I ushered in my 40th birthday in 2019. I opted for a weekend away in New York City with just my husband – full of musicals and amazing food, topped off with a midnight birthday toast at a cool rooftop bar. It was absolute perfection.
As I approached 40 though, I started to feel a change. An internal shift. It wasn’t at all sadness about the impending milestone birthday, but more of a realignment in my life – of what, and who, are most important. This energy audit was long overdue. And also absolute perfection.
Flash forward, I am about to close the chapter on 40, and I am overwhelmed. Much like everyone else literally everywhere, being held in the grip of Coronavirus this year was rough. Add to that an extreme injury and hospitalization for my husband, distance learning, and a complete shift in my job duties, and… you get the picture. We’re exhausted.
There’s been added time this year to reflect. It was chock full of lessons – some that were welcomed, and others not as easy to face. I read a book by Mark Manson a few years ago… the name itself cannot be mentioned here (expletives!), but the concept can: you have a finite amount of energy to offer each day. Choose wisely.
In doing this, I came up with a list of lessons I’ve collected over the last four decades that I am slowly sharing with my daughter, as I prepare for the Second Act of life. They range from silly to serious, and all hold space in my being. In no particular order…
1) Appreciate people while they are alive. Who enjoys the flowers at a funeral? No one. It’s too late then. Send the card or flowers now.
2) Learn to make one signature dish. That’s your jam for dinner parties or a doorstep drop-off when a friend needs it. Mine is baked ziti. When words fail, food does not.(Thanking my Italian grandparents for this one!)
3) Never text or type in an email what should be a (spoken) conversation. Similarly, treat anything you type like it will be a screenshot, shared, or read in a court of law.
4) Don’t burn bridges when leaving a job. You have absolutely no idea where your path will take you – and no matter where you are, it’s a small, small world with lots of connections.
5) In the same vein, if you are being pulled to try something new professionally: do it. I reinvented myself in a completely different industry at the ripe old age of 36. It’s never too late to begin again. Ever.
6) Pigs in a blanket and pizza bites are the best appetizers, no matter how fancy you *think* the crowd is. And furthermore, pizza is always a solid choice for dinner. Or breakfast.
7) Show up for those who show up for you. If there’s something to celebrate or a friend is hurting – seriously, just show up. Even if you simply sit there. (People overthink this one WAY too often.)
8) Snail mail cards are perfect for any occasion, big or small. Add a powerful quote. Gift optional.
9) Dance in the rain. Jump in puddles. The Swedish say,“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Clothing can be washed, but the moment can’t be rewound.
10) Travel – whenever you can, as far as you can, as often as you can. When you are young. When the girls trip presents itself. Money will return, time won’t. Far too many people I know have passed away before enjoying the retirement trip they saved for. Don’t be one of them.
11) Think and save like Dave Ramsey, from the first moment of your first job. But never forget #YOLO.
12) Music heals the soul. And song lyrics are meant to be quoted. Write them. Sing them. Feel them. (Please, please speak to me in song lyrics!) A current favorite of mine are the words sung by Elphaba from the musical Wicked, “Too long I’ve been afraid of losing love I guess I’ve lost. Well, if that’s love, it comes at much too high a cost.”
13) Take the photo. You never know when that will be the last image you share with someone.
14) Someone else will inevitably pack up your “stuff” once you leave this world, so travel light through it. What are you saving that for? Remember the ‘hurricane dash,’ where we grab our prized possessions before bolting out of town? It’s not the fancy electronics or designer clothes that matter, it’s the photos and baby Liv items I grab. Simplify. Clear out the clutter. Mari Kondo it, and once it’s gone, don’t let it back in. The clutter in your house, your schedule – your life.
15) Say thank you in a genuine, meaningful way. Send a note. Send a text. Send an email – no matter the method, SAY IT. Personalize it for the recipient. You have no idea how few people take time to do this.
16) Volunteer. This world is bigger than you, my sweet girl. Be a good citizen.
17) Call your mama. Often. Stretch your wings – find your faith, your purpose, your passion. But always come home. Always, always.
18) Own your mistakes. Give the glory. It’s that freaking simple.
19) Aging is a gift not everyone receives. Don’t hide those laugh lines. Embrace them.
20) When you meet that special someone, know your non-negotiables. You were you first. Be true to that spirit. A relationship should be a solid partnership.
21) Similarly, with everyone: establish clear boundaries and enforce them. It took me way too long to figure this one out. (And still a work in process.)
22) The past is heavy. Put it down.
23) Hug your babies, especially on the harder days. Sometimes emotions present themselves in wacky ways – and all that person needs is a simple hug.
24) Celebrate your birthday (or any day, really) how YOU want to. Bake yourself a cake. Take yourself on a trip. Do not expect others to make you happy – that’s your job. The longest relationship you will have is with yourself. You alone are in charge of your happiness. Do not give anyone else that power. Embrace your weird.
25) Two drinks max at the company holiday party. Any party, really. (Trust me.)
26) Social media is a highlight reel. Use it wisely.
27) I love this anonymous quote: Water your own grass. That other grass might look greener, but it’s astroturf. Simply enough, comparison is the thief of joy. And what you are comparing to just may be an illusion after all.
28) You level up as a person often, always evolving, creating a new version of you. It is okay to let go of people, places and things that no longer gel. Wish them love and light, and move on. Similarly, 1,000 different versions of you exist, as everyone sees you through a different lens. You can become CEO of a major company, but still remain ‘just someone’s little cousin.’ The lens through which you view yourself is most important. Never stop evolving.
29) Be kinder than necessary. (Especially to yourself.)
30) Wear the costume. Legit any day you feel like it. If people make you feel like levity isn’t okay – those are not your people.
31) No is a complete sentence.
32) Always end a call with I love you. Especially with mom and dad. Say it often, when you mean it.
33) Learn people’s names. The CEO or the receptionist. And LISTEN when they say it.
34) In the words of your Aunt Sandy, don’t ever be the reason someone else has a bad day. Handle your emotions and work through your ‘stuff’ without bringing other people into it.
35) Never, ever form an opinion of someone based on the judgment of someone else. Take advice, but gain your own perspective. Remember, there are three sides to every story: his, hers and the truth.
36) Smile, make eye contact, and wipe your hand on your pants as you go to shake someone’s hand.
37) Don’t chew gum in an interview. From my decade as a recruiter, I can tell you it’s gross, and no one likes it when gum lands on their desk.
38) Find your people. The ones who truly get you. Who make you feel relaxed. Who allow you the space to be your truest self. Who exchange the silliest of memes with you, because that’s what you need to get through a day… Whatever it looks like, hold those people tight. Who you surround yourself with influences your thoughts, your actions, your life.
39) Do something new, every single year. Something that scares you. Challenges you. In my year of 40, I started taking tap classes and decided to start writing again. Because, why the hell not?
40) Life is a flow. When you need to, take a day. To rest, recharge, cry, whatever. The power of saltwater (tears or the ocean) can heal your soul. Breathe it in. Let it go. Then flick that awesome light even brighter.
The extra birthday wish bonus:
41) Ignore all the noise. All of it. You do you.