Today I turned 27 years old. Many birthdays in the past were quite frankly unremarkable and I saw each one as just another dull year of existence gone by. However, this year is different — my growth and attainment of wisdom may not be apparent on the surface, and I am nowhere near the level of mastery that I aspire to achieve, but internally, I have changed for the better.
I feel like I am just getting started, like actually getting started in life due to how the past decade felt more like a dreary blur with moments that were quite unmemorable and honestly depressing. This year was a tremendous year of growth for me, and while it may seem underwhelming on the outside, I know I’ve transformed.
I know I’ve established some more positive habits and dug deeper into the core of who I am (the self I lost when I was trying too hard to be who I couldn’t possibly be) and completed things at a higher rate than I did throughout the years of the past decade combined. Of course I still have a long journey ahead of me, but this year feels like I really began creating my life as I want it to be.
I have three books to my name. I have 600+ posts and poems published both on Medium and elsewhere on the Internet, since the age of 25, which is a late start compared to typical bloggers and writers.
Sure accomplishments are nice but simultaneously not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. Like nobody gives a crap about some random chick on the Internet, am I right?
But what’s most important is how I’ve battled mental resistance and creativity blocks day in and day out and the majority of the time when I was lacking in inspiration I made myself push through and know that this is the key to taking back an acceptable level of control over how I approach my passions and life in general. I’ve gotten to know who I truly am when I am not bogged down by inner torment, emotional abuse, or harsh self-treatment as a byproduct of encountering setbacks.
I want to share with you some things I’ve learned along the way during my 27 years of being alive, from the perspective of myself as a person and myself as an artist.
Let’s get into it!
1. Most of the time, you do need to push yourself through resistance because you can’t count on inspiration to arrive when it’s convenient.
I’ve found that it is best to just push through mental resistance instead of postponing your projects to some vague time in the future. Otherwise, you’ll never start or complete anything (and I would never have gotten my books or hundreds of articles completed).
2. Give yourself a mental reset when you need it.
Pushing through resistance and toughening up can be good (and in some cases, the only way to get shit done), but also stay aware of when you need to take a break or heck, even a week-long reset if you *know* you are at the end of your rope, figuratively speaking. Don’t feel guilty for taking breaks when you absolutely need to and whenever you feel like your mind, body, and soul are completely drained. I haven’t given myself a proper reset for many years and feel like it has delayed my progress.
3. Creativity is not a competition.
The main reason why I’ve been self-sabotaging when it comes to my creative goals is that I am paralyzed from comparing myself too much to genuinely great people. For the longest time, I was obsessed with ages and completing things by a certain age to feel better about myself and make myself favorable to the harshest of critics, but it was a short-sighted view of what is meant to be a long-term creative journey. I now know that working at my own pace is better than stalling, I will get better over time even when I can’t see it yet, and my unique voice and style are what really will set me apart from the rest.
4. No matter how unsuccessful you feel, do not deliberately aim for outward success. It will only ruin your art.
There are so many hacks, gimmicks, and shortcuts I could try to make myself appear more outwardly successful and gain popularity quickly. But I’ve always hesitated to do so because I would sacrifice my own soul and taint everything that makes me unique as a creative individual. Taking the long way around does not make you an ultimate failure.
5. Passion can’t stand alone, but it does matter — so whatever you love to do, do it with passion.
No matter how many realists say that passion is impractical or that it “doesn’t work,” I firmly believe that passionate people (who also have a combination of natural talent, persistence, humility, and their own magical touch that makes them them), can go far in life, in terms of creating high quality art.
6. You aren’t entitled to any recognition just for creating the way you do.
You might be shitty at what you do and people may think you’re lackluster, even if you like doing it and your teachers in the past said that you are quite good at it. You aren’t entitled to get published by certain publications, gain thousands of followers, or achieve quick success just for being yourself. Being yourself simply isn’t enough — you have to prove that you can grow into the best self you can possibly be.
7. Obscurity is all part of the process and it will test whether you are truly a real creative or not.
You have to languish in obscurity for a long while, create with absolutely nothing in return, and persist even when nobody applauds for you until you actually get good enough that people want to feature your work and you don’t have to beg or resort to hacks for others to look at it. Everything, even what comes naturally, must be earned. You can’t just go around begging people to pay attention to you. Just work in silence and solitude and eventually, people will recognize your talent in a genuine way.
8. Allow yourself to write personal rambling musings and streams-of-consciousness. Sometimes you need to just to get through the day or whatever difficulty you’re facing.
But also don’t expect it to be as successful or well-received as a more insightful, practical piece. Even so, do it for you if you really need it. Who knows? Maybe a few people will find your personal ramblings useful. I know I certainly have when I read some piece of writing with casual musings from my favorite writers.
9. Poetry isn’t just meant to be written. It’s meant to be lived.
I don’t just want to say, “I write a lot of poems.” I want to live as poetry. I want to exist as poetry. I want to be poetry. It’s truly the essence of who I am and poetry is such a spiritual pursuit that it’s so much more than just about the process of writing itself.
10. Emotional abuse does not make you worthless.
I’ve been demeaned, ridiculed, and constantly compared to other people who were regarded as more successful, more mentally stable, and more “normal” than me. But my worth does not come from fitting in or sacrificing my individuality for the sake of attaining someone else’s favor. Take everything that is unique about you and own it.
