In my 31 years of life, there are many things I’ve learned about myself.

Here are 31 things I’ve learned so far.

“Recuerdo siempre, que la vida es una sola.”

I don’t speak Spanish, but I think that means, “always remember, you only have one life.”

That’s my photo above. I saw the phrase carved into the outside wall of a hostel in northern Chile when I was 23. I had a lot of adventures on that trip, and to this day I still think about this photo and that carving.

It is my 31st birthday today.

I feel good about it, and I can honestly say that I don’t fear getting older. I was excited to turn 30 last year.

As I complete my 31st spin around the sun, I have learned a thing or two. In no particular order, here are some of the things I’ve learned.

  1. I’m an introvert

Of all the things I’ve learned, this is a big one. This was seriously a huge life-changing discovery that, sadly, I didn’t really understand until I was about 26-years old. I have very few regrets in life, but this is something that I wish I had figured out when just a young pup.

  1. Living abroad has changed me

I don’t care that it is cliché. It’s true. I came to Japan for a year when I was 19, and it was profoundly influential. I have seen a lot and learned a lot about the world and myself. “I’m not the same, since I’ve seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

  1. Dental care is important

Parents and dentists always tell kids this, and I did brush my teeth. But I didn’t floss regularly until I was an adult. Now I have a lot of fillings, and I might be on my way to my first root canal. If I could go back in time, I would tell little Jennifer to take better care of her teeth.

  1. I’m not shy (sometimes)

This is something people said to me my whole life. So, as a kid, naturally I thought I was shy, since I didn’t raise my hand in class and I didn’t talk to people. Like I said, I didn’t understand I was an introvert for far too long. Honestly, I thought there was something wrong with me.

  1. Family is important

I think this is obvious. Don’t we all appreciate our family more as we get older? They really are important. But when I am across the world from them it can be difficult when I hear that they are going through a hard time.

  1. I need a lot of time by myself

Being around people seriously tires me out. If there is some event that I need to be at or participate in or talk to a lot of people, it drains me. Fast. I often need a full day or even two to recover from being around people. I prefer to, and work better, alone. A lot of time is spent inside my head, and outside stimuli is disruptive to my thoughts.

  1. I am terrible at small talk

It might sound contradictory, but I’m extra-specially bad at small talk with people I’ve just met. Please don’t come up to me and expect me to carry on a conversation. I would much more prefer a conversation about something deep and meaningful. Or silence.

  1. Taekwondo

Not so much a lesson as a skill, I learned Taekwondo when I was in Korea for one year, and I have been doing it ever since. I recently got a new belt, so now I am one test away from a black belt. In Taekwondo, it is easy to see how you are improving (tests, belts, patterns, kicking form, etc.), and I like to think that the confidence that comes with these achievements carries over to other parts of my life.

  1. Daily routines make me bored/zombie

I have a hard time imaging myself in a regular 9-5 job. The thought of waking up at the same time every day, doing the same thing, coming home at the same time, and doing it all again the next day makes bonkers. I need more flexibility and freedom.

  1. I’m not fat

This is something I’m still working on. There are times when I still feel lumpy and my clothes are tight. But I have more energy now that I’ve put on a bit of weight and don’t get tired so easily. I’m also warmer in the winter. When I think about how thin I was ten years ago compared with now, I think I am much healthier now physically and mentally. Body positivity, yo.

  1. The world is huge

There’s no other way to say this. I wish I could see it all.

  1. There is no right way to do anything

I think this comes from traveling. Just because people in one part of the world do something a certain way doesn’t mean it is the only way or the right way. We shouldn’t look down on or criticize people for doing things differently from us, like eating KFC for Christmas dinner.

  1. Try new things

I have traveled solo quite a few times in my life, which surprises some people considering how quiet and not out-going I am. But when I travel alone, it forces me to put myself out there, meet new people, and try new things. If I was afraid of trying new things I don’t think I would have ever taken the Trans-Siberian railway, ridden camels through the Gobi desert, or gone sandboarding in Chile.

  1. Avoid the regret not doing something

Just one example, my now-husband-then-fiancé and I did long distance relationship for one year while I taught English in Korea. It was a difficult decision to make, and it wasn’t exactly the easiest year. But a lot of good came from it, and a big deciding factor was the thought if I would regret it if I didn’t do it. I think I make a lot of my decisions based on this logic.

  1. People are more important than things

Sure, things can be nice, and sometimes they remind us of people or special times. But in the end, it is the people that make us happy. Love those people.

