36 and still growing up: lessons learned & wisdom earned

As I celebrate another birthday, I find myself reflecting on the invaluable lessons that life has taught me over the years. With each passing year, I have grown in wisdom, resilience, and a deeper appreciation for the journey itself. From navigating the complexities of mental health, chronic illness and advocating for rare disease awareness, to the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship and holding a full time job as a therapist, my path has been filled with challenges, triumphs, and profound realizations. Here are 36 of the lessons I have learned and nuggets of wisdom I have earned.

1. It's Okay Not to Be Okay

Emotions are natural and ever-changing. Embrace how you feel in the present moment, without judgment or resistance. Allow yourself the space to experience the full spectrum of emotions, as they are neither good nor bad, but simply a part of the human experience. Denying or suppressing emotions can lead to further distress, while acknowledging and processing them can promote healing and growth.

2. Be Kind Anyway

Kindness is a strength, not a weakness. When faced with a choice, choose kindness every single time, even when it's challenging. Kindness has the power to transform anger, negativity, and misunderstanding into empathy, positivity, and connection. It takes courage to be kind in a world that often values selfishness, but the ripple effect of kindness can touch countless lives.

3. Everyone's Fighting a Battle

Just because someone's struggles may seem different from your own doesn't make their experiences any less valid or difficult. Honor and respect the unique challenges and battles that each person faces, without comparison or judgment. We all have our own journeys, and empathy and compassion can bridge the gaps between our diverse experiences.

4. Be Patient with Yourself and Others

Healing, learning, and building meaningful connections take time and patience. Progress is rarely linear, and setbacks are a natural process. Extend patience and grace to yourself and others as you navigate the complexities of life. Celebrate small wins along the way, and trust that growth and progress will unfold with perseverance and self-compassion.

5. Empathy is Built on Shared Emotions

You don't have to go through the exact same experiences as someone else to understand and connect with their emotions. Empathy is a bridge built on the shared human experience of emotions, allowing us to resonate with others' feelings, even if the circumstances differ. We can cultivate deeper empathy and understanding by tapping into our own emotional experiences.

6. Self-Care is Non-Negotiable

Taking care of yourself is essential, not optional. Make the conscious choice to prioritize your well-being by engaging in practices that nourish your mind, body, and soul. Whether it's seeking therapy, practicing mindfulness, journaling, or engaging in activities that bring you joy, self-care is a vital investment in your overall health and ability to show up fully for yourself and others.

7. Community is Everything

Find your tribe, the people who uplift, support, and understand you. Show up for them, stand up for them, and speak up for them. A strong, supportive community can provide a sense of belonging, validation, and empowerment. It takes a village to navigate life's challenges and celebrate its joys, so cherish and nurture the connections that sustain you.

8. Mental Health is Health

There is no separating mental and physical health; they are intrinsically intertwined. Prioritize your overall well-being by addressing both your mental and physical needs. Just as you would seek medical attention for a physical ailment, prioritize seeking support and care for your mental health, as it is equally vital to your overall well-being.

9. Vulnerability is a Superpower

Vulnerability is not a weakness but a strength that allows us to connect authentically with others and embrace our full humanity. Lean into vulnerability and own it, for it is through vulnerability that we unlock our greatest assets and potential for growth. When we have the courage to be vulnerable, we inspire others to do the same, creating a ripple effect of authenticity and connection.

10. Perfection is a Myth

Embrace imperfections, for they are what make us human. Striving for perfection can lead to unnecessary stress, self-criticism, and a constant sense of falling short. Instead, celebrate the beauty in imperfection, and find joy in the journey, with all its messy, imperfect moments. Perfection is an unattainable ideal, but embracing our flaws and growth opportunities can lead to a more fulfilling and authentic life.

11. Advocacy is Empowering

Standing up for others and giving them a voice is a powerful act of empowerment. Don't wait until an issue directly affects you to take a stand. Advocacy can break down barriers, challenge stigmas, and create positive change. By using your platform and privilege to amplify marginalized voices, you can be a catalyst for greater awareness, understanding, and inclusion.

