2013 was one of the first years in which I didn’t really set out any particular aims or targets at the beginning, and given that I’m still sat in my same old chair in my same old room – it shows. 2012 had been a very good year, in a number of different aspects of my life, and so I didn’t really see fit to change anything in the New Year – 2013 – other than to just carry on, and keep smiling. Throughout the course of the year, such targets did begin to emerge more and more, and I did try and work towards them, but here we are now at the end of the year, and I haven’t really achieved any of them. The moving-out-of-home thing hasn’t quite come into fruition yet (which is especially gutting since the amount of money I’ve spent on driving tests – another thing I was hoping to achieve this year – could probably be enough to purchase a small mansion!), and I’m still infuriated by South Eastern Trains on a regular basis. Generally speaking, not a lot has changed, and whilst that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does leave me feeling a little underwhelmed at the end of the year, and disappointed that I haven’t achieved more, even if I have had a lot of fun.
But then I started to think about all the things beyond the surface. I started to look at things in greater depth, and I realised that whilst I may not have necessarily achieved very much this year in terms of what general society tend to define as ‘symbols of success’ (a relationship, children, a house, promotion at work, car), I’ve still learned a lot of things from life, that have helped me grow as a person, and right now… I consider that to be a success in itself…
Here’s what 2013 taught me…
1) The Value of Mistakes
Nobody likes to make mistakes. We fear the repercussions, and when those eventually manifest they have the ability to completely stifle us. We can feel guilty and stupid and disappointed in ourselves, especially if our mistake has let others down. It’s never a nice experience, but if a mistake we have made truly affects us then we will always do our best to learn from it, and try to ensure that it never happens again. I have slowly become to appreciate my mistakes more and more. I’m not afraid to acknowledge any of those moments when I know I need to get my arse in gear following any errors I’ve made – be it something specific, like forgetting to do something at work – or something a little deeper than that – like when I’ve perhaps jumped to unfair conclusions, or judged somebody too quickly. Guilt can be a rough ride but all mistakes can make you a better person, provided you don’t allow your pride to get in the way. They teach you how you can do things better.
I try and imagine a world in which nobody ever makes mistakes, and all I can imagine is a place where complacency has diminished peoples’ values and appreciation, and where comparative ease has slowly removed the incentive to take risks or try and improve at things. I think I prefer the way we have it here, even if it is a little harder.
2) The Value of ‘Shitty Times’
Aaaaand similarly. Most of us will have experienced shitty times at some point or another, albeit to varying extents or reasons, but we all know what they’re like. Shitty times are those wonderful moments, perhaps days, weeks (or maybe even more!) in which we feel that nothing we can do is right, that we’re never going to achieve anything, that the world is made up of 95% horrible people and that everybody hates us. For us women, we often like to attribute this to our monthly cycle, (a.k.a, ‘The Monthly Nutfuck’) but it’s not always that vague or general a feeling, sadly. Tragedies are more than just a genre of ancient old Greek stories, they actually do happen – and suddenly. Life does not always deal a fair hand. None of us are immune from being hurt or heartbroken. Being kind to others does not always mean they will be kind to you. Shitty times can spawn from all of these damning realities, and some in particular can be exceptionally hard to deal with. There is no quick fix, nor magic potion that can ever make any of these experiences easier to bare, but there is a value within them somewhere. And this is it: Whenever you manage to overcome a shitty time, no matter what kind, you become so much more than the person you were before. You are wiser. You are stronger. You find appreciation in the smallest things… but perhaps even more pertinently, you know you can get through it should it happen again, and that’s a little bit less fear to live with, at least…
Similarly to how I imagine a world in which nobody makes mistakes, I am just as underwhelmed by what comes to mind when I think about a world in which everybody is happy all the time and nothing bad ever happens. I am underwhelmed because I don’t think it could ever exist, even with the aid of all the magic needed to eradicate all the despair in the world. That’s because without shitty times, we don’t really understand happiness. Without shitty times, happiness means nothing.
I can’t pretend that I enjoy shitty times. I dread them with a passion and hate the way they make me feel, but deep down I do see the purpose in having them every once in a while. They can remind us of our focus and values, and sometimes even instigate the changes that deep down we know will make us happier but for whatever reason have been reluctant to go through with.
3. “If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. ”
When something doesn’t quite match your expectations, you can either run yourself – as well as others around you – into the ground with ongoing whinging or negativity, or you can shift your perceptions in order to focus on the positive aspects of it all. If you don’t think there are any positive aspects – search for them. If you still can’t find them – try and create them. If you can’t do that still, then accept that it is not something you’re destined for and do whatever you need to do to escape, but don’t let those around you also be brought down by your negative sentiments. I appreciate that this rather simplistic idea cannot be applied to all circumstances, but it certainly could during the experience that prompted me to take this away as one of the key things I’ve learned in 2013.
