Lists are fun.
Today, okay not quite, there are juuuust under 3 hours left, so tomorrow, but today in Australia anyway, but I digress – I’m 38 years old.
I didn’t get a trophy.
Since I had so much fun with -20- I decided to roll there again. Maybe eventually I’ll get every single/double digit number somehow, or maybe everyone will just get sick of me. Time will tell.
So I considered what I could list this many points for, and I gave myself two criteria; one, it can’t be completely negative, and two, it’s gotta be somehow related to me and birthdays and, I guess, aging.
Here’s what I’ve come up with.
38 Lessons I’ve Learned in Life Thus Far
-A novel-length blog post. A blovel, if you will. I think I’m funny. I’ll stop.
It’s long though, I warned you.-
Just because you can touch something doesn’t mean you should.
Wasps, hot burners, buttons, two entire packages of cookies…
When I was little, I wanted to catch flies. I never could. They were always too fast for me. We had a compost dug into our garden, and one day I went over to it and lo! It was covered in pretty black and yellow stripy flies! I grabbed at them and they didn’t fly away! There was maybe a half a second of joy there.
I decided at 3 or 4 years old that a red stove burner was hot, a black burner was cold. My mom took something off the burner and turned it off, it turned black. I tried to touch it. She told me not to, that it was hot. I knew better. I put my whole hand down on it to prove her wrong. She wasn’t wrong.
When I was pregnant with my oldest, I found a sale on cookies. Not just any cookies, the cookies with the marshmallow and coconut on them. Two for one. I ate them all. I didn’t eat them all eventually, I ate them all immediately, because I could. My stomach hated me. Lesson learned.
Nothing is all bad if you learn from it.
And trust me, you can learn something from just about anything.
From childhood abuse, poverty and a dysfunctional family, I learned a lot of empathy. To me, it’s part of healing from it all, to be able to use it to help others, to take something good out of it.
I believe that understanding that life’s setbacks are temporary and can be lessons is what helps you to grow. That you can throw in the towel and wallow, or you can be upset, be frustrated, be sad – for a little while, and then dust yourself off and move on. Look for the learning experience in the bad, and that will ensure it’s not all bad.
“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
– William Goldman, The Princess Bride
Life isn’t fair. I’m pretty sure we all hear this as kids, but it seems that so few really let it sink in and that lack of perspective makes things harder than they have to be.
From self-pity to judgement, this failure to acknowledge that life isn’t fair seems to be just part of the human condition, at times.
Why me? Well, why not me? If not me, why someone else? Maybe just because, well, life isn’t fair.
What about the ways we tell ourselves that others must deserve their suffering, they must be bad people, they must have made bad choices, they must have brought it on themselves. Those things happen, sure. Some people self-sabotage. Some people make awful, stupid choices and suffer the consequences. But then, some don’t. Some do it all right and still, fate twists, and they are suffering because life isn’t fair. That’s not our default mindset when it comes to others, we pick at the story, we try to see what they did wrong, first and foremost, and we allow ourselves to be cold.
Doll hair doesn’t grow back.
Pretty self-explanatory. After a haircut, I decided to cut my My Little Pony’s hair too. My Little Pony had a really ugly, choppy, mullety mohawk for the rest of her days.
Live in reality/stay grounded.
Be realistic in your goals, your plans, your decisions. Avoid “quick fixes” whenever feasible. Be realistic in your expectations, both of yourself and others. Try to make the most of what hand you’ve been dealt, set your boundaries, know your limits, do your best.
Dare to Dream.
Seriously, think about all the “I would really love to…” Have a bucket list. Have an idea of things you want. Maybe you’ll never get them, maybe you’ll never go there, but then again maybe you will.
For a long time, coming from a place of extreme neediness and feeling like a second-class charity case, I became very sure subconsciously that I would never get things I wanted, that I would never deserve things I wanted. I stopped wanting things. The want for things was still there in me, but I didn’t allow myself to pick specific things because I felt I’d just be disappointed. People would ask me what I wanted for my birthday, what are my plans, where would I like to vacation – I had no idea. I shut down the part of my mind, I didn’t want to want things I couldn’t have, anymore.
