Then, nineteen, newly in love and in my second year of university, life looked bright from the outside. I was oblivious to the rollercoaster I was about to ride over the next decade. A lot has happened between then and now, and yet so little in the scheme of things. I expected to experience one of the happiest and easiest times ahead (my twenties), but it wasn’t that way at all. I’ve managed to keep my sense of humour even though I find I’m somewhat serious when I write. In the spirit of telling self-censorship to bugger off, here are some of my notes from the last decade that changed my life:
1. End the workday before dinner. Shut off and wind down. Work smarter, not harder. I used to burn the candle at both ends and burnt myself out instead. In my fourth year of university, I finally learnt to “shut off” at 5pm and that’s why I finished my honours thesis at 4am the morning it was due. Oops. The point is, switch off more.
2. You can do hard things with love. So, act. There’s no greater time that I agree with the phrase “Believe in yourself” than when my self-doubt tries to poop my party. I don’t just believe; I know I’m good at doubting myself. However, it’s empowering when someone who loves you gives you the belief that you can, nay kicks you up the arse, to do the shit you care about and more than you knew you were capable of, not just despite fear but with it.
3. Know what you stand for and stand for nothing less. We can always change. We will always grow from new experiences but at the end of the day knowing our values and staying strong in our roots will keep us grounded. Come back to them over and over and over. Don’t take things personally or the joke is on you. Know thyself first and stay true.
4. Step outside to see the forest for the trees. Gain situational awareness and perspective of your life. Sometimes that means taking a mindful breath. Other times it means asking a friend for stern advice and telling them off (in your head) when you know what they are lying about is true. It could mean speaking with a professional. Step out into nature.
5. Shit happens; it’s our response to it that matters. “Be Positive” is rubbish advice. I used to think negativity and complaining were weak, before I went through the school of hard knocks and had a reality check. I had minimal experience with depression, but it wouldn’t take me long into the years after 2010 to understand that we need to sit with discomfort. Not everything happens for a reason. Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason. We need to stop rescuing others and be secure enough in ourselves to be truly empathetic. Too many of us give superficial and dismissive advice when we’re unsure because we’re scared. Sit with the discomfort of someone else’s hardship and your own. Feel it. Move with it. Learn from it.
6. Give freely, without reserve or expectation, but be willing to receive. You can give when your tank is running low, but it’s not that effective. Give yourself what she needs. Ask for help when or even before it’s necessary. You need to be present for what matters: the people you love. Be willing to accept help when the season calls for it. Give love freely but accept it freely too. Giving is empowering, but so is receiving. People are inherently kind and love to help. Reap what you sow.
7. Lead by example. I don’t believe in the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Sometimes it works but that’s not convincing enough. I don’t want to go through life telling people one thing and doing the opposite. Second-guessing myself has stopped me in my tracks from being everything I want to be, but I am open and honest about that in hopes that others can relate. We’re only human and most of us are doing the best we can but don’t let that be the excuse that stops you from being the example you wish to be. Try to be the exception. Work for it.
8. Discipline equals freedom. Consistency is king. Make exercise your mate, not your enemy. It rocks my world now thanks to working at it. Look hard work in the eye. Be aware of your fears and face them. Take responsibility for your life.
9. Storms come and go. The sun returns. This too shall pass. The storm will be more ferocious if it is fought. Roll with it and give it less power by continuing as normal or wait it out. There are too many times to count that I thought the storms would never end, but they did, every time. I couldn’t have weathered them without the people around me. Self-compassion is necessary. Love is powerful. Healing is possible. Light exists, but so does darkness. Reach out. Weather both, but never alone.
10. Trust, and you’ll be laughing. Slow down, surrender and trust in the process of things. Some of my Pa’s last words were, “At least I can still smile” and “If you’re always laughing, you’ll be happier.” Don’t give up. Especially not on having a sense of humour. The best boss I’ve ever had always said, “If you’re not laughing, you’ll be crying” and it made us work better. I want to play more than the normal adult, but I’m also far too serious sometimes – and I’ve got to remember that I have to surrender to life’s ebbs and flows. We’re here for a good ride, not a long one. We place too much significance and yet not enough on life’s fragility. Trust anyway. Learn to be peaceful despite and especially in the face of the chaos.
A bonus lesson: Find purpose not in self-love or personal development, but in service and kindness to others: the community, family, friends, and people you’ve only just or never even met. Sensitivity is not a curse. Do not ask what the country can do for you, but what you can do for your country, and do it with love. And if you can’t do it, ask for (and accept) help and return to it when you can.
Now twenty-nine and still deeply in love, I may never be the master of any of the above, but I have loved learning all of it even if I hated it. I suppose life is pretty bright in its own way after all. We’re so upside down and back to front, and I’m slowly learning to embrace this being human thing.
Unfortunately, my vision is far from 2020 but I can see it’s going to be a beautiful decade.
Happy New Year!
Love and light,