Dear Mr. Schneider,
I attended your elementary
School almost thirty years ago
And I’m very sure that
You will remember
My name is Suzy.
I’m that hyperactive girl
From the Egyptian family
Who used to always play dead
On the playground during
You used to keep me
After school a lot,
And then my father would
Force me to make the long
Walk home in the cold or rain.
Sometimes I would arrive
I’m writing to tell you
That I was bored as a kid.
I was bored by your curriculum
And the way I was always taught a
Bunch of useless
I did not like being locked up
In a prison of scheduled time
Learning about irrelevant material,
And watching belittling cartoons and
Shows approved by academia that
Made me even more
As a kid
Who was constantly
Growing, evolving, and
Being shaped by all around me,
I wanted to travel,
See other kids
In the world like me,
To understand what was going
On amongst us and around us,
To know what we were here for
And what was our real purpose
I have some questions
I would like to ask you, Mr. Schneider,
Now that I know that you are no
Longer a school principal,
But the new superintendent
Of the entire school
I want to know
Why racism today
Was not clearly explained to me
Even though we covered events
That happened long ago.
I want to know why you
Never shared with us
Why other countries
Never liked us,
Why we are taught to compete,
To be divided in teams,
And why conformity is associated
With popularity, while
Eccentricity is considered
I want to know
Why my cafeteria lunches
Were slammed packed
Processed junk food
And why is it
That whenever a bully
Slammed a kid into a locker for
His lunch money,
Nobody explained to us
That egotism, selfishness and greed
Were the seeds of
I want to know
Why we were never taught
To stick up for each other,
To love one another, and that
Segregation sorted by the
Occupations of our fathers,
The neighborhoods we lived in, our houses,
Choices of sport, wealth, clothing,
Color of our skin
And the texture of our hair
Should never, ever
I want to know why
Is it that whenever I pledged
Allegiance to the flag,
I was never told that I was
Actually hailing to the
You used to say that
I was a troubled child,
A misfit, and that I needed
But you never acknowledged that
I was the fastest runner in the district
And that I took the school
To State and Nationals to compete
In the Spelling Bee among kids
Grades higher than me.
And that it was me,
Who won that big trophy
That sat in your office when you
Used to detain me for hours
And tell me I was no
If we are not taught truths as kids,
Then how do you expect us to
Grow up to be truthful citizens?
If we are only being taught the written way,
And it has not shown positive effects
In societies of yesterday or today,
Then how can we progress as a
United and compassionate
What good is it,
To memorize the histories
Of our forefathers,
Without learning what could be
Gained from their lessons and mistakes
To improve our future
I want to thank you;
For I know you have a tough job
Dealing with rebellious children like me.
Your job of mass processing and boxing
The young minds of America has not been an easy one,
And I congratulate you
On your recent promotion.
But I sincerely want to thank you,
And thank you,
For always pointing out
That I was
― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem
I also can’t believe I haven’t blogged about the process.#bloggerfail
It has been the most exciting and most trying process ever.
Even though I have known that I am getting married for a few months, I haven’t really felt “excited” i.e. giddy (not to be confused with happy) about it until this past weekend and I know exactly why. This wedding planning process has confirmed that I am an OCD organiser. Unless every item on my “to do” list is either completed or in-progress-with-a-clear-plan-and-timeline-to-complete-with-sufficient-room-for-error-margin-time-wise, I feel unsettled. I have finally achieved that state of relaxation and excitement and I love it.
I have learnt a lot of things about myself, wedding planning and interacting with people throughout this process. The most valuable of those lessons are these: know what you want and what is important to you. If you don’t, you will drown in the waves of well-intentioned suggestions. In addition, knowing what is important to you will mean that you will know what you are willing to compromise on and what you are not. This sets the tone for your budget and for negotiations with suppliers. Give and take is inevitable. If you haven’t figured out where you would rather spend and where you would be happy to save, you will spend an unnecessary fortune. Knowing what you want also allows you to sift through all the lovely suggestions you will get and to pick the suggestions that make your vision better. Even more importantly, it allows you to make quick, confident decisions. If you don’t know what you want, you will end up having someone else’s wedding and paying top dollar for it.
Be it friends, suppliers, family or the pastor, communicate succintly. Giving them the vision is not enough. You might think it is but it isn’t. Your loved ones and suppliers can’t see what you are imagining so if you leave room for interpretation, they will interpret and they will might come up with something entirely different. Tell each person exactly what you want or else the resulting confusion will exhaust you at best, or at worst, result in a wedding you don’t want.
Go for pre-marital counselling. Period.
Almost finally, once you pick and pay for a dress or shoes….stop looking!!! There will always be a better dress or a better pair of shoes accompanied by that pesky voice in your head that says “you will only wed once. It’s totally worth the money.” Don’t. Do. It. Sometimes the voice takes the form of a very persuasive salesperson. Be wise.
Finally, be unapologetically yourself. Don’t try to recreate someone else’s wedding experience. You can learn from others and be inspired by others but ultimately this is your day to celebrate in the way that makes you (and your mother) happy. For example, instead of a traditional wedding website, my fiance and I launched a blog. It’s a platform we can use to blog about marriage, love, kids, challenges and good times. The idea of continuity and preservation of the memories in writing is important to me and his enthusiasm and the delight we both took in working on the blog together is a very special memory. Even the parts where we disagreed intensely about themes and content and deleted and re-did attempt upon attempt punctuated with a little sulking from both of us here and there all contribute to how special it is.
