Today is my 29th birthday. Apparently time flies when you’re having fun.
Yet in all honestly, I barely feel any different than I did when I was 15 years old. The biggest difference between then and now is that I feel much more confident in my own body and mind. Oh, and I no longer have a curfew and can eat breakfast for dinner any day I want. So a few differences, I guess.
But really, though a lot has happened in these 29 years I’ve been on earth, I still feel like a total kid. Always learning. Always making mistakes. Always feeling like I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing… yet doing my best to follow my dreams anyway.
So, since this is the last birthday I’ll have before I enter my 3rd decade, I thought it would be a good time to share some of the things I’ve learned with you guys along the way. Not everything will be fitness-related, so if you’d rather go do a workout instead, please, go crush that workout.
Because I’ll warn you, this is going to be one of those ramble-y posts where I’m super honest with you guys, in the hopes that some of the things I’ve learned will help you along your life’s journey as well. Because I sure wish I knew this stuff even just a few years ago.
Here are 29 things I’ve learned in 29 years:
1. If you don’t even try, you’ll never have a chance at succeeding. I used to be one of those people who didn’t want to try anything new because I was afraid I’d fail at it. This fear held me back for a long time in all areas of my life, including my fitness/health, my career, and my relationships. Luckily, after a lot of soul searching, I realized that this was no way to live. Yes, trying new things is scary. Yes, you might actually fail at times. But you also might succeed, or at least learn something important along the way. The risk is worth it.
2. Working towards a fitness goal rather than a weight loss one is much, much more motivating. Even if your short-term goal is to lose weight, setting and working towards fitness and athletic goals is a much more motivating way to get and stay fit in the long run. Whether you make it a goal to do your first handstand, finally be able to do a front split, or even to rock your first half marathon, the best kind of goal to make is something that you’ve always wanted to be able to do.
3. Healthy food makes your body feel like a superhero. If you’re just getting into the habit of trying to incorporate more healthy food into your diet, it’s not uncommon to regularly feel like you’re always compromising taste. But the more you eat healthy, the more you’ll start to feel just how incredibly AWESOME it makes you feel. Before long, you’ll start actually craving it, and you’ll notice immediately when you eat something less-than-healthy and just don’t feel quite as awesome.
4. There is no one “right” way to work out. Yes, I obviously love HIIT and bodyweight training, but if you can’t get enough of Olympic lifting, or CrossFit, or Zumba, or marathon running, or some other crazy form of working out, by all means, keep doing it! Ultimately, whatever gets you excited to get moving on a regular basis is what you should be doing.
5. Just because you’re not a “natural” at something immediately doesn’t mean you can’t get good at it. I used to live my life this way, constantly afraid of taking risks. If I tried something and wasn’t immediately good at it, I would quit right away in order to spare myself the shame of being bad at it. But living this way pretty much guarantees you’ll never get good at anything new. It keeps you from growing as a person and equals a life living in fear. People are rarely a natural at something the very first time they try it—keep working hard and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
6. Success is not a straight line. As much as us driven people want to make constant gains and always move forward at a rapid pace (whether in fitness or in our careers), life doesn’t usually work that way. You will have setbacks, things will stall at times, and sometimes, things just won’t work out the way you hoped or expected they would. But that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Keep moving forward, don’t give up, and you will succeed in the long run.
“You have not failed until you quit trying.” – Gordon B. Hinckley
7. Being extreme rarely works in the long run. Whether it’s your diet (I see this a lot), your choice of exercise, or your exclusion of [you name it], being all or nothing is generally a limiting way to live and rarely works for most people forever. Living by the 80/20 rule (or 90/10 if that just sounds too lenient) leads to a much easier, happier life for most of us.
8. Learn to listen to your body. This is one of the most important things you can ever do. If you feel it needs rest, rest. If it needs something healthy, eat some vegetables. The more attuned to your body you become, the better it will function.
9. Most things that seem impossible actually aren’t. If you’d asked me three years ago if I thought I would be able to hold a freestanding handstand for over a minute, I would have laughed at you and told you there was no way—my arms are too long and I never grew up doing any sort of gymnastics. But despite my limitations, I kept working at them and I’m proud of how far I’ve come today. Always keep going after your dreams and don’t limit yourself.
10. Confidence comes from within. This is a really tough concept to understand when you’re younger, since it always feels like we’re waiting on other people to continuously boost our confidence levels and tell us we’re on the right track. But the most confident people are confident not just because others believe in them, but because they believe in themselves.
11. Good food is worth spending money on. I used to be super cheap when it came to getting what I actually wanted to eat, often leading to me getting something less healthy than I actually wanted to try and save money. Now, if something is a couple of dollars more I always get it, especially if it means extra vegetables. Because your health is always worth it.
12. Experiences are way more important than stuff. I’ll be forever grateful to my parents who were always focused on giving me memories and experiences rather than just a bunch of crap I didn’t need.
