1. Live in different countries. There’s nothing like building your identity through embracing and rebelling against elements in a few different cultures, including your own– but the only way to see your own culture and conditioning clearly is to get out of it.
2. Make huge mistakes. Fix them. Decide not to fix them. Realise that there are some you can’t fix. Learn to move on from them. Allow yourself to make mistakes.
3. Have huge fights with your friends. Make up. Decide not to make up. Learn to forgive yourself. Learn to forgive other people. Learn to let go. Understand that you can outgrow people and places, or they can outgrow you.
4. Be disliked, slandered, hated, gossiped about, and stabbed in the back. After a while, you realise that you are still standing, or that you got back up again, or that in the end, you must just be you, follow your own convictions, and stand on your own side. Yes, you must consider other people’s opinions, but yours must count the most to you– even against your family’s, friends’, partner’s and parents’. Nobody else knows what is best for you. There is no endeavour in the world worth pursuing that will not have its critics and backseat drivers.
5. Take risks you are uncomfortable with. That’s how you learn that not all risks are suitable for you. Learn which risks, which kinds of risks, and what level of risk is best for YOU.
6. Violate your values once in a while. There’s nothing like having the rug pulled out from under you and having to consciously DECIDE on which values you want to live by, not simply accepting what you’ve been conditioned, trained and brainwashed to believe.
7. Be a part of seeing your organisation through at least one professional crisis or three– a health crisis, an environmental crisis, a plane crash, a failed, public negotiations round, a bank crisis, an Enron. That’s the fastest way to understanding your professional worth.
8. Have at least one deeply personal crisis. That’s the fastest way to understanding just how strong and flexible you are.
9. Have ideals in love and romance. Watch Disney, read Mills and Boon, immerse in the old classics. That way, you have three things: something to aspire to, something to dream about, and something to tear down one at a time and replace with standards. When ideals collapse, in their place stand boundaries and standards, particularly for those of us who do not emulate our own parents’ unions.
10. Confront your fears head on– the fears that hold you back from doing what you want to do in the world. Afraid of public speaking? Do a course in journalism, volunteer to host stage shows, take acting and drama classes. Afraid of heights? Bungee jump, freefall out of a plane, stand on a glass floor hundreds of feet in the air, abseil 100m into a lush tropical cave. Claustrophobic? Go on caving trips and expeditions. (yup, done ALL that.)
11. Be ugly. Be jealous, be bitter, be angry, be frustrated, be weird, be stupid, be “blonde”, be all the dark and erupting emotions that society has taught you were “bad” or unacceptable”. Be ok with that. Whether we want to acknowledge them or not, they are a part of us and each of our unique stories– part of the paradox that is all human beings– strong and vulnerable, generous and selfish, big-hearted and guarded, intelligent and autistic, crafty and stupid, optimistic and depressed, pessimistic and idealistic, and so on. Whether we fight them or not, those emotions are there, and the more you fight something, the more solid you make it. A dear Finnish friend, Tina, once put it this way, “they’re just emotions. Look at them. Watch them. Let them play. Then go on with your life.”
12. Stick your foot in your mouth many times and in different contexts. That’s how instinctive diplomacy and grace in unfamiliar contexts come to those of us not born with a silver spoon in our mouths. You learn to recover, you learn to listen carefully, you learn that sometimes it’s ok to stay silent and be thought ignorant than speak and confirm your ignorance. 🙂
13. Travel until you’re sick of travelling, until you’re so stuffed and spoiled and fat on travel that you go to any city and begin to recognise familiar patterns. Find home that way. Find your best self that way.
14. Eat and be interested in what you put into your body. It is the most primal need we have, goes directly into our system and bloodstream, and we have given over the right to choose what to put into our bodies to corporations, politics and franchises. It is also one of life’s purest joys. Caring about the food you eat is caring for yourself.
15. Experience obsession. Ballet, choir, classical music, rock-climbing, travelling, an organisation, a person, a cause… it shows you the extent of your own ability to be passionate and the importance of passion, and your own capacity to come alive, to breathe and live what you love, and to know what– deep down– you need, you want and you crave, what is important to you. It will also show you what you lack, what you are running from, and what you are covering up.
16. Demand that which you desire. If you get it, well and good– you learn to live with the responsibility of getting what you want, you learn that humans are seldom satisfied with that, you learn to become better at loving what you have. If you don’t get it, you learn to deal with lack and loss. Either way, you learn. But demand it– demand it of yourself, demand it of others. And learn that you are not perfect, nobody is perfect, and therefore that there are no perfect systems in the world, whether that applies to organisations or economic theory or relationships. That way, you slowly begin to understand and put together the best imperfect life for you.
17. Be lonely at least once in your life. Bone-achingly, soul-draining-ly, desperately lonely. So lonely you shiver in the cold because there’s nothing left inside you to keep you warm. You’ll look at the homeless, artists, poor little rich kids, expats and so many other people with so much more compassion when you see them. It’s different from being alone. It’s loneliness. Learn to appreciate how important it is to be ok with yourself and take care of yourself. The only constant in this life is you.
18. Have your heart broken at least once (once is enough, but for some of us, apparently it is not). Learn to internalise and apply all the theoretical good stuff that never got beyond the intellect.
Done all that.