Life Lessons from 2017

I made a huge mess of my life the first half of 2017. I won’t go into detail about the mess part right now, but the series of events and the epiphanies I had about my actions and my character were bad enough for me to experience a quarter-life crisis.

For some time, I felt like I was worthless. I felt like I had no direction. I felt like I had been given the world only to destroy the good things because they did not fit into my narrow ideal of what I “really” wanted. I knew that my situation was my own fault. It hurt. A lot.

Here are some of the lessons I learned.

Often times, good enough is good enough.

I used to be an idealist. I held a very specific idea of how my life should be. I will make $X/year. I will work X hours per week. I will have X kind of partner. I will do X and only X with my life. Such a mentality blinded me to the good in my life and prevented me from appreciating what I had.  I didn’t realize until it was far too late that I actually had things pretty good.  

Not everything is going to fit into some narrow view of how your life “ought” to be. In fact, major things in your life are probably far from perfect, and probably always will be. And that’s okay.

You will never have the perfect job. You will never have the perfect relationship. Reality about things you don’t have complete control over will never match what you feel like it should be. And even if it did, there’s nothing stopping you from moving your mental goalposts to some even more impossible standard and beginning to find things you dislike about your circumstances.

My job isn’t ideal. My possessions aren’t ideal. My apartment isn’t ideal (though it’s very nice). My relationships with the people around me aren’t ideal, and there is probably some work I can put in to better that. But there is plenty of good in my life, and I like it as it is well enough.

I control my mood, not other people or circumstances.

This ties into the first item, but I used to think it was outside influences making me miserable. If only I had a better job. If only I had a better girlfriend. If only I had more money. Then I would be happy. I spent a big portion of the last twelve months miserable because I thought these external circumstances were holding me from happiness. Sure, I’d heard all the stuff about how happiness starts from within, or something like that. But ideas like that were the furthest thing from my mind because my job sucks, man!

The truth is, there are always going to be things you dislike in your life. If there weren’t, you would have no sense of true life because your life would just be a steady stream of pleasure, a flatline. On a heart rate monitor, it doesn’t matter where on the screen the flatline is placed, because if you’re flatlining, you’re dead. It is only with ups and downs, highs and lows, that we can truly experience and appreciate life, corny as that sounds.

Thinking about doing something is not the same thing as actually doing something.

This one sounds really obvious, but have you ever stressed out over finishing a project while spending little working time on it only to have it consume your peace of mind and your sense of control over your time? It’s kind of like that. I used to always fret about working on my personal projects, which would seep into how I interacted with people. My loss of sense of control harmed how I viewed and interacted with my relationships. I came to think that spending time with people I cared about was a waste of time because I could be using that time to work on my projects.

I couldn’t appreciate doing anything that wasn’t my projects. Not work, not people, not hobbies. After everything, this attitude stressed me out way more than any actual effort I was making to work on my projects.

I recognize now that self-improvement can have dedicated time while still making ample time for my friends and family.

In the end, I made a lot of mistakes, and I have hopefully learned my lessons. I say hopefully because now that things are good, it’s easy for me to feel good about myself. I won’t know how much of this I’ve truly internalized until I end up in some other mess, whether it’s by my own hand or it’s caused by unforeseen circumstances.

Here’s to a year of learning, for better or for worse.