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Life Lessons from a Middle-Aged Passenger

Transitioning from Passenger to Driver

As I inch closer to 50 and away from 40, I look back on my life and realize it has been a bit of a roller coaster. There have been ups and downs, twists and turns, highs and lows. But I’ve learned a few life lessons along the way.

I’ve spent time in the military, worked in basically the same career field for 20+ years, been married and divorced. I’ve dealt with the best and worst of society and have learned a lot from both.

I’ve watched my kids being born and have seen them begin to grow into young women.

I’ve traveled to numerous countries and lived in several different cities. I’ve struggled to pay bills and had enough money to not have to worry about those same bills.

I’ve experienced both depression and anxiety, loved as strong as I’ve hated, and watched the world change. I’ve become a completely different person now than I was in my 20’s and even 30’s.

But, most of my life has been spent being a passenger. I’ve been someone who was content to be along for the ride. I’ve let others drive and I’ve let others control where I’m going and who I am.

And I wouldn’t change a thing. 

Because everything I’ve experienced until now has made me who I am today. It has led me to this point in my life.

I’m certainly no expert in anything. I don’t claim to know more than others and I still have a lot to learn. But over the past year, I decided I was no longer going to let others drive. I am no longer going to be a passenger in my own life. I am going to drive.

And I want to share some life lessons I’ve learned so far in the hopes it will allow you to be a driver of your life.

The Life Lessons

Life lessons
Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

I could probably list a hundred different life lessons I’ve learned, but these are the ones I’ve found to be most important for me.

1. It’s okay to be different than everyone else.

Your life belongs to no one but you. You don’t have to seek the approval of others to do what you want, and it’s okay to not follow the crowd. It’s okay to not do what everyone else thinks you should do.

Do not accept everyone else’s idea of reality as yours. Determine what success means to you and don’t allow others to define it for you. Decide what YOU want and go for it. You will never be happy living a life not true to yourself.

2. Work-Life Balance is a Myth.

We are taught we should have a good balance of both work, and life outside of work, if we want to be happy. Work is thought to be a separate part of life. The time spent not at work is supposed to be when you do the things which bring you joy.

For many, work is seen as a chore and something that just has to be done. But, in reality, there is no such thing as work-life balance.

It is all life. Work is a part of life like being born, growing up and dying.

So find something which excites and fulfills you and figure out how to make a life (not just a living) out of it.

3. Children can teach us a lot about how to live.

I have learned more about life from my two daughters than I will ever be able to teach to them. They have taught me what love is really about.

Children love without limits, laugh uncontrollably, and forgive without wanting anything in return. Their curiosity and excitement are always real. They don’t care what you do or what you look like. They are innocent and pure and not blinded by prejudice. They aren’t afraid to show their emotions, cry or ask questions.

Until we teach them otherwise.

A tweet from a palliative care doctor who works with children sums it up better than I ever could.

The children said to: “Be kind. Read more books. Spend time with your family. Crack jokes. Go to the beach. Hug your dog. Tell that special person you love them. Oh… and eat ice-cream.”

From Twitter

4. You will regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did.

In her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware discusses what the title states. Bronnie also worked in palliative care, but with the elderly. She spent time with patients in the last weeks and months of their lives.

From the author’s blog, the number one regret was:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”

Don’t allow your life to be full of regrets. Don’t put off living until it is too late.

5. It is just as easy to be nice as it is to be mean.

I’ve dealt with a lot of difficult people over the years. Some people will challenge you and test your patience. They are mad at the world and you will be their target. It is just a matter of time.

I’ve had countless interactions with others that almost immediately began with conflict and hostility towards me. But, by the time our interaction ended, they were apologizing for their behavior.

All because I was nice to them. I empathized with them and their situation. I listened and allowed them to vent.

Each person is going through their own unique struggles and most of the time, we don’t know what those struggles are. They could be about to lose their house, their job or even a loved one.

Sometimes all that person needs is for someone to listen.

So be nice because we are all in this together. It doesn’t cost anything.

6. You have the power to change your life at any time.

“There are only a few who control themselves and their affairs by a guiding purpose; the rest do not proceed; they are merely swept along, like objects afloat in a river. And of these objects, some are held back by sluggish waters and are transported gently; others are torn along by a more violent current; some, which are nearest the bank, are left there as the current slackens; and others are carried out to sea by the onrush of the stream. Therefore, we should decide what we wish, and abide by the decision.”

Seneca from Moral Letters to Lucilius

Nothing in your life is permanent. You are in control of changing your life and you can change anything at any time. You are not bound by your current circumstances. If may take some work, but you can change your life.

However, you have to choose to make your life better.

One of the great things about life is choice. You have the freedom to choose how to live your life. But you also need to be aware that not deciding to do something is also a choice. Choosing not to improve your situation is a choice. It is impossible to not choose.

A different life is only available through different choices and actions.

7. Life is really wonderful if you allow it to be.

You can live your life being miserable or you can allow yourself to experience the joy of life. The end result is still the same. You will die, that is guaranteed.

I realize there are many who are not as fortunate as myself and I understand the world can be full of chaos and misery. But you can shape your view of life however you want. You don’t have to see life as you are conditioned to.

Life can be beautiful. That beauty is all around us in the things we do, the people we meet, and within us. It is in the scenery we take for granted and the moments we let pass. It is there, we just need to be open to it.

Allow yourself to enjoy this gift of life despite the chaos and misery. Don’t be a passenger in your own life like I was. 

You only get this opportunity once.

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