Things I Learnt in 2017

The dawn of any new year always manages to throw about those same range of emotions whilst we recap the past twelve months before anticipating the ones ahead.

Our pot of 2017, which bubbles away on the stove whilst we prepare to pop the cork of 2018, is bound to consist of the same ingredients as ever, just in different quantities, perhaps.  No doubt there’ll be a few spoonfuls of personal achievement, several slices of regret, a bit of cringe purée and some handfuls of frustration, as well as whatever else you decided to throw in this year to spice up the recipe.

These recollections serve as a good time to sit back and take stock of everything.  You will naturally ask yourself whether or not you enjoyed this year, and in doing so replay the happiest and the most challenging times that you experienced.  From those, you may find it easy to say whether or not you’ve had a “good year”, but perhaps just as importantly, you might ask yourself what you have learnt.  What lessons will you take forward to make the next year, an even better one?!

When I was about fourteen years old, the internet – and by default instant messaging programs – were just taking off.  The importance of completing Biology homework was suddenly rivaled in priority by deciding what font to best represent yourself with on MSN Messenger (I eventually settled on bold orange Trebuchet, after a lot of soul-searching and experimenting with other styles and hues, none of which ultimately felt right).  Of equal importance to this, of course, was your selected username.  For most, these were usually the self-deprecating lyrics of some nu-age metal band; for others, a range of lip-kissing emojis and asterisks (*)(*)(*) – input here for nostalgic effect).  Every now and then, though, somebody might present an inspirational quote, something which nowadays we see everywhere and take for granted, but which back then were a little more unusual to see…

It was the Danish nineteenth century philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, who originally observed that, “Life can only be understand backwards, but must be lived forwards”.  The first time I saw that quote it was as the selected username of a contact on MSN Messenger, some random girl from school (everybody added everybody back then).  I really didn’t think much of the quote at first, but something about it stood out, and with each passing year, the greater the appreciation I have that there’s some semblance of truth within it.  No matter how well we are taught during infancy and our younger years, we only really learn about life with experience.  It’s only through trying things out that we can begin to understand who we are, how we work, and what the big wide world is truly about.  And I don’t for a moment believe that we will ever really stop that learning, because all the whilst the rest of the world around us is changing, so are we.

The lessons I learnt in 2017 will be different to those of everybody else, but regardless, I think that it’s good to share these with one another.  We can learn a lot about life just by understanding what’s going on in everybody else’s worlds, and how they choose to deal with it.

1. If You Really Want It – Keep Moving for It!

In 2017, I achieved a couple of things – huge to me – which took a lot of hard work and patience to get.  A Triathlon was a classic example; I have never been a person synonymous with sport, I even got rejected from the Ultimate Frisbee club at Lancaster Uni because in the trials I couldn’t demonstrate that I knew how to throw the damn thing; so in signing up for a challenge which would comprise of a whole day’s relentless exercise I knew that I would either succeed or – most likely – be an embarrassing wreck of a failure.  I was so convinced by the visual of the latter, that I became even more determined not to fail.  So, with the help of the nice man at the gym I set a training plan and stuck to it.  For over a year, exercise was central to the calendar of the girl who had never really set foot in a gym beforehand; and the ultimate result was that I completed the Triathlon perfectly fine.

The secret? I just kept going.  There were many occasions when I was tempted to abandon my scheduled bike-rides or gym trips, but I knew that if I did so I ran the danger of lulling into the bad habits of my former laze of a self.  So, I just put one foot in front of the other repeatedly, until I was twenty miles away on a bike, with no choice but to cycle another twenty miles back.

I am not intending for this to read as a ‘yay for me’ post.  Yes, I am proud of myself, but I am also aware that people complete athletic feats like this all the time, many of which eclipse my own.  I’m sharing this only because I want anybody who is reading this who perhaps feel that their own ambitions are beyond reach, to know that they are not.  If I can complete a Triathlon, you could probably open up a gin bar on Mars if you wished to.

