My Top Lessons for Creating a Life You Love

Six Lessons I’ve Learned that Will Help You

My 40th birthday is coming up this weekend (July 12th) and as I hit this big milestone, I’ve been reflecting on where I’ve been, what I’ve learned and how I’ll use it to propel me forward to where I want to go.

My life looks and, most importantly, feels a lot different than it did when I rounded the corner to age 30 and even age 35. I’ve learned so many lessons that changed my life and continue to guide me.

Today, in celebration of my big 4-0, I’m super excited to share the top lessons I’ve learned over the past decade with you!

You have one life to live. There are no second chances. No do-overs. You get one go ’round at this life. Why would you spend one more minute waiting to be happy?

This thought changed my entire life.

It came to me, like a single ray of sun breaking through thick clouds in a dark storm, as I sat in the hospital with Vivian when she was 3 months and recovering from 7-hour neurosurgery for a tumor on her spinal cord. 

That experience and the anger, fear and hurt that I felt, brought my life and my goals into clear focus and made me realize I was waiting for my life to start. Waiting for situations to improve and people to change so that I could finally feel happy. 

That thought made me realize if I kept waiting, it would be too late – life would pass me by and I wouldn’t get another chance at it. 

So I stopped waiting.

And I invite you to do the same.

If there are parts of your life where you feel like you’re waiting, going through the motions, focused on some future destination of happiness where you believe you’ll finally find lasting happiness, I encourage you to shift.

The answers aren’t out there. Focus your attention inside and you will find what you’re looking for. 

You are not your thoughts.

Ekhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now, taught me this and it was such a breakthrough for me.

I’d lived my life believing I needed to take credit for all the thoughts my brain had – after all, it was responsible for my success and my intelligence was a defining part of my identity. But it was also where all my insecurity, loneliness and fear came from.

My head does a great job of instantly spinning worse-case-scenario stories, reminding me of my inadequacies and whispering how much more I could be doing, being and achieving. When I realized I didn’t have to attach myself to all the thoughts that went through my head, it was so freeing. 

Thoughts are merely the things your brain does, just as digestion is what your stomach does.

You don’t have to react to and participate in all the thoughts it has. When you are able to observe your thoughts and let the ones that don’t serve pass by without holding to them, you have thoughts with intention and create a life with intention.

You can choose to be a victim of circumstance or a student of the universe.

When I first got separated, I blamed everything on my husband. I was pissed, hurt and resentful. Everything was his fault and I couldn’t wait to finally be out. But then I realized, in blaming everything on him, I gave away all my power. If I was merely a victim of circumstance and this was truly all his fault, what was to stop this from happening to me again?

I started getting honest about how I’d contributed to the state of our relationship, the patterns and pain I needed to own, and it was so empowering. I was no longer a victim; I was a student. 

It’s easier to blame things and people for the mess we’re in because it keeps our ego intact. But it’s totally dis-empowering. 

When I was willing to drop my ego enough to look honestly at my own reactivity, actions and thoughts, I learned from them so I could make true and lasting change – based on taking responsibility for myself rather that waiting for circumstances to change.

What can you learn about yourself from the situations you’re in? What patterns are you repeating? This isn’t about saying “Well, I learned never to trust them again…” though that may be a part of it. It’s an invitation to look closely and honestly at how you contributed to creating the situation so that you can learn and grow yourself.

I truly believe everything is always as it should be – because it’s what is. There’s no use in wishing for things to be different because they’re not. So what can you learn from how things are to create something different in the future? 

The only way past is through.

I spent so much time avoiding my issues or pretending they weren’t there, hoping they’d magically disappear with time. But you know what? It never worked.

Instead, they stayed, hovering like a dark cloud that dimmed the light in every part of my life. The distractions I used to avoid facing my issues – food, alcohol, work, achievement, relationships, things – consumed all my energy and left me exhausted and depleted.

When I first got separated, I made the life-changing decision to allow myself to feel all my emotions, rather than numb or distract myself from my sadness. I chose to ride the waves of anguish and pain until the storm passed and the sun shone again. 

When the storm cleared, I was stronger, braver and wiser than I’d been before because I allowed myself to go through it. 

When we don’t trust ourselves to face our fear and go through our pain, we aren’t actually preventing it. We’re merely spreading it out, painting it like a thick layer of gray across the entire canvas of our lives that dulls and dims our entire existence.

Yes, going through it can be intense, dark and painful, but after the storm, there is always a beautiful sunset. And, after you’ve passed through the darkness, you’ll appreciate the warmth of the sun with a depth and fervor you never had before.

