Turning 35: Lessons I’ve Learned

Turning 35 this year is a bit more than just another birthday. This year, my birthday is a definitive mark to the end of one chapter in our lives. It marks the end of the chapter where we slaved away at our “day jobs” and lived a pretty traditional lifestyle – paying a mortgage payment, waiting anxiously for the next weekend or vacation and saving for retirement…someday. As we prepare to begin the next chapter of our lives, I figured it would be fitting to take some time to reflect on what I’ve learned during my first 35 years of traditional life…20 years of working full-time, having owned and sold two houses and having had some really incredible high’s, but some devastating low’s. I can’t help but wonder what new wisdoms I’ll have to write about after a few years of living our next adventure…

1. Angelfood cake and bundt cake are two completely different things and require very different baking pans. Don’t second guess this. It will never work out.

2. Parchment paper is your friend. Forgetting to use it results in more work of scraping shit off of cookie sheets. Buy it, use it and don’t get it confused with wax paper.

3. Parchment paper and wax paper are not the same thing. And wax paper does not belong in the oven. No matter how optimistic you are, this is not a time for “positive thoughts = positive results” thinking. Wax paper will catch on fire on the oven, every single time.

4. Fire extinguisher training has made me feel more like an accomplished adult than obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree.  I have referenced the “fire triangle” more times in my life than I thought I ever would.  I am confident in my ability to Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep. And, when the wax paper catches fire inside the oven, let the door closed!

5. “No” is a complete sentence. Justifications and rationalizations are not required and aren’t anything other than a feeble attempt at making yourself feel better for your perception of disappointing someone else. Just say “no” and keep it moving.

6. Sometimes, doing nothing is the best thing to do. When it feels too rushed, too hurried, too quick or like you’re missing some information, do nothing for a bit. Wait it out until you understand it more or obtain more information. Just because there’s pressure to act doesn’t mean you have to in most cases. The pressure to act may be purposeful and when you don’t act immediately, the real motive may be revealed.

7. If they’re telling you someone else’s business, they’re telling your business to someone else. Assume that anything you say will be fed to someone else to support their agenda. Listen a whole lot and be thoughtful of your wording when you choose to respond.

8. Purging a house full of “stuff” is an incredibly freeing experience. The less you own, the less that owns you. Lifting the burden of unnecessary possessions opens the doors to a life of more experiences and travel. If you don’t need it, get rid of it.

9. When you’ve told the truth, there’s no reason to keep talking. This is especially true in court. Answer the question truthfully and shut up. There’s no need to provide a backstory, a justification or any other nonsense. Answer the question truthfully and shut up.

10. It’s okay to remove things from my life that don’t make me happy. I’ve got no time for bullshit, drama and negativity and culling the sources is something I should do regularly. Turning off the news, cutting out people who thrive on drama and not doing things just because someone else wants me to are all acceptable actions to keep my life simple.

11. Being an overachiever oftentimes means you stand alone. It doesn’t make one bit of difference what anyone else is doing. Stay focused and always do your absolute best, even if others are making excuses. Work them under the table and let your reputation and work ethic speak for itself. You will be the outsider because of it, but, better to be a hard-working outsider than one of “them.”

12. What you tolerate is what will continue. If you don’t like it, stop putting up with it. Put up boundaries and enforce them. When someone breaches your boundary, make them aware of it, reinforce it and request that they be mindful of it. If it happens again, be intentional about taking steps necessary to distance yourself from them. And, don’t renege on it, no matter how long ago it was. Stay polite and cordial, but, don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of by someone who refuses to respect your boundaries.

13. Going to bed with a clear conscience is the only way to get some sleep. No matter the circumstances, tell the truth and be honest. It may get someone in trouble or it may cost you a relationship with someone who thought you would lie for them, but, it’s the only way you will sleep soundly at night. Don’t honor any requests to lie, cheat, misrepresent the truth or withhold information. (And start evaluating your situation when these requests are made.)

14. If it’s meant to be and you have done everything in your power to encourage it to be, it will be. Likewise, if you’re constantly trying to put a square peg into a round hole, it may be time to evaluate the situation. Do your best to meet your goals. Put in as much work as you have to in order to pave the way for the thing you want to happen to have the room to occur. But, once you’ve put in all the work and effort, remember that it will happen if it’s meant to. If you’ve done all you can do and it doesn’t happen, there is likely a reason that it didn’t happen, whether you can see it or understand it or not. And, maybe that’s for the best.

15. I’ve got no time in my life for drama. NONE. And I should NEVER compromise that, just to make someone else happy. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. If it doesn’t make me happy, that’s what matters. Don’t feel obligated to do things because of someone else.

16. The less you give a fuck, the happier you will be. Be mindful about the fucks that you give. Giving too many fucks about too many things is exhausting and unnecessary. Give fucks about things that really matter and all the other noise go unanswered.

17. Confidence is quiet. Insecurities are loud. It’s perfectly okay to work in silence and let success speak for itself. Oftentimes, the loudest one’s are the ones that are unprepared, overwhelmed or generally ill-equipped. Engaging them doesn’t help you meet your goals and will only serve as a time-suck and source of frustration.

