My Top 10 Life Lessons Learned in Half a Century

I woke up one day and…voilà! I’m 50 years old.

In the words of the Talking Heads, “How did I get here?”

Born in the middle of the night, two weeks late, I violently entered the world at nine and a half pounds with a huge pile of dark hair on my head. (I got stuck, my mom hemorrhaged and, well, we’re all still alive to talk about it).

Gaping at the large feet and hands attached to this red thing that was supposed to be a baby, my mom was convinced that I was goiLynn Hasselberger at nine and a half poundsng to be a replica of my six foot one, large-boned aunt (sister to my dad, who is small boned).

My mom wasn’t a big fan of my name (my dad loved the name Lynn), so my mom referred to me as the baby or, more hopefully, “Baby” for those first couple of weeks. (I learned this only a holiday or two ago after my mom drank one glass of wine too many. Sorry, mom, this is my story. And its actually pretty humorous. Im not trying to call you out as a bad mom).

Eventually she had to succumb, but (perhaps in rebellion?) I was called Lynn Anne for many years.

And to this day I don’t like my name. Maybe it’s because of that. Or maybe Lynn Johnson is just too boring. Lindsay would be cool (I told a guy on Spring Break that was my name just to try it on).

Adding to this name drama, my dad’s name is E. Leonard and, at the time I was born, they called him Lenny (the  initial “E” for  Elmer, so Lenny was definitely the better choice).

In my early years, even extended family called me Lynn Anne. Later, you can imagine the confusion. If you can’t, allow me to explain: Lenny got older and became Len. I didn’t like to be called Lynn Anne, so, thusly (I’ve always wanted to use that word in one of my posts!) I morphed into Lynn. During my teen years, when people phoned for my dad and I answered, trouble ensued. “Is Len there?” they would ask, pronouncing my dad’s name as Lynn. “This is Lynn,” I would say. “No Len!” They’d insist, still pronouncing my dad’s name as Lynn.

To top it off, I have an Aunt Lynne and a cousin Linda. Hey, it was almost worse. I could have been Cressie—my grandma (my dad’s mom, Anne) wanted them to name me after her deceased sister Cressida.

So, I’ve never been a big fan of my name. Except when it turns into Lynnie, a nickname that some friends use on too rare an occasion.lynn hasselberger sexy

Fifty years later—my baby fat dispersed properly with the exception of my knees where it seems to collect—I am who I am today. Lynn Hasselberger. (Side note: Just a few days ago, I celebrated my 22nd anniversary. Before marriage, I was plain old Lynn Johnson. I could not wait to get married in order to jazz up my boring name. When I met my husband, I immediately thought: Nope, he’s not the one. I mean… Hasselberger?!)

I’ve survived many struggles—from eating disorders and infertility… to (gulp) infidelity—and enjoyed quite a few triumphs, blessings and overall good times.

I’m wiser now (quite possibly, most of that wisdom came during the last ten years) and am learning to accept the fact that I’m aging. A fact I found difficult to accept only four years ago.

So what have I learned?

Here are my top ten life lessons…

1. Rich or poor, happiness comes from within.

I’ve struggled with finances along the way and enjoyed “better” times when both my husband and I were both working full time, each making six figures. I was not happier when we had more money, but we were able to eat out a lot, travel… and when something in the house broke we could fix it immediately with the only stress being which contractor to choose.

I’m happy for the most part right now. Give me some more money and my shoulders will soften, I’ll sleep easier and we can finally take that real family vacation that doesn’t require camping at someone’s house. A slight tick in happiness will probably occur but can only be sustained with what’s in our hearts.

And if we start making oodles of money, we’d be smarter with it. I wouldn’t buy that $250 pair of shoes (they lasted more than 10 years, so you could say it was a good buy) but I would treat myself to a massage and cleaning service weekly.

2. We have to accept ourselves, not try to be what other people think we should be.

Over the years I’ve heard: I have to calm down my hair. My lips are too thin. Im too thin. I need to loosen up and get out more (okay, Id like to change that about myself). Im too quiet. I should be this or that.

I’ve also imagined what others might think of me and what they think I should be. And tried to fit in. Not wild enough? Not fun enough? Not smart enough? Not pretty enough? Not successful enough?

I used to try to prove I was those things in order for others to like me more. In high school, I shot the tiny rubber bands from my braces at teachers and handed out ammo for other students in an effort to be thought “cool” or “fun” since I was too anxious to utter actual words. I’m in here! Look at me! Like me, please!

But now I think: So the f*@% what? I am me.

If you don’t like me as I am, move along. Nothing to see here.

