* Michelle Thoughts, Intentional Living

30+ Life Lessons From 40 Years of Life

Life lessons, reflections, and observations from my 40 years on Earth

I’ve always appreciated learning what wisdom others have gleaned from their experiences, and I hope perhaps something here might be helpful to someone else’s journey.

40 is a lot of things so I’ve started with what I have and may continue to add more as this year progresses…

  1. Perfect is the enemy of good. The sooner we realize that perfection isn’t attainable – for ourselves or to expect it of others – the better. Yes, we should all strive for excellence when it matters, but more often than not, just getting something out there in the world (like this blog post) is more important than anguishing over whether or not it’s just right.
  2. Surround yourself with good influences. I’ve heard “You are the sum of the people around you” in different ways throughout my life but I credit this lesson to a much-revered choir teacher who shared it in high school.

    I was fortunate to find a small group of girls in high school who enjoyed good, clean fun and accepted my reserved, goofy, and sometimes overly-blunt ways. Those friends had such a positive impact on my life choices, and most of us are still friends today.
  3. Small things with big love. I used to think I needed to do something big with my life for it to matter. None of us are so important that we can sway the cosmos. Still, the impact we make within our own small spheres of influence do matter. How you treat the person right in front of you can change their world. Even if one person is better off for having known you, it matters to that one person.
  4. Go love. That’s the plan. The meaning or purpose of life doesn’t have to look a certain way. I used to think I needed to start a non-profit or save the world somehow to fulfill my purpose. Over time, I’ve shed this rigidity and accepted the more general principle, inspired by Bob Goff, that the meaning of life is to love.
  5. The world is utterly broken. It may sound pessimistic, yet I find it important to mourn how profoundly our world is “not as it should be”. It is beyond any of our human abilities to save, and at the same time, I believe we’re each called by an innate sense of what “should be,” that comes from beyond our world, to do our own small part in its restoration.
  6. Life is picking up broken pieces and trying to make something beautiful. Because we’ll never be done encountering the world’s brokenness, we each learn our own ways to take pain, hardship, or injustice and create something good. Not that “everything happens for a reason” but every broken thing can be made into something new.
  7. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. … We are workers, not master builders. Ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

    I find this poem, attributed to Oscar Romero, to be an important revelation about our place in the big picture. And a similar quote I love is: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it.”
  8. Marriage, in the best way, is a refiner’s fire. No one has helped me grow more than my life partner, Jedd. It takes a trusting, intense, ongoing relationship like marriage to expose our flaws and give them a chance to “burn” off.
  9. Adults aren’t so intimidating. I remember in college, I was intimidated to be invited to a “grown up party.” When I told my Mom, she sort of laughed and shared that adults may look older on the outside, but inside they’re the same people they’ve always been. The gulf between age groups was not as wide as I imagined.
  10. 28 and 38 feel nearly identical. I was surprised to age ten years and feel practically the same. This might be different for those with children, but apart from some additional life experience, I found I really didn’t feel much older even a decade later.
  11. Save the best for last. This is my motto when it comes to meals as well as life in general. In whatever way is in my control, saving the best for last keeps me always looking forward instead of feeling let down by what’s to come.
  12. Love people. Use things. Mixing up these two is trouble.
  13. Less than 20% of people are actually self-aware of how they come off to others. A researcher shared this stat on the Hidden Brain podcast.

    In my college years especially, there were several instances where someone I trusted shared how my behavior was coming across as stand-offish or uncaring to others. I was shocked, but they were valuable lessons. Without outside feedback, I had little opportunity to realize these shortcomings and try to improve.

    Knowing that it’s not easy to be truly self-aware or to invite criticism, we can give each other a little more grace.
  14. Introverts have an underutilized, quiet power. Our modern world is biased toward extroverts. Charisma and entertainment captures our attention. But we have so much to gain by rewarding and pursuing the qualities of introverts: thoughtfulness, perceptiveness, calmness under pressure, reliability…

