10 years ago, I was in Los Angeles finishing my last year of university and preparing to move back to Italy. I had two jobs, at a fancy tanning salon (hilarious), and at my university’s study abroad office talking to overly-excited students about what a year abroad was like in between shifts of crap work. I dyed my hair platinum blond because someone told me I shouldn’t. I shared a small apartment with the most adorable and patient soul in this world, here’s to you Shauna, which became like a halfway house for failed relationships from work colleagues and friends moving to the city.
The phrase “Come stay at mine,” was indoctrinated because the reality was I was so lonely back in L.A.
After a year of living in Italy, life in Los Angeles was no longer what I wanted. The parties, the wannabe actors, the fake tans, my exhausting schedule between work, school and counseling friends. I’m sure it could have been different should I have chosen to stay longer but at the time, change was the perfect option.
Today is my birthday.
I’ve just turned 33 and it feels like the day has creeped up faster than my now admitted love for a simple Italian breakfast. Life 10 year’s later from the platinum blond “who knows what will happen in Italy” hot mess of an emotional person moving countries without a viable plan to how my day-to-day life is now tremendously different than I could have ever imagined. And thank god.
So far, being in my thirties has been a relief. The insecurity of life as a drama-filled twenty-something is over and so much now is about doing what I truly want, with people I truly care about.
Why write a blog post about your birthday? Well, for me, I’d like the chance in the future to remember how I felt on this particular day. You never know when hard times are looming and as I used to be a fervent journal writer, this is my online journal for all of the world to see (gulp). In between posts about interesting hideaways in Florence and travel around the world sometimes I like to muse about life and I hope you enjoy it. Since who doesn’t appreciate a good list, I’ve compiled this early morning a list of 33 lessons I’ve learned thus far and I’d love to hear from you too.
Let me know what you’ve learned during your most recent birthday. I’d love to hear it as this blog is about sharing and not just about me.
ps. I am not doing this list past 35 because it would be too damn long..
- Learning to care a hell of a lot less, about most things. This is vague, of course, but what I mean is that things like FOMO (fear of missing out) cannot dominate. I am a grown woman who can say no and feel good about it and know that another cool event will come shortly. Someone doesn’t like me? Ok, cool. I didn’t get cited in that article for xyz magazine even after 20 emails offering free advice? Whatever. You see what I mean here. It’s about giving #Zerofucks (sorry for the language).
- Coming to peace with work in Italy. Being a freelancer in Italy can absolutely be amazing (hey, you can work in your pajamas!) and it can also absolutely suck (oh shit, what I do when this contract runs out? Or this client still hasn’t paid..). However, the fear has subsided because at the end of the day if you are good at what you do, the work will always come and you in turn can become choosier in what you expect from people as well. This is the life I chose, now I need to embrace it.
- Relationships are so much easier now. I’ve been married since 2015 and it’s been a great ride so far. Nico and I were friends before we got hitched and the last thing we both want to do is make one another’s life harder. I absolutely, unequivocally adore this man and I waste no time making sure he knows this every single day. Time is precious and we both work really hard at making sure that we spend it well. Of course, you have to work at it, and that means choosing to not nitpick over stupid details. Nico has by far made me a better person and I am crazy in love with him (small French for life). Merci amore.
- I have to work out, eating pizza is not exercise. My fitness craze in my twenties turned into a workaholic lethargy in my thirties which I am still trying to recover from, especially with gaining unwanted weight. It happens. Now I have just gotten the memo that perhaps eating a block of cheese and working on my computer isn’t going to make my pants fit, time to get serious.
- Always push boundaries but always be respectful. I adore people who aren’t cookie-cutter, I like opinions, and people who constantly challenge the status-quo. However, there is a time and a place and mostly that isn’t your friend’s Facebook timeline. I don’t call out people I know in public and instead learn to message privately to have thoughtful hopefully, in-person discussions. Being a voyeur online I’m sure can be fun but it makes you feel dirty, am I right?
- Friendships are everything – make time for people who matter. Actually, this is something I already knew 10 years ago but nowadays I’m just better at picking my friends. We all know that person who is always “too busy,” demands you meet them on their terms and eventually that gets really old. News flash, we are all busy, life can be nuts, but you must make time for what matters. Including if you are married, have kids. Your kindred female friendships will provide so much satisfaction that you won’t get from your partner. I love my girls.
