49 Years + 5 Life-Changing Lessons = 1 Strong and Confident Woman
I recently turned 49 and to mark the occasion, I’m taking stock of all my triumphs and failures. In doing so, I’ve made a list of 5 life-changing lessons I’ve learned, lessons that have helped me become the strong and confident woman I am today.
Here they are, in order from least to most impactful in my life:
Lesson #5: Forgive others often
When someone has wronged us, we hold on to the pain because in some strange way, it comforts us and reminds us that we were hurt, victimized, or taken advantage of.
This is all ego. Our ego takes pride in the pain by forcing us to point the finger at the wrongdoer. We call them out to prove to the Universe that they can’t hurt us and get away with it.
This need to enforce justice is all ego. It’s our efforts to somehow punish the one who hurt us — not what they actually did — that creates our suffering.
To alleviate our suffering, we must forgive the wrongdoer. Sometimes, we must do this many times. Forgiveness is usually not a one and done, but a process of forgiving often, even daily, until our suffering has abated.
Forgiving doesn’t mean what they did to us was ok, it just means we love ourselves too much to keep reliving the pain by holding on to it out of a misguided sense of justice. Forgiveness is self-care. It’s a letting go. It’s liberation.
Lesson #4: Value not only your time, but your energy.
When making decisions, we often weigh how much time something will require. Before we take action ourselves, we calculate whether it’s worth our time to do it ourselves, pay someone to do it for us, or simply not do it.
However, it’s also worth considering how much energy something will require.
For example, I was recently offered the opportunity to teach a new class at one of the colleges where I’m an adjunct. In considering whether to say yes, I thought about how much time and energy it would take to plan and teach this new class.
While I have the time and would be well compensated for it, I decided that with all I have going on at the moment, it would require so much more energy that the extra money simply isn’t worth the cost to my mental, physical and emotional health.
If I had only factored time into my decision, I might’ve agreed and then later, when feeling stressed and exhausted, regretted it and felt trapped.
Lesson #3: Give to others that which you desire for yourself.
It’s often easy to think about what we don’t have and feel sorry for ourselves, especially when we see others who have what we want.
One solution to this form of suffering is to simply stop comparing ourselves to others. After all, comparison is the thief of joy, right?
However, I believe we need to take this one step further. In addition to not comparing our lives to the lives of others, we should go out of our way to give to others the very things we desire.
Instead of feeling sad that we aren’t invited to a girls’ night out, we can take it upon ourselves to call our friends and invite them out one night.
This isn’t some type of odd revenge scenario, but it’s an earnest effort to extend to others something we desire in order to co-create it with them for ourselves!
Instead of feeling jealous that our neighbor went on a ten day trip to Hawaii while we had a staycation filled with Netflix binges and take-out, we could invite them over for mai-tais and ask them to tell us all about their trip. Doing so will strengthen our neighborly bond and we could share in the fun of their vacation by hearing about it. Perhaps one day, when we finally do get to go to Hawaii, we will remember some of the places they visited and plan to go there ourselves.
Learning to turn comparison on its head and see ourselves as givers and celebrators means that we strengthen our connections with others, which is what’s at the root of all that we desire anyway.
Lesson #2: Make decisions out of love, not out of fear.
We often agonize over big decisions. (We agonize over small ones, too!) The best indication that we’re making the right decision is to ask ourselves which decision is love-based and which is fear-based.
How do we know the difference? By paying attention to our bodies. When imagining our lives after making the decision one way, how do we feel? Do we feel expansive or contracted? Are we relaxed or tense?
If we’re expanded or relaxed, we’re making the decision out of love, and that means it’s right.
If we’re contracted or tense, we’re making the decision out of fear, and that means it’s the wrong decision.
For example, we recently decided to buy a house. At this time, the housing market is experiencing high demand and low supply, which means the prices are inflated. However, mortgage interest rates are extremely low, so while a home’s price tag might be higher, over the length of the loan, we’ll pay less.
After signing the contract, I felt excited about finally moving out of this apartment into our own, much larger, space. Despite this, I had a negative thought that kept trying to rob me of my joy. The thought was: the mortgage payment is double what we’ve been paying in rent, so maybe this is a mistake.
Every time I had that thought, I felt stressed. I felt tense. Therefore, I knew it was just fear talking. Conversely, whenever I thought about how living in a larger space where my sons would each have their own rooms, I would have an office, and we would have a yard, I felt happy and relaxed about how this home would improve our family’s quality of life. These thoughts are based in love, reassuring me that despite the price tag, buying this home is the right decision.
Lesson #1: Your thoughts determine the quality of your life.
Our circumstances don’t determine the quality of our lives; the amount of dominion we have over our own minds does.
Many circumstances are out of our control, but what we think about them isn’t.
For example, if a close friend makes a new friend and all of a sudden we start seeing photos on social media of the two of them together, laughing and having fun at different places, what thoughts would we have?
Notice that I didn’t ask how we would feel. This is because our feelings are caused by our thoughts about a circumstance, not the circumstance itself. Often, we are unaware of our thoughts and we focus only on the feelings that we erroneously believe are caused by the circumstance.
Slowing down and realizing what your thoughts are about something is helpful because — returning to our example — if we feel bad or jealous when we see those photos, we can identify the thoughts we have about them. Once we do that, we have a choice: we can continue feeling bad, left out or jealous, or we can choose a different thought which will create a different, better feeling.
Instead of thinking, “Sheesh, I guess that’s her new BFF now,” or “What about me?” we can think, “I love seeing my close friend having so much fun!” or “Good for her, making a new friend and enjoying life!” It’s logical that thoughts like these would produce very different feelings: feelings of happiness, appreciation and love for our friend.
It follows, then, that our quality of life would be quite different with thoughts like that!
An important distinction: this is not toxic positivity. This is not about controlling our thoughts so we never have an emotion that is less than sunny. This is not about creating some inauthentic, pollyanna version of life for ourselves.
This is about healing our own, self-imposed suffering.
Now, if our close friend suddenly stops talking to us or blows off spending time with us in favor of spending time with their new friend, we would have a real reason to think those thoughts and feel sad, jealous, rejected and lonely. And that is ok. These emotions make us fully human.
However, when we see something and immediately jump to conclusions or make assumptions that cause ourselves emotional pain, we now know we have the power to choose new thoughts and have a different experience.
See the difference?
To conclude, these are the five most important lessons I’ve learned in life so far. Next year I turn 50 and I plan to remain open to learning all that life has to teach me in the coming years.