Tomorrow, I turn 28. Here are the 27 life lessons I’ve learnt in the past year.
1 Prioritise ‘kind’
‘If he wasn’t kind, then it didn’t seem like it would make sense,’ said Meghan Markle of first meeting Prince Harry, during their engagement interview. Call me sentimental – but it’s a principle I’ve adopted.
Kindness is a quality which remains all too overlooked by millennials, in a landscape where we’re all competing to be the most ‘woke’ or have the most social media followers. When I returned to dating after the relationship I thought would be my last, I had one resolution: that I wasn’t going to settle for less than the mutual kindness my former partner and I practised towards one another. And now I extend it to everyone in my life, too. Whether it’s a friend, a prospective partner or a colleague, practise kindness fearlessly and have the self esteem to know you deserve it, too.
2 You can still do nice things if it’s just you
Fellow extroverts – a night in by yourself isn’t a death sentence. Learn to spend time alone well. Cook for yourself. Listen to music, watch a film alone. ‘Date night’ should be for doing something special with someone special – so, rather than trying to force the issue with someone questionable you’ve met on Hinge, why not make that person yourself?
Read a blog post I wrote on how to spent time alone.
3 Your friends will save you
“You must keep hold of your friendships, Lissa. The women. They’re the only thing that will save you in the end.” – Expectation by Anna Hope.
Value your female friendships. No, they may not further the human race, nor do they serve any practical purpose for economists, but they will be your strength and support throughout your life if you let them. Being loved and championed by other women has bolstered me more than I can express, particularly throughout the last year. Whether it’s giving each other a leg-up at work (something men have been doing forever) or providing the emotional support we often excel at as women, powerful things happen when women stick together.
4 Her success is not your failure
We need to avoid the ‘scarcity’ complex; the sinister trap of thinking if your friend scores a promotion or a hot husband, then you never will. There is enough room in the world for all of us to succeed. Envying someone’s success will only hold you back.
5 Enjoy the ride
We spend so much time in our lives looking forward to something. ‘Once I get my promotion, I’ll be happy’, ‘Once I’m fully qualified as a [insert highly paid profession here], I’ll be happy,’ ‘Once he asks me to marry him, I’ll be happy,’ ‘Once I get pregnant, I’ll be happy’.
This is something Harvard psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar calls ‘the arrival fallacy’ – the notion that once we achieve a certain goal we’ll be happy and satisfied with our lives. In my experience, the elation associated with achieving something specific – whether that’s running a half marathon, getting the job title I wanted or reaching a certain weight – has lasted all of five minutes. The arrival fallacy is a means by which we make excuses for not seeking joy and satisfaction on a day-to-day basis. Realistically, the old cliche is right: it’s the journey that counts.
6 Don’t dress for the opposite sex
I spent so much of my life dressing in a way I perceived would be attractive to men. Not only did I get it spectacularly wrong (turns out cheap, clingy polyester isn’t a good look on anyone over the age of 16), but it meant I missed out on the joy of wearing what instinctively made me feel happy, self-expressive and, basically, just fun. The long and short of it is my wardrobe now consists of dresses that could double up as maternity or Mormon church wear; voluminous culottes; and, cometh autumn, polo necks.
7 Don’t exercise for the opposite sex, either
This year, I’ve been strength training more than ever (shout out to my gigantic PT, Stefan). Through my life, people have – generally well-meaningly – told me to avoid lifting weights, because it will make me bulk up.
Poorna Bell – one of my favourite journalists and writers – who started lifting after her husband’s suicide, addresses the same set of preconceptions surrounding lifting as a woman, both in her book In Search of Silence and in various features for the likes of Stylist Strong. Her conclusion – which has inspired me to continue – is that building physical strength in the gym filters into other areas of your life, replacing the ‘goal of slimness’ with something more altogether transformational. As with anything else in life, water finds its level – you’ll attract the right people into your life by doing what’s right for you.
As for the men who won’t date you because you look strong? I’d call that a useful litmus test for deciding whom not to date.
8 Things aren’t only good if they last forever
I recently listened Alain de Botton on ‘How To Fail’, and he spoke about the intense amount of pressure we put on romantic relationships to last forever – a pressure we literally put on nothing else.
Whether it’s a short work friendship or a two year romance, relationships don’t have to go on forever to be successful. We can’t call divorce after two decades a ‘failure’, either. If someone makes a positive difference to your life, that’s a successful relationship, full stop.
