I recently celebrated my 40th birthday (September 19th) and I thought it might be nice to compile a list of things I have learned thus far. Forty years is not immensely impressive, but it’s also not nothing. It’s four decades (holy crap) and includes childhood, puberty, and the terrible twenties (I was miserable in my twenties).
Once I reached my thirties, things markedly leveled off. I can recall a moment (I was living in New York City, despairing, and searching for relief from the darkness I had been feeling for the extent of my entire life, reading Happiness by Matthieu Ricard) when I was hit with the thought that maybe there is hope after all and that my life isn’t going to continue to be a series of dramatic passageways through various versions of hell. I still don’t know if this realization came from the book or from the fact that I was finally through my twenties, but either way, that moment became a turning point for me. To know that life might be something more than just struggle upon struggle felt like such a relief and kept me motivated to continue on my path.
Looking back on that time in my life, although I was searching and trying really hard to find peace, and love, and happiness, and everything else I had ever longed for, it seemed that no matter what I did, I just couldn’t get there. And although I continued to experience emotional battles in my thirties, my internal turmoil became less intense compared to my twenties and earlier life. I just don’t know if I could have done anything differently and I do believe that my pain simply had more to do with time. I had a rough childhood followed by a fairly non-horrendous teen stage. Climactically, my twenties were insanely fraught with one emotional upheaval after another and I was essentially surviving—not thriving—from one moment to the next, for years. Unfortunately, I had no idea that I was even miserable. I mean, I knew I was miserable, but I just kind of thought that life sucked, and perhaps because of where I came from and the trauma that I had experienced, I inevitably by default belonged in a category called, “This Human Being Will Never Be Happy.” Of course, I hoped happiness was possible, but it certainly seemed incredibly far off, and I just didn’t know what to do about it. I kept trying and didn’t really ever contemplate giving up. Then my thirties hit, and my life, even though I still had difficulties to deal with, just got easier and lighter and better. Poof, kind of like magic…slow-moving magic. Now, whenever I encounter a young person wrapped up in their rather genuine albeit melodramatic pain, I usually tell them that for whatever reason, it just gets better when you hit your thirties, so just hang in there.
NOW FOR THE LIST
These are in no special order, so feel free to leisurely peruse and/or skim, and apply as needed.
MAKE YOUR HAPPINESS AT WORK A PRIORITY
I recently wrote a post about FINDING PEACE AT WORK because I have so many loved ones who struggle with this on a daily basis. Stress at work takes a toll on the body, on your relationships, your confidence, and of course, your happiness. I know happiness at work seems impossible to some, but it is in fact SO possible. You simply have to make it a priority. That doesn’t mean you pretzel yourself into a terrible job and that it’s your responsibility to make it work. It means that if your job sucks and your boss blows and you take your stress home with you and you dread going into work, you LEAVE and find something better. You might have to do this a lot. Life is too short to spend 40+ hours of every week in misery. C’mon now people! For the record, I was not always happy at work, but I am now. I have had many, many, many jobs that caused me stress, and pain, and confusion, and frustration, and I ultimately left all of them. If your job makes you miserable, then DEPART without any guilt and try something else. Don’t stop searching until you find a stable job that you enjoy, with supportive people, and good pay and benefits. Your happiness is worth the effort.
DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME WITH SHITTY FRIENDS
I never knew what it meant to have a good friend until I was about 27 years old. Think of all those shit hole years I wasted with lousy friends, thinking they were “good” friends, and wondering why I felt like shit about myself after spending time with them. This first good friend—who is still my dear friend—cared about my feelings and was kind. She took an interest in me and my life, she rooted for me, and above all else, she did not try to compete with me. She also didn’t put me on a strange pedestal. We were equals and she was her own gal, just like me. She had her own confidence and therefore did not need to take anything away from me. We had fun together and also shared a mutual respect, and my friendship with her set the bar for all friendships moving forward. Even now as an adult, I sometimes begin a new friendship with someone who turns out to be not so good for me, and I let them go if the friendship doesn’t make me feel good. You are never too old to let go of a terrible friend, and you are never too old to make a new life-long friend. Surround yourself with ONLY people who make you feel SO SUPER great about yourself, even if that only ends up being a small number of people. This number will grow as you become more discerning about who deserves to be in your life, and your experiences with friends will become richer and more fulfilling as time goes on.
