Caterpillars shed their exoskeleton skin and eat it multiple times before becoming butterflies.
How many times have I done this myself?
Become, unbecome, and become once again.
So my human existence in this planet has entered a new decade about a couple of months ago. Some people give no importance to birthdays. A birthday is just another day, right?
I don’t think so. I believe birthdays should be celebrated. Not everyone gets to blow out literal or figurative candles every year. I try to do something a bit out of the ordinary in celebration of my birthday. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. It could be as big as scuba diving in December for the first time in Malta or having a much needed dance party in the car with your brother.
This year was a bit different in a plethora of ways. I am 30. 30! Oh, how different 30 looks when you are living it vs. what you imagine it to be when you are in your early 20s. That, and well I never in my wildest dreams had I ever pictured my 30th birthday to be celebrated in the midst of the Coronavirus global pandemic.
1. Listen to your body. The human body is an incredible vessel. It knows things that the brain might not even fully comprehend. Sometimes my gut tells me not to go down a certain road when I’m running or my gut has also helped me realise I shouldn’t take a certain job role (whether I actually follow my feeling is another story). The way your physical self feels after spending time with someone can be very telling. There’s times when I come off of a phone call or come home from being around certain people and my energy feels depleted or augmented. Make your choice on who to have by your side dependent on your body and mind’s reactions. I used to ignore this but the sooner you learn not to, the better.
2. Win together more than alone. I’ll admit it feels great to win by yourself. However winning with others can foster an even bigger feeling of accomplishment. You can accomplish a lot more and better quality results by asking for guidance or help. My Masters dissertation primary research –7 interviews and nearly 300 surveys– would not have been possible without my friends, family, and everyone I have met since high school (PS If you are reading this and you were on of the participants, THANK YOU again. You are the real MVPs). I also like the quote that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This pandemic is proving how much we need one another, and the vital nature of helping when you can and asking for help when you can’t. Sometimes it’s easier said than done because of our egos. With time however, pride should lower if you let it.
3. Don’t be afraid to do things on your own. Yes, I know this contradicts the previous lesson. But I believe there needs to be a balance. The Covid-19 pandemic made me realize what an idiot I was to not go to that concert, that country or that book signing just because there was nobody to go with me. One I especially always think about is a $25 Incubus concert ticket I didn’t buy due to not wanting to sing to Morning View by myself. There was a time in my early 20s when I didn’t feel good if I wasn’t in the presence (whether virtually or physically) of another person. Fast forward to now and I relish the time that I have alone. I consider myself an ambivert, meaning I get energy both from being with others as well as by being with myself. Getting comfortable with your own solitary presence is life changing. In the summer of 2020 I solo hiked for the first time. The Seven Sisters trail was breathtaking, and I didn’t feel loneliness as I was climbing up and down the coastal hills of England. Instead, I felt a grand sense of freedom I hadn’t known I was missing.
4. Underpromise, overdeliver. This is my favourite motto, both professionally and personally. It is so much better to give a freelance client an estimated due date of one week and have it done in 4 days instead. It is also infinitely better to tell your mother and brother that they’ll need to take the tube to your flat but instead surprise them at Gatwick airport. I told them I still had university classes and didn’t have time to pick them up–but of course I would pick up my family on their first visit to England! I get a massive sense of joy when I smash deadlines and can deliver them earlier than estimated. Going above and beyond and providing more value for a client than the original proposal will create client loyalty. For a more secure financial standing, consistent clients are key so the more you care for them, the better. I see it as a competition with myself to see who (me vs. me) can complete the task first; whether it be a social media marketing proposal or a GIF for advertising.
5. The perfect moment doesn’t exist. I am guilty of stalling in an attempt to find the perfect moment to do something. A classic example is getting a Postgraduate degree. I knew I wanted to get higher education for years before I got it. I was waiting to get enough experience, enough money, enough courage. If you feel the urge to do something, jump in head first. It doesn’t matter if it was the wrong moment to dive in. You’ll pick yourself up again and start over. There’s no need to be scared of failure. You’re going to meet so, so, so much failure in life. All you can do is try to learn from it. The same thing applies to art. There is no need to wait for the perfect artistic results. I used to stress about sharing my art work or writing, but now realize that the wrong people will just not listen anyway while the right people will be the ones paying attention.
