The old adage “stop and smell the roses” has never been a more fitting description of my life than it has been here recently. In fact, it’s become my motto … my continuous reminder during this unique time in our lives where, like many of you, I find myself wrapped up in overwhelming feelings of trying to get everything done — work full-time, help my daughter with school and provide the support my nonverbal autistic son needs — when there is little time to accomplish it all.

Life, in general, can be filled with craziness, and right now — because of the pandemic — all of us are faced with endless unknowns. When will we be able to see our friends again? When will we be able to visit a store without wearing a mask? When will we be able to hug again? When will life get back to normal? It’s easy to get consumed by the “what ifs,” but what if you paused to soak up the blessings and life lessons that you are getting the opportunity to learn along the way?

When my son was diagnosed with autism years ago, I had an entirely different set of unknowns that I was faced with. And over time, I’ve been able to uncover answers to some of our previous unknowns. But each time I do, I get faced with many more new ones. Often, I feel overwhelmed and helpless, but it’s usually at these times that I am reminded that the adventure of raising a special-needs child has been a blessing in disguise all along. In fact, I’ve come to learn a lot more about life and about myself through my son, Skyler.

Patience is a virtue.

“They who can have patience can have what they will.” — Benjamin Franklin

We are not born patient. Patience is actually learned behavior that we finesse through our life’s experiences. In today’s society, we have come to expect the instantaneous, the rapid, the quick, the get-it-done-right-now. We are simply impatient people living in an impatient society during an impatient time. We want it and we want it now. It’s as simple as that.

But when life feels out of control, I’ve come to learn that having and exercising patience allows me to take back an element of control within myself and of my surroundings. I can’t always control everything … I can’t make Amazon deliver my package more quickly or pressure the store to have all the cleaning supplies and toilet paper that I need right here and now. Without patience, all I’m left with is anxiety, frustration and anger. Patience does not give you the power over your circumstances, but rather it does help you accept both how you feel about a given situation and what you can realistically do about it.

I learned the need for having patience a long time ago, but I continue to learn the need to strengthen it every day. Skyler requires my patience. He’s a regimented kid, so if I want him to try a new food or be open to a change in his schedule, I have learned the power of patience. Each time we try new medical treatment options, in hopes that it will help him progress to live his life to its fullest, yet again, I’m reminded of how important it is to have patience.

Progress doesn’t happen overnight for most of us. In fact, I have to remind myself that progress doesn’t mean reaching the end goal within my set expectations. Instead, it means taking one more step toward that direction. And the speed with which we achieve it, well … that is not within your span of control. Skyler reminds me that each person is born with a unique set of potential and as parents, friends, peers and loved ones, we should focus our energy on helping each person reach their potential — in their time, not ours — while we exercise a healthy dose of patience.

Live life with a grateful heart.

“Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.” — Lionel Hampton

There is a sense of joy and happiness that fills your heart and soul when you decide to live a life of gratitude. Much like patience, having a grateful heart is a choice that you get the opportunity to make. Sure, there are many things that you could easily complain about in life. You may have difficulties in your career, face financial struggles or have issues with your relationships. However, gratitude is not just an emotion to embrace, it’s a way of life that asks us to notice all that is already present and abundant — from the tiniest specks of beauty to the grandest of our blessings — and, in so doing, take nothing for granted. Even the most challenging times present opportunities to learn and grow if you approach them from a place of gratitude.

Over the years, I’ve learned that self-love, self-care and tending to my spiritual garden is neither selfish nor optional. The more whole I am, the more whole my children will be. The more present I am as a parent, a spouse, a co-worker and a friend, the more joyful the miraculous journey through life tends to be.

Being grateful doesn’t mean you always embrace the deck of cards life deals you with open arms. It doesn’t mean that you don’t wonder what life would be like if you faced different challenges than the ones you are currently facing. Instead, it’s about not looking for greener grass, but rather finding joy in the grass you are currently standing in. It’s about celebrating the small moments — for us, it’s celebrating a night where Skyler slept soundly throughout so that all of us woke up refreshed in the morning. When you have an attitude shaped by gratitude, you find that your life is filled with more blessings than you previously saw possible.

Release the goal of finding perfectionism.

“We can choose to be perfect and admired or to be real and loved.” — Glennon Doyle Melton

Too many of us have been conditioned to hold ourselves to impossible standards, which is an unhealthy and stressful state of mine to live in. Our belief may have been instilled in us by our parents or other influential people in our lives — even by the media. Comparison is often perceived as the highest form of flattery, however, spending time comparing and rating ourselves against others will frequently leave us coming up short in our estimation.

For decades, I thought perfectionism was a noble endeavor. I thought I should be everything to everyone … that I should strive for being a super mom without failing. I incessantly focused on achieving more — rather than appreciating the present. I would think, “If I can just maintain perfection, then I will be happy and so will everyone around me.” Trying to reach that unattainable goal drained my positive energy, strained my relationships and attempted to rob me of a life of fulfillment.

Let me say to you what you may find hard to say to yourself. Perfectionism isn’t achievable. Plain and simple. And you can do everything in your power to try to reach it, only to find out your attempts were unsuccessful. Stop. Don’t stop trying to be a better you but stop trying to be a better you in comparison to another. You were born with a unique set of talents, skills, traits and quirks. Have you ever considered that it is those elements — the things you may see as imperfect — that make you perfectly you?

Who knew that the little boy I welcomed into this world over 17 years ago could teach me so much about life and about myself? Maybe he has the power to teach you some life lessons too!