I especially love to celebrate others, but it’s always been harder for me to celebrate myself. However, with the encouragement of family and friends, I’m changing that. I’m allowing myself to be celebrated and I’m celebrating my life – especially all of the lessons I’ve learned these last 37 years (as well as the ones I’m still learning).
As I stand at the start of a new year, I’m sharing 37 life lessons I’ve learned along my journey (in no particular order). I share them with you in the hopes that they might help you on your own journey to live more authentically, to live life without judgement of yourself and others, to live with more freedom and ease – we’ve only got this one life to live and my wish is that you live it and find ways to celebrate and continually learn from it.
Lesson 1: Sometimes you have to practice putting things in the “I don’t know” folder
During the hard times in our lives, we’ll seek to understand why we’re going through whatever it is we’re going through.
When my baby sister died when I was in 3rd grade, when I lost my younger brother when I was 21, when I broke my neck or abruptly left the fitness community I built – when the hard stuff hit hard – I just wanted to know why.
Sometimes in life there is an immediate silver lining. Sometimes there isn’t. And in these moments, you just have to accept that some things don’t make sense now. And, maybe they will later.
Lesson 2: Yoga really works…but sometimes it makes you feel like shit first
Yoga has allowed me to be more present, patient and loving – toward myself and others. But, it’s also a cathartic process. There are days I went through some deep shit on my mat or balled my eyes out in child’s pose for nearly an entire class.
If you’re just getting started with yoga or want to reap the feel-good benefits everyone talks about, just remember, yoga does work…and if you feel like shit along the way, it just means it’s working.
Lesson 3: Your gut is always right.
Always – always – always – ALWAYS listen to your gut. Whenever I’ve gone against my intuition, it’s been a disaster of epic proportions (hello broken C2 vertebrae at the soccer game I wasn’t supposed to be at). Listen to your gut…trust me…it’s always right.
Lesson 4: The Universe (or God or whatever-you-call-it) tends to know your breaking point – and it will take you there so you can level up
Anytime I’ve gotten to my breaking point and stuck with “the suck” I was in, something magical transpired or opened up. Whether it’s a profound encounter with a stranger or a big break or an opportunity that I would have otherwise not seen, something better is always birthed from this place. Trust the tension you’re under.
Lesson 5: Gratitude is the key to happiness
The more we focus on the abundance and blessings we already have in our life, the more we invite in and experience.
It’s easy to focus on what we don’t have or how much further we have to go. Trust me, my mind still wanders there. But, in these moments, especially recently, I’ve found myself redirecting and asking myself, “What do I want that I currently have?” It’s a question that makes me realize how far I’ve come and all the progress I’ve made because I always find things that at one point, I wanted, but now have.
Take time to appreciate and celebrate the abundance you already have in your life and watch your life grow in direct proportion to that.
Lesson 6: Take the day (or week)
Just like your phone or computer needs to recharge, so do you.
It’s taken 37 years to fully get this and follow it, but when I rest my body or allow myself to go away (and it doesn’t have to be a huge vacation either), I’m far more productive, creative, calm and centered.
Take the vacation. Read the book. Write the book. Nap. Watch the Netflix. Do the things that allow you to do all your other things.
Lesson 7: There’s only one proper way to accept a compliment: Thank You
Of all lessons, this is one of the hardest for me. As a recovering perfectionist and a master self-loather, compliments compete with the thoughts I hold about myself and my abilities and talents. But, I’m slowly learning to just say Thank You in the moment.
When we push away or discount someone’s well-intended compliment, it’s essentially a slap in the face to that person. You might not agree that you look good or that what they’re praising was your best efforts or work, but in those moments simply say, Thank You. Let it marinate and allow yourself to see your good the way others see you.
Lesson 8: Everyone has stress. It just manifests in different ways.
Stress follows you everywhere and it manifests in different ways, hitting you when you are most vulnerable.
No matter what I’m stressed about, I tend to take it out on my body with self-loathing. When I start to hear my inner mean girl get loud, that’s my signal to deal with my stress, whatever the real stress is.
Stress will always be a part of our lives, so our job is to figure out how to best deal with it.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”.
