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29 Life Lessons in 29 Years

Photo by Rosie Hardy
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ~Mary Oliver

This morning, as I scurried out of my mom-in-law’s home, I was carrying three bags: a Yoga bag, a purse on one shoulder and a leather bag on the other shoulder–tightly packed with iPad, laptop, chargers galore, client cards, and a journal.

My mom-in-law, Janis, had this calm, knowing smile as she eyed my resemblance—Cat, The Bag Lady.

She is the most present woman I’ve ever met. And lately, a reminder to just-slow-down. So, I felt the need to explain the ambitious look:

“See one is for yoga class at lunch, one is for the essential day-time banking things, and one is for after-work: real estate and writing stuff.” Proudly rationalizing the three lives I carried on two shoulders.

“So much energy you have … And you really can do it all,” Janis said slowly and gently.

I took a deep breath (I always seem to remember to breathe when I’m talking to her), and shifted my bags to balance a bit better.

“At least for now.” I responded, a gesture to humble down my energy. “And, as I exit my 20’s in this next year, I wonder if I’ll still be able to move at this multi-tasker pace?”

You’re just a baby, Child.” She said, inching towards me, intentionally not answering my question.

Janis is 67, with very youthful eyes, filled with grace and warmth. She looks at me kindly and continues, “In your 30’s, that’s when you really learn to be an adult.”

She kisses me on my cheek then closes the door behind.


Driving into the office that morning, I thought about what she said—I really was a baby.

For most of my 20’s, I thought I knew it all. I thought I had bypassed growing up because I’d been on my own since I was 17. I lost a mother at 12, raised siblings, and married early. I thought I had graduated to advance-adulthood earlier than others my age.

When I graduated high school, it was as if a Curator of 30-year-olds had taken out a stopwatch, hit the start button on my life and said: “Ready … GO! Go now! … Faster Cat!”

And this stretch between 18 and 29, this was my sprint to the finish line: and turning 30 was the victory point where one would have it all figured out.

You know the image of “all figured out” – the two kids (one boy, one girl), the solid career with a cool title, the nice home, the happy routine, the worldly vacations. To have it all and be well on the path of what we vaguely define as the image of “success”.

But, in reality, it took me up until my late 20’s to simply begin to honor who I really am.

The honoring appeared when I decided to ask honest questions: “Are the things I pursue what I really want? Or am I being guided on a path of ideals paved by someone else—social belonging, cultural norms, family conditioning?”

Early in the morning and late at night, I would often contemplate: “The career I sought out, the place I had chosen to live, the values I had set: were these truly to serve the DNA of who I really am? Was I living my truth? Or a knock-off version of who I thought I should be?”

29 Life Lessons From a 29 Year Old

The questioning, the learning, the mistakes, the discovery and frustrations—It has been a wild ride this past decade.

Many life lessons later, I can wholeheartedly say I have never felt more comfortable being who I am today. I wake up excited to experience what each day has to offer: to continue to learn something new, to be inspired, and to experience the awe from life’s abundant offerings.

Recently, I turned 29. In celebration of this last year as I bow out of my 20’s, here are 29 Life Lessons I’ve learned:

1. Learn to be comfortable with uncomfortable. Risks are where magic sparks.

2. Simplify: The common saying of “Don’t allow things to own you” and “Live within your means” hold tremendous wisdom. Your freedom – the ability to make decisions out of conscious choices (versus obligation or instant gratification aftermath) is deeply important. Materialism, in excess, is very sabotaging. A cluttered, complicated mind is very restricting.

3. A meaningful question to ask our selves, when we change focus and shift intents: “Am I running from something? Or towards something?”

4. Expose yourself to many different things. How we live, where we live, is a small nook of a larger world. It is important to travel, meet new people, venture, explore, get lost, find a community and find a sense of belonging. New situations are enriching and privilege us to see with fresh eyes.

5. The situations we repeatedly find ourselves in, there is a guiding lesson. See the lesson then acknowledge and embody change. The same situations only replay themselves when our old behavior pattern persists in the same vicious cycle.

6. Laugh. Play. Be … Love, love, love.

7. To think, solely with the mind, ignoring my body and soul is deeply limiting. I’ve learned to honor all aspects of our wellbeing: mind, body, relationships, spirit, and finances. It is an all-inclusive package, as all of these are part of our existence. To be whole calls for us to balance our attention to each.

8. No matter what we achieve – whatever our measuring stick of success may be – until our minds and hearts are at peace, there will always be the next chase. To expand on this thought: our understanding of ‘security’ can be less safe than it appears. It is valuable to question and examine our definition of safe.

