Last week I turned 35 and whilst this isn’t deemed a ‘milestone’ birthday, in light of the year I’ve just had and the year I have ahead of me, turning 35 has provided a much-needed opportunity for reflection. Over this last week I have found myself considering all that I have to be grateful for in my life and aside from my health, good friends and family, one of the things I feel particularly grateful for this year is you.
As a way to thank you for all the support and attention you’ve given me, I’ve written a post that summarizes 35 of the lessons I’ve learnt about life over the course of my 35 years on this planet and it’s my hope that you get something from them.
1. Live without limits
I know I’m in danger of sounding like a scratched record on this one, but I truly believe that in the main we create and sustain our own limitations. When we begin to acknowledge and understand the ways in which we limit ourselves then we can truly start to live a life that goes beyond those limits.
Further reading: What living without limits means to me
2. Your life is your responsibility
Nothing is more powerful than taking responsibility for your own life, your own happiness, the achievement of your own dreams and your reactions to the world around you. All too often people waste their lives blaming their circumstances on other people and other things. Realising that my life is my responsibility has been life-changing for me and since I’ve placed myself firmly behind the steering wheel, my life has gone in directions that I could never have previously even imagined.
3. Less is more
I’m a reformed hoarder and in five weeks I will have sold or given away 98% of what I own. Why? The answer to that is simple: Freedom. As Ev Bogue once said ‘When you throw out all of your stuff, you free yourself to do anything’ and I couldn’t agree more. It’s hard to convey what letting go of ridiculous amounts of stuff does to a person but I can honestly say that the end result is liberating. Ridding myself of unnecessary stuff is allowing me to focus on what is truly important in life: love, learning, freedom and growth, none of which you can buy or store neatly under your bed.
Further reading: The first step in my bid for freedom
4. Embrace a fluid self-concept
Do you ever find yourself saying things like ‘I’m not that sort of person’ or ‘I don’t do things like that’ I used to do that all the time until recently when I was inspired to challenge my own ideas about who I was and what I was capable of. Next time you catch yourself pigeon-holing yourself, perhaps try stopping and asking yourself if what you are saying about yourself is really true or is it something you have come to assume but have never tested. If so, I would strongly suggest testing such assumptions because in my experience, nine times out of ten, you’ll be hugely surprised by the result.
Further reading: Embracing a fluid self-concept
5. Kindness begins at home
I used to believe that one of the most important things we could do in life was to be kind to other people and I envied those people who seemed to be able to demonstrate kindness 24-7. What I’ve learnt is that in order to be kind to others I must be kind and compassionate to myself first. When I give myself a break and show myself kindness and understanding then I’m in a position to go out into the world and do the same for others. Next time you come across someone who isn’t kind to others, look more closely and there’s every chance that you’ll see evidence of how unkind they are to themselves.
6. Sleep is not a luxury
I used to pride myself on my ability to function on small amounts of sleep but over the last few years I’ve begun to recognise what a difference getting sufficient sleep makes to my life. If I find myself feeling irritable or short-tempered, the chances are that more often than not it relates back to not having had enough sleep. Conversely when I sleep well, I feel energised and better equipped to deal with the stresses of everyday life and do so with a smile on my face. Make it a priority rather than a luxury to get enough sleep.
7. Embrace change
It could be said that I used to be a bit of a control freak and change, if I let it, could totally rock my world. These days not only do I invite change into my life but I embrace it. Even when a change threatens to have a detrimental effect, I can honestly say that something better has always materialised as a result. The good stuff might not always be obvious immediately but it’s there be to be found if you look hard enough.
8. Don’t be afraid of fear
I used to believe that fear was something to be eliminated and I loved the phrase ‘the only thing to fear is fear itself’ but I no longer feel that way. I’ve learnt that fear is a crucial part of my life and that without fear we can never experience what it is to be truly courageous.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~ Nelson Mandela
9. Never compromise on your needs
Something I used to do a lot was compromise on my needs. An example might be helping out a friend when I was already feeling exhausted and needing to take a break myself. Giving to someone else rather than attend to my own needs has only ever led to resentment and strain within my personal relationships. Being a good friend doesn’t mean always saying yes. Being a good friend means taking care of myself so that I have the energy to be a good friend when I can.
10. Sometimes just showing up is enough
This is one for the perfectionists amongst us. How often have you decided not to do something because you feared you wouldn’t do it perfectly or even just brilliantly. When we show up, vulnerability in tow, we open ourselves to new experiences. Don’t worry about failing, just focus on trying and it will be enough.
Further reading: Sometime just showing up is enough
11. Dare to be different
Your life is too short and too precious to waste time and energy trying to fit in with what everyone else is doing. Being openly different to others can feel challenging and at times uncomfortable, but it’s my believe that its better to feel challenged now than be filled with regret on your deathbed, because you lived someone else’s life rather than your own. As Mark Twain said:
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
Further reading: Do you dare to be different
12. It’s okay to love yourself
In our society, when we say ‘she loves herself’ it’s usually not meant as a compliment, as a result we are often encouraged in society to be loving and compassionate towards others first and to put ourselves second. I think this is one of the biggest mistakes we can make. Putting others first is unsustainable and systematically failing to show yourself love gradually destroys any capacity we might have for compassion and love towards others.