HEAL YOUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH BOTH OF YOUR PARENTS
- Shatter false illusions about your mother (this could take decades)
- Shatter false illusions about your father (this could take decades)
- Give yourself the time to feel angry with your mother (this could take several years)
- Give yourself the time to feel angry with your father (this could take several years)
- Find a way to forgive your mother (this could happen in a miracle of an instant)
- Find a way to forgive your father (this could happen in a miracle of an instant)
- This process can take place whether your parent is alive or dead, present or absent.
Young Mom (1942-2017)
Young Dad (1950-still going strong)
LEARN HOW TO DRESS FOR YOUR BODY
Everyone’s body is different…duh. This isn’t about looking good for people. This is about feeling good and comfortable within yourself when you go out into the world, or even when you’re alone with yourself. TRY ON EVERY ARTICLE OF CLOTHING YOU EVER CONTEMPLATE BUYING. I know dressing rooms are traumatic. I do try to avoid them myself. But it’s gotta be done. And PLEASE know that just because you try something on and it looks like shit on you, doesn’t mean that your body sucks. All it means is that you need to keep trying on clothes, and don’t buy anything unless you feel almost perfect in it. Even if it’s almost there, but not quite, don’t buy it. Wearing it will make you feel like you suck. It’s a process. Invest in the time it takes, even if you hate it and it’s a drag. It’ll get better and easier the more often you do it. It won’t always be traumatic. Also, learn what stores are you-friendly and what stores are not. There are some stores I don’t set foot in because I know that every time I try something on in there, I look and feel like shit. Go to different places. A store that had an amazing thing that fit you perfectly last year, maybe doesn’t this year. Again, it’s not you. Not all clothing is made with the person in mind, and so much of the clothing out in the world is designed for stick figures. Not fair, but totally true. Not your fault, but don’t give up. You might only buy one or two items a year, but as long as they fit you tremendously and you feel fantasmagoric in them, that’s all that matters. Keep in mind, you might have to try on ten things and leave with nothing. Or you might try on three things and purchase two of them. Buy them if you love them and buy multiples in different colors if you really love them. It will always be a different experience every time. It’s never you and you are not the problem. It’s just the way it is. Work with it and don’t fight the system. Don’t avoid it all together. Just face it and know that it’s not you and there is nothing wrong with you or your body. If you have clothes that make you feel like shit, forgive yourself for buying them and then donate them. Get rid of that energy. Finally, set an intention before you go shopping, such as “I am going to find a __________ that fits me perfectly and is within my price range,” or something more general like, “I will have a positive shopping experience today,” or something like that. It works and is worth it!
DON’T ACTIVELY DESTROY YOUR BODY
I love my sweets and I need my potato chips, and I hate to exercise and rarely do. However, I also care a lot about my body and my health, and for the most part, try to take decent care of it. Whatever you choose to indulge in (I am a huge advocate for indulgence), be sure to balance it out with healthy discipline. Here are a few things I do regularly, if not daily:
- Drink shitloads of water (especially one glass as soon as I wake up, after I brush my teeth).
- Get a good night’s sleep EVERY NIGHT.
- Eat fruits and vegetables every day, for at least two meals a day.
- Avoid excessive sugar (so hard, but wow, you HAVE to, you just have to)
- For breakfast, I keep it simple and just have heart-healthy, plain, organic oatmeal every morning at work. Most American breakfast foods are too sugary and/or too fatty. Oatmeal is simple and good and heathy. Don’t add sugar. You can add cinnamon or maybe raisins but stay away from added sugar. If you start the day with something healthy, you can play around the rest of the day with varying levels of healthy and gross.
- Cook and prepare more food than not (meaning that most meals should not happen in restaurants or in the form of take-out, and should be prepared in your kitchen by you or someone who knows how to cook—if you don’t know how to cook, learn how to cook). Use as many organic and whole food ingredients as you can. Eat lean meats and whole grains. Use healthy fats like olive oil. Vegetable oil is like death.
- Avoid processed foods as much as possible (anything that comes in a box such as crackers, prepared frozen foods, cookies, and other snacks).
- Never, or only on rare occasions, eat white bread. I eat Ezekiel Flax Bread and make avocado toasts, open-faced sandwiches with whole and yummy ingredients, hummus situations, and the like. Do your research and see why this kind of bread is so good for you.
