what have you done well - wise womenNew York Times columnist, David Brooks, asked persons over the age of 70 to send him a brief report “…on your life so far, an evaluation of what you did well, of what you did not do so well and what you learned along the way.”  I sent it to my friends as an assignment for our Wise Women’s Weekend.  Eighteen women reflected on the experiences we have lived and explored future life issues, even though not all of us are, as I am, of une age certaine.

This is our executive summary.  Listen up.

Number One:  Grow to like yourself.

Do whatever it takes.  If you want to be thin, get thin.  If you want to be a mother, get pregnant.  If you want to be a boatwoman on the Amazon, learn to row.  Appreciate your uniqueness.  The corollary is to tolerate everyone else’s uniqueness even if you don’t like it.  Comparing yourself to anyone else is a waste of the time you have.  Acknowledge your ridiculous and annoying tics and work on changing them. (Like my tendency to always know some arcane trivia about everything and say it.)  More importantly, value your virtues – name them to yourself (not others) and build on them.  As Margaret Thatcher said in the movie, The Iron Lady,“Your virtues become your character and your character becomes your destiny.”

Number Two:  Take care of your body.

Start with the relatively non-replaceable parts – teeth and bones. Flossing is not just about a pretty smile. Weight-bearing exercises and calcium with vitamin D have long-lasting effects throughout your life.  Avoid systemic diseases – the usual killers of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Obesity and lack of exercise is a risk factor for cancer as well as almost everything else that can go wrong with you. Your body is going to change no matter what you do, but good habits can make a big difference in the quality of your life from age 50 and beyond.

Be slightly vain but don’t count on beauty.  I have seen, in both women and men, that relying on your cuteness can result in a lack of being appreciated for your more permanent qualities.  Above all – nourish your brain.  It is not only the biggest sex organ you have, what you feed it will bring you riches all the days of your life.

Number Three:  Listen to your inner self.

Even if you don’t understand what it is saying. Listen. When your gut or heart or bones send you a signal that something isn’t right, pay attention.  The big mistakes I have made in my life have been because I let my head distort what my body was telling me.  Conversely, 40 years ago, after a four-month long siege of sciatica had me in pain, immobilized and on drugs, I figured out that it was due to hugely unexpressed anger.  I controlled incipient lower back pain for over 40 years by determining why I was mad.  Not surprising that the sciatica started again the week I began cancer chemotherapy and ended the week of my last radiation treatment.  That doesn’t take Dr. Freud to analyze.

Number Four:  Choose to be happy.

Happiness or unhappiness exists only in the brain, in your brain.  It does not exist because you are eating at The French Laundry, watching an exciting football game, having great sex or seeing the Taj Mahal.  You can be happy or unhappy in any of those circumstances.  You make the choice.  You can be happy when you have cancer.  Believe me, I know.

Number Five:  Be realistic – awful things happen.

Accidents happen, illness happens, recessions happen, if not to you then to someone you love.  Deal with it realistically.  Don’t waste time wishing someone else will behave differently.  The daily Ann Landers columns are filled with people wanting someone else to change to fit their needs.

Terrible boss?  Try to work it out with her, learn meditation techniques or quit and take the consequences. During my working life I had several unhappy situations. Overall they stemmed from the fact that I did not listen to my inner self. I like to direct things, make things happen.  I should never have worked in a department where I could not possibly be head honcho.  I compensated by finding other areas in which I could be Queen (my family nickname). I started a new area of research that put me in touch with scientists from all over the world.  This ended up with my having decision making positions on executive boards of several organizations. Very satisfying.

Do not forget that each of us is going to die.  Accept it.  What is possible is to live each day and moment with mindfulness and care.  Find something every day to admire, be grateful for or learn.  It is one more tool for growing to like who you are.

Margaret S. Burns burns.margaret99@gmail.com 530-795-3524

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