13. If you feel uncomfortable say so
I spent many years finding myself in situations or conversations that I didn’t feel comfortable in but that I would put up with because I didn’t want to make a fuss or face a confrontation. I’ve learnt that saying ‘I’m not comfortable with this conversation’ is not only my right, but also that it doesn’t have to be an invitation for an argument. We can state our discomfort with a situation and walk away without feeling guilty about it or getting angry. My time is too precious to feel uncomfortable.
14. It’s never too late to follow your dreams
This is a lesson that is very relevant for me right now. Because of my recent decision to quit my job and go travelling, I’ve heard from many people, words like “I’d love to do that but I’m too old’. My take on life is that it’s rarely too late. You only have to peruse the internet to find countless examples of people in their seventies and eighties and older doing incredible things. Take Roger Allsopp for example who at the age of 70, swam from Dover to France in 17 hours and 51 minutes.
Further reading: A step-by-step guide to making your dreams a reality
15. Don’t play the victim
It’s easy sometimes to fall into the trap of thinking ‘why me?’ and believe me in my younger years it’s something I did often but inhabiting the victim space is one of the most futile things a person can do. If shit happens that throws you off course, look on it as an opportunity for growth for it’s in the struggle that real development happens.
Further reading: The struggle for growth
16. There is no other moment than this one
We spend crazy amounts of time thinking about the past or fantasising about the future when in reality all there is in life is this moment. Don’t spend your life reliving what has already been or fixating on what could be, because if you do then you miss out on real living and the power of now.
Further reading: No future is worth wishing away your present for
17. There is no such thing as failure, only feedback
I don’t like the word failure and as a concept I don’t believe in it. When things don’t go to plan, then we can make a choice about how we take that. We can see it as failure and a clear sign that what we were trying to do won’t ever work or we can learn from the experience and work out why it didn’t go as we had hoped, make the necessary adjustments and try again. I know which of these options works best for me.
Further reading: There is no such thing as failure, only feedback
18. Anger has it’s place
Anger is usually viewed as a negative emotion and great efforts are made to eliminate it, but for me anger is as essential an emotion as fear and serves as an early warning system that all is not well. For me anger is usually an indication that I need to practice self-care or that I need to stand up for myself. When I reach the point of anger, I know that I have let a situation go too far and that had I spoken up sooner, I wouldn’t have needed to get angry. I appreciate that this isn’t always the case but I do think that anger is a warning sign that we can choose to hear or ignore but that we should never try to eliminate.
Further reading: Increase your daily happiness with this simple exercise
19. Listen more than you speak
This is a lesson that I’m not sure I’ve fully mastered yet. But I have over recent years become much better at letting people finish what they are saying before I wade in with my opinions. When we listen, not only do we give ourselves more opportunities to learn but we also allow others to learn too. Listening is a life skill that should never be underestimated.
20. It’s okay to shine
We all have unique and amazing talents that, should we embrace them, would dazzle the world but for whatever reason many of us keep them under wraps and well-hidden. I’ve learnt that it’s okay to shine and that in doing so we benefit those around us.
“As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others.” ~ Marianne Williamson
Further reading: What are you waiting for?
21. Be grateful for the hard times
To say that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ is a total cliché as is ‘as one door closes another opens’ but I’d suggest that they are clichés because they are true. Look back over your life and think about the bad times, looking back at them now, can you see the good that came out of them eventually? More often than not we struggle to see the benefit of a bad situation when we’re in it but having faith that some good will come out of it, helps me feel grateful for the hard times and as a result makes them easier to deal with.
22. Look after your body it’s the only one you’ve got
Self improvement and personal development is not just about the mind. If you don’t look after your body then your mind won’t be operating at optimal levels – fact. One of the ways guaranteed to give me more energy and focus is to go for a run, I’d even describe it as an act of meditation. If you’ve had your head in a book for too long or been staring at a screen so hard your eyes hurt then stretch your legs and shake off some cobwebs by getting out there and raising your heart rate for twenty minutes. Even a brisk walk is better than nothing.
23. Define success on your own terms
Beware of taking on other people’s ideas about what being successful means. One of the most important questions you can ask yourself is: ‘what does success look like for me?’ Only when we’ve ascertained the answer to this question can we live our lives accordingly. Have you ever felt like you are doing everything expected of you but you still don’t feel fulfilled? Chances are you using someone else’s definition of success.
“Success means having the courage, the determination and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be” ~ George Sheehan
Further reading: Homeless, unemployed and single – my road to redefining success
24. Don’t stay in harmful situations
Have you ever stayed in a situation that wasn’t conducive to your happiness and well-being but you stayed because of a hope that things would get better? I know that I have, more than once. I’ve learnt that if the situation I am in is harmful to my emotional well-being then I have to remove myself from that situation no matter how hard it might be to do so. Staying in harmful situations for the sake of others doesn’t do anybody any good. We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves so that we are able to be there for others but that does not mean getting dragged down by other people’s dramas or problems.
