I turn 40 on September 1st, and I can't even.
How do you sum up four decades of life? I'll soon find out, as I recently quit my job to write an autobiography.
Yes, that was probably a dumb idea.
Yes, I'm properly terrified.
But I also know that I have to do it. Life has taught me that if we keep waiting for opportunities, those opportunities don't always come. And in that way, it's probably the best thing I've ever done.
This, and 39 other lessons I've learned through a life filled with challenges and education, are listed below. I wish I had learned some of these sooner, so I'm passing them on to someone else in the hopes they will have more clue than younger me did.
1. Life is change.
So don’t get too
comfortable. I experienced big change in the last couple of years, both as a
and as a spouse
, and I did not see either of those changes coming. It
was like the ultimate surprise party. With subsequent therapy sessions.
2. Change is not your enemy.
It’s not out
to kick you in the ovaries, even if it feels that way sometimes. Life is like
an occasionally irrational roommate, who is totally fine most of the time and
then trashes the house when he can’t find his Blink 182 CD. Then you come home
from work and you’re all, “What happened?” Life, your irrational roommate,
happened. He still pays rent and cooks a mean stir fry though, so he’s not all
3. When you can help someone, do it
. Life works best when we are there for those who fall down. And believe me, we all
fall down, eventually. So when you can be that person for someone else, be that person
. Do one small thing, or one big thing. But do a thing. It comes back to you, I promise.
4. Seriously, dudes:
Today is all we have
. I know that’s written on about eleventy-five-thousand
inspirational memes, but that’s because it’s true. We only have today. Any of
us could die in a freak poutine-eating accident tomorrow (especially me, as I
fully plan to go out in a blaze of cheese curds and extra gravy.) So enjoy
today, okay? It’s not so bad.
5. Don’t give up the
foods you love.
(#poutine.) If you’ve been following the health side of my
journey, you know I’ve gotten smaller and buffer
in the last 18 months. I did
that without completely giving up chocolate or coffee with cream or anything
else that makes me happy in the mouth; I just eat less of it now. Life is too
6. Balance is
unattainable (but try anyway).
The term “perfect balance” is used for two
reasons: in embarrassingly challenging yoga moves, and to sell magazines. The
latter concept is a myth. We can get close, but our lives are too messy and too
imperfect to achieve perfection in any way, including balance. So just do the
best you can and awkwardly high-five yourself for it like I do in meetings
sometimes when I say something witty.
7. You can love your
kids AND your career
. Why are parents (and mothers in particular) always
expected to choose one over the other? I love both of mine for different
reasons. I love my kids because they’re awesome and love me back, and I love my
career because it’s fulfilling and doesn’t eat all my Doritos.
8. Love is good. And
sometimes hard. And yet, still good.
I’m more in love with my wife today
than I’ve ever been. But as I’ve mentioned before, we’ve had to put a whole lot
of work in to getting here. Thankfully, a deep connection happens when two people
face the storm together. We’ve faced a few, and I think we appreciate our
togetherness in a more meaningful way because of it.
|Zoe and me, Pride Ottawa 2016|
9. Don’t work out to
If that was my goal, I would have quit a long time ago. Look,
some of us get thin through lifestyle changes and exercise. Some of us, like
yours truly, do not. In my case, it may have something to do with genetics and
also poutine. But I work out because it makes me feel like a powerhouse of
amazingness – at any size. And that’s way more motivation than trying to fit
into a pair of jeans.
10. You can be a
strong person and still need help
. I got depressed last year
. My life got
dark. I went to the doctor and the therapist and I got the help I needed. In no
way does that make me weak, and if you’ve ever had to do the same, it doesn’t
make you weak, either. In fact, I’d argue that level of awareness is a strength
11. Comparison is for
. My neighbours have a yard that screams, “I love gardening!” I have
a yard that screams, “I love apathy!” But so what? That’s where they put their
time and energy. I put mine into other things. Both time and energy are in
limited supply, so use them where you think it’s worthwhile and don’t worry
about what other people do. Heck, if my neighbours don’t like my yard, they can
come over and landscape it for me.
12. Some of us bloom
a little later.
