Monday, January 26, 2015

Ten Things I Learned When I Turned Thirty-Five

After 35 revolutions around the sun, each round lasting for 365 and 1/4 days, I started writing about how my mindset has changed. This began as scribbles on scratch paper, ideas that came randomly and because I found them amusing, I etched them in the virtual notepad of my head, until one day, in a fit of those horrible mid-life blues, I opened my computer and started typing.

Here are some things that I realized now that I turned 35:

1. When I was younger, I learned to fight my battles. I’ve always been feisty, stubborn, and unyielding. Through the years, I have realized that I have to choose which battles to fight. And I have to choose wisely. Fighting every known battle means I will lose precious energy on efforts that are vain and I would eventually lack the energy for the more important ventures. This reminds me of the story about the big rocks and the pebbles and sand in a jar. For everything to fit, you have to get the big rocks in first. Some battles are simply not worth fighting for.

2.  When I was younger, I learned to help others. I knew then as I knew now that life is meant to be lived for others and that we only get what we give. I have always subscribed to that idea – to give and give until it hurts. As I grew older, I gradually discovered that it shouldn’t stop there. I realized I have to allow others to help me. Being on the receiving side is not a sign of weakness or helplessness. Sometimes, we have to allow others to give us something and to help us. That way, they will have an opportunity to share, to bless, to help, and therefore achieve their own purpose to be useful. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, to admit that we need something. Sometimes the best way to help others is to allow them to help you.

3. When I was younger, I learned to make plans and to eagerly pattern my life according to them. This time, I learned to make allowances for serendipity, to allow the universe to make unpredictable twists and turns in the story of my life. I learned to be thankful for the mishaps and the messed up plans, knowing that wherever I am at a particular moment is exactly where I am supposed to be.

4. When I was younger, I learned how to ferociously hold on to people and to things that I love. As I grew older, I found out that some people and things come and go no matter how fiercely you want them to stay. We must learn how to graciously let go of the things that refuse to be ours. Some relationships are meant to endure, some are meant to be ephemeral. Some are meant to wax and wane like the tide, or totally disappear like the sun, only to come back on another day. In our lifetime, we meet thousands of people, each one knowingly or unknowingly changing us in some ways. Somehow, at the end of our journey, it doesn’t really matter who we met. What would matter the most is who stayed.

5. When I was younger, I learned how to make friends and I appreciated the importance of having friends. Now that I’m older, I learned to treasure the few friends that I know are worth keeping. It doesn’t matter if I only have a few friends. What matters is that I know in my heart that these few friends I have will stay with me through good and bad, and will weather my life’s storms with me. A good friend once told me that he would rather be with the few people who know him well and who would tell him the truth even if it would hurt him, than be praised and applauded by a huge crowd who doesn’t really know him at all. As I grew older, I have learned to embrace this philosophy as well. This time, I derive more pleasure and comfort in the company of a few people that I trust, sharing seemingly ordinary moments that may be laughter-filled or quiet, mundane or profound, fast-paced or slow.

6. When I was younger, I thought that love is a feeling, the most wonderful feeling in the world they say. Now that I’m older, after so many dashed hopes and broken hearts, I know that love is a choice. It is what remains when the falling in love part is over. It is not dependent on mood or feeling. It is a decision to stick to your beloved regardless of feeling or thought.

7. When I was younger, I have always wanted to change the world. I told myself that I should live an extraordinary life and leave this world a little bit better than when I first came to it. As I got older, I realized that I don’t have to do great and extraordinary things to change the world. In fact, I stopped trying to change it. Instead, I decided to do little acts of kindness in my tiny insignificant corner of the universe, to put in a little bit of extra in everyday tasks, to welcome a few interruptions without complaint no matter how tired I am. Come to think of it, I know that I never stopped trying to change the world. I just stopped making a big deal about it.

8. When I was younger, I was taught that excellence is of utmost importance in everything that we do. Now that I’m older, I realize that excellence is good, but relevance is even better. While we aim for excellence in our job or in whatever we create, we also have to make sure that whatever we are doing is relevant for the community we serve. Excellence and relevance must go hand-in-hand. Excellence without relevance is empty. Relevance without excellence is unjust.

9. Now that I’m older, I realized I am beautiful. I have my imperfections, so many, in fact. I am fat, my legs are too big, my boobs are too small (even non-existent) and my butt is too flat. I have muffin-tops, and lovehandles, and cellulites. I have pimples, and scars, and my feet are hideous. I walk in a funny way, I have knock-knees, collapsed podiatric transverse arches. I am clumsy and I trip on imaginary things. A good friend affectionately calls me “slidey” because I slip and fall and sprain my ankles even when walking on level ground. But despite these physical peculiarities, I know I’m beautiful. In fact, everyone is beautiful. There are moments when I mindlessly stare at strangers, and I notice every face has its own brand of beauty. That mole on the nose, that arch of the eyebrow, or that wisp of hair stubbornly sticking out, that scar on the cheek. Every person is beautiful. I am too.

10. Life goes on. Even if we sometimes grieve, even if we don’t get what we want, it goes on. This reminds me of a line from a Rolling Stones song: “You can’t always get what you want but if you try, sometimes you find you get what you need.” Life has a way of unfolding according to an incomprehensible plan that is definitely not yours but that of a greater entity - God, a Law, Karma, whichever way you call it, it's an entity you can trust to go on. This also brings to mind some lines from the Bhagavad Gita: Whatever happened, happened for good. Whatever is happening, is happening for good. Whatever will happen, that will be for good as well. We lose, but life goes on. We throw tantrums, still life goes on. We rebel, and life goes on. We are specks of dust floating in a boundless universe, albeit loved by an infinite and incomprehensible entity. We stumble into each other for unknown reasons, in perpetual Brownian motion, and life goes on. We die. Life goes on. And I am so glad that it does.

I didn't learn these things overnight. They took 35 years of musing and rethinking and reshaping and deleting.  And I know these realizations will not be permanent. They are evolving and ever-changing. One day I will read these and I will probably laugh at myself for being too jaded, or immature, or shallow, or cerebral. People who read this now may also think differently. Some will laugh at me or hate me or tell me I'm wrong. Some will congratulate me while some will shake their heads and consider me petty. Some will not even give a damn.  Some will smile and say, "Poor Jean, she's really going through a tough mid-life crisis." But if I can write a note to my younger worrier self, it would be simple: “Dear Jean, everything will be alright.” No matter what people think, no matter how the world changes, everything will be alright.

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