At 34, What I Know For Sure
Last month I turned 34 years old. As I type that number, I can't quite believe that is my age.
Over the last three months, I've listened to a LOT of podcasts. My current favorite is Oprah's Super Soul Conversations. Naturally, listening to these podcast episodes have inspired me to think deeply about certain aspects of who I am, ask myself the questions the interviews pose and consider the lessons I've learned up until this point in my life.
I started writing this post on July 11 but ran into some trouble; I suppose it was a bit of writer's block. I originally titled the post "20 Things I Know at 34", as my birthday is the 20th and I was trying to be clever. The 20th has come and gone with head-spinning speed-- twice actually--but I didn't want to shelve this post. A lot has transpired in my personal life over the past five weeks, and I was happy to be able to return to writing, look back on these lessons, and refine them as needed. (I added in a bit more).
I read that Oprah began writing a column in "O, The Oprah Magazine" over ten years ago called "What I Know For Sure" after film critic Gene Siskel asked her the question, "saying that the question offered her a way to 'take stock' of her life." She has a book with the same title, and on her podcasts, she asks her guests what they know for sure. I love this question because there is so much that is entirely unknown in our lives. What I know for sure are MY TRUTHS in this complicated world we live in. This doesn't mean you can't have them too, or that I think these should be EVERYONE'S truths. These are simply the things I have discovered resonate with me on a deeply emotional, personal, and spiritual level.
In no particular order...
1. "Failure is where my soul expands"
This quote is taken directly from an episode of Oprah's Super Soul Conversations (Father Richard Rohr: Finding Your True Self). When I heard this, it was as if someone hit a pause button in my world. I had a visceral reaction to hearing those words.
I have touched on the fact that I have suffered from severe perfectionism, which has inhibited me so much in my life. I've long been afraid of looking stupid when doing something new, of appearing "green," not knowing; I've been afraid to let loose, even when deep inside, I wanted desperately to do so. Even though intellectually I understand that perfection isn't attainable, somehow I still thought I could "beat the system," I could avoid making mistakes. I also thought that if I were super-duper careful, avoiding all missteps, everything would be cool.
As time has passed, mistakes were inevitably made, and pain, felt; I have come to know without a doubt that perfection isn't attainable intellectually, it's not feasible on any level.. IT. DOES. NOT. EXIST.
In fact, one lesson that I have learned more than any other is that there is no room for learning or growth without falling flat on your face in some way or another. No one is immune to screwing up-- in big ways and in small ways. I've done both. But, as always, I come through my biggest failures feeling stronger, more capable, a better version of myself. At the very least, I am always humbled and feel more empathetic to others.
I've come to accept failure and, dare I say, enjoy it when I can. I have chosen to lean into whatever comes my way; I can own it so that it doesn't own me.
2. Forgiving myself is the only way forward
Again with the perfectionism! It ruled so many different areas of my life--and the worst part is that it was all self-inflicted! Mistakes bring a lot of guilt, a lot of shame, a lot of anxiety with them. I still struggle with these feelings, and forgiving myself is a daily practice. I have to choose regularly to be kind to myself and accept that there is nothing I can do to undo my past. Why worry? I can't let those things stop me from living my best life forward, and making strides to be the person I want to be.
3. Forgiving others is too
One of the hardest lessons I've ever had to learn is that people make mistakes. Sometimes they are HUGE, terrible, and seemingly unforgivable. In my life, I have had to forgive others for the mistakes they made, even the worst ones, the ones that I used to feel hurt me irreparably. I realized those mistakes could only hurt me so long as I allowed them to, and the fact that I am surviving, and can thrive, is a testament that I am worthy of this life, and that I have value.
4. Stop being so damned judgy!
I'm definitely guilty of being judgmental... of myself, of others, etc. I've come to learn that when my headspace is full of criticism of everything else, there is no room for productivity, no room for creativity. When I recognize that I am being judgmental, it's an active process to shift my thoughts. I don't want to be someone who is overly critical. No one likes being around people like that, and when it's directed inward, it's not a fun place to be.
