What we wish we'd known five years ago

Keep learning new things
If you're not currently learning anything new, why not? Start learning a new language, or how to juggle, or how to play a musical instrument, or first aid, or a martial art, or even something boring but useful like project management.

Oh, and if you know other people who are learning similar skills that can be motivational. I'm sure that (for example) learning greek is more fun if some of your friends are learning it too.

Relax your hairdressing restrictions
The best haircuts I've ever had have come from telling my hairdresser to do whatever he reckoned would suit me. No restrictions. It's a bit scary, but really highly recommended. After all, someone who does this stuff all day should have a better feel for what looks good on various face-shapes than most of the rest of us.

I got this tip from shootbambi a few years back, and haven't regretted it once. (Yet :-) )

I think there was a song about this...
I'm not sure this is learnable information, or at least I've been telling myself for years and it's only starting to sink in now, but, if you have stupid pale skin and are in the sun, do apply sunblock more often than you think you need to. Do check that it's waterproof. Don't forget your scalp, the tops of your feet, behind your knees if you're swimming. And, for extra points, assume you'll fail at all of the above, and pack aloe vera to help make it better. (At least I remembered the last one :-) )

Try new things
Yes, you already know this. It's obvious. But like eating well and getting regular exercise, knowing and doing are very different.

I recently started being an Extra, and more recently I started playing Airsoft. Now I find myself wondering why I didn't try these earlier, and then I wonder what else I should be trying out.

So try something new, and if you like it please tell me. :)

(PS For browser reasons I can't reply to comments on this community. So if I ignore you, it might just be that. Maybe...)

Never ask a question you are not prepared to hear the answer to. Try to lie as little as possible.

Assume that the answer that you receive to any question will be the blunt, honest truth, and then consider whether you really want to know. If you are comfortable and happy with yourself you will usually want to know anyway, but every once in a while someone’s honest opinion is one you would be better off not having heard.

Questions like “Do you think I am overweight?” are not necessarily foolish, as long as you are prepared to hear a yes. Never ask a question that you are purely posing for the purpose of reassuring yourself of something. You are implicitly asking someone to lie to you, and that’s completely unfair to them, either they lie to oblige you, or they tell the truth and feel like an asshole. Maybe the truth and the answer you want to hear are the same, and you don’t compromise anyone. But they rarely are for this type of reinforcement question.

Lying is not a good thing. Admittedly in some situations it is the less bad thing, if someone has you at gunpoint and wants you to tell them they would make a great ballet dancer I will not argue with obliging them. But danger or coercion aside, lies are best avoided. A lie told to make someone feel better or stop them feeling worse is still a lie. In the long term its bad for them, in the short term its easy for you. You are not lying in order to make them feel better, you are lying in order to avoid feeling guilty, because the truth might cause them pain and that pain will cause you discomfort.

People are tougher than they seem. It may seem like a lot of them aren’t capable of handling the truth, but its impossible to tell unless you give them the chance to try. Even if they are not, so what? They never will be unless they are challenged to be. No-one will ever re-examine themselves if they are constantly re-assured that nothing is wrong. So next time you contemplate just saying “of course its great!”, think of the most cringe-worthy audition for American Idol that you’ve ever seen, and remember that some bastard told that poor unsuspecting person that they were a talented vocalist.

Put things where you'll look for them later
If you have a place where your passport lives, and you make an agreement with yourself that you will always put your passport there, you'll always know where your passport is. The same applies to keys. The same (in digital form) applies to account numbers and usernames for stupid websites.

As I get older and shorter of memory (and even shorter on patience), I'm finding value in living deterministically. Several times recently, I've located things by asking myself where I'd put it if I had it right now, and looking there. Of course, when the answer is "I guess I'd drop it on the table and worry about it later", this all falls down, but usually it works well.

Equally, when I need to remember out my electricity account number, or change something about my pension plan, or whatever, I search around in this all-containing file in my home directory. I also make a note in there every time I get useful information in an email that I know I'll never find when I need it, and whenever I get an email or phonecall from a company telling me that honestly, the thing I've asked for will be sent in the post inside ten working days. It's good to be able to say "But on May 2nd, your colleague Jean said..".

My summary here is: keep similar things together, and always put them there. It saves a lot of hassle.

(Also, back up your files regularly, and don't put passwords or other super secret information in them. That saves a lot of hassle too :-) )

It's been said before; it'll be said again: physical exercise is very good for you. It's not just about long term health benefits - many of the mental and physical benefits are almost immediate. It lifts the mood, improves concentration and alertness, and feels great. If it were a drug, it would be highly illegal and everyone would still take it.

