We've officially made it to my birthday.
Dang this has been a long year.
It's a little weird looking back to a year ago from now, since so many things were different. Maskless- mischief-makers, we were completely ignorant to the truly unprecedented historical moment we were about to be thrust into. Reflecting onto where I was a year ago today, it feels like my entire persona has been almost as discontinuous as our recent vacation plans. From meekly rousing the unsung year in an empty field during the pioneering days of the pandemic, to joyously inviting my newfound 19 coupled with childhood friends and coronavirus antibodies, this has been a year full of immense growth and discomfort. There were some days which felt long and arduous, while others felt blissful and breathless. All the same, I weathered every one. In honor of this pivotal year of challenge and change, it only seemed fitting to close this fleeting chapter with a few of the lessens I learned along the way. <3
1. When in Doubt Turn to Nature
In the year of 'social-distancing' and state-mandated social aversion, lesson number one is one I learned from pure necessity. Shipped over the border of NJ to the foreign land of Pennsylvania with my prized pup and pertinacious personality in tow, I found a welcome home in my newfound appreciation for the outdoors. Initially, it started as a strict coping mechanism for the unprecedented chaos that was/is coronavirus, but I soon found myself craving the literal "breath of fresh air" these outdoor ventures gave me. I loved the physical challenge of pushing my body back into shape after a year or so of some much needed laziness, and I craved the mental clarity I gained from each step.
I've had the pleasure of exploring a few different nature scenes during this year's exploration (I guess there are a few advantages to living in the sticks of the North-East.) Initially, the welcoming river-town scene of my new home in PA refined my quads and my confidence during the early woes of corona. While, the post-quarantine summer sun reinvigorated my spirit (and my tan!) The expansive green fields of our local nature reserve cultivated countless smiles and friendships. Whereas, the mesmerizing mountains and lush arboretum of my latest escape hug my anxieties and foster inner clarity through their cool composure. And even though these aren't in any specifically ranked order, I felt this lesson had to be atop my list because it has by far been one of the best additions to my year for the widened perspective it presents me. After all, only from the seeds of perspective can progress truly blossom.
2. Never Be Afraid to Ask for Help
This was one I learned the hard way...a few times. My whole life I've never wanted to really feel like a burden to others around me. I was the 'good girl' that others could count on. The 'golden child' who was never the problem. And this crooked ideology ran deep and continually encouraged me to silence any personal challenges I may have. Which, eventually, forged a stubborn internal conviction that any situation I encountered could be conquered through my self-propelled determination and grit alone. Yet, many instances this year have forced me to finally face the music of this off-beat understanding. Coming to the realization that asking for help personifies strength oppose to weakness was pivotal in engaging and encouraging many of the positive changes I've made this past year. By internalizing the concept to simply ask for what I need I've found that the road toward achievement can be made a hell of a lot simpler. And because help can come in many forms, from a sympathetic ear to structured advise, it's even more important to ask yourself first before you go running heedlessly to another party. Asking for help really is a necessary part of life, and only when I finally trusted myself enough to embrace my own vulnerabilities and weaknesses have I been able to feel the most authentically me. And although this has proved to be one of the largest and most influential lessons I've gathered this year, it is also the one that requires the most amount of repetition for me to internalize. Don't be fooled. Simply because I've highlighted these specific lessons, doesn't mean that I always remember them!
3. Nobody Hurts From a Little Bit of Compassion
Although not the most life altering lesson of the year, this one has to have been the most positive. I used to be a very cynical person. Weighed down from years of depression and undiagnosed ADHD, I was very hard on others, but even harder on myself. At any given moment my mind was racing with negative, ugly thoughts and, alongside my fortified inability to ask for help, my capacity for emotional understanding was to put it mildly- stunted. Yet, it wasn't hard for this tumultuous year to finally break down that hard facade. The many trials and tribulations I encountered this year have repeatedly proved to me that no matter the situation you truly can never go wrong from approaching it through the eyes of compassion. In conflicts with others, I've seen how much easier compromise can come when the emphasis is put on understanding each others perspective, over simply defending your own. While for challenges within myself, the most beneficial solutions were found when I first accommodated imperfections instead of resisting them. It's plainly more productive to approach every situation assuming there's a bigger picture at play. Keeping your eye on the bigger picture can help ground your reactions to the more kind and sympathetic end of the spectrum- regardless of the opposing parties' personal disposition. In practice this would mean that your professor probably wasn't rude to you because of their inherent distain, and instead its safer to assume that they've had a rough day and a friendly response could be the break they needed that day to lighten their load. Our world is illustrated through our personal perception. Large and small alike, attuning perceptions can remind you to be more mindful of the bigger picture at play. Eventually, you'll start to notice just how much everyone needs a little grace.
4. Prioritize Small Steps Over Sweeping Changes
It's so interesting how each step forward can feel so trivial in the moment, yet come to be so instrumental in hindsight. Motivated from a genuine desire to enact longterm changes to my previous routines, this year I distinctively prioritized marginal movements over sweeping changes. This approach, I've found, has been the most mentally compassionate method, while still undeniably empowering any and all progress toward my goals. By forcing myself to focus solely on the step in front of me, instead of the whole staircase I find myself better able to battle the inevitable fear-induced paralysis that comes whenever I try to take that initial step forward. I will admit that this slow integration can feel like stagnation at points, yet in times of doubt I found comfort in my commitment to these small adjustments. Your choices create your character after all, so this year I've seen firsthand how if your desire is to change yourself you must first change your choices-no matter how small.
5. Communication is Everything- Until It's Not
I am a person who is intrinsically attached to words. The power of words to bring meaning to experience, bring healing to hurt, or clarity to confusion, has always entranced me. (As I'm sure you can tell from my escape of writing here.) As a chronic over-thinker and Chatty Cathy, there really is no limit for my ability to talk to myself or others. And, this usually works out to my favor. Many times this year I've used this tendency for constant conversation to chat up new people, and invite new experiences. Yet, as of recently, I've started to see how some things in life are truly greater than words. It's a tricky thing, because it's just as easy to use communication as a wall to discourage vulnerability and hide from fear, as it is to utilize it as a tool to promote greater understanding. What separates the difference? Action. Communication without action is useless. You can only communicate your way around a circle so long before you end up right where you started. You see, sometimes the best outcome of a situation isn't to understand it, but to simply live it. And for a control-freak like me that's been a hard one to accept. Words can be pre-planned, and controlled. Actions can be uncertain and scary. Yet, it is in this uncertainty of action that possibility flies free. Free from the specific guide of communication, free from expectations, and free from fear. Remaining present and taking note of when the scenario is really requesting your experience rather than your communication might just give you the outcome you were looking for in the end. And though I know this is much easier said than done, I'm coming to realize that though I might want to talk myself through every situation I come to, at times my best move is to just close my mouth and open my eyes.
*Editors note at the time I am posting this I've come down with a mean case of laryngitis which has physically taken away my voice. I've chosen to compassionately take this as the universe's not-so-subtle sign to practice what I preach!
These are by far not the only lessons I've learned this year. As I said earlier, this was a year full of immense challenge and change in almost every aspect of my life. These top 5 simply scratch the surface of the many untold mistakes, advice, and learning curves I've encountered along the way. Each experience good and bad has lead me to this moment: content with yet another year under my belt. And as I set sail on yet another unwritten journey, I really only have one thing to say: Bring it on.