Remember when you were a little kid, and you just assumed that adults knew what they were doing? That was a comforting feeling.
And then you became an adult.
I don’t know about you, but I was never given the handbook. I quickly started to realize that neither were most of the adults around me, and then I started to suspect that there was no handbook. It was not comforting to understand that we were all milling about, making it up as we went. I am a person who likes structure and certainty, and I wanted someone to tell me the rules so I could follow them.
Today is my birthday. I am 50. FIFTY. In my mind I’m still in my 30’s, so this is shocking information. I can’t decide if it is freaking me out or not, honestly. 50 sounds old, right?? Compared to all the other ages I’ve been, it is old. It’s over the proverbial hill. And I STILL haven’t been given the handbook!
So now I’m an old adult without a handbook. That sounds very concerning – my anxious brain could focus on that all day if I let it. Luckily, I am practicing being smarter than my brain. In my old age, I’ve learned not to let my brain run the show.
I could be focusing on how my looks have changed or how, for the first time, I worry about being seen as irrelevant. I could be focusing on not having all the security I expected to have at this point in life. I could be focusing on the fact that suddenly I cannot read a book unless I hold it out at arm’s length.
That’s where my brain wants to take me, to all those fun subjects. And while it’s fine to think about them, I’ve learned that it’s not helpful to focus on them. This is the kind of thing I would have learned a lot faster with a handbook; I spent a lot of time milling about.
50 years of milling did yield a few good tips about how to do life with meaning and ease (which, come on, is a really good way to do life). They’re not a complete handbook by any means, but they cover the fundamentals and give me some appreciated direction.
1. Focus on what feels meaningful or supportive.
With practice and intention, we can control what we focus on. When we focus on the aspects of this moment that feel meaningful or supportive, we influence our experience of this moment. It feels better, easier. And so can the next, and the next. This is how we intentionally impact our lives.
This means that we need to stop focusing on what feels bad, not meaningful, or unsupportive. I don’t have to focus on the “old” part of being 50. Instead, I can focus on the perspective I’ve gained in those years or I can focus on being a parent to my young kids.
Get clear on what is meaningful and supportive for you, and then look for opportunities to make aligned choices. This might mean choosing to breathe through an emotionally challenging moment or speaking your truth to someone who invalidates you, even though it’s scary. It may mean appreciating the birds chirping in the morning or choosing an adventurous vacation because adventure lights you up. It definitely means only having people in your life and social feeds who are meaningful at a heart level and who support you feeling good about yourself as you are.
2. Be open to and curious about whatever shows up in life.
This one is SUPER hard for me. I am a controlling person – if things don’t go the way I want or expect them to, I experience it as a problem. Which, of course, is the problem. Life is going to do what life is going to do; I am not actually in charge of it. If I can see the unexpected as “interesting” instead of as “a problem,” life automatically gets easier.
Having an open and curious attitude removes a lot of the friction from life and creates space for unexpected and interesting possibilities. Being open to what shows up is having an attitude of “All are welcome. I’m going to consider everything before deciding whether to engage with it.” Being curious keeps us from being judgmental, which is a win all by itself. It also moves us in unexpected directions, which keeps life feeling interesting and fresh.
3. Stay out of other people’s heads.
This is also soooooooo hard. If you are a people-pleaser like me, or even just a human, you want to know what other people are thinking about you. It feels like very important information! However, spending so much time in other people’s heads only weakens our sense of self. We need to spend time on our side of the fence, focused on us. We need to stand with ourselves to impact our lives in meaningful ways.
Resist spending time wondering what others think of how you look or what you just said. Instead, focus on what you think of yourself and what is important to you. Focus on what you want to get out of this interaction or this day. Keep the energy and power with you, not with anyone else.
4. Work toward self-acceptance.
I spent decades chasing self-acceptance through perfectionism and other people’s opinions of me. Perfectionism is terrible for self-acceptance because it is conditional; I’m only acceptable if I’m perfect. Which of course, is impossible. So that’s no good. And only being acceptable if someone else thinks I’m acceptable is also no good. The locus of power should never be in someone else; it needs to be firmly in me.
Self-acceptance really ups the ease of life because you no longer argue with your inner critic or the inside of anyone else’s head. When you accept that who you are is who you are, there is nothing to discuss. What they say doesn’t matter. FYI, you don’t have to be in your final stage of evolution to be acceptable; you can want to change parts of yourself and still be acceptable as you are.
When you accept yourself, you get to just go ahead and live life as if you have a right to, without all the chatter telling you why you can’t. Fear of rejection becomes real quiet too, by the way. What other people think does not rock your world anymore because you are centered in yourself instead of in something outside of yourself.
(This tip is called “Work toward self-acceptance” because self-acceptance, like the rest of it, is not a destination that you arrive at and then you’re done with the work. Think of it like a garden instead of an island destination – it requires ongoing tending.)
What if someone had handed you a pamphlet at age 21 with these four tips on it? Would you have appreciated the wisdom? Maybe we need to learn these things for ourselves, but I would have appreciated a pamphlet.
For now, I’m off to celebrate my Very Big birthday. I love presents and cake and hearing from everyone. Those meaningful, supportive experiences fill my cup and make me feel special, and I intend to drink them up!
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