Each year time betrays me, and I get older one more year. This year is no exception. Last year, as the sun set on my roller-coaster twenties, I turned 30 and shared 30 life lessons. It’s been a year, and today (June 29, 2012) I turned 31. Don’t worry, you needn’t buy a gift for me.
I am inherently suspicious of lists because they’re often vapid, overdone, and, honestly, not very well written (e.g., “Six Ways to Get Six-Pack Abs in Six Days!,” “Eleven Bloggers Reveal Eleven Sure-fire Hacks to Create a Successful Life-Hacking Blog,” etc.). Furthermore, I don’t enjoy wedging trivial details about my personal life into essays unless those details serve the greater good. But alas, a handful of people are curious, so here’s my attempt at a list. Perhaps there’s beauty beneath the banality. Perhaps not.
1. I believe the meaning of life is growth and contribution. If whatever I’m doing doesn’t serve one—or both—of these things, then it’s a waste of time. Each year I grow; the more I grow, the more I have to give.
2. Yes, Joshua Fields Millburn is my real name, not a pen name. Fields is a family name. I generally introduce myself as Joshua, but a bunch of people call me Josh. Fine by me. Seriously, I want you to feel comfortable, so call me whatever you want—Joshua, Josh, Millie, JFM—just don’t call me collect.
3. I was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1981.
4. I’m 6’2″, 165-ish lbs. (though I used to weigh 230–240 lbs. at my corpulent zenith).
5. I’ve never lived anywhere but Ohio. (Update: That is, until I moved to Montana in the fall of 2012.)
6. I don’t desire to be a nomad or a peripatetic writer, but I’ve traveled more in the last year than all 30 previous years combined, embarking on several international tours and speaking at all kinds of universities, conferences, and organizations.
7. I grew up in a fairly dysfunctional household (before it was cool to be dysfunctional).
8. The chapter “Falling While Sitting Down” in my novel, As a Decade Fades, is based on my tumultuous childhood and is about 90% autobiographical.
9. I graduated high school half a year early to attend audio engineering school (way back in the 90’s when we still recorded on reel-to-reel tape). I learned to record everything from bluegrass and jazz to death metal and hip-hop.
10. I moved out on my own on my eighteenth birthday and got a sales job once I discovered I couldn’t make much money as a recording studio engineer.
11. Although I grew up Catholic, I’m not particularly religious. If anything, I’d say I’m open to religion. One of my closest friends—Adam, the guy who takes most of the photos for this site—is a Harvard-educated pastor. Other friends are atheists. For me, religion is abstract and abstruse. All I know is that I don’t know it all.
12. I don’t have a college degree.
13. When I was 22, I started taking a few college classes at night in hopes of one day—sometime in the distant future—becoming an English teacher. But then the corporate ladder got in the way.
14. Now it is the distant future, and with my online writing class, I’m the only teacher I know without a college degree.
15. I wasted my twenties climbing the corporate ladder, working 70–80 hours a week, 362 days per year, attaining “impressive” titles like “Store Manager” and “Regional Manager” and “Director of Operations,” none of which made me feel fulfilled.
16. Instead of fully pursuing my dream at 22, I bought a too-big house and a luxury car and started racking up debt.
17. It took getting “everything I ever wanted” to realize I didn’t want everything I ever wanted.
18. I eventually led a large group of people—as many as 100 employees in sixteen locations—where I learned that I enjoy helping people grow.
19. Over the years, I’ve interviewed well over 1,000 people, hired over 200, and fired/laid-off nearly 100—the latter of which never gets easier with time. I’m glad I don’t have to do that anymore.
20. I was married to a wonderful woman for more than six years, though we grew in different directions and eventually parted ways shortly after my mother died in 2009. We’re still close: relationships can change over time.
21. I didn’t start reading books until I was 21. Once I discovered literary fiction, I was hooked. I didn’t know how, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
22. I didn’t start writing until I was 22.
23. I wasn’t serious about writing until I was 28. Sure, I had a few failed attempts at writing a novel, but I didn’t seriously pursue writing until a few years ago.
24. I have an inch-thick stack of discouraging rejection letters from agents and publishers from my twenties.
25. Since receiving those letters, I’ve published four bestselling books. Hell, I might collect all those letters one day and publish them as a book. I could call it Dear Author: Rejection Letters to a Bestselling Writer.
26. I left my corporate job a few months before I turned 30 so I could pursue my dream. When I left the corporate world, I didn’t expect our audience to grow as much as it did. But I’m incredibly thankful it did, and I’m thankful you read our words. Your support means the world to me. Thank you for giving me a purpose.
27. When I started this site eighteen months ago, I didn’t know what a blog was. (Seriously!) But I needed an outlet to share my writing and my experiences with other people. So I asked Ryan if he’d be willing to share his experiences—and my experiences—with the world. He said yes, we created The Minimalists, and then started publishing essays—which we soon realized were called blog posts. We stuck with calling them essays, though, because we believed it better categorized what we were writing. The word essay derives from the French infinitive essayer, “to try” or “to attempt,” and we were writing about the changes we were attempting to make in our lives.
28. I’ve known Ryan over 20 years—since we were fat little fifth graders.
29. I currently own one pair of blue jeans, and I wear them (almost) every day.
30. I learned how utterly uninteresting I am while writing this list.
31. I don’t dance: I just pull up my pants and lean back.
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