Once you know how to be, then you’ll know what to do.

I learned this the hard way after leaving my career at Google and realizing my identity was based on what I did and where I worked. I attached my value to the value I added and believed deep down that the more I did, the more worthy I was. 

Most of my life had been spent hustling or, as I called it, dancing for my dinner. I had no idea how to be, or truly, who I was beyond all the things I was doing.

I spent months after leaving Google detoxing from my habit of “doing” and learning who I was underneath it all. This is where the “Art of Undoing” comes from – because I had to learn how to un-do and how to be. 

As I became still enough to connect deeply with my being, I became more centered in who I am and the things I did became much more effortless. Hustling always felt like work – it was always a game of how to impress and achieve and included a lot of dodging and dancing to get it ‘right’. 

Now, the actions I take are directed from my center, not from the outside. And, when I do that, it doesn’t any of the effort or energy I used to put into the show.

This lesson is one that requires feeling not thinking. When I was first presented this lesson, I didn’t understand it. Doing from being? Huh? 

But, I promise, if you are brave enough to stop doing and get centered in your being, you will feel the truth of every word, just as I and so many of my clients have.

Do what feels good.

By the time I was 12 years old, I was anorexic. At 15, I slid into what became a decades-long battle with bulimia. I’ve waged a war against my body most of my life, believing if I punished and shamed it enough, it might finally comply and become the perfect body I dreamed of.

From how I exercised to what I ate and drank to how I slept and everything in between, all my actions were based on doing what looked good or what sounded good. Diets and exercise classes looked good, drinking wine every night sounded good.

But none of it actually felt good. Maybe in the moment some of it did, like the wine – but the next day, I’d feel sluggish and dim. Most of my days were filled with feeling restricted and boxed in and then doing things to distract myself from feeling the confinement.

I wasn’t listening to my body at all – I was listening to my head which told me all the ways my body was woefully inadequate. When I finally started listening to my body and allowing it to tell me what it needed in order to feel good, energized and healthy, everything changed.

Doing what feels good requires paying attention to how all your daily micro-decisions make you feel, from the people you’re around, to the food and drinks you consume to how you exercise and sleep. Do you feel more energized or drained as a result? 

The more things you do that give you energy rather than deplete it, the better you feel and more able you are to face the challenges you’ve been too exhausted to deal with. And, most importantly: what feels good to you isn’t always what feels good to someone else. That’s ok. Their path is not your path. Don’t allow yourself to be confined by trying to fit on someone else’s path.

These lessons truly have changed my life and continue to be guideposts in my journey. My wish for my 40th birthday is that they can inspire and help you on yours.

As a gift to me, I’d love more than anything to hear from you:

  • Which of these lessons resonate most with you and why?
  • Any lightbulb moments that inspired you?
  • What’s one of your greatest life lessons?

Let me know in the comments below and please, share this article with anyone who could use these lessons as well!

With all my love,


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  1. Elise says:

    First of all, HAPPY 40TH BIRTHDAY, Gerdsy! You’re better than you’ve ever been, and I can’t wait to see how you grow over the next 40 years! Love this article! I think this should resonate with everyone who reads it. I like how you point that it’s important for us to not wait for our lives to start or for things to change and just go for what we want. WE make the change. Easier said than done, but you’re living proof of how much better things can get just by taking action, big or small, to move towards change. Love you!

  2. Nycole Kelly says:

    Happy Birthday Erika! Thank you for sharing. My favorite line as I read this today: “There’s no use in wishing for things to be different because they’re not. So what can you learn from how things are to create something different in the future?”
    So true.

  3. Michelle Mary Rotter says:

    Happy Birthday Erika! So many of these points resonate with me, especially the wine:)
    I love the idea that I don’t have to attach myself to all the thoughts that go through my head, because I, too, get lost in my own head! I just strive to do my best and be a good person:) xoxo

    • Erika Gerdes says:

      Such good goals, Michelle! Thank you so much for the birthday wishes and for reading and sharing!! Also, you’re not a good person; you’re an AMAZING person. XX

  4. Aprajita Jain says:

    Erica, I absolutely love reading your posts, and especially this one. It’s so rare to see people that are equal parts confident, vulnerable and inspiring. I love that about you and try to be as much of this combo as I can myself. Keep sharing your wisdom. The world needs more of it!

    • Erika Gerdes says:

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Aprajita! I really appreciate your support and know without a doubt that you, too, are exactly what you see in me: confident, vulnerable and inspiring! XX