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33 Pearls of Wisdom: Lessons From 33 Years of Living

I have been around for a few decades, lived a little, and noticed some universal themes that are not just relevant to this era. These are 33 of my favorite lessons that I have gathered over my 33-years on planet Earth. If you live on a different planet, this may not apply to you. These are not earth-shattering revelations, but due to the current chaotic chaotic state of humanity, I figured some reminders might be helpful.

The young 20th century philosopher, Mery Nikolova, getting her potassium before pontificating the meaning of life.

1. We are all children in adult bodies faking our way through life.

I have not met one person who has it all figured out. They may succeed in one aspect of their life, but will typically fail in another. I used to look up to adults when I was younger until I grew up and realized that nobody actually knows what they're doing. There isn't a linear one-size-fits-all approach to success. There is no blueprint and anyone who wants to sell you a course with guarantees saying otherwise is full of it. Everyone is playing pretend, just like children do, except the stakes are much higher on the adult playground so the "actors" are even more believable.

2. Things are not as glamorous as they seem from afar.

At this stage, I've made plenty of my own dreams come true. The fantasy that I played out in my head was sometimes far greater than the reality of it. I've also met people who, on paper, are way more successful, yet I don't envy them. As the saying goes, "with great power comes great responsibility." Careful what you wish for. Everyone secretly wants what they can't have. Once they have it, then they don't want it.

3. Everyone poops & everyone dies.

This might sound morbid and gross, but whenever you enter a room with executives or people who intimidate you, don't forget how fragile we all are. Peacocks spread their feathers to look as large as possible and intimidate their predators. Although they're beautiful to look at, that doesn't mean they're not susceptible to harm. Likewise, humans are just as vulnerable. Some are just better at pretending that they're not impacted by what the ordinary human deals with. We are all ordinary. Remember that during your next presentation, interview, or any event where you need to stick your feathers out. When it's all said and done, you'll end up in the same bathroom, and eventually six feet under.

4. Celebrate your small victories.

Maybe it's because I'm Bulgarian, but I'll find a reason to celebrate anything. People will have us believing that only big events like weddings, babies, a new job, or academic achievements are the only things worth celebrating and living for. Nonsense. I celebrate things before they happen, as they're happening, after they happen, or even when they don't happen. Finished writing a chapter of your book that you have been putting off? You're now able to run an extra mile without stopping? You didn't get the job, but you had the opportunity to interview for it? Great, that calls for a celebration. And noI'm not talking about going to the club and blowing all your savings kind of celebration. Do something that you enjoy doing for yourself as a reward to completing a task. You can treat yourself to a spa night at home, a homemade dessert, or anything that stimulates your senses and brings you joy. Humans, like dogs, need a reward system to keep going. This will allow you to enjoy the journey and not make it feel like it's such a drag.

5. Don't settle in love to avoid being alone.

Ironically, if you do this, you will feel super lonely with that person sitting next to you. Although nobody is going to meet your standards 100%, settling for the bare minimum to fill a void shouldn't be celebrated. Choosing the right partner can reduce stress, give you a sense of purpose, and increase longevity by adding years to your life. Your partner should feel like a safe space in a cold world. This alone will help the rest of your life run much smoother.

6. Never think twice about spending money on experiences.

I have never cared to spend my money on expensive name brand clothing, purses, etc. Considering how often we get sick of the things we wear and that trends go out of style, it never seemed like a smart investment. Cars and other luxuries have also seemed like a waste because someone can easily crash into, steal, or ruin that sacred thing you purchased. But do you know what can never be taken away from you? Experiences. Those live rent-free in my head forever. I consider myself filthy rich in experiences and I will never regret booking a trip with someone I love or trying something new for the first time.

7. Stop thinking about retirement. Live now.

In order to receive full retirement benefits in the U.S., you have to retire at 65 according to The Social Security Act. I've never understood why Americans are obsessed with worrying about retirement. I'm all for savings and being prepared for the future, but it always seemed like people here live to work rather than work to live. Tomorrow is never guaranteed; even if it was, you're most likely not going to have the same energy and capabilities as you did in your youth. Investing in your present is just as important as investing in your future. Live now.

