Yesterday I turned 34. So today I thought I would share 34 lessons for my 34th birthday.

34 Lessons on my 34th Birthday | In honor of my 34th birthday, I'm sharing 34 life lessons I have learned in my short time here.

Original photo by Kathryn Trattner

These are lessons that I have learned in my short time on this planet. 

Some of them may be universal, some may not.

As with everything I offer, your mileage may vary.

But I will say this: I always thought by now I’d be farther along or know more.

Writing these life lessons and listing them here makes me see that I’m extremely far along, and that I know more than I often give myself credit for.

(Also, if you’re reading this post and know me IRL and you’re like “I HAD NO IDEA YESTERDAY WAS YOUR BIRTHDAY!!” it’s because this is my design. I really hate getting a ton of messages from people I don’t really know on Facebook, so I hid it. Also, like, who even cares about birthdays? I know I write about mine every year, but I care about it because it’s mine, and it’s a day where I get to reflect on goals and set new ones. I also get to do whatever I want for my birthday, and I choose to celebrate it in my own special way. You can see what I did in this video.)

34 Lessons for my 34th Birthday

001: Seasons of life end, and so do those friendships.

Look. It’s not your personal fault that society and media tend to glorify toxic relationships. There are so many memes and platitudes out there that make it seem like sticking it out for a worthless asshole is the best plan of action.

If you change in a direction that renders your relationships toxic to you, get out of it.

If someone changes in a way that is toxic to you, get out of that relationship too.

You will always have the good memories. But ending those relationships will prevent bad memories from overtaking any memory of the good.

002: No other person can love you the way you need to be loved. That’s why you have to do it yourself.

No one on this planet is here to complete you. No one exists solely to take care of you. No one is going to live their life just for you

So you have to do all those things for yourself.

Learning to love yourself (and honestly put up with your own nonsense) is hard as hell, but you have to do it because you’re the only one that can.

003: The more successful you get, the more randos will come out of the woodwork.

It’s weird that sometimes you just want to celebrate a big career milestone, and someone you haven’t seen in 15 years wants to comment on national social media posts about how they know you and they remember this one really embarrassing thing about you.

Don’t do this to other people.

Don’t piggyback off the success of others.

If someone hasn’t spoken with you for 15 years, there’s a reason.

004: Dairy isn’t your friend.

I love cheese. But it doesn’t love me back.

Also, I’m incapable of consuming the appropriate and recommended serving size for cheese.

005: The more you achieve your personal definition of success, the more those who bought into a wholesale definition of success will resent you.

I have made a lot of choices in my life that didn’t set me up for immediate financial success. I keep making those choices.

I do it because my definition of success is one where I get to do what I want as a career. I would rather work really hard at something I care about than have a job that pays well that I hate.

Only recently have these choices started to pay off. (But rest assured that your girl ain’t a millionaire.)

It’s not uncommon for someone to realize that they’ve made choices that, while, on paper, look good, made them unhappy because they never actually figured out what they wanted to do.

Those people will have all manner of cutting remarks about how easy your life must me if you get to follow your creative path.

Those people suck. They don’t see how much you worked. And if you’ll recall item #1, you can end that relationship if you want.

006: When you start doing what’s right for you, there will be backlash.

Again, with the people.

I honestly think I’m an introvert because people, when operating in a state of fear, will try to keep you small.

I need space to expand, so I like being alone. I don’t need anyone else’s idea of what’s best for me. I figured it out long ago.

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There will be times that you change how you do something because that is what you need. But there will be people who don’t like it, and they want to let you know it.

So whether you’re leaving toxic jobs, friendships that no longer serve you, or doing something for your health, be ready for the jerks to come out of the woodwork.

007: 98% of shoes on the market are trash and that’s why your back hurts.

I recommend Birkenstocks, though.

008: Trying to fit in is probably the source of a lot of your issues.

It took me way too long to figure this out. 

Corporate day jobs don’t work for me.

Caring about designer bags doesn’t work for me.

Trying to be like other people doesn’t work for me.

And can I just say that if you feel a weird feeling in the pit of your stomach when you think about your job, your relationship, or how you live, whatever your thinking about probably isn’t for you either. 

Don’t make yourself fit in there.

009: You can ignore DMs if you want.

It’s absolute bullshit that you can’t turn off DMs on social media platforms. Sure, it’s a great way to have a private conversation, but 98% of the folks who reach out via DM shouldn’t have that much access to my time.

So, largely, I ignore when I please.

There’s nothing anyone is going to tell me via DM that matters. I may change my mind the day that social media platforms give you the ability to mark DMs as unread, but until then, all the DMs (and texts) that I get are lost in the deluge of one emoji DMs that come flooding in.

Legit business offers come through email, and real friends have my number.

And bonus: Ignoring DMs means you have more time to use the social platform how you want to, not how someone else thinks you should.

010: People get to feel how they choose to feel and you can’t change it.