- Use SPF on your face (body would be great too) whenever you go outside…ALWAYS
- Avoid excessive (or all) alcohol and cigarettes (duh!), and keep the caffeine to a minimum. I have about two cups of tea a day and try to stay away from soda (even though I love it and often have some on the weekends)
- If you have a sweet tooth (like me), try eating dark chocolate instead of other forms of sugar. I keep at all times a package of Ghirardelli 86% cacao squares in my freezer and have one or two after dinner to curb my cravings. The calorie and sugar content in these squares is very low.
- Orchestrate your life so your daily stress level is regularly and insanely low.
- Move your body as much as you can, and maybe more gently than you think you’re supposed to. Yoga and walking work for me, but do whatever makes you feel good.
- Don’t neglect your face. Cleanse gently. Moisturize gently. Keep everything gentle. Use as many natural products as you can. Herbivore Botanicals and Dr. Hauschka products are two of my favorites.
GROW OUT YOUR GRAYS
I wrote a post about this when The Goddess Attainable first began. I still believe. Enjoy reading DON’T DENY YOUR GRAYS.
Most days I forget that I’m walking around with a head of silver hair.
APPLY LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE TO YOUR FEARS, RATHER THAN FORCE
I used to be so hard on myself when it came to all of my fears. I had so many of them and I thought it was my job to conquer each and every one of them. One of my biggest fears has always been stage fright. I used to try to stay strong about it and would experiment with all kinds of exercises and mental techniques (even physical techniques) in order to improve my experiences, but my fear just kept getting worse. I’d be ill-equipped and trembling when I had to speak in front of others and would inevitably botch up and embarrass myself, leaving me feeling an even greater sense of dread for the next time. I realized that simply doing it more often and making myself do it wasn’t really helping, it was just traumatizing. Finally, I decided to just give myself a break and told myself it was okay to avoid public speaking at all costs. The fear was just too debilitating. What a relief that was. I was finally being gentle with myself. I began to own this part of myself and realized that forcing myself to overcome this fear by throwing myself into the actual thing that terrified me, was just adding more intensity to the issue. For several years I just let this go and honestly identified as a person who was terrified of public speaking. And then strangely, I began to naturally pinpoint and understand the reasons and circumstances under which my fears were intensified. I realized that I was calm and relaxed and confident in certain situations but not in others. I also realized that a lot of my fear had to do with a deeper self-worth issue and certain childhood traumas. This is still a fear I carry with me and I have gotten to the point where I do explicitly avoid certain engagements that trigger all of my tremors. And I proudly enjoy those other engagements where I can shine and feel confident. I also keep in mind where all of the fear comes from and just try to be gentle with myself. I have made more progress with this fear through love and acceptance in one year than twenty years of aggressive force.
I’m still scared of swallowing big pills and I ask for a liquid suspension whenever I can. I’m a pussy. So what? Why be 40 and terrified?
I’m also fiercely courageous in a slew of other ways, as is everyone. We all have fears and we all have strengths. Fear sucks, I know, and we can feel like we limit our potential when we avoid our fears all together. But honestly, in 40 years, I have really learned that force is not the way to go. Let yourself be afraid of some things and work through overcoming these fears in a gentle way. There is no time limit and fear is a part of being alive. Be gentle because life is too short to be needlessly trembling in terror on a regular basis.
Just a few more self-explanatory, yet equally important gems for the road. Happy travels, until next time…
DON’T SPEND WHAT YOU DON’T HAVE
OWN YOUR FLAWS, MAKE PEACE WITH THEM, AND THEN LEARN TO LAUGH ABOUT THEM
DON’T NEGLECT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH NATURE
FIND A GOOD THERAPIST AND GO REGULARLY (NO ONE DOESN’T NEED A THERAPIST)
LIFE IS TOO SHORT NOT TO LOVE PEOPLE, SO MAKE LOVE A PRIORITY. WHAT ELSE MATTERS, REALLY?
IF YOU ACT LIKE A DICK, ACKNOWLEDGE AND APOLOGIZE
DON’T GET BOTOX (WE’RE SUPPOSED TO GET WRINKLES AS WE AGE. WHY FIGHT IT?)