Always, Sarah

Almost 40

Next week I turn 38 years old. I usually make a big deal about my birthday, as in countdowns and get-your-party-dress-ready type of a big deal, but this year just seems a little different. It's amazing how I’ve existed for almost four decades and I feel like I'm just getting started. If I could share life lessons with a younger me, these are the lessons I would share:

38 Lessons I’ve Learned in My 38 Years

1. Swallow your pride and say you’re sorry. Being too proud to apologize is never worth it — relationships suffer for no good benefit.  

2. Stuff is just stuff. They add no value to your life, and cost you everything. Not just the money required to buy them, but the time and money spent shopping for them, maintaining them, worrying about them, insuring them, fixing them, etc. 

3. Slow down. Rushing is rarely worth it. Life is better enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

4. Forgive and forget. Holding grudges can weigh you down and break relationships. Learn to truly forgive is freeing for all involved.  Use the experience as a learning lesson, not as ammo to be used later to gain advantage. 

5. The moment is all there is. All our worries and plans about the future, all our replaying of things that happened in the past — it’s all in our heads, and it just distracts us from fully living right now. Just focus on what you’re doing, right at this moment with the VIPs in your life before the moment passes.

6. When your child asks for your attention, always grant it. Give your child your full attention, and instead of being annoyed at the interruption, be grateful for the reminder to spend time with someone you love.

7. Don’t go into debt. That includes credit card debt, student debt, home debt, personal loans, auto loans. We think they’re necessary but they’re not, at all. They cause more headaches than they’re worth, they can ruin lives, and they cost us way more than we get. Spend less than you earn, go without until you have the money.

8. Someone uncool defined what cool should look like.  Be your own kind of cool and be cool with that. I wasted so much energy when I was younger worrying about being cool. Forget about that and enjoy being yourself.

9. Don't just have faith, embrace it. The sooner, the better. God has done such great things in my life, I wish I had noticed sooner.

10. Never send an email, message or update a status that’s unfit for the eyes of the world. In this digital age, you never know what might slip into public view.

11. You can’t motivate people. The best you can hope for is to inspire them with your actions. People act on their own decisions.

12. If you find yourself keeping up with the Jones', stop. They don’t know what they're doing either.

13. Enjoy your slice of life. We get so caught up in trying to do everything, experience all things, and not miss out on anything that we forget the simple fact that we cannot experience everything. We can’t read all the good books, watch all the good movies, go to all the best cities in the world, try all the best restaurants, meet all the great people. The secret is that life is better when we don’t try to do everything and life turns out to be pretty delightful.

14. Mistakes are the best way to learn. Don’t be afraid to make them. Try not to repeat the same ones too often.

15. Failures are the stepping stones to success. Without failure, we’ll never learn how to succeed. So try to fail, instead of trying to avoid failure through fear.

16. Rest is part of the process. People work too hard, forget to rest, and then begin to hate their jobs, get physically hurt, ride the emotional roller coaster. People can avoid stress by listening to their minds, emotions and bodies when it's time to chill out. 

17. There are few joys that equal a good book, a good walk, a good hug, or a good friend. All are free.

18. Fitness doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long process, a learning process, something that happens in little bits over a long period. I’ve been getting fit for three years now, and I still have more to learn and do. But the progress I’ve made has been amazing, and it’s been a great journey.

19. Money is only a tool. It's not a magic potion for love or give you the ability to turn back time.  Like all tools, it can be used for good or evil.  Choose wisely. 

20. Get out of your head. Don't get caught up with thoughts of the past or what to do with your future.  Learn from the past and let it go.  Do what you need to do now and the future will fall into place.

21. Let go of expectations. When you have expectations of something — a person, an experience, a vacation, a job, a book — you put it in a predetermined box that has little to do with reality. You set up an idealized version of the thing (or person) and then try to fit the reality into this ideal, and often disappointment sets in. Instead, try to experience reality as it is, appreciate it for what it is, and be happy that it is.