9. Breathe. Practicing sitting comfortably in silence. A sanctuary awaits us in being able to be still, contemplate and reflect. We discover the most about ourselves when we dissolve our inner barriers, quiet the mind, and hear our inner voice.

10. Practice letting go. Let go of ideals, old patterns that no longer serve us, arguments, limiting beliefs, excess, and conditionings. Letting go is a healthy habit that I want to consistently and consciously practice.Letting go also means forgiveness, including forgiving yourself. Resentment consumes space and blocks clarity. Release the past: thank it for happening, for directing you. Then, let it go.

11. Be patient with yourself. All the quirks, the uncertainties, the aspects that make you different; they’ll come together, support you, and may even become your biggest asset.

12. Life blurs together when we rush through everything. Learn to do one thing at a time. Slow down and take notice. There’s more to be revealed in paying attention than rushing through. Not only is there beauty in uni-tasking, but also, learning to live in the present moment has a tremendous return: for happiness, business, and love.

13. Build a routine, a rhythm for each day, with a piece solely attributed to wellness: walk the dog, take a weekly zumba class, do yoga.

14. Chasing money will only make it run faster. If you’re unsure what to do with extra ambition and/or have little clarity as to your deeper purpose – redirect it to patience, contemplation and compassion. Spend more time understanding one self, and less time chasing material. There is more to life than stuff & asset accumulation.

15. Stress causes disease. It kills. Prioritize a plan to manage stress levels.

16. Love yourself first. Accept who you are and where you are, this is the starting point of any change. Acceptance is the vehicle for transformation.

17. Celebrate. Too often we rush from one accomplishment to another. Know that this moment, this feat, will never again repeat itself in the same way. Cheers!

18. There is no one-way to live. There is no box, no one-way to happiness, no how-to manual for your unique being. We shouldn’t be influenced by movies, stories, and fantasy. We don’t have to conform to societal ideals, norms, or our portrayal of ‘perfect’. Find you truth, your path, your heart and follow it.

19. Protect your circle, your energy and which way they direct you. Who we choose to surround ourselves with is crucial to who we become.

20. Trust in Universe, Krishna, Buddha, God, the unseen world—something bigger than you. There is more to this existence than meets the eye. Having faith carries us, and allows us to see the synchronistic moments as guiding posts. This life is too grand, too mysterious and complex to walk through alone.

21. We are multi-faceted, complex, limitless beings. Don’t suppress any part of who you are; each aspect is part of you.

22. Saying no is an important skill. It is one that allows us to protect our most precious resource: our time and energy. In my 20s, there was a period of time where I adopted a mantra of “Yes!”—yes to social gatherings, yes to busyness, yes to happy hours, yes to commitments that didn’t serve me. By saying no, I was able to gain back pieces of my day and my energy.

23. Our entire experience is a projection of our mindset. Cultivate, feed and nourish your inner being.

24. Turn off the TV & read an enriching book. Many wise have already walked a similar path, a similar set of valuable lessons … we can learn from them. Guidance exists from great leaders, teachers of the past via words

25. We are both students and teachers—and with every challenge, person, and situation that crosses our path, there is something to be learned.

26. Purpose is an inner exploration. Don’t look in all the wrong places: outside of you. Purpose was never lost, so no need to ‘find ourselves’. We need to see ourselves: muster the courage to genuinely look within.

27. To experience pure joy and peace, we have to learn to experience all ranges of emotion—to lean into fears and embrace vulnerability. This is the human experience: the full spectrum.

28. Rest is the most important ingredient to fully optimizing our human capacity to be well and perform well. Sleep is the only way our body can restore, repair and fight free radicals. Get sleep – it is our #1 tool to heal and to protect our bodies.

29. Judgment is a waste of time. Comparison is blinding. Both of which will shrink our energy. Expand, grow, strip away ego by letting go of both.

The most penetrating lesson of all: We always have a choice + life is brief – A series of one impermanent moment after another. Choose to be present and make each moment worthwhile.

Parting Words

As I kick-off my 29th year, it’s a liberating gift to truly feel that this finish line I had once defined—this 30 mark—has vanished as a measuring point.

The stopwatch has stopped.

I am just beginning to strip away many ideals, alongside a major transition of simplifying … with much to discover over an entire lifetime.

I do feel like a baby, learning something new each day.

Life really is just beginning.

Before you go:

Cheers and Love to another year of growth & wisdom. In honor of celebrations, I would like to celebrate you and giveaway one of my favorite booksThe Magic of Thinking Big.

Leave a comment below and answer this question, “What is it you want to do with your one wild and precious life?” In leaving a comment, you are being entered into the draw for this life-changing book. The entry will close on April 31, 2012 at 8am PST.

