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I Am Who I Am Because of the People I Serve: Life Lessons from 25 Years as a Psychologist

Yesterday, I realized it has been exactly Twenty-five years since I became a licensed psychologist. Although I believe that earns me the title “seasoned psychologist,” at the same time, 25 years ago feels like yesterday. I am in many ways the same person but also deeply changed. As I reflect on those years, I feel so very grateful for the lessons given by patients, students, colleagues, and mentors who taught me to be the person I am today. Here are a few (ok, fifty) of the things these amazing humans taught me.

1. There is beauty in imperfection. Look for and savor this truth, inside of you and elsewhere.

2. Life is not linear, and it’s an adventure.

3. Emotions are complex and can be enjoyed like truffles. The bitter notes make the whole more enjoyable.

4. Getting away from pain does not actually take you anywhere.

5. There is nothing more important than a healthy, loving, honest relationship with yourself.

6. Play and fun are mandatory.

7. Suffering connects us as humans, and if we do it right, it breaks us open so that we can feel ALL the feelings.

8. Do not dwell in suffering.

9. Listen to live music. Support live music. Include musicians and artists in your circle of friends.

10. S-L-O-W down.

11. Smile more.

12. Breathe.

13. Love your body.

14. Five close friends are better than one or two. Six or eight might be even better, but you must invest to get returns.

15. Be kind as often as you can and include yourself in that.

16. Write love notes.

17. Sit in silence (but then notice there is no such thing as silence and that any sounds can be woven together as music).

18. Dance… even if you think you cannot.

19. Mean people are usually hurting, but that does not mean you have to allow them to hurt you.

20. Say thank you and I am sorry and mean it.

21. It is possible to love multiple people deeply. Love is infinite.

22. Time is finite.

23. It is OK to be wrong.

24. Find beauty and kindness and savor them.

25. Growth requires that you are willing to make mistakes and receive criticism.

26. Trying not to feel your feelings will get you stuck. Allowing yourself to feel your feelings is fundamental to rich and meaningful moments and lives.

27. Learn to be a curious observer of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

28. Put time and intention into clarifying your values. Use your values as your guide.

29. Aging is hard for most, very hard for some. It makes sense to feel fear and grief and even anger in response to some aspects of aging. But trying NOT to age will rob you of some of the most meaningful aspects of life.

30. Advocate for yourself, and recruit allies.

31. Create and support communities that welcome and celebrate people exactly as they are.

32. Secrets can be very toxic.

33. Resolve conflict.

34. Drink plenty of water. Stretch and strengthen your body. Practice good sleep hygiene. Get regular check-ups. Eat delicious, healthy food.

35. Allowing people to help you is an act of generosity.

36. Be silly.

37. Hug people every day.

38. Work to see things from other people’s perspectives. Practice humility. Examine your biases and blind spots.

39. Bring donuts for the nurses.

40. If at all possible, have a pet. If not, hang out with other people’s pets.

41. Make art. Everyone is an artist. If you think you are not an artist, you just forgot.

42. We are all judgmental sometimes, of ourselves and others. Its ok. It’s what our minds do. But hold those judgements lightly. Notice them. Use them as your cue to engage compassion, humility and perspective taking.

43. The best outcome of mental health treatment is a rich and meaningful life.

44. Be careful in choosing your mentors. They may influence you long after you part company.

45. Meaning and purpose (along with everything else) exist only in the present moment. They are not just things to work toward.

46. Make voice recordings of people you love.

47. Cultivate meaningful friendships with people who are a generation or two younger than you. They will help you stay flexible in your thinking, and you will have a fuller, richer network as you age.

48. Help other people succeed.

49. Authenticity, openness, and vulnerability create meaningful connection… and meaningful lives.

50. Humans are beautiful, sparkly, complex beings, worth knowing.

My humble thanks go to artist Chris Reilly for allowing me to include a photo of his beautiful piece, Kinstugi Cherub. Please take a look at the rest of his amazing work here:

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