25. Learn to let it go
Is there a situation in your life that you are trying to control? If so, then let it go. It’s not your job to control people, circumstances or outcomes. If you find yourself feeling like you are holding things together or keeping someone on track then let it go. Letting go doesn’t mean giving up, it means accepting that things are as they are meant to be. It’s not your responsibility to fix the world all you can take responsibility for is yourself. The relief that comes from letting go is worth it. How often have you noticed that when you stop trying to force an outcome, it suddenly seems to happen on its own. I don’t believe that it has anything to do with coincidence.
26. There’s always enough to go round
When we worry about other people stealing our thunder or our ideas essentially what we’re doing is doubting our uniqueness in this world. I’ve had people say to me, don’t you worry about people stealing your ideas on the internet and I can’t help but smile. I want my ideas to be stolen, I want to share all that I’ve learnt and I don’t need to be ‘credited’ for it, the fact that an idea of mine was useful to someone is credit enough. Next time you feel protective of ‘your’ stuff, ask yourself why. Your gifts to this world are unique and can’t be stolen by anyone.
27. Interdependence is the goal
In many of my past relationships I could be found either totally enmeshed with the other person or fiercely declaring my independence. The middle ground is a space I’ve struggled to inhabit. What I’ve come to realise is that interdependence is the ultimate prize. When we can be true to ourselves and retain a focus on our needs and interests then we are in a much better position to compromise and give love.
28. There are always two sides to every story
I used to be very black and white about what was wrong and what was right. I have learnt that life isn’t that clear-cut, which might make it feel more complicated but actually letting go of concepts like right and wrong and taking sides, makes life so much clearer. I believe that everyone is doing the best they can with the resources that they have available to them and more often than not what people take as a version of events rarely reflects the true picture. Next time you find yourself being angry with someone rushing on the tube or in a train station, rather than think them inconsiderate, consider what they might be rushing for.
29. If you don’t tell someone they won’t know
How often do we get annoyed and angry with loved ones for not considering or even anticipating our feelings. I used to assume that people close to me should know what I needed or wanted without me having to tell them. I’ve learnt over the years that people have their own stuff to deal with and that as a result sometimes people can appear inconsiderate without meaning to. Telling someone if they have hurt your feelings is far better than sulking until they notice. On the flip side of this is all of the nice stuff that we assume people know but that we rarely tell them. If you love, appreciate or care for someone, make sure you tell them. If someone does something that changes your life for the better, tell them.
30. Don’t treat yourself with harmful things
How often do you reward yourself after a bad day with treats that are harmful to you, like drowning your sorrows with alcohol or comfort eating with chocolate? Unhealthy ‘treats’ on bad days used to be my default position and if I’m honest I still haven’t totally cracked this one. Having said that I am now much more likely to respond to a bad day by being good to myself so If I’m tired, I’ll go to bed early, if I’m stressed I’ll try to meditate and if I feel run down I will try to eat more fruit and veg.
Further reading: Five easy steps to getting through the lows
31. You know the answers
‘What do you think I should do?’ or ‘what would you do in my position?’ are questions that with time I’ve gradually eliminated from my life. Getting other people’s take on how to live my life used to feel like a clever thing to do, I likened it to research and getting some free advice but in actual fact all I was doing was devaluing my own power to know what is right for me in my life. Each and every one of us has the power to work out the right way forward simply by stopping and listening to ourselves. You can call it having a gut feeling or listening to your instincts or your heart but at the end of the day they all mean the same thing, you are the most qualified person to know what’s best for you.
32. Be grateful
Gratitude itself is a gift to be grateful for. Next time you’re feeling sorry for yourself, try listing out all the things you have to be grateful for and consider how many millions of people have far less than you do. When you really consider how lucky you are, you’ll be surprised how quickly you cheer up.
Have you ever received an email from someone and because it’s irritated or irked you, you’ve sat and pondered how to respond. I used to do that a lot and these days if someone sends me something that irritates me then rather than sit and wonder how to politely put the person straight, I just ignore it. This for me was a revelation, especially in the workplace.
34. There is always another way
One of the things I dislike most in life is the way in which we limit ourselves. Far too often we behave as if we don’t have a choice. People say to me, I can’t go travelling because I have a mortgage or I’ve got kids, making no acknowledgement of the fact that houses can be sold and children have also been known to travel. If you choose not to do something because the sacrifice it would take is too much then fine but don’t deny the choices you have available to you because there is always another way.
Further reading: There is always another way
35. Don’t waste a second
It’s taken me about 35 years to learn all of the above and I know I haven’t even touched the surface of what there is to know. Don’t waste time wondering what if or what could have been. Get out there and live the life you’ve always dreamed of. Live now rather than tomorrow and don’t waste a second. We only get one life and I can think of nothing worse than feeling full of regret at the end of it.
If you have read to this point then I applaud you, this goes down as my longest post to date. If you enjoyed it please do share it by hitting one of the buttons below and if you have a life lesson or two that you’d like to share please do so by commenting. I would love to hear from you.