Love Isn't What You Think It Is: 25 Life Lessons I Learned by 25
I was born November 30th, 1993, at 00.05am on a Tuesday.
This week, I turn 25.
I remember the first time I realized turning 25 meant having spent a quarter of a century alive and breathing; I was at my gymnastics Monday evening class, about 13 or 14 at the time and it was my coach’s birthday. She looked somewhat bumped to be turning a-quarter-of-a-century old though I didn’t really get why, and actually found this quite mind-blowing. That’s a long time!
Back then, 25 felt very far, and today it’s 13/14-year-old me who seems really far.
Yet, I feel the same. Inside, within me, nothing has changed; and I truly hope nothing ever changes. I hope I keep my curiosity and my eagerness to learn about it all, I hope I keep my light-hearted spirits, I hope I keep laughing at stupid jokes and feeling amazed and mind-blown at the simple things, such as birds singing in the early Spring outside my window and the fact that I’m turning a-quarter-of-a-century old.
What Is different, though, is a newfound sense of peace with who I am.
I’m less afraid to say what I think, to mean what I say; I’m less afraid to make space for my emotions and my feelings, and I’ve come to realize that they matter just as much as university diplomas or stamps on my passport. Feelings aren’t things that prove any kind of achievement, but they move you in a very special way (just think about the word, emotions… the word ‘motion’ is hidden there), they hold tiny keys to big doors, and can truly help you grow.
So I guess that’s the first lesson: emotions matter, and we need to pay attention to them.
I’ve learned a lot in 25 years, and I feel like for the past 7 years or so (when I moved to another country to never go back to the one I call ‘mine’), I’ve been through tremendous realizations and learning experiences. Some have been more joyful than others, some sad and some anger-triggering, some frustrating and some easy and some downright challenging, but all of them have been truly enlightening, and I’m overall incredibly grateful to be able to look back and see how much I’ve grown.
So, naturally, I had to write a list of the 25 major realizations I had throughout these 25 years, (which, between you and me, must have truly started happening around my 12th birthday). As usual, I hope these make you t.h.i.n.k and serve as reflection prompts.
1. Emotions matter, we need to pay attention to them, see above.
2. It’s all about mindset.
Do you know this quote that goes, ‘whether you believe you can or can’t, you’re right,’ (apparently by Henry Ford, which I just googled)?
I’ve always had this deep sense of responsibility for myself, my happiness, my state of mind, and how I maneuver my life, but I used to listen to others who tricked me into believing that I was just lucky to have what I have (opportunities, big smiles, joy, learning abilities, etc.).
That’s what we do, humans, we trick ourselves and others into believing that if others have things we don’t, it’s because they’re lucky, because they have something special.
While this is true to a very large extent (I was born in a first world country from healthy parents, with access to education, a white skin to get myself job interviews and work, the list goes on, and I do recognize this), it is also true that you, and you only can make the switch within and take action, every day, every minute even, to bring about change where you want to see it.
Mindset, then, everything is about mindset.
3. Reading matters as much as brushing your teeth.
Let’s not fool ourselves here, we have the time for it. We can stop scrolling through social media mindlessly. Our time is more precious than that. Reading makes you travel to new places and new worlds, into people’s minds and lives, out of your own for a bit. The world is filled with books to hate and books to love. Look for the ones that trigger you, that make you cry, that make you angry, that make you hopeful and that blow your mind. Read them, keep track of them, and let them make you think & grow.
4. Curiosity helps you grow more than you know.
However much you think your curiosity helps you, it is more than that. Next time you’re told you’re losing focus and getting distracted by the books you supposedly don’t have the time to read (see previous point), the tv shows you don’t have the time to watch, the people you don’t have time for, the conversations you’re not supposed to be having (your long to-do lists are awaiting), that museum ticket you don’t have money for, that bullet journal that takes you hours to fill in and that you don’t need, think again.
You never know how, down the line, in hours, days, months, years, maybe, all these channels and outlets will have served for something (although that something, you are yet to discover).
5. Social media is meant to be social.
Only a few decades ago, you and I would have to be lucky to find people we can truly relate to and connect with. Now you can, with a click of a button, find the people who, like you, love to talk about spaceships or football, who love to paint or train for the next iron man - the list goes on. Use your luck to enhance your social life and interactions. Stop befriending and following the people you think you have to befriend and follow, and engage with the people you connect with, find your crowd and develop meaningful relationship (... and ask yourself what this means for you).
