The Sophia Project.
This month, I turn 41 years old. To celebrate, I share with you 41 nuggets of wisdom I've collected over the past 41 years.
Life is too short for bad coffee.
Ditch the automatic drip and invest in a French press or Melitta filter. Buy the whole bean stuff (I prefer the dark roast from Trader Joe’s = $5). Grind it yourself. The ceremony and process of making coffee is as rewarding as the drinking. Don’t shortchange yourself.
Please, just go. Nearly everything of importance I’ve learned about myself I learned because I got my butt up out of the chair and moved it to new places. Travel teaches me courage, patience, mindfulness, awe. Travel introduces me to the fears and biases crouching inside of me, helps me tame them and transform them into vulnerability and hope. Leave the country. If you can’t afford it right now, take a road trip. If you can’t afford that right now, drive 30 minutes to a town you’ve never visited and walk the streets and notice. Just go.
Go to T. Rowe Price. Set up a Roth IRA. Automatically contribute to it each month. It takes minutes and your future self will thank you. The earlier you start the better (I started at age 26). But it’s never too late.
I’m a neat freak. Here’s why: the inside of my head is a mess. It’s full of ideas, bits of dreams, colors, song lyrics, dance moves, memories, poetry, faces, names, facts, figures, sharp angles and rounded corners. I believe there may also be a hamster in there, running on a wheel. When my physical space is tidy and free of clutter, my mind gets to run wild. Get rid of stuff. Gather plastic bags and old boxes, go through closets and drawers. Unload anything that doesn’t make you happy or fit in your life. Take it to Goodwill, where someone who needs it will cherish it.
I believe the single greatest cause of mental health problems in our culture is our lack of movement. We sit. All. Day. We are not designed to be sitters. We’re animals, after all, and animals need, crave, thrive on movement. Stop making excuses. Admit you know you need to be more active. Find something you love and start by doing it for five minutes a day. Put on music and dance in your living room. Walk. Turn cartwheels in the back yard. Just move.
It’s OK to be selfish.
Not the “Greed is good” brand of selfishness. The kind of selfishness that says, “My needs matter, and it’s OK to make myself a priority in my own life.” Women in particular need to heal ourselves from the misperception that everyone else’s needs come before our own. They don’t. We cannot truly nurture anyone if we don’t know how to nurture ourselves. Our own lives are the great testing ground for our strengths and abilities. Practice on you, first.
We (counselor-type people) used to believe that the brain stagnates at a certain age. That neurons died and weren’t replaced so forgetting (keys or names or to put on underwear) was an automatic outcome of aging. Not so. We know now that our brains are wildly regenerative, and new neural pathways are built all the time. And can be created throughout life. Until we die. And we can create them ourselves. Your brain is a miracle. Use it.
I’m a big fan of quitting. I think hanging onto a job or relationship or situation that no longer serves is pointless. It proves nothing to no one to stick with a horrible, life-depleting situation simply to prove one’s loyalty. Be loyal to yourself first. If it isn’t working, it’s time to go.
I know it’s hard. Right now, there are boardrooms full of tobacco executives spending billions of dollars to keep people addicted to their product. It really, really pisses me off. So do your best to quit. If you relapse, quit again. Think of it as a war of righteousness against an industry that wants to kill you. You can beat this thing. I believe in you.
One of my unfulfilled dreams: to buy a little RV and spend a year seeing everything I can possibly see in the 49 continental United States. It’s a dream that makes no sense. That has no rational purpose. It’s utterly illogical and makes my whole body vibrate with excitement and happiness. Make yourself vibrate like that. Make your cells dance with dreaming.
Restaurant servers are the hardest working people on earth. And many, many of them have other jobs: students, artists, actors, parents. AND, in North Carolina, servers are still paid the criminally low hourly wage of $2.13 per hour. So if you receive good service, tip well. It’s one small way to be kind.
Make friends with your fear.
So many of us (including me) get stuck in fears about the future, about stability, about money, about rejection. Fear lets us know we’re pushing our boundaries, moving beyond what is known. Making friends with fear (invite it out for coffee or host a sleep-over) lessens its power over our decision making. Embracing it not as something to be avoided but as a compass that lets us know we’re heading in a new and exciting direction turns it from a weapon into a tool.
Allow for ambiguity.
It is the height of wisdom to admit “I don’t know”. It’s easy to look around and assume everyone else has it all figured out. They don’t. Most of us are confused most of the time. Knowing that confusion and lack of clarity are an integral part of evolution lessens the stress they can cause.
Seriously. Floss. Your teeth.
Getting enough sleep changes lives. Being rested increases productivity, lowers stress and cortisol levels in the body, prevents a whole host of diseases including heart disease and cancer, increases focus and attention, and makes for a happier you. Stop pretending that skipping sleep is a worthy thing to do. It isn’t. Get some rest!
Change is inevitable.
A few years ago, a colleague of mine went on a one year sabbatical. While she was gone, our whole department changed: retirements, resignations, promotions, new hires. When she got back she said, “All I did was go on sabbatical and everything changed.” The lesson? Change happens. To resist this fundamental truth is to experience unnecessary suffering.
Meet your needs.
Eat what feels good. Get enough rest. Pay your bills. Relax when you need to. Create what longs to be created. When you meet your own needs, you communicate to the world and to those around you that you are a person who gets her needs met. And then, miracles.
