I wrote this post when I was turning 40. 40 used to be officially middle age, but I hear it’s now considered old. So here we are, lessons life taught an old person.
Lessons life taught me about relationships
1. Hang on to real friends. They’re the ones who are there for you no matter what. Who remember to get in touch with you just to see how you are.And who cheer you on when you feel like giving up. We all need friends like these because we are all vulnerable and insecure sometimes, and need people who believe in us when we forget to believe in ourselves.
2. Ditch those people you thought were friends, but weren’t. They made use of you, lied to you, constantly put you down, or backstabbed you. Don’t resent them but release them to walk their own paths.
3. Let go of relationships when they end. Not all relationships will last forever. That doesn’t mean they weren’t meant to be or weren’t beautiful while they lasted. Every person who enters our lives in a meaningful way touches us somehow, and leaves us a different person. “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
4. Don’t bring up the past (unless to share lessons life taught you). There’s a joke about a man who complained that whenever he quarreled with his wife, she became historical. “Don’t you mean hysterical?” his friend asked. “No, she is most definitely historical.” I often tell myself not to be like that woman.
5. Treasure your family more than anything else in life. They are the ones who will be there for you when you’re sick, lose a job, cry your heart out after a breakup, and when your plumbing needs attention and you’re out of town. Be there for them too. Always.
6. Honour your mother. We will never know how much our mothers suffered and sacrificed for us. Mothers are the closest we’ll see of unconditional love in this world, and they seldom ask any recompense. Love your mother, spoil her as much as you can, and it won’t even come close to what she deserves.
7. Treat your partner better than anyone else. It’s easy to start taking someone for granted when you’re together a lot. Worse, we start to find fault with him and criticise the little things. Some of us learn only the hard way when the person can’t take it anymore and leaves us. Decide each and every day to be your partner’s best friend, loudest cheerleader, and biggest fan.
8. Go to sleep prepared not to wake up. Because one day, you won’t. And by then it’s too late to say “Sorry” or “I love you.” Say it when you can, whenever you can. When I need a reminder, I listen to this beautiful song “If Tomorrow Never Comes” (and I still cry every time because I wish I’d told my dad before he died how much I loved and appreciated him).
Lessons about personhood
9. Fight only the fights worth fighting. Usually these are the ones within ourselves. Fight the urge to argue, the need to always be right, the temptation to give up, and the pressure to change for no other reason than to conform. Most of all, fight within yourself to become a person worth being.
10. Sweep in front of your own door. A Chinese proverb says: “If everyone sweeps in front of their own door, the whole world will be clean.” We often try to change and improve others when we are better off cleaning ourselves up.
11. Grow back stronger. When I broke my elbow, the doctor said the new bone would take 6 weeks to grow and another 6 weeks to strengthen. After that, the elbow would be stronger than before. It’s useful to remember this when other things break too, like our hearts.
12. Healing takes time. In a society that moves at cyber speed and wants everything instantly, we sometimes wish healing were instantaneous too. When you’re ill, rest and allow your immune system to do its work at its own pace. When you’re hurt, curl up and allow your emotions to go through the grieving and recovery process.
13. Become better, not bitter. There’s a story of a donkey who was thrown into a well by its owner who proceeded to shovel dirt to bury the animal. Each time dirt came falling, the donkey dodged, then stepped onto the pile of dirt, until he finally emerged from the well. That’s how we can use criticisms flung our way.
14. Drink lots of water and go to sleep. This is the most mundane yet practical of the all the lessons life taught me. When you’re at the end of your tether and have no energy or faith to do anything else, just do these two things. Drink lots of water. Sleep a lot. Stay in this survival mode for as many days as your stupor lasts, until you’re once again capable of functioning.
15. Accept full responsibility. Until we accept that our life today is 100% the result of our thoughts and actions over the years, we will never be able to change our lives. Until we accept that other peoples’ reactions to us are the result of how we treat them (it’s tempting to label them nasty things but don’t), we will never be able to influence our relationships with other people. It has to start with me.
16. Give back. All of us have benefitted from the effort and time of others. The teacher who stayed back after school to nurture us, the sports coach who drilled us over and over again, the strangers who stopped to help when we were in trouble. When given a chance, give back in some way. Both you and the world will be better off.
Lessons about daily living
17. Have a personal creed. This is different from a belief system about the larger truths of life. A personal creed is helpful for the little things. For example, when I’m faced with a choice between retaliating to an unkind comment or just keeping quiet, my little creed hanging next to my writing table reminds me to be kind.
18. Vent into a journal. It’s tempting to call a friend to unload all our negative feelings when things go wrong. But you’re better off pouring it all out into a journal. The journal is always there, even when your friend ia busy. We also cannot expect our friends to put their life on hold everytime ours hits a bump.
19. Choose movement over inertia. It’s really not that hard to keep fit. We don’t have to buy expensive gear, or pay for gym memberships, or try different exercise regimes. Simply choose movement. If there are stairs, climb. If it’s nearby, walk.
20. Control your cashflow. Or it will control you. Spend less than you earn. Put aside a certain percentage the moment you receive your paycheck. Borrow only to buy appreciating assets. When I stopped making excuses and started following these principles, I found that a few years down the road I didn’t have to worry about money anymore.
21. Invest in quality. This doesn’t take as much money as you’d think. The secret is to buy three times as good, one-third as much. Rather than 3 pairs of cheap shoes, buy only 1 quality pair. Instead of 3 cheap blouses, get 1 good one. You’ll look better, feel better, and be no poorer.
22. Wear comfortable shoes. Our feet have nerves that link to all parts of our body. Shoes that look good but leave our feet feeling painful and tired at the end of the day affects our whole being. You can still wear pretty shoes. Just choose the comfortable ones that keep your feet healthy and happy.
23. Pay for good work. It’s tempting to save a few dollars by doing stuff ourselves. But sometimes it’s worth paying the plumber or electrician or housing agent their fee because: a) They can do a better job than us; b) It frees us to do more important stuff; and c) It’s nice to contribute to the livelihood of others and keep the economy going.
24. Do it yourself. Do it yourself when it makes sense to. I learnt to repair my own plumbing because it improved my quality of life when repairs when done immediately rather than waiting hours for a repairman to be available and making the trip to my place.
Lessons life taught me about life
25. Believe in God, or something close. We need a moral compass to guide us through life. When Alice was lost in Wondersland and asked the Cheshire Cat for directions, he asked where she was going. “I don’t know” said she. And he replied, “Then any direction will do.” Without a moral compass, we won’t know where we’re going either.
26. Understand that you’re a mirror. One of life’s hardest truths is that what we hate most about others is what we hate most in ourselves. An arrogant person despises arrogance in another. An impatient person faults another’s impatience. Whenever we find something we don’t like in another, the best place to look is inwards. Deal with the arrogance in ourselves, and the arrogance of others won’t bother us anymore.
27. Send yourself roses. Flowers are ephemeral and that’s part of their beauty. We appreciate them because we know that in a few days, they won’t be there anymore. Life is like flowers, just that it lasts a little longer. Learning to celebrate the transience of flowers helps you to value life more. If you’re lucky, someone sends you flowers. The rest of us can buy our own 🙂
28. Be grateful. For everyone. For everything. Everyday. Many people have nobody to love them or notice when they don’t come home at night. Be grateful if you do. Some have no worldly possessions due to poverty, natural disasters, or crime. Be grateful for all you own.
Life will teach you its own lessons. Learn these well, and you will experience many joyful days.