18. When you’re wrong, it’s a whole lot easier to own it than fight it. Always take ownership when you fuck up – no matter how big or small. Verbalize it as soon as you realize it and have a plan for how you’re going to fix it. Don’t beat around the bush about verbalizing it, either. A simple, “I fucked up,” is always sufficient. (If saying “I fucked up” isn’t appropriate for the situation or crowd, you’d better start evaluating your situation because you likely don’t really belong there.)

19. We’re all just one decision away from a totally different life. Be as kind as you can to everyone, no matter their situation. You never know when you may need help changing a tire, run into someone in a dark alley or need help in an emergency situation. No one is any “better” than anyone else at the end of the day, no matter what their situation. Advocate for the under-served and at-risk and do all the good you can for everyone you can, even if it’s only something small.

20. Death brings out the crazy in people. In times of grief and loss, be prepared for the possibility of people you know turning into people you don’t recognize. Remember the importance of putting up boundaries to protect yourself, your heart and your own grief. Remember that your relationships with people may change after the death of a loved one and work hard to be okay with that. Also, don’t forget that grief is a walk alone and everyone’s walk is different. It’s going to suck, but, you’ve got to take the walk.

21. You will never regret doing nice things for your future self. Getting started on prepping or doing things early, when you can work on it at your leisure, rather than waiting until “closer to” is never a bad idea. Keep on letting an extra trash bag at the bottom of the trash can. Keep on getting gas when it’s light outside and a little bit warmer, even if you don’t feel like stopping. Keep on working ahead a little instead of taking a nap. Your future self will always appreciate it.

22. Putting tokens in the karma pot is never a bad idea. Take the time to pick up the screw in the parking lot so that someone else doesn’t get a flat tire. Keep holding the door even when they don’t say thank you. Take your shopping cart back to where it belongs instead of making more work for the cart pusher. Tell someone when they’ve left something behind. Let them merge onto the highway in front of you. Offer to help if you are able, even if you may not have an abundance of time. Give what you can to make it a little easier for someone else. Take the time to be a good person.

23. Paying off our debt has been one of the most liberating experiences of our lives. When we first crunched the numbers and came up with our total debt, I wasn’t convinced that we’d be able to pay off our debt on the aggressive timeline that we set. Fast forward 21 months and we had been successful in paying off over $76,000 of consumer debt that we had accrued. Then we sold our house and paid off the mortgage. Then we used the remaining proceeds from the sale of our house to pay off our boat loan. And, then, we were 100%, completely debt free, over a year before what we had originally planned. Knowing that we don’t owe a single penny to anyone has allowed us to open our minds and our lives to experiences that we could have only dreamed of before. We’re free from the rat race and we’re free to roam about and really experience life, without having to worry about paying monthly bills and being saddled with debt. No matter what happens in the future, we have agreed that we will never allow ourselves to become victim to the debt monster again.

24. We can live a very comfortable life with a whole lot less than we thought. We’ve sold, donated, given away and thrown out so much stuff over the last few years and, the honest truth is, I don’t miss any of it. Not even a little bit. We had a 2,200+ square foot house full of stuff that I don’t miss. For me, it was a pretty rude awakening that all the stuff that we got rid of used to be money that I could have socked away and put to work for us. But, it is what it is. Traveling and downsizing have proven to me over the last few years that I really don’t need a lot to live a very comfortable, happy life. Acquiring stuff doesn’t make me happy. Spending time with people I love and having incredible experiences makes me happy.

25. My greatest strength is integrity. Professionally, I’ve been in a lot of situations that superiors called on me to twist the truth to support their agenda, withhold information to help prove their point or keep quiet as to not “rock the boat.” In all of those situations, I’ve said or done whatever I needed to in order to make sure that I would be able to sleep at night with a clear conscience. Many times, that’s ended me up standing alone and I’ve always been okay with that. I’ve never been afraid to tell the truth, even if it’s the unpopular opinion, and maintaining my integrity is my greatest strength. It’s kept me out of trouble, it’s kept me safe when I’m subpoenaed to court years later and it’s kept me away from those that are self-serving and willing to sabotage anyone who stands in their way.

26. Living a non-traditional life is okay, even if most don’t understand it. Refusing to take on new consumer debt to have the “latest and greatest” new phone, refusing to go shopping for “what’s trendy” and making a decision to sell everything and move onto a boat have gotten some weird looks from people. And, I am absolutely okay with that. Choosing a non-traditional life has, oftentimes, set me apart from my coworkers, family and friends. But, it has absolutely enhanced my relationship with those that “get it.” Being the black sheep has never bothered me, and, I suspect, that it never will.

27. In order to live like no one else, you’ve got to live like no one else. When we set our sights on paying off our debt, the biggest key to our success was asking one simple question before we spent money on anything: Is spending this money going to get me closer to my goal? At that point, we started living very differently than most of the people we know. We stayed home on the weekends, opting for cooking at home and drinking at home, because it was way cheaper than going out. We started selling our “stuff” and banking the income. We became hyper-focused on the money that we were putting out and what it was going to. And, if it didn’t support our journey, we didn’t spend it. While others were piling up debt at Christmas and buying present after present, we scaled WAY back on our gift-giving and asked others to scale back on their gift-giving to us. We made sure that we were thoroughly using things up and wearing them out before replacing them, and, even then, we evaluated whether we really needed to replace things or if it was just a bad habit we could break. We started reading about being debt-free and putting our money to work for us, rather than being a slave to the money that we were earning and we navigated our way to freedom. We were willing to live like no one else we knew while we were planning to live like no one else we knew. And it has been an incredibly rewarding adventure so far.

