On the cusp of my 50th birthday, I found myself especially sensitive to offhanded, brusque comments from acquaintances, feeling unusually hurt by close friends, and generally dissatisfied with life. The milestone had made me more introspective, and I began to realize that I’d allowed an unhealthy pattern to emerge in my relationships. I took the opportunity of turning fifty to reassess the way I interact and start fresh.
Like charms on a bracelet, eight jewels of clarity came to me. Here are the things that will help me cultivate better, healthier relationships for the next 50 years.
1. Words DO hurt.
I have felt the affects of harsh words and I have witnessed the pain caused by my own thoughtless comments. Tom Hanks’s character in You’ve Got Mail describes this moment beautifully: "when you finally have the pleasure of saying the thing you mean to say at the moment you mean to say it, remorse inevitably follows.” Whether you’ve wounded another or been wounded yourself, the scratches on our hearts take much longer to heal than any physical scar. For some, they never do.
2. Kindness trumps niceness.
When I was younger, I thought being nice was a badge of honor. But I realized it came from trying too hard to please people. Now, I choose to be kind. Kindness takes real effort. You have to channel reserves of grace, self-control, and maturity. It garners respect, rather than disregard.
3. Intentionality and determination are superpowers.
If I ever questioned that I had superpowers, a thorough review of my past would allay those doubts. Stating a desire or goal is the first step to realizing it. My best moments were born from the powerful declaration of my goals. Intentions, though they aren't strict paths, are an offering to the universe. Saying, "I am ready for a new career,” or "I am ready for love," we open up the possibility for success and fulfillment. Those things may not arrive by the means or in the package we expected, but that makes them infinitely more exciting.
4. I am 50 percent responsible for 100 percent of my relationships.
If I want successful, healthy relationships, I have to take full responsibility for my actions and reactions. I'm talking all kinds of relationships here — family, friends, colleagues. Further, I must be intentional about not taking responsibility for anyone else’s part of our relationship. Relinquishing control of other people's behavior allows them to live up to their part of the bargain. We meet each other half way. Exactly half way. Which brings me to my next realization.
5. Drama doesn’t deserve attention.
It’s easy to find yourself in the middle of a crisis that is not of your own making. Most people who try to involve others in their drama are addicted to the surge of adrenaline provided by a perceived crisis. Having an audience (that would be you) is how they validate their behavior. People confuse drama with having an interesting life. But I have learned (and I hope you will, too) that ditching drama makes space for so many more compelling pursuits.
6. Shame is not productive, but accountability is.
I’ve made huge, cringe-inducing mistakes in my life. But never once has the self-loathing or self-flagellation I responded with actually helped me move on, or make better choices. Now, I’m choosing to acknowledge my mistakes, take responsibility for them, and then let go.
7. All the world’s ills can be solved with homemade soup.
Maybe it's the meditative element of chopping, mixing, stirring. The rhythm and repetition are calming. When I make soup, I slow down. In that quiet space, I have room to be creative, and my mind fills with possibilities. The rest of the world disappears. And the result of my meditation is a tangible, delicious dish that’s nourishing to my body and my soul.
8. To place proper value on myself, I must make boundaries.
Too many times I've compromised myself by giving time or trust to someone who didn’t deserve it. I've given the best of my ideas and talents to groups that did not respect my contributions. I’ve given my affection to people who undervalued me. Eventually, I realized that this was my fault. I was letting people take advantage of me because I did not sufficiently value myself.
These things feed on each other. Creating boundaries is a way of telling yourself that you have value, and your needs and desires deserve to be honored. Valuing yourself makes it easier to prioritize yourself, and not let other people’s needs trump your own.
Self acceptance is at the core of all of these realizations. If I value myself, then I am accountable to myself. I am responsible for my words. I am kind. I can focus my power for good, live intentionally, and when necessary, create boundaries with grace. I hope the lessons I’ve learned help you inform and improve your life — whether you’re 28 or 82.