An absurd, difficult year in many respects. I lost my maternal grandmother, eleven years after her husband, my grandfather, passed away just as suddenly. I went back to full time work in logistics and had a stressful first few months adapting to the rigours and pressures of the role. I went through many personal and professional challenges that have seen many of the goals I’d set a year ago go unfulfilled. There is a lot that I am sorely missing from my life as these last hours of 2013 elapse, second-by-second.
What was it all for? That’s where the absurdity is: I have no clue. There may be no inherent meaning, and so I’m free to assign it whatever meaning I choose. As with anything, not all of us can see the long-term consequences of the choices we make.
Apple founder Steve Jobs audited calligraphy classes at Reed College during his last few months as a student there just because he liked it. It would take nearly a decade before they found practical expression in the word processing technology of the Macintosh and, by extension, the entire domain of home computing.
I’d like to think that we don’t think as much as we should in long counts. If we did, maybe we’d end up finding more meaning in the little things that we do, the itty-bitty little seeds that we plant that sometimes blossom into entire forests.
On the other hand, I end the year tougher, braver, more ambitious and even more inspired than when I started it, if a little bit sharper around the edges. I reconnected with family, brought my writing to the public in a huge way requiring guts I didn’t think I had a year ago. I’m still building on that while taking everything to an exciting new direction: the opening up of my own publishing company in 2014. I’ve connected with amazing game-changers in the arts and find myself not very different from them.
I’ve achieved traction this year, and traction is huge.
What lessons did I come away with from 2013?
Wait me out. This is a quick FYI for my friends and mentors who find themselves frustrated by my stubbornness at times to accept alternate views: give me a year. I find myself now seeking the very goals and objectives, entertaining the same ideas now, that I’d rejected a year ago. I don’t know why it works that way with me, but I guess I prefer to test things out myself. It’s nothing personal. In fact, my mom’s learned this fact about me, so even though she knows I’m arguing with her now about a professional or creative direction she wants me to take, she also knows that all she has to do is wait. Just the same, if you’ve got an idea or teaching that I’m resisting, just give me some time to come around.
Boundaries are everything. We’re so used to people talking about freedom that we forget that boundaries are a key part of that experience. Revolutions and declarations of independence are all about re-defining boundaries that were set for us, but they’re never about eliminating the boundaries altogether, nor do they have to be as dramatic. In the day to day, it’s the boundaries we set for ourselves at our jobs, in our friendships, for our own projects, that empower or disable us, or that act as governors over our growth rate. If you’re naturally timid, you may have acquired the idea a long time ago that worst-case scenarios will always transpire if you ever set your own boundary, especially with difficult people and situations: loss of friendship, loss of jobs, even loss of physical security, loss of life. Most of the time, though, that doesn’t happen, and any hard feelings from your peers are temporary. Practice saying “no” when it serves you, and you’ll see that the sky doesn’t fall. Setting boundaries has been the single most important talent I’ve developed in 2013.
Be comfortable flying solo. I spent more time alone this year on my free time than anytime in my whole adult life. I explored cities and tourist sites in my area alone. I went to restaurants I wanted to try alone. I went to a lot of events on my own. A lot of people didn’t get it, I pissed off more than a couple of them because of it, but a few of them eventually figured it out, and though I’m starting to reconnect socially with the friends I have missed, I still can’t help it: I just feel stronger in my own skin doing my own thing. As you get to know people, you start to notice that the clear-cut definitions of “introvert” and “extrovert” are anything but: as individuals, we all resist typology to some degree, and social scientific categorizations find themselves checked by the reality of the personalities of the subjects they presume to put into convenient boxes.
That being said, it also means that people can be “mostly” a thing, and I’m still mostly introverted. I will screen calls and texts, not because I’m trying to be an asshole, but because I’m not feeling the need to socialize at that moment, but it’s in that moment. I may be in a more sociable headspace tomorrow, which may not be convenient for the schedules of people looking to hang out, but is what it is. Looking at the long count of things, I’m overall just happy going about my own business (which, by the by, really helps this whole writing thing very much so!), and it means when I do reconnect, I’ll be much better company than I otherwise would be. And, of course, it ties into the boundary thing.
Practice “life aikido”. (Or jujitsu, I always get those two confused). On more than a few topics, we’re conditioned to think “either-or”. In the Bradley Cooper movie “Limitless”, his character Eddie, blocked on a book he’s writing on a contract, faces the choice of sticking it out on his own or losing his advance and going to work full time for his dad’s hardware store. Really, though, why can’t you have both? The paradox I found from working full time and part time was that my writing productivity skyrocketed: I produced more words in 2013 than during all my time in 2012 working only part time. Turns out I have to make the time now: otherwise I’ll just lollygag around.
Full Time work for someone else puts a premium on the time you have for your dream. Instead of “either,or”, try “and,with”. The idea of “either,or” is often a lazy mental convenience that saves you from looking out for more than one option. Prioritize your bigger goal and then make the things you “have to do” serve that end. Do your best to turn every loss, every step backwards, every defeat, into a victory by harnessing the energy of all opposing forces in your favour.
Find out what you are outside of what you do. Go to any party where you’re meeting new people, and the default follow-up question to the icebreaker introduction is often “so, what do you do?” It’s convenient, of course – again, helps us slot this new person into a box of understanding – but it’s almost never accurate, or rather, it’s never complete. Each person is immeasurably worth more than just their job, but it’s not terribly convenient, from a wine-and-cheese standpoint, to ask someone you just met “what do you believe?” or “what do you represent?”.
Eventually, if the conversation goes well, you’ll get to that point, but until then, it’s just good to keep in mind that the value of a human being isn’t necessarily based on professional action and outcome, not even religious or political belief, but on what they add to life. Most importantly, though, it’s to learn to recognize in yourself that YOUR value is far more than than what you do.
What do you add to life? What would you like to add? And what’s stopping you?
What would I like to add to life in 2014? I want to continue to leave everyone I meet with the impression of increase. I want to empower as many people as I can, to wake them up to bigger realities, and in the process awaken myself to larger possibilities. I want to continue to explore things on my own when it empowers me to do so. I want to take one trip somewhere outside the country (I’m thinking New York right now, though that can change any minute).
And I want to continue writing, continue creating, and making the most of life, and contribute to building the next greatest versions of everyone I love, and thus myself. Better than any resolution or set of goals, that, I feel, is what I’d like to do during the next twelve months.
Happy New Year, everyone. May it be grand.