39 Lessons I’ve Learned About Life On My 39th Birthday

Today is my birthday.

And for the past several years I’ve celebrated the occasion on this blog with a special post reflecting on my life.

It started in 2010 when I shared 35 Songs That Meant Something To Me On My 35th Birthday.

In 2011, I shared 36 Photos Of Places That Meant Something To Me On My 36th Birthday.

In 2012, I made 37 Donations In Honor Of My 37th Birthday.

And last year, I shared 38 Memories Of The House I Grew Up In On My 38th Birthday.

For this year’s post I wanted to do something that’s been reflective of what’s been quite a year for me – one filled with highs, lows, and a LOT of moving parts. But I’ve come out of it in a great place and filled with plenty of new insights about life. Or at least, my life.

So, I thought I’d share with you 39 Lessons I’ve Learned About Life in my first 39 years on this planet. Here they are, in no particular order…

1. You’re not as strong or as weak as you think you are. Ever.

2. People change.

3. Sometimes you get what you want in a way you never saw coming.

4. Keep moving forward.

5. The advantages you’re given are meaningless if you’re not willing to use them.

6. Nothing is a coincidence.

7. Just because you think you’re done doesn’t mean you are.

8. Music matters.

9. Little things become big things.

10. Trust your instincts.

11. Politics isn’t always a bad thing.

12. Things are never as good or bad as they seem.

13. Stay connected.

14. Mistakes are valuable.

15. Somehow, you always know what to do if you’re honest with yourself.

16. Slow down.

17. Consistency is more important than you realize.

18. You don’t have to go all the way, you just have to take a step.

19. Ideas are meaningless without execution.

20. Money changes everything, but nothing that really matters.

21. A desire to learn will take you far.

22. A good night’s sleep means more than you might think.

23. You think some people do easily what comes hard to you. They don’t.

24. Humility can be overrated.

25. It takes a lot of strength to be weak.

26. Confidence will serve you well.

27. Time changes your perspective. On everything.

28. Just because you have all the puzzle pieces, it doesn’t mean it’s easy to solve.

29. Your narrative matters.

30. Surround yourself with people who will be there when you need them.

31. There are no rules.

32. You don’t know the people you know best as well as you think you do.

33. Sometimes questions are more important than answers.

34. You have to fail in order to succeed.

35. Put things out there and see what happens.

36. Choose your words wisely – and listen to them.

37. Reflect.

38. A lot can happen in a year.

39. You can only figure out so much about life in 39 years. Stay tuned…

38 Memories Of The House I Grew Up In On My 38th Birthday

For the past few years I’ve celebrated my birthday on this blog with a special post.

When I turned 35, I shared 35 Songs That Meant Something To Me On My 35th Birthday.

When I turned 36, I shared 36 Photos of Places That Meant Something To Me On My 36th Birthday.

And last year I vowed to make 37 Donations In Honor Of My 37th Birthday. (It wound up taking me a year, but I did make all the donations – even though I haven’t gotten around to updating the post completely yet)

Since my parents recently sold their house in Maryland and are about to move to California, I thought this would be a good time to share some of the memories I have of the house that they’ve lived in for the past 20+ years and the house that I’ve basically called home since I was in 8th grade.

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1. I remember how cool it seemed to have a laundry chute when we first moved in.

2. I remember when my high school friends threw me a surprise birthday party and hid in our basement. However, I also remember that one of my friends had accidentally spoiled the surprise earlier that day in school and so I tortured my friends and parents by basically refusing to go into the basement for a while and delaying the “surprise.”

3. I remember the driveway basketball basket, which is probably the single basket that I’ve taken the most shots on in my life.

4. I remember spending summer nights playing basketball in that driveway, lit only by the light from our open garage and playing to a soundtrack of Tone Loc, A Tribe Called Quest, and other assorted early 90s hip hop tunes played on an old boombox.

5. I remember falling in love with music while laying on my bed and listening to my first CDs on my first stereo.

6. After I moved to California, I remember coming home to visit and finding that “my room” was a little less mine and a little more my parents with each visit.

7. I remember cutting the lawn – quickly and poorly.

8. I remember sleeping on the basement floor with my brother when family came to visit and took up all the beds.

9. I also remember not sleeping on the basement floor because it was impossible to fall asleep due to my brother’s snoring.

10. I remember the kitchen in which my Mom whipped up too many amazing meals to count. (But you can read about some of them for yourself here.)

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11. I remember racing my brother to the bathroom to be the first to shower – and the last to get hot water in their shower.

12. I remember looking out my bedroom window on school mornings when snow was predicted to see if I was actually going to get a day off school or get busted for not doing my homework due to an assumption that I would get the day off school.

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13. I remember the one time I cooked dinner for my grandfather at that house and shared a steak and beer with him – just the two of us.

14. I remember the football field, baseball diamond, and soccer field that was also known as our backyard.

15. I remember the kitchen pantry that never had any food I could just grab and eat, but was stocked with enough Iron Chef-esque ingredients that my Mom could make me anything I wanted.

16. I remember pulling out of the driveway to move to California 15 years ago.

17. I remember the basement ping pong table where I got really good at the game, but never quite good enough to be definitively better (or worse) than my Dad.

18. I remember the random exercise equipment that always appeared in the basement but don’t remember ever seeing anybody (including myself) actually use it.

19. I remember my bedroom floor that was home to more of my clothes than my bedroom closet was.

20. I remember the neon pink flamingo clock I had in my room and thinking it was cool. I don’t remember why.

21. I remember the fireplace that seemed like an unnecessary hassle to use, but enjoying it every time it was on.

22. I remember fighting over the thermostat, being too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.

23. I remember the garden that my Mom spent hours and hours working on in order to defend her Best Garden title (which she did) despite the fact that her sons were slightly less enthusiastic about it than she was.

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24. I remember the laundry room in which laundry was constantly being done 24/7.

25. I remember the open layout of the TV room/dining area/kitchen which may have looked nice but was the single worst sound environment ever created – you couldn’t hear the TV over the conversations and you couldn’t hear the conversations over the TV somehow.

26. I remember the tech support services I wound up providing to the computers in the basement.

27. I remember hanging out on “the streets” of our neighborhood on late summer nights.

28. I remember the sound a tennis ball would make when it hit the garage door we were using as a baseball backstop.

29. I remember my Dad backing me down on the basketball court and banking in fade away jump shots against me – always from the uphill side of the court.

30. I remember spending 5 minutes in my room before emerging and declaring that my homework was done.

31. I remember the bulletin board in my room that had a mixture of cut-up CD boxes (back when CDs actually were sold in long cardboard boxes) and assorted inspirational magazine cutouts like this one.

32. I remember having this poster on the back of the door in my room and my Mom somehow being ok with it.

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33. I remember launching a baseball card business whose entire potential clientele consisted of people in the neighborhood whose mailboxes I could put a flyer in. I don’t remember ever making a sale from those flyers.

34. I remember coming home to visit and being asked if I wanted a beer only to go down to basement refrigerator and have to decide how many decades ago the beers in there had been bought.

35. I remember being home for Thanksgiving dinner every year but one since we moved into it.

36. I remember a couple of my good friends (who were a lot more interested in being productive than I was and eventually went on to become doctors) being let into my bedroom regularly to wake me up on summer “mornings” (Noon-ish) by my Mom. I remember not being happy about it.

37. I remember still not being sure which light switch controlled which light even after 20 years of living in the house.

38. I remember it being a pretty great house to grow up in.

I’m Making 37 Donations In My First 37 Days As A 37-Year-Old

Yesterday was my birthday. For those of you that are new here, I’ve celebrated my birthday on this website the past couple years with a special post.

When I turned 35, I shared a list of 35 Songs That Meant Something To Me On My 35th Birthday.

When I turned 36, I shared a list of 36 Photos of Places That Meant Something To Me On My 36th Birthday.

This year, I’ve come up with something a little different.

In honor of my 37th birthday I plan to donate money every day for the next 37 days to 37 different causes, charities, people, and projects that are doing things I feel are valuable, interesting, or important.

I’ll update this page as I go and if any of you are inspired to contribute to any of these places as well, that would be great. If not, that’s fine too.

Also, if any of you have suggestions about worthy projects and causes that you think I should consider supporting, please tell me (and my readers) about them in the comments on this post. I’m sure there’s lots of stuff out there I don’t know about and I’m doing this one day at a time in the hopes that it will give people an excuse to spread the word about other cool projects I (and/or my readers) can help out.

Here’s the breakdown of my donations so far…

Donation 1: Sparklab

Sparklab is the creation of a group of six Stanford students who are turning a bus into a mobile lab that will travel to various middle schools and give students the opportunity to have a creative, hands-on learning experience that their schools currently are not equipped to provide them with.

Donation 2: Matter

Matter is a new independent, long-form journalism initiative that’s being designed to promote quality reporting about science and technology with no interference from advertisers.

Donation 3: IAVA

IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) is the country’s first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With more than 200,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide, IAVA is building the next greatest generation with a three-pronged model based on advocacy, awareness, and assistance.

Donation 4: The Tutu Project

The Tutu Project was started by a photographer named Bob Carey whose wife has been battling breast cancer since 2003. It’s a collection of photos of himself in a pink tutu that’s being turned into a book whose proceeds will go to breast cancer organizations. It’s oddly compelling and a worthy cause. Here’s an example of his work:

Donation 5: Little Kids Rock

Little Kids Rock is a national nonprofit that partners with schools to bring music education and instruments to schools in an innovative and relevant way.