Or deal with this:

Im not a big fan of large groups and big, loud parties. My hair is at times frizzy or just tossed into a ponytail. I can be quirky. I  dont watch reality shows. I find it important to continue to learn and be open-minded. I do the best and love as much as I can and forgive you no matter what (unless you kill my cat or do something even more heinous, but even then…). I will  show off my big ugly feet with their weird long monkey toes and even paint them a crazy color on occasion. I will get stressed at laundry. I will run outdoors as long as my legs and body will cooperate. I will mostly eat healthy food. I will tell you if Im feeling low or about what bugs me. I will utter non sequiturs often. I will wear my PJs some days when I work at home and occasionally nag. I will be quiet at times. I will be cautious if I dont know you well enough yet. I will stop at one or two drinks. I like to be in bed reading by 9 p.m. I will turn down your invitation sometimes not because I dont appreciate you but because I simply feel like hanging out at home because Im just worn out. My house will not be spotless and I cant guarantee shaved armpits on a daily basis. Im spiritual but not into organized religion and youll never witness me squashing a spider. Im a tree hugger and believe humans are accelerating climate change by emitting more carbon into the atmosphere than the oceans and vegetation can absorb, throwing off the way the climate system would work without our interference. And unless youre a climate scientist, you cant convince me otherwise.

And Im okay with that. If youre not, then so be it.

3. Aging isn’t bad. It’s a badge of honor.

Every day we wake up is truly amazing. I have to admit, I tried “filler” on my face about five or six years ago. I was a) trying to mask the horizontal lines that were forming around my lips and b) at battle with my thin lips. Since they were already poking me with a painful needle, I allowed them to fill in the crease above my chin and soften my laugh lines. The changes made me feel more attractive (after all the nasty swelling and bruising vacated my face) but didn’t make me feel any happier. In fact, the next time I wanted more.

I was in a mid-life freak out zone at the time. Thanks to a financial bump, my adventure into unnatural fillers was put to an end.

We’re all getting older. That means wrinkles, getting tired faster and finding long hairs in weird places. In preparation for the years ahead, I’m learning to embrace these facts. A neighbor who is 14 years younger than I has given me some perspective recently—she has bone cancer and is fighting for her life every single day. She hopes to reach forty. Turning 50 should be a celebration!

Have to admit, though… I’m a bit concerned about how menopause will tamper with my mood and wreak havoc in other unknown ways. Already, I have night sweats and mood swings and, well, it’s not pretty.

I cover my grays and that’s something I haven’t found the courage to walk away from. It may take me another 10 years or more. But definitely, by 70, I will let my hair go.

P.S. Fillers and hair coloring are not good for us or the planet. I am admittedly not a 100 percent flawless tree hugger.

4. Holding onto anger is worse than whatever caused the anger in the first place.

It ages us and wastes our energy. Forgiveness is key.

5. When sh*t happens, you’ll know who your true friends are.

How? Because they’ll still be around. And if they disappear, it’s probably for the best. (A couple years ago, I told a person I considered a good friend that I was feeling depressed. I never heard from her again. She didn’t return my messages and even disconnected from me on LinkedIn!)

Of course, some friendships serve a temporary purpose and then fizzle out—it doesn’t always mean the other person wasn’t a true friend for that period of time. We just have to absorb the goodness that our friends (and even our enemies) have to offer while they’re in our lives… we’ll be better for it.

6. Exfoliation is important.
Not only are my feet freakishly ugly, they’re dry. It wasn’t until sometime after college that I learned about pedicures and exfoliation. I treat myself to a pedicure at the turn of every season and otherwise exfoliate my feet right here in the comfort of my own home. I also exfoliate the rest of my fine self with loofah during most showers. Afterward, I apply raw shea butter mixed with an essential oil. Quite the process and not something I have time for every day, believe me!

On a more positive note, I appreciate my feet. Although they can’t dance and are often clutzy, they have served me well all these years. I think they, in turn, appreciate the exfoliation.

7. I am not meant to drink more than two drinks.

Make that one. I try to tell this to people when they say, ”Oh come on, have fun! Have another drink. Live a little.“(Who knew peer pressure would live on past the age of 15?) Believe me, by avoiding a second drink, I  will have more fun tomorrow and the next day. Drinking one drink is actually enough. And to think, back in college and into my twenties, I partied hard most days of the week. How did I graduate, much less survive? Now drinking just makes me sleepy and wakes me up in the middle of the night.

8. I don’t have to do anything.

This is my mantra when I need it and I hope I always remember it. Sometimes the normal to-dos become overwhelming and I can become anxious about all the things I have to do. I’ll write down the top three things that really have to get done—although, honestly, the world would probably carry on without me completing those things on any given day—and put all the rest on a longer list which I could pull from if I happened complete the three things and found myself looking for something to do. Invariably, all the tasks plus worries about finance and other stuff I had forgotten to put on the list jumble around in my head and paralyze me.

