2018 was a good year… not because it was factually good, but because of all I learnt and how I changed. I contemplated not only a few times if I should be sharing this… the non-sugar coated version of true experiences and lessons of an intense year. At the end, I am doing it because I hope I won’t teach anyone anything but I’d make someone think and maybe borrow parts of my story which will help you live yours with an added kick of happiness. Perhaps equipping you with a bit more cleverness than I had.
A LITTLE PREFACE...
Somehow in the midst of it all, aka “my life”, which as mentioned wasn’t particularly good, I learnt above all to feel good … no matter what … and I am deeply proud of myself probably for the first time as it was God damn difficult. It took a lot of courage and a lot of hurt to get me to where I am today and no amount of promotions, recognitions, money, degrees or successes have made me feel more accomplished than this little internal ability.
You might wonder – wasn’t she a life-coach who already has it all sorted, thinks positively and acts with determination?
Yes, I am a positive thinking person, I always act with determination and although I don’t claim I have it all sorted (no one really does), I do know I have it sorted well enough. But, life still happens and tries us out. To a certain extend, the stronger one gets the more trials are sent their way and the more intense they become.
As a coach I continue to believe in and advocate for reaching for the starts, making plans and achieving them. I believe in the power you and I possess and know for a fact that A LOT is possible if not all. I’ve seen it happen many times now so it’s literally impossible for me to not believe it.
However, the process and journey towards achieving those goals is just as important, if not more, than the reaching of the actual destination. Our lives are an amalgamation of individual days and the experiences during those days. This means that we have an obligation to choose how we feel every day and to look on the positive side not because we should be faking it but because there really is always a positive side.
No, you don’t need to appear “happy” to anyone else but yourself. Happiness is not measured by how wide your smile seems to be or how others think you feel. What matters is what you know in your heart of hearts.
Am I happy?
Side note: even if you nailed it, no matter what you do, there will always be someone who would challenge you, tease you or think you look unhappy or worried, anxious or sad, even when you are perfectly fine in your skin. Please don’t worry about that and don’t be influenced if your happiness is fragile at times. In this case, believe yourself first before you believe anyone else.
With this little preface here comes the first learning experience I’d like to share:
1. CHOOSE HAPPINESS DAILY. YOU CAN.
You and I have the obligation as well as the power to choose how we feel, how we react to life and circumstances and how our days go. As eluded to, in this year a lot has happened in my personal life that I wouldn’t classify as “great”. From love relationships that were far from ideal and broke my heart to the death of loved ones, to illness in the family, to moving countries, and more …it was uneasy.
May be partially because of the scale of difficulties one learns to truly and genuinely start choosing their feelings. It’s not a fake attempt or a delusional approach to happiness – it’s a choice that you and I can and should make. The alternative is to get sucked into the circumstances.
My brain more often than not defaults to looking at things from a “solution/action” side rather than contemplation of what has happened or what my fears are. Searching for solutions and next steps in all cases has enabled me to not spend much time in negative thoughts. The sadness or hurt are still present, but on average I choose consistently to ask the action-oriented question:
“WHAT CAN I DO?” Train your brain to do the same.
The answer “nothing” has never come up. Even in the worst case, when someone you love dies, “what can I do” led me to so much more than just emotional paralysis or sadness.
“I can learn to accept and make sure I spend more time with those who are still here”; “I can always go back to the nice memories and no one can take that away from me”; “I can make sure that I live life with more joy and gratitude because tomorrow is really not guaranteed”. It forced me to build a stronger mindset as well as to feel better.
It’s a choice I make when feeling down. It’s a conscious effort. It’s not easy and it’s not always straightforward, but it’s worth it every time. I have one life right now and I’d like to experience happiness.
2. LEARN TO "CHILL"... FOR REAL
It may sound silly, but this is high on my learning list from 2018 and worth sharing because I know there are many people like me out there. Unlike other great individuals, some people like us, we have to learn to chill as we are not particularly proficient in this area.
I’ll proceed talking about my experience here, because I think it’s only fair to speak from a 1st person, but it may resonate more than you expected.