For the record, I chose, ordered and paid for my wedding dress within 3 months of getting engaged, without ever stepping into a bridal boutique. The wedding dress was one of the things I was willing to compromise on (shocker. I know.) and I was lucky enough to get one that I absolutely love with minimum fuss and at minimal cost #score. I feel like I should be in the Guiness Book of Records or something😉
Oops, I almost forgot… I promise this really is the final finally… finally, be patient and long-suffering. You will be tried. Losing your cool wont help (unless you are supposed to try lamb shank on a bed of sweet potato mash accompanied by root veggies and the chef serves you lamb shank pie in a pot with a bone sticking out and you absolutely refuse to eat it and send it back to the kitchen #truestory) You may not be understood. You may struggle to find what you want. You may need to haggle back and forth for some time. You will need to follow up on RSVPs you didn’t get. You may need to explain to the decor person that adding votives to your quote and to your decor when you gave them a list of exactly what you want that didn’t have votives on it is trying it. You may need to explain the spice palette to the chef a couple of times. You may need to send a multitude of pictures to your hair dresser and compeltely dislike the result (this is why you have trials). You may need to push things along. You may need to look through a million options of a million things and not spot anything you like and then randomly happen upon a picture of a cake that makes your heart skip a beat. Patience isn’t really an option. It’s your only choice.
God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well. – Voltaire
It’s my birthday month and I am going through some sort of self/life/work-reflection overload. Weirdly enough, I am enjoying it.
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough for me is the realisation over the past 2 months that I have now made some sort of peace with my mother’s death. It’s taken a long time for me to let go of the anger; the desperate ‘why;’ the intense grief; the eternal “I want her back;” and the overpowering memories of the losing battle with cancer.
I remember crying desperately alone in my car all the way home a couple of months ago, after watching a hilarious movie (yes, I laughed throughout the movie and yes, I can see the irony) because the manner in which the doctor delivered the “it’s cancer and there’s nothing we can do” line was exactly how the doctor said it to me. I also remember saying to God, “I can’t do this forever. I can’t hurt like this forever. I need to start healing. Please do something.”
Apparently, He did.
He must have been working quietly in the background because now when I think of my mum, I feel warm inside. When people tell me she would have been proud, it doesn’t make me angry anymore (I can not adequately express the anger I would feel when people would say this to me). I appreciate it. I randomly laugh out loud at the memory of the moments she truly dug deep to embarrass me in public (usually because she was proud of me) lol. Like that time I walked on to the stage to receive an award for coming first at school and she jumped out of her seat at the back of the hall and ululated and danced right down the centre of the hall shouting, “mwana wangu iyeye. haadyi chimwe chinhu kunze kwemabhuku!!!! ululululululu *dancing in circles for emphasis and extra embarrassment*”I could have spontaneously combusted in that moment. Who knew what incredible value that moment would have for me decades later.
I remember the hidings. They were the real deal. She took no nonsense.
I smile at the blunt honesty with which she delivered her assessments of some of my abilities. When I joined the choir she said, “Mwanangu (my child), I am assuming you joined the choir because all your friends are there because we both know you can’t sing.” I really can’t🙂. The lesson: know your weaknesses.
I also remember when I started trying to adopt a fancier accent when speaking English in early high school. *sigh* The foolishness of youth. She always spoke to us in English in order to force us to develop our ability to communicate and enunciate in English so when that twang started rearing it’s silly head she was right there to put a stop to it in short order. “Why are you speaking like that? You want to sound fancy before your ability to communicate correctly and concisely in English has fully developed? It will just make you sound foolish and uneducated. Learn and master the language. Your accent will change accordingly naturally.” She was right. This is a principle I still apply to work, life and sport. Master the basics before you open the top drawer. The fancy 1,2s will follow naturally.
I remember waking up from my very first epileptic seizure in a hospital. I remember the overwhelming confusion as I took in the needle in my arm, the white walls, the white bedding and the strong medicinal smell. I remember starting to panic and turning my head and there was my mum, asleep in the chair next to my head and just like that, the panic was gone. Mummy was there. It didn’t matter where I was. I would be OK.
The mother of them all was when I told her I was going to take back an ex: “Mwanangu, I won’t tell you what to do but you must never take back an ex.Nothing good can come from it. Have we not cried enough tears over this guy?” I did it anyway. Boy, was she right. And when her predication came true, she just held me and let me cry my tears then dusted me off and told me, “it’s ok. Now you have experience and your heart will heal. Eventually, someone better will come along. Hopefully, a better-looking someone.”
She didn’t wear makeup at all. I remember her watching me intently in my late teens as I fiddled with eyeliner I had bought for myself using my pocket money. I thought she would be mad when I added lip-gloss and nail polish a short while later. I saw her watching me paint my entire toe with my poor, inexperienced technique. A few days later she said, “I spoke to my friend at work. She loves makeup and wears it everyday. She has agreed to teach you how to apply it. You can just tell me when you want to go.”
I miss her. I love her. I wish she could have lived longer. I wish she had had a chance to see her grand-kids. I am grateful that she was there to mould me into what I am. I am grateful that she taught me how to live without her. I am glad she taught me how to think outside the box and to challenge the status quo. I am grateful she taught me that it’s ok to learn from those who know. I am grateful she wasn’t afraid to let me see my flaws and learn to use them as strengths. I am grateful she cultivated in me a love of books, language, art and culture. I am grateful that I had a real chance to say goodbye and I took it. I am grateful that I had her for as long as I did. I am grateful she was there to take the bus with me to Johannesburg when I left the country for the first time to go to Varsity. I am grateful she came to teacher/parent days. I am grateful she religiously checked my grades right up to my law graduation. I am grateful she taught me how to look after and do my own hair. I am grateful she was there to patiently teach me to bring my short temper and intense emotional reactions to all things under control so I could control my epilepsy. I am grateful she was there on the occasions when I failed and it got the better of me. I am grateful that I had her as long as I did. I am grateful that I have an entire lifetime of her love to remember her by. I could write a book and the pages wouldn’t be enough to contain the list of all I am grateful for.