If you don't exercise regularly, start.

Know yourself, know your doctor
witch, book
While maintaining your bliss is a part of knowing yourself I'm talking more about knowing your body.

You should have a good relationship with your body's signals and you should pay attention to them. When things change you should get to know why, sometimes they're stuff you can't do anything about them like aging but sometimes they're bigger signals that you need to do something about. Doing something about this should be pretty quick, while the internet can provide interesting answers many of them are very very wrong, almost every symptom can point to cancer or something very terminal. Sometimes what you need to do is note it in a diary and keep a weathereye on it, bring it up during a regular checkup.

Make a list for yourself of things that aren't quite going right, sometimes these form a pattern for a doctor. In my case, lower back ache and skin erruptions were minor niggles but mention them when the doctor caught an elevated liver function along with a swelling on my neck and underarm and you get Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Not recognising that the other minor things led to a diagnosis surprised me.

Also having a relationship with your doctor is good, many places suggest annual checkups but some doctors don't like that. I'm not sure that this is always useful, but maybe every two years you need to go in and check that all is well with the world. Knowing how to talk to them about issues is good. Also, if the doctor treats you with a certain amount of contempt it's time to find a new one, if you ever need them to listen to something more serious they could slow down a diagnosis, the only way grutok got his diagnosis of Psoriatic Arthritis was because I dragged him to my doctor, in serious pain, where she gave him something to deal with the pain and a referral to a Rheumotologist. His progression was enough in the illness that the specialist said that he could tell him what was probably wrong almost the minute he walked in and asked why he had WAITED!

On a slightly related issue, keep a medical checkup list. Drugs you've taken, reactions (minor or major like if it works for the ill but makes you unable to do much so you can ask for days off if necessary or another drug that might enable you to work while taking them), illnesses you've had, things like that. If you're a parent keep a record, it wasn't until much later in life that my mum admitted that she had to stop giving me a multi-vitamin because I was getting stomach cramps when young, some careful testing of the usual suspects pointed things to artifical iron.

Maintain your bliss
witch, book
This one has been rattling around my skull for a while. The phraseology is difficult.

It is important to know things that make you warm and fuzzy, things that make you glad to be alive. Some of these can be things that you do for others but it shouldn't be everything. These can be little things, like a bath, or bigger things like dressing up for a cream tea in a posh hotel. Whatever it is that makes your heart sing, I refer to it as "feeding my soul". Without these things life is somewhat empty. Yes some of them need money but some shouldn't, or shouldn't need too much.

I enjoy, in no particular order and not a complete list, baths, gardening, harvesting my garden, knitting, reading, coffee with friends, dinner in a nice restaurant where I'm treated well, a home-made latte in my latte bowlCup, sitting in the garden in the sun with knitting and reading, I could go on but I think the idea might be becoming clear.

It's also important to know those things that feed your partner or people around you that you care about. This can be things like ironed sheets, or that bath, and you should encourage them to do them, and recognise that these are things of need rather than indulgence. You should also be aware of the whys of that thing in their lives. If the reason they like the ironed sheets is the feeling, if they're ill or very sick, you should try to make sure that they have the opportunity to experience it.

ETA: while some of the things you do can involve someone else, specific or non, you also should have things that you do that are solo efforts.

"Acquaintance" and "Friend" are not synonyms
There was an earlier post about a friendship only existing if both people like each other by puritybrown which was right on the money. As a corollary to that I have another observation: people often confuse the concept of friends with that of acquaintances.

An acquaintance is someone you have met, are known to, have perhaps conversed with or been in company with multiple times. A friend on the other hand, is someone you actively care about. Someone for whom you feel some degree of loyalty and affection, hopefully also someone you admire in some way, and respect.  And as stated in the previous post this of course has to be mutual.

Just because I know someone does not mean I consider them a friend. Just because I have talked to them multiple times, met them at multiple parties, or share mutual friends with them doesn't mean that either.

Friends can ask to crash on your couch while they're in town, acquaintances meet you for coffee in their goddamn hotel
Friends can ask you for help with their assignment, acquaintances can borrow your notes sometime
Friends can call you at 4am with the thrilling news that they have met a boy, you find out about an acquaintance's new relationship via facebook
Friends can borrow money (I don't think I need to finish this one)
Friends can meet you for the express purpose of bitching at you for hours about their job/boyfriend/apartment/neighbour/pet rat. Acquaintances have to settle for incidental bitching on mutually relevant topics.

The list, naturally, goes on and on. It's always possible that a casual acquaintance will become a great friend. But don't let people presume too much of you in anticipation of that. Some people make amazing, worthwhile and loyal friends. And some don't.


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