    For more on this, I highly recommend the book Quiet by Susan Cain.
  15. Only work with friends if you’re willing to treat the partnership as any other business. Spell things out in writing, anticipate disagreements, don’t take it personally, and don’t expect leniency because you also have a personal relationship. If you’re not willing to do that, best to stay friends and avoid working together.
  16. The Perseid meteor shower comes around annually and the skies are often clear in August – don’t miss it!
  17. Parenting and teaching are two jobs I have exceeding respect for. Both deserve all the support society can muster. Neither should be taken lightly, which is part of the reason why I have thoughtfully deemed myself: not the best fit.
  18. I only recently unlocked the two secrets to drinking enough water every day: 1) Always having a nice water bottle (for me, this includes a straw) next to me. 2) Intermittent fasting helps me start the day with natural reminders to hydrate before I’m satiated with food.
  19. Understanding personality/psychology is immensely helpful in relationships. We all have a default assumption that others see and experience the world the way we do, a misconception which is the source of many conflicts. When I learned I was an INTJ and then a Questioner and then an Enneagram 5, I had so much better awareness and vocabulary to help share parts of myself that had caused misunderstandings before.

    Likewise, learning about others helps me interact more compassionately and effectively. Like this year, learning the definition and traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder brought clarity and helped get us unstuck from a toxic situation.
  20. Love has the power of a tiny sprout breaking through a concrete sidewalk. I love this unlikely but factual image, reminiscent of Wall-E or Planet of the Apes, and how the idea it brings to mind was spelled out by Maggie of the Pantsuit Politics podcast: “In every dark, lonely corner of this world today, there is no place so dark, so persecuted, so attacked, so racist, so terrible that love cannot get in.”

    I believe it. Because as much as I’ve seen horrible things in our world, I’ve also seen how love and light can always reach in.
  21. “The pitch we were meant to live at is love [devotion to the wellbeing of others]. Life never feels quite right unless love is the best and greatest part of it… Once we are awakened to love as the lifelong purpose of our hearts, then feeling love for all the world become the meaning – and greatest joy – of living.” – David Richo
  22. Everyone has their own gift of intelligence. While I happened to have the temperament and intelligence that allowed me to get good grades in school, I see now that our academic system only affirms a very narrow definition of success, which doesn’t serve individuals or the flourishing of our communities.

    Someone’s giftings, talents, and types of intelligence may not fit society’s mold, but that doesn’t mean they’re less important or less worthy. Communities need diversity in types of intelligence: emotional, scientific, auditory, artistic, healing, verbal, athletic, analytical, strategic… We need to find more ways to let each of our unique gifts develop, to be the best versions of our unique selves.
  23. Your body intuits things before your brain does. As someone who processes most of life internally in my head, this has taken me a very long time to figure out.

    I’m still learning to recognize and trust my own instincts by noticing when I feel at peace or when I feel a subtle but sickening dread about a choice I’m making. I’m learning to notice physical signs of emotion that help me identify when something is bothering me and why, rather than obliviously feeling agitated.
  24. Don’t be surprised when standing up for yourself can be an uphill battle. When I was young, I remember my Dad imparting this fact of life: no matter what you do, not everyone is always going to like you. And that you need to “be your own cheerleader.”

    Self-love, self-respect, and self-trust are important foundations to carry us through a world that wants us to follow a certain blueprint or bend to aspirations we may not necessarily believe in. Standing up for ourselves is not easy, but it’s worth it.
  25. Fear is a friend and an enemy. It’s important to understand the difference between fear that comes from the stories we tell ourselves vs. real fear that is our body’s way of telling us about legitimate dangers. Sometimes things are scary specifically because there’s a tug on our heart to move forward and overcome it, to reach somewhere better than where we’ve been.
  26. Take screen sabbaths. Even if you don’t work at a computer, most of us have mini personal computers (smartphones) constantly in our hands or pockets, feeding an increasing frenzy of dopamine hits and never letting our brain just relax or… heaven forbid… get bored.

    It takes deliberate planning to avoid screens for a whole day, but it is well worth the try. I’ve found that when I actually do this, I am more likely to have something near an epiphany … or at least get some real rest.
  27. Look for work that fits how you want to live your days. This is admittedly a privileged perspective, but if you have some modicum of choice around the work you can do, I suggest prioritizing the activities and the people you want to spend your precious waking hours on.

    Too often we’re sold a career path that takes over our lives. When Jedd and I started prioritizing flexibility, travel, health, and family, we found work that allows us to fit those values into our daily lives. I have no regrets.
  28. The older I get, the more I want to know about my ancestors. I’m fortunate to have research from family historians who came before me, which I started reviewing during the pandemic. It’s fascinating to think about all the people whose countless, diverse experiences led up to my birth. The sheer number of great-great-great-great and great-great-great-great-great grandparents each of us has is sort of mind boggling in itself!
  29. Be where your feet are. A new friend shared this mantra with me, and it’s the perfect reminder for a forward-thinker like me. I’m constantly planning ahead, which I enjoy. But I have a feeling that the moments we truly pause to be present are our best chance of transcendence, grasping eternity, in this life.