12. Resilience is Built Over Time

Resilience is not an innate trait but a muscle that is strengthened through facing and overcoming challenges. Each obstacle we encounter and overcome contributes to our ability to bounce back and grow stronger. Embrace difficulties as opportunities for growth, and trust that the resilience you cultivate will serve you well in navigating future adversities.

13. Celebrate Small Wins

Progress is often made in small, incremental steps, and it's essential to acknowledge and celebrate these small wins along the way. Recognizing and appreciating the milestones, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can fuel motivation, boost confidence, and provide a sense of accomplishment that propels you forward on your journey.

14. "How Can I Help?"

Instead of immediately offering solutions or advice when someone shares their struggles, ask them how you can help or show up for them. This simple question demonstrates empathy and a willingness to understand their unique needs, preventing potential misunderstandings or assumptions. By actively listening and responding with compassion, you create a safe space for genuine connection and support.

15. You're Not Alone

Shared experiences can be one of the most powerful and validating forms of healing. Be brave enough to share your journey with others, and you may find solace in realizing that you are not alone in your struggles. Connecting with those who have walked similar paths can provide a sense of understanding, community, and hope.

16. Education is Key

Knowledge empowers and breaks down stigmas. Seek to educate yourself and others on topics related to mental health, rare diseases, or any other areas of interest or concern. Understanding leads to greater awareness, compassion, and the ability to make informed decisions and advocate for positive change.

17. Listen More

Healthy and effective communication starts with active listening. Make a conscious effort to listen more than you speak, truly hearing and understanding the perspectives of others. By creating space for others to share their stories and experiences, you cultivate empathy, build trust, and deepen connections.

18. Creativity Heals

Expressing yourself through creative outlets can be a powerful form of healing and self-discovery. Give yourself the space and freedom to explore your creative side, whether it's through art, writing, music, or any other medium that resonates with you. Creativity can provide a cathartic release, a means of self-expression, and a source of joy and fulfillment.

19. It's Okay if They Don't Understand

Not everyone will understand your thought processes, reasoning, or ideas, and that's okay. Your path is uniquely yours, and it's not for others to fully comprehend or validate. Trust in your own inner compass and stay true to your authentic self, even when faced with misunderstanding or criticism from others.

20. Perspective Changes Everything

Shifting your perspective can reveal new insights and possibilities. Step back and view situations from different angles, or metaphorically "hang upside down" to gain a fresh perspective. This practice can challenge assumptions, broaden your understanding, and open your mind to alternative solutions or approaches.

21. Take Your Seat; Don't Wait to Be Invited

Your voice is important and deserves to be heard. Don't wait for permission or an invitation to share your thoughts, experiences, and ideas. Claim your seat at the table and contribute your unique perspective with confidence and conviction, knowing that your contributions have value.

22. Healing Isn't Linear

The journey of healing is rarely a straight line. It's a process filled with ups and downs, setbacks, and breakthroughs. Embrace the messiness and non-linearity of healing, and trust that even when it feels like you're taking two steps back, you're still making progress in your own way and at your own pace.

23. Support Systems are Crucial

Surround yourself with a network of supportive individuals who uplift, encourage, and believe in you. A strong support system can provide a sense of belonging, validation, and accountability, helping you navigate life's challenges and celebrate your successes. Nurture these connections and don't be afraid to lean on your support system when you need it.

24. Authenticity Shines

Being true to yourself and embracing your authentic self is a powerful force that attracts genuine connections and opportunities. When you show up as your authentic self, without pretense or masks, you radiate a magnetic energy that resonates with others. Authenticity breeds trust, respect, and a deeper sense of fulfillment in your relationships and endeavors.

25. Keep Learning

Cultivate a mindset of curiosity and continuous learning. Stay open to gaining new knowledge, perspectives, and wisdom from those around you. Ask questions, seek out diverse experiences, and embrace opportunities for personal and professional growth. A commitment to lifelong learning will enrich your life and expand your horizons in ways you can't yet imagine.

