Live and Learn: 45 Life Lessons

Tips for a long and healthy life - woman sitting on a dock looking a the ocean

In the words of one of my favorite musical artists, Alanis Morisette, “you live you learn.” It’s a simple phrase but an important concept because it speaks to mindset. Life is full of the unpredictable, the unfair, and the unexpected. How you deal with those things says a lot about you. Are you someone who sees every challenge you encounter as proof of your failures or shortcomings? Or do you view them as opportunities to learn, grow, and find a way to do it better?

Life lessons past and future

No one’s life is perfect, regardless of what social media tells us. And the longer you live, the more lessons you will learn. Here are 45 lessons that I have learned over 53 years. Some came from loss, others from love, and some were gleaned from the wisdom of others. The one thing they all have in common? They were all born of this messy, beautiful, tragic, delightful, confusing, and illuminating experience that is life.

  1. What You Seek You Will Find. If you are always looking for the negative, you will have no problem finding it. Keep your focus on the positives in your life and watch them multiply.
  2. Forgive People—Including Yourself! We all screw up. We all hurt people. But we are all capable of asking for and receiving. Life is too short to hold grudges, especially against yourself.
  3. Not Everyone Will Like You—and It’s OK. Why is it that you can have dozens of people who love you, but it’s always the one you can’t win over that makes you crazy? This used to frustrate me until a friend said, “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the basket, and there will always be someone who doesn’t like peaches.”
  4. Don’t Try to Change People. In the words of the great Maya Angelou, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” This is one I’ve had to learn more than once, yet I find it is always true.
  5. Trust Your Gut. Call it butterflies or a sixth sense, but whatever you call it, don’t ignore it. When something or someone feels “off,” chances are it probably is.
  6. Move Your Body at Least Once A Day. You don’t have to go hard or go home. Practice yoga, go for a walk, or dance around your living room. Just move. Not only will it improve your physical health, but your mental health will benefit, too.
  7. Don’t Confuse Your Comfort Zone with What You Are Capable of Doing. How many times have you said, “Oh, I can’t do that!” How do you know? Have you tried, or are you just comfortable where you are? Most of us are capable of much more than we realize. Surprise yourself!
  8. Don’t Be Afraid to Start Over. I changed careers at the age of 47, and while it was scary, it was worth it. Don’t let fear stop you from doing what’s best for you, whether that’s leaving a toxic relationship or moving to a new city.
  9. Have the Hard Conversations. You are not always going to get along with those closest to you. Rather than hold in the issues and let them fester, have the hard conversations. It’s always better to have a few minutes of awkwardness than a lifetime of resentment.
  10. Eat Your Greens. I know, I know, I don’t love them either. However, studies show that a diet rich in plant-based foods can help you lower your blood pressure and cholesterol and reduce the risk of many diseases. Click here for recipe ideas.
  11. Wear Your Sunscreen. As a child of the “baby oil and iodine” generation, I didn’t get the memo about sunscreen until the damage was done. The good news is that it’s never too late to start adding it to your daily skincare routine to prevent wrinkles and skin cancer.
  12. Hydrate Hydrate Hydrate. Enough said.
  13. Quit Comparing and Start Living. There will always be someone richer, prettier, smarter, more talented, etc. than you—and you will always be richer, prettier, smarter, and more talented than someone else. Let it go!
  14. Take A Social Media Detox—If you need help with #12, take a detox. Nothing can throw us into a black hole of comparisons faster than a perfectly filtered Instagram feed. Close the tab and walk away, remembering that people only post what they want you to see.
  15. Get 8 Hours of Sleep. I am a different person after a good night’s sleep, and now I prioritize it above all else. Here are some tips to help you get a good night’s rest. 
  16. Don’t Stress Over What You Can’t Control. This one is tough for us control freaks, but if it’s not something you can do anything about, don’t waste precious time worrying over it.
  17. Make Your Bed First Thing in the Morning. There is something very satisfying about this, and it sets the tone for your day.
  18. Cultivate Your Friend Group Carefully—and Weed it Out Occasionally. Some friendships come with an expiration date, and, like milk, they can spoil if they linger too long. Know when it’s time to move on.
