Maybe it’s that I just turned 33. Maybe it’s that I just finished the most terrible semester (part of a remarkably bad academic year) of my career. Maybe it’s just my usual penchant for self-analysis (have I written yet about the television-drama styled meta-narrative that runs through my head constantly?). Whatever it is, I’m busy being reflective lately, and inspired by a recent piece in O, I’ve been working on my rules to live by. Here’s what I have so far:
1. Be authentic. I am a geek. I am clumsy. I am loud and easily amused. I am not sexy in the traditional open-mouthed, messy haired, bedroom eyed sense. I am, though, sexy in my own quirky way when I own all of my awkwardness and really let it fly. It is when I am most myself that I am most comfortable, most beautiful, and most successful.
2. Be kind. Being kind is different than being nice. Kindness is thoughtful. It is intentional. And it’s universally applied without expectation or judgment. Sometimes it’s proactive, like looking back when you’re about to walk through a door to make sure there’s not someone behind you for whom you should be holding that door. Sometimes it’s reactive, like choosing to be patient with someone whose grumpiness could very well be caused by awful personal circumstances (that would make you feel like a twit for responding any other way). The beauty of kindness is that it is its own reward. No matter how the creature on the receiving end responds, I always feel better in my gut because I was kind.
3. Find joy in the seemingly small things. Chucks. Dark chocolate. Dry red wine. Extra sharp white cheddar cheese. Multi-colored toenails. The smell of clean clothes. Fireflies. Little games, like guessing what tip HP will leave the waiter. Walks with Abby in various weather conditions. Silly moments when HP and I both repeat the same line from whatever show we happen to be watching. These are the things that bring me joy–not just contentment or surface-level happiness but way down deep in my gut pure joy. I’m not really sure why these always get called “little things” because for me, they’re so clearly what matters most. The day I stop feeling karmic pleasure at not stepping on worms the rain has washed onto the sidewalk is the day I stop being really, deeply happy.
4. Know what’s worth fighting for, and then fight for it. I hate having people be upset with or otherwise disappointed in me. It really doesn’t matter who they are or whether I usually value their opinions or not. That someone could possibly be feeling negatively about me tends to get my stomach acid in crazy eruption state. I also, though, have a natural sympathy for the less powerful, less privileged, less heard, and there are times when that overpowers my extreme desire not to piss people off. There are times when pissing people off is necessary, and in those times, it’s really your responsibility to do so.
5. Smile and laugh freely. Memo to the universe: we are not given a limited smile and giggle bank at birth. Cheesy smiles and belly laughs cost nothing. Coolness levels do not immediately decrease with each baring of the pearly whites. Intelligence does not improve with somber expressions. Do you get it? You lose nothing by smiling. Instead, you give the world a little gift, a little pick-me-up, a little reassurance, maybe even a little kick in the pants.
6. Celebrate people you love. When you’re a kid, you get these fantastic birthday parties with people singing and presents. You get gold stars on homework–sometimes even scratch-and-sniff stickers that smell like banana splits! You get at least once-a-year awards ceremonies with certificates acknowledging the smallest of progress. Then something changes. The awards ceremonies stop, and so as not to appear boastful or self-centered, you stop announcing your successes and sharing your good news. Ok, that’s fine. But at that point, it becomes everyone else’s responsibility to celebrate you. Friends and loved ones deserve to be celebrated. . . and not just at big moments like weddings and retirement parties. We should all know our friends and loved ones well enough to know when some small accomplishment is a big victory and to know how best to help that person celebrate.
7. Take your own advice. I try hard not to be an opinionated turd who tosses out how-things-should-be-done tidbits like free t-shirts from one of those sweet air cannons at most indoor sporting events. In my head, though, I often find myself knowing how a situation could’ve been better handled. I have enough clarity to produce a list of rules to live by, after all. But as with all of those internal judgments, these rules are much clearer in writing than they are executed in my daily life. We all have inherited wisdom that sticks with us for good reason. I, for one, would probably be better off if I applied it to myself more frequently.