Midnight Musings

My Greatest Quarter Century Life Lessons

tales of ardour_tiffany tran_greatest quarter century life lessons

I officially began the second half of my twenties last week. Yay! They say your twenties is the defining decade. I get it. Out of University, moving out, corporate jobs, long-term travel – mmm yes, travel -, passion projects, risk-taking, solidified opinions and preferences, strengthened relationships… and lost ties. My early twenties laid heavy restructuring and constant realigning in the masonry of self, a time more bewildering than my scrambling adolescent years. Hands up for all who’s sat on their kitchen floor digging into an ice-cream tub between their lap, the other hand grasping liquid escapism crying, “I’m going through a quarter-life crisis!”… Nope? Just me? Oops. But honestly, after all that, I have never, ever, felt as excited for life as I am now. So what better time to celebrate my birthday by reflecting on the greatest quarter-century life lessons from the road or home. Of course, this is all about sharing knowledge and personal inspiration with each other so tell me, what have you learned? Write me a comment!


You don’t need to be on the other side of the world to “find yourself”. Deep down we want to channel our own ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ but I wasn’t enlightened with my life purpose or sense of fulfilment while I was sitting by the holy Ganges River during my Indian ashram stay. I was never on a mission to find myself. All I intended was starting life with a clean slate by distinguishing my thoughts from others, exploring my passions (which just so happened to be travelling – it’s not for everyone), then organising my world the way I wanted it to be wherever I was. The deliberate individualistic journey in itself – learning along the way and allowing for constant reinvention – is what makes me feel satisfyingly in touch with myself. I think that’s what people are “searching” for.


What’s more powerful than the pursuit of happiness is reaching a state of deep contentment within me then doing whatever excites me. It’s easy to slip into “I’ll be happy once this one thing happens/changes”. The thing is, happiness isn’t something outside of ourselves, it’s a state of mind no matter what our circumstances are. An internal happy place that I can always return to where everything around me begins to mirror it. It is self-love that will get you through everything. Then going about life happily, for me, is living with zest by choosing my own adventurous path and being free from boredom.


If we have more money, we’ll just spend more money. When my aunty said this, I had a glorious aha moment. I upped my spending habits diving into the world of material “more” and fueling an increasingly pricey lifestyle I built for myself to match my pay rise. Money sure gives us opportunities and can make life easier but is it possible to earn more while still consuming minimally, mindfully? Can’t we feel life’s real riches by living simply?


My favourite word a nomad once told me: “simplify”. From how much you pack into your luggage to eating raw, healthy foods; from not squeezing too many sights into your itinerary to focusing your energy only on people you love, simplifying every aspect of my life means undercomplicating, leaving more room for quality experiences and feeling abundance from minimalism. What is ‘enough’?


To live adventurously, life is asking, “Are you all in?” Brene Brown in ‘Daring Greatly’ inspired me to embrace vulnerability by getting into the arena to be seen. We accept our fear as part of who we are then push it aside so we don’t have to face it. Fear is part of the human experience but it doesn’t have to be part of you. What’s on the other side of fear? Perhaps what we want most. I didn’t want to choose mediocrity or unhappiness over uncertainty so I tapped into thinking ridiculously, choosing paths I feared most and risked looking like a fool. It’s all part of it. Once you’re fearless, life becomes limitless.


There are some really, really good people out there. The number of people I’ve met along my travels and how much kindness they’ve shared with me in the form of home accommodation, culture exchange and other true friendship antics never cease to amaze me. Travelling reminds me that we don’t all look, speak or go about lives the same but underneath the surface there is need for love and connection. Whether it was the old Japanese man spending 20 minutes pointing you in the right direction or a poor village medicine man stitching up your grazed knee – both wanting nothing in return -, I think deep down we’re all inherently good beings. But first, if only we could trust in that.


Mass tourism kills a destination and its culture. The internet is brimming with pretty photos and glowing reviews of the world’s best attractions but peeling back the curtain on this multi-trillion dollar industry reveals unethical and unsustainable practices brought from greed and corruption. Overpriced eateries, tacky souvenir shops, polluted beaches. I’ve accepted there is always change and no place will be the same forever. No path truly “off the beaten path”, that all the undiscovered and hidden gems will be, well, discovered. But how about seeing the world without wrongful exploitation? How can we increase the longevity of or positively contribute to cultures and ecosystems?


