Matt Madeiro

really wants a standing desk for Christmas. Is that weird?

25 Things I’ve Learned in 25 Years

Let’s make it a tradition!

Last year, I took a little time to reflect on what I’d learned from 24 years kicking around this planet. The number’s a wee bit higher this time around, but I’m happy to report that life plus one has brought its fair share of discoveries over these last twelve months. Here’s what I’ve gleaned from 25 years of this goofy, incredible thing we call life:

1. Make every day count. There’s a reason this one held over from last year’s list: it’s true. This is the lone motto I carry, and it’s the phrase I always fall back on whenever I need that one small boost to keep going. Your definition of ‘count’ might be different, but I think the ultimate goal is still the same: use our time wisely.

2. Take a chance. With your help, I raised $43,870 for the students of Kopila Valley. For about three weeks in late November, I entered full panic mode: stressing about the total, stressing about the deadline, and wondering, in those darker moments, whether this mad birthday scramble would ever come together.

Whew.

It worked out well. Really well. For lots of reasons, but one in particular: I took a chance. The world has a funny way of coming through when you’re willing to throw yourself out there.

3. Memories are our greatest possession. Think about it — come January 1st, we pull back, breathe deep, and reflect on everything we gained over the previous year. We don’t think about the new toys we acquired. We do dig up every memory made during the last twelve months, and we do look forward to what we’ll accomplish in the next — not what we’ll buy.

4. Pho is the ultimate hangover cure. Don’t ask why I know this. It has nothing to do with January 1st.

5. Live on a whim. “You raised $40,000 for charity? Why?”

I’ve been asked that three times, now, and my answer is unchanged: because I felt like it. It sounded fun. Even on a whimsy, I’ve learned, we can make a difference — we can do memorable, if not remarkable, things. Knowing this, why don’t we spend more time in pursuit of whatever (the off-kilter, the reckless, the crazy) makes us smile?

6. Influence is bliss. One of the books that broadened me most in 2012 was Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist. I won’t distill it here, but I will offer a taste of what it taught me: that it’s okay to be inspired. It’s okay to study those I admire and learn from their work. Rather than feel guilty, then, for embracing their ideas, I can do one better. I can build from them and craft a style of my own.

7. Close the laptop on occasion. With the bulk of my work living online, I spend hours—hours—locked to a screen. Because of this, I’ve come to appreciate my offline hours even more: the time spent in the sunlight, the minutes out strolling under the moon, and those evenings spent laughing (sometimes drinking) with friends. We all need time away from screens, but it’s up to us to take it.

8. Evening walks are good for the soul. Seriously! Maybe don’t try this in a bad neighborhood, but bundle up and take an evening stroll sometime. The contrast to the humming and drumming of our daylight hours is one that always makes me smile, relax, and drink deep of the evening quiet.

9. You don’t have to have everything figured out. Honestly? I (still!) have no clue what I want to do with my life. I don’t even have a hint of where this long road will take me. What I’m left with, then, is something more valuable: a willingness to follow wherever life leads. I don’t have to know where I’m going so long as I’m excited to get there.

10. You can’t compare yourself to other people. That rockstar blogger? That girl on Facebook with a perfect husband, perfect dog, and otherwise charmed life? We don’t know their stories. We don’t know what they’ve gone through, and we don’t know the work they put in—the challenges they faced—along the way.

That’s fine. (Even if Facebook seems damn determined to put every minute of our lives in the spotlight.) It puts the focus back where it belongs: on you. You’re the only person on this planet who knows every chapter of your story, and likewise you’re the only person who directs the course it’ll take in 2013. Stop looking, wishing, and wondering. Let’s start living our own lives instead.

11. Forget your phone on occasion. One of my best memories of 2012 is also one of the simplest. I spent a few hours at dinner with an incredible person, but here’s the catch: we locked our phones safely in the car. We didn’t check Twitter. We didn’t check our inboxes. We sat, ate, and had the kind of warm, close conversation I appreciate more than you can imagine.

12. Go for the hug. This might sound strange, but I was terrible at giving hugs for most of my life. (Call it a lack of practice.) Over the last year, though, I’ve realized that there’s only one way to get better. The next time I see you, get ready for an embrace.

