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This week I celebrate my 50th birthday and also 25 years working and volunteering in the developing world. That’s right, the Big Five-Oh. I feel so blessed and thrilled right now to be given the gift of turning 50. I am filled with joy, positivity, thanksgiving and wonder. I must say, it’s been a pretty interesting life journey of ups and downs and ins and outs so far. These past 50 years have been a rollercoaster journey from the beautiful little town of Clara, Co. Offaly to the continents of Asia and Africa to work with the poorest of the poor to presently be living beside the beautiful Galway Bay. I have accrued my fair share of cuts, bruises, scars, age spots, wrinkles, grey hairs – actually many white hairs too – and the odd added inches around my waist at times over these 50 years. I realise how each year, phase, stage, success, loss, stumble, lesson, triumph and heartache has had a significant impact on where I am right now. And despite the sorrowful moments, there have been many joyful moments and I must say I have loved nearly all of it, thank God. The thought that I am half a century old and maybe I now have fewer days in front of me than behind me is quite mellowing and humbling. But now after some prayerful reflection on my life as I enter into my fifties I have stormed my brain these last few days to think of my top 50 life lessons that I have learned so far that have helped me get to this day. On this week of celebrating another blessing of another year, I share these lessons, signposts or thoughts with you and hope you find in them inspiration as I have. And please always remember what my good friend David keeps saying to me, that “in life there are no mistakes but as the song goes ‘just lessons to be learned!’”

Top 50 life lessons learned so far…

1. Life can be so unfair and heartbreaking at times. But life can be good and joyful too. I have a loving and caring family and also some great and genuine friends that have and are helping me on my life’s journey. I wish you who are reading this a good family and friends too, because they really are a life blessing.

2. Time and experience heals pain. Even if you are going through an overwhelmingly sad and sorrowful event in your life right now. One day it will be part of your past and not nearly as significant as it seems. Happiness and peace comes from within. We spend way too much of our lives looking for outside support and approval. Go within, meditate, pray and truly love yourself because in truly loving yourself you can then truly love others.

3. Friends come and go, the real ones stay around or are part of your life when you really need them. Nurture and keep the good ones.

4. Be the first to say you’re sorry when and where you can. Subtle shifts in perception will transform your entire life. When feeling fearful, angry, hurt, simply choose to see a situation differently.

5. Kindness matters a lot. Being kind is more important than being right at times. Wherever there is a human being, there’s an opportunity for kindness. Being kind, caring and loving really matters in life.

6. My parents were right! Everything does seem worse at night. Our isolation and insignificance seem so much greater when everyone else is asleep. Try to rest and take comfort in the approaching sunrise and where possible never let the sun set on your anger.

7. Find ways of doing service and charity to others in need. It’s some of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have. You come to love those you serve.

8. “For better or for worse” means just that. Let those that you love know it often and enthusiastically. You can never say it or show it too much. Your time, total presence, love, and genuine concern for their wellness is the greatest gift of all.

9. Forgiving yourself is far harder than forgiving someone else. And, I believe, it’s never complete. Forgiveness is not so much about the other person. It’s about you and for you so that you can gain the peace and freedom you deserve. To forgive or not to forgive is one of our life choices, I think from my experience in life it is always more freeing to forgive. Forgive quickly and often.

10. When the chips are down, family and good close friends are who will come through for you. Surround yourself with people who love and support you. And, love and support them right back! Life is too short for anything less.

11. Our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become. Always remember that no matter what you do in life that there is no greater thing that you can do than to love someone or care for someone or be there for someone. Be that someone! That is what life is really all about at the end of the day!

12. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about. Don’t take life too seriously! Nobody gets out alive anyway. Smile. Hug. Pray. Be you. Take chances. Have fun.

13. Be grateful for everything. Light candles in thanksgiving. Our entire life is a precious gift. The pleasure, joy, sadness and the pain. It’s all part of our life journey.

14. Stop worrying and start loving and living! Make everyone of your days here on earth count for the good of yourself and for others. Choose life and love for something can be lost and gained in living life every day.

15. Choose love and happiness when you can. Walk cheerfully. Celebrate the journey. It’s not all about the destination. Savour all of your successes, even the small ones.

