In honor of the vaguely esteemed and unimaginably vain Matthew Cole Madeiro, now on the tail end of his twenty-fourth birthday celebrations. When pressed with the question “and what have you learned?” Madeiro was quick to offer the list that follows:
1. Make every day count. My life mantra. This is my Big Deal — the four words that keep me smiling, walking, and trying to make a difference.
2. Common sense is not common. If it were, I wouldn’t be writing this post.
3. Ask the (damn) question. Consider this: feeling dumb/stupid/silly, you can hold that question in. Alternatively, you can risk it all, raise your hand, and ask someone who knows the answer. Do the former, and nothing changes. You still feel dumb/stupid/silly. Do the latter, and you risk momentary embarrassment to learn something in the process. Which makes more sense?
4. Don’t be afraid to change. If there’s any one facet of yourself that you don’t like, change it — take the steps necessary to correct the behavior. Your genetics, I’m glad to say, do not dictate how you live your life, and your parents’ approach does not have to match your own.
5. Don’t be afraid to apologize. It hurts, sometimes. It can suck. But a simple “I’m sorry” goes tremendous lengths toward saving the situation, and being able to admit when you’re wrong — that you’re not perfect — might just be key to surviving this world with your sanity intact.
6. Look back with a smile. I’ve been a sappy poet, a middle-class emo kid, and a nose-to-book library fanatic at varying points in my life. The first two are (more than) a wee bit embarrassing, but I try and look back with a smile — knowing they’ve helped shape who I am today, and knowing that all these different phases make me so incredibly, delicately human above all else.
7. Eat everything (at least once). Even the fried grasshoppers. Even the head cheese. Even the ant egg guacamole. If you only get one shot at this big, blustering, beautiful thing called life, why wouldn’t you try and explore every part of it? Why not cultivate an adventurous spirit? (This might apply to more than just food).
8. Listen to bad music. You know that modern pop song that secretly makes you want to dance? You know that song that everyone publicly craps on, but you not-so publicly enjoy? Embrace it. Three to four minutes of happiness, I think, are always worth having — even if they come from something all the cool kids like to hate.
9. You don’t always have to eat. Whether you’re hip to fasting or not, the point stands: if you’re not hungry, you don’t have to eat. No one is forcing that fork into your mouth. And it’s better, I think, to risk upsetting a friend for all of five minutes than to let peer pressure put something unhealthy on your plate.
10. Go to bed. Proper sleep is one of the few things that we truly, absolutely need, so why in the world do we sit awake in bed and check our Facebook feeds instead?
11. You can’t do everything. But you can damn well try.
12. It’s okay to cry. Don’t let any societal misconceptions about manliness, ruggedness, nor torrential levels of testosterone convince you otherwise. If you can watch the first 15 minutes of Up and not shed a single tear, please submit yourself to science.
13. “Being thin and eating bacon is a lot better than being fat and eating bread.” You knew Paleo would creep up somewhere, right?
14. Take pleasure in simplicity. The simple things, I promise, will last you a lot longer than everything else.
15. Nothing is black and white. Don’t let the media or modern American politics suggest otherwise. If twenty-four years have proven anything, it’s this: the sooner you accept that life is complex, messy, and multicolored, the better — and happier — you’ll be.
16. Don’t forget to say thanks. For your friends, for your family, for every single part of your life that has helped you become who you are today. Personally speaking, I owe a lifetime of gratitude to my mother and father, both of whom have sacrificed a tremendous amount to raise my brother and myself in the kind of household that encouraged our growth.
17. Do the work. Success only rarely happens by accident. The formula to create it, in fact, tends to involve just two ingredients: lots and lots of work, and doing it well. This is a good thing.
18. Keep your phone in your pocket. We’ve come to rely on them as easy escapes — easy ways to distract ourselves whenever we’re bored, uncomfortable, etc. Rather than falling back to your iPhone, then, why not try and actively change the situation? Why not try and live life, then, instead of reading other people’s tweets about it?
19. The world is not out to get you. It’s easy to think otherwise, sure, when TV and the media paint life in a pretty harsh light: a murder on every corner, seething violence in the big city, and every dark alley a home to something that most definitely wants you dead. This might come as a surprise, but you’re not surrounded by villains. The people around you, in fact, are far more similar than you might think: a little nervous, a little hungry, and desperately wanting to be happy — and, y’know, alive — for as long as possible.
20. Slow down. We get wrapped up in this life of productivity, going as fast as possible from the minute we first sit up in bed. Here’s a different take: go slow. Realize that nothing happens overnight, and realize too that you have a long, full life to accomplish everything you’d like to do. (Coincidentally, I am terrible at this).
21. Don’t be afraid to take a break. Following from the point above, don’t be afraid to take some time off and recharge. It’s not a weakness, it’s not indicative of a massive character flaw on your part, and it’s most definitely not going to derail your progress. It will let you recharge, however, which is too often a process we reserve for our electronics and nothing else.
22. Never stop learning. That’s easier said than done given the plentiful ways we have to distract ourselves, but the Internet is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s a portal to a land of lost time, pointless status updates, and Facebook stalking, and on the other it’s a learning tool like no other in this world. Choose wisely.
23. You get one shot. That’s debatable, sure, but the idea is a useful one. Realize that you might only get one shot at this and act accordingly. Work hard, play hard, and try and expose yourself to as many things — as many ideas, dishes, countries and personalities — as possible. I think I’d rather look back on a long, full life than one spent too afraid to live it.
24. Be kind to yourself. If there were one message I could imprint on every person, young and old, who populates this planet, this would be it. We’re human, right? For better and for worse, for good and for really, really bad, we’re all emotional creatures — prone to mistakes, prone to accidents, and prone to never forgive ourselves for both. Don’t do that. You’re stuck with yourself for the rest of your life, so why not try and get along?
What’s on your list? Sound off below!