28 lessons on my way to 28
I am turning 28 in a few days. And what a year it has been. At times I felt it could not be better and other times I felt completely lost — having no clue what I want to do or who I want to be.
Life includes highs and lows, I laughed till my belly hurt and cried more than ever, I met wonderful people and felt terribly alone. I spoke at the funeral of my granddad, I started dating again and had the opportunity to travel and live in 4 different cities.
I started reading a lot of books, but finished just a few. I got new roles at work, started my own side business, and stopped a few months later. I made wonderful hikes, drank a lot of cappuccinos and barely missed a sunset.
I made mistakes, failed and let people down. I grew, learned, hugged and smiled.
I wrote down my 28 lessons of last year, inspired by many, but all based on my own experiences. That does not make them mine, since no one can own a lesson. So feel free to use them, copy them, apply them in your own life or discard them all completely.
Without further ado, here are my 28 lessons.
Lesson 1: Storms are gifts in hindsight
Life is no Disneyland. It is not easy and will never be. However looking back at my short life so far, all the catastrophic events somehow turned out to be gifts in the end. The job I did not get, the breakups, or the people I lost. In hindsight, they are full of wonderful lessons and made me the person I am today.
We don’t succeed despite our setbacks, we succeed because of them. Storms are gifts in hindsight.
Lesson 2: Forget your final destination
If you would have told me 5 years ago that I would be living the life I am living right now, I would have thought you are completely out of your mind.
Likewise, I can not predict what my life will look like 5 years from now. And that’s okay.
This year I learned to not plan too long-term but to just focus on the single next step. What do I need right now? Not in a month, not in a year or in 5 years, but now. I just focus on that and trust that it will all work out in the end.
There is a time for everything, and what suits you will eventually find you. All you have to do is to stay open and not fixate too much on your whatever long-term plan. You do not need to know your final destination.
Lesson 3: Future me is capable of handling this
This year I moved multiple times to an unknown city. Finding yourself completely alone in a foreign airport is exciting for sure, but scary as well.
We all have fears, things we are afraid of. But you know what — you made it this far. So sometimes you have to say fuck it and do it. And trust that future you will be capable of handling everything that will come your way.
Lesson 4: Learn to dance alone
I love this one. If I can give you one piece of advice it is to learn how to dance alone, how to travel alone, work alone and live alone. Even if it is just for a while.
If you ever get the chance, go alone. Learn who you are, and learn how it is to be completely dependent on just yourself when no one is demanding you to act a certain way. Learn to become fully okay with yourself, not needing anyone around. Learn how to dance alone.
Lesson 5: Embrace your weirdness
Accept it, deep down we are all idiots. Thanks to a unique combination of our genes, upbringing, experiences en environment we are all shaped into the person we are today. With unique qualities and quirks that only we possess. And people love us because of it.
Think about it, do you love others because they are so perfectly normal, because they are so just like everyone else? Or is it because of how special they are, because they are a Harry Potter geek, and because they have this extremely funny laugh when they are really really excited?
If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be. So do the world a favour, and embrace your weirdness.
Lesson 6: Smile more
Smile more to your friends. Smile more to playing kids. Smile to dogs crossing the street. Smile at strangers on the train. Smile to your colleagues and your boss. Smile at the rude, hurried customer trying to cut the line. Smile to tourists and to locals.
Just look around and smile. Give a smile, a sincere compliment and the world lights up around you. It is effortless, it is free, and it can make someone’s day, month or even year. Please, smile more.
Lesson 7: You can join my party
I am weird. I am almost 28, but barely drink or club. I go to bed early. I can listen to a podcast about neuroscience for 5 hours straight and I am dying to know what your definition of love is.
I go to restaurants alone, can go for hours without my phone, I love Disney movies and start humming when I am nervous. This is me, this is my party, and if you love it, feel free to join. And if you prefer another party, feel free to go there. You can pick your party.
Lesson 8: Everyone deserves a Jane
I have a therapist. Her name is Jane and she does not say much. She just listens for hours till I am done pouring my heart out. Then she asks 3 or 4 deep questions that leave me completely puzzled for weeks to come. I cannot sleep thinking about those questions.
But I am absolutely loving it. Everyone deserves their own Jane, everyone deserves someone to talk to.
Lesson 9: Share your stories
Sharing your story is scary. Writing this is scary. Being vulnerable is scary. Sharing what you stand for and believe in is scary. I get it.
But when you have the courage to share your stories, you allow others to share theirs. This is my main reason to write so openly and vulnerable online about my experiences.
By sharing mine, I hope to invite others to share theirs.
Lesson 10: Changing the world starts within
My uncle was a lovely man, funny, kind and creative. During one of our last conversations, we spoke about changing the world. Basically, it was me naively talking about what impact I wanted to make and what big problems I wanted to solve.