In knowing what you want to achieve, you have taken the first step towards it.  Now, you just need to take the next one.  And the next.  And the next. And you need to keep on taking those, regardless of the voices within that may tell you otherwise, until finally you’re there.  Just keep moving.

2. Silence the Questions, Thrive in the Reality

Perhaps a more personal one here, but one that may resonate with others.

I learnt that I am done with wondering ‘what if’, as is so tempting to do all too often.  I don’t want to waste any more time considering whether or not to do the particular things I’m inclined to do in fear of the range of impacts they might have.  A little rationality to prevent us making silly mistakes? Sure.  But sometimes… in fact… increasingly often… I have discovered it far better to know and to deal than to ponder and avoid.

I think most of us, generally, are far better at dealing with the things we’re aware of than the things we’re not.  It’s the not-knowing, and the questions, that tend to give us the biggest headaches, cause the most anxiety, and waste the most of our precious time.  So it’s time to take that step out for good.

Much like if somebody gives us their opinion on something we have said or done that they disapproved of, it may not always make for the nicest hearing, but it at least enables a sense of trust in what that person has to say.  If they then reassure you that your new outfit doesn’t make you look like a jammy dodger you can cut out that period of worrying that they’re just being polite, because they’ve already demonstrated they’re not afraid of being honest with you.

In life you can only really find things out by seeing them for yourself.  And I would far rather do whatever it is I feel like doing, and learn from the experience – even if it doesn’t result in the kind of outcomes I thought I was after – than sit and wonder ‘what if?’ forever.

So in 2018 it’s time to think much less, do much more.

3.  Reach Out; Keep Connected

This was not a new lesson for 2017, but rather an annual e-Learning refresher course of sorts.

Going back to Kierkegaard’s sentiment about understanding life retrospectively; back when I was teenager I was extremely fortunate to have pretty much the same people around me for years and years.  Perhaps the biggest change might have been that somebody would move to a street on a different side of town, or that my best-friend would move up a set in German meaning that I no longer had a buddy to share forbidden snacks with under the table (we’d have to indulge at recess instead).  The everyday company was consistent, and that was welcome in so many ways that I perhaps didn’t even realise back then.

“When we all leave here tomorrow, we’ll just be a bunch of lights scattered around the UK”, said my good friend, mawkishly, after several glasses of wine (and probably a few shots of sambuca), on the last night of University, a few years later, before we all left that little town in the North-West that was to brand itself into all our hearts permanently.  We had lived in each others’ pockets for a whole three years, but it was now time to disperse, and until she made those comments, I don’t think I had ever really appreciated how nice it had been – nor how lucky I was – to have had that consistency each day.

In adulthood, I struggle to think of any recent years in which the people I feel closest to or see the most of haven’t physically moved around.  People are moving in and out of this neck of the woods all the time, re-settling here, there and everywhere until before you know it you’re visiting old friends in new UK towns, and meeting up with new friends in the trusted old surroundings of your local pub.  We may move around ourselves too, or change jobs, or meet new people that introduce us to other new people, who introduce us to other new people, and so on.  It’s nice to meet new people, but any change that involves saying goodbye is still hard.

It’s life; and to some extent it’s what happens, but the saddest thing would be to let so much change turn the vision of a loved one’s face from colour to sepia print before you’ve even realised (to put it in an unashamedly maudlin, Birds of a Feather opening theme-esque way.)

This year I have remembered why it’s important to reach out to those you haven’t spoken to in a while, keep connected, know what’s going on in their world.  Don’t be idle, and let the people you quite like having in your present end up in your past.  And if that does happen, be reassured that you can easily bring them back with just one small message, so send it.

It’s not the newest lesson, but it’s probably one of the most important.

Wishing you all a wonderful 2018.

Song of the Day:   Suburban Kids with Biblical Names – Do It All or Don’t Do it All

Suburban Kids with Biblical Names were a sweet little Swedish twee-pop band that churned out a number of classics in the ‘00s, when the genre saw a resurgence of popularity.  I have recently started listening to them again; and this is one of my favourites:

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