  1. Appreciate the people in my life

Admittedly, I’m not the best at showing my emotions around people. It might be good for me to outwardly show my appreciation to people more often. But if you have been reading this from the beginning, you already know that I’m not great at talking to people in general…

  1. People come and go

I think everyone knows this. As we grow and change and move, people come into our lives and leave our lives, and sometimes they stick around through it all. Living abroad and traveling magnifies this. It can be hard to make friends when you or the other person will be gone in a few days or at the end of a contract. This makes it both easier and harder to get attached and say goodbye.

  1. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to social events

As I mentioned elsewhere, I need a lot of alone time. Therefore, I need to know when to say “no” to social events without feeling bad about it if it will leave me mentally exhausted.

  1. Weight lifting is fun

It really is. I lifted medium weights when I was in Canada, but nothing too challenging. In the last few years I have been doing it two or three times a week. I lift as heavy as I can, and add weight when I can. It feels good to feel strong. Hopefully I’m preventing osteoporosis in the future, too.

  1. There are a lot of things I don’t know

I like to think that I am an intelligent person. But the number of things that I don’t know is huge. The things I don’t know could fill thousands of books. This is humbling.

  1. Invest in myself

This can apply to different areas of life. I work out and go to the gym (which is not cheap), but I consider this investing in my health. Then I went back to school (also not cheap), to invest in my future. I think it’s important to set aside some coin for something that will make you a better, happier, healthier person.

  1. Be proud of my achievements

I think it is okay to feel proud of yourself and the things I’ve learned and have achieved. I was proud of myself when I was accepted into grad school. I’m proud of myself for the hard work that I did and the thesis that I wrote. I’ll be even more proud of myself when I graduate.

  1. I don’t need to do anything people expect me to do

I’m not out-going. I’m not an extrovert or talkative, bubbly or smiley. But I’m me, and I have other great qualities that make me proud. I don’t need to sell myself out for others

  1. Don’t let the haters get in your way

Do you.

  1. Be patient

I tend to get a little impatient at times. Like when I have to wait for people or if I want something to happen now. Simply, I need to be more patient.

  1. Appreciate the things I have

I don’t think I’m very materialistic, but every once in a while I find myself wishing I had something I don’t need, something better or newer.

  1. Notice the little successes

Like when I can successfully operate a washing machine in a foreign country. Or bake a carrot cake in my rice cooker. Or understand something difficult written in Japanese.

  1. I am a sum of my experiences

In my life, I have had good experiences, bad experiences, learned things, lost things, had adventures, and been bored. These have all shaped me to be who I am today.

  1. Change

I’m not saying we need to change who we fundamentally are. But we all need to make changes. It’s how we learn and grow and become better. If it needs to happen, make it happen. Don’t fear change. After all, fear is the path to the Dark Side.

  1. Think about death

And finally, to end on a morbid note, because why not, I regularly contemplate death. Not in a way where I need to consciously be happy in my life and do this and this before I die to live a good life. But in a sad way, where I think about how I will feel when the people I love die, and how they might feel when I die. I think about the heartache and the pain that would follow if it happened tomorrow. And what would be like to be looking at the body of someone you love and their soul is gone. Holding it and speaking to it, but they just wouldn’t answer. I’m not sure why I do this. Maybe just a healthy reminder of reality. Maybe I’m just a bit morbid. Anyway, apparently, it’s the Bhutanese secret to happiness, so maybe I’m doing something right. It’s something I’ve learned.

  1. I’m still figuring it out.

That was only 30 of the things I’ve learned so far, but I’m still learning. This is what has been working for me so far. I will have to wait and see what the future holds.


Phew! That’s a long list of things I’ve learned. Did you make it all the way to the end, or did you give up and skip most of it?

These are some of the things I’ve learned, what important things have you learned in your life?



Jennifer has lived in Japan for a total of seven years. She has travelled, taught English, studied Japanese, completed a Master's Degree, and travelled some more. She currently calls Nagoya her home, where she lives with her Japanese husband.


  1. Thanks, Sarah! Soon you and I will be the same great age of greatness! With 31 years of wisdom inside our brain folds.

  2. Pingback: A story about turning 31 – JenStewie

  3. Great post! And for someone who claims she doesn’t do well displaying emotions, you’ve walked us through them well. 🙂

  4. Darned fine list. The one you have almost touched on and I’ve learned in 67 years is ‘relax’. That would agree with our list nicely. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Ouch! Getting a Tooth Pulled in Japan - Stewie Overseas

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