By Dr Raman Ashta
This is a big year: I turned 40 and I could not wait to celebrate it. Something about this number feels fascinating and liberating. I was even going to throw myself a party, until Covid hit. So, instead, I am having a party here, with words. (Secretly, this is my favourite kind of party.)
Turning 30 was hard. It seemed like transitioning from the youth of the 20s to real adulthood. I thought by the time I turned 40, I would have it all together, define who I am and enter the next decade as a calm, confident woman who knows what she wants and lives life on her own terms.
I am far from that. In fact, I doubt I will ever be that. But there are some things that I have learnt so far that I would like to share.
1. First and foremost, I have learnt that the only person I can control is myself. No matter how much I wish to change anyone else’s behaviour, I cannot. The only thing I have control over is how I react to others’ behaviour. Whether it is people in my personal or professional life, or bigger things like Covid-19 pandemic. I need to accept things as they are and respond to them in a constructive way. It is hard, though. Only if the world worked according to my wishes! But it does not. So, instead, I try to live according to my wishes as much as I can and make peace with the rest.
2. Stuff is overrated. That new piece of jewellery or clothing or even a car gives us a rush of pleasure. But having done it enough times, I realize that the pleasure is so short-lived. It disappears almost as soon as I acquire that thing. And no one cares. Seriously, no one cares how expensive your bag is or if you are wearing the same outfit as last time. Sure, I like to be well put-together (when I feel like it), but I do not need an overflowing closet to do that. Also, clutter adds to not only physical, but also mental chaos. I no longer buy something just to buy something.
3. We can have it all, but not all at the same time. This is the most useful piece of advice I have ever received. As a professional woman, I have found myself stretched too thin, too often. Right after my younger son was born, I was asked to step into a leadership role at work. I was honoured and flattered. How could I say no? Of course, I accepted. And soon, the stress of full-time work, having a toddler and a newborn, extra administrative work, 7 am and 5 pm meetings started to take a toll. My work is important to me, but so are my children and my mental peace. After about a year of “having it all”, I gave the administrative role up. And sometime in the future, I may pick it back up when I have less demands in other areas.
4. We need to put ourselves first. As young girls we are taught, and as women we are expected, to put everything before us – husband, kids, work, cooking. Even stupid laundry is supposed to come before us. I have learnt that when I prioritize everyone and everything over myself, I am a cranky, overworked, no-fun wife / mom / doctor. So, I am learning to listen to my heart and my body. To sit down and have my coffee. To take a nap when I am tired. To get take-out when I do not want to cook. And to try to do that without feeling guilty.
5. I do not have to be a MasterChef to eat well. Cooking is not my strong suit. I am intimidated by complicated recipes. But I am perfectly capable of feeding my family healthy, delicious, and nutritious food. Fresh fruits and vegetables do not need much cooking / dressing to make them taste good. And all of us are alive and well. My food may not always taste heavenly, but it is healthy as heck and has not killed anyone… yet.
6. “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” This is my favourite quote by Maya Angelou. I would get hurt by someone’s actions repeatedly… until the lightbulb finally went on, that I was crazy to expect them to act any different. They already showed me who they are, it is now up to me to learn from that and adjust my response and expectations. I am still working on it, though. It usually takes multiple episodes before I finally “get it”.
7. Give selflessly, without resentment. I have a hard time saying no. Too often, we give of ourselves while feeling like a victim and being taken advantage of. Giving with resentment takes away the positivity and the sacredness of the act. I have learnt that it is much better to say no when I cannot give with a loving and open heart. After all, if I were a recipient of a favour given resentfully, I would much rather go without it.
8. Re-evaluate everything that you have been indoctrinated to believe. Very few of us are raised as independent thinkers. When we are young, we take on the beliefs of people we look up to, whether they are our parents, teachers, or celebrities. When we finally start to think for ourselves, we do not need to hesitate to discard the beliefs that do not sit right with us, whether they are around religion, lifestyle or cultural biases towards certain groups of people. You would feel lost for a while, but then you will find your footing. You will know where you stand in the world.
9. There is overwhelmingly more good than bad in the world. I have encountered way more kindness than meanness – from family, friends, co-workers and even strangers. I take everyone at their face value and think the best of them. I have seldom been disappointed. There is good and bad in all of us. I feel when we trust people to do good, they usually do.
10. And finally, in life, no one owes you anything and you owe yourself everything. This has become my motto. It helps me manage my expectations of other people and be my own support. I owe it to myself to be and do all I that ever wanted to. The responsibility of having a happy and fulfilled life is mine and mine alone. It cannot and should not be delegated to anyone else.
Born and raised in India, Dr Raman Ashta is a physician, wife and mother based in Florida, USA, who writes on topics of personal growth for women.