    Being fully aware of the people and the place right in front of us, where are feet currently are, is an act of gratitude and centering. This is something I want to practice much more.
  30. There’s little better (for me) than being an Aunty. I’m forever grateful to my brothers and sisters-in-law who gave me the gift of this role. My (now 4!) nieces and (one) nephew light up my life. I hope to be a part of their lives as much as I can, with a strong devotion to their growth and wellbeing.
  31. Busyness is bad news. Time is one of our most precious resources in life. Feeling that our time is limited makes us less likely to look outside ourselves. Though being busy has become a status symbol, or makes us feel important, I think our goal should be the opposite.
  32. Productivity does not make us more worthy. I learned a hard lesson in college when I tried to do all. the. things. Classes, planning campus events, assisting the French teacher, joining clubs, exercising, hanging out with friends, taking on leadership roles. I finally realized how exhausted I was and how I couldn’t do anything well if I tried to do everything.

    In Peace Corps Jamaica, I was forced to slow down. If it rained, no one went out. Even the laundry couldn’t dry on a rainy day. Running an errand at the cell phone store would take a whole afternoon, if you were lucky not to have to come back a second time. I learned to be ok accomplishing just one or two tiny little things in a given day.
  33. My capacity each day is limited. Being able to slow down served me well during pandemic lock downs, but I became even more accustomed to minimal activity/socializing/achievement in a given day. I learned through the Enneagram that my personality feels capacity limits more than most and needs to conserve energy in order to face the external world as my best self. I’m learning to embrace that and not apologize for it.
  34. Do something active every day. Exercising is good for our brains and our bodies, and the habit of being active each day is one of the best commitments I’ve ever made to myself. Over the decades, this has included a little less running and more walking, plus more regular yoga or stretching. To me, making this a sustainable, daily habit that I can continue into old age is more important than what activity I actually do or how many calories I burn.


    More to come (maybe)…
* Michelle Thoughts, Intentional Living

My Favorite Quotes Collection

Hat tip to author and blogger, Tsh Oxenreider, for the Commonplace Notebook idea. This is my own digital collection of inspiring and meaningful quotations about intentional living, faith, achievement, work, life, and more.

Please check back as I’ll continue to update this page…

Comparison is the thief of joy.

T. Roosevelt

If you really want something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.

Jim Rohn

There are no great acts, only small acts done with great love.

Mother Theresa
Continue reading “My Favorite Quotes Collection”
* Michelle Thoughts

The 6 Best Decisions I Made in College

I wrote this a few years ago, thinking about all the high school graduates out there who are moving on to college. These are a few words of advice from my own experience in college.

Jedd and I graduated from our (separate) Universities in 2005. Looking back, six things stand out in terms of the decisions I would make again in a heartbeat. Everyone’s experience in college is unique, to be sure, but hopefully these thoughts will connect with a few people and help them find their own way in this pivotal time of life.

1) Studying Abroad

My junior year, I did a summer school program in Florence, Italy and then a Fall semester in Paris, France to complete my French major. Having the opportunity to live and learn in those cities cannot be beat, in my book.
Although my best friend started her own study abroad program as soon as I returned from Paris, and we essentially didn’t see each other for all of Junior year, we both agree it was totally worth it.

Being a college student affords you some rare benefits for living abroad. One, scholarships and student loans can sometimes be applied toward a study abroad program, just like any other semester. Even if not, tuition in other countries is often lower anyway, so you end up saving money on the academic side that you can apply to weekend travel costs while you’re abroad. You effectively come out even compared to the cost of a normal semester- a lot of people don’t realize this. Also, many countries require visas for a foreigner to stay long-term, and you will often have easier access to get in with a student visa than if you were to try to get in down the road as a long-term “tourist.”
The point is, I 100% recommend taking advantage of study abroad opportunities while you’re in college. Jedd did not and says it is his #1 regret (although at that point in his life, just going to college away from Hawaii was a culture shock in itself). You don’t have to be a language major, either. Plan your classes out so you’ll be able to take a bunch of electives or work towards a minor during your semester abroad.

