Love Your Mother, Always Look For Dolphins & 13 Other Life Lessons I’ve Learned.

life lessons nicole

Welp, today’s my birthday, and I’ve officially reached the age where I say things like “welp.”

And, I’ll be upfront and do that thing that most women do not enjoy doing which is telling their age. Today I turn 33.

Considered still pretty young by some and old by others, what I know is that this last year of my life has really felt like a coming into my own.

It may have taken over three decades to become the woman I am today, but hell, I’m relishing in the fact that I now feel uber-confident in unabashedly being myself and telling my story to anyone interested in listening (or reading).

If I could go back to my younger self, I would share with her some surprisingly simple, but essential life nuggets I have picked up along the way.

Here’s what I would tell her:

1. Stop wasting your time.

Don’t spend another second on the meaningless; things like comparison, self-pity, anger, and jealousy. Cease your social media-checking and put down your damn phone. Halt any and all negative, unhelpful, over-analysis of yourself, those around you, and your life. Appreciate people, things, feelings, and experiences just as they are.

2. Do something kind for someone every day.

Nothing makes a person feel better than doing something nice for another person. The gestures don’t need to be grand; they just need to be. Hold doors. Hold gazes. Smile. Provoke laughter. Lend a hand. Offer up an ear. It’s an inexhaustive list, and I’ve just scratched the surface.

3. Pray.

To whomever you want in whatever way you would like. Say it out loud or say it in your head. Say it in a church or temple or speak it from your couch. Say it with your kids and spouse or keep it to yourself. Instead of complaining, pray. Instead of arguing, pray. Instead of crying, pray. There’s something utterly motivating about believing in the presence of an eternal listening ear, the possibility of answered prayers and in trusting that there’s strength inside of all of us to do and become whoever we want (and a higher power who will love us regardless of whether we do or don’t).

4. Connect with people.

Anyone. Anywhere. Talk to your waitress, barista, Uber driver, mailman, neighbor, and the man behind you in line. I cannot tout enough the powerful nature of conversations with strangers. There’s a reason we are all placed in each other’s path every day, so don’t pass up an opportunity to gather wisdom and perspective from another human who is kind enough to offer you some. Speaking of kind, that’s all your words, facial expressions, and actions need to be. And, if they are not, well, then keep them to yourself.

5. Laugh more.

Like the full, from the gut, wasn’t-expecting-it, and I-think-my-cackle-scared-those-kids-over-there type of laughing. Humor is your greatest weapon, and it’s also the best armor.

6. Stop being afraid of fear.

Fear is a fallacy. It’s lame, and it shouldn’t have a place in your mind. Far too many of us waste so many moments of our one life feeling scared of things like public speaking, tests, and new social situations. Others feel somewhat irrationally frightened by the idea that their appearance isn’t “good enough,” nor is their intelligence, and will convince themselves that they couldn’t (or shouldn’t) do things because of self-forecasted failure.

But, failure is not something to be avoided, and it’s not a “STOP” sign. Alternatively, failure is just another step on a ladder up. Did you hear what I said? Failure is a step; one that you must take to get to where you are trying to go. Sure, you could skip that step, and keep going, but eventually, you’re going to land on it, propel yourself off it, and continue upwards.

7. Look for dolphins.

This one comes to me from my dad. My husband and I went for a 4-mile run yesterday along the waterfront, and as we were running, I looked to my left, and two dolphins were playing in the river. That was him, and I’m grateful for that near-birthday “Hi, hello.”

You see, before my dad passed away, he had a house on the beach, and one of his greatest pleasures was to stand on his deck and watch for dolphins. There is something encouraging and galvanizing about watching a beautiful creature smoothly and freely maneuver through waves. It’s kind of a reminder to you that no matter what’s in front of you, behind you or in your path, you can transition yourself from point A to point B and you can have pleasure doing it and do it with grace. But, you don’t have to live on the water to look for dolphins. In any environment — at work, home, the grocery store, etc. — look for the dolphins.

What I mean is watch the people around you, notice and observe them, and feel inspired by how they are operating. Or, maybe it’s not a dolphin or a person, but it’s a phrase on a billboard or the prompting words from an ad on a park bench. There are dolphins everywhere. Find them.

8. Watch the sunrise and sunset.

Why? Because it’s beautiful and most of us fail to appreciate the stunningly ordinary that makes up our everyday.

9. Exercise.

I’ve been an athlete, and I’ve been an out-of-shape former athlete. I’ve weighed as low as 115, and I’ve weighed upwards of 240 pounds. At present, I am healthy and I work out about three times a week. What I would never have expected, though, is how much exercise affects my brain, mindset, and attitude. You don’t have to run, and you don’t have to lift an ungodly amount of weight, but you do have to get off your butt and raise your heart rate doing something. If you exercise your body, you’re really getting a two-for-one because not only are you shaping your muscles, but you’re clearing your mind and creating space for creativity and all sorts of self-improvement.

10. Stay in touch with your grandparents.

Call them. Visit them. Make them laugh. Far too often young, loving grandchildren turn into distracted, self-absorbed adults who selfishly can’t find or make the time for the godsends that helped raise them.

11. Have a dog.

I have two, and they are frustratingly hairy and a handful, but they are a reminder to me of all that is good in this world. They are such an excellent example of how to be unconditionally devoted to those you love. Had a hard day? Your dog is there for you. Did you make a mistake? Your dog is there for you. Love your dog and try to be more like it; more carefree, more content, and always there for your family.

12. Maintain a hobby.

It’s never too late to find one (or many). You’ve got a family, and you’ve got work, and all of that keeps you crazy busy. But, you must have something that you do for you, and only you, each day. Paint, write, read, cook — whatever it is — do at least 10 to 20 minutes of it each day.

13. Love your body.

No matter your size, shape, or weight — you owe it respect and gratitude.

14. Love your mother well.

I say this as a daughter and as a mom — there is nothing more life-giving in this world than a mother. Mothers have the unique ability to be magic, make magic, and convince you that you, too, are magical. Accept the magic that comes from moms and the magic they help develop inside of their children, it’s not fake — it’s phenomenal and really freakin’ impressive.

15. Leave a legacy.

When your time comes, not one person is going to remark on any of the nonsense you care about now. They’re not going to talk about your designer shoes, your expensive car, how clean you keep your home, or how accomplished your children are. The only remarks that will be made and matter are the words about you as a person and how your heart came through your actions every day of your life.

My legacy?

I don’t want it to be anything other than three children who turn into three amazing adults who use their minds and abilities to live a life they enjoy, while delivering compassion to themselves, family, friends, and strangers at every opportunity.

Listen, I don’t have all of the answers. My husband does — so he says — but, me, I don’t. Still, what I do know is this…

Humor is necessary.

Love looks beautiful on anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Joy is refreshing and contagious.

And, when you give, it’s really you who gets.

Also, life is confusing and so are people, so I want you to get comfortable with being incessantly perplexed.

Oh yeah, and remember that family is the only thing that really matters.

Here’s to at least 33 more transformative years ahead.

I hope you’ll stay with me for the ride.

This story originally appeared on TODAY’s Parenting Team

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