Top 28: An Ode to a Brutal Year

Kenosha, WI. 2020.

In a few days, another birthday will come and go. It’s not a milestone birthday, but I was still hoping to milk it for all it was worth.

I originally envisioned a disco-themed celebration that would never end. Instead, it would romantically fade into the next morning; welcomed by a slow-motion sunrise, painting the walls of a swanky downtown hotel room in melted shades of orange and pink. Saturday Night Fever John Travolta would somehow be involved, too.

I’m not sure which Chicago grand-reopening phase allows for the re-institution of discos, but I’m not holding my breath. So, I’m trying to keep positive.

Hell, I’ve nearly survived the 27 Club. I’m still Colin-Jost’s-hot-little-sister passing. And, most importantly, I’ve kept a ledger of life’s Top 28 lessons I’ve learned the past 365 days.

Continue reading for a healthy mix of lessons-learned; ranging from mild suggestions, to painful observations, to straight-up ass whoopings.

  1. A little moderation goes a long way. This new year, I resolved to introduce this concept into my lifestyle. I committed to six months of abstinence from new tattoos, new hair colors, tanning salons, and more. While COVID-19 ensured I didn’t even try it; this was a good exercise to practice a little balance.
  2. Grace > Perfection. We’re guaranteed to fall short of expectations; whether our own, our loved ones’, or those of society at large. Thus, our ability demonstrate grace and forgiveness is more coveted than any attempts at perfection. This ensures resilience and allows us to pivot in record time.
  3. Most people don’t want advice. Unless specifically requested, just listen. Offer validation if needed.
  4. Family is one of the rare ‘constants’ in life. Whether biological or otherwise, family is safe. Their love is steady and unconditional. They affirm your worth. They guide you forward. They support you when you feel abandoned by the rest of the world. I’m humbled to admit I didn’t realize how beautiful, genuine, and profound this was until recently.
  5. Anxiety can (and must) be managed. I had this realization when my therapist asked me “If you have anxiety, why are you going to Woodman’s on Saturday mornings? That’s torture.” In that moment, I realized I have to be my own advocate. Thursdays are best.
  6. You must be your own customer. Whether in your day job or at your side hustle, you have to be doubly invested in your final products. Subscribe to your own newsletter. Listen to your own podcast. Watch your own videos. It will help you catch errors, inspire course-correction, and insist you stay humble.
  7. Spend time with people that like you. Don’t hang out with people that don’t listen to you when you’re talking. Don’t date people that don’t like what you stand for. Contemptuous energy is anxiety-provoking. As simple as it is sounds, freeing yourself from this is life-changing.
  8. Season your boiled water! Per the beautiful Salt, Acid, Fat, Heat on Netflix, you should be seasoning the water before cooking your pasta… not after! This subtlety makes a big difference.
  9. Beefy 5 Layer Burritos > Bean Burritos. My Taco Bell order changed this year. They also introduced Baja Blast Zero. Oh, happy day Momma!
  10. Anticipation is everything. Listening to a recent Sam Harris podcast episode, I was enlightened to some interesting neuroscience data. It turns out, anticipation elicits stronger neural reactions than the presence of actual rewards. This explains why cravings are stronger than the eventual experience itself (ie: addictions, candy, sex, etc). Knowledge is power.
  11. “Desirable difficulty” improves the quality of learning. On a recent Armchair Expert podcast, educator Jessica Lahey shared research that reveals the quality of memory encoding improves with an optimal level of lesson difficulty. It turns out, ‘easy’ lessons are pruned out during our brain’s daily data dump. Only the lessons that require (slight) strain involve enough attention to properly store the data.
  12. Social media is a mask. No one is as happy as they look (including your ex). Don’t involve your self-worth in this charade. If it’s not artistic, expressive, inspiring, or hilarious… ignore it. And if you feel left out, get new friends.
  13. Attention does not equal respect. Boredom, convenience, and other selfish motives may inspire someone to lend attention to you. However, respect requires a genuine interest in your well-being. Respect isn’t fleeting.
  14. Displacement theories discourage social responsibility/change. On another episode of Armchair Expert, Dax Shepard and Ashton Kutcher discussed the fallacy of displacement vs. coupling. Displacement theories suggest social change is in vain (ie: preventing suicides via method A will result in more suicides via method B). This is not only untrue; but it enables lawmakers and lobbyists to act in their best interests by doing nothing. Coupling theories indicate human behavior is far more complex and interconnected (ie: eliminating possibility of natural gas deaths via home ovens = dramatic reduction in suicide rates overall; suicides intervened on the Golden Gate bridge rarely result in another attempt, etc). These coupling theories and real-life observations show we are capable (and thus, responsible) to move forward.
  15. Pre-flight major changes with all stakeholders. If you’re involved in any range of change management (process improvements, lifestyle changes, etc), this detail makes all the difference. This ensures the other party feels validated and supported. Bonus: their insights will often improve your final product, too.
  16. Therapy is allowed to be boring. Life doesn’t have to be chaotic to be important.
  17. “If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.” Whitney Cummings reminds her podcast listeners that we must maintain boundaries within our social circles. This quote specifically serves as a reminder that if another’s reaction is explosive, it shouldn’t be taken personally. Instead, it’s usually an indicator that their past experiences are informing this reaction.
  18. Worthiness does not fluctuate day to day. Don’t offer yourself up on a platter. We are always deserving of love and kindness (not just on our skinny days!).
  19. “Meet your body where it’s at today.” This is my favorite mantra from my Hot26 yoga instructor. It’s a reminder that our strength and stability fluctuates daily. Because of this, we must listen to our bodies for cues before assuming what it should be capable of.
  20. Time alone does not guarantee loneliness. Enjoying your own company is freedom.
  21. Some days feel impossible to survive. They aren’t. I’ve had more of these days this past year than any other. This must mean I’m leveling up!
  22. Apologies + unchanged behavior = manipulation.
  23. Milestones must be celebrated. While my mom taught me the importance of this many years ago, I learned the second half of this lesson late last summer. Not only must you celebrate your accomplishments, but you must also acknowledge the company that rallies behind you. Pay special mind to those who support your wins. They’re the ones that truly love you.
  24. Artwork quality dramatically increases with time spent creating it. The next time you draw something you like; try it again a second time, but with 3x the hours invested. The results will amaze you.
  25. We must lean into discomfort. If you’re uncomfortable doing something, it’s often simply the sign of a skill not yet acquired. Contrary to the story our egos tell us, it’s not an indication that we’re inept in any way. Whether it’s CrossFit, pole dancing, or hot yoga, you may be one month away from unearthing a divine skill.
  26. Apologies indicate great strength. Owning up to our shortcomings and inviting a way forward is incredibly vulnerable. It takes immense bravery to bare this. I’ve been trying it more.
  27. Empathy cannot be taught. Either you’re invested in the wellness of others, or you’re not. Expecting warmth and understanding from those that cannot supply it causes great pain and frustration.
  28. “Nothing Compares” – The Weeknd is the ultimate. That’s all.

Here’s to another year of learning and loving; softer lessons, more genuine love, and swifter resilience.

P.S. Click here for the perfect summer patio playlist!

“Seek patience and passion in equal amounts. Patience alone will not build the temple. Passion alone will destroy its walls.”

Maya Angelou.