6. Introverts aren’t anti-social and extroverts party animals.
This one is important to me because I spent many (many…) years wondering what was wrong with me when I didn’t know what to say in big groups of people and yet loving to be around people.
The introversion/extroversion division is much more complicated - and interesting!! - than that, and although labels can be dangerous, looking into what they mean can be an incredible catalyst for self-understanding… And acceptance. Being introverted or extroverted influences the way you think, process information, charge your batteries, experience the world around you, how sensitive you are to horror movies and classical music, how you learn, how you interact, and how you find meaning and make sense of it all.
7. You are allowed to choose your friends and wave goodbye at the people who don’t deserve (or respect) your time and energy.
You can also smile and hug them while doing so, there’s no reason why it should hurt or be total chaos. It requires strength and determination sometimes, but it’s your right. Claim it.
8. ‘Why not’ needs to be an important part of our vocabulary.
See, so much of how we’re supposed to lead our lives seems to already be written. We know we have to go to school, study; it’s expected of us that we’ll end up finding someone to be in a long-term relationship with; it’s also seen as the natural next step to have children if you get married; we’re also encouraged to buy houses and big TVs and have stuff. We’re expected to keep the religion we were brought up with, to accept the stories we were told… Things are changing and evolving, of course, but the list is really long.
What if none of this suits you? What if some of these expectations aren’t what you want?
Why not quit your office job to raise sheep in the countryside?
Why not… never getting married?
What about trying another way to shop or to commute?
How about moving to India?
I mean… Why not? Who knows how that might fulfill you when that happens?
9. Daydreaming doesn’t take you further; planning does.
Wishing on a star doesn’t work, nor does waiting for a magical rain to fall down on you, nor does having plans B, C, D, E in the back of your mind in case the first one doesn’t work. Planning, yes, but focused planning is where you need to direct your attention. Stick to your true desires, your dreams, your aspirations - your first plan - and get to work.
Note: no one is urging you to do this FAST. But you owe it to yourself to simply move in the direction of what’s calling you.
10. No matter how you feel, you are never, ever - ever - alone.
No matter how difficult your life experience, your sadness, your grief, your challenges, you can be 110% sure someone out there has gone or is going through the same things as you. Look for them and team up. Let them help you and reach out to them when you understand what they’re going through (and remember point #5 (about social media)).
11. Growing up doesn’t mean becoming boring.
It doesn’t only mean having more responsibilities, it doesn’t only mean getting old.
It can mean enjoying the freedom to decide for yourself, enjoying a newfound sense of confidence, enjoying a kind of serenity. It doesn’t mean losing your ability to have fun, to laugh, joke around and be light-hearted.
Photo: biking in London? Biking around reminds me to not take life too seriously, for some reason… Something about movement? A certain freedom? Lightness of the mode of transportation itself? I’m not sure...
12. Unlearning is an important part of self-transformation.
By self-transformation, I mean growth, or improvement, or elevation, or change or whatever you want to call it.
A lot of what we believe to be true is just not true at all, and unfortunately, before we can learn new things, we need to let go of all the clutter and the junk that’s covered in dust in our trunks. The #1 thing that comes to mind for me is love. Watch the lovely video below!
13. Spirituality isn’t a bad word.
I’ve always been drawn to religion as a way to get curious and connected to myself, but since I’ve become a yoga teacher, I’ve been learning and looking into what spirituality really means. All over the internet, you find a plethora of articles related to ‘the divine’ in yoga (an intimidating word, indeed) or information that relates to God through the eyes of a religious dogma. The problem with this is that it pushes lots of people (maybe you) away from all the wonderful world of the spiritual.
God doesn’t even have to be a part of your spiritual journey. There, I said it!!!
Spirituality isn’t necessarily about churches and synagogues, and God doesn’t even have to be a part of your spiritual journey (there, I said it!!!). Spiritual, the word itself has to do with the spirit, the mind, what’s beyond what we can see; it’s about daring to ask the bigger questions, on the meaning of life itself and how the world works, and all the whys you want - and accepting that asking the questions themselves might be a more interesting process than getting answers to them...
