A couple of weeks back, I turned twenty-five; a quarter of a century, another year gone in what feels like the blink of an eye. Time waits for no (wo)man, but I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out so far: I have friends and family who are there for me no matter what; I’ve worked abroad – twice; and I’ve got a job I enjoy with a steady income. I’m not so keen on living in Cambridge, for a number of reasons, but that’s about the extent of my woes.
I’ve enjoyed reading others’ musings on lessons learnt over the years, so I figured I’d mark the occasion with a list of my own. Here are twenty five lessons I’ve learnt over the past twenty five years.
1. Happiness = hikes. Preferably long ones, with a cosy pub or beer garden (depending on the season) at the end.
2. It’s worth shelling out an extra 50p for Sainsbury’s Triple Belgian Chocolate Cookies. You can Taste the Difference. Trust me. (And if you’d rather not spend those extra pennies, you can recreate the experience at home with this recipe.)
3. There’s no substitute for hard work. Those wise words from bright spark Thomas Edison ring true time after time.
4. Life’s too short for sub-par books. If you’re not feeling it, move on. It took me a long time (too long, really) to accept that it’s perfectly fine not to finish a book, or like a much-hyped one.
5. Don’t be afraid to go it alone. We’ve all been there. Perhaps there’s a café you fancy trying, a film you’d love to see or a hike you’re itching to do – and, for whatever reason, your friends aren’t available. Don’t let that hold you back. I’ve been on some cracking hikes by myself and wouldn’t have missed seeing Paddington for the world.
6. There’s always room for dessert. Especially if it’s sticky toffee pudding with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.
7. Unplug. Take time to disconnect from your devices, spend time with those you care about and discover new things. I love losing myself in a book, growing veggies, hitting the trails, baking, sewing and playing board games (Scrabble, anyone?).
8. A strong brew and a chunk (or two) of chocolate cure many problems. Enough said.
9. Give back to your community. If you’ve got time to spare, find a cause you care about and volunteer. For me, that’s Girlguiding. I was a Brownie and, later, a Guide, and had a huge amount of fun doing crafts, learning campfire skills and dragon boating (and much more besides). When I was given the opportunity to work from home one day a week this year, I jumped at the chance to volunteer again, this time with a local Brownie unit. Seeing the world through eight-year-olds’ eyes once a week really puts things into perspective!
10. Don’t spend money you don’t have. I’m definitely more of a saver than a spender, and I have my parents to thank for this.
11. Time is finite. Use it wisely. Do things that bring you fulfilment; push yourself out of your comfort zone every once in a while.
12. Learn the art of saying ‘no’. It takes time, but you’ll thank yourself later. Maybe it’s been a long week and you’d rather crash on the sofa than go for drinks after work. Perhaps that event your friends are planning to go to just isn’t your thing. Maybe saying ‘yes’ just wouldn’t sit right with you. It’s OK to give some things a miss, to take a rain-check, to pass on some invitations.
13. If you need help, ask for it. You don’t have to do everything by yourself. If it’s getting too much, seek help and share the load.
14. Money isn’t everything. While money certainly makes some things easier, it’s not the be all and end all. I’d rather be paid less and do a job I enjoy than have a higher salary and get into work on a Monday wishing it was already Friday.
15. Choose quality over quantity. Especially when it comes to friends.
16. If in doubt, sleep on it. Take the times I’ve seen something I rather like in the sales, but have left it on the rack because I’m not sure it’s worth parting with a tenner for the item in question. Or the time I switched from studying Fashion Design to French, because the course I thought I wanted to study just wasn’t for me (quite possibly the best decision I’ve made to date). If I’m not sure about something and have to make a decision – and said decision involves spending money or an investment of my time – I’ll sleep on it. Somehow, it always helps.
17. The best things in life are free. Like parks, hugs and Time Out.
18. Never use straighteners on damp hair. I learnt that the hard way, back in the days when I hated letting my naturally curly hair run wild. The result? I singed my hair and the smell of burnt hair lingered in my room for a couple of days. I’ve barely touched straighteners since.
19. Laugh often; smile more. Simple.
20. Save the miniature toiletries from hotels. They’re practically made for hiking trips and also come in very handy on hand-luggage only weekend breaks.
21. Cuppa gone cold? Stick it in the microwave for thirty seconds to restore it. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve made myself a brew at work and then completely forgotten about it. Since I can’t bring myself to pour a perfectly decent (though stone cold) cup of tea away and start again, I let the microwave work its magic.
22. Set a budget – and stick to it. Part of this involves knowing what it’s worth paying more for (for me, that’s cheese, yogurt and tea bags) and where you can make savings by opting for supermarket own-brand ranges (cupboard staples like flour, couscous and tinned tomatoes spring to mind here).
23. If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no-one. Do what feels right, not what will please others. It’s not always easy, but more often than not it’ll save you hassle down the line.
24. It’s OK to not be OK. Bar Little Miss Sunshine, I doubt anyone can hand on heart say they radiate happiness all day, every day. So why hold yourself to those standards? It’s normal to have the occasional bout of the blues, but if you’re feeling anxious or stressed more days than not, seek help.
25. Treat yourself every once in a while. In my case, a treat usually takes the shape of a bag of chocolate raisins, a cactus or a book.