25 goals for 25
I was inspired by Anna Akana’s So Much I Want to Tell You: Letters to My Little Sister, in which she writes heartfelt advice in anecdotes to her younger sister that committed suicide (there's also a short video excerpt that's beautifully done). Although it’s written for her sister, the book reads as a collection of stories about how she became the person she is today, and her best aspirations for the future.
My little sisters are now not-so-little, and sometimes I feel as though I’m much too young and inexperienced to be giving anyone advice. But now that I’m in my mid-20s ( 😱), for the five-year anniversary of this birthday series I thought I’d write a list of goals for the upcoming year, and things I hope my sisters learn as they undergo the existentially confusing process of piecing together their own identities.
I once jokingly told my mom to “live your best life!” and it’s since become a kind of inside joke in our family, usually in reference to something overly indulgent or patently ridiculous. But living your best life means, at its core, striving to be the best version of yourself, and I think that should be a guiding principle of everyone’s journey through life, no matter what that looks like.
25 GOALS FOR 25
1. don't try to show everything you know
This is something my boss at Madwell told me regarding strategy, but I think it applies to life in general. Her point was that clients don’t usually want you to explain why you’re qualified. They hired you because you’re qualified. They just want to know that you get them—essentially, that you understand their vision and align with it.
Similarly, what I’ve learned is this: you don’t owe anyone an explanation. It’s human nature to want to articulate your thoughts and to have a point of view, but don’t feel like you need to establish yourself for the sake of others or compete with anyone else. Don’t contribute to the conversation just to make yourself heard.
2. exercise compassion
Listening goes a long way, and sometimes people just want empathy, not for you to try to solve their problems. It also means being kind and giving people the benefit of the doubt with their intentions.
3. don’t take people for granted
People are everything. You are the company you keep, and there’s nothing more valuable than having great people around you to support you, love you unconditionally, and make your life worth living. I am always eternally grateful for the amazing people in my life.
Earlier this year, I attended something called “Death Café.” I met up with a group of strangers at a tiny little bookshop on the Lower East Side. I was intrigued by an email I’d received earlier that week:
Death Café is a place to wonder together about the mystery and meaning of life and to discuss death comfortably and openly, a free-wheeling, self-facilitated conversation around death and dying, inevitably touching upon life and living. It is asked that people participate with an open mind and spirit, respect all points of view, and speak and listen with no agenda, objective, or themes.
So I went to a café and talked with six other strangers about death—what scared us, what it meant to us, what we thought would happen after we died. I actually like to talk about death a lot, not in a macabre way but in a way relational to existence, mostly because I have a lot of questions. I wouldn’t say the idea of death itself fascinates me, but what I find interesting is how our attitudes toward death are shaped by our individual philosophies. In other words, how do we see ourselves in the context of mortality?
A mentor of mine recently passed away from cancer, and I’ve had a difficult time processing it. It sounds cliché, but she was so full of life and now she’s just...gone. The worst part was that I had no idea it had happened—I had to find out through someone else because she hadn’t answered my text when I’d asked her to meet up. I can’t help but wonder if she suffered. I can’t help but feel guilty that I hadn’t seen her in almost two years. And I can’t help but be sad that I never got to tell her exactly how much I loved her and appreciated her, and how profound of an impression she’d had on my life, as both an educator and a friend. I will miss her dearly. One of my biggest regrets is not keeping in touch with her about her medical progress while she was going through chemo. It’s a sobering reminder to make more of an effort to check in with people, because life is short.
Shortly after, I stumbled upon this letter from The Atlantic which asked, “Dear Therapist: Will I Ever Get Over My Wife's Death?”. It was probably the best advice letter I’ve ever read, and I liked it because it challenged the implicit convention of a statute of limitations on grief. I didn’t know that the five stages of grief were originally designed for patients coming to terms with their own deaths, but I think that contextualizes the grieving process. The letter is heartfelt and solemn but it’s also cautiously optimistic, and I’ve carried it with me every time I’ve started to feel sad or lonely.
4. support other people
It’s easy to judge people or be petty. But a rising tide lifts all boats.
5. travel more
I’ve missed traveling. I spent a full year religiously following The New York Times’ “52 Places Traveler,” Jada Yuan, on her journey around the world, and it was both inspiring and jealousy-inducing. She’s a fantastic writer and I love her approach to travel; I think she really got to the heart of why you should travel—the sense of place, the interactions with locals, the acknowledgement of the history.