Donation 6: The Future Of Work

The Future of Work is a web series designed to showcase stories of the obsessive makers, innovators and entrepreneurs that are leading the way to a new wave of business. People who aren’t waiting around for the job market to change, for broken industries to repair themselves, or for government to become more functional. They’re taking matters into their own hands, forging a new approach to work, one that is not just about making a living, but about building a life that is distinctly theirs. It is an optimistic yet pragmatic counter-narrative to the bleak picture painted by the mainstream media.

Donation 7: Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere. It was recently featured on 60 Minutes as you can see below, and it’s doing some pretty amazing and forward-thinking work to reinvent education.

Donation 8: Barack Obama

I can’t imagine him actually losing an election to Mitt Romney, but better safe than sorry.

Donation 9: Cubby

A couple designers designed an award-winning storage product which for reasons I don’t quite understand nobody wanted to put up for sale. So they’re trying to do it themselves. This is the future of business.

Donation 10: WTF Podcast

I listen to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast every week and just realized that I’ve never given him a dime for the (literally) hours of enjoyment I’ve gotten from it. Now seems like a good time to remedy that.

Donation 11: Chitown

As somebody who grew up playing basketball in Chicago, this proposed documentary about Chitown basketball caught my eye – hopefully I can help make it a reality.

Donation 12: Leisure Suit Larry

As a kid who grew up before video games were elaborate and before the Internet brought smut to your living room, the game Leisure Suit Larry seemed like the greatest creation of all time. Now, apparently the game’s orgiinal creator is raising money to re-create a modern version of the game. I’m in.

Donation 13: Theme ID

I use WordPress all the time (including to produce this site) and often I use themes that are developed by other people who make them available for free despite the hours of work they put into them. Recently, I’ve been using some products by Theme ID and I’m happy to give them a donation as a small thanks for the great work they do.

Donation 14: Before I Die

Before I Die is a community art project that is quickly spreading across the country. It invites people to share their hopes and dreams with the world by completing the sentence “Before I Die I Want To…” on a chalkboard in public spaces.

Donation 15: The V Foundation

The V Foundation, named for former college basketball coach Jim Valvano, continues its cancer research work. And if watching this infamous speech doesn’t make you want to donate some money, then nothing will.

Donation 16: Instapaper

Instapaper describes itself as an online service that “facilitates easy reading of long text content.” I describe it as possibly the best free application on the Internet and one of the few I literally use every day. I’m more than happy to donate to them in appreciation of the great product they’ve created.

Donation 17: The DIY Daily

The DIY Daily is a free daily email compiled by Brian Thompson that features a collection of really great links to articles about digital marketing and the changing business of the music industry. It’s a daily must-read for me, and something of an inspiration for me in the creation of my own Connected Comedy Daily email.

Donation 18: The Harvard Fellow

The Harvard Fellow is a documentary film following hip hop artist 9th Wonder’s year spent lecturing and doing research at Harvard University.

Donation 19: BearLove Good. Cancer Bad.

One of my favorite recent Internet happenings inspired this donation. You can read the whole backstory here, but long story short: A cartoonist had his work ripped off by a shady website, the website then sued him (of all things) for $20,000. He then turned to his audience to raise money with the promise that it would go to charity instead of the crazy company that was suing him. He wound up raising $20,000 in 64 minutes and has gone on to raise $192,000 so far – which is now going to a trio of charities.

Donation 20: Fight For The Future

Fight for the Future is an organization dedicated to “protecting and expanding the Internet’s transformative power in our lives by creating civic campaigns that are engaging for millions of people.” It’s an increasingly important cause as the forces of evil (read: businesses and governments that don’t “get it”) are increasingly trying to ruin what makes the Internet so great.

Donation 21: The Icarus Deception

There might not be anybody that has been more influential in my career without ever actually meeting me than author/genius Seth Godin. I love everything he does, and I’m thrilled to donate to his latest experiment, a project he’s launched to “show my publisher, the bookstores and anyone with a book worth writing that it’s possible to start a project with a show of support on Kickstarter.” Count me in.

Donation 22: The Early Years Scholarship

This one has to be the most “fun” of the donations I’ve made so far because as a result of my donation to this local school program, I was able to go see Weezer play a charity gig at the Roxy. And, it wound up leading to another donation that I didn’t expect…

Donation 23: Random Weezer Fan

I wound up with an extra ticket for the Weezer charity show, but couldn’t find anybody to give it to. When I got to the show, there was nobody else in line except for a nice couple in front of me that had a problem – only one of them had a ticket. In a bizarre twist of fate, the only other person in line with them (me) happened to have an extra ticket so I was able to “donate” it to them. They were huge Weezer fans and I’m pretty sure it made their night.