Empress Chronicles, Part 3: 27 years, 27 life lessons
This Thursday (Pi Day!), I turned twenty-seven. It was kinda mind-blowing to think that ten years to the day, I’d woken up before dawn on a Saturday morning to go take the SAT in a rather gloomy high school, in a gloomy part of DC. After I was done, I met with a friend to have a birthday lunch (I mostly had lots of coffee), then we looked at prom dresses and spent a little fortune at Sally Beauty’s before heading home and doing the cake thing with my cousins, who were still babies. I can’t believe this was ten years ago – it still feels like yesterday.
This year was rather different – I woke up, did yoga, took myself out for lunch, went to work in the afternoon, then celebrated with relatives at a Korean barbecue restaurant – because grilled pork belly with a side of kimchi is the very definition of heavens!
I thought the big Two Seven would be the perfect occasion to share some of the random wisdom (rhymes, y’all, rhymes!) I’ve acquired throughout almost three decades. So, with no further ado, here are twenty-seven lessons I learned in twenty-seven years of life:
- Diets don’t work. After dieting for more than half my life and still having a negative body image, I finally discovered at 25 that my goal should be a healthy lifestyle, and not weight loss. At the most, you’ll lose some weight at the cost of frustration and inconvenience, then end up gaining it all back, wreaking havoc on your body and organism. To be healthy, do physical activities that make you happy (for me, it’s yoga, walking, and swimming), and learn how to eat properly: lots of fruits, veggies and protein, reasonable amounts of grains to sustain you, and a bit of sugary treats, alcohol and fried food every once in a while, that you absolutely don’t need to feel guilty about!
- Don’t work for bullies, crazies, or people with megalomaniac tendencies. The more you fear they’ll ruin your professional reputation if you resign, the more you’ll be giving them the power to hurt you. Better cut it off early on and find a healthier workplace… Or better, work for yourself. It’s the way to go this year, after all!
- Steer clear from people who enjoy drama. Your first instinct may be to help, but will end up getting sucked in and will waste so much time and energy untangling yourself from it all. Trust your gut – it’s something I’m learning to do better and better as I get older.
- Don’t let the Muggles get you down. Unless you’re extremely lucky and blessed with your entourage, there will be people that you can’t or don’t want to eliminate from your life, who will try to bring you down every occasion they get, especially when you achieve something good, like a new job, house, car, partner, baby, cat, etc. Understand that it has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them. People who are unhappy project their unhappiness on other people by being negative and even mean to them.
Tip: My fabulous yoga teacher Jen has a great #jEnergy trick for dealing with negative people – it works! Standing or sitting upright, visualise white light surrounding you. Put your hands at your root chakra (the base of your spine) and as you inhale, move them up, as if you were pulling a giant zipper up your torso, and when you reach the top of your head (crown chakra), raise your arms up to the sky and exhale. By doing this, you’re zipping yourself from negative energy. Repeat a couple of times, preferably before you interact with people who drive you crazy, although it works during or after as well! Talking of which…
- Yoga is the way to go. I spent years dismissing yoga as something that was just not for me (after a couple of disastrous attempts, one of which took place at an upscale gym and was rather traumatic). Then, guided by intuition, I found the right place to practise, and the right teachers, and yoga transformed my life. I learned how to breathe, find inner peace, deal with negative people, and even have a positive influence on those around me just by controlling my thoughts. And oh, yoga gave me a swimsuit body that always gets me tons of compliments – and occasionally, a complimentary frozen margarita!
- Once you find a haircut or color that suits you, stick to it. I started dyeing my hair when I was twelve and eager to look like Rose from Titanic since I was seven. In the years that followed, I experienced with various shades going from Little Mermaid red to deep eggplant. When I was fifteen, we watched the 1968 Zefirelli adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, and I decided I wanted to look like Olivia Hussey as Shakespeare’s doomed heroine. I went to CVS and bought boxed black hair dye with my babysitting money, and, half an hour later, emerged from my bathroom looking like Lady Capulet (life lesson number 6b: dark hair makes you look thirty years older). A year later, I decided to revert to red hair, and stripping down the black dye was a costly process. Since I turned twenty-one, I have been dying my hair with the same colour, a beautiful Venetian blonde that people tell me looks more natural on me than my original shade (light brown with reddish hues – though I haven’t seen it except on my roots for more than half my life!). And by the way, if you’re one of the many random strangers or friends who tell me that I look like Kate Winslet in Titanic, know that I love you and pray for you every night to win the lottery!
- Start your day with a bowl of fruit. Five years ago, I met with my childhood drama teacher – who is also a ballet dancer ) for breakfast at a beautiful restaurant in Beyrouth. As we stood by the buffet table, she spoke to me about the importance of breakfast and filled her plate with various cut fruit, along with a freshly-baked croissant and other delicious breakfast foods. I used to often skip breakfast before or just have coffee and a protein bar, but ever since, I have been eating a bowl of fruit in the morning. Most of the time, I have grapefruit, oranges and apples, with a sprinkle of cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Sometimes it’s all I have, along with a cup of green tea or coffee, and on other days, I have eggs, bread, cheese, viennoiseries, cold cuts, olives, chocolate, etc. But at least, starting with fruit prevents me from overeating and gives me the energy and nutrients I need for the rest of the day.
