*Originally published September 2019
If you consider how many things can kill you right now, plus all the things that could’ve killed you previously, it seems pretty magical that you’ve made it this far. If you’re someone who dreads their birthday and hates “feeling old” — consider how many people wanted to reach your age but didn’t because their life was cut short. Every year, or half year, that you’re alive is a gift.
Here’s what I’ve learned during my 25½ years:
1. Nothing really matters….
Considering there’s an eternity of past behind my birth and an eternity of future beyond my death, my existence is infinitesimal. I’m a blink in time. Does it matter that I embarrassed myself or failed at something? Nope. It’s easy to get lost in regret, anger, envy, or other things that just. Don’t. Matter.
2. …And yet, everything matters.
Telling my mom I love her while I’m able to matters, the effort I put into achieving my goals matters, how appreciated I make my friends feel matters, my relationships with my siblings matter, the quality of experiences I create for myself matters. The way I spend my limited time on earth is what matters.
3. Ignore people who say you’re “too much.” Those aren’t your people.
If I listened to everyone who told me I’m “too aggressive” or “too sarcastic” or just “too much” I would not be much of anything at all. Not everyone I meet likes the intensity of my personality, but I don’t like how boring they are, so it works out.
4. Caring for yourself is the real “fuck you” to the universe.
Being cruel to myself used to feel righteous, like a passive protest against pain from experiences beyond my control. I starved myself of sleep and tenderness because it felt sharp and radical and that’s what I wanted to be. I’ve since realized that the universe will only jade and torment you if you let it, and loving yourself is the real protest.
5. You can heal from suffering by realizing what the pain gave you.
My dad died suddenly six days after my 16th birthday. Experiencing a loss like this unveils a really wild new amount of life. The range from the depth of sadness you can feel to the high of gratitude you can feel just explodes. For me, the spectrum from happy to sad isn’t a foot wide anymore, it’s a mile long. The sadness part really sucks. But the happiness part makes me crave life and chase what I want from it with a voracity that only loss can breed.
6. Intellectual and social wins are quick and unexpected.
Your pool of options for friends and romantic partners is unlimited, so why waste your time “working” on a relationship? For every sucker who makes you feel shitty, there’s someone who’d make you feel spectacular, unconditionally. You just need to find them… and you can’t do so if you’re invested in bland, disconnected, or passionless relationships.
7. Don’t overthink reversible decisions.
I stole this from Jeff Bezos and he’s somewhat successful, so his advice is worth considering. This heuristic made me move to San Francisco, one of the best decisions of my life. It took all of five minutes to decide to pack up and leave New York, simply because I knew I could always go back.
8. Be cognizant of others’ sensitivities.
My friend once said she overheard a therapy session. She texted our groupchat to say how “lucky” we all are for not having anxiety or depression, like the therapist’s patients did. She was “so thankful” none of us deal with “that stuff.” I was both dumbfounded and heartbroken. The obtusity of these comments devastated me. I’d been going to therapy for six years at that point, trying to ease the torturous depression and anxiety I’ve been battling since childhood. To be fair, I’d never told my friends this, so maybe the lesson should really be “don’t expect people to know something you don’t tell them.” My friend did know some of the hardships I’ve faced, though. I couldn’t believe it didn’t even cross her mind that maybe I wasn’t always ok.
9. Fun is subjective.
There are entire days where I stay inside reading, and I sometimes pass up going out to the bars for a book. People think this is weird and call me “antisocial.” In reality, I just really fucking love to read. It’s fun. Going to bars is also fun, but it’s my decision what kind of fun I want to have and when. I don’t care what people think about how I spend my time.
10. Know what you don’t know.
You will never become smarter pretending you know something that you don’t. You will always become smarter asking questions and recognizing your knowledge gaps.
11. Grieve what you lose.
I didn’t just physically lose my dad when he died. Our relationship was troubled and his death marked perpetuity of our unresolved issues. It took me a long time to realize that grief isn’t limited to people, it extends to intangible things, like opportunities. I’ll never have the chance to talk to my dad again, and I had to grieve the loss of possibility that our relationship would improve, the same way I had to grieve the loss of him in physical form.
