35 Things I’ve Learned During My 35 Years on Earth

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Matthew J. Dolezal, aged 35 years (photograph taken Dec. 7, 2018 by Ariel Hampton)

Today commemorates my 35th year on this blue rock whizzing through a cosmic sea of dark matter and myriad existential threats. To celebrate, I decided to sit down and crank out a mediocre listicle of 35 tidbits of ostensible wisdom.

1. Humor is a crucial component of a happy life.

Living paycheck-to-paycheck sucks. It can really get you down. But luckily I grew up watching whimsical cartoons, playing practical jokes on my brothers, and staying up late speculating about all sorts of weird shit. Humor is not only beneficial to our physical and mental well being — it is also a profoundly effective coping mechanism. Instead of being upset when you wake up to dog poop on the floor, cockroaches on the wall, and a checking account balance of negative $3.00 (yes, I experienced this exact scenario), why not laugh it off and joke about it with your significant other?

2. Knowledge is a life-long quest.

Try to make time to read and reflect. Many of your opinions will change during your lifetime, and this is especially true if there’s a steady stream of new input. As with the scientific method, new information allows us to revise and sometimes dismiss our previous hypotheses. Embrace your own intellectual evolution, and don’t be afraid to admit you were wrong.

3. Don’t apologize for being introverted.

Or whatever it is that makes you feel “other.” In short, don’t apologize for being who you are. Some of my earliest memories revolve around how difficult is was to talk to other kids in kindergarten. Many years later (especially thanks to author Susan Cain), I realized I am introverted. This means I can enjoy being social, but can’t stand small talk. I need a lot of personal time away from people (to write, read, unwind, etc.). I enjoy the occasional party, but sometimes social situations exhaust me. Creative expression and pursuits are extraordinarily important to me. Regardless of cultural norms, stereotypes, and stigmas, this is the way I am, and I won’t apologize.

*This segment does not apply to Nazis, who should feel very bad about who they are, and then also not exist.

4. Journaling can be very rewarding.

Your memory isn’t perfect. In fact, it is notoriously unreliable. That’s why it’s crucial to keep meticulous records of each waking moment, however seemingly mundane, just like my grandpa does. Okay, that would be a little obsessive. But try to journal on a somewhat regular basis. I originally began journaling when I was a young teenager and continued beyond college (though I’ve fallen behind a little lately). When I go back to peruse my journals, I am often captivated and enthralled by the excavation of forgotten memories I might never have revisited. Events buried by time and age and distraction. Do yourself a favor; next time you have a compelling experience, write an account of it. You’ll thank yourself later.

5. Dogs really are “man’s best friend.”

I know, I know: stop with the male-centric language. What I mean to say is that I happen to be man, and some of my best friends happen to be dogs. Several years ago, my fiancée and I rescued two adorable pit bulls from a local animal shelter, and they have vastly improved our quality of life. I literally tell them they are my best friends on a near-daily basis. These are truly symbiotic relationships.

6. Health is a journey — not a destination.

I’ve been on a plant-based (“vegan”) diet for roughly nine years. The main goal of this, for me, is to not only avoid common Western diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, but to make it easier to maintain some baseline level of decent health. Sure, due to various circumstances I might be healthier some months/years than others, but it’s really about choosing the parameters of the spectrum you want to be on. I try to avoid certain foods, but end up consuming these foods occasionally, and sometimes too often (processed foods, sugary snacks, salty/oily foods). I’ve found that beating yourself up about perceived dietary failings might actually be more harmful (psychologically) than just eating those naughty foods from time to time. As a concise tidbit of dietary advice, I’d say try to eat fruits, veggies, and whole grains whenever possible, make plans to cook at home more often (this will help reduce salt, oil, and added sugar intake), and try to reduce meat and dairy consumption. To paraphrase Dr. Dean Ornish, if you eat unhealthily one day, simply eat healthier the next.

Oh, and you should exercise sometimes.

7. Music can soothe your soul and unearth forgotten memories.

I have listened to a wide variety of musical genres during my three and a half decades of existence. I hate to admit the fact that I used to listen to Ace of Base and other ’90s pop artists. A fact I hate even more is that I once had a “Nu Metal” phase. But these days I am constantly discovering new music and rediscovering music I listened to once upon a time. Indie rock, garage rock, psychedelic rock, folk, soul/R&B, proto-punk, glam, and hip-hop are some of the styles that fill my soul when they fill the airwaves. Specific songs and albums often unleash a flood of nostalgia, allowing me to fondly recall a time, place, various wonderful people, and the positive sensations of a past era in my life. The memories are often cinematic, and these musical compositions constitute the perfect accompanying soundtrack. (There are also compelling scientific and medical applications of this phenomenon.)

