Posing with the Monkey for my birthday in Chinatown in Chicago.

39 lessons I really should have learned by now.

Yesterday I turned 39 years old, which means I only have one year until I turn forty, which means I only have one year to get my life together. Because that’s how that works, right? You’re supposed to have your life together by 40?

At least I feel like that should be the case.

Please god tell me that’s the case.

Posing with the Monkey for my birthday in Chinatown in Chicago.

I’m 39 and still feel like my life is a pretty big mess most days. Right now, my apartment is in a state of turmoil because I have been in the middle of a massive reorganization project that I’ve been slowly puttering through for weeks. The corner of my bedsheet came loose days ago and I haven’t bothered to refit it. I have two weeks of unwashed laundry on my floor. My to do list is bursting with unfinished projects. I’m still crushing on some guy I haven’t talked to in months. My hair hasn’t been cut since July. My pants are covered in cat hair. I have a Disney vacation coming up that I’l have to sell a kidney to afford. And I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I did have a really good 39th birthday. My friend Nick was in town from Austin on Friday and Saturday so we went to Sun Wah BBQ for their three-course Beijing Duck Dinner, went for brunch in Wicker Park, got coffee at the World’s Largest Starbucks, and played some ping pong. Then yesterday I went out for dim sum in Chinatown in the morning and to Golden Nugget for some huevos rancheros at night.

It was a good weekend and was one of the few times as of late that I allowed myself to just enjoy myself. To go out, leave my apartment, and not be so hung up on all of those things I should have been doing with my time instead.

But now, I’m sitting here in a Starbucks on a Monday morning, panicking because I lost twenty minutes of my life trying to connect to their wifi, stressed because my Monday-morning to do list is twice as long as normal because I did nothing the last three days, and thinking about the next 365 days to come.

Because I now have less than 365 days left in my thirties.

I’m 39 and still feel like my life is a pretty big mess most days. And, most days, I find myself saying to myself, “I really should have learned this by now,” over something basic, something silly, that if I only put into practice, would make my life so much easier. Would probably make me feel that much more like I have my life together. So, today, in honor of my 39th birthday, here is a list of 39 lessons I really should have learned by now. And maybe 39 lessons that I will learn someday soon…

Eating the Beijing duck dinner at Sun Wah BBQ in Chicago.

39 lessons I really should have learned by now:

  1. It’s OK to spend a day doing nothing.
  2. When I write something down and my phone auto corrects it and I think, “eh, I’ll remember what that was supposed to be,” I will not remember what that was supposed to be.
  3. Write things down if you want to remember them.
  4. If I clean my dishes right away they will be much easier to clean than if I leave them in the sink for a week. Or three.
  5. If I pick up after myself right away my apartment will stay clean.
  6. If I put things back where they belong I will know where they are.
  7. You can still do things even if you’re not the best at them.
  8. It’s OK to take a sick day when you’re just kind of sick and not on your death bed.
  9. No matter how good the sweet options sound at brunch, always order savory.
  10. It’s not so bad to be honest with someone about how you feel about them even if things don’t go your way.
  11. Don’t talk out loud to yourself in public.
  12. People don’t hate me.
  13. People aren’t purposefully sabotaging me.
  14. 5am flights that save a few bucks aren’t worth it.
  15. I don’t have to get everywhere half an hour early.
  16. Putting off something I don’t want to do makes it unnecessarily harder. And stressier.
  17. Always look for the easy-open tab before just ripping into a package.
  18. Don’t wing it at the grocery store.
  19. You can only grow by forcing yourself out of your comfort zone.
  20. I don’t have to Instagram my whole life.
  21. Don’t check his Instagram.
  22. Things don’t happen overnight.
  23. Budgets are good.
  24. Back up your files. And press save often.
  25. Realize that you have more willpower than you give yourself credit for.
  26. Don’t assume the worst.
  27. Start preheating the oven before you’re at the point of starving.
  28. I don’t have to cook for the equivalent of four people when it’s just me.
  29. I don’t have to order takeout for the equivalent of four people when it’s just me.
  30. It’s OK to eat what you have and not what you crave.
  31. I shouldn’t change in front of open windows.
  32. It’s easier to get something done, it’s easier to accomplish something, if I concentrate only on that one thing.
  33. Don’t drink regular coffee after noon.
  34. It’s OK to say what’s on your mind.
  35. It’s OK to ask for help.
  36. I’m smart. And capable. And have expertise. And worthy.
  37. Have fun.
  38. Have patience.
  39. Move on.
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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

  • Conrad
    January 20, 2020at12:10 pm

    Can you imagine you get 49 and have room for 10 more points to write down? Imagine the possibilities.

  • Jodi B
    February 17, 2020at5:59 am

    Hey Val. I’ve been following you on and off for over 7 years now. I came for the travel blog and kept coming back for your real life encounters. I really appreciate how honest you are and I guess I see parts of myself in you. Keep on blogging because you are pretty awesome at it. Cheers!

  • Stella Wilson
    June 22, 2020at10:18 pm

    Hi Val,
    Marvelous blog. I am in love with all the beautiful photographs. Thanks for sharing this article 🙂

  • Martha Oliveros
    September 18, 2020at6:20 pm

    Hi Val, your blog is great. I want my son lives many experiences like yours. I’m sure he will. Take care and stay enjoying life.

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