50 life lessons.

2020. This year marks my 50th year. I woke up without a hangover this morning and thought “well, I’ve learned some things”. Then I wrote down a bunch more things I have learned.

I’m not writing this to tell you how to live your life. These are lessons I have picked up by making a lot of mistakes.  I have been hard, inflexible, angry, sad, gullible, dependant, resentful, jealous, irresponsible, selfish and mean.

I have also been unfailingly loyal, forgiving, trusting, supportive and kind.

Years ago a girlfriend said to me “we are a mix of shit and magic “.  True words.

I spend a lot of time evaluating who I am, how my words and actions affect others and work hard to be a better human. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

Actions are greater than words. This applies to every single area of your life. If someone’s words and actions don’t align, it’s their actions that you should listen to. They don’t lie.

Be soft. You can be a total badass and still be soft. Be kind. Be gentle with people. Smile at your server (and leave a good tip), say thank you to the cashier even when you are having a bad day, and be gentle with those who love you. Especially those who love you.

Have your own back. No one is going to care about your outcomes more than you. No partner, spouse, boss, friend, parent or child will care about what is best for you more than you. Seek advice then listen to your own head, heart and gut.

Allow mistakes. You will make them. Afford yourself grace and do better next time.

Anyone who puts their hands on you in anger is someone who needs to grow up and get right with them self. It’s not your job to train them. Leave. Somehow, anyhow you can.

People who purposely hurt you, with words, or hands, are broken in their own way. If they demean you, belittle you, or make you second guess yourself they are gaslighting you and abusing you. They are not “helping you grow”. Get out.

You don’t have to be nice. I spent too many years trying to be nice in extracting myself from situations. You can’t “nice” yourself out of a bad situation. The only way out is through the door, then shut it.

If you are physically able to work to support yourself, do it. (Married or not) Having to rely on another person for your financial well-being puts you in a position of being dependant on someone else. Potentially sacrificing your happiness and freedoms for security. Make your own money. Have your own account.

Save for retirement. I don’t care if it’s $10 a paycheck. If your company doesn’t have a 401K set up your own. I will never retire. I regret this.

It’s ok to walk away. From people, from jobs, from relationships. Be nice, be firm, be fair, and do what you need to do to be happy.

Travel. Even if it’s just to another county in your state. For many years I couldn’t afford to do anything.  I invested in museum passes at my local museums and used those passes out of town, (reciprocal programs).  As my kids got older and I started making more income I started traveling further. The more I traveled the more it changed me, and them.

Meet new people, make new friends. I’m lucky I have friends I’ve known for 35 years. I’m lucky I have a new friend I made a few weeks ago. You learn from people. I have friends who are 20 years younger, and 20 years older. Embrace what you can learn from people.

Invest in your friendships. It’s easy to let life slip by, to get busy. Spend time with people who are important to you.

You owe NO ONE your time and attention. Give it willingly, lovingly and judiciously.

You are not the doctor. You do not have the ability to fix anyone and it’s not your job. The end. (and it’s not their job to fix you either)

Be in a consistent state of reflection and evaluation. Adjust and modify as needed. You aren’t bound to your past, your upbringing, your patterns or former versions of yourself.

Children –

You don’t have to be their friend, but you don’t have to be a warden either.

Trust them. But watch them closely.

Be understanding and react with empathy (I failed that one a lot with my first). I had to practice and change.

Be a strong role model, show them the type of person you want them to be.

Accept that they might not be like you, they might not even like you, love them hard anyway.

Be in charge, be the leader who sets the pace and the tone, with active forgiveness and understanding.

Ask for help.

Let them be kids. Being an adult is hard, prepare them for that, but allow them to be children for as long as they need to be. They will grow up.

Buy less toys. It’s absurd and they won’t play with them. You’re just wasting money and cluttering our earth.

Worry is futile.  You will still do it every day for the rest of your life once you have them. Just accept it.

Work – 

“You are invaluable” means nothing. Does your pay, your position and your benefits reflect those words?

You are replaceable. The end.

If you are going to invest your time, heart and soul for someone else’s dream have the payoff in writing, not in words. Don’t ever bet on the come of someone else’s success for your long-term reward.

Work like you own it. This might seem like a contradiction to the one prior, but I do believe in working like you own it. Just don’t assume they will “eventually” see your worth.

Ask for feedback on your performance. You might think you are working hard and kicking ass but maybe you aren’t putting your energy into the things your boss wants you to. Ask.

If you aren’t happy, leave. This is not always possible I know. I’ve been in positions where there was NO WAY that could happen, and I’ve been in positions I could. Loyalty is important, but so is your happiness. If you aren’t happy, no one around you is either.

Workplaces are not “fair”. There will be a person who works half as hard and makes twice as much. That’s not your failing. Focus on what you can do and do it well.

Ask for the raise. I spent so many years waiting for my bosses to “see” my effort and get blessed with a raise. If you don’t ask, you probably won’t see it. You might not get it by asking either. But if you don’t have the courage to ask it’s not going to just show up in your bank account.

Don’t gossip.

Support the women and minorities in your organization. I’ve seen so many mediocre men climb ladders at companies while brilliant women got side stepped.

“Let me see what I can do for you” is the right answer to most questions you are being asked. From absurd client requests to someone upset about a food order. It’s the fastest way to diffuse someone.

Listen more than you talk.

Ask good questions.

Be honest. Be kind. Work hard.

Health-

Stop smoking. I smoked on and off for decades. I was one of those super casual smokers for years. In 2016 right around New Years I left a pack in Chicago and quit. It will not only kill you eventually, it ruins your skin and it smells terrible. That money is better spent elsewhere.

Go to the doctor.

Invest in a good moisturizer and eye cream. I’m honestly not sure how much good it does (I look at celebrities my age and with access to the very best of everything they still age). But hedge your bets.

Eat well.

Exercise. I can’t stress this enough. I was in competitive sports growing up and from age 18 – 42 I didn’t actively exercise. At 42 I couldn’t touch my toes. I couldn’t do a single push up. For the last 8 years I’ve participated in some form of exercise a few days a week. I started doing yoga 6 years ago and 2 years ago joined the Y. While it hasn’t kept me from gaining weight, it has kept me strong and flexible. These are the things that will help me stay active and mobile as I get older. Exercise. Start now.

Drink water. Lots of it.

And in general –

Try new things. Push yourself into new spaces.

Read.  Educate yourself about the world, your country and others.

If you aren’t happy with your life, change it. It might be as simple as taking a walk around the block or getting a library card, or as dramatic as pulling the ripcord and starting over. You get one shot, take it.

Years ago my dad gave me a copy of what was then, my favorite book. On the inside page he wrote “Our lives are our stories, write yours well”.

That’s the best lesson I ever learned. Write it well.

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