18+ Lessons From 18 Years On Earth

What I’ve learned from eighteen trips around the Sun. 🛸

Toddler — Teenager

I’ve traveled around the Sun eighteen times on a floating blue rock — Earth.

When I turned eighteen last week, I started to reflect on the biggest learnings I’ve collected during my time on this planet.

I tried to choose my top 18, but there were so many knowledge nuggets I wanted to document + share that I ended up with 23.

Here are 18+ lessons I’ve learned from my 18 trips around the Sun:

Our life is in our control once we decide to take ownership of it.

We have the power to control what we think about, where we focus our energy, what/who we surround ourselves with…

We can control many internal factors and influence external ones.

I’ve learned the importance of focusing on what is in my control. Anything I don’t have control over, I can choose how I react to it.

If a situation isn’t going well (e.g., a group project), I can take ownership of it and figure out what I can do to change the trajectory of it.

I’ve started to treat my life like my biggest project. I lead the project because it’s my life. Where I choose to focus my energy is what will determine the direction of my life and I have control of that.

Something I tell myself often is “think like an astronaut.”

I aspire to go to space one day and I remember when Chris Hadfield told me to start thinking like an astronaut now.

Astronauts have to focus on what they control and then figure out what’s the next best thing they can do to influence a situation.

Now when I feel like I’m overwhelmed, I take a step back and remind myself to think like an astronaut.

Someone once told me that life is made up of moments. The past and the present don’t really exist. We only have now, so make the most of it.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like time is going by so fast. I was so worried about turning eighteen because it made me think about how I was growing up. My parents and friends at Watson Institute reminded me that I can take ownership of not letting my age define me. I can choose to have the same heart five-year-old me did as an “adult.”

And guess what? When I turned eighteen last week nothing changed except for the number I use to describe how long I’ve been on Earth. I felt the same.

Life will keep moving forward. It’s easy to live in the past or dream about the future, but when we do that we forget to live in the only moment that’s real.

From spending time in nature to meditating, I’ve picked up different ways over the past couple of years to help me connect to the present and remember to make the most of my moments.

Two I like are:

  1. Having a countdown of how many days I could have left. It’s based on the average life expectancy of someone in my country — how many days I’ve lived so far. I lower the number every day and remind myself that it’s an estimate. I don’t actually know how long life is. Then I ask myself how I can make the most of my day. I have approx. 23341 days left.
  2. I often ask people: “What would you do with your time if you had $10 billion?” The amount of money doesn’t really matter. The point of the question is to get you thinking about what you would do if you could do anything — money not being a constraint. What you realize are the things you want to spend your time doing, you can start doing now or take steps to create that future now.

Off of living in the present, another major lesson I’m learning is to not be in a rush and not take everything so seriously. Both take away from being present and enjoying life.

Yes, everything.

In order to solve one problem, there are many interconnected problems that need to be addressed. For example, if we want to address access to education, it’s not enough to just build a school. Access to clean drinking water, access to economic opportunities for a child’s family, transport to school, and several other areas need to be addressed.

Similarly, there are multiple ways to create change. You can create change behaviorally (e.g., reducing your environmental footprint), politically, through spreading awareness, by working on a solution to solve a problem…

We need multidisciplinary action to create change — change in different areas and through various tools (technology, art, etc.).

Considering the interconnectedness of problems and creating change helps us better understand the problem + how to impact it.

I’ve realized that I wouldn’t be who I am today without the events that led me here. There have been several instances where if I didn’t attend x then I wouldn’t have found out about y. Knowing this has helped me be more appreciative of the little things and caused me to seek more opportunities/experiences.

It’s easy to think about doing something and also tell other people that you will. What’s more important is actually doing it.

Doing > Thinking About Doing or Talking About Doing

I’m a firm believer that if you can dream it, you can do it. To make it happen there needs to be action. Starting x and then committing to it.

Do it. Then talk about it. Remember that you don’t have to share everything in your life.

A question I like to ask myself is:

Do you care more about how your life looks or how it feels?

If it’s not the latter then it’s time to make a change.

I wrote an article about this. In 2019, my mentor Navid Nathoo helped me learn the importance of dealing with emotions when I feel them.

I used to push away negative emotions because I thought feeling them was hindering my productivity.

What I learned is that by pushing away negative emotions, I’m creating shackles for myself. They’re still there and they’re holding me back from reaching my full potential.

No matter how hard you swim, if you have shackles you’ll always be held down + can drown.

⭐Action: when having negative emotions, let yourself feel them and heal. When you’re having positive emotions, let yourself feel those too!

There’s so much upside to this.

I feel the best when I’m not trying to hide who I am and the right people come when I’m being authentically myself.

What matters most is doing what makes the most sense in our lives. There’s so much advice we get and external influences. Some of it can be helpful and some of it isn’t. When given advice or information, I’ve learned how important it is to take the time and question it. Then take what fits.

When feeling lost or overwhelmed with information, I take time on my own. Often during those times I’m clouded with external inputs and need to figure out what is right for me.

It’s hard to be unapologetically yourself because it’s easy to worry about what other people think. I remind myself that most of the time people don’t care that much about you. They probably forgot about the time I tripped in class and if they do, it doesn’t matter in the big picture.

Not everyone is going to like you but not everyone’s opinions matter.

So being unapologetically myself it is.

I first learned this from a book called The Secret. It was about the law of attraction which essentially states that we create our reality.

I can attract certain types of people in my life, the opportunity to do what I’m passionate about, etc. It doesn’t sound real at first, but when you break it down it makes a lot of sense.

It comes back to taking ownership. If I want x, I have the power to create a future with x for myself. I’m in control of taking action towards making what I want to happen and believing that I can is the first step.

What we put out comes back to us. So, if we’re always putting out negative energy that’s what will keep coming back. It’s like the feedback loop from hell in the book The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F**k by Mark Manson. If you feel sad, that makes you sad, then you feel sad that it’s making you sad and the cycle continues. ♻

If you realize the power you have and start to put out positive energy (gratitude, kindness…) that will come back to you.

It’s not magic. If you want something to happen you have to put in the work. Something you really want is worth the effort.

A mantra I follow that helps me remember what I value and want to put out is

“Have courage and be kind.” — Cinderella

Remember: you are in control. What you give power to has power over you.

Be intentional about what you put out into the universe.

This lesson took me awhile to internalize, but it’s been one of the most important ones so far.

Where we focus our energy is more important than what we spend our time doing.

I could be spending 5 hours every day learning about the future of food, but if it doesn’t align with what my goals are then it would likely be better to focus my energy on an area that does align with my goals.

Where we focus our energy is how we spend our life. This can be what we think about or specific activities.

A framework I use when figuring out where to focus my energy:

A) Does doing or thinking about this help me move towards my goals?

B) Does doing or thinking about this make me fulfilled?

If the answer is yes to one or both then it’s something I can do. If the answer is no to both, then I should not be doing it.

Optimally, it’s yes to both.

When something doesn’t work out, it’s often for the best. I’ve learned that feeling rejection is better than regret. Rejection is redirection towards something else that may not have happened unless the rejection occurred.

The same goes for people. Not everyone you lose is a loss.

It’s easy to get fixated on what we think we lost that we don’t see what we have right in front of us.

What we want isn’t always what we need; so when things don’t turn out as planned, get excited about what’s to come and take actionable steps to create the reality you want.

There are so many times during conversations where I’m thinking about what I’m going to say when I should be paying attention to what’s being said.

I learned that listening is more important than talking and that it’s something I needed to train more.

Recently (yesterday haha), I was attending a Master Course with Justin Gold and he said,

Being interested > Trying to be interesting.

I think it’s a great model and I’m taking it with me.

I think we’ve all heard this many times. I know I have. It’s easy to hear a piece of advice, especially something “cliche” and say to yourself yes that makes sense. It’s another thing to act on it and be honest with ourselves about if we’re actually doing x even if we know it's important or tell other people they should do it.

