You don’t get to be as old as I am without learning a few things along the way. I don’t mean the things we learn at school: Maths; English; Geography; Sewing (do they still teach sewing at school?). I’m talking about the life lessons. The little things we learn incidentally as we make our way along the road called ‘Life’.
Nobody holds classes in ‘Life Lessons’. Nobody teaches ‘Experience’. While some of us have graduated from the School of Hard Knocks, others just breeze through life rolling with the punches, going with the flow, and generally making our own way. It’s what we learn from the mistakes we make, the things that work, and the journeys we take that qualify us as Alumni of a much higher Institution of Learning: The School of Life; where the subjects are the good and the bad, the easy and the hard, the pain and the joy.
I’m proud to be Alumni of that great Institution and willingly share some of the highlights of the courses I took and qualified in.
Here are 15 things I’ve learned along the way:
- Never underestimate a person’s ability – they will prove you wrong every time. Expect more and they’ll deliver. This is especially true of children with disability. If we limit our expectations of what they’ll achieve, that’s all we’ll get. Expect more, and then help them to achieve it.
- Look for the best in everyone. It’s there – you might just have to look a bit harder with some people. When you find the best, don’t forget it. There’ll be times when that someone might display their worst because of things happening in their life at that moment, but don’t give up on them. Remember their best and help them find it again.
- Surround yourself with positive people – they’ll help you stay afloat. Negative people will pull you down if you spend too much time with them.
- You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Oh, this is so true when working with kids, but it works just as well with adults. It’s easy – just smile a lot, and find out something about the person – their favourite sport, author – anything, as long as you can use it as a bridge when times are tough.
- When fear stops you from moving forward – acknowledge the fear – and take small steps towards your goal. The main thing is to understand that breaking the task into smaller steps will sometimes take some of the fear out of the equation. The big picture can be overwhelming but the smaller steps will seem manageable. Once you start on the journey, the fear usually dissipates.
- If you want something badly enough, you’ll do whatever it takes to get it (legally and ethically, of course). Going back to study for me was a big step, but the outcome I wanted depended on it, so I overcame all the obstacles and achieved my goal.
- Those who say it can’t be done shouldn’t get in the way of those who are doing it. You can find excuses for not doing it or reasons for getting it done. I make a big effort to find the reasons for doing it.
- Everything in life is comparative. A wise friend gave me this advice when I was much younger and it has served me well. When I think things are tough, I know someone else is facing something a lot tougher. When I think I’m not good enough, I know that I’m better at it than a lot of other people. When I think I’m the best, I know there are people who are even better.
- If someone else can do it – I can too (only the good things of course). This is very useful if I’m thinking of learning a new skill but wondering if I can do it. My theory is that if someone else has learned how to do it, then I should be able to learn it – I might just need to work a lot harder to succeed. This, of course, excludes the very specialist fields of neurosurgery and space flight – but luckily my aversion to seeing blood, and my fear of very great heights, eliminates either of these from my bucket list.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff – and it’s all small stuff. There are enough big things to capture our attention and ‘worriness’ without taking on extra little things that we come across. The other side of this is the Serenity Prayer, which really helps to sort out the ‘worthy of worry’ from the ‘let it go’.
- Be flexible. When an opportunity arises, take it. Too bad that an invite to a social event coincides with ‘washing day’. The washing will wait, but the opportunity to share a social event with like-minded people won’t. A favourite Aunt gave me some good advice on my wedding day: ‘If your husband invites you to go somewhere, even if it’s to the hardware shop, go. If you decline too often, he’ll stop asking.’ It might be viewed as a little differently in today’s modern society in terms of feminism, but the advice is still relevant. When I was studying I’d simply pick up my books and a pen, and head out to the car. I usually sat in the car and studied while he shopped, but that worked for us. I was with him on the journey, and we talked.
- Be spontaneous. Don’t over analyse things. There are heaps of reasons why you shouldn’t spend the money on an overseas trip, but they aren’t as important as you might think. If we lash out from time to time, the money seems to find its way back to us, sometimes in larger amounts, but always with enough for what we need.
- Follow your heart, not your head. This works for me – it might not work for you. Your head will give you the rational reasons while your heart will dictate the passion; go with the passion.
- There is always a way. When I’m faced with a situation that seems to have no solution, I’ll keep trying until I find one. By thinking outside the box, there’s usually a way around the issue. From something as simple as designing and making a cover for my sofa because I can’t find one that exactly matches the shape, to finding a course to give me the skills I need to achieve a goal. And if this doesn’t work – see item 11. There might be times when I have to be flexible enough to adjust my expectations.
- Something good will come out of the darkest times. When I was going through a really bad time a few years ago, I kept thinking about the good that would eventually emerge from the darkness – and it did. I like to think that sometimes we need a ‘Universal’ kick to move us out of a rut situation into something more meaningful. And that’s how I ended up moving a long way from my comfort zone and turning my life around in ways I would never have thought possible.
In the wise words of John Lennon “Life is what happens to us while we’re busy making other plans“.
We learn from the life moments that are unplanned, unscheduled and unpredictable.
Go forth, enjoy life, and learn.