I turned 40 in November.
You have no idea how much it pains me to even write that. I’m trying to age gracefully, but it’s hard, especially in a society that so values youthfulness and especially when you still feel like you’re 18 most of the time.
But I’m not 18 anymore, thank God, and with 40 years of water under my bridge, I’ve finally learned some important life lessons. For one thing, I don’t care what people say about me anymore.
I used to care a lot about what people close to me thought about me. More importantly, I cared what people said about me. I wanted everyone’s approval and with my family and friends, their opinions really mattered. It was as if I derived my identity from what other people said or thought about me, but then I finally got it. What other people think or say about you isn’t who you are and it may not even be accurate and it really has no genuine bearing on your life. At all.
The biggest life lesson I’ve learned so far is this:
Just because someone says something, that doesn’t make it true.
Need further proof?
Imagine someone repeatedly stating that you are a big, pink elephant. A flying elephant. An elephant who can juggle. Imagine this person repeating that you are en elephant until they are blue in the face and utterly convinced of the fact that you are a big, pink elephant.
Are you a big, pink, flying, juggling elephant?
Of course not.
If this person continues to repeat that you are a big, pink elephant, will you suddenly turn into one?
Of course not.
Now ask yourself this. If no amount of saying that you are a big, pink, flying, juggling elephant can turn you into one, why do you feel hurt and angry when someone says something negative about you? Why do you then sometimes start to believe it?
In the same way that no amount of saying that someone is a big, pink elephant can turn them into one, no amount of insults can make someone stupid, lazy, ugly, unlovable, useless or any of the other terrible things people say about one another. They just can’t. Words may have power, but they don’t have that kind of power.
Only we have the power to transform ourselves through our beliefs and conscious choices. We create our own identities through our experiences, passions and achievements.
Years ago, when others held poor opinions of me, for whatever reasons, deserved or not, I felt an almost compulsive need to change their minds, to fight with them, to make them see that they were wrong. Now, as I’ve gotten older and hopefully wiser, I realize that we all have our own truths and that someone else’s opinion reflects a lot more on them and their life than it does on mine. Fighting never changed anyone’s mind. In fact, all it ever did was reinforce their negative opinions and make me feel worse.
Although I’d certainly like to have my 18 year old body back, I’m grateful for my 40 year old spirit. I’d never want to go back to that life of worrying what people thought and seeking my identity through through the opinions of others. Understanding that just because someone says something doesn’t make it true has given me the gift of freedom to live my life exactly how I please. I only wish I had learned this lesson sooner.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: elephant journal archives