Three deep belly breaths. Right now.
Art supplies are awesome.
I keep them around all the time. Colorful markers, crayon, paper, collage materials. Knowing I can throw down some art at any moment keeps the creative fire burning in me, ready to roll.
Move toward love.
Go to those people who seek you out and invite you in. If the door isn’t opening, be it a love relationship, friendship, or employment opportunity, then that door isn’t the one you’re meant to go through. Keep walking til you find the right one.
Google isn’t wisdom.
The answers you truly seek can’t be found on a search engine. Only the hard but important work of looking deep inside yourself yields true wisdom.
Surround yourself with what you love.
My little home office is decorated with photos of my best friends, my sweetie, my family. I’m surrounded by pictures of travels, inspirational sayings, cards from old friends. I love being here, and the love that surrounds me inspires me and helps me create.
Dreams and imagination are language of the soul, the best version of ourselves longing to surface. Nurture your dreams. Encourage the outlandish, the seemingly impossible.
... And do your Work.
Sacrifice and discipline aren’t as fun or sexy-sounding as dreaming, but they are necessary to making dreams real. I’ve been writing my blog for three years. Most weeks, I write twice per week, 1000 words per post. In an average year, nearly 100,000 words. I did not build this blog by dreaming alone.
Ask for help.
Most people (women in particular) are great at giving, bad at receiving. We view asking for help as weakness, as a burden to the people we love. Yet allowing space for others to help us gifts them with the opportunity to serve. Make a practice of asking.
Most people who are struggling don’t want advice or a quick fix. They are simply looking for someone to hear their story. Sit. Still your mind. Don’t interrupt. Just listen.
Give it away.
Every month, no matter now much or how little money I have in my checking account, I make a donation to a charity or organization I believe in. Doing so benefits the causes I care about, but it also makes me feel generous and reminds me of the abundance in my own life, even when my bank balance is low.
Brené Brown says that happiness can’t exist without gratitude. Happiness is not some future state that might happen if certain changes or conditions occur. Cultivating gratitude in the abundance that exists now helps lay the foundation for present and future happiness.
Age isn’t just a number.
I’m 41 years old. I’m about halfway done with this little life of mine. As much as I would like to believe that age is just a number, the truth is my time here on earth isn’t infinite. I only have so many days left (and may they be plentiful). I can postpone happiness, or I can live it now. The passing of the years makes the decision so much easier to make.
There are very few problems that can’t be helped with a good walk in the woods (being chased by a bear is probably one of them).
Blow your mind.
Here’s one: What if before you were ever born, your wise soul met up with your parents’ wise souls and you entered into a contract to be a family together? What if you, in fact, chose your parents? What if they were the exact people you needed to teach you in this lifetime? Chew on that one for a while.
Good God, you’re a miraculous being. Right now your lungs are breathing air without you thinking about it. Your heart beats in the same way. Your eyes see the words on your computer screen. You feel an itch on your face and your hand moves automatically to scratch it. You can smell apple pie, or in the absence of such pie, you can imagine the smell of apple pie. Holy SHIT! You are AMAZING!
Pretending you are not brilliant and wise serves no one. You are brilliant and wise. You have so much love and wisdom to offer the world. Offer it. Extend a hand. Be generous. Share what you know.
Learn to be alone.
I have learned to love my own company. This is the greatest gift I have given myself and I cherish it. I can entertain myself in a million different ways, and experience no fear about being out in the world, alone, as a traveler; nor in my apartment, alone, on a Saturday night. Learning to be alone is freedom.
Not everyone will approve. Make peace with it.
I occasionally get critical feedback on my blog. Critical feedback of the caring, sensible, helpful variety I appreciate and incorporate. Then there is the other kind. Like the reader who called me out publicly for using a certain four-letter F-word. That kind of feedback I catch and release, the kind that is clearly about someone else’s hang-ups, not my own.
I am going to die.
Not today. Hopefully not tomorrow. But someday. My body will let go of my spirit and I will be nothing more than a memory. Keeping this knowledge close beside me liberates me from so much fear and angst. Since I already know the ending, I may as well enjoy the ride.
Dancing is magic.
Our bodies are meant to dance. It is our birthright and our connection to the divine. It doesn’t matter if you’re “good” at it (and you are, trust me), or if you ever dance in public. As a wise man once said: Get up off of your feet. Dance and you’ll feel better. Start here, now:
Tell the truth.
So obvious. Yet so hard. Most of us are honest when it comes to the big things. But when it comes to the “little” things, like expressing a need or want or desire, we so often lie to ourselves and others. Stop. Speak what you need. Speak what you want. If you’re too cold, say so. If you want some alone time, say so. If the sex isn’t doing it for you, say so. Tell your Truth.
Write thank you notes.
In this world of digital everything, taking the time to hand-write a thank you note is precious. It will never go out of style. The recipient will thank you and you’ll have a gratitude boost from the process.
I love you.
I may not know you. If we met, we might find we have different belief systems, different opinions or ideas. Regardless, I feel fully confident in my love for you. Right there, right in the middle of you is a heart and a soul and a person of tremendous value, worth, and meaning. I believe in you. I believe in you. 100%. Today, tomorrow, always. I've got your back.