Things I learned in 24 years: Part 2

I shared the first half of this post recently, about some of the important things I’ve learned so far. You can read it here.

 

13. It probably won’t matter in a week/month/year. That presentation you’re agonising over? Will probably be forgotten in a week by everyone present (even if you spend ten minutes faffing with tech and then trip over half way through). Deliberating over asking someone on a date? Do it! It might sting if they say no, but in a month’s time the feeling of rejection will be a distant memory and in its place will be the satisfying pride that accompanies Doing A Brave Thing. Even the big stuff – a crushing breakup, a stint in a terrible job – will wane in importance until, one day, they become an anecdote told wryly over brunch from a much better place. Ask yourself, “Will I still care about this in a year?” and allocate your worry accordingly.

 

14. Advice giving is risky business. People have a tendency to seek advice, nod in earnest and with vigour, and then proceed to act in the most contrary way possible. It’s a source of frustration but we remain pesky creatures who seek validation for our rubbish decisions even when we know they’re rubbish. Pal wants to know whether they should leave their shitty boyfriend? Watch her agree vehemently as you list all of his flaws, and continue to move in with him six weeks later. Sometimes you have to grit your teeth through the inevitable car crash and vow to be a shoulder to cry on at the end.

 

15. You are more resilient than you think. I have endured and overcome some terrible periods of mental ill health. I have had some appalling jobs that made me dread going to sleep because I knew that when I woke up, I’d have to face another day at work. I have lived with an ex-boyfriend for six months after he unceremoniously replaced me with somebody else. It was excruciating (at one point we had a vicious and enduring argument over a lamp), but when people ask “how did you manage?” my only response is, “because I had to.” We can do hard things – often not out of choice, but because there is no choice. We can only put one foot in front of the other and trudge through the fire until we find the other side.

 

16. My therapist is the best gift I’ve ever given to myself. This almost certainly deserves its own post, so great has the impact been on my life. It isn’t cheap; each month I put money aside for my visits and even then I can only afford to go once a fortnight, but it is so worth it. If anything happens in those fourteen days that I’m struggling to deal with, I’m safe in the knowledge that I have a firm date in my diary to talk them through. Therapy isn’t a cheat sheet for life, and I won’t leave that little room with armfuls of handy hacks, but it allows me to feel like I’m taking responsibility for my problems whilst not bearing their entire weight on my shoulders.

 

17. Having fun is so, so important. I started talking in therapy about the value of fun around the same time as I was powering through my copy of Ice Cream for Breakfast by the fantastic Laura Jane Williams, and it was an eye-opening couple of weeks. In a world that sometimes seems so dire, the idea of frivolity and fun feels like an indulgence we have neither the right to nor the time for – even though this is when we probably need it the most. Being childish isn’t just for children, and sometimes it’s really bloody necessary if you want to stay afloat.

 

18. Kindness and compassion are underrated and surprisingly rare. We live in a cynical world, fuelled by intense individualism and emotional lethargy. We contribute to the quiet consensus that people are somehow deserving of their disadvantages because we’re too emotionally drained to think compassionately about anyone – sometimes, not even ourselves. We tend towards assuming the worst: the rudeness of the cashier is a reflection of their dreadful personality, not the side-effect of a bad day; the drunk man yelling on the bus is a degenerate, not somebody battling demons we know nothing about. Don’t be a pushover, but do try to show some compassion – it can be very powerful, and it costs so little.

 

19. If your job doesn’t feel right, and finances permit: leave. I spent almost three years in jobs I either hated or felt ambivalent about, in pursuit of a career I wasn’t sure I even wanted. Every day I felt disheartened, but it was a slow process to find the courage to admit to myself that the thing I’d worked tirelessly for over a number of years might not actually be for me. Earlier this year I made the decision to take some time out and investigate other job options, and now I’m in an entirely different field. It’s not a forever move, but it’s right for now. If you have the means to leave then – excuse the cliché – life is too short to accept discontent.

 

20. Another work-related lesson: your career doesn’t have to be the epicentre of your universe. One of the reasons I felt so uncomfortable with my previous career path was that it was dictating decisions I made in other areas of life, and I acknowledged that one day it would take over entirely. As much as I admire those who are, I’ll never be solidly career-minded; I value my leisure time too much, and having a glittering and consuming career just isn’t high enough on my list of priorities to ever considering sacrificing this time. Hell, maybe you don’t have any designs for a ‘career’, and that’s okay too. It’s more than okay. Say it with me: You. Are. Not. Your. Job.

 

21. Travel alone. Solo travel remains one of the best decisions I have ever made, and also one of the hardest things I have ever done. I remember arriving into Ubud in the middle of the night, jet-lagged and totally clueless, and sobbing because I was so afraid. I won’t ever pretend to have enjoyed each moment of my trip because one of the things that made it so brilliant was how the struggle forced me to learn. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone so significantly taught me about my boundaries, fears, and values in a way I wouldn’t otherwise have known how.

 

22. Being a good friend can be really fucking hard. I am often the cheap margarine of friendship, spreading myself too thinly and leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouths. I have mistakenly believed that I can give my whole self to everyone who asks, except I arrive only half present, mind buzzing with other commitments or utterly exhausted from trying to be all things to all people. Here’s the deal: I like going all-in on my friendships. I like losing myself in the feeling of spending time with someone I cherish, and being mutually vulnerable, and sharing each other’s delight. Only, I can’t – physically and emotionally – go all-in with everyone I have ever cared about.

 

23. Everything is a story if you tell it right. Sometimes the only thing that gets me through adversity is knowing I can store it up to write about later. I’m reaching for a silver lining here, but if it gives me storytelling material at least it isn’t bother for nothing. This also works with spontaneous decisions: the words “fuck it, it’ll make a good story,” have passed my lips on a number of occasions.

 

24. Spend time with your parents whilst you still can. Each time I go home, I recognise my dad’s health declining and it causes unspeakable pain to acknowledge the implications. Our relationship was fraught with difficulties during my teenage years, but we’ve both made an effort to address these and develop something stronger, bit by bit. I find myself visiting more – in fact, I’m writing this from my little desk in my parents’ house – because I want to look back on happy memories when the time comes.

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