Happy Birthday to Me! Today I’m half a century old!! I’m not sad or depressed. I wouldn’t want to go back — nope, not even if I could know then what I know now. Every year, I’ve learned to appreciate all the blessings in my life even more than the year before.
Below are the top 50 lessons that I’ve learned over the years. I attribute a lot of what I’ve gathered in the way of wisdom to a grandmother who loved and spent many hours modeling the life I now want more than anything to live. To a mom, who loves me so much, is always there for me, and who is wise enough to know when to give me wings and when to hold my feet to the fire. To, believe it or not, working in a barbershop. To marrying a wonderful man who challenges me in the things I think I “can’t” do. To parenting the three most amazing daughters. And to a God who gave everything for me!
My prayer is that you will make your list of the things that you have learned that have most impacted your life and the way you live, love, grow, teach, encourage, and share the life you have been blessed to live …
1. Love God with all your heart. Learn to depend on Him. Cultivate prayer as a calming and refreshing part of each day. Realize that since God is love, we are incapable of effectively giving and receiving love until our natural heart has been satisfied by His supernatural love. Until we are open to receive God’s love, we are powerless in love to do anything except give in hopes that we will receive. God’s love frees us to love as He loves (unconditionally) without expecting anything in return.
2. Say you’re sorry. Being too proud to apologize is never worth it — your relationship suffers for no good benefit. Your physical and mental wellbeing is jeopardized and it robs you of joy. Holding onto resentment turns your hair gray and your face wrinkly. (Not true but a great motivator!)
3. An overabundance of possessions will give little or no value to your life, and the cost is high. Not just the money required to buy them, but the time spent shopping for them, maintaining them, worrying about them, insuring them, fixing them, etc. Truly less is more. Consider what will result in less stress and time spent on things that bring little pleasure, and more time to spend on the people and things that you value. To the one who has much, much will be required. Most of it is stressful and wearying.
4. Slow down. Rushing is rarely worth it. Life is better enjoyed at a leisurely pace. We work at a feverish pace and then sign up for classes to teach us how to relax. We live all year for the two-week vacation so we can relax and enjoy. What if, this way of life became the rule and not the exception? Is there really that much joy in checking the box? Looking back over life, I haven’t yet felt that I would like to have gone to more meetings or hung more wallpaper. I have thought that I would like extra time with some very special people and plan to make that happen in the next 50 years.
5. This moment is all we can bank on. All our worries and plans about the future, all our replaying of things that happened in the past — it’s all in our heads, and it just distracts us from fully living right now. Let go of all that, and just focus on this moment. This allows you to be fully intentional in moments that just may take your breath away.
6. When your child asks for your attention, grant it with a heart ready to listen. Give your child your full attention, and instead of being annoyed at the interruption, be grateful for the reminder to spend time with someone you love. The important things that you think cannot wait – can! Children grow up and you don’t get those moments as often.
7. Avoid credit card debt. Consider saving for the items you need and avoiding auto and personal loans. Spend less than you earn, do without until you have the money. This not only helps you be prepared for unplanned life events, but will allow you to carefully consider your expenditures and have more enjoyment over the things you do purchase. This is an excellent model for your children as well.
8. Live on little, don’t get into debt, save all you can, and invest well. Watch your money grow. Get some practice living on what you plan to retire on. If you adapt to it before you have to adapt to it, you will experience a smoother transition. It will also allow for you to invest in worthwhile causes.
9. The best marketing you can have is an amazing product or service. If it’s good, people will spread the word for you. In the work you do, make it signature worthy. That doesn’t mean you have to always be perfect. Don’t let not being “the best” prevent you from doing your best.
10. Confrontation in a kind and loving way can help build or restore relationships. Words once written or spoken cannot be rewound and deleted. Treat others’ as you desire to be treated. You will reap what you sow, so sow love and kindness.
11. You can’t motivate people. You can lead by example. The best you can hope for is to inspire them with your words and actions. We cannot teach what we don’t know nor lead where we won’t go.
12. If you seem to be blindly following the way everyone else is going, consider if what you are doing is really what you want to be doing. Dare to be different if different is who you really are and what you really desire to be doing. We were created to be an original, why live as copies of someone else?
13. Do less ~ enjoy it more! There are plenty of good books, great cities and restaurants and events that we will never read, see or experience. We were not meant to be human doings, but human beings. Many doors will open that you haven’t considered. If you are always scheduled to the max in an effort to not miss a thing, you could miss more than you think.