I am grateful for the tears that I cry now because they are tears of acceptance, gratitude, sadness and missing her not tears of denial, anger and a hopeless burning desire to tun back the clock or to know why. I am grateful.
Somewhere there is a woman: 30, no children. People ask her, “Still no kids?” Her response varies from day to day, but it usually includes forced smiles and restraint.
“Nope, not yet,” she says with a chuckle, muffling her frustration.
“Well, don’t wait forever. That clock is ticking, ya know,” the sage says before departing, happy with herself for imparting such erudite wisdom. The sage leaves. The woman holds her smile. Alone, she cries…
Cries because she’s been pregnant 4 times and miscarried every one. Cries because she started trying for a baby on her wedding night, and that was 5 years ago. Cries because her husband has an ex-wife and she has given him children. Cries because she wants desperately to try in vitro but can’t even afford the deposit. Cries because she’s done in vitro (multiple rounds) and still has no children. Cries because her best friend wouldn’t…
“force′ of hab′it. n. behavior occurring without thought and by virtue of constant repetition; habit.”
I was going to blog about a few beauty, health and life hacks that the world already knows about but that I have only just worked out and started reaping the benefits of *sigh.*
The plan had to change because I had a minor epiphany.
During a recent sermon, one of the pastors at our church told the following anecdote:
A couple was newly wed and being lovers of food, they splurged on a fully outfitted kitchen. The husband absolutely loved fried fish. Not only did he love fish, he loved to have his fried fish served whole. To his surprise, his wife would always cut the fish in half when she fried it. Eventually he asked why and the response was simple:”this is how my mother used to do it so this is how I do it.” Visiting his mother-in-law and her mother, he witnessed the same thing and asked the same question. The answer was exactly the same, “this is how my mother used to do it so this is how I do it.” Finally, he had the good fortune to sit with his wife’s great grandmother and he asked the same question, “Oh that!” she replied. “I always cut my fish in half because I had such a tiny pan!”
His little anecdote reminds me of the story of the Cat and the Monk:
“Once Upon A Time, There Was A Monastery In Tibet. The Monks In The Monastery Meditated From Dawn To Dusk.
One Day It So Happened That A Cat Trespassed Into The Monastery And Disturbed The Monks. The Head Monk Instructed That The Cat Be Caught And Tied To The Banyan Tree Until Dusk. He Also Advised That Every Day, To Avoid Hindrance During Meditation, The Cat Be Tied To The Banyan Tree. So It Became A Daily Practice, A Tradition In The Monastery; To Catch The Cat & Tie It To The Banyan Tree Before The Monks Starts Meditating. The Cat Remained Tied To The Banyan Tree As The Monks Meditated
The Tradition Continued. One Day The Head Monk Died. As Per Tradition The Senior Most Monk Was Chosen As Head Monk And All Other Traditions Including Tying The CAT To The Banyan Tree Was Continued.
One Day The Cat Died. The Whole Monastery Plunged Into Chaos.
A Committee Was Formed To Find A Solution And It Was Unanimously Decided That A Cat Be Bought From The Nearby Market And Tied To The Banyan Tree Before Starting The Meditation Each Day.
This Tradition Is Still Followed In The Monastery Even Today. UNCHALLENGED. UNQUESTIONED.”
The gist of both these stories is the same, there are many instances in which we follow the accepted and expected practice without asking why. Are your habits still adding the value to your life that they did initially? Are the reasons why the habit was formed still relevant?
A simple example from my own life is the fact that I have always had my hair done the weekend following my monthly payday. Most businesses in South Africa pay salaries on a monthly basis. (I know a lot of businesses in America and other places pay salaries weekly.) I started doing this because when I started working;
that was the time of the month that I had the extra cash to do it;
my old hairstyle would be in dire need of a change by then; and
if I didn’t do it immediately, the money would inevitably be spent on something else.
Of course, this is true for many people so salons are always packed on pay day weekend. We all go anyway because “we have no choice.”
Long after I can now afford to do my hair at any time during the month or more than once a month, I asked myself the other day, why am I still beholden to this habit? Why do I still feel guilty about breaking out of the habit of doing hair monthly? Why do I not do my hair on an “as-needed” basis? Why do I insist on going to the salon on the busiest weekend when salons are practically ghost towns during weekend 2 and 3 of the month? Long after the rationale has become redundant, why am I holding on to an obsolete habit so tightly?
How many other obsolete habits am I (or are you) holding on to?
‘Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. Its the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.’ – Pierre Berton
Racism. It’s a very topical issue in South Africa at the moment. There is no denying that it’s a huge problem. What concerns me is the fact that most people seem to wholeheartedly believe that the only form of racism that requires attention and push-back is white on black racism.
My personal experiences with racism tell a different story. I have experienced white on black racism but it is spectacularly matched and, in some instances dwarfed, by the racist vitriol I have heard some black people utter against white people. Even greater than black/white racism in my eyes, is black on black racism. I can count my encounters with black/white racism on my ten fingers and toes. I have lost count of the number of times I have personally experienced or witnessed black on black racism.
It’s the black people who think that when a white person does something out of the ordinary, that particular person is quirky and when a black person does it, it’s the ignorance of the race. Like that waiter who couldn’t understand that I came into the restaurant with a hankering for something sweet so I wanted dessert wine before I had my meal. It’s his repeated attempt to tell me I shouldn’t have it because I’m not supposed to. According to who? Because I am the paying customer and I know what I want to drink right now. It’s my fiance’s friend who subsequently told me with genuine concern, “You shouldn’t do such things. You give black people a bad name.” Why does my dining choice impact an entire race of people who are each unique in their own way. Is a quirky white/Indian/Chinese person a representation of all white/Indian/Chinese people?
