I turned 40 last year. Between you and me, it's a weird place to be. Neither young nor old, I fall into the middle-aged cliché. At first, I resisted. I surely don't *feel* 40. (Those who know me well will not be shocked by that statement.) However, the more it grows on me, the more I realize what an awesome time this is. I can't remember being happier, or more at peace. Life is definitely good.
I'm sure my perspectives will change as I hit 50, 60, and hopefully 70. But, if I could go back in time, this is what I would say today:
1. Give your undivided attention. When you're at work, give yourself to work completely. When it's time to be with your family and friends, give yourself to them completely. And when you're alone, be with yourself thoughtfully. I spent many years trying to do all the things all the time, and never felt effectual in any of them.
2. Balance is paramount. Imagine if all we did was eat grapefruit. All day, every day. That would be ridiculous, and we would get very sick, wouldn't we? Well, the same holds true for our time. If all we do is work all day every day, then we will get very sick and have nothing left. There is balance in all things. Spend your time like you would eat a balanced diet, and make sure you take time doing things that nourish your soul.
3. You are not defined by your career. You are defined by your character, your actions, your attitudes, and your impact on those around you. You might be "successful" in your career, but if it turns you into a cynical obsessive dickhead, you are no success at all. It's ok to take your career seriously, but remember that your occupation is not *you*. It's only a piece of you.
4. Success is not a paycheck. Ok, maybe it is to some people. But it's ok to not be one of them. It's ok to live by your own definition of success. For me, true success is living a joyful, appreciative life, full of laughter. The money doesn't matter. Align yourself with your own goals of success, and don't listen to anyone else or compare yourself to them. They do not have more value as a human being than you do.
5. Unless you're in prison, you're not. We spend our lives behind imaginary bars, afraid to make change, predicting what will happen if we do. The truth is, that unless someone actually has a gun to your head, you can do anything you want. Anything. If it's an important enough change, make it. The chips will fall where they may, and you can handle that afterward. If it impacts others, they'll support you if they love you. And if they don't support you, then that's ok too. You'll be just fine.
6. Your expectations about life and people are all bullshit. The things you think will happen rarely do, and people rarely react the way you think they will. It's the things you don't see coming at all that really get you. Be open to anything. Be open to all the opportunities and greatness that come your way. Give things a chance to unfold the way they will, and let people react how they react. It's the only way to know.
7. You will fuck things up. Often. We are humans, it's what we do. We try not to make mistakes; we are controlled by our own fear of them. But the fact is that like getting wet in the rain and catching the flu once or twice, these things are inevitable. So when they happen, embrace them, learn from them, and move on. There will be another that comes along soon enough.
8. Forgiveness is everything. Forgiveness of others, forgiveness of yourself. Blaming others for hurting you with their actions only hurts you. They are human, it's bound to happen. Like them, you may have made some shitty choices in your life, but it's ok. None of us are perfect. See Number 7. Let it go. Forgive, forget, move on, try again. It takes courage to forgive, but it's worth it.
9. Be thankful for the bad times. Shitty things happen to good people every day. Look around. You are not that special, and shouldn't assume that nothing bad will ever happen to you. When it does, instead of asking "why me?" the question is really "well, why not me?" So, when darkness comes into your life, be glad for it. Be glad for the experience, be glad for the lessons learned, be glad for the strength that comes after. The darkness *will* come, but it will also pass. And when it does, you will appreciate the light all the more.
10. Don't surround yourself with assholes. Be very cautious who you spend your time with. Are those around you the kind that will say "I hate you!" or "Great Job!" when you lose 20 pounds? Surround yourself with people who make you feel good and who protect and love you for all that you are, even with all your faults.
What things would you tell your 20-year-old self?