Life Lessons From My 40th Birthday

I turned 40 this year. My mother reminded me that when she turned 40, she was raising five children, working as a hairdresser, and striving to be a content suburban 1970s wife to my father. I have memories of him coming home and sitting down to a steak dinner, a glass of red wine, and a post-meal cigarette.

The only thing I have in common with my parents when they were this age? That savory glass of red wine. It was over one of those glasses of vino that I began taking inventory on lessons I've learned since my big birthday:

1. Slow down.

As a coach, I often tell my athletes that sometimes you have to slow down in order to get faster. If you train as hard and fast as you can all of the time, you'll get injured, tire quickly, and burn out. If, however, you train your body to work efficiently at a lower effort level, you'll gain endurance, speed, strength, and power. Training like this takes time and patience, but the reward is great. As a young adult, I didn't do anything slow. I lined up at the front of the mid-20s starting line of career, home buyer, party planner, and party goer. I was doing everything from running marathons to stand-up comedy but I wasn't happy. Like physical training, I eventually grew weary, injured, and burned out.

Turning 40 has taught me that it's beneficial and necessary to simply slow down. I stay home more and I turn my phone off for extended periods of time. I meditate and pray more. Ironically, slowing down has actually made me faster in mind, body, and spirit. The frenzy of youth has given way to mindfulness and peace.

2. Avoid avoidance.

In college, a friend really hurt my feelings. I mean, he REALLY hurt my feelings. Instead of telling him how I felt, I remained silent for years. I was raised to “suck it up” and get over it. Don't show emotional vulnerabilities. I convinced myself I was making a big deal out of nothing, so I let it go.

But it didn't let me go — that is, until about three months ago. It took 20 years, but I finally confronted that guy. You know what? He apologized and told me how it never let him go either. We both played the avoidance card and tarnished 20 years of friendship. The word “confrontation” has a negative connotation, but these days, it's better to confront an issue head on than avoid it. This includes complications in personal relationships and work relationships. If you're in a situation where you have been offended or have done the offending, address it. Don't wait. Be vulnerable and show compassion and maturity.

3. Remember that parents are precious.

I live 2000 miles away from my parents and only see them a few times a year. In my eyes, they've always been as strong and infallible as the Pope. Several years ago, my Dad had a horrible fall and his balance and strength have never been the same. At the age of 78, he's now riddled with arthritis in his back and struggles to walk long distances without a cane. Recently, my mother had a knee replacement. I flew to their home and, for the first time, became their caregiver. While I was honored and happy to help, I wasn't fully prepared for the emotional reactions I would have. Feelings of deep gratitude, love, and appreciation overwhelmed me as I helped them with laundry, cooking, and bathing. I even felt a few pangs of regret for not being as good a daughter as I could've been. More than anything, I felt a guttural realization that life is indeed precious, and we should all express our appreciation and gratitude as much as we can through actions as well as our words. Take care of those who take care of you.

4. Stop denying.

I spent so many years in denial that I couldn't be perfect, that I couldn't be all things to all people, and that I was fulfilled when I really wasn't. I've reached the point of gracious acceptance, and what a relief it is to fumble through life without a clue most days and no longer have to pretend that it's spit-shined and squeaky clean! In my 20s and 30s, I was so afraid to display or concede any cracks in the armor. These days, I wear my scars like a badge of honor. Life is a lovely battle, and I fight every day. I may lose a bout every now and again, but I'm still winning the war.

My biggest life lessons are the most simple: slow down, be kind, communicate, be grateful, and be respectful. Most importantly, don't forget to laugh at your younger self. He or she got you to where you are today. Cheers!

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