Forty Things I Learnt Before Turning 40: Lesson Twenty-Four

I learnt to pay attention to the signs that appear in our lives. Life is always presenting us with signs, but sometimes we are too busy to recognise them. In my years as a teacher, I’ve seen signs or even patterns repeating; and depending on your mindset, these can often be good or bad. Whatever the situation, I always strive to find a silver lining, looking for the lesson involved as an opportunity to put into practice the strength or wisdom I’ve gained from a past situation. However, I can understand how some people may get stuck in the ‘why is this always happening to me’ narrative. The way I see it though, these things will continually happen to us, in some shape or form, until we have learnt what we need to learn from the situation/experience. In her song ‘exile’ Taylor Swift sings, alongside Bon Iver:

I think I’ve seen this film before
And I didn’t like the ending

The duet is a conversation that goes back and forth between a couple whose relationship has ended, surrounded by some ambiguity. This difference of perspective is definitely highlighted in the latter choruses where they sing in unison but also over the top of each other:

All this time
I never learned to read your mind (never learned to read my mind)
I couldn’t turn things around (you never turned things around)
’Cause you never gave a warning sign (I gave so many signs)

Sometimes we can be blind to what’s really going on as we are overwhelmed by the emotions of the situation we are in. I’m sure we’ve all been there, be it in relationships, jobs or something else. But more times than not, the signs are there.

As Albert Einstein famously said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” These signs may come our way for a reason, history repeating, and it’s up to us if we choose to see them and learn from them, so we can create a new narrative, change our own endings.

Alicia Keys writes in her memoir, More Myself, “those patterns appear time and again, often cleverly disguised. And they’ll keep showing up until we’re willing to truly look at them. Before then, my life had been kicking and screaming, trying to get my full attention. I finally tuned in and took inventory. I had cleared my voice and my space, creating room for a miracle I couldn’t have known was coming.”

History will keep repeating, in different contexts and situations until we’ve learnt what we need to. I remember the second school I worked at and how after a number of years patterns or signs began to appear. At the time I remember thinking, “I’ve been here before.” By looking inward and reflecting, I was able to use what I’d learnt from similar past experiences and navigate the reoccurring situation more effectively. It was more about taking back control of a situation than letting the situation have control over me. Delta Goodrem sings about this exact notion in her song ‘Control,’

I, I’ve been at this too long, when I know that it’s wrong to be here
Tonight, I’m just letting you know,
I’m taking back control
Watch as I leave, ache to your soul
Baby, I’m taking back control

I guess it’s about how you treat your mind; and what you choose to give your attention to or focus on. If you continually focus on the negative, you’re more likely to see the negative in your day. Alternatively, the opposite is true; the more time you spend drawing your attention to the positives, the more likely you are to recognise all the good things in your day and your life. You need to do the work yourself, no one else can do it for you. For the longest time, I’ve loved the upbeat vibe of Ace of Base’s song ‘The Sign,’ and I believe the message to be so true.

I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign
Life is demanding without understanding
I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign
No one’s gonna drag you up
To get into the light where you belong

But how do we get our minds to SEE these signs? Do things ever happen by chance? Or are there always signs, trying to warn us, guiding us in the right direction, bringing our focus to something important or a lesson we need to learn?

In his memoir, Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey reflects on this thought also.

I had crossed a truth. Did I find it? I don’t know, I think it found me. Why? Because I put myself in a place to be found. I put myself in a place to receive it. How do we know when we cross a truth or a truth crosses us? I believe the truth is all around us all the time. The anonymous angels, the butterflies, the answers are always right there, but we don’t always identify, grasp, hear, see or access them — because we’re not in the right place to.”

It’s taken some time, but I feel like I’m better at noticing those patterns, those signs, the warnings to do things differently to avoid a repetition of hardship. I’ve gotten better at trusting my intuition and taking alternative routes when roads seem familiar. And just like Taylor sings in ‘Look What You Made Me Do,’

But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time
Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time

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