You don’t get to be 38 without learning a few life lessons along the way. And, whilst we never stop learning, we do become a little wiser as we meander through our lives, bumping into things and suffering the occasional cuts and grazes.
With this in mind, I’d like to share with you the bumper stickers of knowledge I’ve stuck to my soul on the road trip that is my life.
Lesson 1: There’s Nothing Wrong With You
So you are different from everyone else. Perhaps no one has shared any of your life experiences, or you have a unique outlook or set of morals that don’t fit with those around you. Understand that this is a good thing. You may not appreciate your uniqueness, and perhaps the people around you don’t express freely enough how much they appreciate the myriad quirks that make you you, but rest assured – there is someone, somewhere who wouldn’t change a hair on your head (if you have any – if not, they wouldn’t change the light that reflects off your head). You don’t need to change who you really are or conform to your notion of normal. And when you meet someone else who has also spent their life feeling somehow wrong, you’ll be in the best place to make them feel good about who they really are too.
Lesson 2: Don’t Let Your Past Dictate Your Future
Just because you were a geek at school, doesn’t mean you can’t become an athlete when you’re older. If the whole world thought you weren’t very bright or had behavioral issues, when you were actually struggling with un-diagnosed Dyslexia, you can still become a scholar. So much of our self image and self esteem is created during the most unsettled and tumultuous times in our lives (our childhood and our teens), that it can be extremely challenging to shake off preconceived ideas of who we are and where our limits lie. Don’t let a bad parent, teacher or friend circle hold you down long after they have exited your life, stage left. If you have always had a nagging feeling that you could have achieved so much more, chances are you’re right. And it’s never too late to prove it.
Lesson 3: Try New Things
We miss out on so much because we tell ourselves we won’t enjoy it. This is nearly always borne from fear: fear of failure, fear of humiliation, fear of getting the shits (AKA fear of pain). Throw the shackles of fear aside regularly and try something that you’re scared you wont be able to do. Try some food that looks ‘icky’. Raise the bar, and raise the expectations you have for yourself. I promise that your experience of life and your self esteem will soar at that moment when you surprise yourself and those around you.
Lesson 4: Forgive
Forgive your parents, forgive your siblings, forgive your friends, forgive that asshole who splashed you when you were waiting for a bus, and most of all forgive yourself. This can be achieved by striving to understand the reasons people may have had for mistreating you. It usually boils down to everyone basically being a normal, rubbish human being – just trying to live their life in the only way they know how – with their own demons and thoughts and history. Trying to understand and forgive is one of the most important things you can do for your own well being, and is the opposite of blaming yourself.
Lesson 5: Don’t Envy Other Peoples Lives
Wishing for your life to be like someone else’s is a complete waste of time and energy. You might be single and envy your coupled up friends. While you inevitably miss the odd cuddle on a cold winters eve, don’t forget you have freedom and the opportunity to live your life in the truest, most authentically you kind of way. Equally, if you are striving to keep up with friends who seem to have it all, remember that possessions will never make you happy. Ownership and wealth are a form of addiction, and the people who suffer from this addiction are trying to fill a void in themselves in much the same way as smokers or over eaters or even exercise addicts. Wanting is a symptom of addiction and it never goes away. Try and be grateful for all that you have. It’s the only way you’ll be truly happy.
Lesson 6: Work Hard At Your Relationships
It’s so easy to let people slip away. We’ve all been there: you’re too tired to answer the phone, or assume that someone else will take care of arranging to meet. Before you know it, weeks, months, or even years have passed by and now you no longer have shared experiences. Too much water has trickled under the proverbial bridge. Don’t assume that the people you love know that you love them. Tell them at every opportunity. Make things happen. Make them a part of your life and take an interest in theirs. And always resolve a disagreement, no matter how hard. You might even have to subject yourself to that hell of all hells: being wrong. Relationships aren’t easy, you have to accept people for who they really are. You might even have to accept that they like ABBA. But in return, don’t forget, they accept you back.
Lesson 7: Don’t be Stingy
No one likes having to ask for things. Whether it be a favour, a loan, or just your time, don’t make people feel bad for needing something from you. It took a lot for them to ask you and the least you can do is be gracious. You never know, you may need them one day. Give freely of yourself and the universe will shower you with gifts in return.
Lesson 8: Pigeon Holes are for Pigeons
The last in my manifesto for life is this: you might be old. This should never stop you from going out dancing till dawn, if that’s what makes you happy. Don’t limit yourself to who you are told you ought to be. Don’t conform. Don’t be less than you really are. Don’t dumb yourself down. Instead, be an inspiration to others who are too scared to really be themselves.