Why? Because it’s hard to be honest with ourselves and decide to act. In the case of relationships, it’s not fun to realize that a relationship is toxic, and after accepting that it’s even scarier to end the relationship. Doing the hard thing will help improve our lives and help us grow. It’s true that we become similar to the people we are the closest to — so if I want to be kind and courageous then I should surround myself with more kind and courageous people.

It’s the quality of our relationships > the quantity.

Who we surround ourselves with doesn’t always have to be direct. If I want to solve climate change, then surrounding myself with problem-solvers, climate experts, etc. will help me in becoming the type of person who can. I can surround myself with these people via reading their books, listening to their podcasts, and more. More directly, I can reach out to connect with like-minded people and strengthen my climate network.

Seeking perspective is so powerful and we need an open mind to do so.

Having an open mind helps us see the opportunities in failure + discomfort.

It helps make work more enjoyable. For example, reframing “I have to do” to “I get to do”.

It allows us to gain more perspective so we can understand the full story.

An open mind helps us practice gratitude which I’ve learned is really important.

One tool I love that helps me view the world with a different lens is the overview effect.

I first learned about the overview effect from Manan Arya in a brainpod discussion on space.

What’s the overview effect?

It’s a phenomenon that astronauts experience when looking down at Earth from space. They realize that we’re so small on the grand scale and that we have a responsibility to be stewards for the Earth.

While that may be scary to hear at first, I think it’s a great model for realizing what’s important in life.

The overview effect helps me realize that my problems aren’t as big as they may seem.

It may not be the same overview effect experience as being in space. However, I think there are ways to replicate the feeling by looking at pictures or images of Earth from space. Additionally, I find that watching documentaries on different problems helps me feel a sense of urgency to be a global citizen.

A big theme of this lesson in my life thus far has been my age. For many years, I kept telling myself that I was “too young to make an impact.” I was frustrated by problems I saw in the world around me but didn’t know what to do + think that I could do anything.

I learned that you don’t need to be x to make an impact. This turned into not needing someone or something to make you whole.

You don’t need that person to tell you that you’re capable or beautiful for it to be true. You don’t need everything to be figured out to start enjoying life.

Humans are often stuck seeking for more that we don’t appreciate what we have. We also don’t realize what matters like our relationship with ourselves or focusing on the present.

If you don’t ask, the answer will be no.

If you do ask, the answer can be yes or no.

I’ve had several times where I asked if something was possible (for example, if I could speak at x conference) and the answer was yes. That experience wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t ask.

Ask yourself: what’s the downside in asking?

Most of the time there’s only upside.

I used to think I needed to be perfect. It was a hindrance to my growth.

Perfect doesn’t really exist. We can define what it means to us but I think what’s more important is to strive to do the best we can.

When I was writing my first article, I kept putting off posting it because I thought it wasn’t “perfect”. How would I ever release a perfect first article when perfect is subjective and I’ve never written one before?

A framework that’s helped me combat this is:

Done > Perfect

The first anything is not going to be great, but in doing it you can learn. The more I’ve written, the more I’ve learned how to become a better writer.

I wouldn’t have ever released an article if I waited for it to be perfect.

Another area of perfection I used to care about was having everything figured out as soon as possible. I learned that no one has everything figured out. Life is a journey of figuring out and I’ve come to love the process of figuring out.

A model I love to remind myself of now is:

Progression > Perfection

I’ll be learning my whole life and what matters is not that I achieve “perfect” but that I’m progressing.

When I catch myself judging something in someone, I take it as a trigger that there’s something I’m judging in myself. I then work to identify what insecurity the person I’m judging brought up in me.

This is a helpful framework in realizing the insecurities you have. It can be helpful in the opposite way too. If someone is judging you, realize they may see something in you that they judge in themselves. Try not to take it personally.

Growth is outside of your comfort zone. Every time I’ve grown or learned something important it’s been the result of doing something uncomfortable.

