Fifty Years, Fifty Lessons
December 10, 2012
I just turned 50 and, while it’s difficult to wrap my mind around this chronological fact, I think it begs a celebration. I’m therefore inspired to list 50 things that I’ve learned in my five decades on the planet. It’s a gift to myself, really, to honor the wisdom that I’ve received from people and life, some of which I’ve passed on to my students and clients. We all learn from each other.
1) Believe in your worth. It pains me to consider how much time I wasted thinking that I was unattractive, untalented and un-everything-that-I-thought-everyone-else-was. I obsessed about a little cellulite when I had a gorgeous figure. I thought I was insignificant when, in fact, I made lasting impressions on lots of people. Enough of that nonsense. I now affirm my worth on a regular basis.
2) When you know better, you do better. That’s from Maya Angelou. My version? At 35, I abandoned the party crowd to find my spiritual tribe. At 40, I started flossing my teeth and found the right facial moisturizer. At 43, I gave up emotionally unavailable men. This year I added green smoothies and meditation to my life. It’s never too late to start a good habit.
3) Got a compliment on your lips? Let it roll. One day during an otherwise impersonal transaction at a department store, I complimented the sales clerk on her iridescent, multi-hued eye shadow. Soon enough, she was gushing about her passion for style and make-up artistry. We both grinned as she delivered her parting words, “And you really look good in orange, girl!” Voicing appreciation also works wonders in a marriage, BTW…
4) It’s good to be on time. My name is Kim and I’m a recovering latecomer. My old behavior made me, and everyone who waited for me, crazy and annoyed. Chronic lateness does a number on body, mind and reputation. I’ve discovered that it feels way better to arrive on time and un-flustered. If I get there early, there’s my iPhone to entertain me, or a moment of mindfulness to enjoy. Feels so much better.
5) Things can change in an instant. One morning in 1996, I got a call from the program director at a National Public Radio station in Newark, NJ. I’d submitted a demo tape to this man at some point, but I’d forgotten about it as I continued to work my radio production job at another station. The director told that me that his morning news anchor was leaving and he needed “someone to fill in for a while.” Poof! That’s how I became a radio newscaster for WBGO, Jazz88.
6) You don’t have to keep doing something just because you’re good at it. In 1999 I left a “perfectly good” career in public radio to follow my heart. It led me to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, where I became a yoga teacher and a workshop facilitator. Eventually, I lost my passion for yoga teaching and so I left that, too. Now I’m coaching, teaching and writing messages that help people to live more joyfully and authentically. This job’s a keeper, I’m pretty sure…
7) Every feeling passes. I lived, worked and trained at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health for two magical years in the Berkshire Hills. A chunk of that time was spent processing emotional pain from my past to get to the joy of who I really am. I sometimes felt that I’d drown in those tears, but they always subsided, and my sunny nature always reemerged. Like the weather patterns of the Berkshires, my emotions shifted all the time. Feelings, like clouds, come and go.
8) Comparing leads to despairing. I’ve squandered a lot of time and energy imagining how great other people’s lives are and using that misinformation to make myself feel crappy. No one’s life is perfect, no matter how shiny it looks from the outside. Now I tend to my own garden, harvest the good, give thanks and feast on my life.
9) Taking risks builds risk muscles. Making bold moves and trying new things is scary. But that same energy, channeled as excitement, can propel us into taking risks with love, creativity, right livelihood, authenticity and every other good thing we want. The more I leap in faith, despite my fears, the easier it is to do it again and again.
10) Cultivate a sense of wonder and delight. Paying attention to the beauty of even small and simple things, and appreciating the abundant gifts of Mother Nature, fuels a romance with life that never grows old. I put my inner kid in charge of this one.
11) Yes, I’m sensitive. A friend once called me a “champion feeler” and today I proudly embrace that label. My sensitivity allows me to empathize with people, and my tears invite others to share their own. The downside is that I can be a sponge for the unexpressed emotions of those around me, but I still wouldn’t trade my sensitivity for toughness. It’s a gift.