It’s that moment when the car guard lets go of my trolley mid-push and rushes off to help the white shopper who has just exited the store behind me.
It’s the new tea lady at my previous place of work who, finding herself without clean drinking glasses soon after I had walked out with the last one full of water for myself, chose to follow me to my desk and ask if she can have the glass back because another manager (at the same level as me but white) wants water. I was the only black manager on her floor. “Sorry neh Chuwe? I will bring you another one when I get more.” By this she meant when the other managers had finished and returned the ones they had and she could wash them. What was amusing was how genuinely apologetic she was.
It’s that moment when I stuck my hand out to tip the car guard for his assistance and I looked in the rearview mirror to see that he had rushed off mid-assist to assist a white gentleman who had just walked into the parking lot. He wasn’t even at his car yet.
It’s that moment when a friend of mine stood in a queue at Midas behind 2 white gentlemen and a black man. The black shop assistant behind the counter greeted the 2 white gentlemen with “Good morning sir. How can I help you?” As soon as they stated what they wanted, he went off to get it and completed the transaction. As one should. The black gentleman customer was met with a stony straight face and no greeting of any sort. Obviously not phased, he asked “do you have xxx?” Without moving a muscle to go anywhere, the shop assistant responded with a blunt “it’s R350. Do you still want it?”
It’s that moment when I picked up strawberries with no price tag at my local Food Lover’s Market. The teller who was ringing up my groceries picked them up and said “These are R49. Should I put them back?” I wonder why she thought I couldn’t or maybe, shouldn’t, afford them.
It’s that moment when I asked a new manicurist to make my nails shorter because I play hockey and longer ones are more likely to break and damage my actual nail. Her response was, “This is the problem with black people. You make a little money and you want to run around doing things white people do. Why don’t you leave it to the white people who know how to do it? It’s like black people who play golf. Kutitambisira nguva.” Tiger Woods are you listening?
It’s the black director who asked me to take his lunch tray to the kitchen halfway during a meeting.
It’s the black colleague (junior to me) who asks me to make him tea in the morning. Fear not, I refused.
These last two are a mix of our subject here and sexism, though I couldn’t tell you in what proportions.
In any event, I could go on and on. The examples are endless.
How odd all this is. Yet, in the same breath, how normal it all is. Perhaps in the midst of pointing accusing fingers at “other” racists, each of us needs to interrogate our own perception of our own race first. After all, don’t they say you teach people how to treat you. Just a thought.
If I wrote you a love letter, I would labour for hours. It wouldn’t be because I don’t know how I feel. I do. It would be because words seem painfully inadequate to capture the essence of it.
It would be because words seem to limit the magnitude of the things we have been through together. The breathtaking, the perfect, the beautiful, the good, the bad, the awful and the ugly.
All of it comes together to pave a road I would never choose not to walk on.
How could I when you have been strong when I have been weak;
When you have loved me fiercely and passionately;
When you have understood that “broken road has always been [my] home and it’s so hard to forget.”
When you love God;
When we have cried our tears of pain, of shock and of loss together;
When you have held me as my body heaved from the endless tears of grief that I held in for so long because there was no safe place to drop them;
When each time I surfaced from the anesthesia, there you were, sitting right next to my head, waiting quietly for me to come back;
When you fed me patiently even though my semi comatose state meant most of the food fell right back out of my mouth;
When you chased me and brought me home when I tried to run away from myself, my crutches and my pain;
When you make me laugh so effortlessly;
When you notice when my hair changes (and when it doesn’t);
When you have a delightful wanderlust matched only by my own;
When I know you secretly want to be an Instagram style icon who posts OOTDs even though you vehemently deny it;
When you understand why I would never, but never, abseil again;
When you have such passionate love for family (and soccer);
When you have the ability to make me exceptionally angry;
When you find my quirks amusing and, sometimes, even funny; and
When you understand that each time we fall, each morning, each day, each night, “this imperfect love can start over again” and be just as beautiful and as fresh as the first day.
The list is endless…. I could never tell it all and I don’t want to. It will stay in the little safe place where my heart, mind and soul intersect.
But if I captured nothing else, I would want to tell you that even though my “second hand heart” has been broken before, it has been lovingly put back together. I would tell you that it is my most prized possession and I have guarded it jealously. I would tell you that it is yours forever. I would tell you that I love you now and I will consciously love you everyday (even when I am mad at you) for as long as we both shall live. I would tell you that “God blessed the Broken Road” that led me straight to you. I would tell you that I will never get tired of reading our love story because “all love stories are beautiful, but ours is my favourite.”
But I did something else. I sent an email out to my subscribers (subscribe here) and asked readers age 37 and older what advice they would give their 30-year-old selves. The idea was that I would crowdsource the life experience from my older readership and create another article based on their collective wisdom.
The result was spectacular. I received over 600 responses, many of which were over a page in length. It took me a solid three days to read through them all and I was floored by the quality of insight people sent.
So first of all, a hearty thank you to all who contributed and helped create this article.
While going through the emails what surprised me the most was just how consistent some of the advice was. The same 5-6 pieces of advice came up over and over and over again in different forms across literally 100s of emails. It seems that there really are a few core pieces of advice that are particularly relevant to this decade of your life.
Below are 10 of the most common themes appearing throughout all of the 600 emails. The majority of the article comprises dozens of quotes taken from readers. Some are left anonymous. Others have their age listed.
1. START SAVING FOR RETIREMENT NOW, NOT LATER
“I spent my 20s recklessly, but your 30s should be when you make a big financial push. Retirement planning is not something to put off. Understanding boring things like insurance, 401ks & mortgages is important since its all on your shoulders now. Educate yourself.” (Kash, 41)
The most common piece of advice — so common that almost every single email said at least something about it — was to start getting your financial house in order and to start saving for retirement… today.
