22 high-value (and mostly free) gifts I’m giving myself for my 35th birthday
Yesterday I made to 35 years old, and there’s really just one gift I can really strive to give myself: a better year than my 34th.
I did not have an entirely terrible year. All things considered, in fact, I was incredibly fortunate during this virulent year: my job was already remote, and I was able to move to a much more comfortable place, trading for the first time in my life “shitty and cheap, but good location” for “can’t walk anywhere, but comfortable”.
But my relationship with myself has been deteriorating. I haven’t felt this weak, this anxious, this afraid of the world, in a long time. If ever. I’ve never felt this hopeless. I was never so close to being actually depressed.
And for no real reason I can discern! I’m still the same person I ever was, the same adventurous, bold, creative, electric person. I just stopped nurturing the roots that connect me to this essence. A non-watered plant that finds itself withering. Simple causality. Probably.
It’s clear I need to take better care of myself. And what’s better to win back the heart of someone who’s drifting away than showering said person with gifts?
So this is what’s happening. I’ve devised a year-long, multi-pronged mostly-free gift-giving extravaganza for myself this year, just with the things I’ve been need the most.
I’m not lying to myself that I’ll be doing every single one of the following things every single day, or course. But I am committed to doing most of them, most of the days. That should be enough.
Reading actual books
Probably for the first time in my life, I haven’t read a single book in the entirety of a year. Not even a short one. Not even a graphic novel. But I did read a ton of useless stuff on Reddit and Twitter. This year I will give myself the gift of good reading: I collected some book recommendations from a few of my closest friends and already purchased a couple of books I wouldn’t know about for myself. I’ll also pull a couple of books I purchased in the past and never got around to reading. Next up: “In Love With the World”, by Mingyur Rinpoche (recommended by Gustavo Gitti), and “The War of Art”, by Steven Pressfield (this one recommended by Alexander Obenauer).
A Twitter vacation
I have been maintaining a somewhat healthy social media diet for a long time now, but this year Twitter got a chokehold on me on a particularly nasty way. Every waking moment I’m either on Twitter or actively resisting being on Twitter. I love that damn place! It’s funny, I feel connected, and I get information and news about stuff I care about and also stuff I should care more about. But it sure is bringing me down. For every hilarious quip I find, there’s at least three depressive or despairing thoughts entering my consciousness. The math isn’t checking out… so I am. Before this article is live for 24h, I’ll have purged Twitter from my every device and I won’t look back for at least a few months. I’ve done it before, I just have to do it again.
10 minutes of outside per day
Some people haven’t been doing the social distancing thing very well. I am definitely not one of these people. There’s enough digits in a single hand to count how many times I went out of my apartment building since March 2020. With absolutely nowhere worth going in walking distance from where I’ve been living since that same month, I shop for groceries online, I eat mostly home cooking, and when I don’t, there’s always the delivery apps. Anything I else I need, from a pen to a freaking electronic drum set to every individual piece of a desktop computer for assembly, a I can order online.
But that’s no excuse to not even step outdoors for 10 minutes of sun and/or air (or even water, if it’s raining!) at least every other day. So I’m not giving excuses anymore. This is stupid easy, has obvious benefits, and I haven’t been doing it for no reason. Enough.
Speaking of things that have vital benefits, are stupid easy, and I haven’t been doing nearly enough… 🙄
Exercising every day
Not nearly as stupid easy, this one, huh? But at least I managed to make it fun, though: I recently bought the exercise game Ring Fit Adventure, and I gotta say, it surpassed my every expectation. It’s fun and well made as a video game, and seems terribly effective as a workout for someone like me who won’t be running a 5K anytime soon. I’ll keep putting the hours on it in 2021, and I AM going to see RESULTS.
I haven’t been eating terribly, but I have been eating too much. This also needs to stop, especially if I want the aforementioned RESULTS. The good news is I already have a plan: I’ll leverage the fact that I don’t really require a lot of variation from my meals and I’m going to do that thing where you meal prep for almost a whole week and then every day you have a carefully portioned frozen lunch and dinner. I can seek variation on the weekends. This is gonna be good, and I’m excited to see the results on the scale.
More time (by way of less procrastination)
This one admittedly borders on wishful thinking, but I’m hopeful that simply by doing some of the other stuff in this list (especially ditching Twitter), I’ll be able to at least minimize the amount of procrastination I’ve been doing. In any case, even if I’m not able to directly gift myself more time, or less procrastination, I can gift myself the effort to get this to happen. That’s certainly a nice gift.
I’ve played a reasonable amount of video games in 2020, and surprisingly I don’t feel bad at all for doing so. I love video games, I love the way they tell stories, and I love the ones that strive to tell good stories in novel ways. Having played Outer Wilds was 100% one of the highlights of my year.
And so, I plan to continue playing a healthy amount of video games in 2021. Without any guilt.
But, like, not too much, of course.
A shot at enlightenment
A good friend of mine has recently said: “man, you need to seek enlightenment”. He’s been a buddhist practitioner for many years, and he said it not in a “goddamn, you’re messed up” sense, but rather in a “I see potential in you” kinda way. I’ve been tentatively meandering around buddhist teachings and practices for as long as I’ve known this person, but in my 35th year I’m committing to dive a little deeper. I’m not necessarily setting out to become enlightened (as I really have no idea what that even entails, such a deep rabbit hole it is), but, you know? I’m giving it a shot. I owe this to myself, and, honestly, I deserve it.