Recently, I got to travel to Hawaii! It took quite a bit to get myself out the door and onto that plane, but once I was there, clothes put neatly away in the drawers, everything I had to do left my mind. Well, not all at once. But by day two, I was almost carefree. Sure there were still things to do, but nothing fell apart during the seven days I was gone. My son got out the door to catch the bus every morning. Nobody at home starved.

This led to an epiphany. I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to wake up to thoughts of what I have to do that day. I don’t have to stress about anything.

Telling myself I don’t have to do anything—a simple mind trick, similar to believing in fairies who will clean the kitchen and bathrooms in the middle of the night—has reduced my stress. And I’m more productive. My mind is clear. I’m approaching my life differently, from a place of abundance—look how full my life is! I have a son that I love, which leads to a couple of messes and extra laundry. How great is that?! How lucky am I?

I just have to follow my passion. My passion doesn’t have to be on a list.

Yes, I have responsibilities, but waking every morning with all them crashing against each other inside my skull until I can put them on a list and begin cramming them into a day just doesnt work.

I don’t have to do anything. And my mind believes that! My anxiety? Extinguished (well, only about my to-dos).

I sure hope my mind doesnt realize what Im up to!

9. Food is fuel and medicine. Exercise makes me feel better.

It’s quite simple. I’ve written about my strange and evolving relationship with food, with self-medication disguised as a sugar tooth and eating disorder. Now I know—healthy food and exercise makes me feel better. And, please, I do eat crap once in a while including a pint of ice cream every week.

10. Time flies and every moment is a reward for this thing we call life.

Even the most unpleasant, f**ked up days are a gift (excuse my French).

I go through periods in my life, when it feels like time is slipping away and I feel myself grasping at it as if I could slow it down or stop it  altogether.

But squandering moments or stressing over our perceived lack of time is a waste of energy. I know this from experience. Chasing time is exhausting work!

I’ve decided this very moment to expand upon my mind trick (#8) and tell myself I have all the time I need. Ha! It’s also all the time I’ll ever have available to me. It is precious.

We need to embrace the good and the bad. After the bad, it could get worse, but then it will get better. Or… it might not. But no matter what happens, odds are in your favor that there’s someone else out there who’s experiencing something worse.

Side note: Look at this beautiful son I have! He makes me laugh, sometimes he drives me crazy, but he’s amazing and I love him. Witnessing him growing up is a gift. He’s actually almost as tall as me now.

mother and son

In the moments we have, we need to find a way to make a difference, no matter how small. Inspire by sharing our passions. Or simply smile at someone, wave at our neighbor, support a friend when they’re down. Sign a petition for human rights or the planet.

Be grateful for this moment. And the one that just passed.

Live the moment. Get to know it. Learn from it. For it will inevitably be whisked away before you can say “Time flies!” (By the way, time does not fly if you’re serving it.)

And then we die.

Of course I’ve learned much more. But 10 is a nice round number.

The rest I’ll leave up to your imagination.

This is me on my 50th birthday. Letting go and ready to fly!

P.S. I’m grateful to everyone in my life and I hope to enjoy many more moments with all of you.

Happy birthday to everyone!

Adapted from my post on elephantjournal.com.

98 comments

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper2 years ago

total

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william Miller
william Miller2 years ago

Wow how cool I like them all now I am past that age I can relate

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Anne B.
Anne B3 years ago

Lesson #10 is #1 for me. Time is precious...so take the good and the bad as they come along-you never know how much longer you have on this earth...appreciate life!

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Angela K.
Angela K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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Jessica K.
Jessica K3 years ago

I like lesson number 8 the best. Thanks.

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VIOLET Jackson
Past Member 3 years ago

ty

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Rosemary H.
Rosemary H3 years ago

I must write down the top ten things Rosemary has learnt. I do actually keep them in mind, so that bit's OK.

I am Me! I'm not someone else and I'm not going to turn into someone else. That's a good start!

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Debbie S.
Past Member 3 years ago

Beautiful and true.....nice, thanks for sharing.

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Eileen Mary P.
Eileen P3 years ago

Thank you for a lovely article on ten things I've learnt which are important for living on this shared planet. I agree with all of them except exfoliation. I don't do it,apart from bathing and showers and I'm happy with that.
The rest I agree with 100%.

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John chapman
John chapman3 years ago

# 1 Definately is #1.

Something I've learned through way more than 50 years of living.

Is that things won't make you happy.

The more things you have, the more potential problems you have.

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