Every time my birthday rolls around, I take a moment to reflect on what I’ve experienced and what I hope to accomplish with a new year ahead. This usually means casually chit-chatting with a friend, or jotting down a few notes in my trusty red Moleskine. Since this year marks my big 2–5, my quarter-life crisis, my maiden voyage into true adulthood, I figured it was go big or go home. Here are 25 lessons I’ve learned in my 25 years of life.
1. Embrace change.
Moving to Denver from San Francisco was gut-wrenching. I left my best friends, a life I loved, and a magnificent city bursting with culture, acceptance, and the best kind of weirdness. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that I ushered in a new stage of my life — one that has brought ineffable growth through new environments, new perspectives, and new ways of living. The friends I met in San Francisco will be my friends for life, regardless of where I am on this big beautiful planet — that’s what makes them so special. I now know that I’m building upon the life I’ve made for myself, not replacing the one I already had. If you’re weary of change, realize that it is the most monumental way to grow. Welcome the uncomfortable, and embrace the unfamiliar — the uneasiness won’t last forever, but what you learn from it will last a lifetime.
2. Say “yes” by saying “no.”
When deciding how to allocate your time, utilize The Law of “F*ck Yes or No.” Here’s how it works: If you’re not inspired to say “Hell Yeah!” to something, then just say “no”. Time is your most limited, most precious resource, and that gives you permission to be brutally honest — with both yourself and others — about how you want to spend it. Saying “no” to certain things will allow you to say “yes” to the things that truly matter. You’ll be doing less, but you’ll be doing everything fully, and with far much joy.
3. Tell your parents you love them.
For many, your 20’s is when you’re fully able to humanize your parents. You’ve probably got full-time job and real responsibilities — a glimpse of what real life is like — and can begin to comprehend the tremendous amount of time, effort, and love they’ve devoted to you. Plus, here’s (scary) food for thought. When you’ve graduated from high-school, you’ve likely already used up 93% of your in-person parent time, and you’re now enjoying the last 7% of that time. Cherish the precious time you have with your parents. Tell them you love them.
You’ll gain valuable knowledge that you could never learn sitting at an office desk, and you’ll discover more about who you are along the way. When everything around you is foreign, you learn to anchor yourself in your own identity, bringing trust, familiarity, and a sense of home wherever you wander. And, at least once in your life, I challenge you to take a trip where you’re living as (close to) authentically as the locals. Opt-out of the all-inclusive resort and into the homestay. Strike up conversations and ask them about their lives. Adventure into the street food scene. Immersing yourself in a vastly different culture will broaden the horizons your mind exists on.
5. Surround yourself with good people.
Happiness is contagious! But so is dysphoria, cattiness, and toxicity. Humans are exceptionally receptive beings, so surround yourself with friends who bring out the best in you. People who are deeply good, to their core. People who believe in the beauty of your dreams. These are the people you want by your side.
6. Invest in quality.
Just as you invest in quality relationships, you should also invest in quality items. Consider the things you use on a daily basis: your mattress, a toothbrush, a coffee maker perhaps? Take extra care when purchasing these products, and choose the one that’s manufactured well. Even if it means spending a bit more money upfront, quality items will easily pay for themselves by lasting beyond the normal expectancy. My favorite pair of wedged sandals? I splurged on them for my high school graduation — but still wear them to this day. The number of crappy sandals I’ve discarded throughout the years could have paid for those three times over.
7. Learn to let go.
There’s a video going around on Facebook about holding a cup of water. Holding the cup for a minute is a breeze, but holding the cup for a whole day can incur some serious pain. That’s what harboring anger, stress, or resentment is like. It’s okay to feel those negative emotions. Feel them fully, and take your time if you need to. But once you’ve acknowledged and come to terms with those feelings, learn to let them go. Holding grudges and negative emotions won’t do you any good. Consider this quote by Eckhart Tolle, author of one of my favorite books, The Power of Now:
“Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.”
8. Commit to a hobby.
One of my favorite things about coming home to New York is hearing my dad play the piano. His hands move as dexterously as I remember them growing up, playing Chopin études and Rachmaninoff’s Moments Musicaux with ease. He’s played the piano for 56 years — competitively as a kid in Taiwan, and now as a creative outlet to treasure for many years to come. Find a craft that you can enjoy for the rest of your life — one that can serve as a therapy session, an expression of joy, or a way to remember the beauty that surrounds you. And, the glorious thing about art is that your practice is never truly “done” — it’s something you can return to again and again.
