26 things I learned by 26

Ideas Jan 22, 2021

Word on the street is that my brain is now fully formed.

1. Our body keeps the score.

Don't heal something, and be sure it'll come up in ways that (a) seem totally unrelated (b) will fuck you up. It's quite incredible to read the science behind it because it takes away from the feeling of "there's something wrong with me", and sheds light on the organic, chemical functioning of the brain and body when experiencing trauma. I would highly recommend The Body Keeps the Score by Bessen van der Kolk if you're curious to learn more.

2. There's no shame nor weakness in bearing trauma.

It is so odd how I carried shame after the attacks in Nice. I'd feel weak and exposed and like I should stick it out. It took me years to acknowledge and process this experience, but the more I learned and talked about trauma, the more I saw it was healing rather than shameful to share.

3. Creative endeavors are not coping skills.

My creative outlets may help in feeling better, but turning to them each time I was feeling down created this odd dynamic where (a) I wouldn't feel better and (b) I would blame myself for not feeling better through these activities. This pandemic year taught me that painting, writing, and anything else that makes me feel great are not replacement for processing uncomfortable emotions.

4. Pandemics suck.

I mean. The alienation from others, the fear to get close to those you love, the feeling of being stuck, the death toll, the constant suspicion of being sick, the crippling anxiety of infecting others, the ugliness it uncovered across the globe, the lack of clarity and certainty on the future. I think we can all agree that while many of us got silver linings, I would choose a pandemic-free year any time.

5. The pandemic did force me to be quiet and look for silver linings.

In spite of point #4, I don't think I would have progressed so much on my relationship with myself, had we not gone through this forced pause. I was privileged enough to have a pandemic experience where I could stay safe, have my own space, and even travel, which helped me have several Aha- and healing moments.

It taught me to let myself be angry, mad, sad, in spite of knowing some people had it worst. And it made me feel that much more grateful for everything that I was able to experience but wasn't supposed to.

6. The world is unfair and unjust by design

A lot of the systems we've put in place as a society perpetuate racism and inequality. For someone who gets so triggered by anything unfair, learning how deep systemic racism runs in the U.S, and coming to terms with being here, has been challenging.

It also gave me the vocabulary to understand other forms of oppression, and I've been working on putting aside my own crippling despair at this disillusion, and to continue educating myself and maintain hope for positive upcoming change.

7. Acknowledging one's privilege is essential and doesn't take away from our own endeavors

Without doing so, we perpetuate the idea that everyone in life gets what they deserve, that anyone could get anything if only they would put in the effort, which is fundamentally untrue, because of all the privileges we either benefit from or lack.

Acknowledging our privileges doesn't mean we didn't work hard to get to what we have, or that everything came easy. It simply but powerfully affirms that there are elements we got just based on the family, body and background we were born in that helped propel us. Franchesca Ramsey breaks it down for us in a simple and digestible way, and I would highly recommend following her on social media.

8. Working remotely is pretty awesome, especially on a different time zone.

I thrived on my 3 months in Europe, where I was able to work from 3pm to 11pm to match my New York schedule while spending the first part of the day traveling, creating, diving.

The amount of energy I got from having two days in one, and feeding my soul so much before work, was like nothing I'd experienced before. It made me both happier and more productive than ever.

9. I am, by nature, a multipotentialite, and trying to deny that only leads me to being frustrated. Honoring it makes me thrive.

I grew up butterflying from hobby to hobby, and that never stopped. The more I came into adulthood, the more I'd get signals that I should focus on one thing and get great at it, which I would try to force myself into. Every time, that led me to less happiness and less productivity as well.

I now fully embrace having many interests I love to dive deep in, then come back and jump to another thing. At the moment, I'm focused on writing, photography, underwater photography, and the more I've leaned into all these creative threads simultaneously, the more progress I see.

10. I am loved from all four corners of the world

The loveliest realization I've had this year is how blessed I am to have true friendships spread out across the globe.

Not that I doubted being loved, but witnessing it consciously is nothing but delightful and makes my heart sing.

11. Investing in being excellent friends, partners, is some of the best way to use one's time.

#10 didn't come easy, because it takes intentional time and effort to keep in touch with those you love and who are not here. So, I do my best to reach out regularly, tell my friends I love them and miss them.

And it takes hard work to be a good counterpart in any relationship - I've realized how communicating clearly was as crucial in a romantic relationship, as it is with close friends.

But it's oh-so worth it.

12. Saying I love you, I'm grateful for you, costs nothing and is priceless.

Everyone is likely grateful for their friendships, but do we ever say it? I've started to do so, not expecting anything in return, and I'm convinced it has strengthened a lot of my friendships.

I also unconsciously started the practice of vocalizing any compliment I think about out-loud. If I like someone's nails, shoes, someone's presentation, whatever - I say it, and I didn't even know how much it meant to people until recently - but it actually means the world to them.

13. The world is abundant, only if you decide to see it that way. If you do, the more you give, the more you get.

I adore thinking about how reality is subjective to our own eyes. And for the things in life that are not determined as true or false by science, who could come and say our own view of the world is wrong?

So I've decided to choose abundance over scarcity. When I find myself feeling jealous or competitive, it's usually coming from a place scarcity, and I remind myself that there's plenty of resources, love and opportunities for all of us.

I've found that the more I bought into this vision of the world, the more I thrive and receive.

14. Kindness always wins.

In most situations, we always have a choice as to how we decide to engage with others. Will we be kind or mean? Are we looking to step over people or get to a net-positive resolution?