He listened, smiled and then just said: “Jeroen, start small, start within. Next, changing yourself will change the people around you, and they will again change the people around them. A ripple effect that continues beyond your imagination. Just start within, and the rest will take care of itself.”
If you want to change the world, start within.
Lesson 11: You decide
Some old friends are marrying their high school sweethearts, getting kids and buying houses in the village they grew up in. Meanwhile, I am living in an apartment, working remotely across the world, and I am single. Different lives, but we are all happy.
We all have different things in life we value. Do not get caught up in the comparison game. There is no competition. There is no benchmark. They are on their path, and you are on yours. You decide.
Lesson 12: Keep it simple
I love my job as an innovator within a bank, but there is one thing that is driving me crazy. Jargon.
The change risk assessment is going to be conducted by the cloud approval board to validate if the CISO score matches blablablabla.
I hate it. If you can not explain it to a 5-years old you don’t understand it. The true sign of genius is simplicity. Skip the jargon and buzz words. Keep it simple.
Lesson 13: Happiness is peace
Aha good old happiness. I learned a lot about you during the last few years. We all aim to be happy and we know it does not equal the amount of money we make, the number of likes on our latest Instagram selfie, or the car we drive.
No, what we really want is peace of mind. In moments of absolute pleasure and awe, the mind becomes quiet. This could be while hiking to the top of a mountain, while laughing with a close friend, while reading an amazing book or while witnessing an amazing sunset over the ocean hearing just the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.
We stop worrying about our looks, what we say or who we are. That little voice inside our head finally becomes silent, and we experience a pure moment of bliss. That, to me is absolute happiness. Happiness is peace.
Lesson 14: The moment you blush people like your more
I can feel the pressure to be perfect. To be funny, deep, smart, kind, to eat healthily, be decent looking, calm, to spend enough time with my friends and family, to read, to do something productive, meaningful and work hard enough.
But it is humanly impossible to do it all, all the time. I fail. I mess up. I make mistakes.
When that happens I am afraid that others will laugh at me. I fear being judged or ridiculed.
But let me tell you something; the second you blush people will like you more, the second you stutter people will like you more, the second you mess up or fail — people will like you more.
We do not want to be around people that are perfect, we want to be around people that are real. Perfection only makes you unrelatable.
Lesson 15: Friendships happen along the way
Friendships and relationships can not be forced, no matter what dating apps are trying to make us believe. It makes it awkward and weird.
Friendships are naturally formed as a byproduct of doing what you love to do. If you love running, join a running group. If you love healthy coffee places, go there. Logically, you will find your people — with common interests and natural compatibility around you.
And remember, it is okay if friendships fade away. Paths change. People change. You change. Not all relationships lead to marriage, some just help with discovering new restaurants. Do not be sad it is over, be grateful it happened.
Friendships happen along the way.
Lesson 16: Do not lie
Do not lie. And I do not mean just the big lies within the ‘cheating category’.
No, I mean all lies. From the big ones to the small ones.
Instead of lying, learn how to kindly tell your friend that you just don’t feel like coming over. Instead of lying, tell your colleague that while you admired their hard work, you hoped for better results. And stop all those little lies and excuses we are continuously telling ourselves.
Being honest will make people trust you more, and — make you sleep better at night. You don’t have to remember who you told what and wonder why you said what you said.
So, do you have trouble sleeping? Stop lying.
Lesson 17: Tell them you love them
We can all die tomorrow, we can be hit by a car or fall down the stairs. Death can be sudden, believe me.
Whatsapp is a great tool, but not in the way it is used. It is great to share your location, some stupid videos, your expected arrival time or groceries lists. For everything deeper, call. For everything really deep, visit.
And we all need some deeper conversations. Loneliness is on the rise in a world that is more connected than ever.
I urge you to tell your friends, family, and co-workers how much you love them, how much they truly mean to you. I urge you to reconnect with old friends, and act like no time has passed. Just call without an agenda.
I have seen people pass away. You don’t want to be too late. Everything we say at funerals should be said at birthday parties. Tell them you love them now.
Lesson 18: Sail away
Reading is lovely, but there will come a time when you need to stop reading other people’s stories and start writing your own. Because life is happening outside your books.
So look up from your book, stop watching Youtube shorts or Instagram stories and sail away. Travel, write, learn how to dance or how to do yoga, start a cooking class, start boxing, walk a different way home, do a sightseeing tour in your own city, call a friend and make a spontaneous road trip, try a new restaurant, leave the shore, choose the sea and sail into the unknown.
Make a habit of trying small new things. It will change your life. Sail away and enjoy the trip.
