I’m writing this from a hotel room in Peel, a tiny town on the west coast of the Isle of Man. This morning I had breakfast watching the Irish Sea wash the beach just steps from the hotel’s front porch, and tonight I plan to sit on a bench on the promenade and watch the sun set over the water. In the meantime, I’ll saunter around town, revel in the sunshine, and write.
I’ve been here on the Isle of Man for the past two weeks to see the annual TT motorcycle races, a thrilling event that attracts bike aficionados from all over the world. And I’ve spent most of that time in the company of a good friend — riding on the back of his Bandit 1200, enjoying the gorgeous scenery, sharing the excitement of the races.
I’m more relaxed and happy than I’ve ever been in my 52 years. For the first time in my life, I wake up looking forward to the day. I’m excited for the future.
In other words, life is good. And I’m grateful. Because I know life isn’t wonderful for everyone, and because it hasn’t always been this way for me, either.
Sometimes I’ve felt like a lab rat that’s been running through a maze for the past 52 years.
I don’t believe the challenges ever end — that’s what life is. We constantly grow and change and learn through interesting and sometimes confronting experiences. We always will.
But I do feel that I’ve made it through that maze. I’ve learned a lot. There’s tons more to learn. But the fact that I’m looking forward to the future — for the first time in my life — tells me I must have leveled up.
If I died right now and had only two minutes to pass on the essence of what I feel I’ve learned in 52 years on Earth — my advice for anyone who can use it — I’d croak out these seven messages:
1 Keep going. To quote Harriet Tubman, “Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” At so many times in my life, I thought I’d reached a dead end. (When I dropped out of college during my first semester. When I was married to a narcissist and felt there was no way out. When I was living in my truck and working as a cook in a Mexican restaurant in Carrizozo, New Mexico. When I found myself in Thailand, broke, trying to live on Mechanical Turk.) But it was never true: There was a corner ahead that I couldn’t see yet, and things changed dramatically. Never underestimate what is possible. Keep going. Even if it’s just one foot in front of the other.
2 Be honest — with yourself most of all. I think people almost always know, inside, what the essential, basic truth is — of our lives, ourselves, our relationships. If you sit quietly and let yourself feel it, you probably know at least in a general way things like whether you’re happy or not, what you basically want to do, or whether a relationship is right for you. It’s only been when I’ve allowed myself to acknowledge and accept the truth that I’ve been able to see how to move forward. Denying the truth only locks you into the present.
3 Have faith in the upside. Often, when you’re about to take a risk, it’s the downside that’s foremost in your mind. It’s easy to anticipate the pain of a separation, the difficulties of building a new life, or the fears of attack, abuse, and abandonment that can come at you when you make a change. What’s harder to see and anticipate is the upside. I think that’s because the rewards are part of your new world, and often you won’t be able to see, understand, or believe in them until you become part of your new world. But whether you can see or believe in them or not, the rewards are always there, just waiting for you. Trust in them.
4 Be afraid, but not too afraid. The world is a scary place. To navigate it, you have to listen to your gut. Fear is your friend: it tells you that something you’re scared of is nearby. Intuition can keep you from walking down the wrong dark road. But remember that fear is only an emotion. It’s really only telling you about your internal condition — that you’re scared — and not necessarily about the reality of the external world. Being able to see the difference, internal versus external, opens up a universe of marvelous experiences. Listen to your fear, consider what it’s telling you, but don’t be a slave to it. In the biggest picture, we’re all going to be just fine.
5 You can grow. Again: Never underestimate what’s possible. You can do things you don’t think you can. These seemingly impossible things expand you when you do them. And in my experience, it’s been those “unimaginable” things, the ones that seem completely beyond possibility, that have made the most difference when I did stretch myself to tackle them. When you reach for an “unimaginable” thing and make it happen, that seemingly impossible thing has just became something that you’ve done. You amaze yourself. And more “unimaginable” things become possible.
6 And the world changes, too. When you grow and change, the world changes along with you. This fact can seem unbelievable until you’ve experienced it yourself. A world that has always seemed dark, terrifying, and hopeless becomes lighter, brighter, and gradually more exciting, beautiful, and desirable. Keep going.
Most of all…
7 Don’t ever write off love, God, yourself, life, or anything else good. Life can be disillusioning. We get wounded and afraid, and we want to protect ourselves from future pain and harm. In the process, we forget that it wasn’t love that hurt us — it was failures to love. It wasn’t God, it was people — people who were disconnected from God. It was never you, yourself — it was wounds and mistakes and false understandings — all of which are fixable, over time, and not part of your true self. Don’t let pain lead you to turn away from everything that’s good.
In a few days I’ll be leaving the Isle of Man. I’ve started another chapter of my life—another maze! But this time I’m excited, because I’ve developed faith in the process. Will the lessons get harder? I don’t know. I do feel that these fundamental things that I’ve learned can guide and hold me and help me through whatever’s next. Do you think they’ll be useful for you, too?
Patricia Sanders lived in Globe from 2004 to 2008 and at Reevis Mountain School, in the Tonto National Forest, from 2008 to 2014. She has been a writer and editor for GMT since 2015. She currently lives on Santa Maria island in the Azores.