At 57 years old, I’m able to look back and view my life in an utterly different light from when I was 40, 30 or 20. So much of what I believed was crucial to my success and happiness when I was in my 20s and 30s proved to be erroneous and misguided. And most of those misguided notions were based on the “shoulds ” we are taught and hear every day – what society, our families, or the “group think” deems as “success” (meaning: make a lot of money, have a big house, rise to a high level in corporate America, strive for power and influence, etc.). The problem is that these outer measures of “success” simply cannot and will not give us the fulfillment, meaning and wholehearted contentment and peace we’re longing for.
Interestingly, I achieved all of those measures of success at one point or another, and literally none of them have come close to yielding the happiness and fulfillment I craved.
On the other hand, the endeavors that have made me who I am today (and paved the way for so much more joy and deep fulfillment) are all around experiencing wholehearted love, honesty, compassion, healing, building strong boundaries, mustering intense commitment, taking big risks, and bravely standing up for who I really am at my core, and making as good use of that in the world as I can.
I’ve seen in working with and coaching thousands of people over the past 12 years that it’s the very things that society warns us against, that tend to yield the most powerful returns in our lives. Society tends to subtly or overtly instruct us NOT to risk, NOT to follow our passions, NOT to rise up and speak up and stand up for authentic ourselves (if you’re a woman even more so) or do the “stupid” thing that you feel in your heart is the right direction for who you really are. But societal thinking is often dead wrong.
In looking back, I’ve found there are 9 powerful lessons of my life that I wish I’d understand long before now. If I had known these 30 years ago, I would have not wasted so much time and energy on the wrong choices.
The top 9 lessons we need to learn before midlife are:
#1: Make a brave decision on what you want to stand for
I’ve worked now with hundreds of adult children of narcissists around the world, and many others who were treated terribly and emotionally manipulated as children and adults. When this happens to us as young children, our development is thwarted, and we find it very difficult to ever believe we’re “good enough” or to speak up and stand up for who we really are (or even to dare to figure out what that is.) Even if we weren’t mistreated as children, so many don’t take a stand on the life they want to live.
It took me until I was 41 years old to start standing up and speaking up powerfully for myself and my life, and never again will I let others define or suppress me.
Before it’s too late, you need to “find your brave” and make a powerful stand about who you want to be in the world, and what you stand for. It’s also time to STOP tolerating and allowing what you can no longer accept, in your life and in the world.
Make the decision today to become the person you will be proud and honored to be, so you have no regrets when the time comes for you to leave this life.
What do you want to stand for, starting right now?
#2: Never compromise your soul
There are things that it’s ok to compromise on – perhaps the size of your home, or the geographic location of your job, or the length of your commute, or where you’ll go for summer vacation. But it’s NOT ok to compromise your soul. If you do, disastrous outcomes will occur.
Know what keeps your spirit alive, and honor that with all you’ve got.
For me, that’s truth, transparency, compassion, strength and integrity. For years I couldn’t freely express any of those without punishment or suppression. If I can’t live those qualities in my work or my relationships, I start to wither, fail and disappear. But I’ve learned what’s required to honor my soul, and I won’t compromise it ever again.
What do you need to do to keep your spirit alive?
#3: Engage your wisdom and discernment when you choose whom to love and trust
The people you choose to enter into relationships with – be it through marriage, friendship, business partnerships, work colleagues and those you hire to work with and for you – will dramatically impact the quality and condition of your life. Don’t let people into your life who will hurt or demean, diminish and mistreat you. Simply don’t allow it. If you continually attract people who hurt or abuse you, you have to look at what is inside of you that needs healing so you won’t repeat or continue to hook into abusive patterns over and over.
Be incredibly discerning about who you will give your heart and trust to.
And if and when they violate your trust, care and respect, don’t wait to do something self-affirming and powerful about it.
Who is in your life today that you now need to move away from?
#4: Don’t wait one single minute more to express and honor your creativity
For so many years, I didn’t see myself as creative – I thought of myself as the “money bags” for my family. I thought other people in my family and life were the creative ones. But that’s simply not true. I just hadn’t allowed myself to see what’s inside of me. Or more aptly put, I let so many of my creative abilities from my childhood and my teen years go underground – I didn’t understand how valuable they are.
Once I began to honor and nurture the creative force inside, my world changed overnight, and my work became a vehicle through which I could express my creative longings and abilities.
I’d be millionaire if I had a dollar for every professional woman who has told me that she’s dying of boredom and meaninglessness in her work, and that there’s a creative side of her that’s bursting to come forward.
