Next month I will bid farewell to my 30s and celebrate my 40th birthday. I’ve been reflecting on how I feel about this, about the number 40, this arbitrary age that seems to represent so much and inspires such a range of emotional responses. I’ve noticed that some of my friends have dreaded their 40th birthdays, as if the loss of one’s 30s is something to mourn. I see it differently. As a wise person once said, we should “not regret growing older; it’s a privilege denied to many.” Ponder that for a moment. To grow older, to experience more, to learn more, to spend more time with loved ones — is indeed a privilege. More than that, though, if given the choice, I don’t think I’d turn the clock back. I like who I am at just-about-40. This woman knows who she is. She is stronger and wiser and more comfortable in her own skin than the 30-year-old woman she once was, and she’s certainly more confident than she was at 20. She knows what matters, and who matters, and she knows what she wants.
As my 40th birthday approaches, I am grateful for what I’ve learned up to this point and look forward to the lessons that await me, too. Here are 33 lessons I’ve learned so far, from women far wiser than me and from my own 39 trips around the sun:
1. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, do it. “Your life is made of two dates & a dash. Make the most of the dash.” (Unknown)
2. Surround yourself with positive people. Don’t let negative people bring you down.
3. Not everyone will like you, but not everyone matters. Besides, life isn’t a popularity contest, and you’re not competing for Miss Congeniality.
4.Travel as often and as far as you can. Traveling will broaden your perspective and expand your understanding of yourself and others. If you have kids, make time for a family vacation — every year.
5. As the great Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Actions really do speak louder than words.
6. Count your blessings. Practice gratitude.
7. Wear sensible shoes, especially when traveling. Come on, you’re not a shoe model; give your feet and back a break once in a while.
8. Be kind. Kindness matters.
9. Laugh lines are signs of a good and happy life. By all means wear moisturizer, but focus more on the laughter and less on the lines.
10. Get enough sleep.
11. Golden handcuffs are still handcuffs. Just because you’ve got a “good job,” if you’re not happy, make a change. Life is too short to be unhappy.
12. Take care of yourself. Self-care is not self-ish; it’s necessary. Only when you take care of you are you truly able to care for others.
13. Stop worrying about what people think. Most of the time they’re not thinking about you anyway.
14. Make time for your girlfriends. We needed them in high school and college and in our 20s (what would we have done without them?!), but I’m beginning to believe that we need our girlfriends even more now. We need to commiserate with them, celebrate with them, cry with them, and laugh ‘til we cry with them. And we need to just be us with them, not mothers or wives or employees or bosses or caretakers — just us.
15. Let it go.
16. Unplug once in a while. Emails can wait, to-do lists can wait, but moments may be lost. Get out there and enjoy your kids, your partner, your animal babies, the world.
17. Learn how to say “NO.” You need to protect your time so that you have time for what, and who, really matters — including you.
18. Learn how to say “YES!” to what will feed your soul. Say yes to the things that will bring you joy, that will provide a break from work, kids, responsibilities, routine.
19. Accept people for who they are.
20. Don’t miss the chance to tell family and friends you love them, for life is short and unpredictable.
21. Money doesn’t buy happiness. Research has suggested that once one’s income climbs above the poverty level, more money results in very little extra happiness. “Happiness is a place between too little and too much” (Finnish proverb). Focus on relationships and experiences over stuff.
22. Stop comparing yourself to others.
23. Weddings and babies bring out the best — and worst — in people. You’ll find that people love to give (unsolicited) advice. If the advice you receive about your wedding or your baby is helpful, take it. If it’s not, ignore it (yes, even if it comes from Grandma or Great Aunt LuLu).
24. Support other women and celebrate their successes. Mentor younger women.
25. Simplify your life. Eliminate whatever you don’t need that is crowding your space and your life. “The more you have, the more you are occupied... The less you have, the more free you are.” (Mother Teresa)
26. Accept and embrace change.
27. Be okay with okay. Stop chasing perfection. No one expects you to be perfect anyway (and if they do, kick ‘em to the curb!).
28. Treasure your parents for as long as you’re blessed to have them. Call them; send them a card (not an email or text!); let them know how much you appreciate them.
29. Listen to people when they talk to you. Truly listen.
30. Listen to your body. No one knows your body better than you. If you think something is wrong, pursue it.
31. Spoil your kids — with love, with your time, with hugs and kisses, with experiences. Spoil them as much as you can for as long as you can, for the truest thing I’ve come to know about parenting is this: the days are long but the years are short. Treasure every moment with your adorable little monsters.
32. Create your own luck — by working hard; believing in yourself; surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people; and having the right attitude.
33. Find what you love, what you’re passionate about, and do that thing. When you do, your life will start to change. And if you’re really lucky (see above), magical things will start to happen.