40 Things I’ve Learned in 40 Years, by Cyndi Briggs

Elizabeth H. Cottrell of Heartspoken is one of the most fabulous connections I ever made online, and her introduction of Cyndi Briggs’ blog was another petal in my blooming inspiration.

Cyndi Briggs, PhD (she’s a PhD but doesn’t make you feel bad because you don’t have one), is an amazing and inspirational blogger.

When I read “40 Things” on her blog, The Sophia Project, I wrote and said I had to have it! I know Cyndi will inspire you as she has inspired me. 

40 Things I’ve Learned in 40 Years

by Cyndi Briggs

Most things that happen are not about me. I used to take everything so personally. I aspire to be a good person, and would overcompensate in a vain effort to make everyone happy and avoid disappointing people. Exhausting. Now I do the best I can, say I’m sorry if I truly screw up, and let the rest go.

Wearing uncomfortable shoes is a waste of time. If shoes hurt my feet in the store, I don’t buy. Nothing ruins a great night quicker than uncomfortable shoes.

Make sleep a priority. I need at least 8 hours sleep. I just do. There is no getting around it. When I get enough sleep, I am happy, content, and focused. When I don’t I’m a whirlwind of cranky insanity. Sleep is my friend.

In time, everything comes back into balance. Nature is brilliant, and we are a part of nature. When my bank account is low, or my mood is bad, or the political scene seems too ridiculous to be real, I remind myself that all things come back into balance eventually.

Learn to say NO without apology. Practice often. Learning to say, “let me think about it for a couple of days,” has been really helpful, too.

There are lots of unglamorous practices that lead to a more satisfying life: discipline, planning, conservation of resources. When I put these structures into place, I find magic is more likely to find me.

Women, get that annual pap smear. I once had severe cell dysplasia, a precursor to cervical cancer. A quick treatment took care of the problem, and possibly saved my life.

Wear sunscreen.

Get out of a poverty mindset. I used to worry a lot about money. I worried in spite of the fact I have never missed a bill, rent payment, or student loan payment. Now when life deals me an unexpected financial blow, instead of thinking, “How will I afford it?” I think, “I can take care of this”. And when I want to do something I can’t quite afford, I know I will find a way to make it happen. It’s OK to be frugal. And I know how it feels to be temporarily poor. But drop the poverty thinking.

Eventually, grief and loss touches all of us. Don’t run from it or avoid it. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening. Step into the darkness. Be broken open. Treasures await on the other side.

There is no promise, vow, or commitment that guarantees lifelong love. Love is a choice, made every day, over and over again. There is no other way to make love last.

Don’t settle….  Don’t marry the “good enough” person. Do make plans to leave the “just OK” job. Aspire to live in a situation that serves your highest good. There is no shame in having what brings you joy and satisfaction.

…. But don’t be a diva. I’m not entitled to anything. If I don’t get what I want, I can be a spoiled brat about it, or I can reassess, get real, and seek the lessons in my circumstances. And then move on in wisdom.

Kisses are not promises. If I meet a great guy, make out with him wildly, and then get dumped, I can get bitter or I can maturely accept that not everyone will love me. It’s OK. We’re all seeking our right match. We’re all doing the best we can.

These are non-negotiables in my romantic relationships: No abuse. No violence. No sexism. Honesty. Respect. Kindness. Humor. The rest is window dressing.

Wear what makes you feel great, sexy, beautiful. In my late 20s and early 30s I dated a guy who was super earthy and didn’t approve of make-up. I went along with it because I mistook his political leanings for signs of evolution. After we broke up, I rediscovered my love of make up, clothes, and pretty things. Looking fabulous makes me happy. I can also wear jeans, go natural, and get dirty. I like having a choice between the two.

I can’t make anyone love me… I have a few hard and fast dating rules: 1) I put no energy into explaining to someone why they should love me; 2) If he pulls away or isn’t calling, I let him go with love; 3) I do not chase men. I don’t need to. Once I decided these things, dating became remarkably easy, fun, and available.

….Nor can I make myself love someone else. I’ve met and dated lots of really great men who will be wonderful catches for someone else. I used to feel guilty about this. I’ve wasted lots of time trying to talk myself into loving someone because he was into me and seemed awfully nice. Now I don’t bother. If it’s not there, it’s not there. Period. I let him go to find his true match, and to make space for mine to arrive.