8. Don't worry about things that have not happened yet.

I'm an over-thinker so I need to remind myself of this constantly. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst. My brain rationalizes this as preparation and a way not to get blindsided. However, it does more damage than good. I found myself thinking about thousands of different scenarios that have not ever occurred in reality. I have also had many conversations with myself that never actually happened. Don't waste all that energy on your imaginative mind. Instead, wait until it happens (if it even does), and then think of a plan.

9. Take risks before you're ready.

There is no playbook on how to live life. Humans will make a million excuses about why now is not the right time. Sometimes taking the risk before you're ready forces your brain to figure out how to make it work. How many times have you heard of people having children before they were ready and miraculously figuring it out along the way? And how many have you heard say that having children made them into a better person because they now have a little human depending on them? I would bet that's the case for many.

10. People never change unless they consciously decide to.

No, you can't fix him/her/them. You can't just fix humans like you can a leaky faucet with a quick trip to The Home Depot. People can easily fool us into thinking they have changed by taking the appropriate steps to create an image that they know will get you off their back. They can keep this up for quite a while, but when things go off the rails, they will retreat back to what comes naturally to them and not the perfectly polished image they were displaying in your face. Learn to love people unconditionally for who they are, and not the potential you see in them. They have to want the same vision for themselves, or it's never going to work and you will constantly be disappointed with them.

11. Nobody owes you anything.

This one might sting our entitled society, but nobody owes you anything. It doesn't matter what you look like, where you came from, how hard you have worked, or how unfair life may seem to you. You can choose to be a victim, or you can choose to get up and be thankful that you're given another day to make something out of this life.

12. Saying YES will lead to more opportunities.

When I was a teenager, my mom had to drag me out of my room to get me to socialize and stop studying so hard. Academics were safe to me; people were not. My initial reaction was to say no to everything. In improv comedy there's a saying, "yes, and..." It suggests that the person on the receiving end should accept what the other improviser had stated and then build upon that line of thinking. I realized fairly quickly how many experiences I was missing out on by choosing not to engage in anything due to the fact that I was shy and not confident growing up. Once I started using the "yes, and..." improv tactic in my daily life, so many doors opened up for me; doors I didn't know existed. Saying yes doesn't mean that you have no boundaries. It just means you can entertain an idea, and if it starts heading in a direction you don't like, you always have the choice to exit.

13. The only constant is change.

You can't count on a lot of ultimate truths, but you can always guarantee that change is inevitable. No living thing is spared from change. Nature is constantly changing and adjusting so it should be no surprise that we need to adapt with it. Adaptability is measured by our ability to change in order to adjust to varying circumstances. Once you get used to everything being in a constant flux, nothing will throw you off course.

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." - Heraclitus

14. Life is not that serious.

We are so easily forgotten. When we are in the moment or in our head, we think the whole world revolves around us. We tend to believe everyone is harping on our every word and that we must protect our image at all costs. In reality, nobody is analyzing us more than ourselves. Eventually all of our embarrassing moments will be erased from existence and new generations will take the spotlight and their 15 seconds of fame. Laugh about it. It's going to be alright.

15. Those who judge the loudest often harbor the deepest insecurities.

The older I get, the less judgement I pass. That's because with time you should ideally realize that nothing is as it seems. If the people around your circle can't find subjects to talk about besides other humans, then it's time to find another circle. People love to act like they have never made mistakes and are perfect. It's always easier to focus on other people's faults than look in the mirror at your own.

16. There is no point in arguing with people who will never listen. Let it go.

If you told me the sky is green and you're an octopus living in the desert, you're absolutely right. In your brain, that might be the reality. However, don't force that on me. I won't argue with you about your beliefs, but understand that you have to give me that same respect back. It always amazes me how much time people dedicate to arguing with strangers online daily. Do you think you're making a difference? SPOILER ALERT: You're not. Learn how to respectfully communicate your differences and I swear all your sleep problems will go away because you don't carry any tension around with you.

17. Save all the time in the world by not displaying passive-aggressive behavior.

I'm a firm believer that most people don't get what they want out of life and their relationships because they're not direct and honest about what they want. They will ask advice from social media, their neighbor, God, the mailman, and everyone else, except for the person they should be addressing. This typically happens with people who are not confrontational and want to avoid conflict. Ironically, that's exactly what they will stir up by being avoidant. Face the public fearlessly and directly state what you want. The worst that can happen is that you get rejected, but at least then you know where you stand and all parties can move on and get closure.