Lesson 19: Sit still in the eye of the storm
When life hits you during the hardest times imaginable, it is easiest to run away, to distract yourself and get some chocolate cake. It is easiest to find rescue in simple pleasures like fast food, working out, sex, partying, work, video games or drugs and alcohol. There is a difference between being happy and just distracting yourself.
So instead, if life hits you and you are in the eye of the storm, first sit still and feel it. Just feel and acknowledge the heaviness of everything that is going on right now.
And then get some chocolate cake.
Lesson 20: We want to be understood
I love to listen to podcasts with Shawn Mendes, because next to him being an artist, he seems calm, open-minded and kind. Qualities I admire — and aspire to have myself.
We want to be around people that make us feel understood. We listen to people that make us feel understood. We fall in love with people that make us feel understood. We are looking for people that get us, in an ocean full of strangers.
So shut up and listen, and try to really understand the people around you. Because that is what we are all deeply longing for.
Lesson 21: Play the long-term game
All so-called success comes from choosing delayed gratification.
Do not trust the internet. Do not trust these people telling you that you can become rich in 5 days by investing all your money into crypto. It does not work. The only ones really getting richer are the guys offering these ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunities’. The more impatient you are, the easier you are to manipulate.
I believe we can create our own luck instead. It is less sexy for sure, but it works.
Strong relationships are formed by caring for someone deeply every single day. Becoming good is a result of hours of practice. A healthy body is a result of being active every day. And wealth is simply about consistently not (!) buying the stuff you do not need, to impress others you do not like. Oh man, I love that quote.
Sometimes progress can feel painfully slow. But trust the path you are on and keep playing the long-term game.
Lesson 22: Find your soil
The biggest stressor in life is pretending to be someone you believe deep down you are not. The feeling that you need to wear a mask and can not be your true self.
Sometimes we feel like a flower that has trouble blooming. Because we are not getting enough sun, or water or because the soil is simply not the soil we prefer.
We can do two things. One, try to change and fit in. Try to become another flower. Challenge ourselves, with grit and resiliency and try to not die. Or two, find a place with more sun, more water and a type of soil we actually like.
Changing your environment is not easy, but sometimes the best way to start blooming again. So, go and find your soil.
Lesson 23: Appreciate the peanut butter
The last few days before my granddad passed away, he had a single small wish. He wanted something he really liked eating.
Bread with peanut butter.
Of the endless list of foods he tried and enjoyed during his whole life, he picked a simple piece of bread with peanut butter to be the latest.
A simple reminder that beauty is in the ordinary, in all the things we take for granted. In a nice cup of coffee or a walk with friends. It is in shared laughter, street musicians or the sunset. Real beauty is not to be found on tropical islands, it is in all the normal things around us.
So, enjoy today more, appreciate the peanut butter.
Lesson 24: Activate airplane mode
I do not sleep with my phone next to my bed anymore. I deleted almost all social media apps, muted all notifications and during walks, my airplane mode is on.
Your phone is a distraction machine. It made me focus on all the great places others were going, forgetting all the beauty that was around me. It made me focus on all the incoming messages, forgetting to pay full attention to the friends I was with.
Next time you are with someone, ask them how their day really was, who they admired growing up or what it is that is keeping them up at night. Aim for richer conversations. Activate airplane mode.
Lesson 25: Don’t take yourself too seriously
Don’t take yourself too seriously, given that we are all just specks of stardust in an endless universe. This earth we are living on is a floating, billions years old rock flying across the sun.
And we are here for just 80, maybe 90 years if we are extremely lucky. The harsh truth is that we are all going to die one day and none of this is going to matter.
Yes, some will remember us for a couple of years after we die. But I believe we will eventually all be forgotten, regardless of the grandiosity of the lives we lived. At a certain moment in the future, no one will remember Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Leo Messi or you and me.
Do things, try things, overcome your fears, love fully, dare greatly and don’t forget to laugh at yourself. Nothing is in vain today, and in the long run, everything is.
Lesson 26: Leave it better than you found it
Leave this world better than you found it, that to me is the meaning of life. For places, work and all the people around you. In things big and things small. Especially small.
Try to leave it better than you found it.
Lesson 27: Be kind
Everyone is fighting their personal wars we do not know nor understand. We do not know what others are going through. So be kind.
Lesson 28: I don’t know
There is happening a lot in the world, from Covid, to the war in Ukraine to basic human rights that are being taken away. The list of happenings across the world that I just do not understand is growing by the day. There is a lot I don’t know.
Having some personal reminders helps me to navigate through this thing called life. They remind me to be kind, to be myself, to not lie and just try. To be present, to breathe, to look around and to smile. They remind me that even when everything seems to go wrong, it will all be alright.
To everyone in my life, I love you. See you next year.