Everyone collects something – vinyl records, microbrewery pint glasses, Facebook friends.
I collect quotes.
They’re splashed all over my home and hundreds of them are stashed in a running Word document on my laptop. They span the breadth of great philosophers like the 17th century’s Blaise Pascale to our modern-day Alain de Botton. There are wise words from Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, e.e. cummings, Thomas Edison, Leonard Cohen, Helen Keller, Anais Nin, and Clay Shirky. And where would we be in 2012 without a few choice musings from Carrie Bradshaw, “thirtysomething”’s Miles Drentel, and of course, Ron Burgundy.
Maybe it’s this whole being-a-writer thing, but these words of wisdom and revelation help ground me. They serve as a muse when it’s time to sit in front of a blank page. And they’re also a diary of sorts; I can scroll through the document and see the lessons I was learning at different points in my life: self-discovery, independence, creative struggles, love, connection, happiness, motivation.
As many of you know, this has been a big year for me – filled with change, adventure, and uncertainty. Such is the drill when you meet an amazing man and, nine days later, he learns he’s being relocated to Montreal (details here). That whole experience + turning 40 (!) + a painfully slow first six months of the business year = a sizable chunk of time spent reflecting on what I’ve learned over the past four decades, and the lessons I want to carry with me into this next phase of life. Without a doubt, the most significant is the one at the top of this post: “Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. Have faith in what will be.”
Throughout 2012, I’ve often sat down to sift through the quotes, add a few more to the list, and think about what I’ve learned. In doing so, I also started jotting down quotes of my own – words that have tumbled from my lips in conversation, leapt from my fingertips in blog posts, and illuminated my brain during personal light bulb moments. Some of them were fairly quick and simple revelations that struck me out of the blue; others were gleaned through painstaking, lengthy, sometimes-heartbreaking experiences whose lessons didn’t register for years.
I believe one of the greatest gifts is that of story and wisdom gleaned from a life lived. So in this season of giving, I’m passing along my “40 Things I Know at 40.” Although all those philosophers and visionaries and whatnot are inspiring, these are my own words. My hope in sharing them is that you’ll think about your life lessons and pay them forward – to lift someone’s spirits, soothe them during strife, encourage them to step back, or inspire them to push forward.
Wishing you love, laughs, wit, wisdom, and many blessings this season and in 2013,
40 Things I Know at 40
- If you have your health, people you love, and meaningful work that brings you joy, you have the cake AND the icing. Everything else is just sprinkles.
- Surround yourself with authentic, positive people. But first – cultivate your own authenticity and positive outlook. Then you won’t depend on anyone else to define your life direction or mood.
- Whoever you’re with, whatever you’re doing, make it the center of your world at that moment.
- We can’t control the behavior of others, but we have the power to tell them what’s bothering us. It’s up to them if they want to change – and it’s up to us if we want to wait or walk.
- It’s much scarier – but far more rewarding – to blaze your own trail. As Elle’s great E. Jean Carroll says, “Never look for a job when you can create a job.”
- Chasing prestige guarantees you will always feel empty. Instead, chase what feels good, brings meaning, makes you lose track of time, and makes other people smile.
- It’s better to be alone than be with someone and feel alone.
- Wheat, dairy, and sugar hate pretty much everyone’s guts.
- If you find yourself feeling hopeless, rattled, pessimistic, or drained in someone’s presence, stop spending time with them.
- Whatever you imagine will happen, often will. Be aware of the worst outcome, but assume the best one will occur. Nothing is foolproof but it certainly feels a hell of a lot better to believe the future warrants Ray-Bans.
- Always take the risk. Failure is better than forever wondering “what if.” And success never sucks.
- If you’re alive, it’s not too late.
- Always make time for rest and fun. Burnout is real and will slowly kill you.
- Learn to love your own company – hold court at a table for one, take solo vacations, attend concerts and museums and movies alone.
- We actually control very little in our lives. Almost everything is a transaction, and thus dependent on the action of someone else. All we can do is get out of bed and try. The rest is up to the world.
- The certain past often seems less daunting than the uncertain future, but going backwards is rarely the answer.
- Be a dabbler. Try new things, try lots of things, even if you’re just sticking your toe in the water. Life is really fun if you’re a jack of many trades AND a master of something.
- Success on anyone’s terms but your own is not success.
- There is great power in vulnerability. Only when you make yourself vulnerable – and make your needs known, even if the anxiety of expressing them makes your knees buckle – can you get your needs met and make progress in your relationships.
- Just because it worked for you doesn’t mean it will work for somebody else. (That goes for this list, BTW! Take or leave any of it…no hard feelings. :->)
- Everyone is worthy of love and kindness. Other than that, no one owes you anything.
- If you’ve been knocking on one door for a long time – to the point where you’re taking an axe to it – you’re probably missing dozens of open doors behind you. At least one of them probably leads to something much better than what’s behind the closed door. Put down the axe and turn around.
- Learn the difference between your gut instinct and fear – they feel eerily similar.
- Forget the expectations you had last year or five years ago or when you graduated college. What do you want based on who you are today and who you want to be tomorrow?
- Life scripts are boring, and well-paved paths are the best way to get stuck in a traffic jam.
- Strive to be a whole person – embrace and express all sides of yourself.
- Having it all depends on how you define “all.” Figure out what that means to you.
- Whether in life or behind the wheel, detours are fun – and often lead you to places you never imagined.
- Life is not a case of “either/or” but of “yes AND” (props to my improv training :->)
- Busyness is not a virtue. It’s usually an escape.
- Sometimes you have to let go of what you want and love what’s on your plate.
- Constantly striving for the next thing – job, relationship, whatever – and assuming that THEN you’ll be happy is bullshit. Stop moving the goal posts and find a way to be happy now. The rest will take care of itself.
- Define what you want – visualize it, write it down. As clearly as you can. Then let it go. Some people will tell you to do one or the other…do BOTH.
- Focusing on what’s wrong just begets more of what’s wrong.
- Hatred, judgment, and intolerance are never the answer. Try love, compassion, and kindness instead.
- It’s not anyone else’s job to take care of our feelings or make sure our needs are met.
- “Life is short” is not an excuse to behave irresponsibly.
- The first thing we do to take care of ourselves is put a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes on our backs, and money in the bank. If you’re not meeting these essentials, everything else you’re doing to “take care of yourself” is extraneous.
- If you can learn to forgive yourself – and be gentle with yourself – you’ll find you have more compassion for others. And it improves your interactions with everyone around you.
- We often hear, “Life is about the journey, not the destination.” But there’s actually no destination. Life IS the journey. When the journey’s over, you’re dead. So enjoy it, embrace it, squeeze the love out of every minute.