It’s going to take more than good intentions to change the world. I can continue working on my inner self to be happier and calmer but at the end of the day, prayer and meditation aren’t going to close the hole in the ozone layer or stop unethical consumerism. Changing the world comes from education, proactive activism and putting systems into place. I hope that whatever we choose to do in finding our own unique skills, we come from a space of serving the world.


The #1 way to ruin your travels is by being attached to the idea that everything will go to plan the way you want it. (That’s just life, isn’t it?) I see the common thread of misery among different people I travel with. The food we’re craving at this local shack turned out to be less than amazing, the side street money exchange guy scams us, the island paradise Google images and Instagram promised us fails us in real life. All these unmet expectations and feeling the need to control the uncontrollable can quickly flick the switch and flood our precious travel time with sulkiness. It’s all gravy dude. Relax into the universe’s flow and embrace the ride.


Everything is temporary. The term “non-attachment” carries the notion of being inhuman but it’s quite the contrary. At the Wanderlust Festival, as a group we foraged for leaves, branches and flowers to create a beautiful large-scale mandala. The art wasn’t going to last forever. One thing this exercise taught us was to love the process itself of creating then letting go. Tomorrow, I will feel different. Next year, the people in my life might not be here. This destination will never look the same. And there in detachment lies care, compassion, gratitude of presence and the greatest freedom.


I am not ‘becoming’, this is me right now. This constantly changing, present force of wholeness. A yoga teacher once had us repeating affirmations during savasana: “Everything I need, I already have.” Boom. I didn’t think of it in a materialistic sense. Rather, all my life I had felt ‘I’m not Tiffany yet. Tiffany is somewhere in the distant future’. You know, once I achieve this and that. But hold on… I’m not over there. My soul and being are right here, right now. A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and thus I was able to feel truly fulfilled from being present.


In feeling the above, “Life complete.” is now. Whether it’s my own soul fulfilment, relationships, career path or even my travel bucket list, I remember to feel grateful for how far I’ve come and what I have. I have this sense of completeness in all life aspects but it doesn’t mean I’m less determined than anyone else for improvement and striving to nail goals. It’s about focusing more on the doing rather than the results.


You don’t have to write like Jane Austen to be a writer. People have asked me what’s my #1 writing tip for they have so much to express but fear they don’t sound smart enough or are unable to articulate beautifully. I started that way, painfully over-editing then left with words stripped from an authentic voice. English might not even be someone’s first language but their words can speak heart and poetry. Write the same way you talk, speak your truth and no doubt you will resonate with your readers.


The crappy first drafts of your life are so important. I can only get better at writing, bringing my creative ideas into fruition, planning my travels, minimising my environmental impact, learning about culture and heritage, and communicating with lovers. I certainly feel like I suck at a lot of things but the best thing I can do is own my struggles like a boss and appreciate the charming nature of personal growth.


The highest form of love is unconditional love for all existence. “I have inside me the winds, the deserts, the oceans, the stars, and everything created in the universe. We were all made by the same hand, and we have the same soul.” – ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho. That’s real love. Feeling this connectedness. This oneness. We are love, and we can keep giving, and giving, and giving, regardless of circumstances and without expecting anything in return. Having this unselfish devotion to treating all with softness, patience and compassion are particularly useful for keeping your zen when coming across difficult people.


They say your twenties are your defining decades but I don’t want to make big decisions to suit society’s timeline. By 30 years old, maybe I won’t find my future husband, have children or “settle down”. Maybe my sense of accomplishment, connecting, belonging, and expressing myself to the universe isn’t in the picture of a family and a house – yet. Maybe I’m a little unconventional. And that’s okay. That isn’t to say I don’t want these things. I just think there are other ways to go about life in which we can create for ourselves without feeling rushed. What I will do is live intentionally, explore work and the world, and make experiences count. The rest will fall into place.


Pole, polepiano, piano. Or slowly, slowly in English. From a mindfulness perspective, it’s allowing one thought to finish before the next or being in touch with the senses at every moment. From a travel perspective, it’s focusing on the quality of the experience, not battling for how many countries I can visit. Then beyond making a connection with myself and a place, going slow also means changing everyday habits: controlling how much and what information I receive by disconnecting from social media or choosing the news I only want to hear, cherishing real moments with lovers and friends by being all there and listening intently, and supporting the sustainable slow food and fashion movements by going local. Life is more meaningful and felt more when going slow.

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Published by Tiffany Tran

Passionate Human (also Travel & Lifestyle Writer based in Sydney, Australia). Say hello: tiffany@talesofardour.com. The backstory →

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