My birthday was on Tuesday and as I bent down to blow out the candles on my cake, I realized that I had very little to wish for this year. I looked at my husband and my children through the candlelight and thought about how this birthday was my favorite. I have them, I have a good job that values me, I have a roof over my head and food in my refrigerator. Life feels good right now.
As I thought back on my last 30-something years, I realized there were a few things I’ve learned that have gotten me to this spot in life.
1. Everyone has their own way of living. Respect it even if you don’t agree.
This seems to be a big one today, but I’ve always tried to sort of live and let live. Generally, I can respect the way most people chose to live and it has allowed me to have friendships with amazing people that are nothing like me. You learn from these people, even if you don’t always understand it or agree.
2. Slow down.
Ferris Bueller was right. Life does actually moves pretty fast. Today, I will sometimes purposely schedule time to relax because I’m not good at slowing down. Get it in, even if you have to schedule it. Take a day off if you can and spend some quiet time alone or go get ice cream with your kids and take a walk. Do it slowly because time will move fast enough without you rushing it from moment-to-moment.
3. Appreciate the moments.
Since I’ve lost a child, I really try to appreciate all the moments in my life, especially with my kids. Whether I’m exhausted because they don’t sleep or I’m completely fed up because they have been whining non-stop for three hours, I try to close my eyes and take a momentary time out to remember that not everyone gets these moments. I spend extra time each night rocking my son after he has fallen asleep just so I can watch his sweet face that will one day be covered by evening stubble. I sometimes just listen to my daughter as she plays just to hear what her imagination is making up that day. I spend some quiet time with my dog each night and always try to kiss my husband goodnight. Soak it all up because these are the things that make up a lifetime of memories.
4. Trust your gut.
This is a tough one for me. The one time I didn’t trust my gut as it was screaming at me, my baby died. So now I’m not always aware if it’s my gut or my anxiety yelling at me. I do know that it is better to be safe than sorry. Anxiety may be the little boy that cried wolf, but it sounds exactly like your gut
5. You have to really be happy with yourself before you can be happy with someone.
It took me a really, really long time to learn this lesson. I’ve realized though that it always starts at me.
6. Exercise will help make you happy.
Endorphins are awesome. I’m always so much happier after I work out and a lot more productive.
7. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
This is a big one for me. Of course, it isn’t a new piece of advice to anyone but I’ve found that the nicer I am to people, the better I feel and the nicer they will be in return. You truly do get more flies with honey.
8. You can’t change other people.
I’ve tried to change other people and failed miserably. You can’t. You just either have to accept them as they are and learn to live with it or walk away.
9. Being skinny doesn’t mean you’re healthy.
This has been such a big one for me all my life. I’ve been thin and unhealthy, I’ve been thin and healthy and I’ve been chubby and overweight. I constantly have to remind myself that skinny on its own is no good. Eating right and exercising are just as important as being skinny. Healthy should always be the end goal. Skinny is just a bonus.
10. Sing in the car.
I rock out in my car each day on the way to work. It relieves stress, pent up energy and just makes me feel better.
11. Keep learning.
I love to learn. If money were no option I’d have a few more degrees under my belt. But, learning outside the classroom is just as important as learning inside the classroom. Whatever way you do it, just keep learning.
12. Learn to say, “I’m sorry.”
This one is big, especially in my marriage. I’ve become really good at knowing when I have messed up and when it is my turn to apologize. I can’t say I’ve always been that way. When you’ve hurt someone or messed up, a sincere and true, “I’m sorry,” goes a long way in any relationship.
13. Always use sunscreen.
When I was in college there was a song that came out called, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”. Apparently it actually came out while I was in high school, but I don’t remember it until college – a time when I seldom wore sunscreen. The whole song is pretty much advice and rules to live by, similar to this post. If you don’t listen to anything else here, just wear sun screen. The guy in the song will tell you this too.
14. Learn from failure.
I’ve failed so many times that it’s a bit ridiculous. I’ve had a lot of wins in life too. I try to take away something positive from each failure so that next time I can be better. For me this applies to the gamut of experiences in life from work to home to parenting to marriage.
15. Kids make life worth it.
Part of me has always believed this and that’s why it was always so heartbreaking going through loss after loss. These little people that you raise are so precious and for me, they are my reason for being. I never understood how perfect and beautiful and incredible and frustrating life could be until I had them in my arms. They are so perfectly imperfect and amazed by the little things. They remind me that every day is special and that every day you can learn something new. They are my joy when I’m sad and my reason to smile at the end of a long day, even if they are screaming at me for one reason or another.