- Food is everything. This might be an Italian thing but seriously what you put in your mouth is really important and my god be flexible! Taking the time to shop seasonally and at local markets is tantamount, and makes you appreciate what you put on that fork more. 10 year’s ago crappy apericena buffet dinners at 7€ a pop were just fine, now they’re not. There is only so much insalata di riso (cold rice salad) a girl can take. While I am not advocating a low-carb, vegan (no cheese?!) life, it is about balance and trying to be healthier and at the same time being smarter.
- Invest in what matters. For me in consumeristic terms is things that will bring me joy in the future. That means at the moment, a nice camera (I recently purchased a Fujifilm X-T20) to take tons of photos of friends, family, us, Florence and anything I can enjoy looking at for years to come. Also, it means taking an intense French class so I can understand my husband’s family and be French too. Of course, I could say a house, car (which of course is necessary) but it just depends on what you call important, am I right?
- Be nice, always. I know some people who love being known for “telling it how it is” and using sarcasm as an excuse to make fun of others because they were “just kidding”. However, it’s just rude, you look like an asshole, and being blunt without care for the person’s feelings often results in you being a lonely person who rants about the world and how no one gets you. Be kind, be soft, be understanding. Choose your words carefully.
- Go above and beyond when you commit to something. One thing I sometimes dislike about working with friends is that assumption that you can be more flexible with deadlines than normal. While we all have our days or weeks where you can’t get everything done on time (it happens), you should always try to go above and beyond and do your best work when you’ve made the commitment to something. Whether that’s blogging, completing a project, arranging someone’s bachelorette party or birthday. Don’t half-ass everything in your life.
- Being aware how you are with others and in public. It’s easy to get defensive when someone points something out you don’t like, but it can also be a wise and valuable lesson. To maybe talk less (that’s me), listen more, and don’t assume everything knows or cares about your stories. When there is behavior I don’t like about a person, like talking too much about themselves, sharing too much, interrupting a conversation, or making it seem like their life is overly fabulous, I just make a mental note to try and not do that myself. Self-improvement can happen at any age.
- Be clear about what you want. This comes to negotiating work contracts, getting a physical at a gym, starting a website. Write down lists of what you need, want, are looking to do and be clear with whomever you are working what. The last thing people want to do is guess what you are thinking.
- Forgive people. I wish I could slam that into the brain of my 23-year-old self. After a certain point, if you want to happen, you need to learn how to forgive. It’s hard and I know some people don’t deserve it, but it is almost a selfish thing for you to do, in order for your own happiness. 🙂
- Give back without expecting anything in return. Altruism for me is the most attractive quality in a person. To be selfless without expecting anything in return, is something I don’t often see nowadays so when I do, it’s glorious. Remember how it was for you starting out, the unsureness of it all? I bet you remember if someone took the time to help you out, am I right? I get that “time is money” and you can’t be writing extensive emails of free advice but honestly, it could apply to anything. A mentorship for someone you have grown to care about, suggesting someone for a project or blog tour, helping someone out who’s having a hard time, buying groceries for a busy friend, volunteering with a local charity.
- Learn how to be happy every single day. It’s fun to complain on social media (I love it) but what’s even more impressive is finding a rose in a pile of shit. So much of what makes me happy are tiny things that I can easily do, have a cappuccino, work out, see a friend, make a phone call, taking time to read for an hour a day.
- Being smart with your money. “Adulting” for me is so much to do with getting your eggs in a basket but not dwelling on what you don’t have. Have THAT conversation with you partner and make goals for the future: saving x, y, z – how and why (to buy a house to put in your retirement). Being debt-free is a good goal for anyone in their thirties to have and there are ways to get there..
- Not comparing yourself to people who are nothing like you. It’s so, so, so easy to get caught up in the comparison game of this friend who bought a house, the person who has two kids and still maintains a six-pack. Listen to me, don’t do that, wishing your life away isn’t how you want to live. I did that way too much when I was younger and it’s just silly.
- Structure and routine isn’t evil. I used to make fun of people who over-plan and sure not everything should be structured to every last detail. However, thanks to Nico, I’ve learned that a bit of structure is a good thing. I actually enjoy planning more than I ever thought I would. Also, I love knowing that at the same time each day Nico is going to bring me a coffee in bed every morning before work and at the same time the dog will give me a sloppy kiss too.
- You can’t fix people, so stop trying. This could apply to relationships, friendships, that asshole at the bank. Sometimes the person is a bit of a loss cause and trying is only going to drain you. While I believe you can totally forgive anyone, that doesn’t mean they need to be in your life.
