“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” ~Albert Einstein
I recently turned thirty-eight.
Birthdays and new years always make me quite reflective and, for a long time, critical about my achievements—what I’ve done and what I have to show for it.
This time, though, there was finally a wonderful difference.
Over the past twelve months what’s mattered has been about the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen, the experiences I’ve had, and the things I’ve discovered about myself—none of which have brought me anything physical to show for it.
I’ve learned character building life lessons, the kind that have changed my life forever and, to be honest, I wish I’d learned sooner. Perhaps these will help you too.
1. Being happy is not about what we achieve.
I had to start with this one, as someone who has spent so much of her life achieving, striving to achieve, and competing to win. The first half of my life I strived to ride for my country and compete in the Olympics, then to achieve in business, then academically, and always in relationships.
It doesn’t matter what I achieve. No job, promotion, money, relationship, house, highest mountain, or gold medal will ever change how I feel about myself.
Achievement is the icing on the cake, so it’s important to learn to like the cake that’s the sum of who we are first, so we have something to ice.
2. We are all doing our best.
I used to hold myself to the highest scrutinizing criticism and moral compass.
I was excellent at delivering self-punishment as judge, gaoler, and executioner for every small flaw, mistake, or underachievement.
However, I would forgive other people for every fallibility, choice, and indiscretion. I expected so little accountability or responsibility from other people and so much from myself.
I’ve learned to balance it out by being more lenient, forgiving, and loving toward myself and accepting that we’re all doing our best—and this rule applies to me too.
3. We have to know and respect our deal breakers.
Self-worth is an action, so I got clear about my relationship deal breakers. Sadly, I’ve let a lot of people throughout my life treat me with disrespect—lie, cheat, take liberties, bully, blame, shame, and even abuse. I didn’t stand for anything. I couldn’t say no.
Without no, my yes had no value.
Now my deal breakers are respect, honesty, and responsibility.
When we know our deal breakers, we don’t accept mistreatment because we know we’re worth more.
4. Other people’s actions aren’t about us.
When I was in my twenties, my ex fiancé cheated on me. For a long time I believed it was my fault, that it must have been something I did or didn’t do—that I wasn’t good enough.
I realize now that how any other adult chooses to behave is about them, not me. My ex felt there was a problem in the relationship, and in response, he chose to be the kind of person who lies and cheats.
We’re only responsible for our own actions, feelings, and words, which means the buck stops here, but this also frees us from wasting energy and time cleaning up other people’s messes.
5. We need to trust our intuition.
I’ve made many mistakes in my life because I didn’t trust my intuition, nature’s gift of survival, which helps us thrive.
I got involved with the wrong people, relationships, and jobs, ignoring that I knew they weren’t right for me from the start, and then paid the price by wasting time and energy trying to make them work.
Intuition can be as loud as someone shouting in your ear, and other times, it’s subtler.
When we slow down, take our time, allow it to get clearer, and listen, we save ourselves a whole lot of trouble.
6. All the studying in the world will never be enough.
I’ve spent years studying, seeking to understand people and the meaning of life, love, and the universe. I have letters after my name to prove it, and much of it was a waste of time.
Most things are just stepping-stones to somewhere else, often on a cyclical path back to what you knew already.
Knowledge is power, but experience in using it, applying it, seeing how it feels, and making mistakes trumps everything, because that’s wisdom.
Good old-fashioned hands on living and having the courage to get involved and experience makes you wise. Then you have a beautiful lesson to share.
7. Face the scary stuff.
I wasted so much time hiding from the boogie monster, the scary truth inside of me. I just had to be brave and come face to face with how I felt and what I desired.
I had to feel all that I had hidden, repressed, and buried instead of trying to unlock it all through my head with knowledge, or getting someone else to tell me what to do.
Only then was I free; I could I stop caring if other people approved of me or not and just love myself and know what matters to me.
We travel through life alone, and by becoming our own best friend we no longer have to fear being unloved.
8. Accept that life and people are inconsistent.
When I was little, like everyone, I was reliant on others and needed them to be consistent so I could feel safe in the world. Unfortunately, they weren’t, so I got stuck needing to please other people so they would take care of me, but I always felt let down and disappointed.
I was like a drowning young woman at sea, battered around by the force of the waves with nothing to hold onto, because I had nothing of substance to rely on.
Change is the only consistent thing there is. Accepting this empowers us to learn to depend on ourselves.
9. We can be our own best friends.
By facing the scary stuff, getting clear about my deal breakers, starting to trust my intuition, and forgiving myself, I began to like, love, and respect myself.
I turned my curiosity toward finding out about myself and what I actually like, enjoy, and don’t want. I became my own best friend and I’ve got my back if there’s a problem.
I came to know me, inside and out, and what matters to me, so I built a boat of substance and I’m no longer drowning. The world around me can be wild and changeable like the sea, but now I can ride out the waves without fear. The same can be true for you.
10. We are enough.
I never needed to strive to be anyone’s best friend, girlfriend, or wife by keeping a tidy house, cooking like a chef, and making wild passionate love every night, or by being a CEO, earning a fortune, or having a gold medal or a PhD.
It sounds exhausting just writing it, but that was how I used to live my life.
Yes, I sometimes do some cool, fun, interesting stuff; I am curious about the world and enjoying my life. But sometimes I can’t be bothered.
I like to slob around in my PJs watching old movies. I get morning breath and matted hair, but can scrub up well and attend the ballet.
I now know who I am, what makes me happy, and the value I can bring to any relationship or situation not because of what I do, but who I am.
We’re unique, priceless, and irreplaceable, and the sum of every experience.
Our greatest relationship is with ourselves, because it’s through that relationship that we learn how to truly love other people, including our children. And when we demonstrate how to love us, we can get the most joy out of our lives.