As we’re nearing the end of the year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways I’ve grown as a person, and as a speck in this universe. And it struck me how often I keep seemingly learning and relearning the same lessons over and over again…
I recently shared with a friend of mine, a note I had written ‘to my younger self’; and even reading that again was a refreshing reminder of things I’m still trying to fully internalise. So I wanted to write something similar, only this time capturing a more diversity of some personal ’truths’ I’ve come to resonate with (and maybe others will too). Little nuggets of wisdom which I may come back to in a few months or even years, and go ‘ah, yes’. Or maybe I’ll revisit this list and find they’re no longer helpful or useful for our ever-changing contexts. But that will be okay too. I hope my future self will simply appreciate the context of my past self for having the opportunity to just deeply reflect on some of her learnings in life.
So in no particular order, here are some things I’ve learned thus far:
- Almost everyone deeply, just wants to be loved, understood, accepted, and celebrated for exactly who they are. Love unconditionally. Those who hurt are often wounded themselves, and need the most love. Love even when the world and people in it seem hard and cold. Love — or the pain from a lack of love, seems to be central to the human condition. Don’t forget to love yourself.
- Context is key. Seek to understand before being understood. Refrain from judging someone or something by the chapter of the story you walked in on. Write and re-write your own story, and when it feels like you’re running out of ink, know that your story is not over yet. You will find other mediums to tell it. Surround yourself with people who genuinely want to listen. Listen deeply before trying to help. Sometimes, truly listening is the greatest help you can offer.
- Be like a child. Be present, feel what you feel fully, without judgement or shame. Maintain endless curiosity and excitement and awe about the world, and wonder about why it is the way it is. Question whether it is the way it has to be. Retain the dreamer inside, and try not to let the critical voice crush your, or others’ spirits… remember how much that hurt? Be the wind beneath ones’ wings.
- Life doesn’t always go according to plan… but plan anyways. It’s okay to want to feel in control, you’ve been making unrealistic study schedules since high school! Remember that you have the right to your labour, but not the fruits of your labour. Living without *any* expectations and being completely detached from outcomes is hard, and that’s okay. Be flexible, be open to spontaneity, and serendipity. Some of the best memories and most wonderful people happened when you were least expecting it. Maybe that’s partly what made them so special.
- Take. A. Chance. Don’t let fear, anxiety, shame, and insecurity hold you back from trying. It’s okay to fall. Remember that success/failure is somewhat arbitrary and subjectively defined. Forgive yourself for ‘failures’, and cherish the learning and growth that came from the process. Let go of the burden of responsibility.
- Continuous learning, growth, and expansion of your skills and knowledge is the ultimate gift. Let your curiosity drive you. Find communities who feed your intellect and your soul. Surround yourself with people who will help you grow holistically; with people who will inspire you, uplift you, encourage you, and challenge you to do better and be better.
- Mid-20s are a weird time of life; some peers are in school while others are buying homes and having babies. Most people don’t know what the fuck they’re doing or why. And that’s okay. Consult your inner compass and walk in a direction that feels right, and can be somewhat affirmed by those you trust and respect. Let these people become your teachers, mentors, and friends.
- Learn to love exactly where you are at. Don’t forget to celebrate how far you have come. Life is not a linear path of progress, but a winding adventure that might involve a crossing the same intersections a couple of times. You can always turn around. But keep moving, even if you can only crawl.
- Develop deep curiosity and intellectual humility. Celebrate epistemic diversity, and seek the wisdom of the crowds. You can’t possibly know everything, but you also have a valuable and valid perspective. Share them without fear of being “wrong”. There is rarely an objective ’truth’ or absolute ‘right’/‘wrong’. When doing research, you’re just answering one small question, not solving an entire problem. Share your observations, provide your insights from your vantage points. Develop strong opinions, loosely held. Calibrate accordingly.
- Take your health and mental health seriously. You can’t help people or be effective if you’re falling apart or sleep deprived or missing essential nutrients from lack of regular meals. Your brain shrinks if you’ve been sedentary too long. Practise more yoga (and not just hatha!).
- Cherish existence, and all the possibilities that life has to offer. Appreciate the highs and the lows. Joy is sweeter because we have suffered; the light is brighter when we’ve been in the dark. Bliss would not be as peaceful without the pain. Everything is ephemeral. This too shall pass.
- You are not your *insert emotion/mental health struggle of choice here*. Distance yourself and detach from it. Appreciate its efforts to protect you, send it love, but let it know it’s not helpful right now…
- Being in constant state of fear, shame, and dread is a toxic way to live. Don’t scare yourself. Be open and vulnerable about your struggle(s). Remember that vulnerability is the key to connection, and empathy is the antidote to shame. Just because you’re privileged/lucky doesn’t mean your pain and suffering doesn’t matter, or isn’t important. Ask for help. Those who love you won’t feel like you’re a burden.
- Don’t forget about the big why. It’s easy to develop habits and get into the motions of things; for it all to become an instrumental means to an end. Happiness or joy or fulfilment or eudaemonia is a journey not a destination. Don’t be afraid to take the scenic route, wander, and maybe get a little lost. Follow your internal compass, and you’ll find your way.
P.S. I thought about citing the various people/books/videos/texts/resources that have inspired a lot of these reflections, and I’d be happy to refer/recommend if something specifically resonated with you. None of this is new, and variants of these exist in so many sources across time and culture and different knowledge mediums. However, I think the most important and impactful teacher has been life itself, and you can read all about the theory you want to understand, but lived experience crystallises knowledge like nothing else.
That being said, don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to add something to your reading/watching/podcast list 😃 Or better yet, let’s just grab a cup of coffee?