There were a few categories this advice fell into:
Make it your top priority to pay down all of your debt as soon as possible.
Keep an “emergency fund” — there were tons of horror stories about people getting financially ruined by health issues, lawsuits, divorces, bad business deals, etc.
Stash away a portion of every paycheck, preferably into a 401k, an IRA or at the least, a savings account.
Don’t spend frivolously. Don’t buy a home unless you can afford to get a good mortgage with good rates.
Don’t invest in anything you don’t understand. Don’t trust stockbrokers.
One reader said, “If you are in debt more than 10% of your gross annual salary this is a huge red flag. Quit spending, pay off your debt and start saving.” Another wrote, “I would have saved more money in an emergency fund because unexpected expenses really killed my budget. I would have been more diligent about a retirement fund, because now mine looks pretty small.”
And then there were the readers who were just completely screwed by their inability to save in their 30s. One reader named Jodi wishes she had started saving 10% of every paycheck when she was 30. Her career took a turn for the worst and now she’s stuck at 57, still living paycheck to paycheck. Another woman, age 62, didn’t save because her husband out-earned her. They later got divorced and she soon ran into health problems, draining all of the money she received in the divorce settlement. She, too, now lives paycheck to paycheck, slowly waiting for the day social security kicks in. Another man related a story of having to be supported by his son because he didn’t save and unexpectedly lost his job in the 2008 crash.
The point was clear: save early and save as much as possible. One woman emailed me saying that she had worked low-wage jobs with two kids in her 30s and still managed to sock away some money in a retirement fund each year. Because she started early and invested wisely, she is now in her 50s and financially stable for the first time in her life. Her point: it’s always possible. You just have to do it.
2. START TAKING CARE OF YOUR HEALTH NOW, NOT LATER
“Your mind’s acceptance of age is 10 to 15 years behind your body’s aging. Your health will go faster than you think but it will be very hard to notice, not the least because you don’t want it to happen.” (Tom, 55)
We all know to take care of our health. We all know to eat better and sleep better andexercise more and blah, blah, blah. But just as with the retirement savings, the response from the older readers was loud and unanimous: get healthy and stay healthy now.
So many people said it that I’m not even going to bother quoting anybody else. Their points were pretty much all the same: the way you treat your body has a cumulative effect; it’s not that your body suddenly breaks down one year, it’s been breaking down all along without you noticing. This is the decade to slow down that breakage.
And this wasn’t just your typical motherly advice to eat your veggies. These were emails from cancer survivors, heart attack survivors, stroke survivors, people with diabetes and blood pressure problems, joint issues and chronic pain. They all said the same thing: “If I could go back, I would start eating better and exercising and I would not stop. I made excuses then. But I had no idea.”
3. DON’T SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE WHO DON’T TREAT YOU WELL
“Learn how to say “no” to people, activities and obligations that don’t bring value to your life.” (Hayley, 37)
After calls to take care of your health and your finances, the most common piece of advice from people looking back at their 30-year-old selves was an interesting one: they would go back and enforce stronger boundaries in their lives and dedicate their time to better people. “Setting healthy boundaries is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself or another person.” (Kristen, 43)
What does that mean specifically?
“Don’t tolerate people who don’t treat you well. Period. Don’t tolerate them for financial reasons. Don’t tolerate them for emotional reasons. Don’t tolerate them for the children’s sake or for convenience sake.” (Jane, 52)
“Don’t settle for mediocre friends, jobs, love, relationships and life.” (Sean, 43)
“Stay away from miserable people… they will consume you, drain you.” (Gabriella, 43)
“Surround yourself and only date people that make you a better version of yourself, that bring out your best parts, love and accept you.” (Xochie)
People typically struggle with boundaries because they find it difficult to hurt someone else’s feelings, or they get caught up in the desire to change the other person or make them treat them the way they want to be treated. This never works. And in fact, it often makes it worse. As one reader wisely said, “Selfishness and self-interest are two different things. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.”
When we’re in our 20s, the world is so open to opportunity and we’re so short on experience that we cling to the people we meet, even if they’ve done nothing to earn our clingage. But by our 30s we’ve learned that good relationships are hard to come by, that there’s no shortage of people to meet and friends to be made, and that there’s no reason to waste our time with people who don’t help us on our life’s path.
4. BE GOOD TO THE PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT
“Show up with and for your friends. You matter, and your presence matters.” (Jessica, 40)
Conversely, while enforcing stricter boundaries on who we let into our lives, many readers advised to make the time for those friends and family that we do decide to keep close.
“I think sometimes I may have taken some relationships for granted, and when that person is gone, they’re gone. Unfortunately, the older you get, well, things start to happen, and it will affect those closest to you.” (Ed, 45)
“Appreciate those close to you. You can get money back and jobs back, but you can never get time back.” (Anne, 41)
“Tragedy happens in everyone’s life, everyone’s circle of family and friends. Be the person that others can count on when it does. I think that between 30 and 40 is the decade when a lot of shit finally starts to happen that you might have thought never would happen to you or those you love. Parents die, spouses die, babies are still-born, friends get divorced, spouses cheat… the list goes on and on. Helping someone through these times by simply being there, listening and not judging is an honor and will deepen your relationships in ways you probably can’t yet imagine.” (Rebecca, 40)
5. YOU CAN’T HAVE EVERYTHING; FOCUS ON DOING A FEW THINGS REALLY WELL
“Everything in life is a trade-off. You give up one thing to get another and you can’t have it all. Accept that.” (Eldri, 60)
In our 20s we have a lot of dreams. We believe that we have all of the time in the world. I myself remember having illusions that my website would be my first career of many. Little did I know that it took the better part of a decade to even get competent at this. And now that I’m competent and have a major advantage and love what I do, why would I ever trade that in for another career?