11. You can’t possibly meet the high standards of conflicting and opposing people, and it is not worth trying because you’ll lose yourself in the process.
It’s honestly a waste of life. The best thing to do is to focus on what I believe, what I can reasonably achieve, and what brings me the most joy.
12. Take every piece of advice with a grain of salt and only you can decide what to do with your life, even when anyone else’s advice seems like “the only way to be.”
You have to decide what to do with your life, even if you think many will never understand it or support it or applaud it. You aren’t obligated to do what you aren’t able to do or don’t want to do.
13. Accept reality for what it is, but don’t let it cause you to stagnate or live mentally stuck or be unable to accomplish anything you want.
I’ve hindered my own growth simply by allowing failures and difficulties to crush me and I used those as excuses for why I can’t ever better my life or achieve certain goals. As someone who is more cynical, jaded, and pessimistic overall, it is a process of trial and error and I am still far from being a master at viewing life more positively, but at least I am aware of what needs to be done and know that a debilitating harsh reality does not have to keep me down forever.
14. Self-worth is somewhat dependent on evidence.
You feel better about yourself when you have accomplished something and kept promises you’ve made to yourself (within reason and as long as you aren’t killing yourself trying to). You really aren’t entitled to rewards or success simply for being as you are without trying to get better or more adaptable.
15. Sometimes you do have to behave in an acceptable manner and can’t be 100% your true self around everyone all the time.
However, your worth isn’t dependent upon pandering to them or being a sycophant. There ought to be a balance showing what makes you stand out and being reasonably likable and easy to get along with.
16. Postponing your creative goals for five years (or more) does take a toll on your self-worth, so don’t pretend that it doesn’t.
Procrastination, debilitating levels of self-doubt, self-sabotaging perfectionism that prevents you from starting anything, and making excuses are far worse for your self-worth than actually doing what you want to do, even if you have to face the reality of being bad at it or people not liking it for a long time.
17. Your job does not define your entire self-worth. Your passion projects and side hustles also do not define your self-worth.
Who cares if you are one position lower than your peers at school? Who cares if you make less money because you want more work-life balance? But it doesn’t hurt to try your best or achieve more — just don’t beat yourself up for not accomplishing things sooner because shaming yourself is counterproductive to your progress and is guaranteed to hinder genuine growth.
18. You ultimately don’t have to be one of the best to feel worthy.
But if you feel so bad about yourself, aiming to be better (with the intention of studying your competition closely and filling in existing gaps with what you have to offer that they can’t) may be the only way to see what you are actually capable of and build self-worth from the ground up. Being the best or near the top may be impossible but it never hurts to aim super high or demand more from yourself when you are dissatisfied and no positive affirmation works for you.
19. Fulfillment is really what you define it as and how you live it out.
In order to live as the person I truly want to become, I need to establish my own definition of fulfillment. Fulfillment to me entails being actively engaged in my own life (and not live as a passive bystander), doing what’s most essential, and knowing my worth even when so much out of my control is actively opposing it.
20. Embrace the little things that make you feel fulfilled overall.
For me it’s taking mental clutter and writing it down so that it makes a little more sense, making playlists, reading what I enjoy, singing, watching the scenery, listening to birds sing, and taking a moment to just be still.
21. Simplify anything and everything you can.
Get rid of clutter, guilt-induced obligations, and anything that distracts you or weighs you down. Your future self will appreciate the effort you put into simplifying all you possibly can.
22. Embracing the unknown will lead to a more fulfilling life than going through the motions and expecting things to remain the same.
But also don’t expect it to be easy or free from struggles just because you don’t have a clear idea of the end result.
23. Cut out goals that detract from fulfillment.
Sometimes it does make sense to give up on self-imposed goals or at least cut back some so that you can enjoy life more and sacrificing your mental health to achieve nearly superhuman-like feats. You may be more ordinary than you’d hoped, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ever seek fulfillment in the present moment.
24. Know when to aim for greatness and know when to slow down and just enjoy where you’re at.
You can’t remain at one extreme or else something will always feel like it’s missing. In other words, the balancing act of actualizing your potential and embracing contentment will make a significant impact on the quality of your life holistically and in the long-term.
25. Some things are best to be marveled at as mysteries.
You can’t possibly be correct about everything or find an answer to the unexplained mysteries of life. Enjoy mysteries of life for the sake of them. You can find beauty and wonder in natural phenomena and exploring the hypotheticals even when you can’t come to a conclusion.
26. Learn to live with the paradoxes outside of yourself and within yourself.
There is a time and place for everything paradoxical, even when many paradoxes exist simultaneously all at once. Living with them and understanding the nuances of opposite things that coexist, instead of fighting against them, will make life all the more fulfilling.
27. You aren’t wise (yet).
Don’t assume you’re wise just because you happen to be somewhat ahead of your peers who are the same age. You still need to be humble. You still need to be aware of what you don’t know and constantly check up on everything you have to work through to get to where you most want to be. You also need to be able to look at yourself in the eye without shying away from the brokenness. You need to pivot when you have to and anticipate unexpected changes. Wisdom will only be tested and strengthened over time, but you still can be fulfilled even when there is so much you don’t know and so much more to learn that you can’t exactly foresee — but that’s the beauty of it all.