End of 2010: Lessons Learned (Part 1 of 3)

This is the soundtrack to this post (“Shine On” by R.I.O (Spencer & Hill Remix). Happy New Year and may you shine on in 2011!

The end of the year tends to be a time of reflection and that’s what I’ll do.  I would be interested in hearing from friends about their year as well. How are you guys doing? How was 2010?

Today, I will share the two achievements from the year and also some lessons learned.  It was a considerably ‘quieter’ year than 2009 for reasons blogged here (check out the archives on my blog posts from 2009).  There was no major events like “buying a house”, or getting married, or having a baby (right now I know at least TEN of my friends either have babies less than a year old or are pregnant), so I’ll just share a material achievement, then something a little more substantive I suppose.

The coolest thing I bought was a ride and of course driving a car is not a big deal, there’s many people that have better cars than the one I got or that have multiple cars.  What made it satisfying was that it was the exact car I’d been wanting a while, that I’d had pictures of the car up on the fridge for about 2 years.  The world wouldn’t have ended if I didn’t get it but it was still a nice to actually pick up one.  And also I love it when dreams are realized, I spent Christmas Eve at a friends place and over dinner the group of us were chatting about that, someone was describing how they’d always wanted a Jaguar–and then his eyes lit up as he described in detail how now that he has it, he likes to teach Fast & Furious wannabee kids lessons on speed racing with his “silver bullet” .  He also spoke of driving along the coastal highway in Florida, and I was imagining how the water must glisten like it is paved with crystals on a sunny day….it was a very nice chat we enjoyed that evening, and it got me thinking how it’s always cool when anyone does or gets something they’ve been waiting for.

A more impactful accomplishment though was being admitted into a post-graduate program. Honestly, I was not sure I would make the cut, plus I had some hesitancy over going back to school this late.  But, there’s a few areas of professional expertise professionally that I’d like to attain, so this  had to be done, plus it’s better to try than to not, and to feed hope than doubt.  I want to do some things within the field of international affairs that will facilitate travelling, while also allowing me to contribute something to a bigger cause. I wont’ pretend to have articulated exactly what that cause is, but it will develop.

Now for lessons learned in 2010, there’s three lessons that stood out. First the value of asking for help, then how to put setbacks in perspective, and finally, living & accepting your life.

First, it’s ok to ask for help. Sometimes there is a tendency to feel pained to ask for a favor like we’re cringing inside.  That’s why people often start off asking favors by saying, “Sorry to bother you….” –why is it ‘bothering’ someone to ask a favor?  Ask! Most achievements are not solo acts in that there is usually some contribution by others.  Think of a pilot.  Yes a pilot will fly a plane from London to Washington, DC, but he has a copilot, and the flight controllers and radar on the ground.

On this lesson it is necessary to clarify that asking for help doesn’t absolve one from personal responsibility.   Asking for help is only if I’m doing my part too and second that I accept that no one single person is obligated to help me. It is not ok to expect welfare.  Ever told someone where you work and then they said, “hey man. Get me a job there?” Not “how can I work there or in a place like that?”, but “GET ME” a job?  The other part about asking for help is just because I ask someone for help doesn’t mean that they have to.  I’ve improved in not taking it personally when a request for help is turned down.  The good news is that in my experience, there are enough people who really love to help others achieve, so help is available if we look.

A second lesson for me is that temporary setbacks are not the same as ultimate defeat. If there is something you want to accomplish, it is not a disaster if it does not happen exactly when you thought it will.  This year (2010) I moved into an apartment I had wanted to move to three years ago but had not been able to at the time.  I still moved and I was able to sort a few things out that had been holding me back before.  This is all about having perspective.  Life charted on a graph would be an oscillation of (seemingly) random up and down patterns. A victorious high one day, and a depressing funk another day.  However, if the general direction  is trending upwards (i.e. positive) it is important that we not get too depressed by the dips which do and will happen.

The graph is trending upwards even if individual points are scattered.

The final lesson that stuck with me is to work on my own goals and timeline, not on others goals on their timelines. “Do you” is how people say it, and it is absolutely true. This is not some contrarian crusade, I’m not saying to become gothic for no reason.  I’m in the last year of my 20s, and I often get lots of (not so) subtle advice on certain milestones I “should” be looking at achieving. Most of the pressure is because of social conditioning, there is this idea that certain events must happen when you hit a certain age and really the only reason for that is because well  “that’s what everybody does”.   You know the all-american dream? Go to school, get a good job, get married, have 2 kids, buy a 2 car garage house, go on vacation once a year (and it must be exactly two weeks), live happily ever after, etc. F*@k that.  If it’s what you want good, if it isn’t then, well, “do you!”  There’s a girl I work with who is approaching her mid-30s.  She’s single, unmarried, and she’s way overqualified for her job in the conventional sense.  But she’s traveled to all continents, made friends in all sorts of places and she keeps adding destinations to the places she’s been.  A true global citizen.  When I was going to college, I had a friend that skipped college and went to wrestling school instead.  I admire them for following their calling.  We’re not barbie dolls, we are people with unique aspirations.  Standing firm on this sense is not easy to do as  the social pressure to conform is immense–try being an unmarried lady at 30.

So there! I hope your 2010 has been a good year, and that you had great experiences and learned some things too.  I’ll end with this from one of my favorite films: