A Year In Lessons
Seven things I’ve learned in the past 365 days.
The older I get, the more I understand why people seek to make amends with their past. And yet the less inclined I am to revisit my own.
I think it’s important to make peace with my past, and sometimes that’s looked like apologizing to people I’ve hurt. There’s nothing like time passing and having the shoe on the other foot to get it, know what I mean?
And sure, I went through a period where growing up meant dealing with old conflicts and healing old wounds. But then I started taking more responsibility for my actions and behaving with integrity instead of self-interest. And I found myself apologizing less and less.
And I have no desire to unearth the past, expecting a different result. So if you come to me wanting to meet for coffee and talk about something that happened years ago, no thanks. I no longer have to resolve every little conflict I’ve faced with someone to feel okay about myself.
When “who I used to be” started to change, what I wanted began changing, too.
You know how they say that to get different results, you have to take a different approach? Yeah, well that’s proven correct in my life.
You may think you can’t control what you want in life because you’re just a sucker for your feelings and a victim of circumstance, but you forget that it’s your thoughts that impact how you feel. And to alter your thoughts, you’ve got to have an open mind, reap some self-awareness, make some mistakes, and educate yourself.
Then, all of a sudden, things start to change — because you do. At least I did. And in an instant, I began to want all the things I’d long written off as “not meant for me” like nice guys and a stable financial situation.
You know, the important stuff.
The people I hold close are intrinsically tied to my self-care.
The company you keep is the company you choose. And the better you know and care for yourself, the more selective you get.
You know, it seems obvious but this year I’ve learned that I’m not required to be friends with someone I don’t like. And while there are some people I can’t easily escape (family, coworkers, etc.), I can choose to set healthy boundaries in my interactions with them.
My main priority lately is making sure that I’m well-cared for. So if someone infringes upon my ability to respect myself, then I need to change how I approach them in my life.
The more I dive into my personal growth, the less I have faith in others’ likelihood of change.
It may sound like I’m self-righteous, but damn it, doing work on yourself is hard. Admitting all the ways in which I’ve behaved like a needy child in the past is a difficult pill to swallow. Being vulnerable with others is a scary thing because it means I can get hurt.
But it’s the only way for that needy little child to start growing up. Taking a look in the mirror and taking stock of all how I am responsible for the difficulties in my life. No longer blaming others and doing something about it. Resolving the childhood conflicts woven into the fabric of who I am so that I can no longer be at their mercy in all my relationships.
And the cornerstone of self-awareness is that I can only evoke direct change within myself — never within anyone else. Humans are only capable of change at their own volition. And unsurprisingly, so few people look into that mirror.
But who’s to say that someone’s not already doing their best? And besides, if I can approach someone without expectations, I deal with them precisely as they are, not based on how I want them to be, how they used to be, or how they could be.
It always seems impossible until it’s done.
Now this can be said about anything, really — but for sake of the argument, there are three huge things I’ve endeavored in the past year that are a testament to its truth.
- Getting engaged.
Being an adult child of divorce, and experiencing my slew of chaotic relationships, the prospect of marriage was elusive and foreign to me. It always seemed unrealistic to be in any relationship, never mind one with a nice guy, for more than a year without imploding. But a complicated man was a puzzle to solve-one that also served as a distraction from taking care of myself. And now I’m engaged to the nicest nice guy I’ve ever met.
- Buying a house.
In a month, I unilaterally managed to house hunt, find “the one,” make an offer, meet all conditions, organize financials, secure life, and property insurance, and close the deal. While I didn’t sleep very much, I somehow survived the ordeal. It was a huge learning curve, I found my first few grey hairs, but I got through it and now absolutely love being a homeowner.
- Having multiple careers.
I went to school to be one thing, then ended up employed in my early twenties being that one thing, only to realize that there are many more things in life that matter to me. So what did I do? Well, I quit my job, moved cities, and started working three different positions. I also had a minor (okay, major) identity crisis in the process, and eventually learned that I am not what I do, but rather a combination of my experiences, values, skills, and ability to learn.
I can harness my energetic sweet spot by indulging in my introversion and spending more time at home.
Since I began working different jobs, most of which from the comforts of my home, I started noticing a massive boost in energy and productivity. Convinced it was only temporary and would inevitably wear off, I rode the tide. Two years later I have more energy than ever, despite a lot more work and responsibility on my plate.
So what gives? According to Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet, you can consciously organize your life to maximize your sweet spots. Whether you’re introverted or extroverted (or somewhere in between), certain habits energize you, and other practices that drain you. For example, I love working by myself on my computer, taking breaks to read or garden, and must always have a hot cup of coffee next to me.
Cain argues that you can set up your work, hobbies, and social life to optimize your sweet spots and tap into the energy reserves they harbor. A long-time sufferer of poor sleep and little energy, paired with a high level of introversion, I used to think that something was wrong with me. I spent many years trying to short-circuit both my exhaustion and my introversion, and yet they only increased over time.
That is, until the past year. I didn’t consciously realize I was practicing this concept until I started noticing my level of productivity skyrocket while my exhaustion was being kept at bay. And no sacrifices needed to be made; I could now engage in a lifestyle that I’d otherwise have written off as an indulgence.
It seems so simple now that I put it into words, but for so many years I missed the boat on this one.
Most times, personal growth requires you to prove your former self wrong.
When I was younger I used to be comfortable in clutter, would keep every little relic, could never get rid of clothing, and often used my car as an extension of my closet. I also swore I’d never become the person who washed the large Tupperware containers by hand to “create more space in the dishwasher” and delay running it for another night. Because really: how obnoxious could you be?
And then I bought a house and started paying my electricity and water bills. So let’s say I am now the person who keeps her space meticulous, minimalist, and very very clean. Oh, and I have only energy-efficient LED lights installed and keep a close eye on my water consumption. I have two happy, healthy cats and have even managed to keep many houseplants thriving under my thumb.
Sometimes the things we dislike most in others are reflections of the unsettled parts of ourselves. Sometimes we’re so tethered to conflict that we can’t think straight long enough to care for and clean up after ourselves.
Either way, most times life has a very ironic sense of humor.
Shannon Leigh is a writer, letterer and curious cat. To learn more, visit her site.