“In a word: focus. You can simply get more done in life if you focus on one thing and do it really well. Focus more.” (Ericson, 49)
Another reader: “I would tell myself to focus on one or two goals/aspirations/dreams and really work towards them. Don’t get distracted.” And another: “You have to accept that you cannot do everything. It takes a lot of sacrifice to achieve anything special in life.”
A few readers noted that most people arbitrarily choose their careers in their late teens or early 20s, and as with many of our choices at those ages, they are often wrong choices. It takes years to figure out what we’re good at and what we enjoy doing. But it’s better to focus on our primary strengths and maximize them over the course of lifetime than to half-ass something else.
“I’d tell my 30 year old self to set aside what other people think and identify my natural strengths and what I’m passionate about, and then build a life around those.” (Sara, 58)
For some people, this will mean taking big risks, even in their 30s and beyond. It may mean ditching a career they spent a decade building and giving up money they worked hard for and became accustomed to. Which brings us to…
6. DON’T BE AFRAID OF TAKING RISKS, YOU CAN STILL CHANGE
“While by age 30 most feel they should have their career dialed in, it is never too late to reset. The individuals that I have seen with the biggest regrets during this decade are those that stay in something that they know is not right. It is such an easy decade to have the days turn to weeks to years, only to wake up at 40 with a mid-life crisis for not taking action on a problem they were aware of 10 years prior but failed to act.” (Richard, 41)
“Biggest regrets I have are almost exclusively things I did *not* do.” (Sam, 47)
Many readers commented on how society tells us that by 30 we should have things “figured out” — our career situation, our dating/marriage situation, our financial situation and so on. But this isn’t true. And, in fact, dozens and dozens of readers implored to not let these social expectations of “being an adult” deter you from taking some major risks and starting over. As someone on my Facebook page responded: “All adults are winging it.”
“I am about to turn 41 and would tell my 30 year old self that you do not have to conform your life to an ideal that you do not believe in. Live your life, don’t let it live you. Don’t be afraid of tearing it all down if you have to, you have the power to build it all back up again.” (Lisa, 41)
Multiple readers related making major career changes in their 30s and being better off for doing so. One left a lucrative job as a military engineer to become a teacher. Twenty years later, he called it one of the best decisions of his life. When I asked my mom this question, her answer was, “I wish I had been willing to think outside the box a bit more. Your dad and I kind of figured we had to do thing A, thing B, thing C, but looking back I realize we didn’t have to at all; we were very narrow in our thinking and our lifestyles and I kind of regret that.”
“Less fear. Less fear. Less fear. I am about to turn 50 next year, and I am just getting that lesson. Fear was such a detrimental driving force in my life at 30. It impacted my marriage, my career, my self-image in a fiercely negative manner. I was guilty of: Assuming conversations that others might be having about me. Thinking that I might fail. Wondering what the outcome might be. If I could do it again, I would have risked more.” (Aida, 49)
7. YOU MUST CONTINUE TO GROW AND DEVELOP YOURSELF
“You have two assets that you can never get back once you’ve lost them: your body and your mind. Most people stop growing and working on themselves in their 20s. Most people in their 30s are too busy to worry about self-improvement. But if you’re one of the few who continues to educate themselves, evolve their thinking and take care of their mental and physical health, you will be light-years ahead of the pack by 40.” (Stan, 48)
It follows that if one can still change in their 30s — and should continue to change in their 30s — then one must continue to work to improve and grow. Many readers related the choice of going back to school and getting their degrees in their 30s as one of the most useful things they had ever done. Others talked of taking extra seminars andcourses to get a leg up. Others started their first businesses or moved to new countries. Others checked themselves into therapy or began a meditation practice.
As Warren Buffett once said, the greatest investment a young person can make is in their own education, in their own mind. Because money comes and goes. Relationships come and go. But what you learn once stays with you forever.
“The number one goal should be to try to become a better person, partner, parent, friend, colleague etc. — in other words to grow as an individual.” (Aimilia, 39)
8. NOBODY (STILL) KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING, GET USED TO IT
“Unless you are already dead — mentally, emotionally, and socially — you cannot anticipate your life 5 years into the future. It will not develop as you expect. So just stop it. Stop assuming you can plan far ahead, stop obsessing about what is happening right now because it will change anyway, and get over the control issue about your life’s direction. Fortunately, because this is true, you can take even more chances and not lose anything; you cannot lose what you never had. Besides, most feelings of loss are in your mind anyway – few matter in the long term.”(Thomas, 56)
In my article about what I learned in my 20s, one of my lessons was “Nobody Knows What They’re Doing,” and that this was good news. Well, according to the 40+ crowd, this continues to be true in one’s 30s and, well, forever it seems; and it continues to be good news forever as well.
