When I was growing up, being in your 30s seemed mysterious and unfathomable. Even in my early 20s, the people I knew in their 30s seemed… remote. I just had no idea what being “that old” would feel like. Now that I’m on the precipice of 40, I can’t say I feel the same about the next two decades. The years are coming so fast; I’m pretty sure that at 49 and 59 I’ll feel a bunch of the same things I’m feeling today:

Life is so sweet and fleeting. Where in the hell is the time going?

This past year of my life has really run the extremes. I’ve had some of the most joyful, happy hours of my life as well as some of the most lonely and desperate. I’m grateful for this year of change that’s truly stretched me. Here are three touchstone lessons from this year that I’m carrying into the next:

Take candy from strangers.

This summer I had a conversation with an old friend over lunch. I was explaining how lonely and disoriented I’ve felt since moving across the country, and she said a lot of things that day that helped me feel better and shift my outlook. The most important was: Embrace strangers. (Not literally.) But she encouraged me to be open to letting strangers give me the energy and love that the universe might be trying to send my way.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am NOT a big chit-chat-with-the-clerk-at-the-grocery-store kind of person. But I’ve been giving this one a try and I have to say that it’s working. Once I get my head out of my own redundant busy buzz, I’m finding that there’s a lot of good juju waiting for me in the smiles and kind words of strangers. And, at this point, I’ll take all the love and help (and candy) I can get.

Be the Blessing.

In August I discovered this beautiful prayer that the Dali Lama prays each day. Here’s an excerpt:

May I be a guard for those who need protection…
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood,
May I be a lamp in the darkness,
A resting place for the weary…

I certainly don’t imagine I come close to achieving any of these things yet! But taking a moment to reread this daily snapped me out of a bad habit I was in of spending way too much time thinking about how I could impress other people. And it got me back into a habit of thinking more about how to be of compassionate help to others (which is so much more important to me!).

Remember Who You Are.

Intelligent. Thoughtful. Determined. Gritty. Resilient. Resourceful. Creative. Loyal. Brave. Loving. Expressive. Appreciates and seeks beauty.

When I texted 3 friends and my husband last month saying, “I’m doing a project! What do you think are my 3 best qualities?” I wasn’t really sure what I’d get. The results were fascinating—seeing both the similarities in responses as well as the differences. It was incredibly powerful and humbling to have other people hold up their mirrors to reflect what they see back at me. (And as a birthday exercise, I highly recommend it…)

And now I’m 39, and it turns out that I don’t mind getting older. (Forty, Shmorty!! could become my new motto.) But what I DO hate is the thought that the people around me are getting older, too.  The yucky truth is that time moving forward also means time moving closer to the day that I will have to go on without the people I love most.

This future without my loved ones is currently mysterious and unfathomable to me (not to mention sad and slightly terrifying).  And I can’t say know exactly what 49, 59, or 69 will bring.  But I know I can probably get through it if I’m willing to embrace more strangers, cultivate my inner raft, and keep reminding myself how resilient, brave, and resourceful I can be.

*Special thanks to G, S, J, L, E and the D.L. for their lessons and encouragement this year…