12) A lack of confidence wastes a lot of opportunity. I regret the times that I let my insecurities hijack and sabotage exciting chances. “Fake it ‘til you make it,” is a chestnut of wisdom that tells me to say yes to opportunities that come my way, even when I don’t feel totally prepared for them. I can always become a quick study, or ask someone for help.
13) Nothing stays the same. I learned this one the hard way, often when I became attached to certain products (and shades of lip color), only to watch them disappear from shelves when they were discontinued. The good news is that this truism applies to both painful and pleasurable situations, which is nice to remember when the stuff is hitting the fan.
14) I proudly wave my freak flag. I’ve danced ecstatically on sacred rocks, howled at the moon, marched for peace, drummed around bonfires, chanted in sweat lodges and assumed yoga poses in the Grand Canyon. I’ve even been to a clothing-optional gathering or two. I’m a hippie-freak, tree-hugging flower child liberal, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
15) God is not Santa Claus (nor is s/he Simon Cowell). As a kid, I “parentified” God as someone who judged me when I was naughty. When I dove into New Age teachings and spirituality, I thought God would reward me for being nice. Now I know God as a source of unconditional and utterly generous love that’s always just waiting for my call.
16) Wish everyone well. Friends, family members, co-workers, the snippy sales clerk and that guy yakking too loudly on his cell phone…what if we’re all doing the best we can with the state we’re in and the mindsets we currently have? Wish everyone well today, especially those who vex you. I find it a surprisingly effective practice.
17) Pause, rest and integrate. I used to rush from task, to event, to appointment with no time in between for rest and integration. It meant that I was always active, yet rarely satisfied or present. Now I acknowledge the need for space and downtime to savor and integrate major events. Life is too rich to live on fast forward.
18) It’s easy to take our talents for granted. I can edit a rambling, 1,000-word mess down to a snappy 450 words. I can teach a yoga class and turn a group of strangers into a sacred circle. I’m also “good with eggs,” according to my ex-husband, and I sing pretty solos. What talents come so easily and naturally to you that you take them for granted?
19) People are my treasures. “Do you collect anything?” someone once asked me. I said no, but that’s not entirely true. I collect people the way some women collect shoes. Special people from my life have special places in my heart, shining like diamonds in my memory long after our paths have crossed.
20) What doesn’t kill us actually can make us stronger. The study of something called post-traumatic growth examines how stressful events can actually effect positive changes in a person’s life. My own hardships forced me to grow courage, wisdom, compassion and strength. Given the chance to rewrite my history, I just might leave a few of them in there.
21) Things often take longer than we like. I’m still working on this one, which involves patience, trust and a good dose of faith. There’s also something to be said for divine timing, divine orchestration, and the lessons learned while waiting, not to mention how our desires can change over time and render some wishes obsolete.
22) A good talk with a good friend is great medicine. I am lucky to have people in my life who let me be a big, fat mess sometimes. They listen without trying to make me feel better, simply holding a space in which I can speak aloud my complaints, confessions, sorrows and fears. Ironically, I do feel better after these talks, mostly because I feel less alone and more acceptably human.
23) Work your circle of influence. When Oprah Winfrey ended her long-running talk show, she told viewers that they didn’t have to be TV stars to have an impact on lots of people. I thought about that, and realized that every person I encounter may be affected by what I do and say. We never know who’s watching our “show,” so we might as well make it helpful, uplifting or inspiring, right?
24) The buzz is not worth the bummer. I just might be mostly done with alcohol, coffee, and sugar. I say “might” and “mostly” because life is full of special occasions that call for treats. Still, I know that the fleeting pleasure I get from these things is often not worth their negative effects on my body, mind and mood. Practicing what works best for me, and feeling the benefits, is my new high.
25) Happiness is an inside job. I’ve heard this sentiment for years, along with Abe Lincoln’s version, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Now I finally get that happiness is a moment-to-moment choice that has less to do with what happens to us than what’s happening inside of us. Choosing to be happy takes courage and practice, and it’s bolstered by an attitude of gratitude.