16. Let go of resentment. Holding a grudge is letting someone live rent-free in your head.

17. You don’t need everyone to like you. If the people closest to you love you, the ones who don’t, don’t matter.

18. Addiction is no respecter of people, no matter who or what you are. It will seek to destroy anyone who gets caught in its web. Pray the Serenity Prayer as I do everyday – not because I want to, but because I need to!

19. Life is all about expectations. Stop expecting impossible perfection, in yourself and others. Don’t become so focused on your own goals and desires that you miss out on the beauty in life and the people around you. The world is stunningly beautiful when you walk around with eyes wide open. Don’t make your work ‘king’, leave that position for your family and friends.

20. No one gets through this life without some trials or tribulations. Everyone is fighting a battle or trial of some kind. Be kind always. Don’t be jealous of others, always try to be thankful for the blessings you have in your life and cherish them. for you have no idea what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes. Always, as much as possible, express your thanks and gratitude to people who have helped you along life’s way.

21. Don’t worry about what people think of you. Love you and then you will be able to love others. If you want something, ask for it because if you don’t the answer will always be no. Don’t judge others or compare yourself to others, work hard at been you.

22. Debit and debts ruins lives. Try to avoid them at all cost!

23. Never send a letter, card, email or text message when you’re mad. If you want to write an angry message, do it. Just don’t send it.

24. You can’t change people. You can only change yourself but only if you truly want too. You either have to accept people for who they are or not at all.

25. Learn to embrace change, even when it arrives with its companions, fear and uncertainty. Be the change for good that you would like to see in the world.

26. Giving is better than receiving. If you continually give, you will continually have. Giving is the secret to receiving. Share your wisdom, your love, your talents and abilities. Share freely and be amazed at how much beauty in life flows back to you. But be careful not to give too much because if you empty out your own heart and soul completely, you will have nothing left to give.

27. Being thankful and grateful are the best ways to find contentment. Personally I don’t think there is any way to find contentment without thanksgiving. It takes our focus off what we don’t have and onto what we do have. Practice gratitude where and when you can.

28. Learn the art of empathy and practice it. Never underestimate the power of a smile, a hug, a kind word, a prayer, a candle lighting or a listening ear.

29. Love and care for your children with all your heart and soul and always try to be a good example of love and care for them.

30. Everyone yearns for success, love, honours, security, enjoyment and a better future. Yes, of course have big beautiful dreams and goals. Chase them with as much passion as you can afford. But, also hold on to them ever so lightly. Be flexible and willing to flow as life comes at you and always try to enjoy the present moment.

31. Live in the now. Don’t let yesterday use up today. The present moment is the only one promised to any of us. Learn from your past and enjoy the beautiful memories, but don’t cling or let them worry you. And, dream big and be excited about the future, but don’t become obsessed. Love this moment, always.

32. Live your life by good example. Personal example and good actions carry much more weight than talking about them. Practice daily gratitude for all the blessings in your life, big and small. Not only is this a practice that feels amazing, in practicing regularly you are creating space for even more abundance of joy, love, health, and prosperity.

33. You can’t buy happiness. Everything that is wonderful about life doesn’t cost a penny. A long walk, a sunrise and sunset, a flower, nature, a prayer, a lighted candle for someone in need, a hug, a smile, a kiss, spending time with a good friend are all free.

34. You can’t please everyone! If you share something with enough people, you will upset someone, no matter what. That’s their problem, not yours. Never take things personally. What others do is a reflection of what’s going on in their own life and probably has little or nothing to do with you.

35. Mistakes are how we learn. Failures are the stepping stones to success. Perfectionism is an illusion. A painful one at that. Slow down. Strive for excellence, sure, but allow yourself room to learn lessons and permission to be happy regardless of outcome.

36. Say ‘Yes!’ to everything that strengthens you and builds you up. Say ‘No!’ to anything that doesn’t excite you or knocks you down. Time is one of our most precious commodities that we can never get back. Manage it well and wisely.

37. No matter how lonely you might feel, there is always someone who can relate to you. Perhaps you can’t talk to them right now, but they are out there. It’s OK not to be OK but it’s also OK to talk! There are lots of great charities, church groups and people out there that are good at listening! Be not afraid.

38. Nature, flowers and gardening are medicine for the heart, mind and soul. A walk in nature cures a lot. Taking in some fresh air and the beautiful landscape of this earth is amazingly head-clearing, grounding, and mood-lifting. You can learn a whole lot about life in your observation of the awesomeness which is nature. Plus you can’t beat a good walk along the prom at Salthill!