9. Keep in touch with your inner child.
Children have enviable qualities: relentlessly curious, unabashed ambition, imagination as wild as their compassion for others. Remember what you were like as a child. What did you do for fun? Those activities, as childish as they may be, can offer a window into where your true passion lies. Explore this world with the playfulness of a child, and give clout to your original hopes and dreams.
10. Shift your thinking onto a spectrum.
Things are rarely ever black and white. In fact, viewing anything — whether it’s someone’s identity, political issues, or cultural matters — through confined choices will narrow your thinking. The world is much more nuanced than that. Avoid creating dichotomies and instead, start to notice where things blend. Is this good or bad? Do I agree with this candidate or that candidate? Should I follow my head, or my heart? Perhaps the answer is “both.”
11. Dare to be different.
People do exceptional things when they forge their own paths, not when they blindly follow the footsteps of others. The tech industry alone is legendarily built on the brilliance of college dropouts. Now, I’m not saying that everyone should drop out of school, but rather that each individual should consider what’s uniquely right for them. Regardless of what society often preaches, there are infinite routes to success.
12. Remember that we are all one.
My favorite translation of “Namaste” is this: I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light, and of peace. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are one.”
I take this as a reminder that we all experience the same struggles in life. They may manifest in different forms but at the end of the day, there is a common bond that links us all together. We are all human. Remembering this will allow you to sympathize with someone you thought you’d never be able to relate to.
13. Don’t let your elevator pitch define who you are.
I once met a man who was deeply perturbed when I asked him the question, “What do you do?” He believed it was a shallow question, and that his identity couldn’t be summed up in a simple answer. Facetiously, he rattled off a list, “I eat, I sleep, I dream, I make art…” I thought he was being silly, until I pondered it further and realized there was truth to his response. Why should your day job dictate your identity? Why are we so quick to label ourselves as a developer, a lawyer, or a waitress, but not a gamer, a poet, or an artist? You are multi-faceted being who is constantly evolving — don’t let your go-to introduction inadvertently trick you into thinking otherwise.
14. Prioritize self-care.
When’s the last time you indulged in something solely for yourself? Odds are, you don’t do it enough. Whether that means drawing a hot bath, playing a pick-up game of soccer, or setting aside time to read a good book, self-care means something different to each individual. Carve out time in your schedule for things you may consider luxuries. Not only will taking care of yourself make you happier, but it’ll also allow you to better take care of others. Also, I’m sure this goes without saying, but take the time to eat nourishing foods, and exercise your mind and body. Above all, nothing is more important than your health.
15. Follow excitement.
I’m sure you’ve heard time and time again to “follow your passion.” If you know your passion, that’s amazing. Go do that. But many of us, myself included, aren’t quite sure what our sole purpose in life is — and that’s okay. And, as #13 alluded to, maybe you won’t have a single purpose in life — maybe its two, or three, or four — and that’s also okay! If “follow your passion” seems daunting to you, ask yourself this instead: What excites you? Think about the activities you gravitate towards, the things you daydream of, or even the things you wish you had time to do. This is a more digestible way to explore what truly stirs your soul, without getting intimidated by the grandeur of “passion.”
16. Give yourself permission to fail.
Failure is inevitable. It’s bound to happen at least once or twice in your life, and if you’re doing anything remotely daring, your chances of failure will increase exponentially. But once you come to terms with its inevitability, failure is a lot easier to handle. Instead of labeling a setback as a negative experience, turn it into a learning opportunity. Use it to fuel your next endeavor. Remember that your failures make your successes that much sweeter.
17. Trust in life’s process.
I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. That everything, no matter how random, pointless, or nonsequential it may seem, is somehow connected and purposeful. If you’re not into the hippie-dippy notion of “the Universe has its plan for you,” then consider Steve Job’s trajectory instead. After dropping out of college, he took a class in calligraphy and became fascinated with the art. Although it had no practical application at the time, he utilized that knowledge 10 years later to create something insanely innovative — the first Mac computer. That computer was the first of its kind to have beautiful typography, setting the precedent for all computers to come. In Steve Job’s graduation speech at Stanford, he reminds us that you can’t connect the dots looking forward, only looking back. So have faith in the process.
“Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even if it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”
18. Piece together your own truth.
Your 20’s is a period of self-exploration. It’s a time when you start to figure out how you fit into this big messy world. With that, comes people and publications (like this one!) offering advice on how to make that awkward transition from adolescence to adulthood a bit more seamless. However, no singular answer is going to satisfy you. Everyone’s puzzle pieces aren’t going to create a cohesive picture of you. Instead of consuming everyone else’s advice on how you should live your life, modify what you hear to accommodate your unique self. Or, take little bits and pieces from theirs to create the perfect Frankenstein of your truth.
