01/26/2013 11:28 EST | Updated 03/27/2013 05:12 EDT

A Year Older, and Wiser? My Birthday Reflections

I'm a January baby, so it's almost like I have two new years in the first month of the year... If January 1 is the start of a calendar year, I also look at my own birthday as marking a more personal fresh start.

It seems like the New Year and its associated resolutions are ruled by my head -- all the things I know I should be doing, whether they're external or internal changes. But my birthday is ruled by my heart -- I feel my way through it -- a whole year's worth of gratitude, support, optimism, love and friendship. And I check in with myself in a much more subjective way. It's less about ticking "to do" lists and more about registering my own feelings with regards to where I am now, the age I'm at, what that means to me.

It need not be your birthday to explore these kinds of reflections, but here are some of the things I'm feeling as I celebrate my own:

(1) Life plans and lessons

I've always been a big advocate for planning for the future. In fact, I think a lot about the future in every aspect of my life -- professional and personal. But I think I've learned in the last year the difference between exact planning versus preparing for what you hope will happen.

The truth is that we can't plan our lives down to every detail... we don't have that much control over the world around us or the people in our lives. But we can position ourselves in the best way for the outcome we're hoping for, staying open to opportunities and 'sign posts' from the universe.

Making life plans is less like reading music from a score and more like standing up with your instrument and improvising. You're drawing from all the knowledge you carry inside of you, hours of practice and rehearsal. But, ultimately, you're thinking on your feet. It's in that blend of preparation and improvisation that the magic creeps in. By relinquishing a little control, wonderful things can happen.

(2) Unconditional love

Allowing myself to give and receive unconditional love was one of my New Year resolutions and it's also one of my birthday ones. Losing my beloved dog Deecoy has made for a difficult start to the year, but I'm trying to hold on to his memory and spirit by reaffirming this resolution now -- because he definitely brought unconditional love to my life every day.

I'm learning that unconditional love means a lot of patience and openness. It means more actively listening and empathizing. These are all things I want to manifest in my daily life -- I think we all strive to! But we also know there are times when we're feeling so deeply that it's difficult to pull back and create that kind of gentle, open space... After all, we all have needs and wants. But sometimes letting our own needs and wants sit on the sideline and focusing on simply loving and on being loved reminds you of what's really important, what gives meaning to everything else.

(3) Appreciating the age I am

You can't turn on the television or open a magazine without seeing some anti-aging beauty advertisement and I definitely try to take care of myself too and love those products that help me look and feel my best (I'd be lost without my favourite Kiehl's Powerful Wrinkle Reducing eye cream and my 5k runs every morning). But it's no wonder that aging is such a loaded issue for so many women. Birthdays can sometimes be accompanied with much groaning about being yet another year older.

This birthday, I've resolved to think of myself as not just a year older, but to also register and celebrate what that year contained, the lessons I learned, the unconditional love I found, the sorrow and challenges and joy that filled my days. After all, THIS is my life and I'm grateful for ALL it holds, for the things I feel and experience now as a woman, that I could never have known or felt as a young girl.

When I was twenty-something I didn't have the wisdom to appreciate many thing I had then. But I'm wiser now, and I'm going to appreciate my own body. I still have insecurities and I don't expect they'll ever go away. But 20 years from now I don't want to be thinking "if only you'd appreciated the way you looked then!" This isn't about clinging to the past, but recognizing that life holds so much and I'm going to embrace everything I've got now, insecurities and all!

(4) Following the signs

Although life can be challenging, I really believe the universe is looking after me. I don't know what form this higher power takes, but I do believe I'm being cared for and that hard times are an opportunity to learn valuable lessons -- about the world, about myself and about other people.

One of my (not-so-guilty) pleasures is reading my horoscope every day. I especially love Phil Booth's horoscopes and sometimes find it almost uncanny -- like he's talking right to me. Maybe you don't believe in such things and find your signposts elsewhere. The important point isn't about WHERE you find those guiding signals but THAT you're open to them, that you face challenges and continue to learn and grow.

The last year was a real mixed-bag for me. There were times when I thought I had found the rhythm, only to realize that the beat had changed again. There were times when I felt like I couldn't keep up and other times when I was going too fast... and it was challenging. But every day is a new day. I do my best, I look to the universe for guidance and I never let myself become jaded or pessimistic.

I believe in being true to myself in the moment, even if it's not the best moment, and trusting the universe is guiding me in the right direction is key to my happiness, now and always and at every age.