18. Daily gratitude will allow you to find the miracles in the ordinary.

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need a million dollars to be happy. You just need to write a sentence in your notes app before going to bed each night. I love writing, but journaling is hard for me and it feels like a chore. For the past decade, I have been writing down the highlight of my day before going to bed. You can pull out the notes section in your phone; it doesn't need to be a physical journal. It can be a fragment it doesn't need to be a full sentence. Not every day will be sunshine and rainbows, but this exercise will force you to look for the good in the ordinary. Some days your entry might look like, "I woke up and my sinuses didn't flare up." Your brain then starts filing this as something incredible worth noting. Over time, this practice becomes the highlight reel of your life. If I'm ever feeling down, I just start reading off a random month or year and realize that life is incredible, even when it sucks.

19. Perfection is not attainable.

It's a good thing to strive to be better and consistently improve over time, but it's paralyzing trying to be perfect. Social media doesn't help perfectionists with this since everyone seem to be living a perfectly curated life. Give yourself grace. There's someone out there who wishes to live the life you're living. The goalposts will always move and we will all die imperfect.

20. Not everyone is raised with the same love as you.

Whenever I would come to my mom when people let me down, or did something that was uncalled for, she would always remind me that not everyone was raised with the same love as I was. Sometimes I would try to rationalize other people's actions when it was not personally aimed at me. Love comes in many different forms. Not everyone loves and thinks the same way you do. If you remember that, you will never spend another day overthinking. You can't rewire a persons entire existence overnight and expect them to show up for you the same way you show up for them.

21. Don't have attachments to outcomes or people. What is meant to be for you will always be yours.

We probably all fantasize about an area of our life working out exactly how we envisioned it. We think that if only we had xyz, then we would be happy. What we think we want is not always what is right for us. We are all sold on certain dreams, but what if there's something better waiting for us that we haven't even explored yet? Whenever something I wanted didn't work out for me, I've always been redirected to something much better that I didn't think was possible at the time. The same can be said about humans. Don't chase after people who do not want to be in your presence and stop knocking on doors that are always shut. Look forward and let go off of all your attachments.

22. Gain wisdom from children.

When you think of children, would you describe them as being boring, close-minded, full of little to no imagination, without any curiosity, and with lots of prejudice against the other kids on the playground? Unless you have only encounter monsters designed by adults, you probably think of children as being the exact opposite of what I described. Now reverse that question and let me know how many adults you know that can fall into one, if not all of those categories. As we age we get beaten down by life and start to have our judgements, we close ourselves off from new people entering our lives, and don't allow time for play and exploration. Get curious about other people, learn new things, take up a new creative hobby that allows your mind to not only focus on survival, and stop grouping everyone in the same category. You might just find a whole new world out there.

23. Value relationships over achievements and power.

Maya Angelou said it best, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." You know those customer service surveys you get after an interaction with a business? Imagine at the end of each day, you get a personalized report with how many people you negatively impacted vs. positively? Sometimes even a small, but rude interaction has the power to ruin someone's day. Don't just think about yourself. Place a high value on the relationships you form with others and the achievements will naturally flow. Nobody wants to support an egomaniac who only cares to uplift themselves.

24. Ask questions and poke holes in everything.

The older we get, the more set in our ways we become. We have settled into our beliefs and we don't want anything to shake those up. That's why it's important to periodically question and poke holes in our own beliefs. Why do you believe what you believe? Why do others believe what they believe? Never believe the first option that's presented to you, or that has been validated by someone you admire who you think holds the truth. Ask questions. Turn everything upside down. Then act accordingly. This will also greatly help to breed innovation in business.

25. Don't make assumptions based on appearances.

In the pursuit of equality, we have made everything about identity politics. One of my favorite things about moving to the United States has always been the diversity. If I had stayed in Bulgaria my entire life I wouldn't be surrounded by so much cultural variety. I'm not sure when the shift happened, but people seem to identify with their gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, and social class more than ever. People are profiling each other before they even give the other person a chance to speak. Never make assumptions about what someone else's journey on this planet has been, even if you think they had everything handed to them on a platter. You might find out that you have more in common than you think if you silence your judgements.