9 Embrace the family you don’t choose
Your family aren’t just like you. And that’s a good thing. Family relationships – ditto those ‘forever friends’ from primary school whom you first bonded with over a love of blue plasticine – can often be more challenging than those with, say, like-minded colleagues or maybe couples you double date with. But there’s something to be said for navigating someone else’s foibles, and practising tolerance and respect, rather than always surrounding yourself with an echo chamber of your own values.
10 Take painkillers for those horrible under-the-skin spots
Volcanic eruption under your skin? At the end of the day, this is basically inflammation. Take a paracetamol to reduce the swelling before it goes mad, and then drink your body weight in water. You’re welcome.
11 Wellness is deceivingly simple
Health is a different kettle of fish – we all suffer from our own ailments, and that’s for medical professionals to deal with. But a basic wellness plan is not beyond any of us, and it in no way requires Whole Foods or all the money poured into glossifying the wellness industry in the past decade. Water, being outside, moving more, eating fresh fruit and vegetables – many of the fundamental aspects of ‘wellness’ are, if not free, much more cheap and affordable than the billion dollar wellness industry would suggest.
12 Sleep is underrated
I recently read an article saying six hours of sleep is as bad as doing an all-nighter. Worrying, right? Sleep is so crucial to not only your work performance but also your mental health and regulating your eating habits. There’s no point waking up at 5am for a class if it means zero sleep – it’s an obvious paradox. A confession: it’s something I’m still working on – but I do recognise it’s about the most important priority we can have. Whether it’s knocking yourself out with lavender essential oil before bed (my current favourite) or getting Audible to read you a bedtime story, good sleep hygiene is an aim we should all be striving for.
13 ….As is drinking water
I know – it’s boring and basic, right? Nowhere near as exciting as coconut water and matcha lattes – but so much more powerful. The effects of hydration are so much more instantaneous than we ever realise, and apply to everyone: from mental alertness to those horrible flaky, chapped lips you get in the colder months (again, winter cometh!). Having a good reusable water bottle stationed everywhere I need reminding – desk, bedside table, gym bag – is a game changer, and has the extra effect of making you look like a Prince Harry certified (ahem) eco-warrior.
14 Give people their moment
Often success doesn’t feel like success unless it’s shared with the people you love – nor do our successes really have a lasting value (as anyone ambitious will know, you spend about five minutes celebrating one thing before you’re setting the bar high and your achievement is sort of invalidated). Sharing good news is like handing something precious and fragile into someone else’s hands and silently willing ‘Don’t break this’. That’s why you should never underrate how important your contribution to someone else’s joy or celebration is.
15 Send more voice notes
We live in an age of miscommunication – so, wherever possible, I’m a big advocate of the voice note. There is less ambiguity compared to text-based communication, it takes about the same amount of time as sending a series of Whatsapps, and – in those busy periods where we don’t get to see as much of those close friends as we’d like – it’s a much more genuine and valuable form of communication. I have a particular friend who is a big advocate of the voicenote, sending more of them than she does Whatsapp messages – and I never fail to be pleasantly surprised by the soothing effect of hearing her voice compared to the cortisol-rush associated with a stream of erratic messages.
16 Tried and tested
Thanks to my time as a beauty journalist, I can confidently recommend the following: YSL False Lash Effect Mascara. It Cosmetics CC cream. Bobbi Brown blusher. Benefit Hoola bronzer. Beauty Pie Japanfusion cleanser. Eucerin face cream with 5% urea. Milk Makeup KUSH tinted lip balm. Palmer’s Cocoa Butter lip balm. You’re welcome.
17 Don’t set yourself deadlines
A journalism tutor taught me this. The world imposes enough deadlines on you already.. So don’t tell someone: ‘Oh I’ll text you back this afternoon’, ‘Oh I’ll have that done by the weekend’ unless you really mean it.
18 Be more Steve Jobs
Fashion is a fantastic expressive tool, but on occasion it can be stifling too. A few years back, Stylist journalists trialled wearing the same thing every day, in the manner of Matilda Kahl, a creative director in New York, who spoke of how the consistency in this one area of her life boosted her creativity in others. The original ‘work uniform’, meanwhile, belongs to late Apple boss Steve Jobs.
For many of us, it would be a shame to miss out on the opportunity to express ourselves through our clothing. It’s one of the great joys of being a woman (because, you know, they do exist) that mainstream fashion and even office dress codes facilitate us to dress in a way which lets us put across our personal identities.
