2015 was quite a year. And here's what I learned along the way.
It only took me four months to collect my thoughts…
1. Throwing Things Away
This year, I threw away my long ago packed and forever cherished box of college notebooks. Every note I’ve ever taken on image resolution, content planning, branding best practices, medieval architecture, and Biblical semantics — on its way to a landfill. Among other things, I threw away this box because I realized something that extends into all other facets of my life, as well: If you can feel a thing without seeing it, it’s more real than anything else. I don’t need to read through those notes next year, and I probably never would have again. Getting rid of the physical artifacts did not invalidate my experience, my knowledge, or my tuition, and I can fondly remember my journey without lugging around the box of papers that prove I did it and did it well.
The Lesson: Your baggage does not validate your choice every day to feel the pain you associate with it. We consciously make the choice to hold onto the things that weigh us down. You can always choose to rid yourself of the things that don’t make you happy without losing the experience and lessons you learned while accumulating them. You don’t have to live with unnecessary mental clutter. Clean house so that you can better live with yourself.
2. Fighting and Accepting the Loss
I am a fighter. Sometimes, for things that I know won’t work out. I am hard wired to persevere and work towards solution. And sometimes, that doesn’t work out. Sometimes, you fight and lose. And this year, I lost at something. Being hard wired to persevere, I made a decision in 2014 that affected my life through the first half of 2015 — I decided to stay in a relationship that was unhealthy. I decided to smile and pretend my way through every day, and it slowly took things away from me. First, it began to take my patience. Then it took my faith in myself. Then it took my physical health. And still, I stayed and fought. I fought through the emotional highs and lows, and one day, it all stopped. I stopped feeling anything, and realized too late I had stayed too long. I had fought so long, my arms gave out. And by being untrue to myself and instead trying to save face, I had become nearly unrecognizable to myself. It was only after I accepted the loss and walked away that I was able to start building things again.
The Lesson: Some places, relationships, and circumstances, no matter how great they may look to others, do not benefit your best self. It takes courage and self confidence to walk away from things others pressure you to pursue and see through. Don’t ever change yourself to match someone else’s perception of you. By being your authentic self, you fulfill your own needs, despite whether doing so disappoints those around you. Their disappointment is their own, and you are too busy pursuing your own happiness to worry about theirs. As my guru RuPaul says, "What other people think of you is none of your business." Stick to business, and business will be good.
3. Saying No
I am not good at saying, “No.” I like to say, “Yes.” I like to help. I like to take on challenges. I like to see and do. And some days, it’s way too much. But this year, I took a plunging dive into the world of saying “no,” using it in response to a question I never thought I’d have that answer for: “Are you okay?” I said, “No.” Without even thinking, I said “no.” Without a sob story, without a direct impetus, without tears, I replied, “No.” And I didn’t get a stern face. I didn’t get a ton of questions. I didn’t get a pitiful brush off. I got a hug. A long hug in a corporate kitchen on a cold day while our coffee was brewing. Then I got an invitation to talk. And a few days later, we did just that. On my time, over tacos, we talked. And I couldn’t be thankful enough for that.
The Lesson: When you need to talk, tell someone. When hurt people shut down, they’ve lost faith that anyone can trust, love, or value them again. This is why they tend not to ask for help. If you are feeling this way, it takes a great deal of courage to speak up. But saying you are not okay is not the same as giving up. In fact, it is the opposite. It’s the first step to getting better. If someone asks you to listen to them, truly listen. Without judgement or action in mind, listen. Your job is not to fix, distract, or patronize them. You have been asked to listen. And with love and patience, please do just that.
4. Giving More
I am an incredibly fortunate person. I realized this year that I have never truly needed any human essentials in my lifetime. I have never needed anything I could not get. So many people do not realize that about themselves, and how incredibly momentous it is. There are places across the world, in the US, even in our own city, where basic human essentials are not available. Without food, shelter, clean water, medicine, education, or that ever-important element of hope, a person’s life is severely compromised. I have worked this year with non-profit organizations on nearly every continent. Whether it’s as short-term as disaster relief after the Paris Attacks or long-term as building primary, secondary, and vocational schools in Africa, I have given my time, money, talent, and used goods to those in need. And to tell you the truth, it's still not enough. There are days when I still worry about what's happening to the world, and I don't feel like the good things I do, say, or donate matter. But that inspires me to give more. To give of myself until I give out. And that may be something the evil powers of this world didn't expect.
The Lesson: Fortune is greatly craved by those in need, but tends to go forgotten by those who have it. Fortune doesn't have to equate to millions of dollars, thousands of shares or hundreds of acres. Everyone has their own personal fortune. Realize your own fortune of love, talent, happiness, drive. Realize it and give, give, give unto others. If you have money to give, give it. If you don't, give your compassion, prayers, or kind words. We are all fortunate in our own special way. And it is the duty of the fortunate to give. We are re-paid in love. We are re-paid in compassion. We are re-paid in gratitude. And thus begins a new fortune for us to share with those who need it most.
5. Emotional Economics (My Personal Favorite)
As long as I can remember, I've been, admittedly, high-strung. I've been progressively less high-strung since college graduation, but I can say I'm probably still far higher strung than many of my millennial contemporaries. I plan, but I still worry. I always deliver, but I still have moments of panic. I get upset when I make mistakes, and I get disappointed when things fall through the cracks. In essence, I tend to have fairly heightened negative emotions when things don't go to plan. But when things do go to plan, I have no emotions. I just move onto the next thing. And that's a problem. So this year, I have been focusing on something I called "Emotional Economics." Investment tactics, but for your feelings. Basically, if you're willing to invest 20 minutes of panic into a situation, when it turns out alright, you then owe 20 minutes of celebration to yourself. 20 minutes of gratitude and kudos for planning and delivering despite the worry. If you're not willing to invest the later 20 minutes, you cannot invest the previous 20 minutes. End of story.
The Lesson: This practice has helped me in two ways. First, when I feel panic start to creep up, I ask myself, "Will this give you 20 minutes of joy after it's resolved? If it's not resolved, will you still be upset in a year?" If the answer is "No" to either (it's usually the answer to both) then I take a step back and re-evaluate my emotional investment. Second, for those times I do decide to panic, I then am forced to slow down and celebrate my achievements. If you celebrate all the things you panic about, you'll find yourself feeling silly for celebrating such tiny things. So doesn't that mean you should feel silly for worrying about such tiny things? It's a great way to re-evaluate where you are investing your negative (and thusly positive) emotions. Don't over-invest in negative emotions. Give yourself a healthy balance, even if it means celebrating that you didn't have a meltdown at the post office. Have a tiny dance party in your car and realize you're okay. And you always have been.