by Sal Robertson


sal robertson





I'm sal robertson

I'm a 52 year old life + business coach, aspiring writer, entrepreneur and mother of three (ages 21, 18 and 14) plus a doting mother to my furry son, Milo.

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As you reflect on the past year (or decade), be kind to yourself.

November 18, 2019


It’s the time of year when we start to think about the year ahead and the resolutions or goals that we want to set for ourselves.  It is also a time of year when we tend to reflect back on the year that is coming to a close.  Because we are coming to the end of not just a year but also a decade, I’ve noticed that a number of the podcasts I listen to or the newsletters I read are by people reviewing the past decade.  Most of them are celebrating how much their lives had changed for the better during the past 10 years.

As I listened to some of these podcasts and read the newsletters, I was noticing that I was starting to beat myself up about things I could have done differently in the past decade and how different my life could have looked today if I had done those things.

Ten years ago, I told my parents that my husband and I were getting divorced.  My father is a staunch Catholic.  My mother isn’t but oh my goodness she could have been as she can dole out guilt and judgment like no-one else I know.  So that conversation a decade ago was a tough one to have.  Fast forward ten years and I am about to tell them yet again that I’m getting divorced.  Because I stayed in that marriage for 10 more years.  10 more pretty brutal years, to be honest.

Why do we stay in situations that cause us so much pain and cause us to become a smaller and less interesting version of who we really are?

In my case, it was mostly “for the sake of my children”.  With hindsight, I’m fairly sure that my staying in the marriage has caused them more pain than it saved them from.  Or maybe they have experienced a different pain than if the marriage had ended 10 years ago.

I’m not sure why I thought that living with two people who should never have been married would be a healthy or happy environment for three children to grow up in.  I know from my own childhood how awful it is to be raised by two people who don’t like each other!  I never imagined that I would inflict that same experience upon my own children.  Until I did.

What I have learned in the past decade is that it’s very easy to grow accustomed to being unhappy.  To walking on egg shells.  Looking back, I think I spent a lot of my childhood walking on egg shells because of a fear of upsetting my mother.  So living like that feels very familiar and, even comfortable, to me.  I’m remarkably good at it, sadly.

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This past year has been one of the most challenging and unhappy years of my life.  You don’t really expect to hear that from a life coach but I think it’s so important to share the bad as well as the good.  To talk about the challenges we face as well as the causes for celebration.  The gift of this challenging year is that it makes me a much more compassionate and empathetic coach, friend and mother.  Because I truly understand how hard it is to pursue goals and dreams when you’re struggling to face each new day.  And, yet, I also know how vital it is to keep those dreams front and central as they will save you if you let them.  They will remind you of who you really are even when you are constantly being berated and belittled by those who claim to love you.

In the world we live in where social media is such a large part of our daily lives, we can be forgiven for thinking that everyone is living picture-perfect lives in perfect marriages with perfect children.  That they go on perfect vacations and have perfect relationships with relatives (especially as we receive holiday cards with 3 generations of family members in perfectly-coordinated outfits).   The more I talk to people in the real world, the more that I learn how far people’s curated social media lives are from the reality they are living.

As I told a friend yesterday that my husband and I are getting divorced, she shared how many people she knows at the moment who are in the same situation.  It’s another aspect of this particular chapter of our lives (our 40’s and 50’s) when I think that we reach the tipping point of misery!  The chafing of the misery of living in an unhappy marriage finally becomes too much to bear which is why I think we see so many marriages ending during these years.

As our children reach high school or college, we also become so aware of how fast time has passed.  I often wonder if people who don’t have children notice the passage of time in the same way.  This year will be our fifteenth and final year at Hoboken Charter School as my son is now an 8th grader and will graduate from that school in June.  My 20 year old daughter started kindergarten at the school when she was 5.  It is the end of an incredibly important chapter in our family’s life.

Those 15 years have passed so quickly.  It makes me very conscious of how fast time is passing and how precious time is.  Far too precious to be spent in marriages, careers, relationships or friendships that cause us pain.  Too many of us spend decades sacrificing our joy and sanity in the mistaken and misguided belief that doing so is worth it if it makes someone else happy.

I believe that the greatest gift we can give to ourselves, to our children and to our friends and family is to live our own lives as fully and joyfully as possible.  Which may mean making and acting upon some decisions that are difficult in the short term in order to extricate ourselves from difficult and debilitating situations.