14. Mistakes are a great way to learn. Consider that fools never learn from their mistakes; smart people learn from their mistakes; wise people can learn from the mistakes of others. However you get the lesson, be grateful for it and move right along to finding the thing that works for you.
15. Failures are steppingstones to success. Truett Cathy, Founder of Chickfila, says that it is easier to succeed than to fail. Fear of failure often prevents us from trying. Trying is the dress rehearsal or audition for what could be the next and best thing in our lives. Don’t miss it by not showing up.
16. Live in moderation and enjoy a balance of health and peace. If you are hungry, eat until you satisfy the hunger; avoid overindulging. You can eat as much as you desire, just not at one time. If you have an occasional drink, find a safe limit that doesn’t cause side effects such as sickness or a hangover. If you exercise, don’t risk injury. When driving, give yourself sufficient time to get to appointments without stress out on the roadway. When you shop, consider what you need and don’t overspend or go into debt to make purchases. Whatever you do, work to maintain a pace that lets you enjoy the path of peace and not require you to hassle with the chaos of your choices.
17. There are few joys that equal a good book, a good walk, a good hug, or a good friend. All are free. Instead of living for the two-week vacation, structure life in such a way that you have an hour (or more) every day that is budgeted for you to choose however you want to spend it. Knowing your “time” is coming will give you motivation for all you do each day.
18. If you need to be in better physical shape, start a fitness routine that is right for you. Don’t run pell-mell into the latest greatest thing or regiment and burn out. Ease it into your schedule and allow yourself to enjoy some early victories like taking a walk for 10 minutes. Make it a routine. Ask friends or coworkers that you know are “shaping up” what they are doing.
19. A good walk is helpful in dealing with much of what we struggle with. Walking is great for weight loss and toning up. Walking helps you to focus on enjoying simple things. Consider things you plan to do or purchase as you walk. It provides a great opportunity for you to consider your options without interruptions. Are you having concerns over a relationship or work issue? You can take a walk and clear your mind as you consider the options you have for working through the problem.
20. Being in “control” is an illusion. Only God is in control. We are often overly-obsessed with trying to manage the things, events, or people we fear will have the potential to do or cause something in our world to not turn out so well. Hold on loosely. When you allow others the freedom to choose and be who they are, you are empowered to be free as well.
21. Let go of expectations. An expectation is a predetermined ideal that we set up around a thing or person that has little to do with reality. We try to fit our reality into the ideal and are often end up disappointed. Learn to experience the reality of the way things are and accept that life is pretty much an 80/20 rule. 80% works out to our liking; 20% is usually the unplanned or undesired. This helps us to appreciate what does work and teaches us to reduce our disappointments.
22. When giving, do so without expectation of getting something in return. This is letting go of any control we may try to have in expecting to get an equal measure in return, even gratitude or recognition for our efforts. It is freeing to let go of that need. It also teaches us to give out of a heart of love and not from obligation.
23. Be grateful for the things you’ve been given: loved ones, simple pleasures, the choice to have a life of purpose, your health, music, books, the ability to create, and to live according to the things you value. When we show gratitude for what we’ve been given, this person or thing holds greater value. And, it eliminates the temptation to take it for granted.
24. Having compassion on the ones that God places in our lives brings more pleasure and value than pursuing only self-focused interests. Often we can’t recognize this until we try it on for size. Many have developed the idea that work is around gathering money or accolades (and security) and that is the only value in working. Choosing to live, work and play doing what you love and being on purpose or mission for something bigger provides refreshment for others and much more than we would imagine for ourselves.
25. Create things that you enjoy. For me, it’s writing. I love to write. I started writing in 7th grade for myself. I wrote poems and stories. I even wrote two plays in English class that my teacher let me put together a cast and direct for the rest of the classes in that grade. When I’m happy, I write. When I’m sad, I write. I write out my hopes and dreams. I write out my prayers and concerns. It is therapy for me. Creating does that. It gives you freedom to express yourself. I don’t write for an audience. I write for me and pray that God will use it to be a blessing to others, if they choose to read it.
26. Having a trusted friend, coach, or mentor provides fresh perspective when I feel concerned or stressed. Stress seems to block my wisdom genes and prevents me from seeing the glass anyway but mostly empty and being drained. A heartwarming perspective from someone I trust (like my mom or hubby) can change my world in about half an hour. I learned much about fresh perspectives from customers working in a barbershop. Many conversations each day provide much insight. Over time many customers have become friends, whose advice I still practice and seek..
