It’s impossible to reach a milestone birthday and not reflect on my life.
So, in honor of my big fortieth birthday, I’ve decided to write this piece so that I can always look back and remember how I felt at this point in my life.
40 things I’ve learned in 40 years:
1. Life isn’t fair.
2. It’s okay that life isn’t fair—it isn’t meant to be. What would we ever learn if we always got everything we wanted?
3. I will not be good at everything and I won’t always win.
4. Winning isn’t the most important thing; it’s how hard we worked that matters. The winning doesn’t come from the trophy, the award or the public acknowledgment. The winning is knowing that I worked hard and gave it my all. I don’t need to win the prize, I just need to win at being myself.
5. Life hurts sometimes.
6. Life is full of joy and happiness sometimes.
7. Embrace the pain and the joy in life. They both matter—equally. Without both, there is no balance. Without the pain, heartbreak and even soul-crushing losses we would never have the amazing opportunity to truly get to know ourselves and what we are capable of. When I take time for reflection, I find that I grew as a human being the most always during my times of suffering. Always. That’s not to say that growth doesn’t happen during joyful times, but joy doesn’t show us the strength of the human spirit. It doesn’t show us who we are and what we are capable of. What we choose and how we react—that is who we are.
8. Be grateful. No matter how much I have or don’t have, I am grateful. There will always be someone better off than I am and there will always be someone worse off than me. Making comparisons of where I am versus where I want to be isn’t conducive to happiness. Let’s just be where we are.
9. More importantly—try not to compare ourselves or our lives to someone else’s. That is their journey. This one is ours. Pay attention, or we’ll miss the good stuff.
10. It’s all good stuff.
11. There are some awful people in this world, but that’s okay! We can’t let them make us awful. Just let them remind us what we don’t want to be. Remember how they make/made us feel and then make sure we don’t make someone else feel that way.
12. Forgive. Not to make that person feel better, but to keep the clutter out of our own souls. It doesn’t mean that we condone what was done to us—it just means that we aren’t carrying that heavy rock in our backpack anymore. The weight/stress of daily life can feel pretty heavy sometimes, so don’t bother carrying some old thing we stumbled over in the past. Take the time once in a while to observe the contents of our “bags” and get rid of what doesn’t belong there anymore. Make room for new stuff.
13. It’s 100 percent okay to walk away from someone or something—even after forgiveness. Walk away, but always forgive. We haven’t really walked away if we haven’t forgiven.
14. Don’t be selfish. If we have plenty, we should give plenty. From something as simple as a smile or something as big as making someone’s mortgage payment during a difficult time. Whatever we have to offer—give it. We will be better people for it. I promise.
15. Standing up for ourselves and closing a door doesn’t make us selfish. This was a super hard thing for me to learn. There is an astronomically huge difference between being selfish and knowing when it’s time to sever ties. So, yes—give—but do not be taken.
16. Be proud of accomplishments, big or small. No matter the size, they all required determination and effort to achieve.
17. Be proud of failures—because it means we tried. Don’t take that lightly. The word ‘”try” is tiny but mighty.
18. Don’t be prideful. We all fall upon hard times, but don’t be too proud to accept help when it is offered. We all know that beautiful, warm feeling we get when we do something nice for someone. Well, don’t ever deny someone else the opportunity to feel that, too. There is beauty in giving and there is beauty in receiving.
19. Be humble. Humility will keep us honest—with ourselves. Be proud. Be strong. Be humble.
20. Take the time to smell the roses. Life is busy, work is demanding, raising children is time consuming, red lights take too long, payday is too far away, the floors need sweeping and dinner needs cooking—so many things—but find the time. Maybe 10 minutes, maybe an hour. However long it takes, we need to take time every day and be still. Close our eyes, think, dream, reflect or do nothing. It may be in the car at the grocery store. It may be in a long bath at the end of the day. It may be something as simple as listening to our favorite song from start to finish. It doesn’t matter what or how long. Just do it. This is not selfish—this is how we stay in touch with ourselves.
21. Everything that happens to us or that we experience (good or bad) is an opportunity for learning. It can teach us one of two things: either how far we’ve come or how far we still have to go.
22. There are some really wonderful people in this world—cherish them. Let them know they are cherished. Say “I love you” often and mean it.