It became depressing though, and I felt very aimless and listless. I had nothing to work toward. I had no plans. I was still stuck in survival mode long after I needed to be. This is still a work in progress for me. I still don’t know what to tell people when they ask me what gift I want. But I have a goal, and that goal is to own my own home, because that’s stability to me and it’s all I ever wanted. So it’s something, and I’m working on getting my feet off the ground every so often because I am way too good at being practical and way too bad at being hopeful.
Treat others the way you want to be treated, and expect the same.
I was always so desperate for acceptance that I was a huge people pleaser and I was in my late 20’s before, out of the blue, I thought to myself “I wonder if I like THEM?” It had actually never occurred to me before. It was like an epiphany. It was never about that to me, I just had this anxious need to be accepted by absolutely everyone. Anyone who’s been around a while knows that this is impossible, and it causes this cycle of increasing anxiety that’s really painful to carry.
I began to question relationships and interactions more. I cared less when someone had a low opinion of me without knowing me, or if they were someone I didn’t much care for. I learned to say “no.” I stopped chasing people who didn’t prioritize me at all. I realized that people will talk, and that I don’t need to care.
Know your value.
Find your people and once you do, don’t let go.
Find the people who are like you, in any way that counts. Maybe they have the same interests, maybe they have the same sense of humour, maybe they have the same passion as you do. Maybe they’ll be just like you, or maybe they’ll be just opposite enough to compliment you. Find the people who feel like home and hold on tight to them, make them a priority in your life, because those relationships are precious and hard to find.
Nearly everything can be funny.
There is very little that I will say shouldn’t be joked about. Dark humour helped me through a lot of hard times in my life, where I had to laugh or fall apart. I laugh at a lot of things that a lot of people probably think I shouldn’t, but oh well, those probably aren’t my people (see above).
Caveat: If you joke about something and a person you care about is offended, stop making those jokes around them. That’s just basic respect. You can’t force others to have your sense of humour, or lay the blame on them for not finding your joke funny.
Always. Keep learning, keep improving, keep evolving your opinions and beliefs. Do not ever stagnate. Understand that there will be times when you need to rest, and do that when you need to, but then go right back at it. Always keep growing. You are never a finished piece.
Nobody is good at everything, but everyone is good at something.
Don’t waste time hating your flaws or weaknesses, love the things that are really great about you. Acknowledge your strengths. Be proud of yourself.
I spent a lot of years afraid to say that I was good at anything, because I’d been conditioned to feel that if I was proud of myself, someone was going to shoot me down. I minimized myself. I didn’t feel good at anything because I was criticizing myself harder than anyone else.
I’m not saying become an insufferable braggart. That’s not confidence, that’s arrogance, or sometimes just a cover for poor self-esteem. But be confident. You don’t have to be the best to be good at something, really, none of us are. There’s gotta be like, one person who is best at any given thing. In the whole world. ONE BEST! And even that is probably subjective. Don’t be afraid to be pleased with yourself and your effort, because if anyone tries to take that from you, they’re just… the worst. Ugh.
And addendum, don’t be that person who is just… the worst. Just don’t. Let people be happy with whatever makes them happy. It costs you nothing to be kind.
This too shall pass.
Nothing is forever. Even when things feel overwhelming or never changing, they will, if you just hold in and work through. Sometimes you take things day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Sometimes you just hang in. Everything changes in time.
Just do your part to make the changes positive.
Start a plan.
It doesn’t matter what the plan is. Just have a goal, always. You can’t know which way to walk if you don’t know your destination.
I knew a guy once who had gone to culinary school. Worked out in camp, made decent money. He said that he had been “thinking about going to school someday…” for a long time, and his mother said something to the effect of “Look, two years from now is going to come whether you go to school or not. You can either be exactly where you are right now, or you can be someplace better. Make a choice.” That really resonated with me.
Long term goals are hard because they’re slow going. You don’t see the progress while you’re slogging through, you only see it in hindsight later and so it takes dedication.
But if you picture yourself and where you want to be, whatever the plan may be, you can take steps toward it. Whether it be education, a vacation, a new item, a house, a car. Anything. Set a goal and work toward it.
Also know that plans rarely do go according to plan.
Be okay with this. Be flexible and adaptable. Things might not turn out exactly as you hoped, but at least you’re on the right path.