When I notice I don’t want to do something, I take it as a trigger that I should do it. The reason I don’t want to something is that it’s uncomfortable and doing what’s uncomfortable will help me grow. This goes for public speaking to chemistry class (I’ve found that oftentimes when I don’t want to work on a topic, it’s because I believe I lack competency in it which makes it scary).

Discomfort → growth.

⭐Action: seek opportunities for discomfort (as long as there’s no major risk to yourself and others).

The world is made up of stories. Humans communicate with stories.

If you can tell a good story, it’s a superpower!

I’ve learned that the ability to explain complex topics in simple ways and new topics to people so that they’re able to understand it effectively shows that you have a good understanding of the topic.

Storytelling is a powerful tool to create change through spreading awareness and empowering others to act (e.g., a film).

Disney has been a huge force in my life in shaping who I am today. I loved watching Disney movies growing up and still do today. I was inspired by messages like:

If you can dream it, you can do it.” — Walt Disney (I mentioned this in section three too 😉)

It made me believe that anything is possible if you put in the work.

I think Disney is incredible at storytelling through animation and through creating immersive stories at their parks. I aspire to become a master storyteller like the humans behind the magic of Disney.

I aspire to be an astronaut. Just because I’m not an astronaut trainee yet doesn’t mean I can’t start training like I am one. I can start thinking like an astronaut, training the skills they have, seeking related opportunities, and surrounding myself with the right people.

To get to where they are, professional athletes had to start training early and consistently. Singers you hear on the radio did the same in their discipline.

If there’s a future you want to create for yourself, start focusing your energy on making it a reality. Start training.

There are different areas to train simultaneously and it looks different depending on what you want to do.

A formula I like for the areas to train is:

Mindset + Health + Knowledge + Skills + Network

Recently, I learned that training areas similar to yours help improve your ability at what you do. I love creative + problem-solving work. I decided I’d try strengthening my creativity muscle by challenging myself to do design sprints in different areas. It’s helped me improve my work.

Pro athletes do the same thing. A soccer player will kickbox or play hockey to strengthen the abilities they need to play their sport well.

Start and commit to training for the future you want to create.

Curiosity allows you to seek understanding in a wide range of areas and reach more depth in the areas you focus on.

This leads to collecting more data points via experiences and knowledge. We can only conceive of what we know and the more lego pieces we have the more variations of what we can create.

Before joining The Knowledge Society I thought technology was programming and robotics. I joined because I was curious to learn how I could become a better changemaker.

After joining, I learned that the world of technology was so much larger than that. There are biotechnologies like genetic engineering and nanotechnology that I didn’t know existed until I had exposure to them. Now that I know they exist, I can utilize them as tools to solve problems and combine them with my unique pool of data points.

I remember attending a conference and a mentor asking me:

“What takeaways did you have from this conference?”

I responded with a few takeaways. Then he said:

“What will you do with those takeaways?”

I had no idea. I sought takeaways and was attending the conference just for the sake of it. He told me how your experiences and takeaways from them don’t matter unless you do something with them.

It made a lot of sense and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Now I often ask myself why I’m doing what I do and how I can make lessons actionable.

Many of my most fulfilled moments have been in nature.

Sitting in the forest soaking in the surroundings not thinking about anything specific. Just focusing on the sounds of the trees and the birds and how it feels. 🌳

Running down the driveway to catch the sunset I see from my window and then sitting by the water to admire the cotton candy sky.

Nature is incredibly healing. It always grounds me and reminds me of what’s important.

⭐Action: spend time in nature every day.

Did any of these lessons resonate with you? What lessons have you learned from your life so far? Any advice you would give to your eighteen y/o self?

I’d love to hear — tweet me @astro_adara or 💌astronautadara@gmail.com

Here’s to more trips around the Sun. 🛸

✌🏼Dara

Twitter · Website · Personal Blog · Newsletter

18 y/o researching closed-loop systems for earth + space.

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