26. Balance is Key

Finding harmony and balance in life's various demands is essential for overall well-being. Strive to create equilibrium between work, personal relationships, self-care, and other responsibilities. Prioritize what truly matters to you, and don't be afraid to set boundaries or make adjustments to maintain a healthy balance that supports your physical, mental, and emotional needs.

27. Your Values Should Be Lived, Not Strived For

Your behaviors and actions should reflect your core values and beliefs. Spend time understanding your internal compass and what truly matters to you, then align your daily choices and decisions with those values. By living in accordance with your values, you cultivate authenticity, integrity, and a sense of purpose that guides you through both internal and external challenges.

28. Prepared Adaptability

While it's important to have plans and goals, recognize that change is the only constant in life. Embrace a mindset of prepared adaptability, creating flexible plans that can accommodate unexpected shifts or obstacles. Focus on what you can control, and develop strategies for navigating change with resilience and minimal stress.

29. Stop Outsourcing Your Validation

Cultivate self-trust and self-belief by validating yourself from within. Stop seeking external validation or approval, and instead, become your own biggest supporter and cheerleader. Trust your instincts, celebrate your strengths, and have confidence in your abilities and worth, independent of others' opinions or judgments.

30. Boundaries Protect You

Healthy boundaries are essential for maintaining your well-being and preserving your energy and resources. It's your responsibility to communicate and enforce boundaries that align with your values and needs. Boundaries create necessary space and protect you from overextending yourself or compromising your integrity.

31. Happiness is Not a Destination

Happiness is a fleeting emotion, not a permanent state of being. Instead of chasing an elusive idea of happiness, strive for contentment and acceptance of the present moment. Allow feelings of happiness to come and go without clinging to them, and find joy in the journey itself, rather than waiting for a destination that may never arrive.

32. Share Your Gifts

You have unique talents, perspectives, and gifts to offer the world. Stop overthinking or doubting yourself, and courageously share your gifts with others. Your contributions have value, and by putting your work out into the world, you have the potential to inspire, uplift, and make a positive impact on those around you.

33. Contentment Comes Through Acceptance

Embrace who you are and where you are in life with acceptance and contentment. Rather than constantly striving for something different or "better," find peace in the present moment and appreciate the journey that has brought you to this point. Acceptance cultivates gratitude, reduces stress, and allows you to fully experience the beauty and richness of each phase of life.

34. There is No Finish Line

Don't get caught up in the pursuit of an elusive "finish line" or end goal, forgetting to enjoy the present moment. Life is an ongoing journey, filled with countless experiences, lessons, and opportunities for growth. Savor each step along the way, and resist the temptation to constantly look ahead, missing out on the richness of where you are right now.

35. Stop Blaming Yesterday's Version of Yourself

Release self-criticism and judgment towards your past self. With the wisdom and perspective you've gained, it's easy to look back and wish you had known or done things differently. However, blaming or berating your past self serves no purpose. Instead, extend compassion and understanding to your former self, recognizing that you were doing the best you could with the knowledge and resources available at the time. 

36. Nothing is Worth Your Peace

Prioritize your inner peace and well-being above all else. While challenges and conflicts are inevitable, never compromise your sense of peace or sacrifice your mental and emotional health for temporary gains or external validation. Cultivate practices that nurture your peace of mind, and have the courage to walk away from situations or relationships that consistently disrupt your inner calm

Chapter 36 begins...

Reflecting on these life lessons, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the journey that has led me to this point. Each lesson, whether arising from struggle or success, has been a stepping stone toward greater self-awareness, empathy, and a stronger connection to my true self.

As I look ahead, I know there will be new challenges and chances for growth, but I carry these lessons with me as a source of strength and wisdom. They remind me to embrace vulnerability, to lead with kindness, to advocate for those whose voices may not be heard, and to prioritize my well-being without apology.