6. Think less sometimes. This isn’t good for all situations, but many times I’ve found that if I think too much about doing something then I simply won’t do it. I start thinking about all the ways that it could go wrong or why the alternate is more ideal. Shut your brain up and just do it. I wanted to travel abroad much before I actually did. Just buy the flight ticket to Thailand! You’ll figure everything else out later. Thailand was my first international flight and one that I may not have even bought if I had sat down to think too much about the hostel details, selfie locations and activity tickets. I had dreamed of traveling much before this trip but thinking too much always got in the way of me going through with it. Overthinking is a big enemy of mine that I try to keep at bay. I know that going with the flow and not having such a tight grip on plans is some people’s worst nightmare but for me it works.
7. Invest in your Community. It is the primary reason I feel so at home in London. I have found a community here that I struggled to find in the US. Especially living in a new city, you need people who are there to share, guide, and help you through the transitions. I feel so blessed to have met such incredible souls here while also strengthening relationships back home. I have made the mistake before of investing too much in romantic relationships and forsaking the relationship I have with my friends, family and coworkers. It is important to have platonic relationships that you nourish on a daily or weekly basis. You can do this using a variety of tactics; from face time calls, to cooking dinner together during the pandemic because London’s lockdown won’t allow you to meet at a restaurant as usual, to simply sending a youtube video to spark a conversation. Regardless of the method, quality time is vital for me.
8. Fake it until you make it. It’s not easy to break into the job market. It’s especially disheartening when you see many companies state that it is an entry level position but that you need to have X amount of experience. I called myself a freelancer way before I was actually a freelancer, because I knew it was what I eventually wanted to do. I dreamed of freelancing and read about it, asked freelancer coworkers during my internships about it, and listened to podcasts about it all the time. I bought my first Macbook Pro in 2014 and told myself it was ok to invest in it because I was about to become a freelancer who needed a quality laptop to be able to work remotely. I didn’t have any clients at the time but was so sure that someday I would. I wrote on my CV that I was a freelancer, in hopes that companies would trust me to do work for them. Spoiler alert: It worked, and I’ve been freelancing since 2015.
9. Teaching helps you learn. I have been teaching ESL since the summer of 2017 back when I had a part time in-house graphic design gig and was looking for a new side hustle on Indeed; a job board. Little did I know, it would become one of my greatest sources of joy. It’s a part time gig that helped me travel Europe for two months as well as stay financially afloat during the tail end of my Masters program in London. I have learned about so many different cultures I’ve never been fortunate enough to travel to. My students range from 5 year olds to 65 year olds and each age has taught me so much. It’s one thing to have the knowledge of something, but it’s a whole other thing to be able to express it to someone who has a limited grasp of the language. If you can explain the meaning of a word or idiom simply yet successfully, it demonstrates greater understanding of it than someone who just uses it casually. Students have such a beautiful curiosity about the language and life in general that naturally wakes up your own.
10. Tenacity will get you places. The first company who I freelanced as a marketing assistant for was owned by a woman who wrote an article I read in a yoga and psychology magazine in California. I wrote to the email she provided at the end of the article and told her I loved everything she represented and wanted a chance to work for her. She was one of the first people to call me tenacious. Perhaps this was because of my persistency in emailing or how I agreed to do marketing tasks though I had no idea what marketing really was. When you are determined, you’ll find a way to get there. You need to be persistent even in the face of rejection. It’s natural to feel defeated when you get such a large amount of rejection from companies but it just takes one person’s “Yes” to be the catalyst of the rest of your career. I was tenacious until someone agreed to give me a chance. This chance is one that I am still talking about today during client meetings as the start of my romance with marketing.
