Friday morning I woke up standing at the threshold of midlife. For years, I dreaded the day I would turn 40. I thought I’d feel sad or afraid, but I didn’t. I woke up to Brandon handing me a warm Krispy Kreme doughnut and the girls climbing into my bed while cracking over-the-hill jokes. Happiness swept over me, and I realized: life doesn’t get any better than this.
Ten years ago, I never would’ve believed I’d be this at peace over turning 40. When 30 hit me, it felt like the earth shifted beneath my feet. It took a long time to shake off that funk, but I did. And in the last decade, I found my footing as an adult. I became sure of myself and my place in this world. Now, I look back on my thirties as the best decade of my life, despite how they began.
While sitting around reflecting on the last 40 years, I threw together a list of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned over my lifetime. It’s a Carolina girl’s version of 40 Life Lessons in 40 Years. Y’all enjoy!
40 Life Lessons in 40 Years
- Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There ain’t a single one of us who’ve made it 40 years without racking up a list of mistakes and traumas. Don’t allow those bumps in the road to define the whole journey. Treasure the good, and let the rest go.
- You reap what you sow. We live in a world where people seem to have forgotten that every action has a reaction. Every choice we make can come back to haunt – or bless – us.
- Many hands make light work. There ain’t no shame in needing a helping hand, so when the load is too much to bear, ask for help.
- Birds of a feather flock together. Take a good hard look at your tribe; they represent you. If you don’t like what you see, it’s time to find a new tribe.
- Pretty is as pretty does. Looks don’t matter as much as you believe they do when you’re young. Being compassionate, goodhearted, and generous are the things that count in the end.
- A hard head makes a soft ass. Life isn’t kind to the hardheaded. People who are obstinate end up getting spanked.
- Mind your p’s and q’s. Manners matter. Why? Because using them shows others that you care about their comfort.
- Make Do. Make do with what you have, and learn skills to stretch those resources. Self-sufficiency skills are something you will never regret investing in.
- Pull over for funerals. When Mamaw’s funeral procession passed through downtown Canton, every car we passed pulled over and flipped its lights on. It felt like my whole hometown mourned with us. It was a moment of solidarity with strangers that I’ll never forget. Trust me, pull over for funerals.
- An apple a day keeps the doctor away. You’ve only got one body, y’all. Fill it with healthy, wholesome foods.
- Don’t argue with idiots; they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. You can’t argue with ignorance; you can only forgive it.
- The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Actions speak louder than words, folks. So stop thinking great things – and start doing them.
- Trust your gut. If something feels off, it probably is. You have God-given instincts; trust them.
- You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Be nice to people. Kindness will get you a lot further in life than anger and bitterness.
- Home is where the heart is. Your home is your sanctuary, not because of the house, but because of those you share it with. Fill it with laughter and good memories.
- Never return an empty dish. If someone is kind enough to bring you a casserole or a plate of cookies, return the favor.
- People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. We all have our flaws, and yours aren’t any better than anyone else’s. It’s best to remember that before going off and criticizing other people’s mistakes.
- Life is short and time is swift. It never ceases to amaze me how fast life moves. Make sure you don’t squander your time. Chase the people you love and the things you’re passionate about.
- Collect family recipes. The best dishes are the ones that have been passed down through the generations. Make sure you learn how to make your Papaw’s sawmill gravy before he’s gone. One day you’ll make those dishes for your kids or grandkids, and you’ll be thankful you collected them before it was too late.
- Do God’s will, whatever the hell it may be. You can avoid a lot of pain, regret, and guilt by simply doing what’s right.
- You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. As sad as it may be, some people are simply beyond your help. Know when to walk away.
- Own your mistakes. Everyone screws up, but not everyone has enough strength of character to admit it. Don’t be that guy. Seriously, no one likes that guy.
- Can’t never could. You’ll never know what you’re capable of unless you try. So try everything at least once.
- A rising tide lifts all boats. Wish success to everyone. The better your community, state, and country are doing – the better you’re doing.
- Crabgrass lines the path to the poorhouse. I know that no one wants to hear it, but appearances do matter. The way you dress, speak, and behave will ultimately impact what circles you run in and what doors are open to you.
- The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. In the age of social media, we’re constantly looking in on strangers’ lives with envy. We’ve got to stop. The truth is, we only get to see their highlights. The girl who travels the world may be escaping a traumatic past. The cute couple reviewing local restaurants may be struggling with infertility. Instead of comparing yourself, better yourself. Build the life you want.
- A blacksnake knows its way to the hen’s nest. A snake is going to do what’s in its nature. So when you figure out who the snakes are in your life, get rid of them.
- You can’t ride two horses with one ass. As much as you may not like it, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Life is full of choices; choose your path and stick with it.
- Hold on to your family heirlooms. Don’t forget where you come from. Hold on to your daddy’s memorial flag, sleep with your mimi’s handstitched quilt, and eat Sunday dinner on your grandma’s china. These things serve as bridges that connect us to the people who came before.
- A crooked cornstalk can still have a straight ear. If you sprang from a bad apple, it’s okay. You aren’t destined to repeat the sins of your father.
- They can’t eat you. Don’t blow things out of proportion. Your problems are rarely as bad as you think they are.
- Wave at strangers. Say hello to everyone. Even to the people who seem unfriendly – they’re the ones who need it the most.
- Opinions are like assholes. Everyone’s got one, and they all stink. Unless requested, keep your thoughts to yourself. It’ll save you a lot of drama to just zip your lip.
- There ain’t no point in beating a dead horse. Continuing to harp on something that is settled makes you look bad and causes anguish for others. Once something is resolved, let it go.
- An empty wagon makes a lot of noise. Those who squawk the loudest are usually the ones who don’t know what they’re talking about. Pay that person no mind. More importantly, don’t be that person.
- Don’t assume. It makes an ass out of u and me. Our assumptions are based on our own experiences, feelings, and thoughts. It says more about us than anyone else when we make a misguided assumption.
- Never discuss money, politics, or religion in public. Once upon a time, people cared about the comfort of others. Bring those times back! Stop discussing things that cause hurt feelings and create animosity.
- Chickens come home to roost. There ain’t no use in trying to cover up your evil deeds – one day, they’ll catch up with you.
- Remember the little boy who cried wolf. Once you’ve gained the reputation of a liar, it’s hard to earn people’s trust back. Honesty really is the best policy.
- To Thine ownself be true. At the end of the day, the only person you are accountable to is yourself. Make sure your decisions, choices, and actions align with your moral code.
There you have it, 40 life lessons I’ve learned over 40 years. I learned a great many of them the hard way, but I thank the Lord that I did learn them. Here’s to hoping for a life long enough to teach me 40 more!