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About the author

Cat is a recent corporate escapee, now practicing as a full-time Zen Student. Her home, for the next year or so, is on various meditation cushions in the world.

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41 thoughts on 29 Life Lessons in 29 Years

  1. Jen C.

    With my one wild and precious life, I want to finally find the unshakable courage to be ME…and finally break free of those last few things that I find myself continually dealing with; to learn what I need to learn and move on. I am moving towards mindfulness and being present in each and every moment. Great article…thank you so much for writing!

  2. Nicely said. At almost 49 I think I finally know, and it has nothing to do with what I wanted in my 20-30’s, even early 40’s. I have raised three children, 21, 16 and 13, I have had a couple of businesses. I have spent years filling a home to the brim with stuff that I didn’t need and ended up throwing most (except the major stuff) out. I want simplicity. I want to spend wonderful quiet and relaxed time with my children and animals, in my garden. I want to be comfortable but I don’t care about buying anymore. Groceries, yoga, gas, helping my children, giving them a good education. I don’t care about impressing anyone, or if people like me or even if people judge me. So what will I do with my precious and wild life…enjoy it!

  3. Oh my gosh, thank you SO much for writing this post! I am 22 years old and I have to say that after spending my teen years being uncomfortable with myself, I am truly learning to love myself and be ME! So many people are afraid of this, but I’ve learned that it’s just not worth it to put up a front to others…honesty about myself is the only thing that’s truly allowed me to connect with other people.

    At 22, I barely have anything figured out, but just having confidence in myself has made a world of difference in my outlook on life and the future and I know that life will be a rollercoaster.

    Thank you for these awesome reminders it’s great to learn from someone who’s “been there, done that” already. I am going to print out these lessons to refer to :)

  4. Wow ~ So, so inspired by all these conscious words. Made my morning reading through them.

    Grateful for this beautiful TSN space to connect. <3.

  5. Joy

    With my wild and crazy life, I’d love to see and experience a place or a way of life so powerful (such as the Battle at Kruger) that it will reshape my view of life into something so much more profound than what the daily muffle of life offers me now.

  6. This post was a gift. I turned 50 this year, and I’ve just now begun to understand some of these lessons. Wish you were around when I was younger, LOL.

    Thankfully I plan on living a very long time. And Moses was 80 when he got his life calling! That encourages me.

    Thanks for this.


  7. Wonderful reminders and a great perspectives. Great you are getting so knowledgeable at a young age – took me much longer!

  8. Martha Jimenez

    Very inspiring.. I enjoyed the article.

  9. Didimalang

    I would like to fulfil Gods purpose about my life and find myself by learning to be content with what I have and never envy other on their success but also work hard on building my own.

  10. Mai

    Hello Cat,

    This is a great article. I need to print it out and learn from it. I’m currently 29 and turning 30 in 3 months and i’m freaking out. To answer your question “What is it you want to do with your one wild and precious life?” I just want to be happy. I’m really depressed and sad with my life right now. I really want to turn it around. Life is too short and precious for me to be sad and regretful everyday but its hard. What to do…

  11. Megan

    Thank you so much for that wonderful wisdom!
    This jumped out at me…
    “26. Purpose is an inner exploration. Don’t look in all the wrong places: outside of you. Purpose was never lost, so no need to ‘find ourselves’. We need to see ourselves: muster the courage to genuinely look within.”
    I truly needed to hear this in this season of my life.
    “What is it you want to do with your one wild and precious life?”
    First, I’m going to follow your advice and genuinely look within myself to find my purpose. Once I know what it is I’m going after it! I want to live a life of purpose that inspires others to do the same.

  12. Absolutely loved this! Thanks for sharing your introspection! -DJ

  13. Midhun

    Its very inspiring.
    I am 29 will start a new life new thinking. I know these past 29 years i do nothing..
    Thank you very very much….
    Midhun rxme, India, Kerala, Kochi

  14. Midhun

    Sorry Cat i just forgot….. U done a great job…..keep going….

  15. Sarah

    This was such an inspiring and encouraging read, thank you Cat! I just turned 29 and have been doing a lot of reflection on what I’ve learned these past few yrs. Like you I lost a parent at a young age and had to grow up fast supporting myself and am constantly on the go. Now I’m learning the art of just breathing. Loved the bit about letting GO and forgiveness..Yes this is so vital in life :)

    I’m at the point where I’m just now learning to embrace my present moments, people, experiences and cherish each one of them. So many great points and lessons you brought up I felt like I was reading my diary! Looking forward to my 30 ‘ s !!!!!

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