I didn’t take a trip this year just for me, and when you travel with 21 other people, the dynamic is noticeably different. I’ve missed going somewhere unexpected, getting lost and finding solace in the chaos of new sights and sounds, discovering hidden gems and the intoxicating novelty of an unfamiliar place. The little idiosyncrasies of a place that color your lens through which you view the world; that sense of belonging that you hold close to your heart like a map with which to navigate the complexities of life. I’m hoping to reclaim those things this year, so stay tuned ;).
6. be original
I read something to the effect of “you don’t have to know something that no one else knows, but you have to think like no one else thinks.” Being inspired by other people is nice, but being original fosters creativity and creates real meaning.
7. practice discipline
There’s a lot of analysis out there about millennials being obsessed with self-optimization. And while I don’t think that’s necessarily practical (or ultimately gratifying), I think learning how to live a balanced life is one of the most beneficial things for yourself. This quote from an interview with Mitski is one of the most profound takes on practical life balance I’ve read:
I think it's less about finding holistic balance and more about finding a unique balance within a fundamentally unbalanced situation.
I think it’s necessary to acknowledge that daily routines, while important, shouldn’t be too lofty. If you’re not the kind of person to wake up at 5 am, don’t force yourself to because Forbes says you “should.” Routines, in my opinion, should be finding tiny things that you can do to improve the quality of your life just a little bit (“Friday Night Chores” from one of my favorite newsletters, Girls' Night In, is one of my new favorites). Forming better habits is admittedly a bit boring, but I always notice a difference when I just choose to do them, whether it’s doing my full skincare routine, taking a two-minute walking break every hour at work, or drinking my allotted glasses of water by the end of the day.
8. put things in perspective
Out of all of the things on the list, this is probably what I struggle with the most. I’d like to blame OCD, but it also comes with Type A personality territory. It’s tempting to seek closure, get the last word, overanalyze, etc. But that’s not productive. Don’t overthink, and don’t waste mental energy on things you can’t control. Be flexible and patient. Learn to let go of things that aren’t healthy for you or that affect you negatively. Ask yourself if it’s worth the cost of your well-being and adjust accordingly.
9. take mental health seriously
Mental health is often a taboo topic, and in POC families especially, it’s often treated as a shortcoming or a reflection of character. It’s unfortunate, because it takes a lot to unlearn that stigma, and it wasn’t until college that I realized how many of my friends were clinically anxious and/or depressed and how common mental disorders are. And in understanding how to take mental health seriously, I’ve also learned to take self-care seriously (although it should be noted that this is not a substitute for actual treatment). Because in the end, you only have your health.
We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance. When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.
Self-care has become a bit of a craze right now, an antidote to the high-anxiety conditions we currently live in. But it’s so important to take time for yourself to refocus and recharge, and to prioritize your mental health the same way you would your physical health. My friend and I were talking about something called “hustle porn,” or the glorification of overexertion, and how damaging it is to the ideal of success. But a lot of self-care tips out there are simply to get you to calm down for a moment and think about what it is your mind, body, and soul really need. Self-care is a luxury—it means creating balance in your life and redefining your work ethic, not working so hard that you require a break in order to maintain your sanity. At its core, it means valuing your own time and being intentional about it.
It’s something I’m still learning how to practice (very inspired by the concept of short-yet-focused “micro-organizing projects” and the concept of organizing by mental state). It isn’t all face masks and candles, (although those are two of my favorite things); sometimes it just means doing your chores like folding your laundry, Swiffering your floor, organizing your spice drawer, and not reading the news.
10. be present
I do think there’s a middle ground in the “let people live their lives” and “live in the moment rather than on your phone” debate, and that’s a simple mental check of “is this preventing me from focusing on what’s in front of me?” It’s one thing to snap a quick photo or respond to a text, but when you’re more concerned by what others think of your life than actually living it, that’s when you know that you’re not really present. I grapple with this a lot as a blogger who frequently carries a camera around, but I’m also committed to being conscious of giving whoever I’m with or whatever I’m doing my full attention.
11. be visible
Know your worth. Be confident in your abilities, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. You can’t expect people to notice your efforts or consider your needs; you have to make those things known to people. One of my mentors once told me to “have the confidence of a white male,” because it never really occurs to them to be self-conscious or to limit themselves. Know that you are enough, and don’t let imposter syndrome get to you.
12. think critically
Always question everything. Amidst an overwhelming influx of information, both selective attention and media literacy are critical. Behind any narrative is someone with something to gain. And most importantly, don’t neglect nuance. If you have to resort to oversimplification or reductive reasoning to win an argument, you’ve lost.
