I turn forty next week. While this isn’t a big deal to me in general, I am seeing that it has given me a sense of urgency, a desire to get more and more real about what is true for me and living that way every single minute that I can.
I am a firm believer that life keeps handing you the lesson that you need to learn until you learn it. Fail to learn it the first time, and life, the universe, the God of your understanding, however you are most comfortable thinking about it, turns the volume up just a bit—meaning makes the next experience with the lesson a little harder to stomach- so that you might learn it the next time. Ignore the lesson again, and it gets even more uncomfortable. Eventually, the situation is so unpalatable, that you HAVE to get it. Learn the lesson earlier and life is a whole lot easier. Given that sense of urgency, I am capturing these hard-earned lessons of my first forty years so that I might live them intentionally (and not have to relearn them) in my forties.
1. Don’t dull your shine for someone else. I knew someone who was in the doldrums a lot. For the longest time, I tried to help this person see the bright side. But this person had on a very tinted pair of sunglasses. There was no bright side. Then, I tried to commiserate with this person and hoped that in commiseration we could move from “yeah, this stinks” to “I am not going to let this bring me down.” But, this person didn’t want to be understood, and this person certainly didn’t want to buck up. This person wanted to be miserable and wanted you to know how miserable things were. Meanwhile, the whole effort was, go figure, making me miserable. So I decided that I was out. No more ignoring my way of thinking in order to be in community with someone else’s way of thinking because- news flash to me- I don’t have any control of anyone else’s thinking. If someone’s miserable, I’ll offer a line of hope and possibility, but if he or she doesn’t want to reach for it, I am not jumping full on in the muck and sullying my own hope and way of being in the world. And on that note of not controlling what anyone else thinks…
2. What someone else thinks of me is none of my business. Trying to make someone else change their thinking about me is inviting misery for both of us. What someone else thinks of me isn’t my problem, and I am forty now, I really don’t have time to go on such a fool’s errand. I’d rather spend time on the stuff that I do have control over.
3. Boundaries are the way we love the people in our lives that sometimes make it hard to love them. For the longest time, I thought you just had to take what people gave you. If they imposed upon you with their words or actions, well, you needed to be a good girl and not make it awkward for anyone and just let them. Except then the people who cross boundaries get to rule the world. And that’s been the problem so far, right? Too many people with too few boundaries have benefitted from a societal politeness. Except you don’t have to be impolite to establish a boundary. You just have to be real. So I have been practicing boundaries lately and I plan to carry on. In fact, I think perhaps we have a whole new Keep Calm adage. Keep Calm and Boundary On.
4. Self-care is essential in order to be able to offer any care to others. There was a time in my life where giving until I gave out was the only way that I knew to be in the world. I thought it was my most generous way of being in the world and the way that I wanted to be in the world, more than anything else, was generous. But here is what I learned. Generosity and self-care have to co-exist. There can be no generosity without self-care, actually. Because you can give out. And when you give out, you have nothing that you can give. In essence, it is the tale of the tortoise and the hare. It is not that slow and steady wins the race, it is that care and fueling win the race. Take care of you and you are sustained enough to take care of others.
5. My soul is my gift to the world. I have more gray hair than I did a year ago. My forehead is rugged topography. I’ve got rosacea and some fierce allergies that make my face read and bumpy most of the time. My curls are unreliable—brilliant and fun rarely, frizzy and limp mostly. And, yet, none of that matters. My body is this incredible vehicle that I have been given to experience this life and so I have an immense responsibility to take care of it because there is so much that I want to do, so many people I want to love, so many hearts I want to help heal. But my body does not make up my worth. My worth comes from my soul, from what I offer the world; my legacy will be in the way that I love and offer care and never, ever in the way I wear my hair (or that unintentional rhyme). I want to be clear everyday about the fact that what I have to offer is how I make people feel and not how I look.
6. Self-acceptance is a decision to not have an adversarial relationship with myself. I have worked hard to be my own best advocate, my best support, and a positive member of my own team. While some days are harder than others, every single day, I will embrace the idea that I have no business making things harder for myself with cruel thoughts, disempowering words, or sabotaging actions. Being self-accepting doesn’t mean that I believe that I am better than anyone else and it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel that I need to do any growing. What it does mean is that I understand that I have worth simply because I exist and, because I exist, I have something to offer and wasting my time in the muck of self-defeat will not let me live with intent.
7. I am here on purpose. The world is full of so many needs and I don’t believe any one of us is here by accident. We are each here on purpose—meant to offer a unique part of the solution to healing that this world needs. When we can reconcile our relationships with ourselves and engage in what we are most meant to offer the world, the world is one step closer to healing. So, I will live on purpose and I will be gentle with myself if and when my passions change and evolve, understanding that life is asking something else of me and I just have to pay attention to know where and how I am needed.
8. Wholeheartedness matters. There is only so much time left, so I need to go pure. Many women (myself included) have two standards when we are asked to do things. Is the time technically open on my calendar? Do I have the ability to do it? Take for example, the school bake sale. You are walking down the hall of the elementary school and someone corners you and says, “Can you make something for the school bake sale?” You check the date, and it is the one Saturday you have nothing going on in January. And while baking isn’t your thing, you figure you can buy a box of lemon squares at the grocery store and mix the ingredients. The night before the bake sale comes and because it is not your passion and because there are so many chores to be done, you leave the lemon squares to bake, go fold laundry, forget about the squares, they burn and then you are back at the grocery store at 10 pm for another box. Sound like you? Here is what I have learned. There is a continuum of wholeheartedness and if you aren’t thrilled to be asked to do something, thrilled to do the work it takes to be ready for it, thrilled to go to it and do it, and thrilled when you get home, don’t do it. Your no is someone else’s yes. There is someone who is thrilled to help with the bake sale and it is his or her energy that is most needed for it. Your responsibility is to go pure- to get as real as possible about what you want to be saying yes to and say yes to those things while having faith that others will find their things, too, and take care of those things for the universe.
9. First, Do No Harm. It’s so easy to hurt people, but I don’t want to put that kind of energy out in the world. As much as possible, I want to do no harm.
10. The journey is the goal. We get impatient about where we are going; we will days away in the hopes that what we are looking forward to will just arrive already. How many times have I done that already? If there was ever a continuing theme, it is this. There is only so much time away and if I push for the events, I will miss the moments. Life is composed of moments. I want to notice every one of them.
How about you? What lessons are you actively practicing right now?