The flip side of having goals and wanting a lot from life is that I tend to be active and if I wasn’t, it made me feel uncomfortable by perceiving it to be a “waste of time”. The one way I knew of “chilling” was going for long walks. That was, to my mind, the best solution for taking time for myself, spending it with someone I care about (if I was lucky enough to convince that someone to come with me, which frankly was close to mission impossible more often than not) and it didn’t make me feel guilty of not being productive. Sometimes I had vacations of course, but I found it somewhat difficult to relax fully.
I learnt to “chill” by example (for which I am thankful). I watched one person who had a strategy for a variety of different situation that took him to a state of “chillness”. By listening carefully to the little stories he was telling and observing attitudes, over time I started picking on patterns that looked like a prescriptive formula I'll share in a second.
But why being chilled matters?
Because it’s a synonym of being able to slow down, to be content with what you already have and to take time to rest. It’s a triad that urban talk summarises as “chilled”.
What was the “strategy” ?
- FIRST, THE BELIEF: For him it was and still is, I think, all stemming from a deep belief in that overall life is to be enjoyed and we are here to have an overall pleasurable experience. From this belief one important thing comes out – the entitlement of downtime! The perceived need for being happy. The perceived obligation to maintain balance between how much we work or help others with how much we give to ourselves in terms of time/ nice experiences/ relaxation, etc. (I use “perceived” because it’s all a perception and I’d like to acknowledge that. I am not suggesting I don’t support or believe in those ideas but you should know it is not the norm for everyone and it’s not the belief we all hold)
In other words, to be able to “chill”, if you wanted to, you’d need to start believing a little more in that you are allowed to, it doesn’t make you any less worthy of everything that life has to offer (love, money, friendships, successes, etc.) and that you don’t need to maintain 100% busyness at all times.
If you are having difficulty accepting that, I will try to help you a little by just sharing the fact that this same chilled person I observed is also successful, loves his profession, parties quite regularly, has friends, is considered a “good person” and a lot more.
Life is to be enjoyed and there are moments in which you and I need to give it all to work/ contribution/ etc. and there are others in which we need to give it all to ourselves in the form of chilling.
- The next immediate step is to TAKE YOUR TIME when it comes to chilling. Chilling is the opposite of forcing anything, including the chilling itself.
It might not come immediately just because you decided you liked the idea. Perhaps it’s a good thing to try in a few instances to stay 30min longer with your friends; to have that whole day doing what you want on your own; to not do any work/ cleaning/ paying bills; to spend it exactly how you want it – no guilt, no other ‘to do' items; to go to a social event that you wouldn't have considered otherwise...
If you are one of these people who doesn’t like big gatherings, small talk, unknown companies, etc. that’s particularly valuable for you. Try it with an open mind. Make it your job to enjoy those times. To learn from them. To take the most of it all.
When you get frustrated, when you start thinking that it’s 10pm and you are wasting time instead of being home, going to bed and being fresh the next day… ask yourself “what am I loosing?”; “when was the last time I went with the flow?” ; "do I want to continue being the person that finds it difficult to be with, appreciate and enjoy the interaction with other human beings?"
Side note: For the skeptics. This is not suggesting the 10pm early bed is not a good thing to do! It is and I love it myself, but it’s also not that needed, if instead you had fun. It turns out it has it's health benefits too.
You will find out that 1) the world doesn’t end and 2) you will end up having new experiences which will pleasantly surprise you. Try to limit the negative internal chat about how everyone around you is a looser or that you are wasting your precious time and start enjoying the fact that you are alive and in the company of other people. Being able to chill has been a great lesson finally applied.
3. RESPECT THE UNPREDICTABILITY
Life is a mixture of predictable and unpredictable events, we all know that. However, I now appreciate more the importance of respecting and accepting truly the unpredictability (sometimes what we call unfairness) of it all and our job is to react and deal with life in the best possible way rather than believing we are in control.
Going back to basics such as being a good, genuine person, fighting fears with dignity, taking the right decisions even if they are difficult, being humble, less self-absorbed, keeping the positivism… this is what matters because we can’t plan every step, yet for the time that we have, we touch others, we plant seeds and we shape the environment. It won’t be all roses, but you remain the only thing you can control and that tool you should use wisely.