Don’t let others kill your sweetness.
But also, do not mistake weakness for kindness.
Be kind to yourself first. Don’t let people take advantage. Don’t buy into the notion that you need to be a pushover to be sweet and kind. Don’t buy into the idea that you need to be delicate to be sweet and kind.
Don’t let others make you bitter. Understand that your actions, and only your actions, are your responsibility. Know that it’s your character that shows in how you respond to the people around you. There’s a story out there about a man and his son passing a beggar. The beggar asks the man for money for food, which he gives. The son tells his father that the beggar will only use that money for alcohol, to which the father replies something like, “If he uses that money for alcohol instead of food, that shows his character. But if I pass a person in need and I do nothing, that shows my character.” We are responsible for our own actions, our own character.
I would rather help 5 people and be conned by 4 of them, than to help none of them and miss helping that one person who genuinely needs it.
You can love who you are while still understanding that you can be better.
Whether it be weight, looks, quirks, baggage, whatever. What-EVER. Don’t fall into the trap of “I’ll be happy with myself when…” When I lose weight. When I make more money. When I get surgery. When I’m better behaved.
No matter what it is that you don’t like about yourself, that’s just a part of a whole YOU. And every part is what makes up YOU. Don’t like this feature? Here are 100 others to choose from. Take your pick. I’m sure there are plenty of things that are pretty awesome about you.
You can, if you choose, lose that weight. Work on that behaviour. Tone that body. Get that therapy. If that’s what you want to do to better yourself, cause lets face it, we can all be better. But it won’t fix you. Only you can do that. Only you can take control of your self-image.
And know that loving yourself doesn’t mean being full of yourself. It doesn’t mean acting better than other people, it doesn’t mean arrogance or ego. It means… treat yourself the way you’d treat a good friend. Soften your view. Think about the things you say to yourself and then think about whether you’d say those things to someone else that you care about. Don’t treat yourself better than everyone else, just give yourself the same courtesies as everyone else.
Examine, reevaluate, and challenge your life/actions/beliefs frequently.
I do this one a lot, because I’m an introverted over-thinker. I tend to not say things unless I’m sure of what I’m saying. Sometimes an opinion will come to mind, or sometimes I’ve even said it/typed it, and I sort of sit back and think, “Why do I think that?”
I have a little bit of self-debate going on in my head every so often. “Citation please?” “Source please?” “Where did you get that idea?”
Along with everything I’ve said about growth, this is a big one. Challenge yourself and your biases. There are a lot of opinions I’ve changed over the years and I’m honestly proud of myself for that, because it means I’m able to take in new information, not just decide what I think and then build a wall around that opinion and spit and shout from the top of that wall at anyone who’s like “Hey, you know that might not be right actually…”
Be the person you needed, not the person who hurt you.
I have been hurt a lot in life. I’d been hurt a lot in life before my age hit double digits. There’s a saying that “Hurt people hurt people.” It can be very true. When you’re hurt, hurt becomes defensiveness, defensiveness becomes anger, anger becomes lashing out. Some people become exactly what hurt them in the first place.
I never wanted to be that person. I had a lot of anger, and I did a lot of lashing out, and I know I hurt people along the way – but not in irreparable ways, and I worked it out, mostly. I prefer to aim to be the person I needed. To be the listener, to be the helper, to empathize. It’s why I have a big heart for children in poverty, because I lived it. I know what it’s like. It’s why I have a big heart for abused children, because I lived that too. Or adults trying to sort out their childhood baggage. Or pointing people to mental health resources because their stories sound so familiar to me.
I want some good to come from what I’ve lived through, and this is how I do it. It’s as much for me as it is for anyone else, and plus, I like myself for it.
Whoever said “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” has obviously been eating the wrong food. Period. End of. Weirdo.
Don’t compare your life to that person’s life, don’t tell yourself you’re better, or worse. Don’t tell yourself you’re not allowed to be frustrated or sad because you don’t have it as bad as ___________. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t be happy because you don’t have it as good as __________, either.
All of us are living private lives that nobody knows about. We all have our struggles. We all have our triumphs. What’s easy for me might not be for you, and vice versa. There is always someone who has it better or worse, maybe better in one area and worse in another, we are complex creatures. Just don’t compare, don’t try to keep up, live your best life for yourself.