- Pets make life worth living. Adopting my baby girl Julia in December 2016 was a dream come true – she brought so much laughter, joy, affection and unconditional love in my life. And at difficult times where I felt that I was running out of strength, she helped me so much. She not only gave me a reason to get out of bed (“Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Feed me. Clean my litter box. Pet me. Play fetch with me. Feed me.”), because I now had to fight for the two of us. We may have a fusional relationship but I wouldn’t have it any other way. And crazy cat moments – with the crazy cat eyes and the butt twitchies – are highly entertaining. Just hide your expensive antique teacups.
- Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams. I spent my first years of adulthood trying to please everyone but myself, only to end up with a worse result (on all levels) than if I had done what I wanted and not cared about upsetting people who expected I’d put them before me. At twenty-seven, I’m grateful that I still have time, because I’m determined more than ever to make my dreams come true, and I know they all will!
- Reward yourself. Today I went into a jewellery shop to look at a necklace I decided to treat myself to once I finished and turned a manuscript. It is not extravagantly priced, but just highly enough to make it special – not like something I’d order on Amazon Prime at 1AM (and yes, treat yourself also to those 1AM Amazon Prime purchases!). Sometimes the promise of a reward is enough to motivate you to do what you have to (I often promise myself dinner at my favourite fast-casual restaurant if I write a certain amount of words each day). And then once you have that reward, it reminds you that you did it, you were capable of doing it, and you can achieve anything you set your mind to!
- Be in control of your body. Don’t let anyone make medical decisions for you. Don’t let anyone pressure you into not using contraception. And don’t force yourself to have sex with someone who repulses you just because you want to preserve their feelings. Don’t settle for bad sex either. Always strive to make sex meaningful and amazing – what’s the point, otherwise?
- Don’t share your sexual energy with just anyone. This advice (it’s just advice, not a directive or order) is purely based on my own experience, because I’m not going to tell anyone whether or not to have sex – this is the 21st century. I’m not an advocate or a practitioner of celibacy, but I’m very selective about who I am intimate with. Sex is, to me, a deep exchange of energy (possibly the deepest), and so it has to be meaningful on a spiritual level. I’ve found myself drained and even depressed after sharing that energy with the wrong persons. That doesn’t mean that you should only have sex within a relationship or marriage, but I say, do it with someone you respect and who respects you. Even if you know you’ll never see each other again, respect is important. And that also goes with talking about sex with other people. I find it rather awkward (okay, infuriating) when strangers or people I don’t know that well think they’re entitled to question me extensively about lesbian sex or even ask me to join them in the bedroom. (Especially after they publicly support and vote for politicians who aim to strip LGBT people from their basic rights).
- Protect your energy. In Lebanon and most of the Middle-East, people believe that someone can be so jealous of you that they can – willingly or unconsciously – cast the Evil Eye on you, causing you to lose the blessing they’re jealous of, or something bad happening. It’s the reason why babies are often given turquoise jewellery when they’re born. Not to turn into my inner superstitious Mediterranean girl, but I’ve had instances in my life where I believe bad things happened to me because someone became extremely jealous. Thankfully, I’ve learned how to protect myself (see the zipping tip above), and also decided to allow myself to keep certain things private (like a new job, an important purchase, a relationship, a pregnancy) from those who I know won’t be happy for me and will wish me harm. Some people aren’t happy that I’m secretive and take it personally, but I decided that protecting myself and my energy is more important than other people’s feelings. The same goes with people who are never happy for me and who drain me – on this past New Year’s day, I allowed myself to peacefully unfriend many of them on Facebook, expressing gratitude for the good memories we’ve had together, and letting them go.
- Sometimes, you need to just let go. In 2016, I had a huge fight with my former best friend, after a jealous, heinous woman slowly but effectively worked to destroy our friendship (as well as my romantic relationship of the time). In retrospect, it was coming, and I had chosen to ignore the signs, holding on to something that had started well but that was becoming hurtful, draining, and toxic. This past Christmas, after almost three years of not talking (and a few awkward conciliatory messages that remained unanswered), I removed my former best friend and his husband from Facebook – it was too painful to see pictures of them celebrating milestones and vacationing with the woman who had ruined our friendship. It was painful and extremely difficult, but I knew that I needed to free myself from the hope of a reconciliation that would never happen. All alone, I expressed gratitude for all the amazing moments I had spent with my former friend and his husband, and all the things I had learned from him, including, in fact, tarot. I told him that I was no longer angry at him, forgave him everything, was sorry for what I had done, and wished him happiness, peace, health and joy. And then, I clicked the “unfriend” button and felt regret, sadness, but also, finally, peace. Moral of the story: sometimes, it’s more painful to hold on than to let go.
