I turn 27 on Saturday.

Alright, I’ve said it. Now you’ll all know what’s going on when I start having my 29th birthday every year starting in 2015.

Besides for the fact that I always thought this would be my hottest year (it always seemed so far away!), I feel like this is also going to be a pivotal year.

Flowers in Jeju Island, Korea

I’m at such an exciting point in my life. For the first time, I really feel like I have everything together. I’m on a solid career path, I have wonderful relationships, and I know what makes me happy… and how to get it.

Though I seem golden now, I’ve made so many mistakes along the way. There’s been a lot of tears, countless pints of Ben & Jerry’s, and a few too many drunken nights. I’ve been in awful relationships, hurt people I was close to, and blamed external factors for my disappointments. I’ve alternated between worrying too much and caring too little.

In short, I’ve failed. A lot. But my biggest success? Learning from those failures. I hope, in some way, that you’ll be able to learn from them, too.

With that in mind, here are 27 things I’ve learned in my 27 years on this earth:

1. Say yes more than no.

“Yes” is a beautiful word, full of potential. You never know what might arise from saying yes more often. Life abounds with surprises, and by saying yes, you’re opening yourself up to opportunity. The next time you want to say no, try yes instead. See where it takes you.

2. Make new friends — but seriously — keep the old.

I’m a social person (ENFJ), and due to my lifestyle, I meet lots of new people. It’s tempting (well, not really, if you have friends like mine) to invest a bunch of time into these new people, and in doing so, neglect your old friends. Don’t do this. Time and again, my old friends have proven to be the pillars of my life.

3. Don’t stand outside the fire.

If anybody gives good life advice, it’s Garth Brooks. I’ve had my heart broken four times. Like, seriously broken. If I were most people (read: smart), that would make me run and hide. It’s scary to put yourself out there over and over again, but what kind of life are you leading if you’re always afraid of getting burned? Those times royally sucked (hello, therapy!), but by keeping my heart open, I’m now in the most fulfilling relationship of my life.

4. Figure out YOUR priorities, and create your life around that — not anyone else’s.

I’m big into priorities. The reason that I’m able to travel so much? I’ve made it my priority. You don’t need to live your life according to anyone else’s rules, but you also won’t get anywhere unless you know what you’re working for. Accomplishing your dreams is possible; you just have to be willing to put in the time and work.

5. Your personal relationships are the most important things you have. Put your time and energy into making them strong.

When people are on their deathbed, they never say they wished they’d worked harder. They say they wish they’d spent more time with their loved ones. Your relationships are the biggest treasures you have. Any time and effort you invest in them will come back to you tenfold. (Oh, and call your parents whenever you think of it. They’re probably worried about you.)

6. “When in doubt, tell the truth.” – Mark Twain

This is one of the briefest, yet most sage, pieces of advice that you can live by. Even if it makes things more difficult now, the truth is always the way to go. (Unless your gf asks you if she looks fat. Then it may be wise to go with a lie. But you wouldn’t be in doubt in that situation, would you?)

7. Always take at least one bite. 

Though I’m talking about food (try at least one bite of everything!), this applies to life more generally, as well. I’m not saying try everything once, but most of the time, why not? What’s the worst that could happen?

Sampling silkworms in South Korea
I even tried silkworms. Note: there was no second bite.

8. “Busy” is a trap that you should avoid at all costs.

Do you have friends that are just “so busy” all of the time? I do. And even worse, I used to be one of those people. Somebody would ask me to hang out, and I’d say, “Oh, I’m just so busy. I don’t know.” It feels good to say you’re busy; it feels important. But it’s bullshit. What was I so busy doing? Sure, I was working and going to the gym and skiing, but what about those 86 minutes a day I spent on Facebook?

Alexis Grant says that, “Most of your obligations are actually choices.” This is an incredibly empowering thing to realize. Do you dread going to your reading club each week? Do you wish you could skip lunch with that coworker? You can. Don’t let yourself fall into the cult of “busy”: make time for what’s important to you.

9. You, and you alone, are responsible for your own happiness. And it doesn’t just happen: it takes a lot of work.

There was a period in my life when I wasn’t happy. It took me a while to realize it, and I felt pathetic. My life was totally fine. Who was I to be unhappy when there are people who are unemployed, hungry, and sick? I wanted to be happy. So, I started reading blogs and books. I delved into what made me happy and unhappy. And I realized that you can’t just sit around expecting happiness to fall into your life. It’s something you have to work at. It’s hard, but oh so worth it. (Some of my favorite blogs: The Happiness Project, Zen Habits, and The Positivity Blog.)

10. There’s always another bus.

I’m a natural planner. I love lists and calendars and agendas. In the past, it’s stressed me out when things don’t go to plan; for example, when I miss a bus. These days, I remind myself that there’s always another bus. When something is stressing you out, think “Am I going to remember this 5 years, or even 5 days, from now?” The answer is probably no. So don’t sweat the small stuff. Take a deep breath and remember that there are more important things to think about. Like this meerkat.

11. You always feel better after a run.

Getting out of the house to exercise is one of the hardest things imaginable. You’d think that you were getting dragged to a mime convention (terrifying!) or something. But, exercise is so essential to both your physical and mental health. You never get back from working out and say, “I wish I hadn’t done that.” So just do it. You’ll be glad you did.

12. The best way to get people interested in you is to be interested in them.

This is from Dale Carnegie’s classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It’s the simplest and most important piece of advice for making real connections with people. Ask questions, and be genuinely interested in people and their story. And remember their names!