13. Pain fades. This isn’t satisfying—nor, arguably, helpful—but it’s true: give it time. You’ll feel miserable, sure, in the beginning. You’ll have days, sure, when you think you’ve finally come out on top. And you’ll have moments, too, that remind you all too well of how much road is left to go. But through it all—with every step—you’ll get better. Give it time.

14. You’ll learn something from the whole (painful) process. Call me an optimist, but call me honest, too. I spent a month or two feeling pretty low in 2012, but the pain gave me something I won’t easily forget. It taught me who I want to be — and it taught me who I don’t. In the heart of it, sure, I couldn’t think like this, but time has helped me look back, collect myself, and realize that I can take the steps necessary to improve. I can change, in other words, and those quiet moments showed me how I want to do it.

15. You’re not alone. This is the internet, ladies and gentlemen. With a keystroke, we can find like-minded people in every corner of the globe — and where there’s people, there’s a community. Where there’s a community, there’s companionship. There’s an entire world, here, in reach of our keyboards. Why not say hello?

16. Coffee is the greatest thing since toilet paper. I don’t care what anyone else says.

17. Don’t be afraid to change your mind. In 2012, I closed Three New Leaves, started up Make Every Day Count, and then transformed MEDC into an entirely new project. I then, uh, shuttered MEDC, with the plan to relaunch it a few months from now as something approximately a hundred times cooler. That doesn’t speak well for my attention span, but it made me realize this: it’s okay to change your mind. It’s okay to change course and explore new directions. So long as you continue to learn and grow, and so long as you’re honest with anyone affected by the change, I think you’ll hit far less resistance than you might have feared.

18. I’m a family man. That’s an odd thing to learn (you’d think that software would come installed by default, right?), but it’s something I’m still so excited to realize. My relationship with my brother is still a new thing, after all, in the grand scope of my life, and I know I’ve grown closer and closer to my parents over the last few months alone. I used to be the kid who forgot to call home for weeks. I’m the kid, now, who can’t wait to take his mother to lunch, and that shift alone is one I’m so grateful to have experienced.

19. Don’t get cocky on the gymnastic rings. Especially when said rings are hoisted above a hardwood floor. My ass hurt for weeks. (Don’t tweet that.)

20. Don’t be afraid to be young. One of the greatest gifts I’ve been given over the last year is a willingness to act like a kid again. Honestly, folks, I can be weird. But when I look back on my childhood, I realize something funny: those were some of the happiest (and goofiest!) days of my life. There’s something to be said, I think, for embracing our inner dorks — for traveling back to the days when we didn’t really care what anyone else would think. I’m excited to reconnect with a younger me over the course of 2013.

21. You’re a work in progress. Embrace it. Truth be told? I’m still terrified of singing in front of other people. My throat hitches, I feel the warmth rise in my face, and the voice that curls out sounds nothing like the one I hear when I’m rocking out alone. That’s okay. I’m not perfect. Not even remotely, in fact. If 2012 taught me anything, it’s this: We all have time (a lot of it!) to keep working, to keep growing, and to keep fixing.

22. Start building. I won’t pretend to know what art is. I won’t even pretend I’m making it. But I know, now, that I’m happiest when I’m building (writing, programming, doodling, dreaming), and I know that’s enough. Whatever form your creativity takes, embrace it. You don’t have to be good. You don’t have to be successful. You can start just by being content that you’re trying, right?

23. Start. When I look back, now, at everything that has changed in the last few years, I realize it all comes back to this: starting. Shipping. Taking a chance, throwing up some shirtless photos (sigh) on the internet, and seeing what happens next. I beat myself up every step of the way for not knowing more (about business, about blogging, about this and that and abs), but I’ve come to realize, hit by hit, that this is the only way to learn every drop of that knowledge in the first place. You have to start.

24. Be kind to yourself. Another holdover from last year’s list, but one that always justifies the attention. If you make any resolution for 2013, make it this: be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself for your mistakes. Celebrate your accomplishments (big or small). That’s easier said than done, but I truly, sincerely believe it’s a challenge worth tackling as you move forward into the coming months. (What can I say? I’m still a work in progress too.)

25. I’m so excited for the rest of my life. (That’s not the caffeine talking.) I still can’t believe we bought a school bus for students in Nepal. I still can’t believe the friendships I’ve made (let alone the memories) over these last few months alone. But I can believe this: if this is how the rest of my life is going to unfold, I’m excited like you wouldn’t believe to meet it.

Whew. Here’s to 26!

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