26) Crazy busy no more. I used to be someone with no white space on the calendar, over-scheduled to within an inch of my life. Behind all that activity was a sense of desperation, a fear of missing out and a discomfort with stillness. Today, I’m very selective about what lands on my calendar, and I guard my free time like the wealth that it is.
27) Parenthood is not for everyone. I am childless by choice. I just never felt the urge to be a mom. I love being with kids and I relate pretty well to them, but I just don’t want to raise one and have that 24/7 responsibility. Maybe it’s also because of my tendency to worry, or maybe it’s because I’m still growing up.
28) We’re ready when we’re ready. Regarding change, I once heard someone say that, “We can only go as fast as the slowest part of us can go.” Not sure I believe that entirely, but I do know that some major transitions in my life took their own sweet time to incubate. While it’s uncomfortable to hang out in the unknown, and we feel impatient to move forward sometimes, readiness is a key to lasting change.
29) Contentment is underrated. Maybe it has a lot to do with being middle aged, but I’m pretty content to be content these days. It doesn’t seem to be a very popular sentiment, so I sometimes feel out of step. But savoring who I am and what I have brings me peace and joy, and that, to me, is more satisfying than the latest gadget.
30) Tell on yourself. Last year I published something with a major typo that made me cringe. I couldn’t fix the error, so I told people about it. The outpouring of support that followed was astounding to someone who once thought that mistakes made her a target for ridicule. Screwing up is evidently something people relate to, so we might as well admit that we do it.
31) To-do lists are good. Ta-da lists are better. This idea comes from Julia Cameron, my guru in the work I do as a creative living coach. She recommends that we write “Ta-da!” lists to honor what we’ve done in the course of a day. When I acknowledge all that I’ve accomplished, I feel good about myself and energized to do more. After a little reward, that is…
32) Turn your defects into assets. My brothers would probably tell you that I was a bossy big sister. But a tendency to be authoritative comes in handy when teaching yoga and creative recovery classes (“Lift your sternum, drop your shoulders, write your Morning Pages, breathe…”). Likewise, my overblown sense of responsibility makes me pretty reliable. What character “defects” can you see as assets?
33) Walking is cheaper than therapy. One day I was all worked up about stuff and my ex-husband asked, “Did you take your walk?” in the same tone someone might use to inquire, “Did you take your meds?” So I took the hint and went outside to walk off my stress and get out of my own head. About 30 minutes later, the knot in my stomach dissolved and I smiled up at the big, blue sky, grateful for this free and gentle remedy.
34) One man’s dirt is another woman’s dishes. I’ve lived with people who had different cleaning habits than mine. I’d go nuts when the bathroom was grungy, and they’d nag me to do my dishes before bed. One day after much grumbling, I got it: they didn’t see the dirt and clutter that I saw, and I was oblivious to the pile of dishes in the sink. What if no one is wrong and we’re all just wearing different lenses?
35) Don’t believe everything you think. I was 32 when I first heard those words from a guru. Today they make a lot of sense, as my meditation practice causes me to watch the tireless parade of thoughts that march across my mind, many of which are repetitive, judgmental, fearful and banal. Were I sitting next to someone voicing this chatter, I’d move away. Watching my thoughts gives me perspective on them, and the chance to shift.
36) Nature is the ultimate thriller. I’ve seen skyscrapers, cities that never sleep and award-winning movies and plays, but nothing thrills me like a hummingbird, a breaching whale, a Technicolor sunset, the full moon rising, the power of the ocean, a majestic mountain or a sky full of shooting stars. Mama Nature is the original artist, and she is such a diva.
37) I dare to love my imperfect self. Our brains are wired to look for what’s wrong; it’s how we’ve survived over the ages. But while that impulse was designed to protect us from real danger, we often use it to pick ourselves mercilessly apart. If “God don’t make no junk,” as the saying goes, who am I to nitpick? I’m willing to love myself—warts and all—even as I acknowledge that there’s room for “new and improved.”
38) Be a good receiver. The other day a friend told me that I looked beautiful and I simply said “Thank you!” because my intention for this year is to be a better receiver – of compliments, assistance, money and all kinds of blessings. This can be challenging for those of us who are hardwired for self-sufficiency and used to deflecting, but receiving keeps good things in circulation, and I’m doing my part to keep that energy flowing.