11. Don’t leave for tomorrow what you could do today. “No dejes para manana lo que puedes hacer hoy.” My mom says this so much that now I automatically say it and believe it without even thinking. It shows her diligent personality that literally never seems to stop. She has an intense energy that is usually happiest while she’s working (wonder where I got it from, huh?). She puts in 110% into her work and would rather stay up late finishing something rather than do it the next day. Essentially her quote is saying not to procrastinate. My uni days were filled with nights when I would hand in an assignment at 11:55pm when it was due at midnight, or even staying up until 7am finishing a painting that was going to get critiqued the next day. Thankfully, I’m past that. I use my mom’s advice on a daily basis and try to get as much done as I can every day. Some nights this results in me not knowing how to turn off the productivity button and overworking, but I’d rather be a hard worker than a lazy one.
12. High emotions lead to the best creative outcomes. Feeling emotions intensely are my specialty. This doesn’t always feel great, but I’ve actually created my best work as a reaction to experiencing enormous disappointment or being head over heels. Art has a different kind of spark when it has a sentiment behind it. As my reaction to men in New Jersey, I remember writing fervent spoken word poetry for competitions in college as well as powerful illustrations with emotions laced in between the lines. These poems would not have existed without the negative feelings. Or maybe they would have, but not quite as potent. I also created art featuring people with firearms and roses (which now seems like a precursor to the protestors in Myanmar who were rallying against the internet shutdown this month. They confronted the police with roses). On the flip side, I also tend to make more art when I’m in love or in a really good flow state. As a reaction to traveling through Europe for months while simultaneously freelancing, I was illustrating and writing more than I had in a long time. Travel inspires me by showing me another version of the kaleidoscope of life.
13. Child-like wonder is essential. Childhood seems to go in slow motion. The summers seem to last years and the days are so long they almost feel like whole weeks. Why? Because we are still discovering. We are still discovering, are still surprised by little things, and the world is so new that mundane routines are still not quite a part of our vocabulary. When we are adults, things shift. Our curiosity dwindles and it’s not as easy to amaze us. This is the reason that I believe time starts moving much quicker in adulthood. We actually stop noticing details in our lives. I think it’s imperative to keep your curiosity alive. I keep myself curious by trying new things even if they seem very irrelevant at the moment. Diving into a playlist of new music that will give my ears something fresh to listen to, or taking time to look at the clouds and figure out what shapes they make (such as spines and dinosaurs) are excellent strategies for keeping your sense of wonder awake.
14. Aligning your external and internal self is critical to happiness. Finding true alignment is when your thoughts, words, actions, feelings and choices are all moving in the same direction, swimming the same stroke, using the same breath and swimming in the same body of water. Especially in my early to mid 20s, I had a lot of trouble with aligning who I was on the inside to what I was projecting on the outside. This of course, caused me a lot of heartache because I while I knew it was happening, I felt like I didn’t know how to change it. I wrote about it a couple of years ago and said it felt like my thoughts and beliefs were doing the backstroke in the Pacific Ocean and my actions were doggy paddling in the Amazon river. In my late 20s I slowly felt more and more myself. I started making choices because I wanted to do them, not because I was trying to make someone like my parents or partner happy. I started saying things even if I was scared of how the other person would react, because I felt them and thought feeling something was enough of a good reason to share it regardless of the outcome. Today, I am more myself than I’ve ever fucking been.
15. Intergenerational friendships are underrated. In the last few years, I started to understand the value in this concept. Beforehand I thought it would be weird to have friends of much different ages than me. Now, I see that friends who are older or younger than you can help you see things with a different outlook that wouldn’t be possible with people who are your age. With friends who are younger than me, I benefit from being able to mentor them in a way and give them guidance they are currently struggling to understand. Their struggles are ones I have already gone through and have better comprehension of. On the flip side of this, I have friends who are older (sometimes much older) than me. I adore the views that they have because while I’ve learned a lot in 10,950 days, I recognize that there’s still much more to master. The opposite effect also occurs. There are plenty of things my younger friends have taught me to shift my perspective, and I know that I’ve also been a teacher to some of my older friends as well.
