“Every laugh line on your face made you who you are today.”
This One’s for the Girls (Martina McBride)
In April, I read a post on Anne Lamott’s Facebook page where she compiled a list of “every single thing” she knows after living on this planet for 61 years. Her 14 observations (#2 was my favorite: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”) gave me pause to consider what I myself have learned on my life’s journey. “Older and wiser” really is a thing!
Over the past six months, I’ve found myself drawn to the “mid-life self-help” genre of books. They’re not really called that (except for Half Time: Moving from Success to Significance by Bob Buford, which doesn’t even attempt to address anyone but those of us at least midway through life). These books have prompted me to assess my life, conjure plans, write lists, and make my husband talk to me about how each book applies to us. (He doesn’t need to read these books himself because (1) he’s a much calmer person who doesn’t like change as much as I do, and (2) he’s a participant reader anyway because I give such long summaries and read parts aloud.) As I reflect on these past months, I see that this really has been my “half time,” that period much like during a football game where I’ve been able to assess the first half and strategize my approach for the second.
This week, I’m in an especially reflective mid-life state. Some things are coming to an end—my graduation from my master’s degree program is today and my youngest child’s last day of elementary school is next week—while another thing is about to begin: my 30th summer working at camp starts next month. May and June are, for me, another “fresh start” time of year, almost as promising as January 1st. So, in my mid-year, mid-life reflections, I’ve come up with five life lessons to share:
Lesson 1: Put people first
I love my “to do” list, especially the glorious feeling of crossing things off it. However, I have learned that the satisfaction of getting things done does not hold a candle to a having a baby on my lap, having coffee with or taking a walk with a friend, FaceTiming with one of my kids away at school, or watching the sunset on the back patio with my family. It’s the people and the relationships in my life that bring meaning, so they must be my highest priority.
Lesson 2: Don’t say “yes” just because someone asks
This may not be a problem for you, but for me—in the past—I have had trouble saying “no,” especially to projects I felt I could help with and that were for a good cause. But as I look back on that long list of projects and causes in which I invested my time, I realize that much of my first-half energy (what was left after my kids and job) was spread thin over too many things. For my second half, I’m going to focus my time and effort on one or two projects or causes that are most meaningful to me AND where I can make a difference by giving more of my most limited commodity— my time.
Lesson 3: Simple is beautiful
I spent a few decades in pursuit of bigger things—houses, cars, closets—until I reached a point of maximum saturation. Now, I’ve crossed over to the opposite extreme where I’m down-sizing and purging the stuff we’ve accumulated. I want everything (except for my kids) to get small again. Simplified living, with less stuff and more stream-lining, is very appealing to me at this age. I’ve followed Christine Carter’s advice in The Sweet Life and worn jeans and white t-shirts (accessorized with a fun belt or necklace) practically every day for the past four months. Selecting from one of about seven white t-shirts each morning, instead of spending energy deciding what to wear, has simplified one small part of my life. I plan to do this with other parts of my life, too, because simple is a beautiful way to live.
Lesson 4: Accept myself
I’ve accomplished some things and have confidence in myself in those areas of strength. I’ve also learned to accept the things I’m not good at. I am no longer hard on myself because I’m not skilled at decorating my house or creating a meal more complicated than lasagna or turkey burgers. It’s been a relief to give up on unrealistic expectations and accept my perfect flaws. I know who I am so much better now than I did when I was younger, and I can laugh at those flaws, share them with friends, and accept myself much more readily. I’ve even stopped beating myself up over the perpetual extra five pounds. I spent many years laser-focused on my shortcomings instead of on my strengths, but now I have summoned grace and, to paraphrase LaMott, it has returned to me a sense of humor about myself.
Lesson 5: Write it down
Doing short- and long-term planning—complete with written lists and goals—is something I’ve always loved and has helped me achieve things I never thought I could. To that end, I’m going to continue embracing my many “to-do’s,” the latest of which is my first “bucket list.” (Before I depart for my eternal address, I plan to take up a new outdoor sport – maybe surfing or rock climbing.) It’s been fun talking with my husband about his list and really thinking through those things we feel are still “undone” and that we want to accomplish in the coming decades.
These are just a few of the many lessons I’ve learned so far. I hope they have spurred you to start considering what you’ve learned and how you’re going to make the most of this too-short, precious, and what Lamott calls the “unfathomably beautiful gift” of life we have been given.
That’s what her post and a few well-timed books have done for me.
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Sunshine’s Mid-Life Reading List
The Sweet Spot, Christine Carter, Ph.D. (my review)
Positivity and Love 2.0, Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D.
Daring Greatly, Brene Brown, Ph.D.
Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance, Bob Buford
Five, Dan Zadra
Simplify, Bill Hybels
The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor
Please comment with any books I’ve missed! 🙂