13. never say no
When I worked at a healthcare + social media marketing startup back in 2013, we had a branding consultant give a seminar about how to create meaningful positioning for your brand. Ironically, I don't remember her name. But I asked her afterward how she got her job and she replied, "I never said no." She explained that this meant if there was a job she was qualified to do, regardless of job title or years of experience, she told them she could do it.
I’ve carried this with me through every job application I’ve ever filled out and every interview I’ve ever done, but it’s also a good metaphor for life (e.g. dating). The reasoning is that qualifications and/or experience desired in job descriptions are usually negotiable. Job postings are like dating profiles; they’re a list of ideal qualities, but you don’t necessarily have to check all the boxes. They just want to know that you can do the work (or in the dating metaphor, that you click with them). So don’t count yourself out just because you’re not an exact match on paper or you’re unsure of yourself.
14. but also, learn how to say no
Self-doubt is rarely a good reason to say no. But I’ve also learned that there are plenty of good reasons to say no. Say no when you realize that you’re overextending yourself or trying to please too many people. Say no to situations and people that aren’t good for you. Say no to things that don’t contribute to your personal happiness or help you reach your own goals.
When I started this blog, a lot of people asked me if I was going to monetize it. And I’ve always answered that I don’t know, because there are a lot of things to consider when you really invest in a project. In the five years I’ve written this blog, I’ve been offered some opportunities to review products, publish guest posts, and add affiliate links. And it’s a wonderful thing, because being offered those things feels like being recognized. But I also wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted from any potential partnerships, or if they were true to the brand that I’ve created, and so I said no. And I probably missed out on some money and/or visibility. But because I’ve said no, I got to keep this blog the way I want it, and I’ve done some partnerships I’m really proud of (examples here, here, here, and here!).
So be true to yourself. Be kind to yourself. And learn to say no sometimes.
15. enjoy time alone
Having great people in your life is important, but equally important is liking the person you are when you’re by yourself.
16. keep re-inventing yourself
People love to talk about personal growth, but sometimes have difficulty accepting that people deserve the space to do so. In pursuit of “wokeness,” we’ve created cancellation culture, an expression of personal agency that can be both effective and limiting:
...it [is] necessary to differentiate between individuals who said offensive things and the institutions that stripped people of their humanity—the latter being far more destructive.
“Changing culture meaningfully means approaching folks from the standpoint of ‘these harmful ideas you are perpetuating need to go,’” she said. “We’re not going to accept this anymore. But the people themselves can be recovered.”
None of us were born perfect. We are still learning and evolving and we may not be where we want to be. Our identities are always evolving, so it’s okay to acknowledge your mistakes and move on.
I’m not exactly where I want to be in life, and that’s okay. I think being perpetually unsatisfied is a very millennial thing, especially because comparison is so accessible. But it’s all part of the process. As long as you're doing something worthwhile, that time is not wasted. Don't let people tell you how to live your life—focus on creating value, do your own thing, and remember to allow yourself the freedom to become the person you’re meant to be.
17. go for it
Another note about habits—they’re hard to start. Around 88% of New Year’s resolutions fail, but that’s because they’re psychologically designed to. The brain just isn’t wired to make big radical changes overnight.
I was once talking to my friend AJ about struggling to write my novel. It’s easier when you have quantifiable goals, but “finishing a novel” is not something you can realistically do easily. And promising myself I was going to write more often usually ended in me rewriting everything I’d done the last time. So instead he told me to try something else.
“Write one word a day,” he instructed. I asked him what he meant, and explained it was just that—writing one single word a day. Because realistically, you’ll probably write more than one word, but the hardest part is just sitting down and starting. And since then, whenever I feel like I can’t focus on writing something, whether it’s a blog post or a new chapter, I write one word.
Stanford psychologist B.J. Fogg calls it “designing for laziness”; essentially, making it as easy and as seamless as possible for your brain to adjust to the new habit. Start by flossing one tooth, or leaving an apple next to your coffeemaker, or setting your shoes by the door. It’s not flossing, eating healthily, or going on a run. It’s conditioning.
Lastly, a Reddit thread I stumbled upon years ago mentioned a philosophy called “non-zero days”:
Rule numero uno - There are no more zero days. What's a zero day? A zero day is when you don't do a single f*cking thing towards whatever dream or goal or want or whatever that you got going on. No more zeros. I'm not saying you gotta bust an essay out everyday, that's not the point. The point I'm trying to make is that you have to make yourself, promise yourself, that the new SYSTEM you live in is a NON-ZERO system. Didn’t do anything all f*cking day and it's 11:58 PM? Write one sentence. One push-up. Read one page of that chapter. One. Because one is non zero. You feel me? When you're in the super vortex of being bummed your pattern of behaviour is keeping the vortex goin, that's what you're used to. Turning into productivity ultimate master of the universe doesn't happen from the vortex. It happens from a massive string of CONSISTENT NON-ZEROS. That's rule number one. Do not forget.