My school years were brutal for me. I had few friends, lots
of bullies, and was even set on fire in front of my middle school. But today I
have a voice and a fierceness and a lot of resilience thanks to the things that
happened to me when I was younger. If you haven’t bloomed yet, don’t worry;
you’re just a late summer flower like me. You’ll get there.
13. Authenticity is
the key to happiness.
Both my daughter and wife are proof of this. They’re
happier than ever now that they’re living their authentic lives. So just be you
and you’ll be so happy!
14. No, wait.
Connecting with others is the key to happiness
. Yeah, that’s what I’ve read.
Love your people and let them love you back. It makes your whole life better!
15. Sorry, sorry. I’m
wrong again. Acceptance is the key to
Yes. This is really it. I’ve accepted all the changes in my life
and I’m pretty happy. That must be the thing that does the good stuff to all
the other things.
16. Sigh. There is no key to happiness. I
think I need to stop reading magazines. Honestly, happiness is a culmination of
a whole bunch of good and wise stuff, while also coming to terms with the idea
that life won’t ever be perfect.
17. You will regret
not travelling, so travel
. I’m one of those suckers who wishes she
travelled more, which is why I put this here. Up until now, my main idea of
travel has been a bowl of popcorn and a documentary on European cathedrals.
Here’s hoping that changes in the future.
18. We need less than
we think we do
. When our family moved to this part of the city, we had to
downsize so we could still have poutine money (#priorties). It was one of the
best things we ever did. Smaller home and yard = fewer expenses and less
upkeep. We also paired down what we own, reducing the clutter and making our
lives simpler. I’ve realized things don’t make us happy long-term. In this way
– and only in this way – I am living a home & lifestyle magazine life.
19. There are many
ways to be rich.
You probably won’t achieve all of them, so focus on the
most important types: rich in love, rich in friends and family, rich in donuts.
(But if you do happen to win the lottery, I know a certain writer who really
wants to go to Europe.)
|Aerik and his moms, Pride 2016.|
20. The power of love
will surprise you
. Like you can’t even. Love has made me do some scary
shit, man. I’ve stood up to bigots, gone on live radio, spoken in front of
large audiences, gone on camera more times than I can count… What else could
make me do that? Nothing, that’s what. Love is the most powerful force in the
universe. Except maybe black holes. (Did I mention my little documentary
problem? I need a life.)
21. It’s perfectly okay to take a good selfie. You know what? Screw everyone who thinks it’s vain/narcissistic/some kind of mental health issue to want to look your best in a picture. If you take a pic of yourself that you love, feel free to show it off to me. We will celebrate your gorgeousness together and how good you feel about it.
22. Some people will
leave, and that’s okay
. Not everyone is meant to stay in our lives forever.
My biological father walked away when I was a baby. Some of my friends walked
out when my daughter came out as transgender. I thank my father for his half of
my selfie-friendly genetics, and I thank my former friends for the friendship
we shared when we did. Holding on to resentment only hurts me.
23. You will leave
some people, and that’s okay.
Sometimes, you’ll be the one to walk out. If
it was a good decision, awkwardly high-five yourself again. If it wasn’t,
forgive yourself and move on. We are imperfect beings. But as old relationships
flow out, it leaves the door open for new relationships to flow in that are
perhaps better suited to the people we are today. My life is full of great
people these days. I’m glad I left the door open.
24. Stand up for
someone. We all have a voice, but some of us are in a better position to
use ours. If you know someone who could use an advocate, put your advocacy
pants on and get busy. They’re a little tight at first, but they get really
comfortable in time.
25. Be passionate
I don’t care if it’s Icelandic summer sports. If that’s
your thing, go full tilt and enjoy the hell out of it. Passion is one of the
greatest human emotions. I experience it whenever I paint, speak to a room full
of people, or when I buy the giant bag of Peanut M&Ms.
26. Just do it. It’s
never going to be “the right time.”
I just quit my job so I could focus
full-time on LGBT advocacy and writing a memoir (I’m calling it my midlife crisis.)