Irish wolfhounds and girl
Big dogs = happiness.

13. The easiest way to make yourself happy is to make someone else happy.

There’s nothing like making somebody else smile. It is the absolute easiest pick-me-up in the world. If more people realized that, the world would be a happier place. So go and bake someone a cake, volunteer, or just leave an extra fat tip at the restaurant. Your soul will thank you.

14. If he likes you, he’ll call.

OMG did this take me way too long to figure out. How many nights have you spent analyzing text messages of potential suitors with your friends? How many excuses have you made when they backed out on plans? So. Many. Hours. Wasted. This was a painful, but incredibly freeing, realization. If someone likes you, they’ll do anything to make it happen. So quit wasting your time on all the losers.

15. Smile, and your attitude will follow. Positivity is empowering.

Even if all you want to do is scowl, smile. The natural act of smiling can lighten your mood and make your brain think you’re happy. The next time you have a negative thought, try to counteract it with a positive one. Again, this is something that takes practice.

16. Learn from the past. Then let it go.

The past is one of your greatest teachers. Oftentimes, watching others isn’t enough; you have to make the mistakes yourself in order to learn from them. That’s fine. But once you’ve figured out the lesson, LET IT GO. Don’t dwell on the past, or you’ll miss all the awesomeness that’s around you right now.

17. Kids are the ones we should be learning from — not the other way around.

Have you ever noticed how kids run from one place to another? How they laugh so hard they fall on the ground? They are filled with enthusiasm and a zest for life that is unparalleled. We should all be taking notes.

Kids chasing bubbles in Colombia
Kids chasing bubbles in Colombia.

18. Life is too short to work in a job you hate.

One of the saddest things anyone can ever say to me is “I hate my job, but I can’t leave it. I’m just so… stable.” Who gives a crap about stable when you’re miserable? You only have one shot at making this life rock. Figure out what makes you tick, and build a career around that.

19. Be smart with your money, but not so cheap that you miss out on things.

I used to be cheap. Not frugal — CHEAP. Especially when traveling. And it often made me unhappy. I’ve unnecessarily skipped out on some incredible experiences just because I wanted to save money. I’ve wandered, sweatily and miserably, around third world countries in search of a hostel that was one dollar cheaper per night. Over the years, I’ve learned to still save and be frugal, but to spend smart. I spend money on things that will make me happy: a $2 cab ride instead of a public bus, scuba diving lessons, or a high-quality shirt that I’ll wear over and over again.

20. Don’t stress about finding the perfect job and perfect life partner. Do things you love, and these will appear organically.

This is adapted from a line in the Holstee Manifesto (which I love, btw). It says: “If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love.”

21. Cultivate gratitude and patience. 

Like happiness, gratitude doesn’t just appear. It’s something that you have to consciously strive towards. Travel helps. Patience is another key virtue that will help you in every part of your life. Make an effort to practice it, and it’ll get easier. Working with tourists helps.

22. It’s never going to be the “right” time. Stop making excuses and start before you’re ready.

The road of excuses can be never-ending. It’s not the right time to travel, or to start a business, or to ask that guy out. Excuse my language, but F that. There will never be a right time. Say goodbye to excuses and start.

Wild-caught king salmon!
Wild-caught king salmon!

23. You are what you eat.

For 25 years of my life, I never gave a second thought to what I ate. I thought that if I worked out, and thus wasn’t getting fat, that I was set. I was a glutton for processed foods and meat. It was only after meeting a lot of vegetarians while traveling that I finally started to contemplate what I was putting into my body. I’m now a solid flexitarian who eats very little meat (like, a few times a year), but enjoys wild-caught seafood. Recently, I’ve been trying to adopt Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before 6 diet. Some of my fave resources for learning more about diet and health: Forks Over KnivesEating Animals, and The Food Revolution. PS. Avoid farmed fish like the plague.

24. One of the best ways to learn is to become a better listener.

It’s amazing the amount you can learn if you just shut up. I’m a talker, and this is something I struggle with. I’ve really worked hard in the past few years to become a better listener, and consequently, I’ve learned so much. I’m also an information consumer (article whore) and I love blogs, non-fiction books, newspapers, and podcasts galore. Learning doesn’t have to stop with school.

25. Travel is the best education there is. Don’t wait.

There are many people who say you should travel young, and I couldn’t agree more. Travel will open your mind and teach you in four weeks more about the world than you’ll learn in four years of college. It challenges you in ways that nothing else does, and it makes you look at the world from an entirely new perspective. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that travel makes you a better person. So get out there.

Lights at STS9 concert
DANCE.

26. “If more people weren’t afraid of dancing, there’d be less sad people in the world.” – Matt Deitel

My friend Matt said this after we spent an amazing night dancing away at a STS9 concert. And it’s true. Quit worrying about what everyone else thinks. And for crying out loud, DANCE!

27. Be nice.

This is probably the simplest thing you can do, yet one of the most powerful. Be nice to everyone. Period. Of course, it’s often difficult — but making nice into a habit will revolutionize your life and improve the lives of those who come into contact with you. Maya Angelou got it right when she said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The overall theme of these lessons? Do what makes you happy. 

Thank you so much for reading! Want to give me a birthday present — without having to pay for shipping to Alaska? I thought so.

Well, here’s my wish: share this post with ONE person who might find it interesting. You’ll make my day!

What life lesson resonates with you the most? Why?