5. SPEND TIME WITH THOSE YOU LOVE, LOVE YOU BACK AND MATTER...
I guess no matter how many times we read an inspirational quote that asks us to spend time with family, friends and loved ones, few of us really do it... properly.
I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because families are often difficult or maybe we take their members for granted as if they’ll always be around. Or perhaps there is an age or an understanding gap or maybe living an independent life restricts us a little in the skills of being with others. Or maybe we believe that the ones we love and love us back will stick around even if we hurt them (multiple times) … I don't know, maybe, we live in a world where when something breaks or is not easy to use, we leave it behind and buy a new one, an attitude that somehow has transitioned into relationships?
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that we all tend to postpone conversations or we have a once a year reunion without getting to really know how our parents or siblings, or grandparents and cousins are doing.
We also postpone buying the flowers or writing the love letter or calling to have that extremely uncomfortable conversations ending with “I love you”.
Side note: Once I took a train for only 40min to get to a loved one and have a conversation that regardless of the content showed how much I cared. After a while the person could only ask: "how can you take a train that's 40min each direction for a 10min conversation, it's not logical." ... Maybe we live in a world where logic is cooler than feelings.
But my wild guess is - we postpone and rely on "logic" when it suits us out of fear, out of insecurities, out of "what ifs" and because of the many years of not practicing it… regardless of the why, 2018 showed me one thing clearly – it’s worth spending the time with family and loved ones, getting to know how they really are because in the little moments some big things happen.
Being there when someone passes away, bringing that glass of water a loved one doesn’t have the strength to get themselves today or covering them with a blanket for a kiss on the forehead. For the ones we love… Well, yes, it might turn out that someone doesn’t return your feelings back but it’s still better to have given them the part of you intended for them and then leave them be out of respect for their life and their hapiness.
5. LET GO OF ALL YOU NEED TO LED GO OF.
And finally, there are multiple strategies for letting go. Meditation, hobbies, travelling, sport, working with a psychologist, substituting,… For me personally none of those worked.
I hated letting go of people, of ideas of dreams and much more. It has always been painful and what often manifested as a virtue such as “determination”, “hard-working attitude”, “commitment” , “strong character”, etc. was just my deep unwillingness to let go. I don’t deny there are benefits to it, but I also held on to things long after there were no more positives to say the least.
For me and many others, the meditation/ sport/ attempt to substitute doesn't work because holding on means we have some sort of security. It also represents not giving up on our previous choices. If I let go did it mean I made the wrong decision before? I detested giving up on something I had previously believed in, I felt as if I was letting go of myself.
I personally thought I had accumulated so much to be left behind that it seemed I had to draw a line under my entire life. That felt scary…impossible…unreal. Of course it wasn’t true but boy did it seem true in my head. This feeling as if my whole past needed to be neatly ordered, appreciated but mostly locked away was challenging to accept.
While rationalising, I thought “if I am to do this, there is nothing I can go back to except myself”... PAUSE.
That’s when it started to become a bit clearer. What was so scary about relying only on myself on a deeper level? I know my values, my beliefs, my levels of integrity or real extend of determination … If I had to choose someone to trust would I choose me? Was I someone worth loving with all my heart? Would I let myself take care of me when things truly turn ugly? The answer was “yes” to all three.
Turns out I had someone to go back to and something to step on at all times. The fear of letting go of a job, of people, of locations, of emotions, of experiences… it went away. This realisation enabled me to go through pains with more maturity and self-reliance, with less stress and less wrong choices. This is not a new-found independence because many of us are already independent and so was I, but it was a new found security in the fact that I have me and that me is someone I am happy to trust.
Choose how you feel every day, no matter the circumstances; Chill; Spend time with those you care about, Respect the unpredictability and Let go of the things you need to ...there will always be you that you can find comfort in.
Those are some of the lessons my 2018 wanted me to learn and the ingredients I hope you’d be able to reflect on for a wonderful 2019.