Today is my birthday. 40! Yesterday I went shopping for Christmas presents and, full of the holiday spirit, wound up buying a dress (and handbag) for myself. The bag is particularly exciting if you listen to the upcoming “money stories” episode of Best of Both Worlds. The previous one was held together with dental floss.
Anyway, here are 40 lessons I’ve learned on the way to 40. Some are just personal knowledge, but some might be helpful to other people. And hey, if you’re in the US and work for the government or in finance, you probably have the day off, so you might have time to read this long list!
1. People can’t buy your book if they don’t know about it.
2. I don’t sleep well on planes. I’m better off staying over another night on the west coast and coming back the next day (international travel I just have to bite the bullet).
3. When people read what you write — even silently in their heads — they’re actually hearing the words. So read your work out loud to make sure it sounds good.
4. A good verb can incorporate a weaker verb plus the adverb you’d need to tack on. Write tight!
5. You’re/your, its/it’s, whose/who’s, they’re/their/there. It’s really not that complicated.
6. Nobody is a natural public speaker. People who are good at public speaking practice.
7. I don’t like false accusation stories. I also don’t like awkward situations that are supposed to be funny. This means the genres of mysteries and romantic comedies have a very high bar to clear for me to want to read/see them.
8. I am not a movie person.
9. I am not a dog person. Or a cat person. Or, frankly, a fish or hermit crab person, though I have acquiesced on those.
10. While I lose weight when I don’t eat carbs, I like carbs too much to do this long term.
11. You should just assume that anything you write or say about anyone or anything will be heard/read by that person or people who are particularly passionate (and not always in a good way) about the thing you are writing about.
12. The first mile of running is always the hardest. A mile in, you’ll feel better. Then good. Many situations seem a lot better and more solvable after a run.
13. Breastfeeding pro tip, learned from nursing four babies! When your milk comes in, start pumping at least one extra bottle per day immediately. Baseline supply is set by demand, and if you set your baseline higher than actual demand, you can miss a feeding without supply dropping below demand.
14. Also, when the baby starts crying at T+90-100 minutes after his last feeding, he’s probably crying because he’s tired, not hungry. Feeding him throws everything off. Letting him nap will get him to a more reasonable 3-hour feeding cycle.
15. Get more childcare than you need. Childcare isn’t bad.
16. When asked to do something in the future, ask yourself “would I do this tomorrow?” The opportunity costs for tomorrow are clear; for something far in the future, less so.
17. Going to bed early is how grown-ups sleep in.
18. It’s OK to quit most things you no longer want to do. If you find yourself creating long justifications for why it’s still the right thing to be doing, consider that it might not be the right thing to do. Maybe for someone else. But not for you, not right now.
19. Most decisions aren’t worth agonizing over. It will probably be fine. If not, you’ll figure out something else.
20. Fly direct whenever possible. Don’t check bags. (this fall, one of my sisters-in-law wound up never getting her bags during her entire vacation!)
21. Get TSA Pre-check. And Global Entry (I did #1, but not #2, and keep kicking myself every time I travel internationally). And for crying out loud, E-Z Pass!
22. Skinny jeans don’t look good on me. Very good on other people. Curiously, often people of similar height and weight. Not me.
23. If I buy uncomfortable shoes, I won’t wear them.
24. Ditto with uncomfortable clothes. I am so immature about this, but I am what I am.
25. Wrinkle creams don’t get rid of wrinkles. Botox does.
26. Kids are different. If your friend’s kid eats all her kale and responds readily to a sticker chart, that doesn’t mean she’s a better parent. It means she got a kid who loves to please people. Maybe you got a kid who does not give a *&%# about this.
27. Weather changes rapidly in the mountains. Pack appropriately.
28. Speaking of which, good outdoor gear makes cold and rain far more tolerable. To a degree. I have poor circulation in my hands and they go numb even in far-from-freezing weather. Those little heat packs for mittens help.
29. Nothing lasts forever. This is a good and bad thing. Wretchedly bumpy flight? It will be over eventually. That baby cannot scream forever. But that beautiful dinner with friends and the autumn leaves will end too.
30. Not everybody is going to like you. Critical but thoughtful and constructive feedback is a real gift. One should treat it as such. That said, there are people who get real pleasure out of leaving 1-star reviews or who would like to use what you put out in the universe as an occasion to lament their own unhappiness with the universe. Oh well.
31. If you’d like to write an op-ed, think about the thesis statement from the get-go. What are you writing about? Do you come out for it or against it? If you can’t sum up your answer in one sentence, you’ve got a problem. But once you have your sentence, great! Start with an anecdote that demonstrates your thesis. Now state your thesis. Back up and give some overview of the topic (briefly). Make your three strongest arguments for your thesis (with statistics if possible!) Then put in a “to be sure” paragraph addressing the strongest argument against your thesis. There probably is one. People who think differently than you do aren’t all stupid, so don’t take the lazy route of assuming this is the case. Then wrap it up with a good kicker (ideally revisiting the opener!) that gives people one last reason to be persuaded.
32. Just because something makes a good column or blog post doesn’t mean it will make a good book.
33. Just because someone is emphatically, belligerently claiming they know something is true doesn’t mean they do. Or that it is true.
34. A lot of statistics you read are misleading or misreported or just wrong. This was one of the first things I found out during my stint as a fact-checker at USA Today’s op-ed page many years ago. I think it’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to time as a topic. So much of the conventional wisdom is based on quick survey responses, rather than tracked time.
35. There’s all sorts of fascinating stuff in the Old Testament that never makes it into Sunday school lessons. Like the Witch of Endor. Also, a lot of “household gods” — monotheism took a while to develop. And the two (!) creation accounts in the first few chapters of Genesis.
36. I don’t like scuba diving. Cold water makes me cold. Breathing through my mouth only makes me anxious. I can see a lot of the same stuff snorkeling. Or at an aquarium. (Related: as mentioned in my DONE list, my husband and I went to India and saw tigers in the wild, which was really cool, but then shortly thereafter we went to the zoo and got a much better view of tigers…without the four hour Jeep ride).
37. Sewing a button back on is really easy. Repairing a hole in a pair of jeans is not easy. This is sad, since jeans get holes and a good pair of jeans is hard to find (see the skinny jeans problem, above). I’ve started to have some success buying copies of items of clothing I really like and use on the secondary market (ThredUp, eBay, etc.) after their manufacturers have discontinued them.
38. Nice umbrellas are easy to lose. Ugly ones have more staying power.
39. You can clean up the house at night but the toys will just come out again the next morning.
40. I am always sick around my birthday at the beginning of December. Thanksgiving seems to spread germs around, and the first cold snap heightens the issue (we’re indoors, the dry air makes me susceptible…) It’s the universe’s little gift to me. In the grand scheme of things, though, I’m probably happier with laryngitis than norovirus, so I should just count my blessings as my family members keep yelling “what?” from across the house after I’ve responded to their questions, rather than actually standing up and walking over to talk to me in person.
I’d love to hear your lessons learned!
Photo credit: Yana Shellman