I wrote the below bullet points at a time in my life when I felt totally and completely lost. Specifically, it was four months to the day after my five year romantic relationship, and four year professional relationship (office job), ended. Life as I knew it went KABOOM right in front of me!
The life I had constructed for myself now in tatters, I decided a worthwhile exercise might be to re-evaluate my overall outlook on life (since my previous outlook on life failed me so miserably!). I wrote down all of the things that I felt like I needed to learn from my life-KABOOMing experience. There were 17 of them.
- Life is short.
You could die right now while you’re reading this. Seriously, you could. The ‘life is short’ mantra reminds me of a line that my mum has told me many times (usually when I am going through a tough time in life), which is:
“Life’s too mysterious to take serious.”Probably the best advice I’ve ever been given.
- Finances are important. Happiness is more important. Re-read point 1 if you disagree.This is a statue at the bottom of the “Grouse Grind”, which is a steep uphill hike just outside of Vancouver, BC. The small plaque reads: “living in the moment just might be the meaning of life”.
- Everyone on this planet owns a unique perspective. Not a single other human being views the world in the same way that you do.
This may seem obvious to you as undoubtedly we are all incapable of literally seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. However, I used to believe I was capable of putting myself into another person’s shoes, and by doing this I believed I would be able to reasonably understand their views… and if I wasn’t able to understand their views, then they were wrong.Newsflash! They weren’t wrong, I was wrong! Why? I overestimated my ability to comprehend the world from someone else’s perspective.A recent book I read suggests that there are two major problems with how we view the world* – the “neck problem” and the “lens problem”. The neck problem is a failure to recognise that what YOU are looking at, attending to, or thinking about may be different from what others perceive. The lens problem is that even if you are paying attention to the same thing, you and someone else will likely be evaluating that same thing differently because of your personal views, your personal experiences etc etc. You can correct for the neck problem – by thinking about, or asking the other person, what they’re paying attention to – but it’s harder to correct for the lens problem.These may seem like obvious things. However, unless you are conscious that they exist, they may blind you without realising.*This comes from Nicholas Epley’s book Mindwise. Highly recommended.
- The majority are not always right. They are just the majority. Think for yourself.
Is the Earth flat or round? How do you know? My point is not to dispute whether the earth is in fact round, but instead that there was a time when the majority, actually everyone, on it thought it was flat. Challenge people. But much more important than this, challenge yourself. Just because the majority of other people think x, does not mean you are wrong for thinking y.
- No one knows you better than you. But it helps to talk to people.
Many times in my life I looked to others for answers – What should I study at college? What job should I do? What should I do with my life?I’ve come to realise that there are two problems with this approach:(a) I’ve been asking the wrong questions. And if you ask the wrong questions, you’re probably going to get the wrong answers; and
(b) I’ve been asking the wrong people. I am the one who has the answers, which means asking someone else to answer them is a waste of time.An example of one of the ‘wrong’ questions I used to ask myself is: what should I do with my life? The answer was invariably always ‘I don’t know’. I now believe at any point in time the answer to this question will always be the same (i.e. ‘I don’t know’). What I do know is that I’m in the process of answering it and that’s all that really matters.Asking the wrong people: I do not mean to say that I found no value in talking to others. But rather, that I need to talk to them about the right things! I like to talk about things that are happening in my life now as this can elicit experiential responses, which are valuable as others will have experiences that I have not. When I ask other people questions now, I try to ask questions that they can answer, or at least try to answer – I try to ask them about them, about their experiences, about their life. I think about and analyse the answers I get, while remaining conscious of point 3.
- Own who you are.
If people don’t like you that is their problem, not yours. From experience I can also tell you that trying to be someone who others want you to be or who you think others will like will probably make you dislike yourself. And that is not a good place to go.If you don’t think you know who you are then find out. I spent three months travelling, the majority of it alone, in a foreign country. Isolation seemed to work for me in this regard (though I still have a long way to go). That is me; isolation may not work for everyone.
- Self-awareness is rare.
If you have it that is great. If you don’t have it, that’s okay because you don’t know that you don’t have it.
