This blog post took the better part of two days to write...so I'm counting it for days 12 & 13.
I've been seeing a lot of articles lately about Decade Lists. These lists are the ones where someone approaches a milestone birthday (30, 40. 50 or 60) and writes an article or blog post about the ten things they learned in the prior decade. Usually they include something about valuing your friends, not listening to the opinions of others, loving isn't perfect and how the most important person to love is yourself anyway.
Now it isn't that these things aren't true and they are all indeed great things to aspire too but (yes, I always have a but) more often than not they are presented in such a way as to say that there is some defining moment in your life where you will figure things out, all things will make sense and life will be perfect from then on out. Life does not work that way. Ever.
I am of course not one to complain without offering up some sort of solution. Below you will find my list of things that I've learned in my almost 43 years. Take what you will from it.
1. You won't want other people's opinions to matter, but they still will. Okay, maybe not in the way they did when you were in junior high and Sally said that your favorite sweater made you look stupid so you folded it up, tucking it away in your bottom dresser drawer until the end of time, but there will still be people in your life who you admire and look up to, who you hope will support and approve of what you do. And if they don't it will probably leave you feeling let down and maybe a little hurt. That is okay, it is a part of being human; we want people to like us. What isn't okay is allowing the hurt to stop you from continuing to work towards your dreams and goals. You pause, take a deep breathe, mull the criticism over to see if there is indeed any value in it, and move on to whatever next step you need to take.
2. Your parents are probably never really going to understand you. They will hopefully try, and as you get older there will be many moments where you come close to a meeting of the minds, but they will likely always see you as their child. They just can't help it.
3. Loving yourself is important but you will pretty much always feel ridiculous looking at yourself in the mirror and telling yourself you are awesome. None of us are perfect and we know this, which is probably why we feel a bit silly telling ourselves that we are perfect just the way we are. First I think not liking everything about yourself is okay, there really is always room for improvement. Seeing ways that you want to better yourself is not a bad thing. Of course being totally down on yourself isn't so great either. Maybe we all need to start looking in the mirror and telling ourselves that we are basically a decent human being who is doing the best they can. I think even I can say that.
4. Some experiences will scar you for life but you learn to live with them. Hopefully. There will be things that happen to us; most will be good but some will be really, really shitty-ass bad things. Often we have zero control over this, which can be hard to accept. We will ask what we did to deserve this (probably absolutely nothing). We will obsess, replay the events over and over in our heads wondering what we might have done differently (likely a million things but that doesn't really matter after the fact). We may try to bury, medicate or busy away the bad and yucky feelings that remain but in the end we accept that we must face it and learn to live with it. Which leads me to...
5. We all heal on our own schedule. No one can dictate to you how long it should take to get over the grief, sense of loss, feelings of violation, anger or pain that come along with a traumatizing event. No one is ever likely going to say to you, "Hey, it's awesome that you won that award and all, but please stop being happy about it," but we have this expectation that people can move on quickly from loss or pain. We are wired to learn things like, bear attacks are painful so I should stay away from bears, unfortunately our minds aren't so great at differentiating between the bear broke my arm, that asshole broke my heart, or the icy road caused my car to crash. We are however also wired to keep going into the woods to look for food, even though we know that there are still bears out there. We do have a truly amazing capacity for healing, but we need to learn to allow ourselves and others the time to do so.
6. It's okay to ask for help. Whether you need help moving or it's 2:00 AM, you are deep into the ugly cry and the wine just ran out, or you are just feeling lonely. Asking for help is sometimes necessary. We all need a hug, a shoulder to cry on, or just someone to listen. I can tell you from my own experience that most of the really dumb shit I've done in my life has been the result of me trying to distract myself from loneliness, sadness or some other dark feeling. Most of which could have been prevented by just picking up the phone and calling someone.
I'll add to this too that sometimes that help comes in the form of a professional therapist. I've seen various therapists over the years and I can't express enough how valuable their services have been.
7. Answer the phone. Really. Don't hit dismiss or ignore or silence the ring when your friend's name pops up on your screen. Why? Because while you might might be thinking that you are too busy, or too tired, or too whatever, your friend could be acting on number six of this list. They may be reaching out because they are in that dark place and need help. They might also be calling to ask for your apple pie recipe or to just say hello or tell you that you are awesome, but in any case, they are making the effort to connect. Honor that and answer the phone.
*I had a night about a year ago where I was in a pretty lonely and dark place. I knew that the last thing I needed in that moment was to be alone. As I made my way through my favorites list on my phone and listened to ring, after ring, after ring, I sank lower and lower. By the time I dialed the last name, I was such a mess that I could barely breathe, let alone speak. When I heard that, "Hello?" on the other end it was like someone invented oxygen. What is perhaps most ironic (I think...I always get the irony thing wrong) is that I'd saved that person for last because I assumed they were too busy and I also knew they were dealing with their own stuff - I didn't want to trouble them - yet they were the only person who answered. I will be forever grateful for that "Hello"
Again...pick up the phone.
8. Be kind. We say this a lot but, along with loving ourselves, it is probably one of the most difficult things to do. It isn't that we don't want to be kind, it is that life is full of distractions and we humans are a self centered sort of creature. Kindness can take many forms from holding the door for someone, shoveling an elderly neighbor's walk after a storm, assuming the best of another person or just offering a smile to someone, but it always requires us to set our own wants aside for just a moment and turn our attention to someone else. It's pretty much always worth it.
9. Friends, real friends, are rarer than we realize. Most of us have one or two of these people in our lives. They are the ones who understand you, who know that your go to favorite meal is red wine and pepperoni pizza, the ones who answer the phone at 3:00 AM, the one who is the first person you want to call when something awesome happens, they know you like no one who you are not related to does. They are your family of choice. The fact is that when you are 70 and your family of blood is long dead, these are the folks who will be your family. Value those you have now, tend to those relationships with the care that they deserve and never stop looking to make new ones.
10. Talk it out. Misunderstanding has lead to more pain and problems in my life than I care to count. Taking five minutes to ask someone what their intentions were, to let someone know they may have hurt you or to offer up an apology when one is needed can be extremely uncomfortable. My palms get sweaty, my chest gets tight and I worry I'll forget what I want to say but five minutes of awkward has saved friendships and prevented long term hurt. Take the time to do it.
11. Finally the catch all. Life is not easy. It is filled with disappointment, failure, sadness, pain, grief and all sorts of other unpleasantness. It is also filled with joy, success, inspiration, celebration and love. Most of the time it seems to make no sense at all. Perhaps the key is to strive to be aware of where we are at right now and recognize that wherever that is, good or bad, is temporary. This thought, which I still strive to put into practice, has pulled me through some very dark times and allowed me to cherish the more pleasant ones.
So there you have it. My 11 Pearls of Wisdom form 42.8 years of being alive on this earth. I hope you find some value in it.