It’s not your responsibility to make others happy, and if you’re in a relationship where someone puts that on you, get the fuck out.

Seriously. That’s toxic as hell.

You can’t fix anyone but yourself. 

011: Don’t take advice from people who aren’t even doing the bare minimum.

I used to assume that everyone knew more about a thing than I did. But I’ve kept my head down and worked my ass off, and I started to realize that I knew a lot about the things.

And those people who waxed poetic about the thing and how impossible it was? Well.

Turns out they weren’t even doing the bare minimum. And when you can’t even give that much, everything is impossible.

012: If you’ve never been in an environment where you can thrive, everything you think you know about your personality is wrong.

When I worked at the job from hell, Pottermore thought I was a Slytherin. Now, that I’m actually living my life and happy about it, your girl is a Ravenclaw.

Here’s to someday getting out of this Enneagram type 9…

013: Literally everyone is faking it.

No one has the answers. We are all making it up. And for the most part, it works?

014: Tailor your money goals to the life you want.

You don’t have to make six figures to be a success.

McMansions aren’t for everyone.

The people who look like they have it all? They’re so far in debt that they’re never getting out.

Spend your money on the things that give you honest joy, and work a job that gives you the amount of money you need.

015: Any hill is a hill to die on if you’re stubborn enough.

Pick your battles. 

016: If you can put your head down and work, people will take notice. Not always in the best way.

I’m a low-key person in real life.

(That’s probably hard to believe if you only know me from social media and blogging. I’m very noticeable there.)

I tend to put my head down and work in whatever job I have. This means I get my work done.

It also means that sometimes I get noticed for doing a lot of work, and am monetarily rewarded for it.

But it has also meant that coworkers have felt that I’m sabotaging them.

That’s not how I roll, and it’s worth noting that they coworkers who feel sabotaged are typically not known for being self-aware, nor do they see how little they do in comparison.

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I will also note that in multiple scenarios, this has meant that I just get assigned more work.

In any event, day jobs sure are a great momentary diversion on the way to the grave.

017: Make sure you’re working on what matters to you.

If you have goals or plans or ideas, make sure you’re devoting some time to them.

Putting stuff off until that glorious day when you have time just means that you’ll never do it.

So many writers wait until they retire to devote time to writing. And let’s be real — the opportunity for retirement is dissipating every single day.

Do what you want to do now.

It’s not noble to do shit that you don’t want to do instead. You will never be canonized as a martyr.

018: Everyone is doing the best they can with the information they have.

This is simultaneously the most reassuring and frustrating thing.

That person who told you that thing that you took to heart and it turned out to not be true? 

Well, that’s the information they had.

Next time someone does something that feels like a grievous personal injury, remember this. It makes forgiveness come a lot more easily.

019: If someone can take the time to make you feel bad, their life is probably shit.

There’s some pretty popular advice that people aren’t paying attention to you, so you don’t have to feel so self-conscious all the time.

I would share that bit of wisdom if I believed it.

There are plenty of people on this planet (in high schools, in comment sections, etc.) who spend their time trying to put others down.

That’s just who they are and what they do.

But if someone has the time to do it specifically to you, it’s not because there is something wrong with you. It’s because their life really sucks. 

This goes double for people who need to gossip all the time.

020: We’re largely all projecting.

So. If we’re doing the best with the information we have and if people who have time to make you feel bad have terrible lives, it stands to reason that we’re all projecting.

We can never really see that far past our own belly button. And when we try to, everything is filtered through the lens of our life.

021: Public speaking is pretty awesome.

If you want to do more public speaking, you can learn where to find speaking gigs here.

022: There is an audience for you, even if the market doesn’t seem to think so.

I gave this Ignite OKC talk earlier this year, and it was a really great thing because people came up to me afterward and told me that it resonated with them.

I wasn’t expecting that.

I’ve always felt like an outsider (for racial and religious reasons, mostly) and so it was hard for me to believe that anyone would want to hear what I have to say.

The monolithic market isn’t a good gauge of what people actually want. So write your story. People who need it will find it.

023: Most people can’t see the man behind the curtain, let alone know there is one.

This is a little conspiracy-like, but I won’t apologize for that.

There’s a man behind the curtain, and that man controls what you think about. I’m not saying your thoughts aren’t your own, but I am saying that marketing in general and social media marketing in particular is insidious.

So if you fee like you want something, it’s because the man behind the curtain told you that you needed it.

Those people who don’t know the man behind the curtain exists are the ones who still think social media is simply a way for them to connect with friends and family.

Sorry, friends. You’re the product there. Remember that.

024: There is power in speaking what you want.

To quote the Turnpike Troubadours:

“You want somethin’ bad 
You gotta bleed a little for it
You gotta look it in the eye
You gotta call it out by name.”

Say what you want out loud to yourself and others. The Universe will hear. And those you know who can help? They’ll jump right in.

025: Use no and yes in the appropriate situations.