The truth is this: Writers write, painters paint, dancers dance. Just DO the thing you’re desperate to do. You don’t have to throw your whole career out the window to honor your creativity. Just pick up that paint brush and start committing to painting, today. Just that step will improve your life.
What creative urge are you desperate to bring forward in your life today?
#5: Get help when don’t have the strength or power to change what’s necessary
This one is really simple. When you feel that you can’t do what you want to alone, then go get some help. Don’t wait. Reach out to a mentor, a friend, an ally, someone who loves and respects you, and sees the future vision of you before it’s hatched.
Don’t wait on the sidelines for years and years thinking “I don’t have what it takes to do this.”
The truth is, maybe you don’t have what it takes right now, but with the right kind of help, you will.
What help can you ask for right now in your life, to get moving towards what you really want?
#6: Don’t break yourself against what is
For years, I stayed stuck in lousy situations, jobs and relationships because I didn’t want to face reality – that I needed a BIG change in my life and in how I was operating in the world, if I wanted to be happy. I broke myself against my reality, instead of going with the flow of it, and changing course, or even making tiny pivots and revisions that would get me out of the bad scenarios I continually attracted.
Don’t break yourself against your reality – change it. And doing that doesn’t mean you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Figure out some small steps you can take to take today to make a discernible difference in your situation, and start doing them.
What reality are you breaking yourself against today?
#7: Heal your relationship with money and don’t poison yourself with it
In looking back on what I learned about money as a child, and how I began to relate to it, I see now that I developed some very negative and unhealthy ideas about money. The worst was this idea: “I’ll always make a lot of money in my work, but I’ll feel like a prostitute doing it.” Meaning, I began to feel in my corporate life that the only way to make a lot of money was to sell my soul, hate what I did and the people I did it with, and compromise who I really was – to sell myself for the almighty dollar.
These negative beliefs will control how you relate to, and attract (or repel) money, unless you address your relationship with money and heal your money story.
Look back on your childhood and ask yourself “What did I learn from my family and childhood about how to view and relate to money?” Was it with power or weakness, secrecy or openness, shame or pride, courage or fear, love or hatred, resentment or happy expectation? Who controlled the money and who gave up control? When you write out your money story from the beginning of time until now, you’ll see patterns that are alive today that are keeping you from embracing money as a positive energy form in your life.
What is your money story, and how is it holding you back from a healthy relationship with it?
#8 Don’t waste one second of time on “should”
As one who explores issues of gender identity, unconscious bias and conformity, I see so clearly now how society’s (and our “tribe’s) rules about what is feminine, and what women “should” do, be and act like, have been so constraining for me, personally and professionally. And I see now how expectations and projections about what is “masculine” suppress men from their authentic selves as well. I see too how my role in my family growing up led me to focus keenly on living up to what I felt others wanted of me, in order to make them proud or to feel loved and accepted.
All of these are the “shoulds” of my life, and caving to the “shoulds” (others’ expectations and demands on how you should live and behave) just can’t lead to a happy life.
As someone so wisely said, “Stop shoulding all over yourself.” Stop responding to what you feel is obligation, and start doing what you truly want to do, the way you want to do it. Then deal powerfully with the results and outcomes of that.
How are you behaving today that is all about “should” rather than what you authentically want to do?
#9 Let go of the pain, anger and resentment
Wow. I, like you I’m guessing, have experienced so much pain, anger, disappointment resentment and confusion in my lifetime. From relationships that devastated me, to jobs that crushed me, to colleagues who turned on me – I’ve experienced heartbreak that has brought me to my knees. And I know you have too. Life is full of incredibly hard bumps that can leave us broken and bloodied.
But life can also be so very stunningly beautiful, shining and radiant that you’re brought to your knees with amazing gratitude and humility at the sheer beauty and wonder of it.
I’ve learned that it’s a choice – to be either consumed with the terrible pain and anger, or to find a way to heal and release it.
To stay stuck, drowning in the poison of hate and devastated dreams, or to find it in your heart to forgive, see your part in it, let go, and move on to keep building a meaningful and rewarding life.
I’ve learned that holding onto the pain and anger misses the whole point of living. We didn’t come here, to this planet at this time, to spend our entire life here in a state of rage and disillusionment. We came here to learn, grow and thrive.
So, what pain and anger are you hanging onto that you need to release?
I continue to learn these 9 lessons every day, every minute, but re-learning them has transformed my life. I only wish I had learned them sooner.
Which of these lessons resonates most deeply with you? Please share.