Choose your battles.
Seriously, this applies to so many areas of life I can’t even begin to address them all. Choose your battles, every day, everywhere. Ask yourself if it’s worth it. Will it matter in a week? In a year? In five years?
It’s very easy to apply this to parenting. I had to learn this early on in order to maintain my last shreds of sanity. Both in dealing with my children, disciplining, keeping things neat and tidy, etc… and also in giving a shit about everyone else’s opinion of my parenting.
Everyone has an opinion. Not every opinion matters. Choose your battles, and also choose what matters, in general. Is it worth it? Can you afford it, in money, in time, in energy? Find your priorities and stick to them as much as you can.
The Serenity Prayer. My motto.
You don’t have to be religious to incorporate this into your life, because it’s just a very simple statement that’s so easy to remember.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Or, don’t sweat the small stuff. Or, be the change you wish to see.
Can I do anything about it? Can I do anything about it right now or can I maybe make a plan for later? If not, then I need to learn how to accept this thing. Maybe I create boundaries around it. Maybe I let some expectations go. Maybe I adjust my perspective. Maybe I revisit it later on and find that now I can do something about it.
This has helped me with so much anxiety and anger. It helps me feel at peace with things when it’s really hard to feel at peace. And knowing it, really knowing how to apply it, has definitely made my life better.
Strive for balance in all things.
Don’t do fads. Don’t do extremes. Aim for work/home balance, aim for balanced diet, aim for balanced activity. Don’t become too firmly entrenched in any one belief system, no matter what it pertains to. Don’t be all or nothing. Moderation is something that’s so wholly underrated and yet so important, in my so humble opinion.
Being extreme in anything, I believe, sets a person up for failure, because it’s not sustainable. Realize that nothing “good” is actually that good if you can’t sustain it within your lifestyle. Be realistic. Calm your tits. Hakuna your tatas. …where was I?
Right. I realize that it takes all kinds in this crazy-ass world, and some people are just extreme people. It’s not necessarily that there’s anything wrong with givin’ ‘er at life, but choose wisely.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
Don’t change who you are to suit other people. You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone. It’s your life, live it. Me, I like heavy music and black clothes and chunky boots. I also like unicorns and glitter and pink and kittens and rainbows. Sometimes I like pop music. Sometimes I listen to 90’s/80’s/70’s/60’s music. Sometimes I swear way too much. I was recently called “delightful” though, by an old man, so maybe I don’t always swear too much. I have a tiny, nearly purse-sized dog who has likely more outfits than I do, including a skeleton costume with a tutu on it. I love horror movies and also cartoons. I don’t really try to gel anymore. I don’t care to be cohesive. I don’t feel the need to explain why I like what I like, or to even much wonder why I like what I like. I just do. I just like it.
I JUST LIKE IT.
It’s me, I don’t care which part of any of it people think is silly.
Everyone has insecurities. Me, you, whichever top model is out there, celebrities, teenagers, probably even the Queen of England. Don’t tell her I said that.
Nobody is alone in that, and yet everyone feels alone, to a degree. We hold ourselves to a higher standard than we hold others to. We scrutinize our faces, our bellies, our thighs, our laughs, our wrinkles, our pimples, our awkward way of being. Maybe it’s just me, with the awkward way of being. But like I say, probably not.
I found it honestly relieving to realize that the people who look so together and perfect to me likely feel insecure about things too that I don’t even notice. And that maybe the things I feel insecure about, other people don’t notice either, maybe, maybe.
Or they do, but whatever. They’re messed up too. We’re all in this boat together.
Not gonna lie, I automatically typed twenty-sex. Which is entirely irrelevant, but… *ahem*
Enjoy your things. Don’t hide them away for a special time that never comes. Things are replaceable. Time isn’t.
I bought a pretty tea set from last year’s antique fair. It’s missing one cup, but it’s beautiful and dainty with silvery edging and flowers and I just love it. My mother-in-law asked me when I would use it, and I said “When I want to have tea.” Apparently that was a shocking thing to say.
