Lessons and truths learned as I turn 40

I’m not usually a birthday celebrator, but next week I level up to age 40. I’m actually excited about where I’m at in life. I realized the other day that, while I’m getting older in age, I actually refer to my younger self as the “old” me.

I did think I would have more things figured out by now, but there is so much I appreciate about my experiences so far. I am who I am as a result of the love of my family and friends, the guidance of some incredible mentors, and the network of support this community provides.

You can’t, however, go through 40 years without falling down and picking up a few lessons. Some of the things that would have made life easier for old me:

Trust your intuition.

That twinge you get when something feels off? Believe it. When a situation doesn’t seem to add up or an interaction feels off, trust that twinge, because it’s telling you that it is off. The more I listen to my intuition, the better the outcome.

Do not accept disrespect.

Old me stayed quiet, did things I didn’t feel comfortable with, or took blame for things I didn’t do so I would not make the other person feel bad. In my early 20s, my mom told me to stop being a door mat. My husband once told me that people will continue to bully and disrespect me as long as I allow it. Those words might finally be sinking in. Sometimes, you have to tell people that you do not appreciate how they are treating you. They won’t like hearing it and might throw a tantrum, but you have every right to stand up for yourself. What you allow is what will continue.

Having self-confidence is not arrogant or self-centered.

Call it low self-esteem or low self-worth, whatever it is, the old me was an expert at it. In grade school, I was often put in accelerated programs with the grades ahead of me. I remember one older student getting mad because I was figuring out answers. He yelled at me because I couldn’t possibly know more than him because I was younger. It left me feeling confused and I didn’t want to give correct answers anymore for fear of getting bashed. At a previous job, a similar scenario occurred. I was told I wasn’t able to do something because I hadn’t worked there long enough to possibly know anything. It didn’t matter that I already had years of experience. At times, the more I accomplished, the worse this behavior from others became. I spent decades believing that something was wrong with me. It took me a long time to accept that there are people in the world who don’t want to see others succeed, blame others when they don’t get their way, or just enjoy knocking others down. Their behavior is more about their internal state of things than anything you are doing. You’ve worked hard to get where you are and it’s okay to believe in yourself, embrace your uniqueness, and feel good about your accomplishments.

Love yourself first.

When you think about the unconditional love you have for your significant other, your parents, your children, your friends, and compare that with how you feel about yourself, what do you notice? Most of us would be startled with the realization that we would never treat others the way we treat ourselves. Yet many of us do it every day. An internal dialogue loop repeats all day long, blasting headlines about stupid mistakes, dumb things said, disappointment in physical appearance, etc. We would never say those same things we say to ourselves about ourselves to or about someone we love. Respect yourself and show yourself the same love you share with others.

Accept your talents.

Don’t worry about things you’re not good at. Focus your energy on what you can do. Accept that, yes, there are few things that you are really, really good at, and you don’t need to apologize for your talents.

Say no.

Don’t worry about hurting people’s feelings by saying no. Don’t hesitate to say no to uncomfortable demands, or requests that will overextend and exhaust you.

There are many things I’d tell “old” me, and many things I’m still working on. But, like most people say, I wouldn’t change a thing, because those experiences made me who I am. I can finally say, without feeling weird about it, that I’m proud of myself. I like me, flaws and all. It only took 40 years to be able to do that. I feel like this is just the beginning.

Thank you to every person who has supported me over these past 40 years. Because of you, I am able to truly celebrate this birthday!

Mary Beth Stutzman’s “Inspiring A-Town” runs biweekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.