There are some life lessons that are easy to learn when you’re young. Some, however, take years and years of marination before they finally sink in. I remember sitting at a meeting of the preschool board I was on about sixteen or seventeen years ago (in my late twenties, if you’re trying to do the math) and one of the other members told the rest of us that she would be leaving the board even though the year was only half over.
“Why?” we asked her.
With her most serious, business-like tone, she responded, “Because I have decided that life is too short for me to be doing things that I don’t enjoy.”
We were a little stunned by her declaration, and at the time I was both offended by what I perceived to be her lack of responsibility to the group and fascinated by her logic. Oddly enough, that little blip of a moment in my life has stuck with me ever since, and in the past few years–though I don’t say it out loud too often–it has guided me in many of my decisions, as has the slightly altered version of her words that I added to my arsenal after a particularly difficult end to a friendship that was fraught with problems, “Life is too short to spend hanging out with people I don’t enjoy.”
When I turned forty, I was just getting acquainted with the idea that other people’s opinions didn’t mean as much to me as they did before, in an approval-seeking sense. I still care about other people’s feelings, of course, and I do enjoy asking for opinions on certain things, but these days I make decisions based more on what’s best for me and my family and less on how those decisions might look to others.
This year another major lesson is sinking in, finally. I’m listening to my body. I have discovered how amazing it is that the human body provides all kinds of clues about what it needs, clues that are easy to miss when you are hell-bent on getting something done or just not willing to pay attention. I’m talking about way more than cravings for more water or vegetables, too.
Naps, for example. Over the last year or so, I’ve started taking power naps on the days when I feel like I’m too tired to be productive. Rather than forcing myself to keep working, I sleep for twenty minutes or so and wake up feeling like a new person. It’s amazing and wish I had been doing that all along instead of struggling for so many hours of so many days.
When I have an injury, I adjust my workouts. That may sound like a no-brainer if you don’t know me well, but if you are well-acquainted with how much I enjoy my workouts, you probably get it: I used to power-through my workouts no matter what, just like my nap-free days of working. It has finally sunk in that it will not kill me if I adjust a workout (or do a different workout) to accommodate an injury.
I have even reconciled the fact that missing a scheduled workout is not just okay, but really better for me when my body is telling me to skip. Yesterday afternoon I suddenly started feeling dizzy and nearly fainted from moving my head too quickly. I dropped everything and made my way up to bed where I spent the next four hours. I napped a little bit and hoped that I’d feel better in time to get to Zumba class, which I hate missing. In the end, I decided that I needed to skip class and take it easy, something that I admittedly would not have done a couple of years ago: I would have gone to class no matter what.
This morning, I’m feeling better but not one hundred percent, so–ack!–I’m skipping class again. I know it’s the right thing to do even though it’s killing me mentally. Forced rest is not something I traditionally enjoy. (I guess that’s why it’s called “forced rest”.)
What I’ve finally realized is that pushing-pushing-pushing is great for a to-do list, but it doesn’t always do a body good. Taking the time to be good to myself and back off of my normal level of activity when needed will pay off in different ways, and it’s okay if I don’t get that list all checked off, all the time.
And as usual, it’s all in how you look at it. At first I thought that this was a lesson learned due to “being old”, but I’ve decided it’s actually one of maturity. There’s a difference.