“Most of what you think is important now will seem unimportant in 10 or 20 years and that’s OK. That’s called growth. Just try to remember to not take yourself so seriously all the time and be open to it.” (Simon, 57)
“Despite feeling somewhat invincible for the last decade, you really don’t know what’s going to happen and neither does anyone else, no matter how confidently they talk. While this is disturbing to those who cling to permanence or security, it’s truly liberating once you grasp the truth that things are always changing. To finish, there might be times that are really sad. Don’t dull the pain or avoid it. Sorrow is part of everyone’s lifetime and the consequence of an open and passionate heart. Honor that. Above all, be kind to yourself and others, it’s such a brilliant and beautiful ride and keeps on getting better.” (Prue, 38)
“I’m 44. I would remind my 30 year old self that at 40, my 30s would be equally filled with dumb stuff, different stuff, but still dumb stuff… So, 30 year old self, don’t go getting on your high horse. You STILL don’t know it all. And that’s a good thing.” (Shirley, 44)
9. INVEST IN YOUR FAMILY; IT’S WORTH IT
“Spend more time with your folks. It’s a different relationship when you’re an adult and it’s up to you how you redefine your interactions. They are always going to see you as their kid until the moment you can make them see you as your own man. Everyone gets old. Everyone dies. Take advantage of the time you have left to set things right and enjoy your family.” (Kash, 41)
I was overwhelmed with amount of responses about family and the power of those responses. Family is the big new relevant topic for this decade for me, because you get it on both ends. Your parents are old and you need to start considering how your relationship with them is going to function as a self-sufficient adult. And then you also need to contemplate creating a family of your own.
Pretty much everybody agreed to get over whatever problems you have with your parents and find a way to make it work with them. One reader wrote, “You’re too old to blame your parents for any of your own short-comings now. At 20 you could get away with it, you’d just left the house. At 30, you’re a grown-up. Seriously. Move on.”
But then there’s the question that plagues every single 30-year-old: to baby or not to baby?
“You don’t have the time. You don’t have the money. You need to perfect your career first. They’ll end your life as you know it. Oh shut up… Kids are great. They make you better in every way. They push you to your limits. They make you happy. You should not defer having kids. If you are 30, now is the time to get real about this. You will never regret it.” (Kevin, 38)
“It’s never the ‘right time’ for children because you have no idea what you’re getting into until you have one. If you have a good marriage and environment to raise them, err on having them earlier rather than later, you’ll get to enjoy more of them.” (Cindy, 45)
“All my preconceived notions about what a married life is like were wrong. Unless you’ve already been married, everyone’s are. Especially once you have kids. Try to stay open to the experience and fluid as a person; your marriage is worth it, and your happiness seems as much tied to your ability to change and adapt as anything else. I wasn’t planning on having kids. From a purely selfish perspective, this was the dumbest thing of all. Children are the most fulfilling, challenging, and exhausting endeavor anyone can ever undertake. Ever.” (Rich, 44)
The consensus about marriage seemed to be that it was worth it, assuming you had a healthy relationship with the right person. If not, you should run the other way (See #3).
But interestingly, I got a number of emails like the following:
“What I know now vs 10-13 years ago is simply this… bars, woman, beaches, drink after drink, clubs, bottle service, trips to different cities because I had no responsibility other than work, etc… I would trade every memory of that life for a good woman that was actually in love with me… and maybe a family. I would add, don’t forget to actually grow up and start a family and take on responsibilities other than success at work. I am still having a little bit of fun… but sometimes when I go out, I feel like the guy that kept coming back to high school after he graduated (think Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused). I see people in love and on dates everywhere. “Everyone” my age is in their first or second marriage by now! Being perpetually single sounds amazing to all of my married friends but it is not the way one should choose to live their life.” (Anonymous, 43)
“I would have told myself to stop constantly searching for the next best thing and I would have appreciated the relationships that I had with some of the good, genuine guys that truly cared for me. Now I’m always alone and it feels too late.” (Fara, 38)
On the flip side, there were a small handful of emails that took the other side of the coin:
“Don’t feel pressured to get married or have kids if you don’t want to. What makes one person happy doesn’t make everyone happy. I’ve chosen to stay single and childless and I still live a happy and fulfilled life. Do what feels right for you.” (Anonymous, 40)
Conclusion: It seems that while family is not absolutely necessary to have a happy and fulfilling life, the majority of people have found that family is always worth the investment, assuming the relationships are healthy and not toxic and/or abusive.
10. BE KIND TO YOURSELF, RESPECT YOURSELF
“Be a little selfish and do something for yourself every day, something different once a month and something spectacular every year.” (Nancy, 60)
This one was rarely the central focus of any email, but it was present in some capacity in almost all of them: treat yourself better. Almost everybody said this in one form or another. “There is no one who cares about or thinks about your life a fraction of what you do,” one reader began, and, “life is hard, so learn to love yourself now, it’s harder to learn later,” another reader finished.
Or as Renee, 40, succinctly put it: “Be kind to yourself.”
Many readers included the old cliche: “Don’t sweat the small stuff; and it’s almost all small stuff.” Eldri, 60, wisely said, “When confronted with a perceived problem, ask yourself, ‘Is this going to matter in five years, ten years?’ If not, dwell on it for a few minutes, then let it go.” It seems many readers have focused on the subtle life lesson of simply accepting life as is, warts and all.
Which brings me to the last quote from Martin, age 58:
“When I turned forty my father told me that I’d enjoy my forties because in your twenties you think you know what’s going on, in your thirties you realize you probably don’t, and in your forties you can relax and just accept things. I’m 58 and he was right.”
“Culture is a collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.” source
Culture is a beautiful thing. It speaks to one’s roots and identity. It speaks “to the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.” If one wants to be a tad more intellectual about subject, “culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.” I love and respect my own and other cultures.
But what happens when your culture becomes the main impediment to your development in the workplace? After all, with the advent of the global village, it’s a luxury to work in a place that shares your exact culture.
The culture you are raised in grooms you to apply certain language, communication and behavioural filters to yourself each time you express yourself. Here are a couple of easy examples from my own culture.
Be humble – Humility includes not announcing your own success; celebrating yourself or displaying your achievements. A certain level of self-deprecation is generally expected.