- Own your own responsibility. It used to be easy to blame circumstances such as the country (It’s Italy’s fault!) a person (well he made me..) but at certain time you have to acknowledge the part you play in any role. Everyone makes mistakes and that’s cool. That could be a lover’s quarrel and this especially applies to work too. Being defensive isn’t going to get you anywhere. Just going “hey I screwed up” will make people respect you as long as you learn from that mistake.
- Be motivated for the right reasons. I love what I do for work and the blog, but I don’t really love when people push me to do something I am not ready for. I think we forget sometimes that not all people want to be a CEO, a top instagrammer, or the next Bill Gates. It’s great to offer advice and hell, we all need a push, but you want to make sure you do something for the right reasons and when you are ready.
- Know what you are good at, and what you aren’t. This means of course figuring out what you excel at, but it is a worthy cause.
- Being “right” isn’t always right. Every seen an instagram post or Facebook thread growing into the hundreds of comments because people are trying to prove a point? yeah, you could have been doing so much else with your life at that moment. This is like the “calling out people in public” thing I mentioned before goes into the whole “one upping” someone’s opinions. I grimace when I see friends do that to one another, live and let live.
- Learn forever. As I’m trying to learn French among many other things (like how to use my camera) I realize how satisfying learning as an adult really is. I’m not trying to get out of class to see a guy and I actually care about the subject matter.
- Don’t use people. Perhaps this is a person thing because I work in social media, blogging and writing, but I think it’s pretty obvious when someone just wants your contacts or wants you to do something for them because they are your distant “acquaintance.” Respect what people do for a living and if it’s a work thing, treat it as a work thing. I dislike getting a whatsapp message for work in a “hey we’re friends context” which just puts extra pressure to respond, I know it sometimes can’t be helped but use this sparingly. I try not to encroach on people as much as possible in this way and maybe other people should too.
- Respecting people’s time. Also something I feel strongly about because I am that person who is always early in a country where being late is normal. Even if that is so, just go out of your way to try to be on time (take an early bus or get a coffee). It just sucks when people are constantly having to wait for you or adjust to your schedule. It kind of goes into the “awareness” thing. If it can’t be helped, then apologize and mean it, buying coffee helps.
- Less is more. I’m starting to think something is wrong with me, and maybe Nico too, that we aren’t plotting to buy a bigger house in the suburbs of Florence. I like small spaces and though our apartment could be a touch bigger, it keeps me from accumulating a ton of crap. However we were smart enough to invest in a decent coffee machine [priorities].
- Be open with your problems with people who matter. This is something I probably would have put on my list 10 year’s ago. I used to be such a private person, no one knew what was really happening in my personal life. That leads to “oh you guys were so happy i can’t believe you are breaking up.” Yeah you would have if you would have witnessed our fights. While I totally encourage you to not dump your problems on people that don’t want to hear them, do feel free to be open with your actual close friends. Sometimes it’s just a matter of saying it out loud to someone other than yourself or your partner. Also being around someone who is always perfect isn’t relatable, it’s hard to build a connection with people like that. We tend to bond more over shared horror stories.
- Making an effort is a good thing. Italy is a country that really cares about “la bella figura” which means a lot of vague things but also not wearing your pajamas to the supermarket. I know if I make a slight effort to look nice (it doesn’t take that sign either) it improves my day and adds a spring to my step.
- Embrace your passion. It’s great to be excited about something. In my case, it’s blogging, cooking, taking photos, sharing the stories of others. In my husband’s case it’s playing the piano, travel. Everyone has an inner passion they can cultivate (if they feel ready) and very well should.
- Create a community wherever you are. If you are into blogging, create or join a roundtable group. Want to meet other moms? Set about creating playdates with neighbors. Work in social media? Host networking sessions from time to time for people to meet up in person, not only online. Make sure to create value for your community so that it becomes less about sharing contacts and more about sharing problems and offering solutions. For freelancers this is tantamount, and it doesn’t have to be about work. It can be about anything.
- Taking time to do absolutely nothing. My best date nights usually involve pizza and cuddles, and not much more. When we have a weekend free in Florence I love to just write in the morning and take long walks with the pup. While it looks like I’m out more than I am (I live in the center, more opportunity for stories) the fact is I’m often at home working, relaxing, taking naps. making lists for the blog or work.
- The beauty of being flexible. While I might take the time not to be late or reach that deadline. I think not expecting others to be “like me” is really helping me get over things that used to get under my skin. Everyone is different, that’s why the world kind of rocks and that includes adjusting your expectation levels of those who work with you or spend time with you.