- Stop and think before you act/talk/write/send. There were many times in my life where I acted impulsively, on the moment, out of anger, and deeply regretted what I’d said later. Sometimes, the mistake was reparable, and sometimes, it just was not. After a fatal mistake that made me lose someone who could have become the Love Of My Life, I learned to forgive myself, but also to never react in anger or distress. Yoga has helped me learn to breathe deeply, find a state of peace, and think carefully, responding instead of reacting. I can’t say it’s foolproof, but it’s been working rather well so far!
- Trust your gut. Sometimes, if people cause you to feel constantly angry, there may be a reason. At 20, I moved to a foreign country to join a sociopath who lied to me about being stuck halfway across the world waiting for a visa, cheated on me with multiple people, and, for the good part of a decade, had me caught in a vicious circle of grooming, seduction and discard. Years later, I’m thankfully no longer in touch with this person, and I keep thinking that I should have followed my intuition, that inner voice telling me, “Run! The girl is nothing more than trouble, nothing good can ever come out from being with her!” I should probably write a book about this relationship, but for now, I’ll just thank Heavens that I never married this person and had children with her and that she’s out of my life. The moral of the story is, trust your gut. If something’s too good to be true, it is. If someone keeps hurting you for years, don’t hope that they will miraculously change.
- Respect yourself to be respected by others. Know your worth, and don’t accept anything less than what you deserve. You deserve to be surrounded only by people who treat you right. You deserve to be paid properly for the work you do. You deserve to get what you pay for, and not less. You deserve to protect yourself from people, often more powerful, who will try to take advantage of you (in my experience, being young, single and childless makes you a rather ideal prey, but that doesn’t mean you have to docilely agree to be one!). So don’t give into fear, and don’t hesitate to step your foot down (firmly but calmly, no need to pull a Joffrey Baratheon “I am the King” tantrum, just learn from Tywin Lannister) when you have good reason to believe people are trying to take advantage of you.
- Laugh, and make other people laugh. Laughter is good for you. So seek it, and strive to make people laugh as well, as much as you can. It’s not like achieving world peace by magically snapping your fingers, but it’s a good way to get there nonetheless.
- Dress to flatter your body. You deserve clothes that look good on you no matter your shape, size and height. So don’t edit your body to fit your wardrobe, but edit your wardrobe and get rid of anything that doesn’t make you feel – and look – fabulous. Read about different body types, but take the advice as a loose guideline. The best way you can build a wardrobe that fits and flatters you is by taking the time to try on a lot of clothes. Think of shows like Say Yes To The Dress – there’s so much effort and attention (and money!) put into a dress that will only be worn on a single occasion, for a few hours, so why not send as much time on clothes you will wear every day?
- Eat the cake. Eat the chocolate square. Eat the buttery croissant. Don’t feel an ounce of guilt, and don’t tell yourself (or others!) that you’ll go to the gym tomorrow to burn it off. Just eat it, and feel happy, grateful and fabulous!
- Befriend people of all ages. There’s so much to learn from different generations. Children bring innocent wisdom, as well as much-needed perspective to life. People our age relate to the challenges we go through and help us feel less lonely. People a decade or two older show us where we can be as we move on through life, what good decisions to make, and what mistakes to avoid. And seniors give us the gift of lifelong experience and knowledge, perspective, wisdom and, in my experience, an incredible amount of laughter. On that matter, if you’re a
- Be a mentor to someone. You don’t need to be a certified life coach or someone with a PhD in psychology. You never know how you can change someone’s life by supporting them, using the knowledge and experience you have. So keep your eyes open for mentoring opportunities, or even consider actively searching for them. The world can become a better place one person at a time!
- Don’t be ashamed to say you’re not ok. Every time a famous person dies by suicide, people say, “but they looked so happy, we never knew!”, and we keep thinking that if someone knew, the outcome could have been different. Ask for help when you need it, and accept it. Let people you trust know if you’re not feeling well enough. And if you’re in emotional distress or thinking about harming yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If you’re outside the US, here’s a list of international hotlines you can call: http://ibpf.org/resource/list-international-suicide-hotlines.
- Read The Secret, and apply its principles. I scoffed many times at the Law of Attraction, until, like yoga, I decided I had nothing to lose in trying it out. And it worked. I realised it had been working for me since I was a child, way before I even knew it existed. I made a list of all the things I’d manifested, all the victories I’d achieved… And realised I have the power to attract to me anything I want. You have that power too!
- Breathe. Another thing I learned from my fabulous yoga teacher is breathing. No matter what’s happening, connect to your breath, return to the present moment, and let yourself feel grounded, safe, secure, and in control. You are not the weather, you are the sky, and your breath is your most powerful weapon.
- Watch Game of Thrones. Just do it. Hide your eyes during some gory scenes, but just do it. You’ll thank me later.
- Choose compassion, forgiveness, and love. Compassion is good for everyone. Forgiveness frees you. Love heals everything.