2) Taking Electives

As an undergrad, my electives ranged from Group Fitness, rock climbing, choir, and black and white photography, to calculus (yes, it was voluntary), Philosophy of C.S. Lewis, and Italian. I didn’t have to take any of these classes. But they were all things I was interested in, and it didn’t cost any extra to tack on one or two more credits per semester.

In my opinion, the value of college these days lies less in gaining concrete skills for a job and more in self-discovery and becoming a well-rounded human. Most technical skills you learn on the job anyway – they don’t even teach half those things in class. As long as you come out with a degree in your pocket, critical thinking skills, and some practical background knowledge, that’s about as far as college is going to get you for job-seeking purposes. Might as well pursue some things you’re interested in, too, while you have the chance.

3) Minoring in something interesting

Similarly to the electives point, I think you might as well get the most out of your tuition dollars by adding some minors. In my case, the core curriculum for all students required us to take four Philosophy courses, which got us more than half-way to completing a Philosophy minor. I believe we were also required to take two social sciences, which counted toward my Psychology minor. For me, nearly all of the additional credits I had to take were about topics that fascinated me anyway and could apply broadly to just about any field of work.

Note that I’m not recommending over-loading your schedule. I think it’s really important to keep a manageable workload and leave enough time in your week for socializing and spontaneity. Otherwise, you’ll burn out and lose energy to keep up with your studies. However, if you do have wiggle room in your schedule and it doesn’t take that much more effort to minor, then go for it.

4) Getting involved and work experience

College is about so much more than academics. And I’m not talking about parties. I landed some really cool on-campus jobs planning large scale student events or writing e-mails in French for my professor. I helped out with freshman orientation, led students retreats, sang for the non-denomination worship band, volunteered on the Relay for Life planning team, coached Special Olympics, read stories to second graders, etc.

I had so many different, amazing experiences on campus outside of the classroom. (But I wouldn’t have had access to them had I not been a student.) These types of structured activities allow you to test out your passions and interests, gain more skills (and confidence), and create awesome memories. Again, I’m not endorsing that you max out your free time with back-to-back activities but don’t waste your time sitting in your room staring at a screen all day, either.

5) Being myself

In my experience, peer pressure and cliques were a lot more prevalent in high school than in college. Although college students still gravitate toward other people who are like them, the boundaries between groups are more blurred and easier to cross. For example, it was no big deal for a jock to talk to a nerdy Star Wars fanatic and maybe study for a class they have together.

This is good news coming out of high school because you can let your guard down a little and be yourself. In fact, college is really a fresh start for you to be who you want to be. You get to choose the friends who are going to influence you over the next four years. You get to start new habits and project the person you want to be among your new community. Be intentional about it and be true to yourself.

6) Mission Trip

drThe final “best decision” I made in college was to go on a mission trip with my church senior year. I knew I loved to travel but I wasn’t so sure if going to developing countries was my thing. There was a Spring Break trip to the Dominican Republic coming up, and I decided to give it a try.

That experience changed my life. I ended up interning with the organization in the D.R. for the following two summers (a total of six months), learned Spanish in the process, and discovered a sweet spot where my passions and skills could meet real needs in the world. Not only that, but it changed my whole view of the world and my place in it. I never saw things the same after that, and it put me on a trajectory toward other passions like global citizenship, advocacy, and international development.


WayfindingA special note: College isn’t for everyone, and that’s ok. I loved my college experience, although not necessarily for the conventional reasons of landing a career. If you’re not sure if paying big bucks for college is the right step for you, check out this new alternative school in Portland called Wayfinding Academy. It’s designed to help you find your own path and prepare for real life without the massive debt and cookie-cutter curriculum.

* Michelle Thoughts, Intentional Living

Reflective Journal Prompts for Intentional Living

I’ve kept a personal journal fairly regularly since grade school. Being a practical person, most of my journal entries have simply been records of what happened.

In high school, I tried a different approach. I bought a big, textbook-sized journal and began processing concepts, trying to grasp new ideas by wrestling them onto a page in my own words. It was something I referred back to often and enjoyed immensely.

Recently, I’ve kept up a personal journal to record significant happenings and check in with my own well-being. I average making an entry once or twice a week, but I try not to worry about the timing. I’ve also used a combination of real notebooks and Evernote on my laptop to take notes on the various things I’m learning from books, workshops, etc.

Then, once a year, Jedd and I take time to do some intentional reflection during our Annual Review. This takes place every December. We look back on the previous year to analyze what went well, what we could do better. From there, we plot out our goals for the year to come.