Ometepe Island, Nicaragua – October 2013
4. The Value of Just Being Yourself
Okay, I actually realised this several years back, so it’s not a new lesson learned as such, but in 2013 I’ve become an even bigger believer in this. There’s an all too infamous quote by Gandhi; “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” I’m sure you’ve all seen it before (probably in the form of some kind of twee internet meme) but in recent years I’ve understood this sentiment to be so true. There is simply little point in pretending to be somebody that you are not, for whatever reason may be behind that.
For many years I tried to deny to myself that I have a bit of an anxiety problem. It’s hardly anything uncommon (basically – I’m just one of those people that has the ability to over-analyse and worry about particular things way too easily, and when I do I tend to go very quiet and hide myself away without explanation, probably appearing as distant or nervous to others). Thankfully, it doesn’t interfere with my life as often anymore, but it’s still a part of me that for many years I was too ashamed to acknowledge – even to myself. It was that failure to acknowledge it that caused it to have more of a noticeable and negative impact on my life. Through feelings of guilt about being affected by something that I considered just ‘a stupid problem’, I tried so hard to pretend to myself that it didn’t exist – but pretending – as I discovered, was just a huge and tiring waste of energy which could instead be used on actually combating the issue. My experiences with anxiety are still not the kind of thing I’ll shout about unless asked, even to my loved ones – some of whom I know regularly read this blog – but I have definitely benefited from acknowledging it within myself. And that’s been the most important thing. Now that I’ve acknowledged it, and started to try and both understand and combat it completely, I’ve stopped giving myself as hard a time about it, because I know I’m aware of it now, as opposed to trying to sweep it away.
It’s so much easier just to be the person you are than the person you think that others think you should be – like feeling comfortable in something larger rather than trying to squeeze into an ill-fitting dress that hasn’t seen the light of day since 2007. (Likewise, as much as I enjoy glamming up, I see little point in doing it just to reign in the opposite sex with a Clinique-inspired mask that doesn’t accurately reflect the buck-toothed scarecrow face behind it)
Much of society opposes the concept of public nudity. I agree that it would probably be a bit inappropriate for everybody to walk around naked, but it does seem a slight shame that our most natural state of being is also one so commonly met with disapproval. In a superficial world like ours, where one’s possessions, wealth, number of social media ‘friends’, visual qualities of partner and whatever other stupid things there are out there, have – so horrifyingly – become the symbols of ‘success’ as perceived by society at it’s shallowest, it seems that many have taken the instruction to “Cover Up!” way too literally. If everybody could just focus on self-acceptance and being content with themselves as they are, there’d probably be far fewer instances of self-esteem issues than actually exists and is responsible for so many incidences of Depression existent in British society today. Be real and be raw and don’t waste any precious time on people who can’t like you for who you really are. The likelihood is they’re covering up too much too.
5. Think Before You Throw…
There aren’t many things in life that can’t be replaced somehow. In many ways this is a good thing, but in another sense, I fear it sometimes leads to needless disposal.
In 2013 I came very close to throwing something special away on the basis of a couple of things that had occurred within a proportionately small period of time and upset me. Knee-jerk reactions paved the way for belligerent opinions and fabricated insistence that I didn’t need this thing in my life anymore; that I was happy enough without it. Life is busy and we don’t always get the time to sit and think properly about our thoughts and actions; and often we make decisions based only upon the whimsical emotions prompted by the irritable fatigue that can come about as result of our hectic daily routines, and prevent us from thinking properly. It was only when I did take that time out, that I realised the magnitude of difference between those belligerent, knee-jerk opinions… and how I truly felt deep-down. I realised that I didn’t want to let go of this special something after all, as it had meant so much for so long, and instead I wanted to try and repair it. By simply waiting a while, and reviewing the situation from more angles, I prevented myself from making a huge mistake.
We are lucky that in this part of the world we have access to so much which is good, and that we have so much choice and freedom; but that shouldn’t allow us to lose grip on the relationships and possessions which truly mean the most to us. We shouldn’t be any more willing to dispense of something on the basis of impulsive reaction and the belief that it can be easily replaced with other wonderful stuff, because all that ultimately does is question the value of everything else that we will ever hold dear. I’m not saying that we should never release ourselves from particular things, but if we do then it should be on the basis of a timely and fair assessment, not just a whimsical reaction.
And so there we have it, five of the main lessons that were either learnt or reiterated in 2013, and will be used to combat 2014. Hopefully this year I’ll achieve a bit more than I did last year, and maybe those five lessons will be the thing that help me do it…
Song of the Day: Swing Republic – On The Downbeat
A final epiphany of 2013 was the discovery of a musical genre of which I had previously never heard: ‘electro-swing’ – which is basically a fusion of early to mid 20th century swing with 21st century beats. This is a great style of music to listen to during the daily commute!