36 Things I've Learned in 36 Years

Cake from my birthday dinner at El Chorro this year. Instagram @jesuisjustemoi

It was recently my birthday. 36. Which, oddly, I like better than 35. I know. I'm weird. I think it's because 3 goes into 6, like, I just like the math better...ok, moving on lol.

I've always had an odd relationship to my birthday. When I was a kid it was a blast, because every year meant a new party for all my friends at whatever Army post we were living on at the time. And also a new amazing cake baked by my mom with buttercream frosting....oh those were the days! I had every kind of cake design you could imagine. Including a Popple. Does anyone remember Popples? 

As I've gotten older, by by older I mean, entered adulthood, birthdays have gotten more complicated. Lives change, friends get jobs and start families and my social group is pretty scattered these days. But I still managed to be overwhelmed by messages of love and birthday wishes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by friends all over the world, some who've I've known for years and many new friends that I've made through YouTube and have never met in person. It was amazing. 

This year I decided to take a casual approach to my birthday. No pressure on myself to arrange a large dinner with all my friends and family. No Facebook event to set up to plan it all. Pretty much no plans at all. Which I worried would make my birthday depressing, but it actually had the opposite result. I can pretty much say it was the best birthday I've had in years! It started on Thursday with a long afternoon out with my bestie Taylor for lunch, shopping, and then dessert at my favorite place in Kierland Commons, Zinc Bistro. Then Friday, my actual birthday, just a slow, lazy afternoon at the mall, shopping and watching a movie (Hidden Figures, it was amazing and you all need to see it!) and then writing on my poor, neglected novel for an hour at Starbucks, before picking up Chinese dinner to take home to enjoy while watching YouTube and then a cupcake from Caketini and a mini bottle of Brut Rosé to cap off the evening. It was perfection. Saturday I slept in....really late. It was glorious. Then I took my time to really do my hair and makeup (I haven't looked that good in months lol!) before meeting my family for dinner at El Chorro, and amazing restaurant in Paradise Valley. Such a great evening! Then to finish of the birthday celebrations, on Sunday my mom, sister and I did our usual lunch at Zinc Bistro (twice in one week is definitely a special treat for me) where I splurged on parmesan truffle fries, prosecco, and chocolate soufflé. All in all a perfect day. And a perfect birthday. I've definitely learned that birthdays are more fun when you spread them out into a long weekend!

But I've also learned a few more things over the years and I thought it would be fun to list them out. So here are 36 things I've learned in 36 years...

1. Be kind. No one likes a jerk. They don't respect them either. Kindness will always get you farther in life, even if it doesn't feel like it in the moment. No matter what society tries to tell you, nice people don't always finish last.

2. Being kind doesn't mean being a doormat. This took me longer to learn. Being nice doesn't mean allowing people to take advantage of you. It takes time and it's a little different for everyone, but you really do have to learn how to stand up for yourself and not take other people's crap but to do it in a way that still lets you take the high road and maintain a positive reputation. That's probably a separate blog post though.

3. Everything is better with a bit of sparkle. It just is. When in doubt, throw some glitter on it. This works for everything from home decor to the annoying colleague or classmate. Though, in the case of the latter, better to send them an anonymous envelop filled with glitter. There are online companies that can help you with this. No joke. See here.* 
*Disclaimer: I'm not responsible for the consequences should you decide to cover your annoying colleague or classmate in glitter. That's entirely on you.

4. Smiling helps. Even when I'm having a crap day, making myself smile, or finding something that genuinely makes me smile, always makes me feel at least a little better. I have a whole Pinterest board called, "Random things that make me smile", it always works. And if that fails, popping in Singing in the Rain, and skipping to the scene where Donald O'Connor sings "Make 'Em Laugh" never fails. Ever.

5. But sometimes crying helps more. It's ok to cry. Sometimes it's necessary. Bottling that emotion up is only toxic. So have a good cry. Put on a movie that always makes you sob like a baby. Get it out of your system. Then see item #4. But seriously, it's ok to cry.

6. And sometimes, you need more than just something to make you smile or to have a good cry. When you find that #4 and #5 just aren't cutting it, it's time to turn to the professionals. Go to a therapist! That's ok too! In fact, it's more than ok, it's pretty awesome. For a few reasons. 1) You're getting the help you need and the tools to help you move forward. 2) Sometimes we all need an objective 3rd party to listen to us. Friends and family love giving advice but it's always colored by their history with you. 3) Those 45 minutes sessions are entirely about you, it's literally the one time it's 110% ok to be selfish. I love that!

