“Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.” ~
I’ll be 42 this month.
I find myself already telling myself (and occasionally others) that I’m 42, even though I’m actually just a ripe young 41 and 11 months old.
Although I realize that age is just a number, I do notice my mind slipping slightly sometimes and my physical body on the decline, however gradually. It’s the inevitable outcome of time spent in a human body: old age and death.
Yet still, I keep smiling and laughing. I’m grateful for the wisdom that comes with each day, each year, each lesson in the school of life. The world has changed a great deal since I turned 40 just two years ago—and much is still the same as it ever was.
Without further ado, here are the top four lessons I’ve learned in my early 40s, written with the hope that they somehow resonate with you.
1. Do what you love and the rest falls into place.
“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” ~
My work has gone remote over the course of the past decade-ish, especially in the past two years thanks to COVID-19. I’ve moved far from the traditional office or classroom.
Don’t get me wrong, the advertising office work and classroom teaching I did, each for years, taught me a lot. I enjoyed each of them for a time, immensely.
Until I didn’t. I changed, my mind evolved, and the work did not. So I left it. I found a new way to spend my time and earn a living.
Nowadays, I devote time and effort to correcting other writers’ grammatical mistakes. Improving essays, thesis papers, and articles, one (often painfully bad) sentence at a time. I also work at a gorgeous retreat center on the shores of Lake Atitlan in the highlands of Guatemala twice a week, commuting there by boat.
Whereas I wanted to kill myself in my early 20s because I hated the idea of working a 9-to-5 job for the rest of my life and felt my soul dying from my inevitable yet unwanted enrollment in the rat race, now I love my work.
I don’t dread Mondays. I don’t even differentiate the weekend from the weekdays, really. I work when I want to, as much as I want to, on the project I want to.
And it makes me feel like this:
2. Slow down your flow; what’s the rush?
“The bigness of the world is redemption. Despair compresses you into a small space, and a depression is literally a hollow in the ground. To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest.” ~ Rebecca Solnit
Along with the pandemic, my yoga practice went from teaching small group classes multiple times a week to suddenly being just me, here, now. No Zoom classes for me at the moment, gracias. No Zoom anything.
Breathing. Sitting. Basking in the quiet emptiness. No schedule, no plans, no goals. Slow flow had taken on a whole new meaning.
Like many people, I became obsessed with the news about COVID-19 in the first months of the crisis. I would scroll in the middle of the night, reading the free articles on The Atlantic about it, despite knowing this was not a healthy or helpful practice.
I realized (remembered) that hearing the personal stories of a few is more powerful than the mainstream news and disembodied statistics, thanks to listening to a powerful episode of This American Life.
I hadn’t listened to the podcast in years but was prompted to do so by my writing teacher. The episode shared a trilogy of emotional stories from people in New York City and elsewhere who’d been intensely affected by COVID-19.
Then I decided to do a digital media detox, which was super beneficial. I realized there was nothing actually urgent in my life, at that moment. And there was nothing I needed to urgently know.
With that, I stepped out of the whirlpool of social media, at least temporarily, and gained a clearer vision.
Everything is indefinite; all bets are off. We are free falling, and there is no ground. This is a potent moment. Take a deep breath.
3. Every moment is an opportunity to cultivate love, forgiveness, and peace.
“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.” ~
It was recently 1 Ajmaq in the Mayan calendar. According to my friend Mark Elmy, who has written daily about the energies of the Mayan calendar for years, “Today begins the trecena of Ajmak, which can be seen as a period of redemption and reconciliation. It brings the possibility to bring happiness, the sweetness, into the world through forgiveness.”
My daughter and her best friend’s Mayan birth signs are both Ajmak. They’re sensitive, dramatic, joyful, and intense little girls. And also old souls full of wisdom. They’re loving, creative, and modest.
Any day is a good day to practice this simple Hawaiian technique of mentally repeating these universal mantras:
please forgive me,
I love you,
4. Get your priorities straight.
“Revolution is as unpredictable as an earthquake and as beautiful as spring. Its coming is always a surprise, but its nature should not be.” ~ Rebecca Solnit
Circling back to point #1 on this list: work. While I do enjoy my work and thrive on deadlines, it’s mostly assigned work for clients. Which has meant my personal writing and publishing have been on the back burner.
Because I’m an early bird and my mind is at its sharpest in the morning, I have a tendency to dive into my (paid) work first thing after waking up.
When, in fact, opting to meditate, do a little yoga, have a cup of tea, and do my own personal writing practice would be (could be) a more optimal way to start the precious new day.
This morning, for example, I wrote brief yet heartfelt emails to three old friends, wrote a blog post on my personal website, and am now writing this and submitting it to Elephant Journal. I’m going to stretch and meditate for a little bit, then have a cup of coffee, and initiate my workday.
What if I did this every day instead of once a month?
What if work can wait? The deadlines will still be met.
What if I fill my own cup before pouring out my energy?
It might just be a revolution.