13. Food is NOT the enemy. I used to feel guilty about every single thing I ate. I think I subconsciously believed that if I could train myself to exist on just water and air, I would be a much better, more intelligent, more attractive person. Well, I’m happy to say that although it took a long time, I’ve finally gotten over that ridiculous notion. Food is literally fuel for your body. It powers your brain, your body, and your workouts. It is not the enemy.
14. Different food approaches work for different people. Some people do really well on a Paleo diet. Others thrive being vegan, or following a mainly pescatarian diet. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was six years old, and although fitness people like to give me grief about it, it works for me. People know their own bodies better than you do, so don’t push your own diet beliefs onto them.
15. Read everything you can get your hands on. Business books. Fiction. Self-help and motivational books. There are SO many good books out there, and they will all change you if you let them. Some of my recent favorites are Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, Explosive Calisthenics by Paul Wade, Power Eating by Susan Kleiner, and The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. Like I said—all different types.
16. Don’t discount the opinions of the people you love. We all do this—we say something doesn’t count because our mom/spouse/best friend said it. But why would we care more about the opinions of strangers than of the people who know (and love) us best? Listen to your loved ones, they are the ones who will always see your true potential and never give up on you.
17. Failure doesn’t mean the world is going to explode. Part of the reason I used to be so scared of trying new things is that I was so incredibly afraid of failure. I really thought if I didn’t succeed, the world would end. I now know that’s (obviously) not the case, but it doesn’t mean that failure doesn’t still suck at times. Yet imagine a life with no failure… you’d never accomplish anything!
The only way to learn and grow is to pick yourself back up and try again.
18. Being “cool” sucks. You should never stop doing or liking something just because you think others will judge you and think it’s uncool. Set your own standard of cool!
19. Comparison isn’t worth it. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you will never become someone else. So rather than constantly comparing yourself to other people, you should focus on bringing out your own strengths. Embrace who you are and be the best you you can be.
20. Learning to celebrate your accomplishments is a really important skill. And yet, it’s one of the hardest things to learn for most of us. I’m still working on this—it’s so easy for me to move from one thing to the next without taking any time at all to celebrate what I’ve accomplished. But I’m working on it.
21. Being an introvert isn’t that bad. Sure, we’re sometimes envious of the extroverts who appear so natural at parties and don’t have to go sneak in a back room every 45 minutes just to recharge. And those people who just light up the room and make everyone laugh in an instant, those people are pretty cool too. And yes, it would definitely be nice if we didn’t have to think things through so much and could actually make a spur of the moment decision. But if being an introvert means we have fewer, yet deeper relationships, are good listeners, think (sometimes for a long time) before we speak, and can lose ourselves in a good book for days, it’s not such a bad way to be after all.
22. Don’t buy into health fads. There will always be some company out there trying to sell you the magic pill for health and fitness. Don’t buy it. There is no magic pill, only hard work, healthy eating, and consistency.
23. I really believe that everyone can find some sort of exercise they enjoy. And trust me, this is coming from someone who when I was younger would have told you I hated all forms of exercise. I like HIIT because it’s short, efficient, and I can do it anywhere. But if HIIT isn’t your thing, just keep trying things—take up rock climbing, learn to dance, join an ultimate frisbee team, just do something!
24. Building strength and gaining skills takes (a lot of) time. Way more time than you think it will actually. If you’d told me when I first started that it would take me a good two to three years of practice before I could be even semi-consistent holding handstands, I would have thought you were crazy. Remember that whenever you’re struggling with your pull ups, or handstands, or whatever skill you’re currently working on. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen with time and consistency.
25. Boxing is the absolute best way to take out frustration. There is just something so incredibly satisfying about punching (or kicking) something as hard as you possibly can. It’s hard to be angry after you’ve beat a punching bag to a pulp. Also, it’s surprisingly helpful for hangovers (in case your’e wondering).
26. Chocolate is a wonder food. If you don’t like chocolate, well… I’m not sure if I can trust you 🙂
27. Eggplant sucks. There’s no way around it. Yes, this is my own opinion as I am aware that many of you may actually enjoy the taste and texture of eggplant. But although I’m proud to say I’ve gotten over my dislike of spinach, mushrooms, and onions, I will never, ever like eggplant (I know, I know, I’m stubborn).
28. Walking is good for the soul. Living in places like Europe, New York City, and San Francisco have helped me to develop a deep love of walking. I walk a lot during the day—often around 10 miles—and it really helps me to slow down (something I’m not always good at otherwise) and think. It’s my way of meditating, and I often get some of my best ideas when walking to a coffee shop or taking my dog out for a sniff-fest.
29. Dream big. Don’t let your own or others’ limitations hold you back from going after what you really want. Following your dreams is scary, but living a life full of regrets is even scarier. Dream big and hustle hard. There’s really no other way to live.
If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.