Fall in love with your own company. The first time I ate out alone I was nervous and self-conscious. Over time, I grew to love it: eating at my own pace, enjoying a book or some writing, observing people around me, entertaining myself with my own thoughts. Since then, I’ve come to love seeing movies, visiting art museums, and traveling alone. I still do these things with other people as well, but I’m not afraid or hesitant to do them by myself. And that’s liberating.

Not getting married and not having children were the best possible choices for me. I think marriage is a good thing and kids are great. But these are not things I’ve needed or wanted in my own life. I have no regrets about turning 40 single and child-free. In fact, I feel enormous relief every day I trusted my gut and didn’t pursue a traditional family life.

Work isn’t meant to be a four-letter word. Imagine how much better our society would be if everyone pursued the work they truly loved. Imagine if companies and organizations created the conditions for employees to work in the manner that best suited their personalities. Work is meant to be the means by which we share our gifts with the community, not wage-slavery.

I make sure at least 75% of what I eat is good for me. I make sure I exercise and move every day. I make sure I get enough sleep. These three things have made all the difference in the quality of my life.

Floss. It takes less than a minute and it is the best thing you can do to preserve your oral health. Have you seen those pictures of gum disease at your dentist’s office? They’re gross. Floss already.

We overestimate our importance when it comes to sick days and vacation time…. “Oh, I can’t possibly take a day off because how would my work get done?”  Let’s be real – the work will be there when you get back. The company will survive without you. Stay home and get well already….

…. Yet we underestimate our importance when it really matters… “I’d love to start a non-profit helping disadvantaged kids learn to read but I guess I’ll just stay here in my boring desk job because at least I have health insurance…” Please, please, please remember how important you are to the world. We need you.

Regrets are useless. There are no mistakes. There is no wrong path. Your life is simply your life. It starts. It will end. What you do in the middle is totally up to you, and there’s no way to screw it up.

Worry is a choice. I know, because I’ve chosen it far too many times. Over the past decade or so, I’ve learned to choose again and again not to worry. I choose trust instead: trust in my ability to handle things, trust in the benevolence of the universe, trust that everything works itself out in good time.

Dreams are given to us uniquely, and if we don’t enact them, they will die with us. I believe with my whole heart that we are each given a specific role to play on this planet. And if we don’t live out our destiny, if we don’t fulfill our dreams, they will die in our hearts and world will not have our gift. If you have a dream, step into it knowing that every power of the universe will rush forward to support you.

Sometimes the key to balance is unbalance. I try really hard to keep my life in check. I try to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, have time alone and social time. And occasionally, I get unbalanced anyway, and I always find it oddly liberating. Living an impassioned life includes letting go of habits and in order to let new ideas, possibilities, thoughts, and behaviors to manifest. Let life get out of control once in a while. New possibilities will come in the wake of the chaos.

We all end up in the ground eventually, so we may as well do what we want. I think about this a lot, particularly when I get stuck in “should’s” and “have to’s”. There is no one right way to live. Ultimately, there is no have to. We can live our lives as poets or dreamers or accountants or moguls, and ultimately, we all die. So do what makes you happy.

Consuming buys only short-term happiness. Again and again, personal experience and research studies demonstrate that shopping, consuming, and buying things produce only the tiniest amount of happiness. Remember your awesome Christmas presents from three and half months ago? No? Neither do I. We think a new car, new shoes, new boobs, or a new gadget will bring us joy. They will, but only for about a minute, then we return to our baseline level of happiness. Cultivate true joy through doing what’s meaningful and expressing gratitude for what you already have.

Age isn’t just a number. I appreciate this sentiment for its intent: I am a young 40, both in appearance and behavior. But the truth is, I am 40. I have four decades of life experience and I’m willing to wield them. I know some stuff. I have wisdom. But I’m also aware that my life is about half over. There is no platitude, cream, or surgical procedure that can take away the simple fact I don’t have forever anymore. I never did. Pretending that death isn’t out there, waiting, is foolish and ultimately robs us of the true gift life has to bring.

Travel. When people tell me they’ve never been out of the US, I want to buy them a ticket and hand them a passport and say, “Go”. And not to places like Sandals resorts or Bermuda. Real places. Different places. Places that will test the soul and stretch the mind and enliven the senses. It is amazing what I find out about myself when I travel. And travel makes me deeply empathic toward people new to the US. Go. Get out. I mean it.

Do things that make no sense to the mind. Sit up all night and watch the sun rise. Have a love affair with someone you’re sure you wouldn’t want to marry. Take a day off from work to dye Easter eggs in September. Life isn’t logical, and we bastardize it when we pretend it is.

Write thank you notes. In this world of digital everything, taking the time to hand-write a thank you note is precious. It will never go out of style. The recipient will thank you and you’ll have a gratitude boost from the process.

Take time to listen to old people. We are all going to get old, and at the end of life, most of us want to tell our stories to someone who will listen. Sit quietly, ask questions, be patient, and listen. It will do your heart and karma good.

Make eye contact with random strangers on the street, smile, and say hello. These small connections can change the world.

Rest in this moment. We are a fast-paced, information-driven culture, and we suffer because of our excess. When I feel particularly rushed and out of sorts, I remind myself that I can “rest in this moment” because there really is no past, no future. Just now. Breathe. Notice the sky. Smell the air.

Life is truly an adventure. Right now, there are people waiting to meet you and help you. Right now, there are places to explore, anxious for your presence. Right now, love blooms, seeking you. Everything can and does change in a moment. Show up. Be present. Pay attention. The life that you want is seeking you just as ardently as you wish for it to arrive. Anticipate its arrival, and have your bags packed.

It’s going to be quite a ride.

Cyndi Briggs

Cyndi Briggs is a writer, professor of counseling, corporate trainer and consultant living in Winston-Salem, NC. When she’s not writing, she can be found out salsa dancing or walking her cute dog, Daisy. Read more of her work at The Sophia Project.

Connect with Cyndi on Facebook on The Sophia Project page and on Twitter and Google+.

Cyndi’s profile photo by Clarissa Hadler of Lilypad Photography.


Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers

25 responses to “40 Things I’ve Learned in 40 Years, by Cyndi Briggs

  1. Just the way to start the day. Thanks Cyndi and Karen

  2. Jessica

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I needed this today – and for about the last 5 years.

  3. Loved so many of these. Particularly that your dreams are uniquely yours, and if not acted upon will die with us.

    And in that spirit, might I add a ‘flip-side’ to “Getting out of a poverty mindset’? Also beware of becoming engulfed by the pursuit of wealth. I found myself wrapped up in that, and 15 years of my life buzzed by while I worked 60-70 hours a week and took business calls at all hours. I rarely took a vacation for over ten years. I was making more money than I ever dreamed possible. But I came to realize that no matter how much I made and bought and consumed, none of it would mean a thing the once my wife and I had passed from this earth (we have no children). I needed fulfillment that making money didn’t bring. Hence my pursuit of my ‘real’ dreams, and a MUCH more frugal lifestyle. And balance and a happier existence.

    Sorry for the long comment, Karen. Great list and thanks to you both!

    • I totally agree! And I think that pursuit of wealth can come from a deep fear of having not enough (again, the poverty mindset) – I am working out my relationship with money from both ends too. I appreciate you bringing this point up. Thanks for reading!

  4. This is wonderful! Thank you.

  5. I feel that this is one of those blogs that I will revisit whenever the doldrums hit me! Vaughn – don’t ever apologize for participating! And I can appreciate your 60-70/week. I was once there, made good money, and I was miserable.

  6. WOW! I mean, really, just wow!. This is a treasure, a gift, a multiple delight, and definitely a “must keep.” So enormously grateful that you found and generously shared this, Karen.

    And, Cyndi, you’re awesome :-D.

  7. I know, right? That’s how I felt when I first saw it, and get more out of it each time I read it.

  8. I’ve just turned 40 and all of these resonate! Cyndi said it so much better than I could ever have, thanks for a wonderful post 🙂

  9. I wish I had had this list when I was in my 20s. But, I probably wouldn’t have listened because of course I thought I knew everything at that age.

  10. How wise and wonderful and full of truths this is!

    *big fat smiling here*

  11. Woohoo, so glad when two great people meet each other! Karen, thanks for sharing Cyndi with your wonderful followers. Cyndi’s thinking and writing are remarkable and always thought-provoking. I totally agree with Karen that I wish I’d had this list 30 or 40 years ago. But so much of what Cyndi shares is inspiring for women of ANY AGE.

  12. And of course I LOVE the fact that she’s got “Write thank you notes” on the list! 🙂

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