8 Painfully Obvious Life Lessons I Learned This Year
2013 was a pretty big year for me. I turned 28. I moved across the country. I started doing art again. I got a Twitter reply from Wynonna Judd. But most importantly, 2013 was the year that a shit ton of really important, embarrassingly simple life lessons finally clicked. You know how you can hear something 100 times in 100 different ways before it actually gets through to you? All of the things I learned this year fall firmly into that category: things that I maybe should have learned when I was, like, 10, but for whatever reason, didn’t get until just now. This, my friends, was my year of “getting it,” and here are my humble epiphanies:
1. Don’t wait for apologies to forgive. While mindlessly scrolling through Tumblr one night, I came across this quote: “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.” I’m pretty sure my jaw literally dropped when I read it. Instant paradigm shift. I’m really bad about letting resentments linger for a long time, and waiting for people to say the exact right thing before I’ll offer forgiveness. It’s shitty, I know, and I’ve been working on it, but it wasn’t until I read this quote that it all clicked for me: it’s not about the apology from the other person, it’s about the shift that occurs in yourself when you accept it, and we all have the power to create that shift in ourselves. These 13 words have done wonders to heal rifts and help me let go of resentment.
2. Just do things. Don’t stress and overthink and procrastinate. Just do. Another bad habit I’ve always struggled with is freaking out about things and putting them off, then freaking out because I put them off, and so on and so forth. Sometimes my freakouts are sparked by the fact that I simply don’t want to do something (going to the bank, for example), or that I really want to do something perfectly (starting an essay), but either way, I usually put way more energy into dreading the thing than it would actually take to just get it done. This year, I decided to break that pattern. Any time I felt that familiar anxiety and urge to procrastinate come on, I just did whatever it was that was freaking me out. If I wasn’t able to do it right that second, I jotted it down on my to-do list and vowed to get to it as soon as I could, without wasting more time worrying about it. Want to reduce your daily stress levels and increase productivity? Make like Nike in the 90s and JUST DO IT.
3. “Finished is better than perfect.” This was the mantra that allowed me to break my overthinking, procrastinating pattern. It is a truth that I have resisted for so long in order to maintain my crazy perfectionist lifestyle, but like all little life truths, it makes your life infinitely easier once you just accept it.
4. Don’t force connections with people who make you feel less than amazing. This was a pretty tumultuous year in my social life, and I came out of it having learned quite a few life lessons, the most striking of which is also the simplest: don’t force things with people. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, awkward, or insecure, for whatever reason, they’re probably not friend material. If they make you feel like you can’t be yourself, or if they make you feel dumb or “less than” in any way, don’t pursue a connection with them. If you feel drained after hanging out with them or get a little hit of anxiety when you see their name pop up on your phone, listen to those cues. There are so many people in the world with whom you can connect easily and naturally, who energize you and inspire you to be your best self. It makes no sense to force it with people who aren’t a good match. This goes for romantic relationships, too. Let it go, let it go, let it go.
5. Alone time is crucial. This was the year that I finally understood not only the importance of positive, genuine social connections, but also the importance of spending quality time alone. It took some restructuring of my social life and priorities to ensure I get an hour or two of reflective alone time every week, but it makes a huge difference in my mood and the way I approach everything else in my life. It’s a must.
6. Your stuff doesn’t define you. Selling 90 percent of my belongings on Craigslist was pretty freakin’ scary, but you know what? It worked out fine. Life went on. And it taught me that stuff really is just stuff, and has absolutely no bearing on who you are as a person. Most of us can make do with much less than we think we need. That’s a valuable reminder, especially in a hugely consumer-driven culture that focuses more on material things than meaningful connections and experiences.
7. You can go home again. But it won’t be the same. And neither will you. I went back to Portland to visit family and friends last month for the first time since moving away. It was really hard. It was hard to go back and see how much things had changed and how much they’d stayed the same. It was hard to come to terms with changes within myself that stood out so starkly against the background of my old life. It was hard to see my grandpa for what might be the last time. It was hard to realize, on an airplane somewhere over Colorado, that I was literally suspended in the air between two places that meant so much to me, and I wasn’t sure which one to call home. This year I learned that home is much more abstract and complicated than a geographic location.
8. You can create the life you want. I know I’ve talked a lot about moving to Nashville and what a life-changing experience it’s been, but the best thing that came out of that decision, by far, was the feeling of empowerment it brought to my life. Honestly, I didn’t even realize how deeply unhappy I was in Portland until I moved here. Before the move, my life felt passive and dull. I wasn’t actively pursuing things that fulfilled me. I was uninspired. I was resigned to a general feeling of “meh.” And while it might have been my big move that sparked this epiphany, I’ve realized that living life on your own terms doesn’t always require such a dramatic overhaul. Taking such a huge, scary step toward a life I wanted made me keenly aware of all the little steps I can take every day to improve the life I have. I question everything now to make sure it aligns with the life I want. I try to be mindful of how my choices affect myself and those around me. Because when it finally clicks that your life is yours alone, it’s up to you to make it great.
[Photo via Shutterstock]