28. I am capable of a whole lot more than I think I am. At every opportunity I get, I try to push myself beyond my comfort zone to learn new things, confront and conquer my fears and grow. I’m proud to say that I’ve been pushing myself a lot more lately in a lot of different areas and have found a huge sense of accomplishment in the small successes I’ve had along the way. Making sure to view self-doubt and fear as a challenge to be conquered has shown me that I am capable of a whole lot more than I think I am.

29. It’s okay to struggle, as long as you don’t give up. Try adjusting the method, not the goal. Don’t change the goal, as long as it makes sense, just increase your effort in a different way. Good grief, have I STRUGGLED over the past few years, both professionally and personally! But, here I am, having confronted the struggles, made it through the difficulties, and ended up on the other side. I’ve learned that the struggles are the lessons, and sometimes it’s takes a whole lot of creative thinking to ace the test. Note to self: Give it your absolute best – I mean absolutely everything you’ve got – and then let it be. If it’s meant to happen or be, it surely will, as you’ve done all that you can to encourage it. If it doesn’t happen or doesn’t come to be, there may be a really good reason why. Be thankful, either way.

30. My interest in hunting and fishing is much more about my mental health than it is about harvesting an animal. Though a successful hunt or hooking a monster fish is NOT a bad thing! A long walk through the woods or a day spent in the sun on a boat are some of my very favorite ways to spend my time. Whether I’m carrying a rifle, shotgun or fishing rod is pretty irrelevant to me most days. Yeah, it’s awesome to harvest an animal, since that’s usually the goal of these adventures, but, it doesn’t really matter to me. Watching the waves as the boat rocks back and forth or listening to the birds in the woods sing their happy songs makes my heart and my head happy enough.

31. Life is short and “some day” may never come. My dad passed away two days before I turned 20 years old. He was only 48. I’ve spent my adult life trying to navigate life without my dad, and, while I think I’m doing pretty well, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t give to have him back, even if just for a few minutes. There’s a lot of things that we planned to do “some day.” Hell, I wasn’t even able to drink a legal beer with him on my 21st birthday. But, the one thing that I know, for absolute certain, is that he would tell me to do it. All of it, with all my heart, no matter what it is, if it made me happy. And that’s how I’ve been living my life since I lost him. Life is too godddamned short to spend time doing things and dealing with people that don’t make you happy. Do it – today, if possible. Do it, as soon as possible, with all your heart if it makes you happy. Don’t wait. Don’t hesitate. And don’t assume that you’re guaranteed another minute to screw around while your dreams are waiting to come true.

32. The only thing I have control over is myself – my behavior, my attitude, my actions and my reactions. Remember, you can’t control them anymore than they can control you. You can only do as much as you can do and becoming overwhelmed by someone else’s behavior, attitude, actions or reactions will never change them. Focus on you. Focus on being the best person you can be, and let them alone. “When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.”

33. You are what you do – not what you say you’ll do. There are lots of good talkers, but, not a whole lot of good do’ers. If you say you’re going to do it, make sure that you do. If you can’t, don’t have the time or simply don’t want to, say no. Take inventory of those who say they’ll do things and then don’t follow through and evaluate your relationships with them.

34. There is something I can learn from everyone I meet. Some of the most brilliant, incredibly talented people that I’ve met have been inmates serving lengthy sentences for crimes they’ve admittedly committed. I’ve requested that inmates serving lengthy sentences for dealing drugs tutor me in math for years – and the results of have been AWESOME! I’ve asked inmates that have served 40+ years in prison to talk to me about patience, acceptance and forgiveness and I’ve learned more from them than I could have ever expected. Some of the most important professional lessons I’ve learned, like the importance of integrity and honesty, have been taught by dirtbag supervisors and coworkers that have eventually dug their own graves. And, I’ve learned more about genuine happiness and gratitude from some of the not-decidedly homeless people I’ve met. Everyone I meet has something that they can teach me, as long as I stay open to the lesson.

35. I work to live. I do not live to work. Not too many years ago, I had aspirations of doing what everyone else was doing – get a good paying job and work my tail off to follow more money and as many promotions as I could achieve. A few dirtbag, self-serving, ruthless supervisors later, my view on work and how it intertwined with my life began to change. I still went to work everyday and did my absolute best, but, I began to put my phone on do not disturb during off-work hours. I took the personal and vacation days that I earned, without guilt. I made it a priority to be available for things in my personal life, rather than letting work monopolize every minute of my life. And I regret NOTHING. Work is a way to make money to more thoroughly enjoy my time away from work. I am no longer a slave to work, and won’t head back down that path again. Life is too goddamned short to slave it away at work.

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