Things I’ve learned over 57 years that helped me be the best person I could

For my 57th birthday, here are thoughts gained after over half a century of life experience

For my 57th birthday this year, I have come to learn so many things. One of these things is that I am realizing that everyone has already given me so much, and I really wish to give back the incredible outpourings of love, well-wishes and advice.

Much of the advice I am giving is due to a well-worn pathway filled with mistakes. For as long as I have tried to be perfect, my humanness has always prevailed. But that is a battle I will never stop fighting. I will always strive to be better than I was yesterday.

I have advice to offer based on this experience, and if you would wish to listen, that is perfectly up to you. Some things may resonate more than others, as we all have different hills to climb.

So, without further ado, here are the things I’ve learned over 57 years that made me a better person and the world a better place.

Kindness is free, and an act of kindness has a long-lasting and lifetime effect. You never realize just how much an action of kindness might affect someone. Today, at 57 years of age, I still remember a kind older man giving me a quarter as he was walking out of a store when I was a little boy.

If you want to achieve success, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to sit down and write out a timeline to achieve it. This is manifesting at its core, and it will do so much to help you. Everything I have done was once written down as a potential dream to be achieved.

In my experience, letting off steam due to anger has never worked. Time and time again, giving in to releasing anger has resulted in ill effects. On the flip side of that coin, whenever I have held myself accountable and waited for patience instead of allowing recklessness, it has always resulted in favorable results. 

When given the chance, interview your parents, elders, and family members with reporter-like questions. Yes, I am a journalist, but after many years of learning about the lives of so many, I realize in retrospect I know very little about the childhoods of my father, my mother or the life experiences of friends and elders. It never has to be formal, but take the time and believe me, you will learn some amazing things about the people you love.

Understand this is a world of labels. Do the best you can to embrace the labels that uplift you and disregard the labels that hurt you. 

The words that are hardest to hear, are often the words that you need to hear most.

An ally or a family member doesn’t always have our best interests in mind. But sometimes a family member or friend might be your only support. Trust your heart.

There is tremendous truth in following your heart. It really will tell you if something is or isn’t right for you.

You will experience certain things at certain ages, and it is good to prepare yourself. Here are a few thoughts on different times in our lives. I have lived through them all.

As a child, life moves so fast, that you don’t have time to prepare; you just experience it. It is filled with fantasies and dreams, and it is when we are closest to the Creator. We can prepare ourselves in knowing that we will forget much about being this way. Adulting is hard, so don’t judge yourself too much; just do your best to remember the joyful child you can be at any time.

In our teenage years, we are bombarded with everyone’s ideas except for our own. That is why we struggle so much with identity, idealism, and love. We are in a literal battle for who we are and who we will become. My advice is to realize this is a real battle, and to hold fast to who you are. Ideas, influences and desires at this time are all incredibly confusing, and the majority of information you receive, is false. And though our teen years are filled with so many false ideas, you will spend the rest of your life undoing these falsehoods, because you thought they were the truth. That is the essence of continuing to discover who you are. It is a beautiful and, yes, a painful process. Within that process is the freedom to be who you are. Be brave; you can do it.

In our 20s, life is just beginning to unfold, and you come into your first experiences with responsibility and repercussions for your actions. It is the beginning of the ‘life is what you make it stage,’ but there is a lot of room for error. Expect to make a lot of mistakes, I sure did. But if I could offer advice for these years, it would be to pay your bills first, pay your bills first, pay your bills first. The allure of going out on the town with friends as opposed to paying your rent or phone bill is a huge deal, but I speak from experience and say putting your responsibilities first can save you tremendous heartache in the long run. One more thing: roommates can be awful, and in my experience, moving in with friends is, more often than not, a really bad idea.

In our 30s, you will begin to find that as your financial situation continues to improve, you are more often able to go out on the town with friends but likely won’t want to anymore. Lifelong relationships are often in full swing, or perhaps the most important relationship you are exploring is with yourself. The thirties can be a time of sincere excitement and the first time that you are beginning to feel like a true grown-up. It’s fun to be a grown-up, but what is my advice at this point? It is to be cautious of destructive patterns that don’t continue to uplift you. 

In our 40s, life begins to unfold and make a bit more sense. Adulting is the norm, and we are faced with the realities of who we are and will continue to be. The 50s are the same, with a growing sense of comforting maturity. We desire to help younger versions of ourselves in an attempt to help them avoid the mistakes we have made. 

So here are a few last tips to share regarding what I feel has helped contribute to the welfare of others.

We are all in this together. 

Asking for help should be the first insight, not the last resort.

Surround yourself with people who are doing wonderful and constructive things. You are who you associate with.

It is ok not to follow someone’s advice. On the same note, it is okay to change your mind, even if you have prepared, run the entire race, and people are watching from the bleachers; whether or not you want to cross the finish line is up to you.

All may be fair in love and war, but that doesn’t mean you have to be callous to broken hearts or wounded soldiers. 

Listen to Baz Luhrmann’s “Don’t Forget To Wear Sunscreen” song; it has a long list of beautiful pieces of advice to help you. It inspired me to write this in some ways.

Never be afraid to share credit with the people who helped you. For example, I would not have the life of incredible success that I have had, without the love and support of my amazing wife, Delores.

Compliments such as “That’s a nice hat” can make someone’s day, so if you have a nice compliment to share, do it, and it’s free to spread a bit of happiness.

Put back your shopping cart if you can. Young workers usually have this job, and it’s tough work. It’s nice to be helpful.

Always be nice to customer service people. Their job is a tough one, and not only that, kindness will get you a lot further than crankiness.

Be kind and respectful to elders. Many times, many of their friends and family have passed away, and they are sometimes lonely and welcome a kind hello or a nice conversation.

Stuff is only stuff.

People notice only about 2% of the things you constantly worry about or criticize yourself for. And when they do notice, they usually aren’t concerned about it.

Always ask to pet someone’s dog.

Hold open doors for people.

Meditate or think of positive things; your thoughts define who you are and who you will become.

Believe you are lucky, and you will be. 

Dance, laugh and smile. The world needs you.

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