A number of years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Elizabeth Gilbert talk at an event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of O Magazine.  She gave the most beautiful speech which made me cry as I sat in the audience.  In it, she talked about how hard women tend to be on themselves.  How much we demand of ourselves.  She said that we need to drop the knives that we are holding to our own necks.

Click here to watch Liz’s speech.

As I tried to find the speech online to share in this newsletter, I found this wonderful post that Liz shared on her Facebook page in 2014:

“Here’s a note that I wrote to myself the other day, after doing some soul-searching about the most painful and difficult kind of forgiveness of all — self-forgiveness.

If you are like me (and I’m going to guess you are, if you are here) then you carry around a giant pile of shame about all your failings, shortcomings, mistakes and perceived sins.

I always knew that I had a problem with self-forgiveness. I knew that I’ve always had trouble letting myself off the hook, and that sometimes I am unable to drop the knife that I’ve been holding to my own throat in self-punishment. I felt that I’ve made a lot of progress on that over the years, and I felt like I understood the origins of my own self-abuse. But I was amazed to find — while doing my forgiveness work — that so much of the anger and sadness and frustration that I feel toward OTHER PEOPLE is actually tangled up in anger at MYSELF.

Let me explain: As I dissected some of my lasting grudges and resentments toward other people, the story always came back to me. I realized that (deep down) I blamed myself more than I blamed them. I might be angry at someone else for taking advantage of me, for instance, but I was FURIOUS at myself — for allowing myself to be taken advantage of.  And my fury at myself was often greater, deeper, and more toxic than my anger at the other person. Because that person might be an asshole, sure…but *I* was an IDIOT. Because I was the stupid, blind fool who had allowed it to happen.

Here is the mantra of the person who cannot forgive herself:

“You should have known better, you should have known better, you should have known better…”

And what was I furious at myself about? Every single time?


But how can you abuse yourself for not having known something before you knew it? That’s so unfair to yourself.

Think of it this way: Imagine that you are in a classroom, on the very first day of school, and you are about to begin studying French, for the very first time in your life. And imagine if the teacher walked into the room and immediately started screaming at you for not being able to speak French yet.  That would be crazy, right? Because: How could you? How could you know French, before you learned French?   How could you know any of your life’s most important lessons, before you learned them?

This may sound almost insanely simplistic, but here goes: YOU CANNOT KNOW SOMETHING BEFORE YOU KNOW IT.

The question of what you should have known (or should have done, or should have stopped, or should have seen coming)…well, this is all just cruelty against a more innocent version of your beautiful, evolving self.  We learn what we learn when we learn it…and not a moment before.

Some of these lessons take a long time to learn — because of your upbringing, your blind spots, your karma, your destiny, your delusions…whatever.  But life will keep trying to teach you, until you finally figure it out. And eventually you will figure it out.  The person who you are today must forgive your younger self for what she could not possibly have known yet at the time. It wasn’t because she was stupid, or evil, or terrible…she had simply not taken that class yet.  We are all just students in this classroom. We are all beginners.  Embrace the lessons when you finally learn them, forgive yourself for what you did not know earlier, and move forward in grace and peace and self-compassion.  Here’s what I’ve found: Once I start to forgive myself, it becomes curiously easy to forgive other people. Because I can see that they are just students, too. (They do not know what they cannot yet know.). So once more I will say it: Drop the knife that you are holding to your own neck.  It is time to set yourself free — and in doing so, you will free others, as well.


So, as I reflect upon the last year and the last decade, I am going to drop the knife that I have been holding to my own neck and forgive myself for not making the tough decisions and acting upon them sooner.  I am going to embrace the lessons that I have finally learned, forgive myself for what I didn’t (fully) know earlier, and move forward in to this brand new decade in grace and peace and self-compassion.

I wish the very same for you as you live the final days of this year and decade and as you embark upon the decade that is about to begin.

What life “classes” have you taken during the past year or decade?  What do you now fully know?  Where do you need to drop the knife that you are holding to your own neck?

May you show up as the fullest expression of who you really are in the years ahead!  That is the goal that is going to be the very foundation of every decision I make and every thing I do moving forward.

I’m excited for what lies ahead in this next chapter of my own life and in your next chapter too!

Big hugs xoxo

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i'm sal robertson

I'm a 52 year old life + business coach, entrepreneur and founder of The Next Chapter Lab.  My mission is to encourage women in their 50's to make this next chapter their happiest and most meaningful one yet!

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