I don’t like Monday Morning Quarterbacking and I don’t believe in “hindsight is 20/20” (we all make decisions based on a particular point in time in our lives, so looking to the past and saying things could have been different if we had we known better is A Big Self-Inflicted Lie). However, there are a few things I learned along the way that I wish I knew (or paid more attention to) when I was younger.
These thoughts aren’t based on regret so much as having a better understanding of the richness of life as I see it now. Part of this thinking was brought about by some life experiences I’m experiencing now, and part of this thinking came about as the result of a sympathetic talking-to I recently had with myself. So I pulled together this list of wisdom learned along the way, hoping it’ll spark an eye-opening moment in your life the way it did in mine. No matter what your age. 🙂
In no particular order:
- Always do the right thing. Sometimes the most important decisions are the hardest ones to make, but doing the right thing is what makes you a better person. Lying to achieve status, or placing blame on someone else for a mistake you made, or putting someone else down because it gives you a temporary ego-boost (or any other host of things that belittle someone else in your favor) weakens the soul and harms humanity. As Maya Angelou once said, “Right may not be expedient; it may not be profitable but it will satisfy your soul.”
- No matter what you do, people will have an opinion. And those opinions don’t really matter. I read somewhere that 1/3 of people will like you, 1/3 won’t, and 1/3 won’t care either way. So what’s the point in battling with what others think of you, or acquiescing to what someone else thinks of you? At the end of the day, the only person you have to answer to is yourself and if you give too much merit to those other opinions, you will diminish your self-worth.
- Life is more than your job, and you are more than your job. Jobs pay bills. Period. If you’re lucky enough to have a job that is also your passion, then the two can be easily integrated. But many of us typically give too much value to our job at the expense of family or friends or even our health and sanity. And the system, unfortunately, is built upon grading how well you do your job and then providing you with a little more money to show thanks. It’s a hollow value system. Again, based on someone else’s opinion of you.
- Be creative. Finding your path in life may mean not taking the routine, or typical road. So just because the masses are getting married, or buying a house, or getting a 9-5 job doesn’t mean you have to. Life is meant to be explored, and on your terms. And if there’s something out there you really want to see or learn about, creativity will help you find a way to do it.
- There’s something bigger than all of us out there, so open yourself to possibilities. As the years have passed, I’ve been awed by the way things always have a way of working out. This doesn’t mean that life isn’t without challenges or difficulties, but once you let go of expectations and open yourself to what life has to offer without judgment or wants or desires, extraordinary things happen. We can’t control everything. In fact, we can only control our reaction to how we perceive life. And if we surrender to it, living life becomes a heck of a lot easier. So rather than battling what you think life should give you, or how you expect things should turn out, release the expectations, sit back, and see what happens. Odds are, the experience will be much more peaceful and richer for it.
- Exercise. Regularly. You don’t have to pump iron or be a gym rat to keep your body healthy. You only need to move, every day. Walk the neighborhood. Take the stairs. Park further away from a store. Get up from the television during commercials and stroll all the rooms in your house. Better yet, turn off the television and head to the beach for a swim or the park for a game of frisbee. The body was designed to move, and ignoring that basic need makes the body sick.
- Be mindful. Today’s pace is frantic and frenetic, and it’s getting worse as time passes. It’s filled with devices to help us work longer hours and stay connected 24/7 — but at a very big cost. People are more stressed now than ever before, mostly because we don’t take the time to be mindful. So put aside the television, the smart phone, and the laptop or tablet. Close your eyes and listen to your thoughts. Go outside and appreciate the blue sky. Focus on the conversation you’re having with your spouse or friend. Think about where that strawberry you’re eating was picked, and who farmed it for you before it ended up in your mouth. Savor its sweetness and small seeds that crunch as you bite into them. Life’s simplest moments are often the most profound.
- Do yoga. Flexibility and focus. Strength and stamina. These are just a few of the amazing benefits regular practice provides. But yoga isn’t just for those thin, uber-healthy people you see on magazine covers. In fact, most people who do yoga regularly don’t even look like that. So you don’t have to tie yourself up into knots to obtain the benefits, which include minimizing pain symptoms, protecting your spine, boosting immunity, and establishing a better, more accepting, relationship with your body. It will also center you spiritually and emotionally. So simple, yet so very powerful.
- Eat food, not edible food products. Just because something is sold on a supermarket shelf doesn’t mean it’s food. Sure, it’s edible, but it’s not the real thing. The food industry has food engineers whose job is to figure out what other products a company can sell so the company can make more money. This doesn’t promote optimal or even good health, and there are direct connections between eating edible food products and disease. All those products that tout nutritional benefits such as “low sugar” or “low fat” or “high fiber” are only doing so to make you think it’s healthy. Eat food provided by Mother Nature and avoid what’s been produced in a lab. Your body will thank you for it.
- Money isn’t everything. In fact, it offers very little value except to provide the few basics we need to live. Do you really need a bigger house with bigger debt? Do you really need to lease a new car when you can buy a three-year old model and have immediate equity? Do you really need to take a vacation — or two or three — every year at the expense of your future savings? What about that expensive handbag you want because “everyone else has one”, or that fancy new smart phone that has even more bells and whistles? Society is too focused on material things that make many of us fall into the Keeping Up With The Joneses trap. Which is why I constantly remind my son: “If you always live beneath your means, you will always have money.”
- You don’t have to (gasp!) go to college. You don’t need to go away to college to experience life away from home if it comes with the cost of long-term debt. You also don’t have to go to college right after high school if you’re not ready for it. Just because most people do it doesn’t mean you have to. College can be a tool to help you achieve the next phase in your life — if that’s the phase you want to pursue. But if it isn’t, recognize that there are many other options open for you to explore.
- Beauty is all around you. It’s in a heartfelt hug from a child or dear friend or partner. It’s in the sound of birds chirping in the morning. The smell of blossoming flowers in Spring. The feel of warm sand beneath your feet as you walk the shoreline. The lingering awe you feel long after you finish a great book. A smile. A song. A snowflake.
- You’re going to make mistakes. This is normal, and this is what it means to be human. If you’re in a job that doesn’t allow for mistakes and condemns you when you make one, find another job. By the same token, if you’re in a relationship with a partner that constantly harps on everything you do wrong, find another partner. But most importantly, forgive yourself when you make a mistake. Learn from it, and move on.
- Silence really is golden. There is no need to constantly keep busy. In fact, quieting the mind, especially through meditation, can help you appreciate the silence we all crave. Man may be a social creature, but man also needs to find strength and recharge from within. And quieting the mind — listening to its incessant chatter and then releasing that chatter with compassion and non-judgement — brings forth relaxation, focus, and emotional and mental flexibility.
- Your body is perfect the way it is. 🙂
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