16. Treat everyone you meet like God in drag. This quote by Ram Dass, a spiritual teacher, has stayed with me since community college. Everyone you meet has something to teach you. The lessons that other people teach you could be big or small, and the other person might never even realize that they have impacted you in such a way. I’ve met many strangers who I only see once but who have challenged the way that I think and have taught me. I fully believe that you can learn from each of the 7 billion + people living on this planet… you just have to pay attention. I don’t think this quote is telling you to pray to or worship others. It says to be kind, respectful and conscious to others’ presence. Learn from them as much as you can, and of course, teach along the way. What if you were to actually meet God in a coffee shop? Depending on your beliefs, I’m sure you wouldn’t be scrolling through instagram while you are talking to him. You’d try your best to be completely in the moment.
17. Make your own damn opportunities. I am very inspired by entrepreneurs who see a gap in the market and instead of waiting for somebody else to fill it, they fill it themselves. I remember being an intern at the NY1 News creative services department and editing a New York fashion week commercial. I had to look through so much footage of it, and cut out the segments I deemed to be relevant enough for the 30 second ad. One of the women who was interviewed was saying that she just makes the kinds of dresses she wished existed. How cool is it to be an artist and create something out of literally nothing?! And many people who have startups or are entrepreneurs have this same response when asked about their inspiration for creating their brand. This is a privilege, and one I encourage you to take if you have the chance. It doesn’t have to be creating a company, it’s just about not waiting around to get things handed to you.
18. Active listening is a highly valued trait. It’s fascinating how many people don’t actively listen to others. So, when somebody does listen simply to listen rather than listen to respond, it is of great significance. People even get surprised that this is my default setting. I adore seeing the look on someone’s face when they are asked a question that they’ve never considered, and even more so when they speak words that they seldom do with others. I share my middle name with my mother’s first name and it means Listener. I listen to understand the other person, and try to do so by asking questions that are beyond the surface level. A step to better listening is to try not to multitask if someone’s telling you a story. Give them your undivided attention and use your body language and gestures to show that you are really listening.
19. Ahimsa. The art of nonviolence. I first learned this word during my 200 hour yoga teacher training at Starseed Yoga and it has stuck with me. For me it’s about not being violent with your actions or words. In the past I’ve let emotions consume me and admit to violence with fists or tongue. Now I know to stop and breathe first. Violence gets you nowhere pretty, and it’s not a place that I want to go to with my family, friends or myself. This nonviolence can extend to the way that you treat the planet or the animals inhabiting it. I am not vegan or vegetarian, but do consider myself to be plant based. This is my contribution towards a more eco-conscious way of living, and one that most people could do if they tried. Lessening meat consumption can have a meaningful impact on the Earth and the CO2 emission trails that meat producing companies release. It’s natural to think that out of 7 billion people, one person is not going to make much of a difference but what if thousands of people think that? You really can make an impact with your choices.
20. Don’t take rejection personal. This was a hard one to swallow when I first started swimming in the job market. Especially at the beginning of my career, every rejection letter (albeit digital) felt like a personal failure. Every time a manager didn’t like my designs or writing it felt hard to disconnect myself from my work, and so I took it to heart. As an artist it’s easy to think of your visual creations as your babies. This seems sweet but it’s actually very dangerous. If you have a creative career, you must learn to separate yourself from your work. Of course, you’re going to put part of you in your work but if (when) the client asks for edits, your work cannot keep being an extension of you. It needs to be looked at objectively. Life is going to bring so much rejection; you need to get used to it. I reframed the way I think of rejection, and now think of it as one step closer to success. If a job or person rejects you, there’s no point in wallowing in it. Thank you, next.