16. Your kids may be the center of your universe, but don’t let them think they will be the center of everyone’s.
My son is too young for this concept. My daughter is learning this. It’s a tough lesson in life and maybe one that we never fully learn.
17. Learn what stresses you out and learn how to deal with it.
Lots of things stress me out as you may have recently read. The older I get, the better I get at dealing with it. When I’m better at dealing with it, I don’t take it out on the other people around me and everyone is happier in general.
18. Your looks matter in life.
This one is disappointing but it’s true. Take care of yourself the best you can. Some people are naturally beautiful. The rest of us have to try.
19. You don’t have to love the way you look without makeup.
I hate the way I look without make-up. I don’t really wear it on the weekends unless we are going somewhere, but that’s more about convenience and time than anything else. I’d love to feel empowered like all the commercials, brands and feminists want me to feel, but I don’t. I’m more confident when I’ve at least tried to cover up the acne and wrinkles (Thanks for both of those at once Mother Nature!) than I am when I’m running around doing errands on the weekend in yoga pants. It may not be a good thing, but it’s the truth.
20. Say, “Please,” and, “Thank you.”
I’m not the best when it comes to etiquette, but this is the absolute least we can do for one another and it is important to show your gratitude.
21. Know when you need to tap out for a bit.
Everyone has limits to what they can do in the amount of time that they have. I’m very guilty of packing my days and weeks so that I don’t have a free moment. Whether it’s photographing a photography session that I really don’t have time to edit or cramming in time to create a new recipe on the weekends, I have a hard time saying no. It leaves me feeling overwhelmed, frazzled and tired. In the last year or so, I’ve learned to be better about saying no and telling people when I can’t do something because I need the time for a bit of a break.
22. Take pictures, but live in the moment.
Being a photographer, pictures are huge for me. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in photographing something – my kids usually – that I forget to just watch whatever magic is unfolding around me. Sometimes I have to remind myself to put the camera or the phone away and just be there experiencing the happy moments versus watching them through a lens.
23. Be passionate about your significant other.
This one is not always easy, right? I’m not saying you need to passionately love one another each day because we all know that’s just not realistic. But I’ve learned to be passionate about our marriage and making our marriage work. Some days this is easy and other days this is very, very hard work.
24. You don’t always have to have the answer.
A boss told me this once. I like to have all the answers. I like to know it all. When my boss told me this she meant that instead of giving her an answer right away, she wanted me to stop and ponder the question a little longer to see if I would come up with a different answer. I find that if I do this, I might often think of a different way to approach a problem, a better way.
25. Being strong often happens when you are weakest.
When bad things happen in life, you will realize how strong you really are. Strength doesn’t come in those moments where everything is wonderful. Strength comes in those moments when everything has fallen apart.
26. Everyone deals with death in their own way.
You probably won’t understand the people who deal with death differently than you. It’s hard, especially when you are in the middle of a loss of some sort. But know that, whatever they are doing, even if it is annoying, is their way of coping.
28. You have to crawl there.
My aunt told me this after my son died. Even when you are at your darkest moments in life, you have to figure out a way to get through it. If you are too weak to put one foot in front of the other, crawl. Once you can crawl, you will learn to walk again.
29. Try not to compare yourself to others.
I will tell you that I’ve gotten fairly good at this, but I still have to remind myself. You can only be you. Enjoy being you. Admire the qualities in others that you enjoy, but don’t compare because you always end up disappointed.
30. Disconnect on vacation.
Just do it. Turn off your email. Leave your phone at the hotel and spend time enjoying your family. Everyone needs to recharge and disconnect. If you don’t, you will miss the moments and that is just not worth it. The people you are with are more important than the people on the other side of the screen.
31. Learn to laugh at yourself.
I’ve only recently gotten good at this. I’m guilty of taking myself too seriously, but I’ve realized in doing so that I’m usually sweating the small stuff.
32. You need to believe in something bigger than yourself.
This is a big one for me. I don’t care what religion you are. I don’t care if you’re not religious. Just believe in something bigger than yourself, even if it is just the power of the big bang. Something about just being here – me, you, the world, the universe – is pretty magical. It came from somewhere. Believe in that amazing power and let it make you feel very small because we are all truly “stardust.”
33. Life never turns out the way you expect.
It’s funny, you always image it to be perfect when you are young – the house, the kids, the husband. The reality is that life surprises you in so many ways. Let it surprise you. Let it discourage you and delight you. Follow the ups and downs wherever they lead and believe that you will end up in a place that’s perfect for you.