Life Lessons (or bad advice) from a recent member
Sometimes I look at my age and I squint. 30? I certainly don’t feel 30. Perhaps it’s because most people under 30 imply we’re dinosaurs. And growing up, I thought 30 (even 20) was quite an adult age. Ha!
Surely by 30, the getting together of the shit is complete, you enjoy coffee and wine, crosswords and crocheting, perhaps even picking lavender on a warm spring day? Not quite, younger comrades. Although I’d be lying if I said they didn’t sound enormously appealing.
Of course, you, dear reader, know that not much changes from one year to the next, but that we are rather different ten years on. As a recent resident of this side of the fence, I’ve been asking myself (as I pick the day’s lavender): what’s so different between 20 and 30?
I suppose I don’t see myself chugging much wine out of cardboard boxes this decade (although never say never), and going ‘out out’ seems to demand the mental prep of an NFL player on match day. But some things are easier. Hopefully, we get more confident, more secure. Less likely to put up with shitty people or situations. More likely to walk away than ask for approval. We understand that there are simply better things to ask for.
I like to think I’m at least a little bit wiser. I’ve learned that no is a great word and that you will never please everyone. That some risks are worth taking. That not everyone needs to be your friend, or even like you.
In fact, I learned a lot as I fumbled through my twenties. And on a sunny, contemplative afternoon, I decided to write those lessons down. To remind myself as much as you, the fruits harvested from a decade of trial and error. I hope you enjoy reading, considering, disagreeing with or simply spending the time with these pearls. Perhaps you’ll find wisdom, or perhaps you’ll find yourself holding a set of foolish rocks I’ll need to revise in ten years.
[Note: this is part 1 of 3]
- Don’t ask, don’t get
Why is it that we’re so scared to ask? Is it fear of rejection? Fear of confrontation? Laziness? Why are we conditioned to accept things as they are? A fact: if you try, you may fail. And a better one: if you don’t try, you will 100% fail.
Naturally, when you ask for things, you come across some no’s. But who cares? Why do we hold our egos on such a pedastal? Most of us could really use a kick to the ego or being more thick-skinned. Bruises are a small price to pay for that.
I won’t bore you with my asking stories, but I’ve gotten a lot simply by asking. I’ve travelled to some incredibly remote places, anticipated salary raises, secured my favourite work, attended courses I felt I was nowhere near intelligent enough for. For each, multiple people reminded me in advance that it would not be possible. Of course, it was - but I had to ask.
Even when I get no’s, usually the person / people I ask at least consider my proposal. How strange is it that we should spend years dreaming, hoping, wanting, but never asking? Is asking really that scary? Isn’t the regret scarier?
One of my favourite deliveries on this point is Jia Jiang’s TED Talk on rejection theory. If you’ve gotten here, shut me up and go watch that instead!
2. Practice, practice, practice
I feel that we’re getting too used to having things quickly. Skills take patience and resilience, period. Whether it’s a sport, an instrument or a craft. Experiment, find things you like and if you enjoy something, do yourself the service of giving it a proper go. Good things take time, whether we’re talking skills, relationships, or wine.
3. Unless it pays to quit
Of course, that doesn’t mean that quitting is always a bad thing. Sometimes things are doomed from the start, sometimes it’s later down the line that we realise something’s not quite right. If you read a recipe wrong and used salt instead of sugar, would you eat every revolting bite of the result just to prove a point? Know when to scrap and restart. Starting fresh can be cathartic, plus you have the added experience which may help fix what went wrong the first time.
4. Learn to be alone
Don’t get me wrong, nothing beats good company. But you know who else is great? You.
So many of us are afraid of spending time alone, of being alone, travelling alone. You learn so much about yourself when you’re by yourself, with the added bonus of reflecting without influence or simply enjoying your own company. For me, it’s when I’m most creative.
Not knowing how to be alone is not only troublesome for you, but it can be a burden for others. People don’t tend to feel good about themselves when you expect them to entertain you every waking minute. Plus, you may be more likely to tolerate bad situations or people if the alternative of solitude looks so scary.
4. It’s usually not about you
When someone says or does something that stings, it’s easy to assume it’s an attack, maybe one that we could have done something to stop. Could I have behaved differently? Did my personality get in the way? Was I XYZ, or not XYZ enough?
Yes, sometimes we act in ways that provoke consequences, and on both sides it’s wise to be prepared for those (you are free to do what you like, but you are not free of the consequences of those actions). Still, most of the time people aren’t out to get us — we just happened to get in the way of what they were after.
Take the classic example where someone forgets a special date, let’s say an anniversary. How many people do you think actively started their day or week by thinking, ‘I’m going to choose to forget that date, and make it really clear I forgot that date in order to hurt my partner’?
