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On Do-Overs, Lessons Learned and Second-Chances

The beauty of living is that in time, you see things with so much more clarity. Put another way, it’s easy to see what you could’ve/should’ve/would’ve done differently when you were younger and how your life might have turned out differently as a result.

While we don’t get a “do over” when it comes to our youth, we can use much of what we’ve learned in hindsight to help us live more zestfully in midlife. In this post, I share a few truths I wish I’d known and applied as a young woman. But lest you think this is a post about regrets, take heart: There are no regrets, just second chances.

As you read my list — and think about your own — I think you’ll agree that life gives us ample opportunities to learn and finally “get” many of these lessons.

Lesson #1: Trust your instincts.
How much time, pain and frustration could I have saved myself had I just done this one thing? Call it your gut, your intuition, your sixth sense — whatever. It’s that whispering voice inside that always knows what to do, when. We may still need to gather some information in order to make the most informed choice, but our instincts never lead us astray.

Lesson #2: Give up the need to please. We often go to great lengths to gain other people’s approval; we typically don’t realize until much later that we’ve been living someone else’s life all along. Don’t sell out. Own who you are. Strive to please yourself before you please others. In fact, be determined about it.

Lesson #3: Say “No” with abandon. Saying “no” leads to one minute of discomfort vs. regretfully saying “yes” which leads to two weeks of self-loathing — you choose. Saying “no” is an act of self-love; it’s about setting boundaries and owning your own story. It’s also a complete sentence. When you say “no” to the things you don’t want or that don’t feel right, it frees up more space to say “yes” to the things that you do want and that do feel right. Save “yes” for what inspires you. Save “yes” for what feels like “shackles off”.

Lesson #4: Relentlessly, find your passion.
If you don’t know what it is, make a real effort to find it. Ferdinand Foch said, “The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” What lights your fire? What captures your spirit and imagination and makes you lose track of time? What are your signature strengths and how can you use them in new ways? Your life’s purpose is to find it. And then to do it, passionately and with radiance.

Lesson #5: Stay curious. The way we grow and develop and ultimately reach our potential is to strive to learn, to broaden our vistas and experience new adventures. Learn a language. Take a dance class. Visit a city or country you’ve never visited. Staying curious keeps you interesting — and young.

Lesson #6: Be courageous — in spite of fear. Trust yourself enough to stand in your own power, to decide and declare what’s true for you — even if it means others may think you’re weird, or uncool or (gasp!) unpopular. Many people wrongly believe that being courageous means they no longer fearful. The truth is, courage is acting in the face of fear.

Lesson #7: Lean into gratitude. It’s easy to think about all the things we would like or don’t have. But when you take time to think about all the good things in your life, you’ll see that you really do have more than you need. What you focus on grows. As you start to focus on the good and all you have to be grateful for, you’ll notice that you attract more good into your life.

Lesson #8: Acknowledge vulnerability as being the cradle of all good things. Society tends to view vulnerability as a sign of weakness. In reality, the products of wholehearted living all stem from vulnerability as being their birthplace: love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, creativity, gratitude, authenticity, accountability and adaptability. So get over it. Dare to be vulnerable. Dare to be human.

Lesson #9: Cultivate resiliency. It’s very tempting to look at successful people and think they’ve never failed. Truth is, they fail all the time; they’ve just mastered the art of getting back up, of being resilient. Personal change is scary and we can expect to lose our footing often as we try to become familiar with the new terrain in our lives. Decide to bounce back; to bend without breaking. Decide that you’ve got two positions in life: you’re either up or you’re getting up.

Lesson #10: Use failure as a teacher. People learn, grow, and radiate through experiencing failure. We learn to understand our true selves through this evolution, and often surprise ourselves by accessing our strengths, bravery and perseverance — which supports us in navigating the path back. Experiencing failure helps us to better appreciate the sweetness of success.

Lesson #11: Your legacy is largely out of your control — so, don’t worry so much about it. We work hard in life — kids, relationships, careers — we honor integrity, are mindful of our reputations, and so on. In reality, it’s safe to say that decent human beings do the best they can. Perceptions, though, often shape legacy. Wealth, human contributions, passions, leadership — essentially everything we leave behind is up for debate. And even if you’ve led an exemplary life, you may not be happy about how you’re actually remembered — and in any case, you’ll be dead. So, don’t worry so much — just live. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The only reward for virtue is virtue.”

Lesson #12: Stay open. It’s so easy to close our hearts or cut ourselves off from the world after we’ve suffered a major, painful life change. Let go of numbing; we cannot selectively numb so when we numb the bad emotions, we numb the good ones too. To be open means that we may get hurt again, yes. But it also means we’re open to receive life’s most beautiful, bountiful gifts. We’re open for surprises. And excitement. And love. And success. And possibility. Possibilities are endless, as are second chances. We just have to keep our spirits and hearts open and be willing to receive them.

Now, it’s your turn. What lessons do you wish you’d learned before today? Which ones are you not just learning, but embracing now?

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10/16/2012 05:35 pm ET | Updated March 23, 2016

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