21. To be interesting, be interested. My art foundations teacher at Montclair State University taught me this. I don’t remember my teacher’s name and I barely remember his face (I just recall him being very tall and very blonde), but I always think about when he said this. The art of conversation is not mastered by everyone but i find that those who are best at conversing are the ones who keep it balanced, and don’t let the discussion be too much about them or the other person. Human beings naturally are intrigued by those who are interested in them. In my case I don’t have to fake interest (most of the time) as the intricacies that make up different people absolutely, genuinely fascinates me. There are so many combinations to make up a human. The variety of characteristics is endless, both on the inside of humans along with the outside of them.
22. Cultivate your passion (s). People always advise we follow our passion. But what if we have more than one? I am multi-passionate and in conversation with students or acquaintances, have sometimes been made to feel like it is wrong to be enthusiastic and professionally follow so many different disciplines. Despite this, I think it’s important to find more than one thing your heart gets excited about. Life is so interesting if you just pay attention. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to find a passion before Kindergarten even began. I was drawing fashion shows and wrote and illustrated my first book when I was the tender age of 9 years old. It was called, The Day I Escaped to Outer Space and was curated by my elementary school library to have a home on their bookshelves. Creating this project deepened my love for life and made it clear for me that I would want to be an artist of some kind when I grew up. If you are not so lucky, I implore you to continue to try new things until you find that spark of yours.
23. Microadventures are just as vital as macroadventures. I discovered the concept of microadventuring back when I was obsessively listening to podcasts and reading blogs for travelers. We all dream of that big adventure. The one that will take many planes, many tuk tuk drivers, and many long tail boats to get to. Contrary to popular belief, having an adventure doesn’t have to take you far from your own home. There is so much to discover in your own city, neighbourhood, or country. I’m willing to bet that you normally go through the same streets, shop at the same Sainsbury’s supermarket and ride the same underground tube line virtually every time you venture outside. What would happen if you took a different road, or if you walked a little bit further to find a part of the canal that you’ve never been to? Microadventures help you deeply get to know your own post code, and it’s actually something we’ve all been forced to do because of Coronavirus. Normally I would travel outside of the country but in Summer 2020 I decided to be an explorer of the U.K instead of Europe. I went hiking on trails I doubt I would have discovered had there not been limitations to change my usual travel behaviour.
24. Art does not exist in a vacuum. To be a better artist, you need to live and breathe art, right? Well, to an extent. But I think there’s infinite value in getting inspired by things that are not art in order to create art. I recall another one of my Art Foundations teachers at MSU saying this. Inspiration does not only come from going to art museums or immersing yourself in the art supply store or scrolling endlessly on Behance. I get a lot of my inspiration from sources that are not traditional art. The countless nights I’ve spent at a slam poetry events hearing poets spill their hearts out on tiny stages have left me brimming to the top with energy to make more art myself. Some people communicated so much under that spotlight that I truly resonated with. One of the last poetry events that I went to was a feminist one at The Book Club in Shoreditch. Nature is another big source of inspiration for me as it quite literally is art made by God. Going to a concert and seeing musicians become so impassioned with their instruments that it seems like they forget they are even on stage also deeply inspires me. One of my favourite was an impromptu Jazz concert in Queens, NY. I still remember the bass player and how enveloped he was in his music.
25. Look after the little guy. My favourite author, Jedidiah Jenkins has a best friend, Ruthie Lindsey, who’s dad always said this. It means to notice people who others may miss, and to love and care for them. I believe it’s important to look after each other, but especially those who might be struggling more. This can mean in terms of people, or companies. I like being nice even to people who are wallflowers or are not as fortunate as others might be. People who are usually picked last for playing Red Rover, and people who people step on without any empathy. You will make a difference for those people just by treating them in a positively different way than others usually do. This could extend to animals, and being able to help a turtle cross the street or bringing food to the infamous London neighborhood foxes. Another figurative way of looking after the little guy is by purchasing from local businesses. You can choose to buy your veggies at the local farmer’s market, purchase your gifts from Etsy makers instead of Amazon, or hire a freelance graphic designer (hint hint) instead of creating the logo yourself on Canvas.
