35 lessons I learned in 35 years on this Earth

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: André Berben (happy Father’s Day!)

Today is my 35th birthday. Somehow it doesn’t feel like ‘just a number’. In many statistics, I enter a new bracket, and in many ways it feels like I’m entering a new phase of my life as well.

My youngest turned 6 this year, so no more kindergarteners around starting from September. It’s been two years now since I became a single parent, and I’ve found a rhythm. I’ve spent two years just surviving and finally feel that I’m getting some room to breathe.

On this birthday, I want to share some of the things I’ve learned in the 35 years I’ve been fortunate to live. Limited, as it is, there are important lessons there nonetheless.

Here goes:

  1. I’m enough the way I am. (It did take me 35 years to learn this, or relearn it.)
  2. There’s no love that compares to the love you feel for your children. And…
  3. Children are your greatest teachers when it comes to learning about yourself. They’ll bring out your best, and your worst, in equal measure. The trick is to tackle the issues they put on your plate.
  4. My body is amazing. It not only takes care of me 24/7, but also grew two human beings and fed them for over 5 years each. How awe-inspiring is that?
  5. Dopamine is more powerful than the prefrontal cortex. Beware!
  6. Meditation works. Your mind has the power to reframe reality and in that way create strenghth out of sorrow and faith out of despair. But oh it’s hard to stick to.
  7. Most of what you believe about yourself is not true at all.
  8. Feelings will come and go, that is, if you let them come. If you push them away, they’ll keep knocking and never leave.
  9. Memories are tricky. We often remember the story we’ve made up about an event rather than the actual facts and feelings that took place in the moment.
  10. You can’t selectively numb emotions, the good ones go with the bad ones (Thank you Brené Brown).
  11. We’re all weird and screwed up and complex. No one is exempt. (Thank you Alain de Botton).
  12. Your friends really DO want what’s best for you. Let them show it. Let them be there. Let them in.
  13. Love is not like it is in the movies. It is so much more, and so much harder. Attraction is exactly like love in the movies. It’s all about yourself and what you’re missing. Love is about the other person and what you can offer them.
  14. Parents do the best they can with the knowledge and means they have. I know I do, and my parents did before me, and their parents before them.
  15. Parents are also imperfect human beings. They can’t give children everything they need to when growing up. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Imperfect parents teach imperfect children how to deal with life’s imperfections. No one is free from those.
  16. Play is underrated. Do things just for the hell of it. Dance without thinking about who’s watching, sing together even if your voice cracks, play board games and stop worrying about who’s winning. (Thank you Alan Watts)
  17. Your choices matter, even the small ones. Especially the small ones. What you put on your plate, what goes into your shopping cart, what you wear…
  18. The only way out of the shadow is to shine light onto it. The only way to start dealing with the hard stuff is to look at it.
  19. We need nature more than she needs us. We’re only one part of an enormously complex system. It would do us good to remember that often, and to connect to that wisdom around us.
  20. There is wisdom to be found EVERYWHERE. In nature, books, movies, songs, other people, your own heart,…
  21. We really don’t need that much to be happy: loving people, decent food, a warm home, an honest conversation, some good laughs.
    If you have those things, you’ve already been blessed beyond what anyone could rightfully hope for. There are so many who struggle for those basic needs.
  22. Trust your instincts. If you feel uneasy about a situation, or if you’re unsure about a person, trust your gut. It’s trying to tell you something, so listen.
  23. Living with your own mistakes is 100 times harder than living with the mistakes of others. We are our own harshest critics. Yet, we judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions. We should refrain from judging altogether. It’s never helped anyone change their behaviour.
  24. More pain equals more empathy. There is no way around it. It carves out the space inside yourself you need if you want to help carry the pain of others.
  25. More pain also equals more joy. The depth of the one is the heighth of the other. Grief is the reflection of the love you feel.
  26. Something once seen, can never be unseen.
  27. Not every passion has to last a lifetime. It’s perfectly fine to dive into a new topic for a few months or a year, and then let it go again. You’ll learn a little about a lot, or a lot about a little, and both are valuable.
  28. Growing up is about learning to parent yourself. Do it gently.
  29. There’s a big difference between knowing something, and KNOWING something. If you don’t know what I mean, one day you will.
  30. It is very easy to quiet the inner voice that tells you to step onto your own path, to show your true colours. You can shut it up by using drugs, or distractions, or sex, or shopping. But when you don’t listen, it’ll start yelling louder and louder and the mufflers will need to be stronger and stronger.
  31. Addictions have very little to do with the substance or behaviour in question. It’s about what you’re trying to escape from. (Thank you Gabor Maté).
  32. There is vulnerability in loving someone, but even more so in letting yourself be loved.
  33. Own your ignorance. It is perfectly fine NOT to know. It’s the only place you can learn from.
  34. People know when you care. Really care. Whether you tell them, or not. Whether they can understand you, or not. Whether they share your cultural believes, or not. Anywhere on the planet. They can tell you care, and when you do, MAGIC happens.
  35. People matter. Above all else. Friends, family, co-workers, students, the waiter in the restaurant, the homeless man on the street. Don’t take for granted the ones that are closest. Cherish them as the gifts they are.

Last year marked my first two grey hairs, two strands of wisdom (which I then mercilessly plucked from my head). This list is clearly only going to get longer and longer.

I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.

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