But, equally, it’s important to have a little Steve in your wardrobe for those off days where your brain has just too many other decisions to make: think well-fitting jeans, plain T-shirts and sleek, minimal footwear (white trainers, black boots or loafers). Clothes you feel good in but are also are neutral. It’s no coincidence I have ten of the same Uniqlo U black t-shirt (this changes to aforementioned Steve-esque polo necks when the weather gets colder). And on that note…
19 Predictability and routine can be liberating
A crazy study last year found we make 35,000 decisions daily, with at least some level of consciousness for each. Living in a major city like London, it’s likely even more than that. So, when you fall down the rabbit hole of thinking the place you choose for dinner has to define your whole personality, know that defaulting to the infinitely less Instagrammable Pizza Express is not an affront to your whole identity – it’s actually a way of liberating you to focus on a whole lot more important decisions. Like, American Hot or Pollo ad Astra?
20 Take responsibility for your actions
If you choose to miss the party, you will feel some degree of having missed out, and perhaps a little lonely in the aftermath (having missed out on that private joke). Equally, if you choose to ask for something at work – for instance, requesting a pay rise or a promotion – you may feel a subsequent awkwardness and uncertainty while it’s all up in the air. But anything is better than the purgatory of inaction. So deal with it. If something is important enough for you to take action, you need to take ownership of those subsequent feelings and recognise they’re a necessary part of having pursued your best life.
21 Talk about your ambitions, not just who you are dating
It took me over a decade of dating to realise that – actually – my latest romantic fling is not all that interesting a topic, and, more to the point, wearing my heart on my sleeve makes me feel weak instead of strong. People – and this is especially true if you’re a woman – like to ask you about who you’re dating, because it’s easy and universal and simple. It makes for a good story, often at your expense. At the core, there’s even a touch of schaudenfreude here too – it challenges people more to celebrate your success rather than sympathise with your dating woes. But think about what makes you feel strong – your ambitions, your hobbies, your loved ones, the things you’re looking forward to – and talk about that. Don’t diminish yourself to your last bad date.
22 Friendships are like a property portfolio
Bear with me here. At this point in my life, I feel incredibly #blessed with the friends I have. A breakthrough, in getting there, was appreciating everyone for their individual merits – like a property portfolio. I don’t know why I’m a moneyed property developer in this metaphor, but bear with me.
It’s not right to expect one person to fulfil your every need, or to share all your interests and values – that’s as true as a best friend as a romantic partner. Your friendships form for different reasons – sometimes you’ll have impassioned career conversations, sometimes you’ll have the best night out and in rare cases you have those friends who can just sort of poke around in your brain and read your thoughts. All these things are worth investing your time in.
23 Don’t be a bitch
Some would argue ill talk – gossiping and bitchiness – is a natural human inclination, as old as time itself. Others believe gossip – known in Judaism as Lashon hara, or ‘evil tongue’, is a serious sin.
I’m not above it. But, in my experience, gossip often comes from a place of weakness rather than strength – and if I find myself falling into it (as we all do) I try to examine what’s making me berate others at the expense of myself, just for a cheap feeling of superiority. My own litmus test is, if I wouldn’t say something in front of someone, I prefer not to say it in their absence.
24 Unfollow a lot of people on social media
I no longer have patience when people say they were hurt after watching their ex’s Instagram story. This is a low-level form of self harm. Social media allows us to curate what we see, the tools are there. If someone – even a friend – gives you weird feelings like jealousy or , mute them for a bit. Maybe it doesn’t need to be permanent, maybe just to deal with those negative feelings more healthily.
25 Be smarter with your phone
Same procedure with your phone. Turn off your Bumble notifications if they’re causing you anxiety. Mute that WhatsApp group for a while. Push notifications are the worst because they encroach on our time, constantly interrupting us. Isn’t it crazy that we created a machine to distract us from actually living? Technology has its uses – but don’t let your smartphone make you dumber.
26 Getting outside is always a good idea
…as I discovered the other weekend when a 40 minute walk at sunset completely obliterated my Sunday blues. Nine times out of ten, just taking a screen break and letting your body do what it’s designed to do – move – will give you a fresh perspective.
27 Keep a diary
One of the single best things I’ve done this year. Meeting yourself on paper achieves a number of things. It makes yourself accountable to your goals, adds structure and purpose to your life and aligns you with your inner monologue. You wouldn’t cancel your regular one to one with your boss, so don’t skip the time you take to check in with yourself, either.