14. Connection matters more than numbers.
GDP? Instagram followers? Money in the bank? Holiday houses? Cars?
Don’t get me wrong, we do need money in the bank to buy delicious organic apples and oranges this winter, and a house in the countryside definitely sounds like a beautiful place to make heart-warming memories.
What I’m saying is that maybe - just maybe - the things you can count with your five fingers and higher numbers shouldn’t get the attention they’re getting. Rather, it’s what they bring and add to our lives should be the focus, and unfortunately it’s often not the case.
Imagine you have 10 followers on Instagram and 7 of them are strangers you met on there. You’ve built true, special friendships with them over time. Does it matter that there are only 10 of them in total?
15. You are allowed to change your mind.
And to be wrong.
And to disagree. And then to agree. And then to disagree again. It doesn’t make you less loveable, more selfish, ungrateful, or whatever adjective they’ll give you to stop listening to you. We are civilized people (or are we?) and we should be able to have constructive conversations without letting our egos get in the way. We should be able to let go of that stupid pressure to know it all and have it all ‘figured out,’ as they say. Our ability to change our mind makes us human, and it is another right we have to claim.
16. Setting up boundaries with people - even more so the people you love - is absolutely necessary for relationships to be fulfilling.
By boundaries, I quite simply mean saying no. People pleasing doesn’t get us anywhere and it certainly doesn’t get us closer to where we want to be (whatever that might look like). Learn to say no, and simply say no, when it doesn’t feel right to say yes.
17. It is your responsibility to shine your damn light.
This is so incredibly cheesy, I know, but it just is so true! Human beings are wonderful and every single being just needs to realize this.
Not only does the world need you, but you need you. You need your strengths, your qualities, your gifts, your skills, to take space and exist - they’re like the foundation to your house.
If you dedicate your time to your worries, negative self-talk and self-doubt and thinking about all the ways you can’t, there’s just no time, space, or energy, for all your amazingness.
Soft like sunlight passing through trees. Or explosive like fireworks. You choose - it’s yours, after all.
18. Doing something and failing is much better (and more useful) than not doing anything at all.
Maybe it won’t be the right technique now, but if we started doing the things we wanted to do today, and did them every day imperfectly, then in 1, 2, 10 years… Imagine what this thing would look like.
Often we just think too much, especially when that thing we want to do is scary… But doing gets us going and learning. What happens when you learn? Then you do better… and that’s when it gets interesting.
19. Integrity needs to be part of everyone’s vocabulary.
This one is pretty recent for me; I’m slowly learning about what it means to show integrity, and what it isn’t. Integrity means having actions that align with your words, it means being honest with what you want, who you are, what you advocate for, and not changing your mind as often as you change underwear.
Showing integrity means avoiding all the blabla and the excuses and just taking action, and without it trust cannot be built between each other, and without trust or being reliable, relationships are really hard to maintain. And then we doubt and question others’ intentions and live in a world of fear and doubt and well, I don’t want to live in that world - do you?
20. Being a leader doesn’t mean being loud or accomplished.
It means showing the way, not for the sake of showing the way, not for attention or recognition that you’re doing the right thing, but because you believe in doing the right thing.
In that sense, we’re all leaders as soon as we recognize that our actions influence our world and the people around us. How do you act? This is how you lead.
In Rachel Cargle’s words, which she wrote in an Instagram story: you don’t need an ‘audience’ to start talking about things. Your family is your audience. Your neighborhood is your audience. Your colleagues are your audience. #dothework.
21. Racism, sexism, and other isms that put us into immutable boxes are things we’re all guilty of.
If you don’t say anything, you keep the ideas going. Privilege is a thing and recognizing it is the first step towards change, change that needs to be collective. As human beings, it is our duty to care about fellow humans who get mistreated and abused just because the color of their skin, their sexual orientation or whether they were born with breasts or not - and it starts with SPEAKING UP.
22. Feminism isn’t a bad word.
It’s an all-encompassing one that supposes women should be allowed to realize their full potential, that potential they (we) were confiscated - some say because it’s just too bright and brilliant and scary for men. I don’t know about that, but I do know that it’s unfair to have to fight for things that for no logical reason women have no access to (the ability to show a little skin on social media without being called names, to have a power position without being called someone with ‘a temper’ or god know what else, or to be able to talk about one’s own fulfilled sexuality).