Admittedly, I’m still working on this. But it all boils down to saying yes when it’s something that you want to do and it gets you closer to the life you want.

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And if it doesn’t meet those criteria? No.

026: We all have blind spots. When you get called out on it, be humble.

None of us know everything, and we don’t know what we don’t know. 

But we do know that our life experiences aren’t universal, and that every human being has just as much life experience as we all do, even if it’s completely different.

If you make a statement that is only based on your limited experience and it offends someone, then that is your blind spot. 

You then need to apologize and be better in the future.

It’s really that easy.

027: Learning to listen to your body is hard when you’ve been taught to ignore it.

As a woman who has spent a lot of time ignoring pain in the name of beauty, (remember that point about shoes and how they all tend to suck?) it can be hard to listen to the internal body cues that I have.

Learning to listen involves being present in your body and thinking about why something hurts.

It’s taken me a long time to learn to stop ignoring hunger pangs, or the too-full feeling because I’m either not eating enough or binging my ass off.

I’m learning though. And it’s definitely been worth it.

028: No one, not parents or church leaders, has the answers.

Remember, we’re all doing the best we can with the information we have, and most folks are faking it.

Anyone that pretends to have definitive answers to those tough life questions is lying to you. Or, at best, they’re just giving you the answer that works for them.

Find your own answer. It’s the best.

029: Beware of anyone who can only handle moral absolutes.

Only toddlers should think in good and bad. 

If you’re over the age of 24, then your brain has grown to a point where you can handle more complex moral values. 

And those who can’t? Avoid them.

030: People will straight up brag about their inability to feel empathy.

Stop telling people that you don’t read books or watch movies about a character who isn’t exactly like you. 

That doesn’t make you complex. It makes you inhuman.

Read broadly and watch your sense of empathy grow so that you can be the human you were born to be.

031: If the advice makes you anxious, don’t take it.

While you will have to get out of your comfort zone, which can be uncomfortable, it’s important to note that there’s a certain type of anxiety that’s a warning sign to you.

If you feel that anxiety when someone comes at you with advice, don’t take it.

You know where you’re going and what you need.

032: Self-compassion will change your life.

Try forgiving yourself or giving yourself a break next time you want to berate yourself for being human.

I swear it feels like pure gold.

033: Cowards ain’t shit.

It’s scary putting yourself out there. It’s open and vulnerable, and it’s the type of thing that most people don’t ever do out of fear.

So, if an asshole comes at you with a comment on your blog or a review of your work, and they don’t even have the balls to use their real name or email, know that they’re cowards.

They’ll never do what you do, and they will continue to hide behind their bullshit because they will never be able to be as open or vulnerable as you.

And bonus: You can forget them because they don’t even give their real name. They will never forget you.

034: The people that matter will always have your back, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Sometimes love is tougher than what you wanted, but know that the people who matter are always in your corner.

(Shout out to my corner, by the way. It’s growing and I can’t imagine what I did to deserve such a fierce cheering section, but I’m glad that I have you.)

What’s your favorite life lesson?

Let me know in the comments the life lessons that meant the most to you. What’s something that you think everyone needs to know?

8 Responses

  1. I love the advice that my boss gave me when I first got hired and was suffering from imposter syndrome. I was worried that I was speaking up too much in meetings. She said, “No one will ever give you permission to use your voice, so just use it. You should always speak with the same confidence as a mediocre white male wearing a business suite. If it works for them then why the f*ck shouldn’t it work for you!?”

    1. OMG Hannah, I love this! Such good advice, and it’s so true.

      It can be hard to speak up, especially when it’s something that you haven’t been socialized to do. But this, along with Michelle Obama’s quote about how the men at the top in the important meetings aren’t that smart, makes me think we have a lot of good we can do in the world.

  2. Well now I understand why you ignore my DMs. Haha. Don’t worry, I’m not offended by it. I’m not a huge fan of DMs either since I try to avoid spending too much time on any given platform. I really should just email you if I have anything of any value to say (which, unfortunately, doesn’t happen too often).

    And of course I love the rest of your advice. So many of these lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way (and sometimes, more than once because I’m a stubborn ass who doesn’t quite get it the first time) while others I learned at an early age. I’m finally learning to get rid of toxic friendships and do so without guilt That’s been a hard one for me. Live and learn though, right?

    1. I totally feel some lessons harder than others! And yeah. I’m pretty stubborn too so there are times when I don’t get it the first, second, or even third time.

  3. The best advice I’ve ever been given is that a simple “No” is perfectly acceptable!! We don’t have to explain or justify why we can’t do or don’t want to do something. That if the person that has asked us to do whatever the task is, cannot accept that our answer is no, that’s not on us. We are not obligated to make them feel warm and fuzzy, especially when it involves making ourselves feel like a heel for setting boundaries!

    1. This is so good, and so hard to learn! I love it. I definitely struggle with feeling like a jerk when I try to set boundaries.

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