Today is my 37th birthday.
To celebrate, I figured I'd give you a few lessons that I've come to learn over the past 37 years. I would also love to hear your hard-won life lessons -- that you hope other people can learn from -- in the comments. I know I'd love to hear them. It'll be like a little birthday present, but for all of us.
Oh, and I've included a silly little YouTube video I did talking sex and wellness with a couple top-notch MDs -- because two of the lessons I'm including on my list are from the doctors in this clip, so it seemed fitting. And be sure to watch the whole episode with Dr. Belisa Vranich and Dr. Frank Lipman, as you'll definitely learn something about the health benefits of orgasms (I know I did).
And now. The lessons.
1. Learn how to breathe.
The best way is to take a class with Dr. Belisa who seriously changed the way I breathe entirely. Essentially it's a three-part move. Inhale and puff out your stomach to fully take it in. Then move to your diaphragm and breathe in there, lifting your chest up, balloon-like, and then exhale with your stomach moving inward. A three-part-loop. It gets you high. It keeps you from smoking. It's life changing. Most stressy type-A people like me don't breathe. We just do shallow fight-or-flight type breaths. Give yourself the gift of oxygen.
2. Stop looking outward. You have what you need inside you.
It was actually pretty awkward when I showed up on the set to do the YouTube interview with Dr. Lipman because I had seen him as a patient when I was at my sickest after moving to New York in 2005 and looked like a different person, my body completely out of whack with amenorrhea. I cried to him, showed him all these sketchy supplements that an "intuitive medical healer" had given me, and he said, "You've looked everywhere -- but inside yourself." I've never forgotten that. Your body contains so much innate healing power if you just start to listen to it, love it, honor it more. Thanks, Dr. Lipman. He was right.
I love you. So many people love you. Maybe not all of them will end up being safe for you, but some of them will. There is so much love in the universe, including inside yourself. Keep reaching out. Even if it's a dumb text saying, "Yo, I'm reaching out." You never know what you'll get back. Some people will reject you. Some people will be unkind or shaming. But there will be angels. I promise you.
I know it's scary because it involves rejection or people making fun of you for trying, but some people will love you for it. I love you for it. Have the courage to create. Have the courage to say what you want to say. Your courage inspires me. Honestly.
5. Religiously wear a hat and sunscreen every time you go outside (the earlier the better; I started in my 20s).
A lot of people think I'm younger than my age. It's only because I wear a hat. And sunscreen. Start early. Seems silly. It'll make you look 10 years younger.
6. Don't let life happen to you.
If you are decrying bad circumstances, recognize what you can do to change it. Even if it's a small action. There is always something you can do. Always.
My list today is: Purge. Pack. And keep doing what I need to do to move from Long Island City to Bushwick. Be kind to myself. That is No. 1 on my list.
This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn. I've made a resolution not to be intimate with someone until I'm really dating them. I need to honor myself in that way. And I'm doing so.
Write a letter to the sun if you want. I'm all for atheists praying, too. Many of my AA friends are atheists. For them, higher power is often just the sense of "goodness." Pray to that. Focus on the light. I've seen it work time and time again. Hell, pray to the placebo effect or nature. But most of all: Let your life and your actions serve as an act of grace.
10. Love your family.
In all their shortcomings. Just love them. It's your only job. Not to change them. I mostly have a relationship with my mother. My relationship with my father is too complicated for the same level of intimacy. But I love them all. "Detachment with love." I live by that.
Not saying to do the unhealthy ones. But the positive ones: yes! Ask the girl or boy out you're nervous about. You may get rejected, sure. But I promise you, as the Albert Brooks speech in "Defending Your Life" goes: "Fear is like a giant fog. It sits on your brain and blocks everything. Real feeling, real happiness, real joy, they can't get through that fog. But you lift it -- and buddy, you're in for the ride of your life."
12. Help others.
I think this might be the No. 1 thing you can do to get yourself out of a funk, and to also help you feel like you are living your highest self. You might help someone just by complimenting a stranger who looks a little blue. It might be by giving a hug. Nourish someone else's soul and see how amazing it is when you notice your own soul brightening with love and light.
Seriously, listen to Taylor Negron on this one. Smell the flower. It smells really good.
Hey, man, if I can do it with Artie Lange, anyone can.
15. Dress to impress.
Or do the best you can anyway. Honor yourself. You're fucking amazing.
16. Notice how people treat you and realize you don't have to take abuse.
Does someone shame you when you tell them something vulnerable? Don't let them into your heart. Be vigilantly aware. You deserve people who love you and support you and are kind to you. Enough with the sorority girl mind games. They're boring.
It's not always easy. It's really painful, usually. But you will come out so much stronger. You can do it.
18. Be grateful.
There is so much wonder in the world. Don't lose that sense. Wonder. Be amazed.
Music saves my life again and again. It's always there for you. Dude, type in "best song ever" into YouTube. Anything could happen.
Notice when you are simply engaging in some old "tape" of childhood wounding. If you can be aware of it, that's a huge part of the battle. Consciousness is everything.
I have some real friends now. Know how I know they're real? Actions. Not just words. And I love them for it.
22. Own your shit.
Ain't always easy. But there's freedom in it. I promise.
23. Embrace the concept of success where it's long-term choices for rewards versus short-term indulgences.
I think about this all the time. Do I want that dark hate-fucky fling? Or do I want to signal to the world that I'm ready for a longer-term more mature relationship? My actions also speak louder than my words.
24. Get on the list.
Even if you're not. I have a friend who goes up to parties and says, "I should be on the list." Not a lie. He should. Why not? He gets in. If there's a party you want to go to, get in. You can do it.
It'll take a year off your face. Done.
Always. You have options.
27. Don't smoke.
Or do (and enjoy it, man; trust me, I get how fun it is). But I've determined that from 37 onward I'm not going to have this in my life. I enjoy life too much.
28. Say yes.
29. Take an improv class.
30. Stand up to bullies.
31. Laugh your fucking ass off.
"30 Rock" is a good place to start. Oh, and "Bossypants" is essential. Listen to the audiobook. So good.
32. Campaign for what you believe in.
Strong points of view often do. Anyone worth your time will relish your strong perspective, and not be a precious shrinking violet walking around life looking for the next thing to be victimized and offended and outraged by. Own your voice.
34. Know that you don't have to marry or have kids.
35. Write love letters to yourself.
Emily is a good teacher on this one. Related: Good mentors are everywhere.
36. Watch "Breaking Bad."
Seriously, it's like the best show on TV. A master course in human nature and psych game dynamics. Do this now, and thank me later.
37. Keep taking the next right action -- and have faith in your journey.
Your gut will lead the way. Trust your gut, baby. The pieces will all fit later.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.