Growing older doesn’t always guarantee you’ll grow wiser, but experience does offer its unique benefits. I found that around the time I turned forty, I realized several key things:
1. I was my own harshest critic, and if I was waiting around looking for praise from others, I could wait a very long time.
2. If you want to get a medal for a job well done, do something where medals get awarded, like running a half marathon. Your kids are not going to show up after you finally complete the unending piles of laundry and give you a medal for completing a continuous loop task, or for matching all the socks in the house.
3. Understanding yourself and what you bring (or don’t) to any situation is important. Do what you can and do it well, but take yourself out of situations where you may just be the complicating factor rather than part of the solution.
4. Self-insight is critical, but it’s hard to acquire. We spend so much time in our youth looking for external approval from others, sometimes it’s hard to remember that your own judgment of a job well done is really the most important-. You honestly know if you’ve done your best, and have to live with that knowledge, even if to the outside world, whatever you’ve done is perfectly acceptable. The burden here, of course, is knowing that perfection is an illusion, and sometimes, good enough is really good enough. Rarely does anyone have the time, funds or manpower to achieve “perfection”.
5. Since absolute perfection is an illusion, it’s time to stop trying to say “It would have been even better if I had just ….” when people compliment whatever it is you have done.
6. Part of being an adult is that you have a little more latitude to hang out with people you really like, and avoid the folks you don’t. The adult world and many groups still operate like high school, as much as we may wish they did not. But the good news is you get to choose friends from a much wider array of people, and you will find more and more people who like you just for who you are. You might even have different groups of friends who reflect different parts of your personality, and you can enjoy them all.
7. Asking for help is okay, and it’s often freely given. We all really want to feel needed, and if you are the sort of person who likes to pitch in and help where you can, it’s amazing how many people will come out of the woodwork to help you. Sometimes you just need to ask, because not everyone may notice you need help, and that’s not callousness on their part, but just that we all tend to get wrapped up in our own lives. You do need to reach out and ask, because people tend not to be clairvoyant, or they may think you want to handle it on your own, for whatever reason.
8.Listen to your trusted friends and family- they really do have your best interests at heart, and they know you, including where all your blind spots are. Trust their judgment, especially if you are questioning your own. They are like little guardian angels, trying to give you a heads up before you hit a brick wall.
9. Admitting your weaknesses and quirks to others is actually one of the best things you can do. It’s like giving people a manual to your own personal operating system. By disclosing your imperfections (one of mine is looking at an email, but sometimes putting off an answer until I can sit down and compose a good answer, but then forgetting that I did not actually respond…) people learn how to work around those quirks (please, just send it to me again or ping me- I’m not trying to be rude…I just sometimes get distracted- it’s me, not you). Most of the time, being upfront and vulnerable sets expectations and improves the relationship, where lack of disclosure might accidentally harm it instead.
10. Confronting your fears and trying new things is not always easy, but almost always worth the results. Recognizing when you are avoiding something, and asking the next question, “Why can’t I seem to get to this project? Why can’t I make a decision on this issue?” will often lead to an answer that you can address and get beyond the blockades you are constructing for yourself, often unintentionally.
11. Approaching as many things as possible with being kind as the first priority will lead to a better result than approaching with hostility. My husband often wonders why I will try to be kind to telemarketers, and I say that these folks have people hanging up on them all day long, a few seconds of “No, I’m sorry, I’m not interested or can’t talk right now, thank you” is simply good karma. Working at a student loan call center in college taught me how dealing with stressed people every day can follow you around afterwards. A minute of kindness is usually a pleasant surprise to everyone, and is worth the effort.12.
12. I know I am a geek, a gunner, and I’m always looking for that proverbial A on my report card. I might not close the deal, win the election, bake the perfect cake, etc. but I know I will always be putting my all into trying. Just don’t pair us “overachievers” with folks who are more relaxed or self-paced, and don’t make us dependent on them completing their part of the project first. We’d rather take on the whole thing and finish it than wait around for someone else to do it at their own speed. Yes, it’s annoying. But let us go and do what we do best. Otherwise, we’re just chomping at the bit and getting restless.
Self-insight lets you operate so much better in the world in general. It’s a gift I wish I had had more of, sooner, but we really only gain it with experience. It eventually leads to having a much more realistic view of the world, and how to avoid drama before it starts. I still get caught up in silliness from time to time, but I’m getting much better at recognizing it, and adjusting accordingly, at least I hope so.