I see life as one big learning experience. I’ve learned exquisite, soul-changing things, and also stuff that I would have much preferred not to learn. But in general, I find learning to be about the most satisfying and meaningful thing about living every day. Knowledge is never wasted. It’s something of infinite value that, once owned, can never be taken away.
There are many, many things, good and bad, that can truly be learned only by experiencing them oneself. But there are lots of things that I’ve learned by watching someone else, seeing it in action, or reading about it.
On the off chance that anything I’ve learned thus far might be of use to anyone else, I’ve made a very partial list:
1) When you meet someone, if you give them a genuine, friendly smile, they’ll feel 1000% better. I learned this in seventh grade, when I met the girl who would become my best friend. She smiled.
2) Don’t eat your favorite foods if you feel at all sick; once you throw something up, you won’t want to eat it again for a loooong time.
3) One should have as many practical skills as possible: how to cook, manage money, drive a manual stickshift, sew on a button, useful phrases in foreign languages, how to use tools, how to put water in a car’s radiator, how to start a lawnmower. The more you know how to do yourself, the more you won’t have to rely on others. Having to rely on others for simple things makes you less independent.
4) Do the best job you can at whatever your job is. If your job is to type up a list of phone calls, make it perfect. If your job is to make sandwiches, make fabulous sandwiches. If your acting job is to walk across the stage in the background, throw yourself into it. If someone sees you handling a small job incredibly well, they’ll feel that you’re capable of handling a larger, more important job. If someone sees you seething with resentment over having to do a small job that is beneath you, they will not at all feel inclined to trust you with something more important.
5) Be fair and gracious whenever you can. But don’t be a doormat.
6) Good words to know: Please. Thank you. Excuse me.
7) The ability to apologize sincerely and admit you were wrong is a very, very important skill. I didn’t learn it till I was in my twenties, but it’s stood me in good stead ever since.
8) Chocolate goes well with almost any other flavor.
9) Try all different kinds of food. You might find something incredible that you didn’t know about.
10) Two main skills I work on all the time: Patience and compassion. Still a challenge sometimes.
11) Nothing is cuter than a baby animal.
12) Having your own baby will force you to be less squeamish about any number of things.
13) Scuffling through dried leaves is very satisfying.
14) Eating a Snickers bar at 10 in the morning is pretty much always a mistake. One I still make all too often.
15) A sense of humor is like an overcoat that protects you from a lot.
16) It hurts so bad to get your heart broken when you’re young. It hurts more the older you get.
17) Besides your parents, no one is as invested in taking care of you than you. So take good care of yourself, because you’re the one who cares the most.
18) If you’re embarrassed about something you’re doing, you need to get over it, throw your shoulders back, and let it rip. If you’re *ashamed* of something you’re doing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.
19) Read your surroundings and adjust your behavior accordingly.
20) You do not need to express every thought that goes through your head. Sometimes shutting up is the best thing to do.
21) Try to do your best, be your best, but also cut yourself some slack. No one can be perfect all the time.
22) If there’s a dead animal within a quarter-mile of your house, your dog will find it, roll in it, and it will be bad.
23) It is not your job to fix or improve anyone else. It’s your job to make sure you yourself are in good working order.
24) Make sure your partner wants to be with you because of who you are NOW, not who you might become, or who you have the potential to be if only you were X, Y, or Z. Oh, my god, how many times did I have to learn this? A LOT.
25) Thoughts are only thoughts, and thoughts alone cannot hurt you. Thoughts are only thoughts, and you have the power to change your thoughts. They cannot control you. You can control them. I learned this when I was 42.
26) Being in love should not feel like a lot of work. Some work, yes. Not a lot of work. It should not feel like pain.
27) The main reason most parents do anything is to keep you safe and protect you. For better or worse.
28) Life changes all the time. Nothing stays the same forever. This is sometimes incredibly sad, and sometimes the most fantastic thing ever.
29) So, so many things are so beautiful, if you pay attention. Finding beauty in something and enjoying it costs no money whatsoever.
30) No matter how much you know or how together you are, you don’t know everything. No matter how much he knows or how together he is, he doesn’t know everything, either.
Some of these lessons were painless and easy, many of them were gut-wrenchingly hard. But I’m glad I know them.