Once you master these micro-accomplishments, it becomes easier and easier. The first step is just starting. You’re rewriting your identity as someone who succeeds.
18. be conscious and conscientious
In seeking agency, it is important to understand that what you do makes a difference, and your actions have consequences. Take this into account when you’re tempted to submit to convenience or comfort. Be intentional and responsible with your consumption, your attention, and your decisions.
19. read more
I’ve lacked the patience to read anything other than articles in the past couple of years (and if I love you I’ve probably sent you a million of them), but I’m slowly getting back into actual books. I’ve resolved to read a page a day (re: non-zero days), and I’m also trying to make an effort to read more women authors—I’ve added almost all of these books to my reading list. If anyone is interested in starting a remote book club, let me know! I’m always looking for people to discuss with, and I find that reading with other people helps with accountability.
20. take ownership
Take initiative to figure out what you want, and commit to it. It sounds like simple, but these are sometimes the hardest questions. It’s not so much planning as understanding what purpose you want to fulfill. This beautiful slide deck that was widely shared in the strategy community called ”what am i going to do with my life??: a working framework for how to design the life you want” is an excellent resource.
21. choose love
I wrote about love being a choice in a Minute Thoughts almost three years ago, but one of the things I’ve really learned as I’ve gotten older is that love is not a passive act. You don’t fall into it. It really is about making a conscious commitment to another person and deciding to work through problems together. It means investing in that person even when it’s most difficult.
Some of the best relationship advice I’ve ever read is from Kristen Bell’s Instagram:
In 10 years, when the dopamine has waned, remember: Life is a crazy ride. It's a privilege to go through it with a partner.
22. be unapologetic
One time, a coworker of mine and I were talking about using exclamation points. He made the observation that he never used them in emails, but that a lot of women he’d worked with did. I told him that it was because women had to make more of an effort to moderate their tone. A Quartz Obsession on the topic noted that, “Women are more likely to use exclamation points, in a performance of grammatical emotional labor that sees them treading the line between projecting power and seeming approachable,” citing a Wall Street Journal editor that tried to go a month without using them.
The term “emotional labor” has been popularized in recent years, referring to “repeated, taxing, and under-acknowledged acts of gendered performance.” It’s best exemplified as being preoccupied with the needs and feelings of other people, as well as your own. This writer’s Twitter thread about Louis C.K. asserts that women are conditioned, without expectation of reciprocity or concern for their own well-being, to consider men’s feelings, their reputations, and their egos, especially regarding sex. And the point of emotional labor is that although invisible, it does weigh heavily on a person, and it creates a fundamental imbalance of power.
I’ve since tried to limit my exclamation point use in emails. It’s a very small thing, and it admittedly doesn’t save much emotional labor because I’m still highly aware of it and it still makes me a little bit anxious. But I’ve resolved to be less apologetic, to use my voice even when it’s uncomfortable. It’s hard, even when you consider yourself an assertive person, to recognize all of the ways in which you self-marginalize. I’m still learning not to say that I’m “lucky” or “grateful" for things that I’ve worked for, to say “thank you” instead of “sorry”, and not to understate my accomplishments or worry too much what other people think. I’m trying to go into 2019 with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez energy.
23. create more
As much as I do love blogging, I’m also always searching for new projects, and part of that is just creating the mental space to invest in them. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of perfection and in taking care of yourself that you forget to also push yourself to do things. But it’s progress over perfection, always.
24. cultivate gratitude
This isn’t to say ignore the negative, but instead to focus on the positive.
25. seek joy in simplicity
This is my absolute favorite kind of self-care; the small pleasures in life. Find a place that brings you comfort. For me, it’s a teahouse. Afternoon tea is a special indulgence for me—savoring a hot cup of tea and swooning over tiny pastries is my idea of heaven. It’s relaxing, therapeutic. Like a hot bath or a massage. I love taking everything in: the fragrance of hot tea wafting up from the pot, the intricate plating of the sandwiches and the meticulous desserts, the delicate clink of cups being set down. I like making tea at home, but there’s beauty in taking a moment to yourself, in appreciating the nuances of an environment that makes you feel completely relaxed and at home. Paradise isn’t a place; it’s a feeling.