It goes hand in hand with...
5. You don't know shit
Truthfully, no one has got life figured out. I'm sure there are loads of people who think they do. I've been on the planet for 33 years, and I have only this list of things that I hold as my truths. But really? They aren't definite. Nothing is. So why are we getting so angry with one another over things we believe are absolute when they really aren't? Why are we prisoners to self-righteousness? I think the more we admit we don't have all the answers, or even most of the answers, the better off we'll be.
Question everything and...
6. Be a life-long student
Never. Ever. Stop.
7. Choose love
Love has to be chosen. It also has to be accepted.
I have no problem being loving to others, my husband and children especially. Easily. Accepting love, whew. That was another story.
At 34, I know how to be vulnerable. I know how to allow myself to be open to others in many ways that I struggled with for years. I am open to friendships and believing that I am worthy of having fantastic people sharing my life with me. I am able to love my children and husband more wholly. I am able to know that I am a person capable of being loved and loving others.
8. Being constantly positive isn't sustainable, or healthy
It's OK to struggle. It's part of the human experience. We aren't meant to be on a constant high. I'm not going to fear someone labeling me as "negative" or a "Debbie Downer" simply because I'm not plastering a smile on my face when sometimes I really don't want to. There are days or even seasons when things just suck. Sometimes those days and seasons feel like they'll extend on forever, and that there isn't a light at the end of the tunnel.
All of these feelings are normal. I'm normal, and I'm not a bad person because I feel this way. No one else is either. What's important is that ...
9. Doing Something is Better Than Doing Nothing
Being idle for too long is not good for anyone. In moments of deep despair, of feeling crushed under the weight of life, I've got to keep going. If I can, I must, somehow, get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. Eventually, I know I will be standing taller, and what is now will soon be the past. I fully recognize that there are traumas in life that seem insurmountable. We all have them, and we are often altered forever after them, bringing it along with us in our DNA. The point is that we carry on, and continue to live our purpose.
10. Chin hairs are sent from the devil himself
While I'm trying hard to "age gracefully," these suckers are a bitch.
11. A good soundtrack makes life so much more enjoyable
This one is self-explanatory.
12. Nurture Your S.P.I.C.E.S.
Earlier this year I took a parenting course to better understand and communicate with my teenager. I learned a lot. One of the most important takeaways was the importance of nurturing my "SPICES", and ensuring that my children's SPICES are being cultivated also. SPICES refers to your social, physical, intellectual, creative, emotional, and spiritual needs. If these areas of life aren't being tended to, the deficit will manifest in some way -- and it's not often positive. Taking care of yourself goes so far beyond treating yourself to a pair of shoes. It crosses into all levels of our existence.
13. Don't take yourself too seriously
Laugh at yourself... often.
Cool can be bought. You aren't as cool as you think you are, and you definitely aren't better than anyone. Which brings me to...
14. Be humble, because that's important too
15. You can do much with little
One of the most prominent lessons I've learned from having a child at 19 years old is that you can get by without a lot. For years we've had one hand-me-down couch after another, no cable, and Logan and I shared a car. At the beginning of our marriage, Logan and I lived with his mother for two years, and, a few years later, my mother moved in with us. I didn't have a smartphone until 2012-- eight years after my first son was born.
Our life isn't glamorous by any means, but I can tell you with absolute certainty: I FEEL RICH. I am grateful for what I do have. Don't get me wrong-- money is terrific, and there is no shame in being monetarily wealthy. I'm just saying that in doing things a bit "backward", I've found that the things our culture stresses and places value in aren't really important to me.
I look back on those cell phone-less years when my children were very little with no regrets-- I was invested in my time with them. I wasn't scrolling when they were talking to me, I wasn't constantly checking email or texts; I was present. I have never stressed too much about my kids accidentally ruining our furniture, and while difficult, having lived with our moms for some of our marriage helped me go to college, have an extra set of hands around the home, enabled us never having to use a babysitter, and Logan and I enjoyed a great many date nights together. Even the pains of sharing a car are lessened when I think about how much I have appreciated riding with Logan to work in the morning, and the time we have spent talking and admiring sunrises together.