Lesson 9: Your trauma is a prerequisite to your purpose
The gritty things, the disappointments, the regrets, the failures – they were all prepping you for what you are being called to do. You’ll realize the divorce, the death of a loved one, a serious injury, a toxic work environment, the failures, the rejection, the heartbreak – was teaching you the lessons your soul needed to learn in order to be who you are called to be.
Lesson 10: Forgiveness isn’t about them. It’s about you.
Holding onto anger, resentment and hate is like drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick.
I’ve done a lot of healing over the last year and one of the hardest practices was that of forgiveness. For the longest time I approached forgiveness with the FU attitude: Why should they be forgiven for what they’ve done? Only when I understood that forgiveness isn’t about the other person but about my healing, did I heal.
Lesson 11: Take time to identify your core values
Above my office desk I have Post-It notes with my core values and when I’m challenged or up against something, I come back to this list as my guidepost and compass. The things that guide me are: Integrity, Impact, Innovation, Vulnerability, Rest & Rejuvenation, Connection, Growth and Freedom.
Get curious – what motivates you? Why do you do what you do?
Lesson 12: Dieting doesn’t work
No seriously, it doesn’t.
37 years later and I’m JUST learning to rewire my mindset when it comes to my body. No more counting calories. No more weigh-ins. No more excessive working out or using workout sessions as punishment. Really.
Turns out, eating more (of the right stuff, of course) and doing less aggressive workouts is actually better for my body. But, it took almost 37 years of dealing with my own body shit – as well as almost a year of fighting with my trainer every step of the way – for me to see the equation differently.
Lesson 13: Worthwhile things take patience
There’s no such thing as overnight success. Things that matter take time, energy and deliberate practice.
I spent five years teaching high school English before I taught fitness – and I taught free classes for nearly two years at the Athleta store in Center City before teaching at a gym and later LifeTime. Not to mention the countless hours behind the scenes researching, lesson planning and playlisting.
You have to earn the right to call yourself skilled at something (and remember to be a lifelong student).
Lesson 14: Stop taking life so seriously
Take time to smile and laugh (especially at yourself) because how something ends up never depends upon how much you worry about it.
Lesson 15: Take life seriously
Life is relatively short and we always think we have tomorrow, but we never know. Take time today to celebrate you and to share your love with the people that matter most to you.
Lesson 16: Say “Yes” unless you have a good reason to say “No”
It’s easy to say “No” or “Not right now” especially when it comes to our kids or the people we love most. Unless you have a good reason to say “No”, practice saying, “Yes”.
Saying “Yes” has strengthened my relationships with the people that matter most. It’s had me realize that the lesson plan can wait – that I can reuse an old playlist and the world won’t end. It’s put my focus back on what truly matters in life.
Lesson 17: Say “No” unless you have a good reason to say “Yes”
Everyday there will be countless people, requests or other things that fight for your attention. If you aren’t careful, you won’t have time or attention for the things that do matter.
Don’t be afraid to say “No”. Evaluate what is being asked of you and if it aligns with your core values. If it doesn’t, don’t do it.
Lesson 18: Invest in your relationships
All good things take time and attention. People are no different.
As a self-proclaimed workaholic, I tend to invest all of my time in my work, but what I’m embracing recently is that my relationships – not accolades or titles – are the things that matter most in life.
Lesson 19: Take time to identify your personal philosophy (and be willing to let it evolve)
How do you want to live your life? What is the filter you can run all your life decisions through to make sure what you do is in line with who you want to be?
Take time to think about that and try to come up with a short, memorable phrase that encapsulates your message. Mine is, “When you go beyond what’s comfortable, you’ll discover what’s possible.”
Lesson 20: Always be kinder than necessary
Life is tough and you never know what someone else is going through. Maybe the person who cut you off in traffic is rushing to see their loved one in the hospital. Maybe the rude clerk just had her heart broken. You never know. Be kind. In fact, be kinder than necessary.
Lesson 21: It’s OK to fail
Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity and learning – and to be afraid to fail commits you to being afraid to try. As Nelson Mandela said, “You either win, or you learn. There is no failure”.
Lesson 22: Most things that seem impossible, aren’t
If you had asked me three years ago if I thought I’d be able to support myself, live on my own and have health benefits doing what I love (teaching fitness), I would have laughed in your face and told you it wasn’t possible. But here I am, doing what I love, loving what I do, and making it work.
