It was May 7, towards the end of first grade, I believe, and my friend was turning 7.  I remember it vividly.  He walked in with a smile on his face and came to sit at the small table near the back of the room.

“Happy Birthday!” the teacher said.

I echoed these sentiments, and then right after, he excitedly told me it was his “golden” birthday.

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Circa 1990. Check out those shorts.

Well, of course, I immediately wanted my birthday to be golden, too. I soon fantasized about a party, littered in sparkly and shiny colors, with all of my friends wearing gold things, a yellow birthday cake with sparklers spouting joy atop a cloud of sunflower frosting.

Clearly, my grandiose child expectations have not been manifested, and I’ll admit, I’m a little disappointed.  I’m not quite sure why I’m putting so much weight into being away from all of my comfort people for my golden birthday and all of the festivities that would have most likely ensued.  After all, it is just another day.  I suppose, though, when our realities do not meet our expectations, we can’t help but feel a little disappointed.

But maybe, as we grow older, those birthday parties–all the golden frills and the colorful bows–become less important.  Instead, it’s the lessons we’ve learned and the trail we’ve blazed that make those gifts rather meaningless, even if our loved ones aren’t around to shower us with gifts.  Hell, maybe those people are the gifts themselves.  After all, without them, the lessons wouldn’t be there either, and as a result, we would be nothing.

So here are 26 gifts, in honor of 26 golden years, that have been given to me over time–ones that I could only ever wish to teach to my students.

 

1. In darkness there is light, and in light there is darkness.  It is what we choose to look for that guides us. So be grateful for the bad, because the bad helps us to appreciate the good.

 

2. Allow yourself to feel.  Lean into all of your emotions–even the bad ones–and really let yourself feel them.  Without doing so, you don’t allow yourself the beauty of recovery.

3. Tell yourself the hard stuff so someone else doesn’t have to.

4. Tell yourself you’re doing the best you can.  And believe it.  Because you are.  You always are.

5. Find your life.  Go on the adventures that scare the crap out of you.  They most certainly won’t be looking for you.

 

6. Honesty and transparency are the best ways to maintain positive relationships, and one cannot be loved if one cannot be seen honestly and truthfully.  All of us are perfectly imperfect.

 

7. Dream big, but don’t fantasize too much.  Your reality will almost never meet your expectations.  And this isn’t always a bad thing.

8. Children are incredible human beings, and we don’t give them nearly enough credit.  You can take care of them by helping them see themselves in the world.  If this isn’t happening, they won’t learn anything.

9. You can never do anything by yourself.  Your experiences are shaped by your environment, and the people in our lives are naturally a part of that environment. Be grateful, and show that gratitude whenever you can.

 

10. Sh** happens, and then you get over it. If someone lies to you or hurts you, it’s on them, and their guilt will be longer lasting than your pain or disappointment.

 

11. People do what they want to do.  It’s better to assume the best and read their actions at face value. Likewise, people don’t do what they don’t want to do.  Don’t feel bad accepting help.  Just shut up and say thank you.

12. Be grateful for the villains in your story.  They challenged your morals and helped you to see a part of yourself you didn’t know existed.  But never forget that you, too, had a hand in creating those villains.

13. Conflict arises from fear and misunderstanding.  This can be shattered with the courage to be vulnerable and daring to let yourself be seen as is.

 

14. Actions speak louder than words. Way louder.  Lead by example, and show more than you tell.

 

15. It is statistically impossible to please everyone.  Stand up for what you think is right for the world, even if a crowd of people is telling you to stand down.  You’re the one who needs to live with your decisions, and if you can sleep at night, you’re doing alright.  Unless you’re a sociopath, of course.

16. People project their problems, their fears, and their insecurities onto others.  It’s best to not take everything so personally.

17. As a result, “be kinder than necessary, for everyone is fighting their own personal battle.”

 

18. Empathy starts from within.  You need to know and love yourself before you can truly know and love someone else.

 

19. Learning allows us not only to get to know the world better, but it allows us to get to know ourselves better, too.

20. Structure can be limiting, but it can also be liberating.

 

21. We are eternally stuck in the present, so we might as well not fight it.  Dwelling on the past is neither healthy nor helpful, and worrying about the future robs the present of its beauty.

 

22. It’s always going to feel like the next best thing is out there waiting for you.  But we don’t need a “next” best thing, when we have the best thing right in front of us.

23. There is peace, presence, and happiness that comes from letting go.  Letting go of something and watching it come back to you is more gratifying than holding on to it at all costs.

24. Love is not an expectation or a mandate; love is an appreciation of someone or something as is. No exceptions.

25. We are merely a manifestation of our previous experiences, both the ones labeled as good and as bad.  It is essential to love all of those parts of ourselves–and of others.

 

26. Love yourself.  Always.  All of these things are way easier said than done, but getting to this last one is the most important.  It’s something that we all continue to struggle with on a daily basis, and that’s okay.  However, it’s important to remember that you are the only thing you will bring into every phase of your life, and an appreciation for yourself is the only thing that is truly yours.

 

It’s the only thing that can never be taken from you.

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