I spent my 41st birthday in an eight-hour kettle bell training course, which was awesome. It also meant that I couldn’t lift my arms to toast with my friends that night, so I skipped the arms and stuck my face in the glass.
Here’s to my forties.
Lately, I’ve been listening to yet another book on habits, and the author suggested writing down our secrets of adulthood. So it got me thinking, as I ring in my 41st year, what my five secrets of adulthood are.
I don't really want to call them secrets though, and rules seems too rigid, so I'll call them...um...stuff I've learned in my four-plus decades.
1. TRUST YOUR GUT
My intuition has always guided me well. Never was that so obvious than a few years back when I took a job I felt like I should take. Something was telling me that while the work appealed to me, the job itself wouldn't be the right fit. On paper though, I just couldn't see turning it down, so I ignored my instincts and signed the contract.
It was one of the worst experiences I ever had. And I could have spared myself and others a lot of stress had I listened to my gut.
2. THERE IS NO SECREt (which is why I can't call them secrets..)
Did you ever show up to a class having read the wrong assignment? And suddenly the professor starts talking and students start talking and you have the distinct impression that everyone knows something you don’t know?
I felt that way for much of my adulthood. I was certain that everyone knew something I didn’t know.
It’s only been since my thirties that I began to realize that it’s not true.
There is no secret. There is self-discovery, and taking chances and sharing hurts and joy - there is confronting shame and guilt and learning what it means for you to live the life you want to live.
But there is no secret. You know more than you think you know. Trust yourself.
3. THERE IS NO BOOK THAT WILL TEACH YOU SELF-KNOWLEDGE
If I could go back and give some advice to my 25-year old self, I’d take most of the books on self-knowledge out off of her bookshelf and torch them.
You can’t get to know yourself from a book. You can read about human behavior all you want, but if you don’t take the time to pick up the rocks in your own life and look underneath them, you’ll never understand how you feel, how you think, how you react - to yourself and others.
That takes a lot of inner work and that work is hard. It is so hard.
If you sweep everything under the rug, you’re going to trip over that rug one day. I promise you.
4. HAVE FUN
One of the things I appreciate most about my dad, and there are many, is his silliness. After a long week at the steel mill, he would always get up on Saturday mornings to watch Bugs Bunny with us, and I’m pretty sure, knowing what I know about Dad, he’d have watched Bugs Bunny anyway. He was watching Scooby Doo when I was born, and it wasn’t to accommodate a kid in the room. He turns phrases inside out, laughs with ease, and can find the humor in anything.
If you’ve been to the gym, you may have seen me wearing a horse head, throwing rubber chickens or putting on a polka. Because polka.
Sometimes I do it to put myself in a better mood, and sometimes I do it because rubber chickens. Life is way too short to be serious.
5. Compassion and kindness trump all
Yes, I use the term trump deliberately. We are living in divided times, and regardless of where your political or religious views fall, civil discourse feels lost. But if we lose the ability to be kind and compassionate, especially in times like these, we lose everything.
One of the greatest acts of kindness I ever received came from a college student at a tavern in State College. I'd just come out to my parents and it hadn't gone well. So I was sitting in the bar, sipping on a beer, crying and trying to make sense of what might come next. On her way out the door, the student put her hand on my shoulder and said, "I don't know what's wrong, but it will be ok."
It mattered. Kindness always matters. Sometimes we're too much in our own heads to pay attention. Sometimes it's difficult to have compassion for those who don't share our views, who push our buttons and challenge our instincts for kindness.
But those are the folks who need it most.
This is not an all-encompassing list. But this is my list for now.
* Always have tweezers. Because chin hair, and now gray chin hair.
**The only way out is through. Tough times come and go. Sometimes they last a long time. But you will get through them.