7. It's great to treat yourself sometimes. Not everyone is a shopaholic like me, so this can manifest itself in a number of different ways. When I get through a rough time or a massive project, I like to reward myself with a new purchase. But for you, maybe it's taking a Saturday to just sleep in, or an afternoon to just read or go for an extra long bike ride, maybe it's buying a new video game and playing it for hours. Or going and getting a blowout at the salon or a mani/pedi. Or a luxury meal at a fancy restaurant. Whatever. The point is, if you've been sticking to your daily grind for a long time and working your backside off with no break, take some time to reward yourself in whatever way feels the most lavish and decadent. You've earned it.

I love to not only stop and smell the roses but to also pick up some fresh ones every couple weeks or so. Instagram @jesuisjustemoi
8. Stop and smell the roses. No, really. If you don't have roses, then any flower will do. If you don't have flowers, then stop and look up at the clouds or take a window seat in your local coffee shop and watch people go by outside. Whatever you do, take a moment...stop...take a deep breath...be aware of your surroundings. Stop letting life just race by without noticing it.

9. Do something nice for someone. Offer to babysit for a friend, bring someone dinner if you know they're going through a busy or stressful time, pay for the person behind you in the Starbucks drive thru, it doesn't matter how big or small the gesture is, just make that gesture. It will always be appreciated, and that kind of karma always comes back to you eventually.

10. Don't be afraid to dream. I used to feel bad for being a day dreamer and for having a wild imagination. And sure, it's gotten me in trouble occasionally (I'm great at coming up with worst case scenarios) but it's also gotten me to some pretty awesome places. Dreams are important. Don't ever let someone stifle them.

11. But remember, dreams aren't enough, you have to be prepared to work and work hard. I can dream all I want about getting a PhD. But I'm the only one who can go through the steps and and put in the hard work to actually achieve it. So...dream it, believe it, work at it, achieve it.

Just one of many PhD work sessions at Starbucks. Instagram @jesuisjustemoi

12. Don't rush grief. And don't let anyone else rush you through it. We all respond to grief differently and there is no set timeline. Yes, we've all heard of the 7 stages of grief, but those stages last for different amounts of time for each person. So if you're going through something devastating, whether that's getting laid off, breaking up with your significant other, or a loved one passing away, don't let anyone tell that you need to "get over it". Grief is tragic and crushing and knocks everything out of you. And only you can put yourself back together. If the loss is particularly difficult I recommend a grief counselor or other therapist to help you work through everything. You don't have to do it alone, if you have friends and family supporting you that's great, but often they might be grieving the same loss or might simply not have the capability of supporting you emotionally longterm. Working with a professional can be enormously helpful in realizing that what you're feeling is completely normal and give you the strength to fully work through the trauma of your grief.

13. Love deeply. Don't be afraid. It hurts like hell if/when you lose it, but it is always worth it.

14. Don't be afraid. Life is big and scary and it's easy (and tempting) to stay in bed under the covers. But get out there and live your life. Push yourself. Take small steps if you need to, but challenge yourself.

15. Eat good food. Moderation is healthy, but life is short, so for goodness sake, eat good food. Indulge. Bake the cake and eat it too. When I was still doing course work for my PhD, I loved baking cookies and muffins and bringing them to class. It allowed me to make my favorite sweet treats without being tempted to eat the whole batch by myself. But you can also plan trips once or twice a month to your favorite restaurants to have amazing food that you either couldn't or wouldn't cook for yourself. Order dessert. Don't feel guilty and don't regret it. 

I never regret French toast at Zinc Bistro. Instagram @jesuisjustemoi
16. Be open to other cultures. If you can afford to, travel. If you can't travel then read, watch YouTube travel vlogs, watch documentaries on Netflix or PBS, but broaden your horizons somehow. Try food from different countries. Learn a language. Visit local cultural centers. Living in Phoenix there's a large Chinese Cultural Center. There are also a number of Mexican and Hispanic organizations. And of course a ton of Native American reservations, historical cites, cultural centers, etc. Most cities and countries have a lot locally that can help you experience cultures different from what you were raised in. The more we explore and learn more about what it's like outside our own bubble, the better we can be as a global society.

17. Find a hobby. Knitting, running, writing, starting a YouTube channel (lol), it doesn't matter. Just find something you love, that brings you joy and satisfaction. That connects you to others if you are looking for connection, or that gives you peaceful solitude if you're looking for quiet. Find something you do just for you, and not because it's something you have to do. No matter how busy you are, even if you only indulge in that hobby once a month, when you find something you truly love even that limited time is so worth it. And you'll find that because it fills you with so much satisfaction you will start making more time for it.