27. Whatever you desire to be doing as you progress into your golden years or your second childhood, however you deem it, do it now. If you want to walk through life or sing or dance or laugh, make it a habit. Don’t live life now as a drudgery thinking that one day when you retire, you will enjoy everything you have been missing. If you haven’t learned to relax and enjoy the life you have, retirement will not transform you. You have to transform you a little everyday by making better choices for your health, your time, your energy and the way you enjoy the life you have now.
28. I am not “cool” and that’s cool with me. I am authentic. I am a creature like no one else and I like being real. I don’t have to remember to be one person in my work, another person in the groups I’m in, someone different in my neighborhood, with friends etc. I want to be the best “me” all the time with everyone. There’s nothing like the real thing, baby! I’ve found that people are amazed and pleased with what’s real.
29. Regardless of the career and life path that your kids take, if you teach them to be responsible, to have a great work ethic, to live within their means and to have respect for God and others, you will give them the best guarantee for a great life.
30. Having a job simply because it pays well is not a guarantee for a good life. Going to college just to get a job that simply pays well is an expensive experiment if debt is the biggest thing you or your kids get out of it. It is acceptable for your kids to work to pay for part or all of their education and vehicles. This provides a platform for autonomy and developing the ability to choose the career path they feel best suited for. Parents who pay for everything may feel a need / drive to guide the career path. I knew at age 7 I wanted to cut hair. My middle daughter knew at age 9 that she wanted to be in film. When we or our children invest our own time and money in something, it becomes less of an “experiment” and more of a well-thought-out decision. The responsibility they learn will help them all of their lives (and no one gets blamed for pushing them into something they don’t feel they really want to do). They need practice making good life choices while still living at home. Practice and experience creates good habits.
31. Develop empathy instead of judging people based on your assumptions. Try to understand that for the most part, people probably have a good reason for doing the things they do, even if we don’t understand their reasoning. Life becomes much better if we ask questions rather than assume they are bad or wrong just because they don’t look, act, or think like us.
32. Do less. Don’t try to live every day by an endless to-do list. Do what you love and seek to find ways to enjoy something about everything you do. Consider eliminating tasks that have little value and create stress. Say yes to the things you want to do and say no to over-commitment. Do not allow fear of others’ reactions to cause you to sign on to do more than is good for you. People who respect you will value your no and appreciate your yes.
33. In parenting, I learned a thousand ways not to do it. I often obsessed about stupid details, and missed enjoying the moment. What I have learned is to show my girls how much they are loved, and enjoy the moments I can be with them, to laugh and make life fun, and enjoy watching the amazing people they have become in spite of my not having a clue about what I was doing. They were the teachers and I was the student.
34. Life seems to pass quickly. This writing commemorates my 50th birthday in September 2011. Inside I still feel 17. Outside is a different story. And, I have a storehouse of amazing memories. And I have a few great lessons that came from difficult experiences. Don’t hold too tightly. Do not get attached to things. Be open to opportunities. Be healthy enough in every relationship that you are the flame drawing the moth.
35. Love is my commitment to the welfare of another. I love my girls more than life. I have come to realize that this love often requires stepping aside and allowing them learn and grow rather than attempting to control the situation and causing them to miss the life lessons they need. A good test of the depth of your commitment to truly work for the best of the other person is to desire their freedom as much as you do your own. I am equally tempted, at times, to tell my husband, mom and friends, my-better-smarter-way-to-do-something. I learn more when I watch and wait … quietly. When they ask for help, they are ready to listen.
36. Fear is a powerful motivator but a cruel master. Fear can inhibit your best self from stepping up. It will seek to prevent you from doing great things and going on to new adventures. It will whisper that you shouldn’t risk creating something new and making it available for the world to see because you may be laughed at, like the day you came to school in 8th grade with the new home perm your aunt gave you. That is where you learned to have courage.
37. Make time for solitude every day. I find that this is the quickest way (other than sleeping) that I can recharge my batteries. You will be amazed at the many opportunities you can find in your day to steal away for a few moments of quietness if you are looking for it. Somedays shower-time counts!
38. Simplify (make choices about what is really important) ~ your life, home, work, lists, etc. It’s not the same as organizing, which, at times can be about as productive as rearranging chairs on the deck of Titanic. A desk with 5 things on it doesn’t need to be organized. Having limited items (all favorites) in your closets, cabinets etc., can save money, and time, and fretting over trying to decide what to do with it. Instead of cramming every bit of your time and space with more, consider what is really important and enjoy the free time, simplifying can provide for you! It will take years off your workload.