26. People with less talent than you keep winning because of their persistence.

I'm sure we have all looked at a piece of art, a product, a course, or whatever it may be and think, "wow, this is complete garbage." I now admire everyone's garbage. It's pretty incredible to believe in your own BS so much that it convinces others to believe in it. There's truly something for everyone and a market for everything. Keep going, even when it feels like there's no audience and you're talking to the wall.

27. Humble yourself.

Everyone has a platform now and it's made people think they're a subject matter expert, a thought leader, a life coach, a wizard, a this, that, and the other. While it's fantastic that everyone has a seat at the table, it's important to step back and humble yourself and not ride on the dopamine hits at 500 mph. All of us are insignificant specks of dust in this universe. If nobody has told you that you're nothing today, here I am reminding you. I'm nothing too. Nice to meet you.

28. Say less.

We live in a society that overshares everything. There use to be a time where you could go to work and not know your coworkers sexual orientation, who they slept with during the weekend, what their political stance is, or their thoughts on every divisive topic. As welcoming as people may seem, pretend that anything you say can and will be used against you—because it will. This is not just applicable to the workplace. Even if you're not saying anything controversial, people will stir the pot for the sake of stirring it. Say less until you're sure who you're dealing with.

29. Embrace your weirdness to attract the right people.

I'm not going to be everyone's cup of tea and neither are you. That's great because we don't want to be robotic replicas of each other. There should be unique differences between us. When you're free to be your authentic self, you attract the people who are meant for you. Disguise your quirks and you will spend your whole life hiding and feeling alone, even when you're in the presence of others.

30. To experience privilege, extend kindness to everyone you encounter.

Displaying genuine kindness that is felt by everyone around you is free, yet it feels more rare than it should be. In a world where everyone is looking out for themselves, taking an interest in others is a noble act. When you're in public, smile, make small talk with your cashier to make their day less redundant, and don't treat your waiter as a servant. In shortbe present. It takes so little to make others feel seen. The goal is not to do this to get something in return, but I can't tell you how often I've received a discount or something for free just for showing up with a good attitude. Cynics will counter me on this and tell me it's because I'm beautiful. I beg to differ; nobody likes rewarding a stuck up person who is easy on the eyes. Instead, I've received actual affirmation through words from strangers thanking me for making their day and for being pleasant to deal with. I call it kindness privilege. You can have it too. Go practice. It benefits everyone.

31. If you think solitude is depressing, you're not comfortable with yourself. Get comfortable.

As an only child, I've spent a lot of time alone with my thoughts. I attribute my imagination, curiosity, and self-awareness to solitude. I genuinely enjoy going out alone and need my space to recharge. Somehow, this is very controversial when you're a woman. Waiters would ask if I'm okay and wonder if I needed company or entertainment; even if they didn't intentionally mean it, the undertones were that of pity. I would go out alone to enjoy the silence and here I was now playing 21 questions and assuring the staff I didn't get stood up. People were projecting their insecurities on me, when I was perfectly comfortable showing up without an entourage. We are social creatures by nature and we need each other to thrive. But before you start getting lost in other people, get lost alone and find out who you are and what you stand for. Otherwise, you will be easily swayed by whoever is in the room with you.

32. Trust the timing of your life.

This seems to be the worst possible advice when your life is on the verge of hitting rock-bottom. It's impossible to see things through when it feels like you have no time. Patience might be one of the most uncomfortable virtues because sometimes the only thing left to do is wait indefinitely until it starts to make sense. You can't add it to your calendar and wait for it because you never know when the thing you need to happen will happen, if at all. In hindsight, every scenario that I was distraught about at one point ended working out for the best. Some things didn't make sense for years and redirected me toward a better path. Do what you think is best in the moment and then let life take its course. Try to enjoy the ride. Also, remember that every great movie is filled with turbulence that doesn't get resolved in the first 5-minutes. That's what makes it enjoyable to keep watching—the journey. Bon voyage!

33. Never apologize for filling your own cup first.

Taking care of yourself first is the opposite of being selfish. It's impossible to fully show up for the people in our lives if we can't even show up for ourselves. If it feels like there's no time for that, that's a key indicator that you have been abandoning your needs. Start small if you need to and set a reminder for your self-care routine. Each day should include at least a brief moment dedicated solely to nurturing yourself on a mental, spiritual, emotional, social, or physical level. When you prioritize yourself, you will enhance your ability to positively impact the lives of those around you.


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