  19. Avoid OneSided Relationships. Not sure if you are in one? Stop doing all the work and see what happens.
  20. Go Outside Once a Day. No, not just to get the mail. Sit outside for a few minutes. Go for a short walk. Take deep breaths and be present. Nature has a calming, healing effect on the body and mind.
  21. Have One Perfect LBD. Every closet needs that go-to little black dress that can work for a last-minute cocktail party or a night on the town.
  22. Say “Yes” More. The next time you are presented with an interesting or fun opportunity, don’t think about all the reasons why you shouldn’t do it and just say YES! You can figure it out later.
  23. Don’t Be Afraid to Say “NO!” But also know when to say “no” to things that drain your soul, like PTA meetings or bake sales. Bonus points if you can learn to say “no” without explanation.
  24. Surround Yourself With LikeMinded People. If you enjoy running, find a local run group. If you are an avid reader, find a book club. We become like the people we spend our time with, so find people who share your interests and inspire you.
  25. Find Your Style. In the 80s, I copied Madonna. In the 90s, I dressed like Ally McBeal. Today, I dress like me! It’s fine to look to people for inspiration, but you’ve got to make it your own for it to be authentic.
  26. You Don’t Have to Finish the Book. Seriously, if it sucks, put it down. The same goes for movies and Netflix series.
  27. Consider the Source. I have found that when people say negative things, it is best to consider the source. Is this someone you look up to or admire? No? Then it doesn’t matter.
  28. Be Kind. Whether it’s the grocery store clerk or the person behind the counter at the DMV, the easiest way to diffuse a rude person is to smile and say something kind. Works every time.
  29. Find Power in the Pause. Before you speak out of anger or fire off that e-mail, take a moment to breathe. There is a power that comes from taking a pause. It gives you time to respond versus react.
  30. Say Please and Thank You. You are never too old for good manners, and they are always appreciated.
  31. Don’t Compromise Your Values. For anyone. Period.
  32. Be A Beginner Again. Pick up pickleball. Try Tango lessons. Belly up to the new Barre class at your gym. Learn something new and remember that even Serena Williams once picked up a racquet for the first time.
  33. Strength Train. If there’s one secret sauce for aging well, this is it. Strength training helps with the loss of bone density and muscle mass and helps prevent injury. And no, you won’t bulk up, but you will get long, lean muscles and a trimmer waistline.
  34. Use the Good Dishes. Even if it’s just dinner for one, set a place for yourself with nice dishes. You’re worth the extra effort.
  35. Buy Yourself Flowers. You don’t need a reason, you ARE the reason.
  36. Take Time for Self-Care. Soak in a luxurious bubble bath. Give yourself a facial. Treat yourself to a massage. Whatever allows you to relax, unwind, and pamper yourself is what it’s all about.
  37. Be Still. Time-outs aren’t just for toddlers. When you are overwhelmed or anxious, sit still for a few minutes and allow your mind to rest and regroup.
  38. Never Let Anyone Else Write Your Story. YOU, and only you, are the author of your life. Don’t let other people’s opinions and judgments define your narrative.
  39. Invest In One Good Bag. It’s not a splurge. It’s an investment that will last a lifetime.
  40. Have a Signature Scent. My mother has worn the same perfume since she was a teenager. I have worn the same one for 20 years and it is subtle and delicious. It is by Creed—that’s all I’m telling you.
  41. Follow the Rule of Five. If it won’t matter in five years, don’t waste five minutes worrying about it.
  42. Buy the Shoes. I’ve regretted a few decisions in life, but buying the shoes was never one of them.
  43. Keep A Journal. As Joan Didion once said, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” I couldn’t agree more.
  44. Give Back. Whether working with a nonprofit or volunteering at a local shelter, giving your time and talents to help others is a foolproof way to spark more joy in your own life.
  45. Tell the People You Love That You Love Them. A LOT!
Hope or optimism

I am sure the years will bring more additions to this list, and that’s the beautiful thing about life. It is always changing, evolving, and presenting you with opportunities to take what you have learned and apply it so that every chapter in the story of your life is better than the last.

Read Next:

How Balance Contributes To A Longer Life

6 Lessons on Aging Well

Encore Careers: The 10 Stages to Enjoying Your ‘Unretirement’


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