39. Don’t fret over trying to write down every great idea that enters your mind. You will never lose the truly “great” ideas – you will jump up and want to work on them right away or, they will camp out in your mind until you process how and what action you will take. Any idea you would put on a list, is probably not your best.
40. Let go of endless lists of goals. I like the rule my mom’s red hatters have – “The only rule is, there are no rules!” With that in mind, having too many goals can keep me feeling more overwhelmed than accomplished. Each day, I try to work on the main subjects in my life: relationships, work, growth, peace, and giving back. I’ve tried working without goals for a week and I’ve been able to do some amazing things. Some days I just want to throw the dart and then draw the bull’s-eye around it. And, now that I’m 50, I can do that.
41. Let go of your need to track everything to see if anything changes. Often our frustration with a perception of failure drives us to give up on allowing needed change into our lives. When we focus on making the areas enjoyable, we reinforce our desire to repeat the effort. If you are merely focused on the results, the activity only becomes a means to an end. There’s nothing enjoyable in making everything about the destination. I write for me. I love it. I was writing when no one was reading. (To the tune of “I was country, when country wasn’t cool!”)
42. Avoid over-researching a thing or decision. Sometimes it’s just easier and less stressful to limit the items you will choose from, so you can make the choice and move on. Having too many items can seem overwhelming and allow the temptation to procrastinate.
43. When your children become teenagers (and beyond), the less you say, the sooner they come over to your way of thinking. If we continue to hound our kids over every decision they make, it is somewhat like a slap in our own faces. After all, we have reared them to be the way we have determined to be best. We need to give them space, while they still are at home to make some choices and learn and grow from them. Avoid the temptation to cushion every fall or to take charge of their destiny in life. As parents, we are most successful when we realize that we are working ourselves out of a job and act accordingly.
44. When you are waiting, productivity doesn’t always have to be the focus. Sitting in a waiting room or in a restaurant, enjoying silence or watching people can be a very peaceful way to spend time. Reading a novel, taking a nap, watching a child or a kitten at play, or starting a conversation with someone new, can be fun, enlightening and a great way to learn that there are more important things in life than just work. Un-schedule some time daily to just sit and enjoy the sights and sounds around you. You may be surprised at what you’ve been missing.
45. Making my bed every morning is a simple joy. I am responsible for choosing the things that make my heart light and my burden easy. Coming back to a bed that is made in the evening is a pleasant experience that requires a minimal of effort. Waking up to a clean kitchen, having a simple routine, getting into a clean car, and a tiny bite of chocolate are things that make me smile. I love the scent of a candle, fireside chats, a mug of coffee or cocoa. I choose bubble baths as often as possible. These are a few of the many ways I set the stage for good feelings that consistently allow me to be happy. I’ve learned that happiness is contagious too!
46. Learn the art of contentment. Like simplifying, contentment is learning to enjoy what you have an opposed to having a continual list of things you “need” to be happy. Contentment begins with gratitude.
47. The destination is the end result. It is not the journey. Being overly focused on the end result can cause us to miss all the great things along the way. If your mind is fixated only on the end, it will be hard to enjoy it when you arrive, because you will be sizing up the next destination. The moments of contentment will be overlooked.
48. Trust is a greater compliment than love. When someone trusts you, they are giving you the highest honor, even greater than loving you. To trust and be trusted requires observation of the character and integrity of the person in whom we place trust. My goal with my girls, the same my mom and grandmother had with me, was to offer them all the freedom I could and allow them to choose to use it well or abuse it. Trustworthiness can only be built by the experience of someone trusting us. We learn to enjoy the freedom and not want to take advantage of it.
49. Forgiveness is the greatest strength we can ever learn to master. Forgiving others when they’ve wronged us is something we do for ourselves, not them. We are off the hook and they are no longer in control of our lives and waking hours – times when we would mull over each painful detail. It requires incredible strength and maturity and is the essence of living life well. Forgiving ourselves for past mistakes is the gateway to growth. Integrity and character are formed as we embrace and work through difficult issues of life. As challenging as this can be, it is where we develop the ability to go the distance.
50. I have a lot left to learn in my next 50 years. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I know almost nothing, and that I’m often wrong about what I think I know. Life has many lessons left to teach me, and I’m looking forward to them all. I have determined that I will welcome the challenges because I now realize they bring the greatest potential for growth. I refuse to let my challenges become excuses and risk living a dull life. Won’t you join me in these next 50 years? I can promise one thing, the ride will be anything but boring!
So, here’s to the best of life. Cheers!
Sheri Geyer is a Christian Life Coach, Mentor, Writer, Wife & Mom