39) Season, reason, lifetime. Those words refer to the length of time, and purpose, for which certain people are in our lives. It took me a long time to get this, and maybe longer to accept the fact that some friendships and significant relationships do not last as long as I want them to. I can only appreciate whoever shows up, try to receive the lessons and gifts they bear, and really value those who are with me for the long haul.
40) I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. I use that idiom because I’m an avid tea drinker, but the point here is that some people may never like me. Ouch! So I have to ask myself, “Well, aren’t there people who leave me cold, annoy me or push my buttons?” Well, yes. “What if it’s because they mirror a part of me that I don’t want to see, or some part that I’m uncomfortable expressing?” Could be. Or, maybe tea just isn’t everyone’s beverage of choice.
41) I believe in a good cry. It turns out that tears are actually good for us. They lubricate the eyes, remove bacteria and toxins from the body and reduce stress. But even before I knew that, I believed in the power of a good cry to release pent-up feelings of anxiety, anger and grief. I don’t always feel great right after a big cry, but eventually I do feel lighter, clearer and less afraid of my feelings.
42) Rituals matter. My childhood rituals included going to church, sitting down for family dinners and celebrating birthdays and holidays. As an adult, I create my own rituals based on what truly nourishes me. My mornings now consist of prayer, meditation and journaling. If I skip them, I feel “off.” Rituals ground me, enrich my life and connect me to what’s meaningful.
43) I forgive myself. I’ve made choices in life that caused me pain and suffering. I’ve hurt people and said things that I wish I could delete from the universal record. Today I forgive myself for making mistakes and causing harm. I make amends when possible to those I’ve hurt, including me, aiming to be kinder and wiser.
44) I forgive them, too.
Resentments, grudges and grievances are like toxic waste piles that litter my mind and poison my spirit. Forgiveness, on the other hand, feels liberating and clean. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that I condone bad behavior or want to become best buddies. It means that I no longer let another’s actions hold me hostage or define me. It also opens the way for healing.
45) Jealousy is a messenger. For years, being jealous of people who had what I wanted was something I just did. Once I became aware of my jealousies, I felt bad for having them (compounding the misery). Now when I catch myself feeling jealous of someone, I know it’s pointing me toward my own desires. I then remind myself that it’s an abundant universe, and only I can block my good.
46) Find the good and praise it. Author Alex Haley used these words to sum up his philosophy, and they describe a practice that I’ve been building on. It’s called savoring, and it’s related to the “glass half full” concept of looking for what is good and what’s working in our lives, aiming our focus there and giving thanks. This is especially useful when times are hard, and it’s a great relationship tool.
47) I love my body and it loves me back. I haven’t always been a wise or well-behaved inhabitant of this precious body, but it has steadily performed for me nonetheless. I’m amazed by what it can do, heal and repair, all by itself. The older I get, the more I want to reward my body with healthy food, lots of water, good supplements, massage, ample rest and movement. Whispering words of love also helps, and so I do.
48) Easy does it with expectations. There’s a saying in the 12-Step world that expectations are “premeditated resentments.” Translation: Don’t hinge your happiness on what other people do or don’t do. My unmet expectations of people and life have led to many disappointments and pity parties. A more useful attitude is to be grateful for what is given, cut everyone some slack and keep filling my own well.
49) I turn to face my shadow. Wisdom teachers say that if we don’t acknowledge and integrate our darker impulses and internal saboteurs, they’ll thwart our best efforts, tarnish relationships and trigger lots of bad behavior. Failing to see and own our shadow sides, we end up pointing fingers instead of looking inward. I’m willing to explore the aspects of myself that I’d rather not see, and shine a loving light on them.
50) Life is for learning. Agenda for the next 50 years: quiet my inner critic, calm my inner control freak, grow my gratitude and patience, be of greater service, appreciate the heck out of my parents and family, be more generous, stay curious, keep asking for what I want and have more fun. Not necessarily in that order…