22. Giving is so much better than getting. Give with no expectation of getting something in return, and it becomes a purer, more beautiful act. Too often we give something and expect to get an equal measure in return — at least get some gratitude or recognition for our efforts. Try to let go of that need, and just give.

23. Competition is very rarely as useful as cooperation. Our society is geared toward competition — survival of the fittest, be numero uno, blah blah. But humans are meant to work together for the survival of the tribe, and cooperation pools our resources and allows everyone to contribute what they can. It requires a whole other set of people skills to work cooperatively, but it’s well worth the effort.

24. Gratitude is one of the best ways to find contentment. We are often discontent in our lives, desire more, because we don’t realize how much we have. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, be grateful for the amazing gifts you’ve been given: of loved ones and simple pleasures, of health and sight and the gift of music and books, of nature and beauty and the ability to create, and everything in between. Be grateful every day.

25. Focus on the good in all people. Including yourself. We tend to compare the people in our lives to other people.  We only know what we know and don't know what we don't know. As a third person looking in, it's easy to think that the mom next door is way cooler, Sally's husband is so sweet, and John's wife sure knows how to keep her cool.  Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Everyone.

26. Titles are as significant and insignificant as you make them out to be based on how we choose to see the world. Figure out which titles are important to you.

27. Absolutes are troublemakers. Always remember to never use words like always and never. Might as well throw in all the time and usually on that list. 

Sidewalk Art

Sidewalk Art

28. Get some perspective. What we see isn't the truth, but what we want to see from where we stand. The smallest change in perspective can transform your whole life. 

29. See the world as God tends you to see it. Live in it. Enjoy it. Be part of it. Help it. Be an active participant in this world. 

30. Everything is just a conversation.  Take a deep breath and exhale.  No freaking out. No yelling.  Have a conversation instead and see how much more productive that is when communicating.

31. Be more interested in others than you are in yourself.  Ask others questions about who they are, their interests, their families.  Ask community leaders about their plans and projects. The one who asks the questions wins.

32. Learn the art of empathy. Too often we judge people on too little information. We must try to understand what they do instead, put ourselves in their shoes, start with the assumption that what others do has a good reason if we understand what they’re going through. Life becomes much better if you learn this art.

33. Do less. Most people try to do too much. They fill life with checklists, and try to crank out tasks as if they were widget machines.  Just figure out what’s important. Stop being a machine and focus on what you love. Do it lovingly.

34. No one knows what they’re doing as parents. We’re all faking it, and hoping we’re getting it right. Some people obsess about the details, and miss out on the fun. Raising kids isn't a book study, it's a hands-on experience of playing follow the leader, so be the person you want them to be.  Try not to mess them up too much, show them they’re loved, enjoy the moments you can with them while you have them, show them life is fun, and stay out of the way of them becoming the amazing people they’re going to become and who they already are.  

35. Love comes in many flavors. I love my children, completely and more than I can ever fully understand. I love them each in a different way, and know that each is perfect in his or her own way.  I love my husband differently than I do my bestie, yet both such deep loves.  Love freely and often and openly. Now is your only chance to do it.

36. Life is exceedingly brief. You might feel like there’s a huge mass of time ahead of you, but it passes much faster than you think. Your kids grow up so fast you get whiplash. Gravity will start doing things to your body before you’re done getting your bearings on life. Appreciate every damn moment.

37. Fear will try to stop you. Doubts will try to stop you. You’ll shy away from doing great things, from going on new adventures, from creating something new and putting it out in the world, because of self-doubt and fear. It will happen in the recesses of your mind, where you don’t even know it’s happening. Become aware of these doubts and fears. Shine some light on them. Beat them with a thousand master ninja moves. Do it anyway, because they are wrong.

38. I have a lot left to learn. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I know almost nothing, and that I’m often wrong about what I think I know. Life has many lessons left to teach me, and I’m looking forward to them all.