19. Spread the love.
Imagine what the world would be like if we made it a point to perform one random act of kindness a day. And an “act of kindness” doesn’t necessarily have to mean a good deed — it could be a friendly conversation, a compliment, or even just a smile. I can distinctly remember the last few times a stranger brightened my day: a free coffee from a neighborhood barista, a construction worker checking in on my hunt for a missing bracelet, a laughter-filled conversation with a cashier. These days stand out vividly in my memory, simply because of a short but impactful interaction. So next time you’re yearning to compliment someone’s outfit, have the means to give a small donation, or just feel like saying “Good morning!”, do it! Your small act of kindness can make a big difference.
20. Stop overthinking and start doing.
As a millennial, my first instinct when faced with a problem I don’t know how to solve is to Google it. And as a self-proclaimed nerd, I will voraciously consume any and all of the information I can get my laptop mouse to click on. This unsurprisingly leads to hours upon hours of reading, precious mental energy spent weighing pros and cons, and ultimately, the dreaded “analysis paralysis.” As the paradox of choice proposes, the wealth of accessible, high-quality information doesn’t necessarily lead to better decisions. Informed research is always helpful but at some point, you just need to take action. Perhaps this means setting a deadline, limiting the amount of information you consume, or talking it out with a friend. At the end of the day, nothing is going to happen unless you make it happen. And if it doesn’t work out the way you want it to? At the very least, you’ll learn something new.
21. Practice gratitude when you really don’t want to.
Gratitude comes easily when life is great, but gratitude’s true power is felt if applied when life isn’t so great. It’s in those moments when you feel like nothing is going your way where gratitude can completely flip your perspective on its head. Next time you’re feeling down, write a list of things you’re thankful for, and don’t censor yourself. The items on your list can be as silly (pizza, dogs, coffee) or as serious (my health, my family, another day on this Earth) as you want them to be. You’ll likely realize that despite often thinking otherwise, you have enough. Rather than dwelling on what you don’thave, use gratitude to remind yourself of all the things you do have.
22. Do you.
You are on this Earth because you have something unique to contribute. Your childhood, your passions, the people in your lives — every experience you’ve had has shaped you into who you are today. And there’s no possible way your experiences could be identically replicated in another human being. It’s a beautiful thing! So harness your individuality, and dare to be different. Bold perspectives and unique personalities lead to a more accepting society. As Oscar Wilde so brilliantly said,
“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
23. The more you give, the more you receive.
I’ve been a part of a lot of competitive environments in my short lifetime: Cornell, Yahoo, and my personal favorite, a family-friend group of overachieving Azns (we’re now real-life friends sans competition, but I distinctly remember our tiger parents forcing us to compete in a music recital at my house to see which child was the best violinist). In all these scenarios, someone had to be the valedictorian, the one praised at the company All-Hands, or the most talented twelve year-old violinist of the group. But, the real world does not work this way. The real world makes room for an infinite number of people to find success. And, one of the best ways to find success is to help others without expecting anything in return. The real world is dependent on how we interact with others, and the relationships you cultivate combined with the genuine goodness you create will reward you ten times over what you’ve given. For a great read on why helping others drives our success, I highly recommend Give and Take by Adam Grant.
24. Search for silence.
In a a world where we’re constantly connected, silence is becoming increasingly rare. And for some reason, we’re accustomed to actively avoiding it — turning on the radio in the car; making small talk to avoid an awkward space; creating chatter in your head by scrolling through social media. While sometimes we do this to cure boredom, I’ve actually found more value in sitting with the silence. Try this experiment: Scroll through your Facebook feed for 5 minutes. Notice how you feel. Then, sit with your eyes closed for 5 minutes and just breathe. If you’re anything like me, mindlessly scrolling through social media will make you feel like a lazy couch potato, while meditating, even for just a few moments, will bring balance, energy, and mental clarity. Magical ideas are more likely to be born out of quiet reflection than chatter and noise. Treasure the silence you find.
25. Honor the wonderful complexities of being human.
In yogic philosophy, human beings are considered to be the highest life form. We have the highest capacity for reason, knowledge, and spiritual development, creating a wonderfully complex world filled with a spectrum of experiences. And it’s these experiences, both the good and the bad, that make being human so incredibly wonderful. You are not an ant, nor a squirrel, nor a monkey. You are human. You get to experience magnificently complex emotions and all the beautiful nuances of life. So enjoy it — every bit of it.