Article by Megan Nicole O’Neal
When I was about 16, I started writing a list, a “Things I’ve Learned Lately” list. (Creative, I know.) I’d add to it every month — or every few months, once I discovered firsthand how busy adulting is.
I don’t know why I started writing down these life lessons; I think it had something to do with a saying I’d heard once. To paraphrase — because I hardly remember what I made for dinner last night, let alone the exact wording of something said to me in passing 15+ years ago — the saying went something along the lines of: “You’ll keep being given the same problems in life until you finally learn the lesson.”
So, being an honor roll student and believer that writing things down commits information to memory the fastest, I started taking notes. Now, as I sit in my favorite café rereading these entries as I approach the start of my 30s, I am glad I did.
Some lessons are empowering, others sad or funny. Some I learned the hard way — like “Don’t text while walking down stairs” or “Chocolate croissants are a luxury, not a necessity.” Some are repeat entries — I am the first to admit I’m a work in progress — and some were amended years later after what I thought was a lesson about me failing miserably turned into something completely different. Hopefully, you’ll relate to at least some of the ones I’m sharing here.
Disclaimer: This is not the full, inclusive list of things learned in my lifetime.
1. How to Apologize
There’s a difference between saying “sorry” and being sorry. If you stop thinking of apologizing as admitting you’re wrong and instead view it as feeling remorse for hurting another person, you can begin to apologize and mean it.
2. People Don’t Notice or Care When You Don’t Wear Mascara
You don’t have to look perfect every day. You’re the only one who expects that of yourself, so chill.
3. Be Specific
Don’t ask for less than what you want, or you will receive less than what you want. Be specific.
4. Self-Care Is Not a Waste of Time
Staying in on a Friday to have a glass of wine and read a book is okay. Dancing the night away is okay, too. However you need to do you, just do it. Make time for the things that lift you up so you can help lift up others, too.
5. Don’t Hoard Good Intentions for Yourself
If someone might not deserve your kindness, give it anyway. It doesn’t have to be a rare commodity. If you throw kindness out into the world, it will make its way back to you.
6. A Comprehensive List of Things That Will Make You Feel Like an Absolute Badass:
White water rafting, bungee jumping, completing a half marathon, skydiving, and telling your truth. There is a theme here: facing fear head-on.
7. Sometimes a Haircut Is More Than Just a Haircut
Ladies, you know what I mean. Sometimes you just need a little help seeing yourself in a new light.
8. How to Accept the Apology You Never Receive
Not everyone has learned lesson No. 1 yet. They will eventually, but until then, pretend their apology was lost in the mail and move on.
9. If You See the Crazy Eyes, Run
The crazy eyes are real and should not be ignored. There is no known cure.
10. The Healing Power of a Spontaneous Dance Break
Dancing is immune to stress. Let the rhythm take control.
11. Invest in People, Not Things
Shoes get worn out. Clothes fade. Phones break. People and the memories you create with them will fill you up much longer than any material item ever will. Make your investments wisely.
12. Schedule Time for Your Creative Outlets
You know when you’re working on something — be it painting or writing or music or woodworking — and you forget to check the time or your text messages? Make more time for that.
13. Never Accept a Drink From a Stranger, Even If He Looks ‘Normal’
14. It’s Okay to Break Up With Friends Who Aren’t Growing With You
Some friendships are seasonal. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad friend if your seasons no longer align.
15. You Don’t Need a Special Occasion to Do Something Special
Drink that fancy bottle of wine on a Tuesday. “Later” can turn into “never” a lot faster than you’d think. The present is special enough.
16. Always Wear Sunscreen
Broad spectrum. Minimum SPF 30. Don’t forget to apply it to your neck. Skin cancer is no joke.
17. There’s a Fine Line Between Determination and Stubbornness
Determination is admirable, like J.K. Rowling determined to bring Harry Potter to life while living on welfare. Stubbornness, on the other hand, is resistance to change. If sticking the course hurts you, that’s being stubborn. It’s hard and won’t always feel graceful, but you have to learn to let it go.
18. Coffee, Running, and Gilmore Girls Will Get You Through Even the Worst Day
This too shall pass. In the meantime, find the things, however odd, that will help it pass a little more easily.
19. Reality Is in the Eye of the Beholder
Two people can be at the exact same event and see completely different things. Be aware of your lens and try to look at life through others’.
20. Write Down Your Goals
Funny story: In 2016, I wrote “publish something significant” as one of my goals for the year. Not one month later, I was introduced to an editor at SUCCESS who loved a story I’d pitched to an ex-colleague who thought it would be a better fit for SUCCESS. Writing down your goals solidifies your commitment. Use pen.
21. When in Doubt, Call Your Mom
How many cups of water to make rice pilaf? What’s my tax bracket? What grade was I in when I got my braces off? She just knows.
22. Baby Steps Will Still Get You Where You’re Going
It may take you longer to get there, but the movement is what is important. Don’t be ashamed to go slow.
23. Despite Social Media’s Best Efforts, No One Is Actually Keeping Score of How ‘Cool’ You Are
Live in the moment and not the story.
24. When You Have That Deep, Nagging Feeling to Say Something, Say It
Whether you call it your intuition, or God, or your conscience, listen to it. It knows more than you do.
25. Life’s Hiccups Are Less Like Speed Bumps and More Like Bowling Alley Bumpers
When things don’t work out, it sucks, but that’s only because you set the wrong expectations. Bad things won’t slow you down if you let them guide you in a new direction.
26. You Don’t Need Closure to Move On
You just need to decide you’re ready.
27. It’s Liberating to Have a Hotel Room All to Yourself
If you’re a woman, telling someone you plan to travel solo will get you one of two reactions: confusion (“Why would you want to do that?”) or terror (“But — stranger danger!”). It’s not as scary as people make it out to be. Don’t miss out on an awesome experience just because you’re the only one with PTO.
28. Ask for Support When You Need It
People are busy, and no one can read your mind. If you need something, just ask. You’re not a burden to the people in your life who matter.
29. Irony Makes Life Interesting
Don’t take things so seriously. If you can’t stop and laugh at yourself or your predicament, you’re going to be stuck on a very long ride around the sun.
30. Gratitude Is the AllSpark
Being grateful is the source of happiness. Even if what you have isn’t exactly what you want, there is still something to be thankful for. Search for the silver lining, even if you have to pull out a microscope to spot it.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Megan Nicole O’Neal is a University of California, Los Angeles, alum and public relations specialist with a passion for storytelling and a firm belief that only the right photo is worth 1,000 words. An avid adventurist, she has traveled to five different continents on an endless quest to find the world’s greatest cup of coffee. Megan currently works at Havas Formula in sunny San Diego and volunteers for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, freelancing for the PR department.