10 Lessons I’ve Learned from the Past Year

December is usually the time of year when people get a little more introspective, reflecting on the past year and all the lessons that came with it, in preparation for the New Year. So here are 10 lessons that 2015 has taught me. Hopefully they resonate with you.

1. Be solution-focused. 
Some people are naturally action-oriented. They notice a problem and immediately jump into action to ‘mitigate the disaster’. But others (like me) are way more reflective—and that means we’re more prone to dwelling. Now dwelling serves a good purpose: it gets you out of denial and helps you face the reality or a problem (which is better than ignorance). However, it’s important to put a cap on it. Too much dwelling is not helpful. There comes a time when you’ve got to throw on your Big Girl pants, roll up your sleeves, and plot out how you’re going to move forward from here (aka develop solutions). This has made a tremendous difference in my life.

2. Don’t take life too seriously. 
Whoever said “laughter is the best medicine” is a genius. Sometimes it really is. My friend and I recently had a conversation about how we thought we’d have everything together by now, that things would be perfectly aligned, but it seems like the exact opposite has happened: everything we planned for has basically gone down the drain (don’t you just love life’s plot twists?!). Yet somehow we ended up finding this whole situation hilarious. Sometimes in life you’ll be half-crying, half-laughing—but that touch of laughter makes all the difference.

3. Realize that different friends serve different purposes in your life.
It’s way too demanding to expect one person to play all the roles that you need in your life. So cherish each individual friendship for what they are—almost like enjoying a bag of Skittles with different flavours. Not everyone can be that friend you can have deep, intense talks with. Not every friend can understand you at your most vulnerable. But others can definitely bring you joy, laughter, and good times. Some friends are there to slap sense into you, others are there to give you warm hugs. Some friendships will be more surface-level, but that doesn’t mean they’re less significant. 

4. Be okay with uncertainty and ambiguity.
Hollywood movies spoil us with resolved, happy endings. They tie up loose ends neatly. Everything’s explained. The audience has an “aha!” moment of revelation. However, life is often more like an annoying indie film which has an open-ended, unresolved (or semi-resolved) ending that leaves you scratching your head. You want closure? You often won’t get it. You want an explanation for why certain things panned out the way they did? You often won’t get it. You want to know what the future holds? Good luck. In other words, accept that life’s ambiguous and is filled with uncertainty. And then move on. 

5. Don’t overcomplicate things.
You want to know if something is meant for you? Try it out. A friend of mine recently said, “Praying for your vocation begins I think, simply by … praying for your vocation.” The simplicity of his response was so awesome (and frankly relieving). You want to know if you’re called to religious life? Spend time with Jesus then (your would-be spouse). You want to know if you’re called to marry a particular person? Spend time with that person (and Jesus). You want to know if a career path is for you? Do some volunteer work, do an internship, or do some job-shadowing so you’d know. Life is simpler than it seems. 

6. Focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t. 
This is one of the most liberating lessons I’ve learned. The recipe to hopelessness, frustration, and prolonged sadness is to keep focusing on things you have no control over. For instance, can only influence a person’s perception of you to a certain degree. After that, it’s totally in their hands. Misunderstanding happens. You could have the best intentions in the world, but someone could still take it the wrong way. Don’t lose hair over that. Don’t chase approval. Heck, Jesus was totally misunderstood by others. But he said his piece, presented the truth, ‘shook the dust off his feet’, and moved on. Clearly it wasn’t his top priority to please everyone. So instead, focus on what is within your control and let go of what isn’t.

7. Work with what you’ve got.
It’s an utter waste of time to wish you were ‘different’—if that ‘different’ is something you have no control over. Wishing you had a better metabolism will literally do nothing to help you get to a healthier body weight. Yes, it’s true that some people are born with better metabolism than others. But is that going to help your particular situation? No. So just hit the gym and eat healthier. If you aren’t naturally thin like other girls, then celebrate your curves (or the reverse if that’s your case). If you aren’t an extrovert, maximize your strengths as an introvert. My point is: work with what you’ve got.

8. Stop telling yourself you wasted your time, because you haven’t.

Did you major in the wrong subject in college and are now blaming yourself for switching gears? Well, don’t. As tempting as it is to tell yourself it was a complete waste of time, meandering in the ‘wrong road’ will probably be very useful to you in unexpected ways (how about a unique skill set?). Did you just get out of a long-term relationship with someone you were convinced would be your spouse? As good as it feels to be dramatic and say it was all a waste of time, it probably wasn’t. That person was “put in your life to teach you a lesson” (I actually hate that phrase for being so damn true). See the value in everything. It’ll save you the heartache.

9. Do something meaningful. 
Whatever ‘meaningful’ means to you is up for you to decide. It’s a little different for everybody. For me, it means doing something that builds you up and/or builds others up. Beware of the trap of empty pleasures! We all need to unwind with things like Netflix, TV shows, or going out dancing once in a while. But do so in moderation. Too many nights repeating the same shallow things can add up to months of lacking meaning or purpose in your life.

10. Do whatever brings you joy.
Remember that ‘meaningful things’ don’t always have to be ground-breaking or epic. Even seemingly shallow things, like a simple hobby, are worth doing— simply because they bring you joy. For instance, I mentioned briefly in a previous blog post that dancing used to be a HUGE part of my life. I’d go summers practicing for competitions every single day, I kid you not. And then I stopped dancing when I went through depression. But lately I’ve been dancing again on a weekly basis, leisurely rather than competitively, and it has been surprisingly transformative. I feel like I’m thawing again after being frozen for so long. I feel like the colour is coming back to me, like I’m recovering a part of myself that I lost. Am I going to make a career out of dance? Probably not. But does that mean it isn’t worth doing? Heck no. Sometimes God gives us these little talents and gifts because it brings joy to us, brings joy to him, and hopefully brings joy to others who witness it. If something brings you joy, keep doing ityou don’t need another fancy reason.

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