Forty Lessons I Learned at 40

When a good friend turned 40 earlier this month, I shared something with her I had written when I turned forty a handful of years ago. Turning forty was tough for me. My previous year felt like a roller coaster ride. I felt the utter grief of burying my thirty-nine-year-old brother and the complete joy of bringing my second child into the world. One moment I felt the true depths of despair, the next moment  intoxicating euphoria when hearing the sounds of my infant son’s sweet coos. I was about to outlive my big brother, my only sibling. In some ways, I felt guilty about that. The year left me with more questions than answers, so I felt compelled to reflect on the lessons time had taught me. Since I was turning 40, I chose to reflect on 40 lessons. They may not be brilliant, or even unique, but they were the things I was sure of and still am.  Here is what I learned at 40…

  1. Children teach you more about life than you will ever teach them.  They teach you how to live in the moment and appreciate the beauty of a fluttering butterfly’s wings or the purring of an airplane in the distance.
  2. Life would be much more enjoyable if we conveyed our thoughts by randomly bursting into song like people do in movie musicals.
  3. All those things your parents told you when you were growing up…they were right most of the time.
  4. In defiance of space and time, your childhood best friends (the ones you roller skated, sang, danced, and pretended you could be absolutely anything at all with) never leave you. They will always be a part of you.
  5. Your sibling is your first real friend and knows you like no other. Cherish him or her.
  6. Life is capricious. What seems permanent can change at any moment without warning. Appreciate what you have now.
  7. Nothing makes you happier than the sound of your children’s laughter, except maybe their wet, slobbery kisses.
  8. You can find slivers of sunshine even at the most difficult times if you look hard enough.
  9. No matter how challenging something is, try to find something in it to laugh at…even if it is the absurdity of it all.
  10. That quiet voice deep within you is most often right. Listen to it.
  11. You can’t retract your words, so speaking when you are angry is just plain stupid and will likely end in regret.
  12. When faced with a moral dilemma, make your decision by asking “When I look in the mirror, will I still like the person I see?”
  13. Children make you a better person because you realize everything you do colors who they are.
  14. Those tiny stretch marks above your belly button are beautiful; you earned them when you carried your precious children. Those wrinkles developing around your eyes are beautiful too; they are permanent imprints of laughter and smiles. Wear them both with pride.
  15. Men and women are wired very differently. In general, my experience has been that while men may be physically stronger, it is women who corner the market on resiliency and emotional strength.
  16. Be the person you want to be.
  17. You can make true friends at every junction in life if you are sincere, compassionate, and honest.
  18. It is okay to feel weak and afraid. True courage and strength come when you move forward despite these feelings.
  19. You aren’t doing your job as a parent if your children like you all of the time.
  20. Sometimes you have to be quiet to understand.
  21. Do what makes you happy. Build a career around something you love.
  22. Feel everything…not just joy, but even sorrow because it too is part of your story.
  23. The cliche ‘love is blind’ is true.
  24. Despite this, sometimes you have to take a chance on love.
  25. As busy as you may be, pause and surrender to the beauty that surrounds you. Sometimes nothing feels better than the sun penetrating your skin or breathing in the crisp air deeply.
  26. Move and do physical work. It feels good and makes you feel powerful.
  27. Persevere. When a task seems impossible, know you can conquer it if your are stubborn enough.
  28. When your problems overwhelm and engulf you, turn them over to God and have faith. Sometimes it is the only way to get through.
  29. Devour the arts…music, literature, poetry, paintings, theater, film, dance. They are droplets of humanity and speak their own truth.
  30. Connect with your history and heritage…the language, food, culture, and traditions. They will ground you.
  31. Forgiveness is paramount. Above all, forgive yourself.
  32. Even when the unimaginable happens, making an utter mess of your life and stealing the floor from beneath you, try with all of your might to make life as normal as possible. Although forcing yourself through predictable routines will feel awkward and uncomfortable, eventually it will help make life manageable again. Then you’ll learn to create a new normal.
  33. Remember who you were as a child…innocent and unscathed? You are still that person. When you feel lost or fragile, revisit her to find your way.
  34. Do not feel jealous of others. Few expose their weaknesses and vulnerabilities and you don’t know what they are struggling with.
  35. Humanity transcends borders. People share the same triumphs and tragedies despite cultural differences. Travel and meet as many people as you can.
  36. Laugh, sing, dance, color, jump in puddles, and be silly. Adulting is overrated.
  37. Hugs and kisses are free. Give many to your loved ones often.
  38. Tell people you care. Give sincere compliments. When the opportunity arises, help someone in need.
  39. Time makes you more accepting of your flaws.
  40. Happiness is something you make for yourself.


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