8. Coffee is a hell of a drug.

This Chappelle-esque mantra was once crudely inscribed in the collected dust on a truck outside my place of employment. I’ve been roasting the stuff for three solid years, and folks never seem to get sick of it. I’m not sick of it either. Experiencing the taste, aroma, and caffeine buzz of a perfectly crafted cup of coffee is indeed a highlight of each day of my life. Other drugs are great too, which leads me to my next point.

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Wikimedia Commons

9. Just say “yes.”

I was born during the reign of actor turned Christian Ayatollah Ronald Reagan and his evil side-kick George Herbert Walker Bush. During my grade school years, my classmates and I were constantly indoctrinated with Drug War propaganda — specifically the naive and annoying phrase “Just Say No.” Of course we should all know by now that, not only is the War on Drugs inherently racist, but the CIA was complicit in massive drug smuggling operations throughout the ’80s, some of which resulted in the crack cocaine epidemic.

In any case, many of us (including myself) have realized that drugs generally have more pros than cons when used wisely. I don’t believe any individual drug is inherently bad (okay — maybe bath salts). There is likely a proper time, place, and dosage for every drug under the sun. But it may take a lifetime to iron out the nuances and logistics of this pursuit. A book I’d recommend on this topic is “Saying Yes,” by Jacob Sullum.

10. Don’t let student loan companies scare you.

Like many “Millennials,” I bear a heavy burden of student loan debt. I once, in an act of sheer panic, nearly maxed out a credit card in an effort to make a student loan payment. But these days I’m much more relaxed about the whole situation. Over the years, I’ve made lots of payments, missed some, and made some partial payments. Recent Federal Reserve data has revealed that outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. is now approximately $1.44 trillion, and “delinquency rates are roughly twice as high among loans counted in the repayment cycle — surpassing $300 billion.”

For each of us, our handling of this debacle involves a cost-benefit analysis. If having a bad credit score is worth the security of having grocery money, it might be a better choice to stop paying for a while (ideally in the form of a forbearance or deferment). There’s really only so much these predatory lenders can do (wage garnishment is probably a worst case scenario, unless you somehow have secured loans), and, even if your loans go into default, you can still negotiate a settlement through National Debt Relief and other organizations.

My point is that sometimes people can’t make payments because they need to eat food, and bullying them isn’t going to produce money out of thin air. Lenders take risks just like borrowers do. Don’t fall for the conventional wisdom that you have some sort of moral responsibility to repay all debts, regardless of the context. The financial burden is bad enough; don’t let them add unnecessary stress to the equation.

But also do more research than what I’ve written above. This was pretty much stream of consciousness.

11. You don’t have to procreate.

Or do anything society pressures you to do. Make your own decisions, but also strive to understand how your personal preferences and expectations are sculpted by the norms of the culture you just so happened to be born into. This may help you to realize why others put certain pressures on you as well. Sociology was one of the most profound and enlightening college courses I’ve ever taken, and I’d highly recommend looking into the subject. It’s basically like being an extraterrestrial and examining humanity — our institutions, traditions, customs, hierarchies — with a blank slate.

12. I have no idea what will happen when I die, and I’m learning to be okay with that.

As a child I believed in Heaven and Hell. However, as I grew older and my faith faded, I no longer imagined this ultimate prospect of eternal life. You see, in prehistoric times, we didn’t know what the hell was going on. But we eventually realized that the sun gave us light, allowing us to see and avoid predators, and that it provided warmth, and made eatable plants grow. It literally gave us life, and so we decided to start worshipping it, because to us, this was magic. Darkness was the opposite; it brought with it a cold and terrifying uncertainty in which predators could easily stalk and kill us. And this (light vs. darkness) is what led to the eventual development of the “good vs. evil” dichotomy. Light and darkness then became personified in the form of various supernatural deities, which differed in specific characteristics from culture to culture.

In lieu of the mind-bending experience of contemplating eternity, I now sometimes catch myself contemplating non-existence. When I enter this train of through, this deep cavern in the recesses of my imagination, I picture not thinking, not even dreaming, not even darkness. Nothing. My existence erased completely. This is certainly a terrifying prospect, but, in attempt to co-opt the comfort of religion, I’ve heard people frame it this way: Death (non-existence) will be the same as before you were born. Others have correctly noted that “you won’t know that you don’t exist.”

I am certainly unsure what precisely will happen — from my perspective — when I die, but in my own cynical version of Pascal’s Wager, I’m betting on nothingness. If there happens to be an existence after death, I’ll consider it the cherry on top of this life.

*Some of the segment above was excerpted from (or related to) this, this, and this.

13. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I know this sounds like something a teacher would say, but since you’re reading this, and I wrote this, I’m kind of like your teacher. Seriously though, we’re all in this together (okay, aside from ruling class pricks who want to hoard the wealth they stole from our labor and build a rich people hideout on the moon after they destroy this planet, or something). We all have different skills, experiences, resources, and knowledge that can be utilized more effectively in a collective context than individually. As Kurt Vonnegut’s son once said, “We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.’’ And if you think this is good advice, congratulations; you’re one step closer to becoming a communist. Which leads me to my next observation.

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Wikimedia Commons

14. People don’t always get more conservative as they age.

Obviously some do, and this is where the popular notion comes from. But I am personally on a trajectory to do the exact opposite. As cool as the emergence of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is, I have recently been drifting even further leftward (although I am still a DSA member). But if people really do generally become more conservative over time, you can fancy me the political equivalent of Benjamin Button.

15. It is essential to confront your privilege.

Being born a white, heterosexual, able-bodied male in a middle class family gave me indisputable, unearned advantages in life. For instance, my white privilege is simply the flip-side of the oppression and marginalization faced by people of color. Receiving an unconditional pass to avoid oppression, discrimination, profiling, targeting by law enforcement, and other hardships is in itself a major manifestation of white privilege. An understanding of intersectionality as it relates to privilege is also crucial, just as it is in understanding oppression and exploitation.

If someone has privileges based on other sociological aspects of their identity, this privilege may extend beyond merely avoiding the injustices uniquely faced by non-whites. In addition to race, these realms include class, sexual orientation, religion, gender identity, physical ability, etc. Based on a rudimentary analysis of modern American society, the most privileged demographic would be wealthy, white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied Christian men.

Confronting our privilege is the first step toward true understanding and empathy for others. It is also the first step toward dismantling these unjustifiable social hierarchies.

*Some of the segment above was excerpted from (or related to) this and this.

16. Sometimes arguing isn’t worth it.

Some people can’t be convinced, and you’ll just have to wait for them and their shitty ideas die out. (And yes, this is the section where I begin to run out of steam — i.e. caffeine — and my entries become more concise, and possibly weird.)

17. When driving, you should use your turn signals.

I truly believe this simple “flick of the wrist” can make the world a better place. The Road is another instance of the annoying, yet true slogan, “we’re all in this together.” The playing field is level, and we should work as a team. When someone intends to turn, yet they have not signaled, I become equal parts confused and enraged. I believe many of my comrades can relate.

A recent policy I have developed is to honk profusely at non-signalers. And I am aware that there may be situations where someone’s tail light may be out and I therefore cannot witness the signaling that has been initiated. This, however, does not change my newfound policy.

18. Floss your teeth regularly, or never.

If you floss your teeth on a regular basis, you’re doing great! If you usually forget, and floss them occasionally, they will probably bleed and swell every time. Bleeding isn’t fun (unless you’re into that sort of thing; I won’t judge).

19. Embrace your hairline.

I used to have a full head of dark, luscious, curly locks (and even dreadlocks on several occasions, which I now know is a problematic form of cultural appropriation). However, when I became a real adult, I realized my hairline was incrementally becoming more and more whack. So I decided to embrace it, by shaving it all off about once a week.

20. Don’t donate plasma, then take 11 shots of vodka later that evening.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. I did this one time during my freshman year of college and somehow survived. So learn from my mistake and don’t do what I did.

21. Don’t believe everything you read.

In the headline, you, dear reader, were told you would be exposed to 35 deep truths from my 3.5 decades as an average (albeit somewhat unconventional) American. As with much of what passes as “information” these days, this claim ended up being false. I hope you’re not too disappointed. And actually, I’m impressed if you’ve stayed this long. I really should have set aside more time for this type of undertaking. Maybe my underlying point here is that you should repudiate the “mainstream media” and check out better sources of news and analysis like Jacobin, The Intercept, Current Affairs, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), Moderate Rebels, Citations Needed, In These Times, Black Agenda Report, The Empire Files, Telesur, It’s Going Down, Truthout, CounterPunch, Revolutionary Left Radio, The Hampton Institute, and Progressive Army.

But regardless, I tried and I failed. Which brings me to my last realization.

22. Trying is the first step toward failure.

This is one of my favorite quotes from The Simpsons (okay, it’s in my top 50). The Simpsons was one of the “whimsical cartoons” I referred to in the first “thing” in this article. I truly believe this animated sitcom instilled a deep intuition for humor in my young psyche, and it remains to this day. And that brings us full circle.

Written by

Socialist. Herbivore. Husband. I usually write about politics, current events, and history. My work has also been published by The Hampton Institute.

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