18. Don't give up on relationships that matter to you. Keep calling and texting to let that friend or family member know that you care. You don't have to spend a lot of time and energy on this. And sometimes relationships change and evolve. But sometimes people are going through things they can't articulate, and getting your calls and messages mean they still have a lifeline to you. If they matter to you, make sure they know the door is always open. 

19. Let go of the toxic in your life. This kind of relates to #18. Sometimes the relationship doesn't really matter to us. Sometimes it's downright toxic. It makes us feel small and horrible about ourselves. We've all had that friend or family member that even five minutes with them leaves us feeing worse about ourselves than we did before we saw them. Let them go. It's really not worth it. Either they're legitimately a jerk and a horrible human or they are going through something that's causing their toxic behavior. If it's the former, just let them go and walk away. If it's the latter try to get them help if you can. Get them into therapy or rehab or whatever they need. But leave it to the professionals and then choose if you want to remain open to repairing the damage and rebuilding bridges after they've sorted out their lives. But it's not your responsibility to save them. We all can only save ourselves. You are not obligated to take abuse of any kind from someone else and it's not selfish to let go of toxic people in your life. It's the same principle as the airline safety directions to put on your own oxygen mask before helping the people around you.

20. Read. Read as much as possible from as many genres and sources as you can. Try out books you normally wouldn't turn to. You might be surprised.

21. Don't compare. As Mark Twain is quoted, "Comparison is the death of joy." Comparing yourself to others is a spiral of misery you don't need. 

22. Take a drive. Or if you don't have a car, take a random bus or train, or go for a walk in a different direction than you normally take. Whatever you mode of transportation, the point is to wander, a bit aimlessly, if you're driving or walking, just start taking random lefts and rights and see where you end up. If you're on a bus or train, choose one you don't usually choose and then get off at a completely random stop. And then explore. Sometimes you find a great new restaurant or shop, sometimes you just find a quiet moment. Either way, you win. 
Sometimes a good road trip can really clear the mind. Instagram @jesuisjustemoi
23. Learn about your past. The good and the bad. Family histories are fascinating. Even if you don't have a good relationship with your family, learning about where you come from can be a huge benefit to your own personal growth. You might learn amazing things. You might learn incredibly painful things. You are not defined by your family or it's history, but learning about it can help you in your own life. It can give you a connection to something bigger than yourself or it can allow you be the first in the family to finally break a destructive chain of behaviors. Knowledge is power.

24. Listen to music. It makes our hearts and souls happy. I know some people say they don't like/need music in their life. I'm always a little suspicious of those people. Music is so powerful, embrace that power in your life. Crank up the music in the car. Dance around your house. Create the soundtrack to your life.

25. Tell the negativity committee that meets inside your head to sit down and shut up. (Found this on a postcard and thought it was awesome.)

26. Take risks. Ok, I don't mean stupid or dangerous risks. But if you find yourself in a situation where you would normally play it safe and back away, ask yourself, what do you really have to lose? Playing it safe is, well, safe. But it can also be boring and stifling. Take the job in another country. Go out with the guy who isn't your usual "type". Apply for graduate school. Sign up for those trapeze lessons you've dreamed of since you were a kid watching the circus. As the quote from a poem by Erin Hanson goes, "What if I fall? Oh, but my darling what if you fly?" Take the risk. Fly.

27. Inform and educate yourself. Learn about the news and current events from as many different credible and reputable sources as you can. If you're liberal look at reputable conservative sources. If you're conservative, read some more liberal sources. Don't stay trapped in your bubble or echo chamber. Even if you disagree with what you read, back up that disagreement with facts and evidence from your perspective. Be critically engaged.

28. Related to that...take a stand. Don't be passive. Stand up for what you believe in. And you can do this in really small ways. Obviously voting is crucial, especially in local elections. So is calling/writing/faxing your representatives and making your voice heard by them. But when it comes to systemic issues like racism, classism, sexism, ageism, ableism, basically any of the "isms" that are plaguing society, speaking up when we witness examples of these by our own social circles is the most important but also the scariest and hardest. When your friends make a racist or sexist "joke" call them out on it. My favorite way is to ask them (with a blank face) to explain the joke. When a joke is relying on sexist or racist stereotypes you're then forcing them to explain the stereotype and why you'd find it funny. When you stand by and let stereotypes and microagressions stand unopposed, you're supporting the system that feeds it. Don't be part of the problem, be part of the solution.
29. Don't be ashamed to have your spiritual beliefs, but also remember that you are one of a vast many people in this world to believe (or not) in a higher power. No matter what your chosen religion says about sharing your religion with others I'm pretty sure none of them promote being a jerk about it or forcing it down someone's throat. Pretty much every major religion has some version of the Golden Rule of treating others as you would like to be treated. Religious respect will get you much farther in this world than religious intolerance.