I firmly believe that kindness is a superpower we would all gain from growing. It is free to spread joy, and it's very hard for someone to be aggressive or negative towards you when you're kind.

And being kind doesn't mean letting others take advantage of you. We can say "No" and uphold our boundaries with firm kindness.

15. It's ok to disagree with your parents and your friends.

The more I grow up, the more I find myself disagreeing with people around me. I felt a huge amount of resistance to that - either trying to convince them of my own view, or questioning the entire relationship simply because of that divergence.

But that's unrealistic and unfair. While I'm comfortable with letting go of relationships that no longer serve me, I've been learning to be compassionate and accept that not everyone will care as much as I do about some things, nor agree with me on every single topic.

16. No one friend will fulfill every need you have, and it's ok.

Talking about unrealistic expectations, I used to complain that so-and-so was great for going out but wouldn't listen to me as I wished. Same for the great listener who wouldn't want to go out.

I've since learned that we can't expect it all from one person. It's on us to understand what we get from each of our relationships, and make sure we seek other people to fulfill our needs rather than dwell on not having all of our needs met by one single person.

17. Reacting with passion may alienate the person you're talking to, and I'm learning how to articulate my point of view without getting carried away.

When I feel, I feel deeply. So when I deeply believe in something, I can get carried away - which can be great to be contagiously joyful, but may also make debating and persuading others difficult.

So, it's been an interesting challenge to catch myself in that moment, and practice articulating the point I want to make with calm and structure.

There's likely a level of internalized sexism in this point, as I wonder whether men encounter the same issue.

18. We're fully in charge of defining our identity, and play with that definition as much as we'd like.

A former mentor had told me once that I was fluid being. That term always stayed with me. He's the one who taught me that we are all a sum of limiting beliefs, and that we have the power to shed those that no longer serve us.

19. Spending time discovering who you are is the best way to spend your time, it's not a given and it will give you feelings of freedom like nothing else.

We talk a lot about how to have better relationships with others, but we never focus on building a true, deep relationship with oneself. We assume we know ourselves and end up floating around in the world, with sometimes a too-late realization we wish we'd done things differently, had we spent the time to define what it is that we actually wanted.

Over the past few years, I've spent an enormous amount of time writing, journaling, reading about psychology, talking to mentors and therapists, to understand all the pieces of my puzzle. And the more progress I've made in creating a deep relationship with myself, the more freedom and confidence I feel that no matter what, I'll be ok, and I'll make the right choices in my life.  


Ah, one of my favorite topics of the year. I lived without proper boundaries for years and that sucked. Learning to define and uphold what I am okay with, and what's in my best interest has changed everything in feeling free and authentic.

21. History as we're taught in school offers a completely skewed view of the world toward celebrating the "achievements" of white men.

History is written by the winners... well, the oppressors. I look back at what I learned at school, and how slavery and colonization were brushed over as punctual events of the past. Done and dusted.

The reality is very different, and yet most white people are taught to be proud of all the oppressive episodes of their ancestors, hidden behind the supposedly altruistic desire to "bring civilization to indigenous populations" - hence feel completely threatened in their identity when racism, oppression and marginalization are called out.

22. Western beauty standards have fed me bullshit ideas and I'm slowly learning to stop defining my worth based on whether I'm thin enough.

This one is huge (and maybe one of the most vulnerable points I share). I grew up bathing in the fascination of blue eyes, straight hair and thin legs. For years, this has made me feel like less than anyone I'd meet who met those standards, no matter how much I thrived in my own life.

This is an excellent example of internalized misogyny and limiting belief I've been working on dismantling.

23. I am not from one place, and thus I need several places to call home.

Born in France, I grew up in Morocco, went back to France, moved to Australia, then to the U.S. So the definition of home has always been a bit of a head-scratcher.

Discussing this with others who have had similar experiences, and the 3 months I spent away this summer helped me draw the conclusion that I didn't have to decide on a single definition of home, and I'd love to design a life where I actively live between places.

24. I love getting old, because with every year comes more.

Aging is this funny thing that happens to all of us, and that many of us dread. I understand why, but I've always experienced getting older as a pretty awesome thing.* Having had terrible back issues at 20, I don't buy into the idea that younger automatically means healthier.

And every year since I left high-school has come with more freedom and more possibilities. What I did this year, I could never have imagined daring to do when I was 19. The compounding confidence I get from each year of experience is delightful and I'm simply excited for more.

*which is a huge privilege, as someone who is financially free, has access to healthcare, food, and lots of other things that make the experience of aging so comfortable and exciting.

25. I am not better nor less than anyone else

Who do you think You are? I recently asked myself, after sending a letter expressing my profound disagreement of government decisions to the French President.

But I realized that this question was coming from my ego, trying to put me down. As normal people, we look at "those who have made it" as though they have inherent legitimacy and we don't.

That's not true. So I'm learning to not censor myself and do whatever the heck I want, take as much space as my heart desires and not worry about the little voice questioning my legitimacy to do so.

26. All of this is hard, draining, productive emotional work

Emotional productivity is largely underrated, but it's the only kind of productivity that matters this year. All of the above requires time and hard work - not only because there's a lot to unpack, but because it takes a huge toll to process our uncomfortable emotions, question our beliefs, look at our fears.

So I've learned to not diminish this work, acknowledge the energy involved in it and take time to rest from it too.


Laila Zouaki

Adopted by New York, I made a few life stops in California, Australia, France and Morocco. I'm curious about product, scuba diving, yoga, psychology, art, writing, and food.