I want to tell you about an incredible experience I had in college. The university I attended offered a weekly program called “The Last Lecture Series.” Students would bring a brown-bag lunch, plop down on the ballroom floor of the student union center, and listen to one of the professors speak. But these men and women weren’t lecturing on Shakespeare or the Russian Revolution. Nor were they there to simply share some warm and fuzzies. Their assignment was to present what could possibly be the last lecture they would ever give – basically the sum total of a life well-lived. Talk about a legacy! The series was fascinating, and I was immediately addicted. As I sat on the floor munching on my peanut butter sandwich, I hung on every word. I was sorry when, at the end of the year, the series was over. In fact, I was heartbroken. These lectures had pushed me to see past my own little world and helped me realize what I wanted out of life. Today, over 40 years later, I look back with fondness at those days when many of the ideas, insights, and philosophies I still live by were forged on that ballroom floor.
If I have learned anything since then it is that life is uncertain. We never know what moment might be our last. I’ve thought a lot about this and what I wanted to share with my own children as my “last lecture” (I can almost see them rolling their eyes…”Yay, another lecture form Mom!”). If you could bear with me, I’d like to share it with you here too. So… what bit of wisdom might a wild wacky woman (who sped past the half-century mark so fast it almost gave her whiplash) have to say? Here it is – short and sweet.
Stop. Listen. Learn.
- 1. Stop. Stop churning through those endless, pointless cycles that blind you from appreciating that the world around you is so much bigger than your immediate crisis. Stop focusing inward, and look beyond yourself. Stop ignoring the rich opportunities for growth that you’ve passed up, simply because you call them tragedies. Stop hauling around your unnecessary baggage, whether it’s emotional or physical. Unburden yourself from the constant repetition of reliving each mistake or wrong done to you. None of it serves to inspire, uplift, or empower another human being… least of all you! In short, it’s self-destructive. Many women I know find themselves in a black hole just like this. But you don’t have to go there… or stay there. If this sounds preachy, it is. The only reason I can get away with it is that I’ve done it, too. And I found that when I stopped focusing on myself, I had a multitude of time, energy, and resources to focus on making a difference in other people’s lives. In the end, it changed my own and made all the difference to me. So please – just stop it. I did, and it made my life not only worth living but, more importantly, worth loving as well.
- Listen. Listen to your breathing, to your heartbeat, to the sigh of your lover, to the giggle of your grandchild. Listen to the sound of the ocean, the rustle of leaves in the wind, and the silence of softly falling snow. Stop talking… and really take the time to just listen – particularly to other women. Countless women all around you have accomplished astonishing feats. Seek them out, and listen to what they have to say. Absorb all that is good in them, and let the rest drift away. Drink in the wisdom they offer. Such wisdom is everywhere, if you will just open your heart and listen.
- Learn. Learn from your parents. Learn from your children. Learn from those who love you – and, even more, from those who don’t. Admit that you are not always right and that you don’t have all the answers. Try to look at every situation from another perspective. Learn to take a chance and make a change. Accept obstacles and challenges as opportunities to grow and become a better person. These are among our greatest gifts, but we must have the grace to accept them.
Here’s the real irony of life: In order for growth to be all about you, you have to stop thinking about yourself, listen to the wisdom of those around you, and learn from it all.
See? It’s easy. Just stop, listen, and learn.
May you always feel the tingle in all that life has to offer.