My efforts to connect more often, with more people
I’ve always felt a profound need to connect with new people, share my experiences and have someone share their experiences with me. It’s what gives life its flavor. And I thought I was “getting myself out there”, and being open to it, by… using Twitter. But Twitter only offers an illusion of connection with people — same as it only offers illusions of engaging in activism or getting informed. It’s wide as an ocean and deep as a puddle, and still it manages to make waves that throw everybody around aimlessly.
I need more than that, I need better than that.
I just don’t know what it is. I don’t want to go to Facebook groups, and in-person stuff is still out of the question. I don’t want to go heavy on Instagram (I think it’s even worse than Twitter in most ways). Tinder is a disaster for me. How do I form connections with new people? Where do I go? What do I do?
I don’t know. But I’m going to find out.
More consistent nights of sleep
My sleep is a trainwreck on fire inside of a dumpster large enough to contain a trainwreck.
Or at least it has been. For the past 10 years or so. But I’m making an effort to be hopeful about my capacity to make an effort to gradually correct this.
Other gifts in this list play into this one. For example: if I’m to give myself a shot at enlightenment, I’d do well to be up by 8AM, when this friend of mine conducts a meditation group on Zoom. If I’m to read more books, I’d do well to maybe read them around the time when I should start thinking about going to sleep, so I can wind down properly. Maybe.
More music, one way or another
This year I got myself a kickass electronic drum kit, and I’ve been learning to play it. It’s been awesome. But I miss being able to express myself in melody and lyrics rather than only in rhythm. I do own an ukulele as well, but I’m not too comfortable with it? Maybe I should buy a used guitar… or learn how to make electronic music with an iPad.
I’ll write again (as I’m doing right now), I’ll create stuff, I’ll write songs, maybe I’ll even start streaming or making video essays. I don’t know, but I know I need to express myself again, to put my voice out there.
This ties into connecting with people as well. I’ve never had as many connections with people in my life as in the times when I was a staff writer in a blog, putting my thoughts out to the world every day.
I’m privileged to earn enough to live to my standards. But — and that’s a big but — I’m not saving money. I need maturity to know where to spend, and how much not to.
I already hired a financial advisor, so I’m confident this idea will keep developing, as it should.
It’s kind of crazy that at 35 I never had health insurance. I live in a country with halfway decent public health, but I also don’t use it. I’m fortunate enough to have enjoyed incredible health in my years so far, but I can’t keep coasting on that, as I know it can’t last forever.
A morning routine
If I need more consistent sleep, more consistent mornings go hand in hand. They are extremely difficult for me, but I’m committed to creating a 1–2 hour long morning routine and sticking to it for at least two months. It’s bound to get better.
A Bullet Journal
I find the practice of bullet journaling to be fascinating, and I engaged with it during the first few months of 2019, with positive results. Then, for no valid reason, I stopped. Well, in 2021 I’m doing it again, and this time I’ll really make an effort to be consistent with it at least for 6 months, hopefully for the full year. It’s really beneficial. And it’s fun.
Some call it impostor syndrome. I don’t know if it’s same thing, but I often have this feeling that it’s no use trying to do stuff “if I’m going to fail or abandon it anyway”. I need to break and deconstruct this.
Starting and stopping things is not a problem. Things happen as they make sense. I’m not a failure because of that. This not something I am, it’s just something that happens. Plus, I can always resume doing whatever I “failed” or “abandoned”.
I’m a pretty great person. I know I am. And it’s okay to say it. It’s okay to believe it. I’m at a great point in my life, and there’s plenty of space for good things to happen, and for me to become even better. Step by step, bird by bird, day after day, I’m building something. And all of this is only true because I am already perfectly valid, good, and competent.
Another shot at learning to code
One of the greatest frustrations of my whole life was making a really honest effort to learn how to be a web developer and getting stuck in the early stages, then becoming scared, discouraged, and completely giving it up. (See above.)
It’s been three or four years since I last tried. In 2021, I finally plan on taking a deep breath and giving it another shot. In the past, my idea was to change careers and actually start working as a software developer, but I don’t know that I have this aspiration anymore. Now what drives me is one specific idea I have, a website/app I really would love to build. No one is building it, and the idea keeps popping on my head. It’s been years since I first thought of it, and it doesn’t go away like many other ideas I had.
It’s calling me. I’m going to make a fair effort in trying to answer the call. And if I can’t, I plan on figuring out ways to see this idea being developed anyway, even if not directly by me.
I watched too few movies in 2020. Less than one per month. That’s too little. Movies are fun, and I missed them. Care to recommend me one?
I’m somewhat addicted to downloading apps and then leaving them on the homescreens of my devices. It’s clutter. Clutter is bad, clutter gets in the way, clutter goes to your head. I never thought this would make such a difference, but it does. One of the first things I’m going to do after publishing this piece is deleting at least half of the apps on my devices. Hopefully significantly more.
My steadfast effort to leave this fucking country
When COVID hit the fan, I was pretty advanced in a process to migrate to another country. These past several months saw me getting ever more hopeless that this process would ever be complete, but the truth is: there’s nothing I hate more in my life than the country I live in, and even if my previous plans don’t bear fruit, I still need to see to it that I don’t die here. My efforts are renewed for 2021, to keep trying to legally get away from here.