12. Put yourself first.
I worked at a bakery in high school. One day the fridge briefly stopped working, so employees got to take that day’s cakes home instead of selling them. The manager gave me first pick and trying to be polite, I said I’d take “whichever one no else wants.” Her response: “No. Put yourself first. No one else is thinking of you when choosing their cake. Don’t think about anyone else when choosing what you want.”
13. Finishing a book doesn’t always mean reading it cover to cover.
I learned this from my favorite modern-day philosopher, Naval Ravikant. There are so many books with so much value to offer and I have limited time to read them. Why should I feel obligated to finish one that’s anything less than fascinating just because I started it? You finish a book when you’re done taking what it has to offer you.
14. Who you work with matters.
Time is the most precious commodity we have and we spend 40+ hours of it each week at work. Why would you spend such a valuable asset among people you don’t even like? I want to feel motivated and inspired so I won’t stand to work with toxic people. The sacrifice for money isn’t worth the time I can’t get back.
15. Vulnerability is powerful.
At surface level, vulnerability contradicts what I stand for: I want to be fierce, unstoppable, a force not to be fucked with. And yet, when I look back, the moments where I’ve felt most empowered were my most vulnerable points. There is a confidence-inducing ease that comes exposing your deeply hidden truths.
16. Put your skin in the game.
Bearing the consequences—whether good or bad—of your actions takes your life from passive to active. It makes victories more fulfilling and losses more enlightening.
17. Check in on your friends, even the “happy” ones.
Social media, among other things, makes it easy to create a facade of happiness and wellbeing. As someone who keeps a steel wall between my darkness and the world, I’ve received emphatic shock from friends after opening up. I’ve also received room to candidly speak without judgement. What you want to offer people you care about is the latter.
18. Ask for what you want.
On a whim, I asked a well-known crypto VC to meet me for coffee. Without any upside for her, she said yes. She also spent time answering all my questions and giving me stellar advice. On a different occasion, I DM’ed the editor in chief of a major business publication asking to discuss an idea I had. The ask turned into a needle-moving partnership for my client. There are so many doors to be opened if you just ask for the key.
19. Say whatever you want while you’re able to.
A chapter of When Breath Becomes Air describes a patient with a neurological condition that enables him to hear and comprehend language, but limits him to speaking in numbers. He communicated normally before sustaining the condition from a TBI. His vigorous and responsive vocalization of numbers indicates his desperation to be understood. Imagine this happening to you tomorrow. Say what you want to today.
20. Consider your actions from others’ perspective.
There are so many times where I think “I would NEVER treat you like this” when someone does something shitty. I always wonder how they could not realize their shittiness. Sometimes it’s because I’m being dramatic, but usually it’s because they are too myopic to see how their actions impact others.
21. Use “sorry” sparingly.
I used to apologize for things I wasn’t sorry for in situations where an apology wasn’t deserved. There are obvious exceptions, but don’t admit fault to something you aren’t at fault for. Save “sorry” for situations where you actually feel apologetic, it’ll mean more.
22. Do what makes you envious.
After college, one of my best friends moved from Philly to LA. I was tremendously happy for her, but was also thinking “I wish I could do that.” Then I realized: I could. It hasn’t been easy at all, but I’ve decided to forge my own path in SF. I scoff when people say things like “you’re so lucky you got to move west!” But I’m not “lucky” and I didn’t “get” to do shit. I made this happen for myself because I wanted this life here. There’s nothing separating me from people who “wish” they could pick up and move besides the will to do so.
23. Raise your hand.
I didn’t do well in high school because I don’t like being told what to do. It wasn’t until college that I realized the power and independence that comes with nurturing your brain and actively learning. I sat in the front row and participated in college because I wanted to exploit the knowledge my professors shed and use it to my advantage. Learning new things opens new doors and makes you unstoppable.
24. Balance is bullshit.
I love what I do and that makes work feel like play. I’m often told I need more “work-life balance” — a concept clearly invented by people who hate what they do for a living. Balance is a futile and dehydrating pursuit. Find what you love and go all in.
25. If you’re sure enough of yourself, no one can hurt you.
I am keenly aware of both my worth and my weaknesses. I’ve done enough self-exploration to form an opinion of myself so strong that no one’s approval or disapproval can faze me because in my life, my opinion reigns supreme.