30. A saying that's always stuck with me is "be better today than you were yesterday, be better tomorrow than you were today." This always reminds me that today is a new day and to not be defined by yesterday. And if today is crap, it's ok, tomorrow is a new day and a new chance.

31. Laugh often and laugh loud. Smiling and crying, as mentioned above, is good. And so is laughing. When something legitimately funny happens, laugh and laugh loud, and don't care about who's watching.

32. Spend the occasional day in bed watching Netflix. Or reading a good book. Really. It's ok. No, you're not a failure of a human if you do this every now and then.

33. Make mistakes. Then learn from them. This kind of goes with #26. Sometimes risks lead to failure. And that's ok. That's part of life. When something doesn't work out you take a moment to figure out why it failed and you learn from that. Then you move forward. You don't stop taking risks because one or two ended in failure. You try again, taking a different path.

34. Be a kid. Kids can teach us a lot. We have some of our best life skills as children and then society "teaches" those skills out of us. Kids dream big, live and love hard, think outside the box, are silly, and don't give a flying flip what anyone thinks about them because they know they are awesome. Kids only start doubting themselves then the adults around them teach them to doubt themselves. The world that kids live in is a million times bigger than the world of adults. Sir Ken Robinson has some great TED Talks on kids and education and one of the things he talks about is the concept of divergent thinking. The average 5 year old can think of hundreds of uses for a paper clip. The average adult can usually only think of a half a dozen or so. In today's world that's a huge problem. I look at my friends and their amazing kids and I'm amazed at some of the things they say and do. I envy them the freedom they have at their age. Reclaim some of that freedom. Be a kid. Dream big, live and love hard, think outside the box, be silly, and don't give a flying flip what anyone thinks about you, because you are awesome.

35. Buy yourself flowers and jewelry. This is more for the single girls out there, but it could apply to anyone I suppose. Don't wait around for some future significant other to buy you flowers or jewelry as a gift for special occasions. If you have someone in your life that does this for you, fantastic. But if you don't, don't feel bad about it. Go buy your own flowers. Save your pennies and buy yourself that necklace or bracelet you've been longing for. I learned this pretty early on. If I waited for a guy to buy me jewelry I wouldn't have any. And ultimately this isn't really about flowers or jewelry. Some people don't care about those things. The point is, everyone as an idea of all the lovely things our future significant other will do for us. Don't wait. Do it yourself. Plan the night at the great restaurant you've wanted to try. Book the weekend away at the charming B&B you've always wanted to try. Organize the adventure camping trip. Spend the lazy day on the couch reading a book. Sure, these things are great to fantasize about doing with a special person. But why wait? Don't put your life on hold while waiting for someone to come along. Treat yourself with the same time and attention you expect your future significant other to treat you with. Set that standard and find someone who meets it.
Just a couple pieces of jewelry I've bought myself lol. Instagram @jesuisjustemoi
And finally...

36. Be yourself. I could write a whole blog post about this, but I'll keep it brief....You are the only you on this planet. You are wonderful and imperfectly perfect just as you are. In this hyped up social media age where we see carefully constructed and captured "perfect" moments in other people's lives it's an easy trap to want to be someone else. To believe your life would be better/easier/happier if you were them. But we all have issues, no one's life is perfect. The one thing we all have going for us is that we are the only one of us in this world. I'm the only me out there. I am unique and different and special. I am my own weird and wonderful combination of likes, dislikes, quirks, knowledge, experiences...there is no one else exactly like me. And that's amazing. My favorite people in my life are the ones who are unashamedly 100% their own authentic self. It's taken me 36 years, but I've finally learned in the last 6 years or so of that time that being myself is the one thing that I can do better than anyone else. 

Me at Christmas with my family's black lab Luna.


  1. Wait... it's ok to spend the day doing something that isn't work? Really? Are you sure? Haha, I'm quite tempted to give it a go actually, I don't think I've had a solid day of Netflix since university!


    1. Do it! These days I kind of have to plan which day I'll do nothing, though sometimes my fibromyalgia forces me into it lol. Sometimes I also will spend the morning being super productive and then do nothing the rest of the day, or have a really slow morning and then work in the afternoon. But I still try to have at least one Saturday a month that I just stay in bed all day and do absolutely nothing. It's so worth it. :)


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