The Annual Review has become such a useful and impactful practice. I realized I was craving more of that deep reflection throughout the year. 

Even though I continue to journal fairly regularly, I haven’t actually been using the journal for deeper reflection. It’s been more of a quick record-keeping practice. As an introvert who processes thoughts internally, journaling is an under-utilized tool for better self-awareness and personal growth.

So I decided to be more intentional about journaling. I thought I’d share my new plan, in case it’s helpful to anyone else. Continue reading “Reflective Journal Prompts for Intentional Living”

* Michelle Thoughts, Intentional Living

All is calm. All is bright: Advent 2018

“All is calm, all is bright.” It’s a delightful sentiment, though not typically how I’m experiencing the world these days.

That’s why I’m making it my motto for Advent.

Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, tends to hold a lot more anticipation and magic in childhood. These days, I struggle to find ways to make it special.

To me, Christmas has a “true meaning” indeed. It has nothing to do with Santa, giving or receiving presents, and it’s definitely not about shopping.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ. A real live baby boy who changed the world. God walking on Earth. The man who was persecuted, whose body couldn’t be found in his tomb three days later, and who appeared to hundreds of people – people who became martyrs in dedication to his kingship.

It’s world-shattering stuff.

Worthy of pause. Reflection. Introspection. Action.

Every year I struggle with how to do this.

I don’t particularly enjoy tradition and ceremony for its own sake. It’s too easy to go through the motions.

I want to be intentional about Advent. But how?

I heard of the idea of Continue reading “All is calm. All is bright: Advent 2018”

* Michelle Thoughts

Michelle’s 35 Things Update

It’s been an eventful year so far – we both turned 35 and celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with an extra dose of travel. With roughly 2 months left in my 35th year, I wanted to take another look at my “35 things to do in my 35th year” bucket list.

I was able to complete most of the things on my list without a problem. But I found that there were a couple things I resisted. One thing I’ve recently learned about myself, thanks to Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies, is that I am a Questioner. That means I only meet expectations that I have rationalized to myself are important. So I expect that the reason I resisted the 35 thank you letters task is because 1) I’ve never really appreciated the tradition of thank you cards in the first place, and 2) it was a popular birthday activity for others that I felt like I should do even though I wasn’t excited about it, and 3) it was overwhelming to choose 35 people and write 35 letters.

So I may end up replacing that one if I can’t find a way to align it better to my own style and personality. There are a few others I might need to adjust as well. Here is my current progress Continue reading “Michelle’s 35 Things Update”

* Michelle Thoughts, challenges, Intentional Living

Turning 35: Michelle’s Birthday Bucket List

I promised myself that I wouldn’t actually be old until age 75. But turning 35 means I’ve left my “early thirties” behind, which makes me feel that I no longer fit in the “young adult” category. I’m doing my best to accept this shift in identity without dragging my feet.

I confess that one of my biggest fears about aging is that life will somehow go downhill. I realize that the physical obstacles will increase – I’ve had chronic pain and headaches since my mid-twenties, so I don’t have much hope of anything getting better in that regard. But my real concern doesn’t involve bodily functions.

I remember as a Continue reading “Turning 35: Michelle’s Birthday Bucket List”

* Michelle Thoughts, Intentional Living

When You’re Not Saving Money at That Sale

Sale prices. Who doesn’t like to save money and get big shopping discounts? You walk into your favorite store and see a bright sign above some nice T-shirts: “45% off today only!” You may think to yourself: “That sounds like a good deal; I don’t want to miss out.” But I wouldn’t be so sure.

Unfortunately, sometimes those sale prices aren’t actually saving us money.

Intentional Spending

Being aware of how we spend our money is a big part of intentional living. Continue reading “When You’re Not Saving Money at That Sale”

* Life Updates, Other Travels

Life Updates from J + M | Intentional Travelers

As you may or may not have noticed, we’ve been posting a bit less on this blog lately. We’re shifting our focus toward our travel blog (now travel business). We do plan to keep posting “simply intentional” reflections here but most of our travels and adventure updates will come from IntentionalTravelers.com, like our life update below:


 New Transformational Travel Business

As we’ve mentioned briefly over the past month or two, we are in the works of launching a business around transformational travel. We are passionate about seeing our culture grow in understanding and appreciation for the world we live in, and be inspired by its beauty and diversity to become more generous, responsible, passionate global citizens.

The primary aim of our business is Continue reading “Life Updates from J + M | Intentional Travelers”