- Be kind.
Sometimes people may say or do things that hurt you. I’ve found it is a waste of precious mental energy to let these things get to you. Just be kind instead. No matter how mean someone is to you. Be kind. It’s so much easier than getting into a shit throwing contest (e.g. the 2016 US presidential race).Sometimes people might be really mean – in these instances it can be hard to resist the urge to bite back. In these moments I’ve found it helps me to keep in mind that the mean person is probably being mean because of something they don’t like about themselves, rather than anything to do with you. I’ll admit that I still fail with this constantly. That’s okay though, read point 10.
- Life is interesting.
Ask lots of questions. If you don’t understand an answer, ask again. Learn! If you feel like you’ve stopped asking questions, maybe it’s time to consider a change. If so, point 17 might help.
- Nothing is ever a mistake unless you let it be.
Find time to reflect on your mistakes. By reflecting on the many mistakes I’ve made, I’ve learnt a lot about myself – they weren’t mistakes, they were learning experiences; all part of my journey.It’s important to also be aware that even after reflecting on a particular mistake, you might make the same mistake again. And again. And again. That’s okay. Some learn faster than others. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
- If you don’t like where you are at in life, there is only one person that can change it.
- It is okay to compare yourself to other people, however be mindful of point 3.
Comparison can be a motherfucker. I find that looking at Facebook, Instagram etc can get me down at times. Seeing people doing amazing things, visiting cool places, getting engaged etc etc, while I am munching a packet of instant noodles in track pants sitting on the sofa at home. Remember that Facebook etc are just highlight reels though…I’ve always found it hard to avoid looking around at what others are doing. When I used to do this I would see a lot of different things (i.e. Sally is a lawyer, Tom is a banker, Chad is studying nursing etc), and the thought “maybe I should be…” would pop into my head. I try not to do this anymore. Why? Because (a) there is no such word as “should”; and (b) points 3, 4, 5 and 6!!!!
- Don’t judge.
Don’t judge people for the choices they make. Don’t judge people for having a choice. Don’t judge people because they judge you for your choices. Realise that some people don’t have a choice. Don’t judge them for that. This goes hand in hand with point 14.
Respect others’ ideas. Respect others’ beliefs. Respect others’ decisions. Respect others. This one is harder than you think.I’m sure someone far smarter than I once said something like: I don’t believe in a religion, I believe in them all.
- Don’t be ignorant and don’t assume.
If you don’t understand something or someone, then ask questions. If you think you understand something or someone, then ask questions.
- Don’t worry about shit, and don’t blame people for shit.
Because shit happens. And you know what? It (shit, that is) will happen again! So don’t worry about it.Don’t blame people for shit either – it’s a waste of energy. I was taught at primary school not to point fingers, but I feel like I’ve only recently learnt what that means.Let me put it this way: sometimes shit might be caused by someone else, but that doesn’t mean they are to blame. You might even begin to notice that particular kinds of shit happens a lot when you are around particular people. For example, maybe someone can’t keep your secrets, even though you’ve told them countless times not to tell anyone your secrets when you confide in them. It’s not their fault for spreading your secret, even though you told them not to – it’s yours for telling them in the first place!Whether it’s the shit or the person, let it go.
- It is never “too anything” for change.
If you are like me then the thought of change invokes fear inside. Why? Because change is scary! It is largely a fear of the unknown. For me, this fear leads to rationalisations. I rationalise all the reasons why it would be wise for me to avoid the change that I am contemplating. Some of the common rationalisation’s I’ve experienced in the past when facing change are:
- It’s too late.
- It’s too hard (this is a common one).
- It’s too far away.
- It’s going to take too long.
- It’s too scary.
The key learning for me underlying all of the above is that the only thing I truly will ever have control over in this world is myself – my thoughts, my emotions, my words, my actions. All of these things can impact the outside world – they can hurt, they can heal, they can [insert random verb here].
That being the case, I think it is a good idea for me to work towards obtaining decent control of all of these things. Deep down I think I know I might only ever be able to get one hand on the steering wheel, however that is a lot better than none…