Lesson 23: Celebrate your accomplishments and the small wins along the way
There’s an energy to celebration that rally’s more energy forward. Celebration puts a spring in our step and continually drives us forward. It’s also one of the hardest things for us to do for ourselves.
Celebrate that you made it onto your mat to practice, rather than focus on the practice itself. Celebrate the promotion without worrying about what’s next. Celebrate your amazing partnership instead of focusing on what your significant other could be doing differently.
I’m celebrating my body and my health; that I get to do what I love for a living; that I’m good at my chosen field of work; that I’ve let go of some things that no longer serve me; that I’m constantly in the game of improving.
Lesson 24: Learn to let go…and let go
Shit happens and the more we hold onto it and avoid feeling our uncomfortable feelings, the heavier life becomes.
Ask yourself, “By focusing on _____________, how do I feel? Where in life is this serving me?” And if it’s not, let it go and remember letting go is a continual journey, not a destination.
Lesson 25: Vulnerability is strength
Many of us are raised to believe vulnerability is a sign of weakness – that if we show vulnerability, we open ourselves up to being hurt.
Vulnerability is the cornerstone of confidence and when you courageously open yourself up to others, you develop the confidence to be yourself.
The moment I decided to open up, share my story and my struggles in my blog and with my classes, the game changed. Instead of being in the story, I was able to rewrite my story and help others do the same.
Lesson 26: If you have a pity party, make it short and move on
Lesson 27: You cannot heal in the same environment that made you sick
Know when it’s time to leave the job, relationship or situation because you will not heal by going back to what hurt you.
Lesson 28: Give a f*ck, but save your f*cks for what really matters
How much time do you waste on worrying about the things that won’t matter five minutes or five years from now?
Decide what is worth your time and attention and dedicate your energy there. Save your f*cks for the really magical shit that sets your soul on fire.
Lesson 29: Recovery (from anything) is one of the most badass things you’ll ever do
No matter what you’re going through or healing from, your willingness to bear witness to your pain is seriously one of the most badass things you’ll ever do.
Lesson 30: The people who love you, will love you regardless of how you choose to love
When I came out as “gay” years ago, the thing I was most terrified of was not being loved by my family and friends. But what I learned through a heartfelt, handwritten note from my mother – as well as many more vulnerable conversations with family and friends – is the people who love you, love you regardless of who or how you love. Love is love is love.
Lesson 31: Use your voice
We spend too much time being afraid to speak our truth, of taking up space. But there’s wisdom within you that needs to be heard and it’s wisdom others need to hear as well.
Declare your dreams. Share your struggles. Sing your own damn praises. Let yourself be heard.
Lesson 32: Purpose over Likes
Are the things you’re doing serving a purpose? Check in with your actions and make sure you’re aligned with a cause, not applause.
Lesson 33: Stay in your lane
One of the best pieces of advice my life coach ever gave me.
I have a tendency to veer off my path and get caught up in the game of comparison and complaining – something that doesn’t serve me. In those moments, I remind myself to stay in my lane and to stay focused on my goals.
Drop the comparison. Count your blessings. Invest in your goals.
Lesson 34: Let go of expectations
When you have an expectation of something – a person, experience, job, etc. – you put it in a predetermined box that has little to do with reality and something that will most often leave you feeling disappointed. Instead, try to experience the moment as it is, for what it is.
Lesson 35: Collaboration over Competition
Competition isn’t inherently bad. In fact, it can be a great motivator. However, competition holds us back from achieving our greatest potential because it’s fundamentally divisive. There can only be one winner in competition.
Collaboration on the other hand, is about progressing as a whole. There’s no winner unless the entire group crosses the finish line together.
Lesson 36: Take care of YOU
re: self-care is not selfish. It’s necessary. Only when you take care of you can you truly show up for the people around you.
Lesson 37: Always be a student
As much as we know, there’s always more to learn.
Life has many lessons left to teach me, and I’m looking forward to them all with an open heart.
What’s one lesson you’ve learned from your life that completely changed or transformed you? Share your insights by joining the conversation in the comments below.