Well, why not? Why shouldn’t I enjoy it? What if I want to feel like a princess? What if I want to have tea with one friend or two? Does it have to be special? No. But I can make every day a little special with it, if I want to. I don’t much believe in saving things for later. Keeping things in boxes. I’m probably a collectors nightmare. I want to enjoy my things, I want to use them until they wear out, I want to get the most out of them. I don’t want to cover things up so I never see them unless the good company is over. I don’t care to live that way.
Life is short. Don’t always wait for an occasion! Use the pretty tea set. Read the books. Cuddle the beanie baby. Okay, that collectors phase has passed, I know. But just do it, sometimes. Enjoy your things, now.
Don’t be afraid to seek help when you need it.
I had to be very self-sufficient very early on in life, and this one did not come easy to me. It still doesn’t, though I’m getting better at it.
There’s no shame in needing help. With whatever may come. Mental health, physical health, money, advice, a listening ear, moving, moving a body… no, that last one is illegal. I don’t advise that you even have a dead body in your possession if you can at all help it.
Like I said way up wherever above, find your people, and don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Don’t be afraid to ask professionals for help. Don’t be afraid to ask your boss for a raise, which I did through email because I was afraid but dammit, I did it, still. Ha.
Really, just don’t be afraid to need things from people. I am learning this, slowly.
Too much anger will destroy you from the inside out. Learn to let it go.
Easier said than done, though.
I personally spent a lot of years very, very angry. Sometimes I truly was angry, sometimes I was angry to cover up some other uncomfortable feeling I didn’t want to feel, like sadness. Anger can be a really great, really tough armour, I used it that way for a long time.
But truly, after time, it begins to eat you up. And it’s hard to feel much else, and people can’t get that close to you because you’ve got this bloody ARMOUR in between you. For me, I reached a point where I thought I was, lets say, tranquil. Mostly, I was. But really, I didn’t feel much in between anger bursts. I didn’t let myself feel sad because sadness is weakness to me. I couldn’t be sensitive because of that. I couldn’t understand other people being sensitive, either. Crying made me uncomfortable, whether it was other people or me. I shut that down immediately, if it was me.
It’s not sustainable. You can’t go through life that way. And really, at the core of it, I believe it takes a lot of introspection and you’ve got to figure out what is beneath the anger. The anger is a symptom, it comes from a variety of things. Disappointment, frustration, sadness. If you can begin to tackle those, the anger starts to go away. So I’ve been told, anyway, I’m not an expert. But it’s worked for me.
Pistachios are delicious. Yes, I’m eating a lot of them this week. That’s all.
It’s okay to cry. See my #28 point above. This is a new one for me, I’m working on it. Results to come later. Tune in next time to find out, did I get myself healthier yet?
Learn to separate behaviour from feelings and personality.
Don’t ever let someone tell you not to be you. You do you, like what you like, be how you be, feel how you feel. BUT! Behaviour is an entirely different, entirely controllable thing. How you feel is never wrong, how you behave may be. This is something I learned in anger management. Oh, by the way I had to do anger management. See above.
“Look what you made me do!” is not something that should really be in anyone’s vocabulary. Nobody makes us do anything, unless maybe they’ve got a gun, and for some odd reason they want to force us to punch a hole in a wall, or some other destructive shit.
I am bipolar. There are times when, even with medication, it peeks its ugly head through. And because I am type 2 bipolar, I don’t get happy mania, I get extreme irritability. I know that I have a hard time controlling my behaviour then, and I keep myself away from my family. They know, too, and keep their distance. That’s how we get through those episodes without my family imploding. Sometimes you don’t feel in control of yourself and you have to do a workaround. You have to walk away. You have to take a time out. You have to… something, but you make sure that you don’t have to be sorry later.
Modifying your behaviour to ensure the people around you aren’t uncomfortable isn’t “not being true to yourself” and it isn’t “changing for people.” It’s being considerate, because it doesn’t change who you are. The majority of drinking buddies do it shifting from the bar to visiting grandma, let’s face it, it’s not a hard concept.
COFFEE IS LIFE. Anyone who says differently can fight me.
It is so important to learn to communicate.
In every relationship. Friendships, marriages, co-workers, whatever. Learn to be frank, to get your point across without being harsh, to not minimize yourself, to not be insulting, to properly handle feedback, to clarify and make sure people understood you.