16. Getting quiet is the starting point
I've learned that before anything, finding time to be quiet, still my mind, and meditate is the way to consistently stay aligned with my personal values, and to work towards being the person I want to be, and living the life I want to live.
17. People will let you know if they want you in their life, all you have to do is pay attention
Or, in the words of Jenna Kutcher, Show up for the people already showing up for you! Stop chasing people who aren't meant to be in your life.
18. Don't take anything for granted.
Each day I try my best to write at least three things I'm grateful for. Most of the time I fill my journal with small things. Everyone getting home safe, food on our table, our health, and being together. I am thankful for all the time I have had with my family. I never want to be ungrateful for these monumental blessings.
Our lives have dramatically changed in the last year, and I can say emphatically every moment I've spent with my children has been worth it. I've made deliberate decisions in my business to ensure that I could spend as much time with my children as possible. I too have complained and made jokes about life with my boys many times, and I would be lying if I said that it was all bliss because, DUH. It's hasn't been--they drive me NUTS! But these have been my favorite years. And I wish I could live in them forever.
19. "Be Impeccable With Your Word"
Taken from The 4 Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, this chapter of the book stuck with me. I think it was because I need to strengthen this area of my life. Since I read it, I have deliberately made this a personal mantra. Gratefully, this has always been one of Logan's personal mantras, and he's helped to keep me accountable with keeping my word impeccable. Say what you mean, mean what you say. You are only as good as your word. I feel that I needed a lot of work in this area of my life, which is a constant work in progress.
20. God is Love
I'll say it again-- GOD. IS. LOVE. Above all else-- GOD. IS. LOVE.
21. Have complete & total reverence for life
Just before my 30th birthday, on a trip to Abu Dhabi where I was photographing a wedding, I had somewhat of an epiphany. At some point in the days I spent traveling alone, gaining independence, and seeing a vastly different corner of the world, I was forever changed. I think that trip led me to question so much about who I am, where I was headed, and what is most important to me in life. One thing I never, ever want to let go of is my feelings of sheer exuberance of going, seeing, and doing; of living life to the fullest, being deeply grateful, and looking at life with fresh eyes and an open heart.
22. Chill out
Things probably aren't as bad as you think they are, and often, the solution to a problem is most often simple. People aren't thinking about you as much as you think they're thinking of you. Get over yourself. Don't worry about what people think about you. Slow down. Breathe. Stop worrying about tiny things.
23. Sleep is REALLY, REALLY, REALLY important
I have never glorified all-nighters. I chose early on in my business that I couldn't do that. I have sleep goals to achieve! Now that my children are older, I am able to do that, and I understand new parents and parents of young children aren't getting much sleep. This too shall pass.
I make it a priority to get sleep. Not only do I feel terrible and am crazy grouchy when I haven't had a good night's rest, but it's also dangerous and detrimental to your aging brain. Seriously. When you can, hit the snooze button, and steal a few ZZZs.
24. Live Free
As best as you can. In any way that you can. Free from the judgment of others, of yourself. Have grace with yourself as much and as often as you need to. Say you're sorry when you feel like you should.
25. Remember to Stretch
I think back on all of the exercise classes I've taken and haven't properly "cooled down" and stretched. I can say, without a doubt, as a 34-year-old, stretching is one of my favorite things. As well as a new appreciation for lasagna. I'm basically Garfield.
I am so grateful that I am alive to make this post. For a time in my life, I didn't think I would live to see 21, much less 30, or 34. The fact that I somehow have been blessed each day to wake up, breathe in this gorgeous life, sit still and think about all the things I've learned, how I've grown, and have a bit of a laugh, isn't lost on me. I'm already looking forward to the next time I ask myself, What do I know for sure?