Life offers us little lessons every single day. Are you paying attention?
February 28th, 2022 was my 43rd birthday. When I turned 40, one goal I had was to share forty lessons I've learned so far.
What would I go back and tell my younger self? What are the little lessons I've learned that have fundamentally changed how I lead, parent, and show up in my life?
What could I share that I used to mess up that might offer someone else a new perspective or value?
Well, life happened, and I never got around to it at 40. When I turned 41, I said it would be the year – still didn't do it.
Now I'm just going to go for it, and I am on the hook by declaring it here!
Over the next few weeks, I'll share 40 life lessons + three bonus ones (in random order) and I will update this blog post as we go.
Let's get started . . .
Life Lesson #1: It's never too late to get started!
I have often had goals and aspirations over the years that silently swirled in my head or took WAY longer (maybe years longer) to get any real traction.
But, if it's still calling to you, I believe it's there for a reason.
And if you don't listen to your intuition and what's in your heart, you might miss out on something extraordinary or what you really want or important growth or all of the above.
So, what is a calling to you? What is a change you've wanted to make for some time, but you tell yourself that you are too old or not qualified enough or it's too hard or too risky or that it's not the right time or maybe you missed your window?
What's one action you can take to get things going?
It could be "one day" or today could be "day one". You get to choose!
Life Lesson #2 – What do you NOT want?
A few years ago, I used to have a really hard time answering the question: What do I really want?
When you are feeling overwhelmed with everything going on, you likely need some space to think before you can answer a question like that.
Or maybe you just can’t see all that is possible for you YET.
BUT I bet you know what you DON’T want!
I could definitely answer that question back then . . .
I did not want to work evenings and weekends.
I did not want to be worrying about work when I was at the kid’s swimming lessons.
I did not want to be in meetings all day long or that I thought were a waste of time.
I did not want to feel like I was barely keeping up.
I did not want to be yelling at my kids.
I did not want to be fighting with my husband.
I did not want to feel like crap most days and have no energy left in the evenings.
I did not want to settle for the status quo.
THE THING IS, what you want is on the other side of what you don’t want!
I did want to have a healthy balance between my work and personal life.
I did want to be present and enjoy the moment.
I did want more free space in my calendar to focus on important work and think.
I did want to contribute in a deep way with my team and organization.
I did want to be calm and connected with my kids.
I did want to have a strong relationship with my husband.
I did want to feel good.
I did want to make a change and figure it out.
This question still helps guide me today.
So if you have a hard time answering the question what do you really want, how about you try asking the question:
What do you NOT want?
The truth of what you really want lies there for you.
Life Lesson #3 – What you really want is what you must really go for!
Back in 2015, when I left my corporate career, I had some new space in my calendar.
For the first time ever, we had the option to live at the cabin for the summer.
It was the best summer ever. To live there for two months felt like a dream.
My son asked after if we could do that every summer – and so we did!
(Although he regrets that now, as a teen who wants to be in the city with all his friends ;-)).
I designed my business around this and, for the past six years, we have lived there for July and August.
I work for a few hours in the morning and have summer fun all afternoon.
I say “no” to in-person work or bigger commitments.
I say “yes” to what we really want for our life.
And, last year, even though I worked less than ever, I also generated more revenue than ever.
Living our best life.
(That is messy and imperfect too).
So whatever it is that YOU really want . . .
. . . whatever excites you and your heart pulls you toward.
You must go for with a healthy urgency and conviction.
With a lightness and fun and openness for what’s possible!
Like a game.
Because it excites YOU for a reason.
Because it’s the hollering of your heart.
Because this is your ONE, best life.
Life Lesson #4 - You’re probably not going to want to do it
I always have ideas floating around in my mind.
Lessons I’ve learned, questions to ask, perspectives to share.
But as soon as I decided to share more of those lessons on social media and with you . . . my mind went blank.
I felt like I had nothing to say.
And when I did think of an idea, the unhelpful thoughts popped up . . .
It’s not valuable enough.
I don’t know how to say it.
Someone has something better to say.
It’s too much. It’s not enough.
It’s too much me. It’s not enough me.
Ever find yourself in this unhelpful loop?
When you want to speak up in a meeting, but you hold back.
When you know you need to have a conversation, but you avoid it.
When you want to ask a question, but tell yourself it’s silly.
When you want to take a stand for what’s right, but you talk yourself out of it.
When you know what you want, but you don’t take even the small steps to get there.
The thing is, anything important and meaningful to you . . .
That is uncomfortable . . .
That puts you out there . . .
That carries the risk that someone might not like it or you might “get it wrong” . . .
You probably won’t want to do it at some point. Expect it. Don't let it stop you.
This has been an important lesson I've learned over the years (and still learning).
Because every time you hold back, you reinforce the fear.
And every time you go for it, you build courage and confidence.
So, where are you holding back?
Change the story in your mind.
Be brave and take the action.
Even if you resist or hesitate.
Our biggest growth lies in these small moments.
Life Lesson #5: Hunt for the good every single day
However the day or week went – whether it was awesome, overwhelming, or just ‘meh’ – take a few minutes to acknowledge the good. To notice it, to feel it, to write it down, and even to celebrate it.
I rarely used to do this and would just go through the grind day after day. Now gratitude and appreciation are a part of my every day. When the week goes well, this is easy. When the week is ‘meh’, I don’t feel like doing it, but do it anyway. And when it’s a tough week, I take even more time to sit quietly and reflect on what is good. This makes a profound difference in your happiness, your performance, and your life.