26. Languages can open doors. Living in the US, it’s easy to think the whole world revolves around English. It doesn’t, but having it as my mother tongue helped me get a gig teaching others to speak with the same accent. While English is indeed a global language, there are so many other beautiful ones out there (Approximately 7,000!). I am a native Spanish speaker and basic Portuguese speaker, which has allowed me to speak to many more people than if I were a monolingual person. I was traveling somewhere one evening in an Uber and was casually speaking English to them, though by their speech cadence I knew it was not natural or easy for them. I started speaking Portuguese to him and his face suddenly lit up. It was as if I was no longer a stranger. He started speaking quickly about his family and about travel. At the end he expressed that he was very happy to have had me as a passenger. That nice conversation would have never happened without taking two semesters of Portuguese classes at Montclair State.
27. Studying abroad is transformative. Before I did it, I always heard this. Everybody raved about it but I am the type of person who wants to experience something herself rather than simply believe it. Experiences are subjective, and so one person’s experience of something could look nothing like your own. Despite this, it was my dream to study abroad for a plethora of reasons: to understand a culture other than my own, to participate in a foreign education system, to study a subject opposite of my undergraduate studies as a means to prove to myself that I can be left brained AND right brained, to meet other students from all over the world, to understand myself better by putting myself out of my comfort zone, and to experience what living feels like across the North Atlantic ocean. I am a completely different person than the one who stepped on that plane from New York JFK Airport to London Gatwick airport. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to be here and it will be pretty hard to top the last couple of years.
28. “No” is a form of self care. I was the type of person to usually say yes to things. It didn’t matter if my heart wasn’t feeling it fully, I would simply say yes to please others. I never wanted to disappoint, so “no” did not exist in my vocabulary. This is fine for a bit but after a while it becomes incredibly detrimental. There’s been times when I say yes to so many projects or tight deadlines that I cannot catch my breath and it ends with me feeling drained out. When you say no to certain things, it means that you leave room to say yes to freelance projects you truly want to be a part of and you say yes to spending time with people who you genuinely feel add value to your time here on Earth. Shifting my perception of No as a negative word was a huge step for me. It’s helped me feel better with what I put my energy into and what I don’t.
29. Don’t assume everybody is like you. My dad told me this on one of our long distance phone calls from California to London. It is intrinsic to think that people are going to have the same moral compass as us, and are going to be just as nice as we are to them. Unfortunately, people are very different from us most of the time. Each person has been born with a different set of circumstances, and has lived billions of experiences by the time that they meet us. We expect people to be like us and then we get hurt when they are not. I try not to assume that people are like me, but I’ll admit I do still assume that everyone I meet is generally good. Cue my mom saying that I “look at the world with rose colored glasses” as she did several times while we were growing up. The rose colored glasses are a veil that, according to her, make life look better than it actually is. I think all of us are innately good, and don’t believe otherwise unless somebody gives me a reason to believe otherwise. The most productive thing we can do is not whine and be upset about the contrasts that we have with others, but to try to learn about the gaps that we have with them.
30. Chase endorphins daily. Creating space in the body creates space in the mind. I personally can’t go more than a weekend without exercising if I want to stay sane. This sounds extreme. But really, physical activity is more than just physical for me. It’s actually very much about my mental health as well. There are days when I really can’t be bothered to get on my yoga mat or lace on my running shoes. But I always try to think about how I will feel afterwards. The endorphins that my body releases after a kettlebell session or zoom ashtanga yoga session are worth it. I never regret a workout session, I only regret the days when I don’t do anything physical (which at this point, is rare). I think many people don’t fancy exercise simply because they haven’t found the right type of exercise for them. Exercise can and does look very different for everyone. It can look like climbing Bear Mountain in New Jersey or rollerblading through Regeant’s Park or dancing in your kitchen with the radio blasting while you let the curry simmer. It’s just about adding movement to your day. Our physical bodies are temporary, and evolve throughout our lives. The types of exercise we do also can evolve as we grow in age. As long as you’re moving, you’re doing it right.