Allow me to illustrate this with a simple, actual example from my childhood. During my O Level holidays (soon after writing the national exams one gets delightfully long school holiday while they wait for their results), I was doing my mum’s hair while I slowly mulled over what my results might be. I was specifically thinking about my English language exam. I knew I had written an excellent essay. I was very good at the subject. I had never gotten anything but an A or a first for English Language in my entire academic life. My biggest worry was, in order to write my story (aka composition) in full, I had exceeded the word limit by 2 paragraphs. I was concerned I would be penalised by the examiner so I casually said to my mum, “I am really worried I wont get an A for my English exam because my essay was too long.” The response was a soft spoken but disapproving, “who told you you would get an A in the first place.”
“No-one” I stammered. “I just thought I wrote very well except for the length.”
“Be that as it may, you can’t tell people that you think you got an A.” It was said very firmly and it was final. The question of my possible grade was never discussed again. Not even when the results were released and I, in fact, got a distinction for English Language.
I listened to my mum, my aunts, my teacher and the community in general. I adopted the accepted the cultural definition and filter of “humility.”
Respect your elders – This one is self explanatory. One is taught to respect their elders without question, even when they are wrong. One must never contradict or correct or inadvertently embarrass an older person in general and especially not in public.
Such characteristics would and will still get you very far in any community that subscribes to my culture.
A decade later, I find myself building my career in the corporate boardroom. I am always the youngest person at my level in the boardroom. It is a place where this kind of humility and respect for elders could be a fatal flaw. A place where failing to take credit for your achievement means someone else will take it…shamelessly. A place where you either step up or step out.
I remember my first real realisation that this kind of humility would limit my career. A much older colleague, who is at a slightly lower seniority level than I am, a director and I met with a strategist to see if his vision matched ours. After the meeting, the director walked the strategist out to the parking lot. While he was out, my colleague asked me what my thoughts on the strategist had been. I pointed out that there are spelling mistakes on his website (he asked me to show him), that he has not researched our company at all (now that you mention it…he said), that certain key elements we had requested were missing from his brief (which ones, he asked… I told him). When the director walked back in and asked what we thought, my colleague didn’t skip a beat as he relayed my views as his own almost verbatim. I didn’t say a word. I couldn’t say a word. Not even when he told the exact same joke I had told him in telling him my view. The strategist had inexplicably written “anus” on the flip-board during his presentation. No-one else had noticed at the time.
I sat stewing in a brine of respecting my elders (I couldn’t humiliate a person so much older than me) and being humble (ultimately I had noticed those things and it didn’t matter if anyone else knew, right?). And of course I had very little to say in addition when the director turned to me and asked, “Chuwe, what did you think?”
I was livid with myself afterwards. Even more so when I still managed to fall into a similar trap 3 or 4 times before learning my lesson.
This is just one example of many. I can’t even begin to mention the times when I have had to discipline, correct or do a performance reviews on people decades older than me and with far more experience. The first few times, I thought I would literally combust. I was so completely and unjustifiably mortified.
Behaviour learnt over a lifetime is difficult to let go of or change.
You see, the trouble with the workplace is diversity. My cultural norms are not those of the person in the next cubicle or in the next office or on the upper floor. My idea of what is honourable and right may not be theirs. My idea of where the line between confidence and arrogance is may differ significantly from theirs. My definition of strong and weak may be nothing like theirs. Their filters are not my filters. But it is these very people that I must work with on a daily basis. They are the people who have to respect my knowledge on certain subjects. They are the people who decide whether to promote me or give me a raise. They are the ones I can not afford not to impress. The magic trick is learning to balance my cultural norms with the characteristics that will allow me to advance in the workplace.
I had to consciously make the decision to start taking verbal credit for my work. I had to learn to start immediately calling out colleagues who tried to use me to get ahead (Do this once or twice and you will never have to do it again. Playground bullies and boardroom bullies are no different). I had to realise that I have to embrace my authority and learn to wield it gracefuIly instead of shying away from it because someone else will pick it up and use it for me. Above all, I had to learn to be completely unapologetic about what I am knowledgeable about. The difference in the way my colleagues now treat me and defer to my opinion tells me that I am on the right track. What they don’t know is how much conscious effort it still takes me to bypass my many deeply ingrained filters. Maybe in a few years all this will come more naturally. It’s a continual learning process.
That definitely falls into the category of things I never thought I would say. It’s right up there with I am excited at thought of having my own babies in the foreseeable future.
I am, by the way.
And, I’m dieting. Which I also am just FYI.
Oh, and I’m a Belieber, a Directioner and a Swiftie. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
I even center-align my pictures!?! When did this happen!! I don’t know who I am anymore. It’s like an attack of the mind snatchers
Be that as it may, I might as well ride the wave. My current obsession is what sort of bedroom decor I am going to go for.
My favourite colour is grey so I find it very difficult not to make my bedroom just that. I know all the elements I would like to have in my bedroom, I just need to figure out how to bring it all together to achieve an elegant, calm room that is both me and him.
In an ideal world, it will look a little something like this:
Scatter cushions and throws that will keep me happy without overwhelming him. Maybe succulents instead of blossoms to have a little life in the room. Certainly a lush rug and even more certainly, not cream. Ain’t nobody got time for a rug that gets dirty every time a dusty breeze blows by.
A TV. Yes, I know the experts frown on TVs in the bedroom but I love series and we both love football. Its for those Wednesday night 10pm UEFA matches. The chest of drawers is because…well… I have stuff.
Maybe a pop of colour, artsy lamps and some discreet art. I have been expressly banned from including any animal print of any sort….especially leopard print lol! Maybe he’s not in touch with his inner animal😉
In an ideal world, we will find a house that has some sort of provision for a powder room or something similar otherwise that bedroom will be more me than him once I add this delightful stuff:
I suppose the life lesson is no matter how well you think you know yourself, you can always change and you will always have the capacity to surprise yourself.