23. Saying “I love you” doesn’t have to be said with words. We all express love in our own unique ways. Find out what makes a person feel loved—and then do that. This is true for a partners, children, parents or friends.
24. Words matter—a lot. They have to power to nurture and they have the power to destroy.
25. Think before speaking because words matter—a lot. Sometimes we have to say something that’s not “nice” because it’s the truth, but be gentle if possible. Choose words that will help, not harm. They can be honest and still be helpful. We can speak truth without destroying—even if we feel they deserve it. Say what needs to be said, forgive and walk away if necessary.
26. Always speak. We should be strong in our convictions but can be conscious of the words we choose.
27. Be passionate. If we don’t have something to be passionate about, we must find something. Passion is to the human spirit, what fuel is to our car—it keeps us alive. We can feel passionate about anything. Music, gardening, politics, art. Whatever our passion, pursue.
28. For parents: we can’t force our kids to be us. We can tell them about our mistakes but also let them make their own. Let them discover and embrace who they are, not who we want them to be. They are not just children, they are people. They will be here to look after the planet long after we’re gone. Impart our wisdom and then let them teach us. They are growing up in a different time than we did. We can learn from them too.
29. Be the parents first, friends second. When my daughter was growing up, I always told her “I will be your best friend. But I am always going to be Mommy first. Your choices help determine this, too.” There were times I had to be big, bad mommy but, mostly, this helped my daughter keep herself accountable—the result is that we are truly best friends.
30. Don’t speak out of anger. I had to learn this the hard way and it took a long time. Sometimes a good scolding is in order but take a few breaths first. Nothing will be accomplished by spewing hateful, angry words. Sometimes anger is justified but we should try not to say things we don’t mean.
31. Apologize. No one is perfect. If we’ve done wrong: apologize. Even if that person wronged us, too—even if they wronged us first. We can still apologize for our part. They may forgive, they may not. That’s okay. That is part of their journey and has nothing to do with us. Apologize, forgive, move forward.
32. It’s okay to say no. This sounds so simple but is incredibly difficult for some. It feels good to say yes but always saying, “yes” will deplete our own spirits. It will drain us and leave us with nothing left for ourselves. Saying no isn’t selfish. Remember: we should give, not be taken. We can say no when something doesn’t feel right. Say no and be 100% at peace with that.
33. “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” ~ Anais Ninn.
We will look back on many things in our lives at different times in our lives and each time we do, we will have new perspective—see things we maybe didn’t see before. That isn’t because the situation/event changed. It’s because we did. Look at us, growing up and stuff.
34. Love/Honor our fathers and mothers, even if we don’t agree with choices they made or things they may (or may not have) done—even if those things really hurt. They were once right where we are now, trying their best to navigate through parenthood, marriage, work and life in general. Learn from their mistakes and learn from the good stuff, too. Forgive and be humble (then walk away if necessary).
35. Forgiving doesn’t always mean forgetting, but if we do forgive? Stop right there, take it out of our “bag” and leave it. Don’t pick it up again. If we keep picking it up, we haven’t truly forgiven.
36. Know when to be emotional and when to be objective. Emotions are with us for a reason but they don’t always help us. We can learn to recognize when to follow our hearts and when to be logical. No matter what: be objective. Step back, breathe, try our hardest to see things from someone else’s perspective—then speak or take action.
37.We are not perfect. Embrace those imperfections and recognize that they are either what makes us unique or they are another opportunity to learn and grow. Take that acceptance that we show others and how we love them for their little quirks and flaws—and do that for ourselves, too.
38. Where we came from, what has happened to us, or even mistakes that we’ve made—those things do not define us. They do not have the power to determine where we go from here. We have choices. Every day. Every second. If we made the wrong one before, that’s okay—just make the right one now. When we stumble and fall: get up.
39. Be kind. To animals, to the Earth, to others, to ourselves. Even if our kindness makes us vulnerable to those looking to take advantage—and there are those who will—be kind anyway. Learn from it but don’t let those people make us bitter. We can’t control how others react, so just be kind.
40. Never ever be ashamed of your story. I am a mess—an imperfect, scarred up mess. But, that is what makes me beautiful. That is what makes us beautiful. We don’t need to hide our scars, they are the pages in the books of our lives.
Never, ever be ashamed of your story.
Author: Trena R. Seymour
Image: flickr/tori wright
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock