialism, tourism, and the internet. In today’s world, being not racist is not enough, we must be anti-racist.

Check out this article about the anti-racist movement by Ijeoma Oluo.

Audit the negative racial biases you have internalized and commit to anti-racism. 

17. I am an Intersectional Feminist.

Feminism Definition: the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.

Intersectional Feminism Definition: a branch of feminism which identifies how different aspects of social and political discrimination overlap with gender. Black feminist scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined the term in 1989.

In my early adult life I was, more or less, going with the program outlined by the American Dream. I internalized the belief that in order to be fully fulfilled and accepted I had to become a wife and mother (in addition to whatever else I wanted to be).

I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to travel to places like the Middle East and Mexico, covering topics like politics, religion and war. I decided against that though because I thought it was too impractical and dangerous… for a future wife and mother. My freshman year of college I chose to study elementary education because it would lead to a more realistic career.

In my mid twenties I started to wake up. I realized I could do and be more than I had ever imagined I could. By taking bigger risks I plowed through what I once thought were immovable barriers. I was bold and living my life unapologetically. It would be years before I realized I was fighting back against decades of internalized gender inequality.

I finally connected to the feminist movement when I started researching white privilege and anti-racism. It was this article by Rachel Cargle that got my attention.

“Intersectionality in feminism is vital. We cannot forget the ways that suffragettes dismissed the voices of black women, sending them to the backs of their marches, only for black activists like Ida B. Wells and Anna Julia Cooper to make major moves while fighting for the vote in tandem with their fight for rights as black people—ultimately shifting the shape of this country. If there is not the intentional and action-based inclusion of women of color, then feminism is simply white supremacy in heels.” -Rachel Cargle, When Feminism is White Supremacy in Heels

It took acknowledging the ways in which white skin privileged me to understand the ways in which being female oppressed me.

Stand up for the rights of ALL women.

18. Travel is a privilege.

Speaking English, carrying a US passport, being white, being healthy, being thin, and earning in US currency are some the privileges that have made traveling accessible to me.

Acknowledge the privileges that make traveling possible for you. Respect the countries and cultures you visit. Learn the local language. Eat local food. Read books written by local authors. Connect with local people.  

19. Live below your means. 

Once I started to make more money than I needed, things changed… All of a sudden, I realized how old and small my car was, how long it had been since I bought new clothes, and how the decor in my house wasn’t “me” enough. I used my hard work and long hours at the salon to justify my increased spending.

After awhile I had accumulated a bit of credit card debt and wasn’t able to take time off, or travel, because I had to maintain the spendy lifestyle I’d created. It wasn’t me and it definitely wasn’t worth it.

Do not spend money on things you don’t need or that don’t add value to your life. Period.

20. Wear sunscreen.

When I was 25 I went to the dermatologist for a general checkup. I honestly have no clue what happened because I froze when the doctor said something didn’t look right.

Now, I have a very ugly scar on my right shoulder that I’m pretty sure wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t gotten sunburned four thousand times.

Wear sunscreen.

21. Drink water first thing in the morning.

Every single morning I drink a bottle of water as soon as I wake up. It has changed my life. As I drink it I can feel my sinuses opening up, my tension headache dissipating and my internal organs waking up.

Drink a whole bottle of water as soon as you wake up in the morning.

22. Waking up early is the secret to life. 

I considered myself a tried and true night owl until yoga introduced me to the beauty of morning. At Suan Sati, a yoga retreat in Chiang Mai Thailand, I woke up everyday at 5:30am for two weeks straight. A few months later I attended a yoga teacher training in Rishikesh, India and woke up at 5:30am everyday for a month. The teacher training  solidified my early bird status. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve slept past 6:30am since my yoga teacher training ended in October 2018.

The stillness of early morning is perfect for writing, reading, exercising, meditating or practicing yoga.

Wake up early!

23.  Meditate.

“I sit in silence and find whenever I meditate- My fears alleviate, my tears evaporate- My faith don’t deviate, ideas don’t have a date- But see i’m growing and getting strong with every breath- Bringing me closer to heaven’s doors with every step- As we speak I’m in peace, no longer scared to die.” -J. Cole

I was first introduced to meditation at Suan Sati in Chiang Mai, Thailand in May of 2018. The meditation practice cleared my mind and reduced my anxiety in unanticipated ways. Last month I attended a ten day silent meditation course in rural Illinois that took my meditation practice even further (more on that later).