“So you’re feminist? But.. why? - Are you a femen? - Do you shave? - You're single? With a cat right? - Why should women be above men now? - When I was young, things were easier - You don't accept compliments, do you? - You’re on your period or what?"
23. Ego is the evil.
It’s the little voice in your head that tells you you need to be right - all the time. It’s the one that tells you that having to change your mind is embarrassing and downright shameful. It’s the one that says you’re definitely going to get that job or that person to kiss you at the end of a date.
Fight it, let it go, remind it that it has no place in any conversation whatsoever. You don’t need it. In any given situation where you think your ego could be part of the fun, remind yourself of that; ask yourself if it is you, or your ego talking. You need love, openness, kindness, compassion, generosity, so many things, for your life to be beautiful and fulfilling, but no ego. Letting your ego go doesn’t me forgetting about yourself, it means letting go of the part in you that wants to be right, that believes it needs to show it’s here to actually be here. You are here, you belong, and being right doesn’t matter - so out with the ego.
24. Patience is a form of love.
This one is another recent realization for me, and I can feel how it’s already having a major impact on everything I do. Every time I call myself out when I feel the urge to shout or take my I-demand-that-this-happens-now attitude, my whole body softens. ‘Why do I want this now? What will change if it takes 3, 5, 10, 60 more minutes to do this instead of 1?’ I ask myself, and as I realize the I-demand-that-this-happens-now attitude is completely useless, I feel lighter, more relaxed, more grounded, and open to listening and paying attention to what’s happening instead of rushing through it.
And to me, this feels like love. Soft, light, grounded love.
Practice with the simple things. A slow internet loading time, a long line at the supermarket.
Relax your eyebrows and unclench your jaw. The rest will follow.
25. Love isn’t what you think it is (see point #11).
I’ve mentioned this before, and it’ll be a topic I mention some more because it’s absolutely crucial we UNlearn about it. Through movies and the people around us, through songs and general societal expectations, we are told and shown what love should look and feel like, what and who it involves, how long it lasts and what actions it requires us to take.
One of the biggest lies of all, to me, is that love is meant to be hard, and therefore, that it’s normal in relationships to fight to ‘feel that this is really love.’ Second in line comes the idea that jealousy is also a part of love, and third, that love can just stop from one day to the other for no apparent reason.
BS over BS over BS *sigh* *eyes rolling*
Love isn’t any of that.
There is a part of magic in love, of course, often we can’t really explain where it comes from, especially in romantic relationships, but there’s a whole part of love that is the result of how much dedication, heart (!), and energy into it.
And love… Love is not conditional, it is not interested. It doesn’t judge, it doesn’t hold grudges (in other words, it’s forgiving), and if it does, then I’m afraid it is not love. Love takes time to listen and to learn, and through listening and learning, it understands what others want, and respects what others want. If you love someone, truly, profoundly, greatly, then you want what’s best for them; read that sentence again, now thinking about yourself.
Love makes you soften. Love is beautiful and it doesn’t hurt - if it hurts, then it.is.not.love.*
There you have them - my 25 major lessons.
This will serve as a reminder to myself on the days I feel a bit overwhelmed or like I’m nowhere, like I don’t have anything to treasure.
I hope I keep building my confidence and serenity.
Because I feel like this is what years give you, confidence and serenity. This is what I wish for myself today (I know, I know, you’re not supposed to share your wish), and what I wish for you, and everyone on this Earth: the serenity and peace and confidence to move through the world - through both emotions and actions - in a way that feels
With love and curiosity,
P.S. The last suggestion in point #8 is a wink to my parents, who this month just moved to India for 3 years. They really did!!!!!
P.s.s. Bonus #26 would be STOP SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF ALREADY. It’s useless and takes your precious energy away from you. You’re meant to do GREAT AMAZING MIND-BLOWING THINGS WITH YOUR LIFE. Go do them.
*this doesn’t mean hurting doesn’t exist. It means the hurt comes from something else - it might be sadness, anger, frustration… you name the feeling or the cause. But love doesn’t hurt; it makes you bloom.