Usually people get distracted or consumed by their own stuff and you’re not even a factor. Of course this in itself can be problematic, but relieving yourself of the anger reserved for someone trying to hurt you on purpose may help you think more clearly. If you think the action wasn’t intentional, is it still hurtful? What does it say about your connection to the person? Bring it up and discuss it, but try to do it without the assumption that it was on purpose.
If someone is actively out to hurt you, that is a big, waving red flag. Having sociopaths in your life doth not a good life make.
5. Say bye to the naysayers
Would you choose to tune in to a radio station that had negative content every day? You can’t do it! You’re not good enough! That’ll never happen! What’s the point of trying? If that doesn’t sound fun, there is no reason you should listen to or entertain people with disempowering speech.
Follow-up question: how many of the Negative Nicks or Nancys in your life are ambitious, happy, fun to be around, good role models?
Words are powerful, and what you hear constantly is what you will believe. If someone is putting you down, tell them to cut it out. If they don’t, it may be time to tune in to another station.
6. Listen to feedback
Now negative, disempowering chatter is one thing, but feedback is another. Unfortunately, many of us are ill-equipped to both give and receive feedback. I haven’t nailed my compliment sandwich and I definitely need to get better at eating them. But feedback is extraordinarily valuable. It’s how you learn and how you get better. If you hire a teacher to help you learn an instrument, would you want them to watch you play and compliment you without ever providing a tip or correction? How would that prepare you for a performance? Practice receiving feedback, especially from people who have more experience than you.
I personally find it helpful to tailor my feedback requests. When I write something personal and want feedback, I’ll chose the person I ask very carefully, and let them know that in early stages, the project (and I) are vulnerable - harsh criticism might make it end up in the bin. I ask them to be gentle, unless they really feel it’s a lost cause. If I’m editing something important, I need brutal feedback and will ask for it. It can sting, but it’s necessary. My projects have never not been better for it.
One last thing. When someone takes the time to give you feedback, thank them. Feedback helps YOU and not them, and while the temptation may be to get defensive, they have invested time and energy in the name of your improvement, and likely deserve a thank you.
7. Don’t sweat the small stuff
For yourself, your health and for others. Yes, it’s normal and even healthy to be stressed once in a while, but getting incredibly stressed often is literally toxic — it’s the number one proxy killer.
Ask yourself what you stress about. Is it really consequential? Will you remember it five years down the line? Is it as a result of bad habits you know you need to kick? What can you do to keep stress down?
The goal is not to eliminate stress altogether but to practice managing it. Perspective and gratitude go a long way. There will be times in life where you need to grab the war paint and choose a weapon, or you may be in a position where you really need to take care of yourself mentally. Save your stress allowance for those days. And go into them knowing that if you have practice managing stress, you’re in a better position.
Actively trying not to sweat the small stuff also just makes you a more pleasant person, both to be and to be around.
8. Time soothes all sorrows
For those moments in life where we’re truly devastated, whether with grief or fury or heartbreak, it can seem that the hand of the clock will never budge another second, that things will never get better. But the clock ticks. Every night must turn to dawn, no matter how dark it gets. It’s the most cruel, comforting law of the universe: time must pass, life must go on.
Time can be a blessing or a curse, but it always offers the wonderful gift of perspective. As long as you continue to take step after step, no matter how small, things will change, even if slowly.
The paragraph title comes from the Little Prince, which is of course full of lessons. The whole quote below:
“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure... And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you…”
9. Have a vision
Do you have something you’re actively trying to work toward? That keeps you grounded, focussed? How does the way you spend your time reflect the goals that you’re trying to achieve, or the person you’re trying to become?
So often, people have goals but do very little on a consistent basis to reach them. If you’re trying to write your first screenplay, you probably shouldn’t spend every evening in the pub with your friends (assuming the screenplay isn’t about a group of friends in a pub). The grass is greener where you water it and goals don’t tend to achieve themselves magically. If it’s important to you, schedule it in regularly.
10. Have a laugh
I’m sure I come off quite serious sometimes, because I really do believe life is short and it’s too easy to get complacent. I think we all owe it to ourselves to be disciplined enough to make at least some good use of time, and have passions to chase. Outside of that, I am very silly.
The truth is, it’s a miracle we are even here in the first place and any day, that could disappear in a heartbeat. Remembering that cheerful fact can help you bask in the glorious, warm respite that most problems are inconsequential, as are most people and situations.
Don’t take things too seriously. Laugh at yourself. Be weird, positive and playful. Shrug things off. Be cheerful. Make that damn pun! If nothing else, you might end up with an extra giggle as you’re tying that final stitch on your phenomenal crochet.
“Je me suis mis à être un peu gai, parce qu’on m’a dit que cela est bon pour la santé.” — Voltaire
Translation: I’ve decided to be somewhat merry, because I’ve been told that it is good for my health.
Part 2 coming whenever I next pick lavender