Give meditation a try!

24.  Never give up and always let go.

“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction.” -The Bhagavad Gita (2:47)

This lesson is something I have aspired to live by my whole life. However, yoga gave me the language necessary to articulate it.

Never give up and always let go – Practice and non-attachment – Abhyasa and vairagya.

This is the core teaching of Bhagavad Gita, an important ancient Indian text that is the basis for Hinduism and yoga philosophy. I read the Bhagavad Gita before going to India. It was like reading an old story I knew well but had forgotten about. It spoke to me unlike anything else ever has.

Never give up on your goals, dreams or mission, but always let go of the outcome of your action. If on your path things go horribly, accept it, change course if necessary, but never give up on the goal. If things go perfectly, do not get attached to the fruits of your actions. Accept the rewards and use them to propel yourself on your journey, but do not let the fruits become your sole motivation.

25. The only thing you can change is yourself. Don’t underestimate this power. 

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” -Mahatma Gandhi

I felt defeated when I first realized this because want to change the world. I want to hold everyone accountable and call out injustice and failure every time I witness it.

But, I have learned that I cannot force anyone to change. More importantly, I learned that when I get angry or annoyed by someone else, I am really judging myself for my own shortcomings. In these moments I know I am the one who needs to make a change.

Start with you. Make positive changes. Hold yourself accountable. Your changes will inspire others to change. 

26. A different version of you exists inside the mind of every person you’ve ever met.

Every person who has ever met me has formed an opinion about me that I can do nothing about.

It used to bother me that there are people in the world who don’t like me. It used to make me feel like Pam from The Office- “I hate the idea that someone out there hates me. I even hate thinking that al-Qaeda hates me… I think if they got to know me, they wouldn’t hate me. But Karen knows me, and she still hates me.” [Pout face]

I have learned that all I can do is give my best, apologize when I am wrong and live my truth.

You are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that is a-okay!

27. What you eat impacts everything. Eat consciously.

I ate like garbage until my early twenties. Around age 23 or 24 I started my plant based journey. Along the way I have been a vegetarian, a pescatarian, and a flexitarian. I have also had a few complete relapses.

In January of 2019 I adopted a vegan lifestyle.

For plant-based health inspiration watch Forks Over Knives on Netflix and read The China Study.

For plant-based animal liberation inspiration watch Earthings.

For plant-based environmental inspiration watch Cowspiracy and What the Health.

Do your research, make your own conclusions, and eat what makes sense for you!

28. By saying yes to marriage in your early twenties, you are saying no to so many things you don’t know exist yet.

When I said “yes” to a marriage proposal at 23 years old, I meant it. In that moment, I had no idea what I was simultaneously saying “no” to. A lot people I know who got married in their early twenties and are rocking it. But, I also know many people who woke up at 27, 30 or 36 and realized how much they missed out on in their young adulthood.

Think about what you might be saying “no” to when you say “yes.”

29. You can have it all, just not all at the same time.

Sometime between my college graduation, getting engaged and calling off my wedding a client said this to me. I really felt it.

I am beyond fortunate to have different paths available to me, but sometimes I get overwhelmed by trying to walk them all at the same time. Other times I freeze with indecision.

You can be, do, and experience anything you want to, so long as you don’t try to do everything at once.

30. You will forever be, becoming you.

“You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were 5 minutes ago.” –Alan Watts

At age 30, I have 12 years of adulthood under my belt and nine thousand different versions of myself on record. Over the years, I have made some obvious changes to my lifestyle and physical appearance as well as some not so obvious ones.

I have often made the mistake of reaching a new version of myself and thinking “Ahah, this is who I was always meant to be.” And yes, in that moment it is exactly who I am meant to be. But that doesn’t mean I will be that way forever or that a previous version of me was wrong.

My life is a never ending journey of growing, changing and evolving into a better version of myself. If you knew me yesterday, you may not recognize me today.

Do not get attached to who you are today, who you were yesterday, or who you hope to be in the future. Accept exactly who you are in this moment. Embrace the journey of becoming you- it’s never ending.