When I was going to college, in a business class, the instructor told us that during interviews for jobs, it was in our best interest to take a second to think about what the interviewer was trying to find out with a question before answering. “What would you say is your greatest weakness?” for instance. Do they really want to know what I suck most at in life? Likely not. Odds are they want to know that I recognize where I need improvement, and also that I am working on those improvements. So, much better to answer “I really can be perfectionistic and like things done my own way, so I’d over-extend myself but I’ve realized this and I’m making a point to try to delegate more…” than to say “I don’t think I really have strong weaknesses,” or “Usually I sleep through like, 6 alarms so I’m late a few times a month. Haha.”
Other relationships work much the same though. Everyone talks through a filter and hears through a filter. Sometimes you need to ask yourself what the person needs from you, what are they trying to get across, or ask them if they understood what you said and clarify if they didn’t.
Honestly, I do this a lot with my kids. And they’re probably really, really tired by now of hearing “Do you understand what I’m saying/Does that make sense?” after every few sentences, but they can never tell me they didn’t get what I said, or that they misunderstood.
Miscommunication seems like the root of so many issues between people, for real, communication skills are super important.
It is so important to learn to compromise. Along with choosing battles, compromise. Sometimes you can’t, sometimes there’s no middle ground, but when you can, do.
It is so important to learn to think critically. Look for trusted sources. Learn to determine what’s truth and what’s fiction. With the internet as it is, it really is not so much that people don’t know, it’s that they know much that isn’t so.
Asking yourself whether you’re thinking is influenced by bias or by emotion is a good start, and learning to look for corresponding information from trusted sources as well. We all have confirmation bias and we all sometimes think emotionally. We’re not robots. We have feelings for reasons. But especially when it comes to news/info fueling fear or hate, it’s a good skill to learn.
Try to maintain good posture. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you, if you don’t. If you, like me, grew up constantly hearing “Stop slouching!” and completely disregarding it because your back felt fine, then let me fill you in on something – my back no longer feels fine. It’s not exactly a result of my posture. It’s a car accident and fibromyalgia. But my piss-poor posture hasn’t done me any favours.
I went to physio to learn ways to straighten myself out, exercises to do, and I still habitually curl my shoulders in and slump my spine. Sometimes the muscles get so tight that way that I can’t even uncurl anymore without help from the physiotherapist.
Practice and maintain good posture ASAP. And don’t cross your legs. Thank me later, I know you will.
Every so often, step back from trying to make your kids into good people and enjoy the people they already are.
I have always been a fairly firm parent, but as I noted, I try to choose my battles. I don’t like to yell, so I follow through on what I say probably 95% of the time so that I don’t have to yell. My kids know I’ll do what I say I’ll do, there’s no need to holler and threaten later.
Every so often though, I catch myself overly fixated on the adults they’re going to become and how to prepare them for that, and not fixated nearly enough on the wonderful kids they are right now. And I realize I’m missing it. In all my planning and discipline and guidance, I’m missing out on the kids who won’t be kids forever. It came to me once when they were small, and I try to remind myself every so often since.
Don’t be so focused on the future that you miss the now that’s right in front of your face.
Here we are, my big year, er – number. End of list. Made it.
Cut whatever/whomever doesn’t add value to your life. People or things that make you miserable, people who don’t make time for you or prioritize you, things that take more effort than they’re worth, people or things that drain you.
This is not a shallow or selfish thing to me, because when I talk about adding value, as I said before – I also mean people and things where I can help. That adds value to my life, so long as I don’t do it at the expense of myself or my family.
Love what matters. Toss what doesn’t.
This is my newest lesson, and hence, my last on the list.
So I’m full of advice and lessons learned and all, and don’t let me come across to anyone like I’m up here on mount perfect in my crown looking down on the people who don’t get it. I’m literally a mess, but many of these are things that I wish I’d learned sooner, or that I would tell a younger version of myself, given the chance.
I’m just trying to get through life with the most fulfillment I can get along with the least stress. That’s the real truth. But life is messy and tough and sometimes smashes you with a chair when you’re already down, it’s never really easy and if it is, it isn’t for long.
I’ve learned many things. I’ll keep learning many things. Here’s my important lessons, one for each year so far…
Happy birthday to me!