7 things I have learned in 2017

Yet again, the earth has completed another orbit around the sun, leaving me like a rock in the ocean – thrashed around,  eroded, sculpted into a new shape entirely. Some lessons are hard to learn; some are easy. Some are unpleasant; some are enjoyable. To learn is to grow, no matter whether the learning is positive or negative. Sometimes change is destructive before it’s productive; even forest fires, the most destructive of forces, bring new growth to environments, replenishing habitats. Without change – physically or philosophically, we stagnate. What have I learned in 2017 that will allow me to grow?

7 things I have learned in 2017:

1. Be vulnerable; write often. 

A year ago today, the thought of connecting my innermost thoughts to a crowd of anonymous readers was terrifying. Right now, I’m typing my 32nd blog of the year. 32 separate times I sat here and spoke my truth. I find that with each post, I am able to express more of myself – be vulnerable. Some blog posts are better than others, but any time I illustrate my subconscious – and publicly, at that- is a victory; I grow as a blogger.

2. You can always make more money – not memories.

Disclaimer: saving money is important, and I’m in no way advocating avoiding a healthy savings account.

However, early in the year, I found myself obsessing over exactly how much I could save in a period of time. I wouldn’t allow myself to spend money unless it was necessary. One morning, rather than fixating on my savings account, I impulsively booked a trip to Mexico. I bought the flight, paid for an excursion, booked the rooms, and calculated how much needed to be saved each paycheck towards the trip.

When the trip arrived, I allowed myself to indulge in the finer things, and it was worth every cent. If I had continued to obsessively hoard that money, I would have more money to show for it, sure, but I wouldn’t have the cherished memories. I wouldn’t have left my stress on the shores of the Riviera Maya.

We work so hard throughout the year; it’s important to take a break and see the world while we still can. I can always make more money, but I won’t always be able to make more memories.  This experience allowed me to grow as an explorer- an adventurer – a world traveler. A few weeks ago, my impulsivity struck again, and I have another adventure queued up for 2018.

3. Just say “no.”

Most of my life, I have been a fully-conditioned people pleaser. Saying “no” wasn’t something that came easily to me, and obligation after obligation came before my comfort zone. Not this year; something snapped inside of me. I learned to ask myself if I was doing something because I really wanted to do it, or if I was putting myself out to please someone else. If the latter was my truth, I then asked myself “would this person do the same for me?” If the answer was still no, my answer was no. We only get so many hours with which to expend whatever is leftover of our energy; learning to be selective with where I place my energy grew my self respect and overall happiness.

4. It’s okay to be perfectly imperfect.

Over the years, my level of perfectionism caused me to become uptight and routine-oriented. If something broke my routine, it would cause me anxiety. My weeks worked like clockwork, time ticking monotonously by. If something was out of place, it had to be put back immediately. Sunday fun day? More like Sunday chore day. Recently, I realized that sometimes rest is more important than having the perfectly manicured life. This is still a work in progress for me, but I am pausing to ask myself “am I doing this out of compulsion or necessity? How are my stress levels? Should I be tending to my soul rather than this chore?” I’m careful to be mindful of my well-being, allowing my mental health to grow.

5. Read more nonfiction. 

For some reason, although I’m an English teacher, I have avoided nonfiction books in lieu of what I considered the quintessential feel-good fluff. This year, I took the plunge into the nonfiction world and found a love for human truths I, for some reason, thought were only found in fiction. It all started with Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. I was humbled by the first words in his introduction:

I think I should start with a confession: I find the existence of the book you hold in your hands somewhat absurd. It says right there on the cover that it’s a memoir, but I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve accomplished nothing great in my life, certainly nothing that would justify a complete stranger paying money to read about it.” 

Holy relatable! This sense of being an imposter for telling your own story –  and the book was wonderful. Since then, I’ve been reading memoirs and self-help books galore. Being able to find relatable experiences in nonfiction has helped me to realize I’m not isolated – others, real humans in the world, share my experiences, and, at times, my thought processes as a result of certain situations. This has allowed me to grow as a writer – by beginning a memoir.

6. It’s important to recognize when you need help.

I’m not a stranger to adversity entirely; in fact – it has molded me into the person I am today, so I’m thankful for it. Recently, though. something happened that left me feeling as if I was drowning in a sea of grief, unable to emerge for a breath. I took time off of work and sought out an emergency therapist. Who knew such a thing would be so challenging to find on a whim?

I called place after place with the same result – “We are booked for 2 months,” or “we don’t offer those services here.” When you are physically sick, it is easy to find urgent help at every turn. Within 5 miles of my home, there are so many urgent-care clinics I could walk in at any time for assistance. However, the same cannot be said for mental health. I found myself thinking – wow. I need help, but my life is not in danger. If it were, I would be in some serious trouble right about now. 

Finally, I was able to find a therapist that could squeeze me in. I went and talked with her for a while, and I have follow up appointments in the near future. Realizing that it’s actually brave to ask for help, not shameful, is allowing me to grow out of harmful cycles.

7. Sometimes, you have to slam the door. 

In one of my forays into nonfiction this year, I found this quote touched on an important truth:

“Every day, we teach people how to treat us by showing them what we will and won’t accept, what we refuse to confront, and what we let slide. We may believe that we can make another person’s troublesome behavior disappear if we don’t make a fuss. But the message we send is, “It worked. Do it again.” 

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned this past year is encapsulated in that one quote – we teach people how to treat us. Some people, however, are simply just not teachable – their world view is black or white – and they close the door on learning. When someone closes the door on learning, they close the door on growing, and when they close the door on growing, I will slam the door on them. I don’t need to leave it propped open in case they need me in the middle of the night. If they want to re-open that door, they can search for a key – knowledge, learning, growth – which will allow them to open the door for themselves. I have enough weight to carry of my own – I don’t need to carry the weight of the world for others anymore.

It’s not my job to keep my door open for people who refuse to step beyond the threshold, and, frankly, I’m tired of waiting. I haven’t been teaching people the right way to treat me, but in 2017, I grew my self esteem.

In 2018:

I refuse to stop writing.

I refuse to be greedy.

I refuse to be a people pleaser.

I refuse to be perfect.

I refuse to stop reading nonfiction.

I refuse to refuse therapy.

I refuse to teach people the wrong way to treat me.

I refuse to carry other people’s issues on my back.

I refuse to stop learning.

I refuse to stop growing.

I refuse to stagnate.

I welcome the erosion.

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