32 Life Lessons From Chef and Wellness Expert Candice Kumai

Photo: Julie Sun Bawden
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After a visit to her ancestral homeland, chef and wellness expert Candice Kumai returned a changed woman. Now, to celebrate her birthday, the Well+Good Council member shares some of the life lessons that have helped her most.

Returning from Japan, as the wheels of the plane touched down in my home state of California, things felt different. Life felt different. I felt better. My friends said I sounded different and looked better than ever.

I had spent more than a month in Japan to write, develop, fund, shoot, and host an on-camera documentary for a Japanese network. It was a heavy responsibility and a tall, labor-filled order.

With my small crew, I stayed in the mountains with monks, meditated in the temples, chased my grandfather’s art with Mom in Kyushu. I wrote among the new cherry blossoms, slurped down ramen, studied matcha with the masters in Uji, went wild on Japanese beauty in Tokyo and, finally, conducted interviews with six atomic bomb survivors in Nagasaki. Each one was 80-something years young. Talk about perspective.

Candice and a survivor of the Nagasaki bombing. Photo: Courtesy of Candice Kumai
Here I am interviewing the oldest Nagasaki bombing survivors, who are still here to share their knowledge. Photo: Courtesy of Candice Kumai

Needless to say, it was impossible to have dry eyes on this trip. I cried with each survivor in Nagasaki. I felt more present in letting go. I’m still reflecting on and processing what I found… and how it’s made me look at life through a completely different lens.

I would not say I live an ordinary life. (Neither would my mother.) But I do believe that the metamorphosis I have experienced from my twenties into thirties is entirely relevant. The shifts in your mindset, your metabolism, your relationships (work, play, love), your goals—this is the journey to celebrate.

And so, with another birthday here, I'll soon relaunch my popular podcast, wabi sabi, after a much-needed and reflective break.

I want to learn more, grow more, and be a better writer/director. Being vulnerable with the people we respect most is hard. It’s hard for me to expose my vulnerabilities with you. But I also know that our insecurities—and confidence!—are at the root of our community. Keep going—for you and for all of us.

32 Things I Wish I (Really!) Knew Before My 30s

1. Being your true self is the most attractive quality.

2. Sincerity is respect.

3. Let go of timelines, people, and things that no longer serve you. Stop following “rules.” Pioneer something new; you do not have to stick to anyone’s completely outdated (and boring) time frame.

4. Social media is not real life.

5. Don’t forget that nerdy inner child. Take care of her. Know that she (or he!) is loved, no matter what. (That was me, too.)

Jenni and I (Jenni is my big sis and I never forgot how to keep it nerdy and dorky) have more fun!

6. Full-on character is more important than a full-on bank account.

7. Work with integrity, and have respect for those who work hard.

8. …they always come back.

9. Don’t get hung up on future plans. Make an extra effort to be present; enjoy the now.

10. Choose friends wisely; let go of ones who no longer hold a place.

Me with friends during this year's birthday celebration.

11. Unplug to recharge. My father's infamous question is “What happens when the battery dies?” Cultivate a life and self-worth you appreciate and that exists beyond battery life and wifi.

12. Help others. Be of service when you feel you have nothing to give. You do.

13. A regular session with a good therapist is invaluable. So is a girls' night with besties and tequila. Make time for both.

14. “Don’t quit before the miracle.” My friend Rumi softly said this to me on the plane as we were landing back into Tokyo.

15. Gaman: it means "with great resilience" in Japanese. The atomic bomb survivors of Nagasaki show us what true, honorable resilience and real wellness is—not some rando on an app.

16. Laugh as much and as hard as you can. Hang with more friends who keep you weird.

17. If you want to be trusted, be honest.

When I was 5, I began my travels to Japan. I had no idea how big of an impact this would have on my life. Photo: Courtesy of Candice Kumai

18. Every girl can achieve her goals and dreams, now more than ever. Opportunity is golden. Keep going and believe in what you are doing, or nobody else will.

19. Wabi sabi: all is perfectly imperfect.

20. Expect people to disagree with you. Welcome new perspectives. Leave room to grow together.

21. Don’t let not knowing what to do next paralyze you. Follow your excitement, follow that feeling, and let go of expectations. Some opportunities will only come once in a lifetime.

22. Have golden standards and don’t waver.

candice kumai and her mom
My mother is the biggest inspiration to my work; a Japanese language and culture teacher in Encinitas, California, she showed me what culture and class were. Photo: Courtesy of Candice Kumai

23. You cannot dim the light of those who are destined for greatness.

24. Learn to train your mind to be present and worry less. If you worry, pray; if you prayed, don’t worry.

25. When you eat, be mindful. Enjoy your food. Cook more—for yourself and for others. Drink water like it’s a luxury; it is.

26. Judgment of others is a reflection of yourself

27. If you hate your job or boss, quit.

candice kumai in japan
Interviewing and spending time praying with the monks in the Shikoku Mountains of Southern Japan. Photo: Courtesy of Candice Kumai

28. Make time to do good. Make time to be bad.

29. Everyone feels anger, sadness, depression, anxiety. Everyone. These are called feelings and we all have them. Be kind to everyone and check in on your friends. You never know what battle someone is fighting.

30. Love has no timeline if you’re open to it.

31. Pasta, travel, hot buns, hot men, best friends, and laughter are just some of the best things in life.

32. Let go, let go, let go. Attachment can lead to suffering, but inner peace will lead you to the present. It is a gift; open it.

Candice Kumai, an internationally renowned wellness writer and chef, is a five-time, best-selling author. A Top Chef alumna and Food Network guest, she's appeared as a judge on Iron Chef America and Beat Bobby FlayCandice is a former model, a lover of vegan cake baking, a matcha fan, and a total sneakerhead. In her downtime, she enjoys avocados, her cat Sis, and barre. Her new book, Kintsugi Wellness, is out now.

What should Candice write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to experts@www.wellandgood.com.

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