To celebrate my forty-fifth and a half birthday I’m sharing the major four and a half main life lessons that I’ve learned:
Lesson One: Take Care of Me.
This was perhaps the hardest lesson for me to learn and one I need to continually remind myself of. Taking care of me does not mean after I’ve taken care of everyone else and all of their needs. This means that I must honor myself and my needs so that I can take care of others. I must prioritize my care so as to best care for those I love. I went through years of playing Superwoman Susie: making sure everyone else was getting their needs met before even thinking of what I might need. This didn’t just include the needs of my kids and my spouse, this included virtual strangers. If the head of the PTA called and needed something, I was on it! I fell into bed at night an overworked, neglected, shell of a woman. Luckily my body gave me a bit of a wake up call and I was forced to evaluate how my running myself ragged was not serving me or anyone around me. I shifted my focus to what does my body need? What does my soul crave? What do I like to do? I started to get the sleep I needed, to eat the food that gave me energy, and to move my body how it needed to be moved. I also took a deep look at the relationships in my life. I got really clear on how I was showing up within those relationships and how those relationships were serving me. Was time with the different people in my life filling me up or depleting me? If I was depleted, what role did I play in that? What about the relationship could I not change? I am given one life and no longer did I allow myself to pass my days in a fog of busy-ness or “woe-is-me”. Taking care of me means pausing and checking in with my actions: Are the things I’m doing lining up with how I want to live my life? If not, change something. I am in charge of my life and I am important. What do I want my life to be like? What do I want my life to feel like? I can only address those aspects when I am taking care of myself.
Lesson Two: I am a warrior.
I was made to do hard things and I can handle the life I was given. There is no knight coming in to swoop me up and ride off into the sunset. I don’t need one. There is no one out there who will “make” me happy. If I’m going to live a happy life, it is up to me. I can not control events in my life but I do control my reaction to them. I control the amount of mental energy I devote to them. I control my reaction to other people. I am in charge of my life. I am in charge of my emotions. I am in charge of my actions. My kids don’t do things that “make me” yell. My ex-husband doesn’t “make me” angry. No one is coming along to pay my bills. As a warrior I know I can do it. I might not always want to do it but the empowering fact remains that I don’t need a man, a husband, or a father to make my life one outstanding mind-blowing success. That’s on me. What I do every day determines the life I will live. I get to make me happy.
Lesson Three: Life is Hard and that is a good thing.
I grew up in a house where positive, happy emotions were encouraged. We were not taught how to process our more difficult emotions other than to learn that we could go to our room to figure it out alone. It did not take long for me to learn to use: “I’m Fine” as a shield of armor. When I said “I’m fine”, in public or at home, I fit in socially, I wasn’t told I was too emotional, and everyone could carry on with their days. However, all those years of suppressed emotions led to some not-so-pretty days. Depression is the suppression of our feelings. “Fine” stands for “feelings inside needing expression”. I’ve dug into learning how to process the hard emotions that life throws our way every single day. Half my life will be spent experiencing hard emotions (fear, anger, disappointment, sadness, etc) and when I process them in unhealthy ways (over exercising, over eating, over TV watching, over spending), I feel a temporary blip of a good emotion but overall the negative feeling persists and I just feel like I’ve let myself down. Instead, when I dig into the lesson that life is hard but that I can do hard, I am proud of myself. One of my favorite mantras to repeat to myself in tough times is: “Nothing has gone wrong here”. Meaning whatever life has thrown my was is exactly what I’m supposed to be handling right now. I remind myself how humans are designed to process the whole range of emotions and through the difficult situations we grow. Did I experience joy during my divorce? Hell no. Am I stronger, wiser, and more joyful since my divorce? Hell yes. Life is full of peaks and valleys. When I drop my resistance to the hard times to look for the lesson instead, life is easier. I choose to live consciously. It’s harder but it’s always better in the long run. Life happens for me. Even the shitty stuff.
Lesson Four: I Choose My Companions
The single greatest indicator of happiness is our connection to other people. Do we have someone we can be completely ourselves with? Do we have someone who can hear of our struggle and listen to us(not fix)? Who do we surround ourselves with? Do they inspire us to be kind? How do we feel after we spend time with our family members? With our friends? We choose all of this. There is no rule that says just because they’re your BFF from high school that they still need to be your BFF. The lesson for me lied in discovering that what was my biological family was not in fact my logical family. That there is no rule that said my biological parents must remain in my life. Today I am happier and more at peace with the relationship with my parents and siblings than I had ever imagined possible. Why? Did they change? Did they do something? Nope. I haven’t spoken with them for more than a year and a half. Yet I have forgiven them and know they love me. They were the exact family I needed to become the warrior woman that I am today and I am incredibly grateful. I will expand on this in next week’s blog post but please remember, you are in charge of who you surround yourself with and you are incredibly influenced by them. If you want to be great, surround yourself with greatness.
Lesson Four-and-a-half: Life Happens FOR Me.
Einstein once said the most important decision we will make is whether we believe that life happens to us or for us. I spent a portion of my life believing life happened to me. I felt like a victim and complained about how so-and-so made me feel a certain way. Once I learned that everything in life happens for me, I was able to learn from my experiences. Instead of slipping into “why me”, I can look at what is going on in my life as what I call a “compassionate observer”. I make plenty of mistakes in my days yet, when I look at what I did with the intent to learn from it and with the agreement that I won’t criticize myself, I am able to grow. I spent way too many of my years beating myself up. Not only does that feel like crap, it didn’t allow room for me to learn anything from it. If I ate too much food the night before, it helps me to think: “Huh, I wonder why I chose to finish the ice cream?” or “Isn’t that interesting that you chose to go back for seconds (and thirds). What was going on?” When I observe my life compassionately, I learn from it and behavior change comes easier. Lead a loving and learning lifestyle. I also can be a compassionate observer with others. If my son is having a tantrum, I can step back to observe what’s going on and not take it personally. His tantrum or yelling is not because of me. He’s allowed his reaction and I don’t have to jump in and add my drama to his experience. I can extend this to strangers also. If I’m cut off in traffic I don’t have to make it about me. The man didn’t cut in front of me because he wanted to be an asshole to me. He is in a hurry to get somewhere and why should I raise my stress level to make it about me? Sure, he might actually be an asshole but isn’t that all the more reason not to let him dictate my emotions? In essence it all comes down to kindness. Be kind. Be kind to me. Treat my body well with the food, sleep and exercise it deserves. Treat my kids well. Take care of myself and my emotions so that I am not reactive towards their innocent selves. Be kind to others. I don’t need to make assumptions that others’ behavior is about me. Move on.
There you have it. The top four and half lessons of my 45.5 years here on this earth. I am excited for the next 45.5 years to see what other great lessons are in store for me. I will continue to learn and grow and push myself to be the next best version of myself until my days here are over. Each and every day is a practice. Some are better than others. I commit to remember to take care of myself, to be kind, to surround myself with other great warriors, and to learn from the experiences that life is handing to me. I thank you all for sharing this journey with me and I welcome your comments on what some of your life lessons have been.