May 15, 2019 at 03:30AM by CWC

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, indulged on ramen, studied matcha with the masters in Uji, went crazy 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.

Being vulnerable with the people we respect most is hard.

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 and processing upon 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.

Candice and a survivor of the Nagasaki bombing. Photo: Courtesy of Candice Kumai
Photo: Courtesy of Candice Kumai

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 Thirties

  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.)
Photo: Courtesy of Candice Kumai
  1. Full-on character is more important than a full-on bank account.
  2. Work with integrity, and have respect for those who work hard.
  3. …they always come back.
  4. Don’t get hung up on future plans. Make an extra effort to be present; enjoy the now.
  5. Choose friends wisely; let go of ones who no longer hold a place.
Candice and friends during this year’s birthday celebration.
  1. 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.
  2. Help others. Be of service when you feel you have nothing to give. You do.
  3. A regular session with a good therapist is invaluable. So is a girls’ night with besties and tequila. Make time for both.
  4. “Don’t quit before the miracle.” My friend Rumi softly said this to me on the plane as we were landing back into Tokyo.
  5. 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.
  6. Laugh as much and as hard as you can. Hang with more friends who keep you weird.
  7. If you want to be trusted, be honest.
Photo: Courtesy of Candice Kumai
  1. 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.
  2. Wabi sabi: all is perfectly imperfect.
  3. Expect people to disagree with you. Welcome new perspectives. Leave room to grow together.
  4. 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.
  5. Have golden standards and don’t waver.
candice kumai and her mom
A young Candice and her mother. Photo: Courtesy of Candice Kumai
  1. You cannot dim the light of those who are destined for greatness.
  2. Learn to train your mind to be present and worry less. If you worry, pray; if you prayed, don’t worry.
  3. When you eat, be mindful. Enjoy your food. Cook more—for yourself and for others. Drink water like it’s a luxury; it is.
  4. Judgment of others is a reflection of yourself
  5. If you hate your job or boss, quit.
candice kumai in japan
Photo: Courtesy of Candice Kumai
  1. Make time to do good. Make time to be bad.
  2. 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.
  3. Love has no timeline if you’re open to it.
  4. Pasta, travel, hot buns, hot men, best friends and laughter are just some of the best things in life.
  5. 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.

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Author Candice Kumai | Well and Good
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