So, what were your wins? The task completed, the kind gesture, the positive feedback. What do you appreciate? Spring in the air, the quiet cup of morning coffee, the funny thing your kid said. What can you acknowledge in yourself? You showed up, you gave your best, you’re you.
The good is always there. You just have to be willing to see it.
Life Lesson #6: When things feel hard and overwhelming, slow down and do less, instead of plowing through.
A few years ago, when I felt overwhelmed with everything to do, I would double down on my effort and hard work.I would put in longer hours, push through the overwhelm, and tell myself that when I got all caught up THEN I would slow down and give myself a break.But this approach was a stressful way to live. And not very productive after all!When you are overwhelmed or stressed, you are less focused, less productive, make more mistakes, things actually take longer and feels pretty crappy too.
Today, when the overwhelm sets in, I do the exact opposite of what I used to and slow down in those moments instead (it still feels counterintuitive at times).So, the next time that you're feeling overwhelmed, instead of plowing through . . .. . . pause, take a deep breath and acknowledge how you're feeling. Ask yourself: What do I need right now?Maybe it’s a walk, a breather, talk to someone, honor a boundary, whatever it is for you. It might look different depending on the day.And, if you must focus to get something done, ask yourself questions like: What’s most important right now? What really matters? What do I need to care about less?Focus on the task at hand instead of the 100 other things on your to-do list (which is inherently overwhelming).Give yourself permission to take something off your plate if you need.When you slow it down, you can be overwhelmed for 15 minutes or an hour, instead of day after day!
Life lesson #7: You can’t see how all the dots will connect YET.
When I left my corporate career in 2015, I said it was because I wanted more fulfillment and flexibility – which was true.
It was also true that, while I kept good boundaries, I had a VERY hard time mentally disconnecting from work and wanted to be more present in my life (which I have since learned through mindfulness and teaching others).
Only now do I understand the REAL reason I left. It was because I had a different calling and purpose.
Running my own business and helping other leaders to be happier, confident and the balanced leaders they want to be wasn’t even a blip of an idea back when I left.
And if I hadn’t had my experience in my corporate career, I also wouldn’t be where I am now.
My intuition was guiding me here all along – but at the time, I had no idea. I can only see how all the dots connect now, looking back.
So if you’ve made a big leap or something didn’t work out the way you had hoped, trust that it’s working out as it’s meant to be and something better is for you.
You just can’t see how all the dots connect YET!
Life lesson #8: Take the trip!
We had never taken a vacation with my parents until February 2020, when we brought them along on our annual trip to Puerto Vallarta. It was a fantastic time away. We had good fun and unforgettable memories.
It could have been easy to say “Let’s do it another year” because of the expense or ten other reasons, but we knew we wanted to do it sometime and so just decided to make it happen. Why wait?
What we didn’t know then, is it turned out to be the last time we could have ever made THAT trip. When we got back, the world shut down, and my mom died suddenly eighteen months later, just before the world opened up again. So I appreciate the trip even more now and how special it was.
I used to think that travel was unnecessary or frivolous – either too expensive or not worth the time, but the truth is that experiences make our life richer. Life is too short to put off something that you know you want deep down.
So, what’s a trip or experience that you know you really want to take? Instead of letting the common excuses stop you, what if you just book the damn thing, put it on the calendar, and trust you will figure the rest out?
It might just be the perfect time, after all.
Life lesson #9: Give yourself permission to take something off your plate.
Have you overcommitted and you're struggling to find enough hours in the day (and energy) to get everything done that you said you would do?
Feeling like you have so much on your plate right now, you either push harder or avoid it altogether because you're feeling overwhelmed by it all?
Or perhaps you feel on top of things for the most part, but you are also feeling bad about all the other things that you think you "should" be doing?
When you're in this place, it's not about doing more; it's about doing less (as counterintuitive as that seems).
This is a lesson I've learned over the years and something I still have to remind myself from time to time when I have overcommitted -- like these past two weeks!
The quickest way to relieve some of the pressure is to give yourself permission to take something off your plate.
This is an obvious one, but often the last to happen because we keep trying to do it all.
Sometimes, you even need to put a hold on something important to give it the attention it deserves.
So, what is something you can give yourself permission to take off your plate right now? Even something mentally where you know you won't get to it, but it's weighing you down?
Let. It. Go. You will instantly feel lighter when you do.
And remember, as you wrap up your week, instead of focusing on everything you didn't do, take a few minutes to celebrate what is good.
I guarantee you're doing better than you think!
More life lessons to come . . .
Whenever you are ready for the next step, here are three ways I can support you in creating more balance, less stress and high performance!
[Team Workshop] I am currently offering a virtual workshop/training series that you can bring in-house for your team or organization in May or June 2022. This can also qualify for the Re-skill Saskatchewan Training subsidy. If interested, contact me to see if this is right for your team!
[Coaching Program] Want to be the first to know the exciting news coming with The Balanced Leader coaching program? This is for you if you want to be a confident leader you respect and create balance in your life (without sacrificing performance). Contact me for details.
[Free Resource] A Roadmap To Be Your Best At Work and At Home (Even With All the Demands and Expectations) Download The Free Resource
You can also follow me on your favorite social media platform between LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook for more ideas, inspiration, and real-life lessons and moments. I hang out mostly on LinkedIn and Instagram!
Stacey L. Olson is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach and has 15 years of corporate experience. She works with leaders and professionals who want to create more balance, stress less, AND perform at a high level. Stacey is the founder of the 'The Balanced Leader' coaching program and offers executive and leadership coaching, workshops, and speaking.
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