Ten Life Lessons the Last Ten Years Have Taught Me
Five days from now I’ll be turning 29.
While I usually don’t like to make a big deal about my birthday, I always enjoy using the date as a reflection of where I am now versus where I once was. Two years ago, I wrote a post entitled Time Turned Inward that reflected on how I viewed the world as I approached 27. While I still identify with those same outlooks today, I wanted to approach this entry in a different manner.
A friend of mine named Michaela has been running a blog for several years now that focuses on a reflection of feelings, faith, and as of recently – films. Her blog is creative, digestible, and unapologetically a reflection of her, which is something I truly admire about her electronic outlet. A little over a year ago, she wrote a post entitled Why I Am Grateful to my Younger Self, which outlined 24 reasons why she was thankful for her previous experiences as she approached 24.
The simplicity and power in the piece drew me in, and made me want to create a list of my own. Rather than listing 29 bullet points, I wanted to narrow the list down to ten life lessons the last ten years have taught me, in hopes of helping out anyone who may be reading this who went through the same experiences.
1. DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRY NEW THINGS. FAILURE IS PART OF THE PROCESS.
Last year Mac’s Bar held a unique event called Mac’s Comedy Power Hour, where 60 individuals had one minute in the limelight on stage to perform a comedic routine of their choosing. The event served as a platform for both established veterans in the stand-up comedy scene, and aspiring comedians making their debut. While I had the intention of attending as a patron to support my friends, I offered to fill in if any of the 60 participants were to drop out. As it turned out, someone didn’t check in, so I was added to the lineup.
Did I have any material prepared? Hardly. Was I an utter train wreck to witness on stage for my 60 seconds? More than likely. But I will say I was proud as hell of myself for giving it a try anyway. The entire experience gave me a much deeper appreciation for stand up comedians, who make it look so easy on stage.
2. IT’S OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP
A little over two years ago, a stifling panic attack forced me to leave work early. It was after that moment that I decided to start going to counselling to better control my OCD, and it’s a decision I remain grateful for. I still have obsessive quirks and the occasional panic attack, but the entire experience taught me to open up more about my mental health. I was often afraid of being judged when talking about my struggles and the triggers that cause my anxiety, but I’ve received nothing but love and sympathy from people I’ve opened up to, which means the world to me. I’ve been continuing to work on my quirks each day, and as a whole I’ve been noticing my general feeling of self-loathing has been getting better. I can’t say the same would have happened if I never reached out for help to begin with.
I talk more in-depth about this experience in a previous blog post entitled Overcoming Obsessions
3. KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE ARE OUR GREATEST ASSETS
A reporter once asked Henry Ford what he would do if he lost his billion dollar business. His short response was that he would have it all back in five years. I’m paraphrasing the exact exchange, but it’s pretty evident that the revolutionary industrialist understood the value of knowledge and execution. Henry Ford found incredible success in his business endeavors, but his greatest asset remained the experience he acquired along the way.
The last few years I’ve been taking more time out of my day to read, take up new hobbies and learn new things. I have an ever-growing fascination and borderline obsession with acquiring more knowledge, and feel that it gives me the means to be properly equipped for whatever life throws at me.
4. EVERYTHING FALLS APART OR COMES TOGETHER FOR A REASON
I’ve had my fair share of disappointments in life, whether that be a breakup, missed job opportunity or a general slump in my performances throughout my college track career. While in those moments I remained upset or angry, better outcomes came to fruition down the road as a result.
The breakup turned into meeting someone new that I shared a connection with, the missed job opportunity into finding work that gave me a better sense of fulfillment, and the slump in my performances turned into having a breakthrough season the following year after a summer of hard work and training. Life has a way of putting us where we need to be as long as we remain patient.
5. FOCUS ON FULFILLING YOUR LIFE PURPOSE, NOT THE PURPOSE OF SOMEONE ELSE
For the first several years after graduating college, I was eager to jump into any professional venture for the sake of experience. I started writing for a slew of different publications that paid either very little or nothing at all. I poured countless hours into research and careful editing before submitting my pieces to the Editor-In-Chief, which was exhausting to balance with other jobs that actually paid my bills. While I feel the experience I gained in those years was completely necessary, I had to take a step back and re-evaluate how I was spending my days. I started this blog shortly after leaving some of those other publications, and while my site is certainly no Forbes, I’ve been much happier writing content of my choosing on my own terms.
6. WRITE DOWN YOUR GOALS AND STICK WITH THEM, NO MATTER HOW RIDICULOUS THEY MAY SOUND
Several years ago I started writing down my yearly goals, and had them hung on a dry erase board in the middle of the hallway to look at every day. The board also has a space for daily tasks to remind myself to meditate, read, practice my French and run daily. As simple of a practice as it seems, it works. Being able to cross off my goals as I accomplish them is a great confidence boost, and gives structure and order to the day. I didn’t exactly plan on a national pandemic happening this year, so visiting 12 National Parks probably won’t happen. But that just gives me more time to practice my French!
7. SPEND MONEY ON EXPERIENCES RATHER THAN MATERIAL POSSESSIONS
While I’ve never really had a desire to have the newest car or a big house, I’ve still had my fair share of buyer’s remorse for certain items. However, I have never taken a vacation and looked back on it in hindsight and said “I shouldn’t have taken that trip.” Traveling can be expensive, and I’m certainly not a rich guy. Late last year, I picked up a second job in a tavern to help offset some of my upcoming traveling expenses. The experiences I’ve had hiking around the US and soaking in the history of other cities is invaluable to me, and well worth working two jobs. Not having the newest car and getting my clothes from thrift stores is worth it in order to make the trips possible.
8. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS
Everyone’s journey through life is different. Some may have achieved a great feat at an early age, became the first person to accomplish something, or are simply regarded as the best person in their respected field. While the feats are all impressive and praise-worthy in their own regard, it’s important that they’re viewed as a source of inspiration for what we’re capable of, and nothing more. Cherry picking all of the best attributes of another person to compare to ourselves in regards to what we don’t have is unhealthy if the energy is being spent on envy. The energy is much better spent asking ourselves “what can I do to get where I need to be?”
9. TAKE BREAKS AND DECOMPRESS DAILY
There’s a Zen proverb I think of constantly whenever I start to get flustered. The quote goes that “you should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” I am by no means perfect at following the integrity of this proverb on a daily basis, but I’ve been understanding the importance of taking breaks more and more each day. I’ve come to learn that taking time to decompress should be scheduled into each day, rather than doing it only when time permits. I’ve noticed that I’m able to attack tasks with vigor and enthusiasm after taking the time for breaks, rather than just running on fumes throughout the day.
10. NOTHING IN LIFE IS ABSOLUTE
Over the past few years I’ve been trying to limit my use of definitive words such as “always” and “never.” I also try and avoid saying things like “____ can’t be done,” because saying the feat can’t be done shuts off the possibility of it ever happening, even if it’s at a subconscious level.
For years, experts claimed that the human body was incapable of running a mile in under four minutes. In 1954, Roger Bannister proved that claim wrong, by running a mile in 3:59.4. Barely a year after Bannister’s accomplishment, another runner achieved the same feat, to where now running a mile in under four minutes is borderline routine for elite athletes. The claim was nothing more than a wall that was built between what was possible and what was deemed impossible. Once that wall was broken, the entire outlook on the parameters of the human body was altered. The only wall that distinguishes the possible from the impossible is the one that’s created in our own heads.