We could use the money from that job right now, since we have another family
living with us and three more mouths to feed. But I’ve spent years waiting for
“the right time.” I’d rather eat macaroni and grass clippings than waste
another year waiting for the right moment. Sometimes, we have to make the moment right
27. Not everyone will
like you, so stop caring so much
. Fact: Some people legitimately don’t like
me. (I know, right?!) They just have poor taste in humans. If some people don’t
like you, it’s surely for the same reason. We can’t control what other people
think of us, and we shouldn’t change because we’re not someone else’s
double-double. It’s an unsolvable quandary. So let’s not worry about it and
just like each other, instead.
28. You don’t have to
be mean back.
Never, ever. Being mean to someone is a choice
. I get trolled online all the time and try (key word: try
) to take the high road. Either I
ignore it, or I come back with education and kindness. (Funny enough, this
seems to upset trolls even more.) When I realized other people’s meanness has
everything to do with them and nothing to do with me, it made this whole “not
being mean back” business much easier.
decisions are often wrong
. I’m not talking about deciding not to walk down
a dark alleyway, obviously. I’m talking about choosing not to take risks in
life because we’re afraid; afraid of rocking the boat, upsetting the status
quo, making the wrong move. But if we stay in stasis, we never grow. Sometimes
you have to quit your job so you can write a book, as terrifying as that is,
because you don’t want to end up on your death bed wondering why you never did
. So be great. Go big.
Fear be damned.
30. Self-care is
. I couldn’t do the work I do if I didn’t put myself first. Take
care of yourself. Self needs you to. Self can’t care for others if self is too
unwell. Take self for a walk, or for a pedicure, or out for a glass of wine
with friends. You are the only self you have, after all, and you’re important,
31. Adulting doesn’t
have to be boring.
I have a small collection of Converse shoes. According
to style experts, they are all too young for me. I do not care. Style experts
can go tell some other professional woman how to dress. This one wore glitter skull
shoes on stage during a keynote presentation and will do it again if she gets a
32. No matter how
busy you are, take a downtime day
. We can’t be on all the time. We get
tired and we need rest. Take it from me: Do
not burn out.
I’ve done it and it’s not pretty. Hell, even my selfie game
took a dive. Sometimes you just have to sit on the couch with the giant bag of
Peanut M&Ms and binge watch The Good
. (This is essentially a perfect day for me, by the way.)
33. Hang out with
kids more often
. Some of us have no choice but to do so because we made
kids come out of our bodies (or lawfully attached ourselves to ones that came
out of someone else’s body). But even if you have no children of your own, make
sure to spend time with some. Yes, even if you “don’t like kids.” Why? Because
kids are better teachers than grownups. They remind us to be authentic, look at
the world in new ways, and be just self-centered enough not to burn out. All
|Juliet and I met after she read one of my pieces on Zoe's transition.|
Use your voice. You never know who's listening.
34. You can’t help
everybody, but you can help somebody.
And that’s enough
. I know the world can seem overwhelming. So many people
in need of assistance, not enough time or resources for one person to help them
all. But you don’t have to help them all. Just help one. If we all helped one
person, the world would begin to heal. (Want to help someone today? Click to support Juliet and Emmi's fundraiser to stay in Canada
35. Say “yes” to
things more often
. Yes, I will try that new class at the gym. Yes, I will
go out with new people. Yes, I will buy Amanda a latte.
36. Say “no” more
Wait. What? How does that work? Allow me to explain: Say no to
anything you would normally say yes to just to make other people happy.
Pleasing people is exhausting. Don’t do it. Unless it’s buying me a latte, in
which case, pleasing people in important.
37. Everything will
kill you, so stop obsessing about it
. Newsflash: No matter how much organic
kale you eat, you will eventually die. That’s the problem with being mortal;
the prognosis is fatal. I love being healthy, but obsessing about it is stressful
and useless. It also takes away from eating chips of the non-kale variety (AKA
the good chips.)
38. Raise a little
We all have an activist inside us. Don’t be afraid to let her out
when you need to. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
39. Never make lists
as long as your age beyond the age of 15. Trust me. My hands are weeping
and I’m pretty sure the kids have formed a search party by now.
40. Just. Be. You. You are enough. I am enough. Just as we
are. I wish I hadn’t spent years thinking I wasn’t enough. What a waste that
was. This world needs more of me and it needs more of you. It takes every star
in the sky to make that sky magnificent. So shine brightly, little star. You
make life better.
Happy birthday, Old Lady Amanda. It's been a great first half of your life.