39. Sometimes we outgrow friendships. It doesn’t mean they’re bad or you’re bad. It just means you’re on different paths. Hold them in your heart, but when they start to hurt or hold you back, it’s time to give space or let go.

40. Relationships are messy at times because life is challenging. A conflict doesn’t mean the relationship has to come to an end. Everybody comes into our life for a reason. It is up to us to be open to the lesson they are meant to teach. The more someone rubs us the wrong way, the greater the lesson.

41. No one is in charge of your happiness except you. Not your parents, not your spouse, not your children, not your friends. You and only you are in charge of your happiness.

42. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and family will. Stay close. Our bodies are our vehicle to our dreams. Treat them with love and fuel them with the best health to feel vibrant and energised. But never obsess over image. Looks are subjective and will fade in time, anyway. Feeling good, healthy, and comfortable in our own skin is what matters most.

43. However bad a situation is, you will get through it, one way or another. We are all full of light. Some cast shadows on their own brightness. Be a beacon of light to others and show them the way especially those most in need in our world.

44. Trust your gut instinct. Let your heart and soul shine! Be you and be authentic. There is nobody else on this earth just like you. Dare to dream and go after those dreams!

45. Sometimes all you can do is breathe! Never give up or give in and always give it your best shot. Don’t put pressure on yourself. It’s okay to say no! Dwell, pray, breathe and listen to what your life is saying to you. Enjoy nature and the fresh air as much as you can. Walk or run or do both. Be active physically and mentally if you can.

46. Mistakes are only lessons to be learned. So never regret anything that has happened in your life. Take it all as lessons learned and move on with grace.

47. The best is yet to come. Reflect on your life. Wake up, pray and meditate, get up, clean up and show up in everything in life and make the most of it as much as you can.

48. Experience is the greatest teacher of all. Thank God for your blessings and ask for strength for the journey. Say thank you often.

49. This wise prayer is one that keeps me going in the right direction, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The world is our mirror. What we love in others is a reflection of what we love about ourselves. What upsets us about others is a strong indication of what we need to look at more closely within ourselves.

50. Find your passion. Discovering something you love to do has an amazing effect on your entire life. In being true to yourself, you can’t possibly make everybody else happy. Still, it’s better to risk being disliked for living your truth than to be loved for what you are pretending to be.

I have a lot left to learn. Life still has many lessons left to teach me, and I’m looking forward to them all. To the people who tell me that I’m too nice, I may not worry about what people think of me as much as I’ve grown older, but you will never catch me being unkind. I see no reason for it. Being kind is one of the greatest lessons I have learned and lived in my 50 years so far on this journey called life. Another is pray and pray often for yourself and for one another and especially for anyone in need.

To celebrate being 50…

I’m planning on making this year the best year ever. I am filled with anticipation of what this next phase of my life will bring and I welcome it all. One of my big plans this year is to walk 250km from Dublin Bay to Galway Bay (an Irish Camino) – the Bay to Bay Charity Walk – in thanksgiving and prayerfulness for reaching my 50th year and for also reaching my 25th year of working in the developing world with the poorest of the poor. The walk will raise funds for Gorta Self Help Africa, Galway Rape Crisis Centre and a homeless charity in Offaly. I hope to leave Dublin Bay on 27 March and arrive into Galway Bay on Saturday 1 April to take part in a charity 5km walk at 3pm along the Salthill Prom in to raise funds for women’s and children’s projects in Ethiopia, Galway and Offaly. I know people won’t be able to walk the full 250km with me over the 6 days but if anyone would like to join me along any part of the route from Dublin to Galway from Monday 27 March to Saturday 1 April or to take part in the 5km walk along the prom from Claddagh Hall at 3pm on Saturday 1 April and maybe collect some sponsorship via our registered sponsorship cards or make a donations towards the charities that would be great. For further information please contact me at [email protected] africa.org. Thanks always for all your help and support over the years, it is greatly appreciated.

Thought for the week

As your thought for the week, look at your experiences over the years and see what lessons you have learned, and what you are doing about them. Go after your dreams, for happy are those that dream dreams but even happier are those who try to achieve them. Go achieve them. Life is short!