For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
—T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
2017. Another one for the books.
Ah, 2018. A fresh year full of no mistakes and new adventures.
Over the past few months, there has been an overflow of optimism for the new year on the socials. You know what I’m talking about. People post about all the toxic relationships they’re cutting off and having “positive vibes only” once the clock strikes midnight. We do this to ourselves every year. We see that stroke of midnight as the first blank page of a new book. We make resolutions for how we’re going to “be a better version of ourselves” in the coming year. We brush the mess of the past year under our carpets.
But the mess is still there. You will have to deal with it eventually.
You know that old saying “Learn from your mistakes”? Well, it’s true. Instead of pressing the reset button, look back on 2017 and ask yourself, “What did I do well last year? What did I do poorly, and what steps can I take to overcome the challenges I face now?”
I wanted to share a few lessons—seven, to be exact—that I learned this past year. Depending on your age or generation, some of these may seem obvious to you. That isn’t the point. I have come to realize that even the simplest of lessons take a while to learn.
1. You cannot fix people. You can only love them.
I have always been someone who believes that, with enough love, attention, and logical reasoning, anyone can change. This was my worst year as far as relationships go. Over the past two years, I had fall-outs with family members, and even friends. I let myself be manipulated and controlled by some of these people. Trying to “fix” them became an addiction for me. I did everything I could to put myself in their shoes. I walked on eggshells around them, avoiding topics that would explode into a full-on battle.
I soon realized that in the process of trying to fix people, I was breaking myself.
If there is anything I have learned when it comes to human relations, it’s that no one wants to be viewed as a project. Healing—true healing—comes from a relationship between equals, rather than between a doctor and a patient. In elevating myself, in viewing myself as morally superior to the person I was trying to help, I was oppressing them. Love is the great equalizer, and only with it can a broken relationship begin to mend.
2. Know your purpose.
This past year, I went through depression. Not severe, clinical depression—thank goodness for that. No, what I endured is something many people will probably relate to. It was the sort of depression that stems from a lack of motivation. Sure, I kept my grades up and went to work and took care of daily responsibilities.
But I felt empty.
I felt like an animal, just going through the motions necessary for survival. No matter what I did, I could never get to the place I wanted to get to. Normally when I feel like this, I write, but even that I could not bring myself to do. What is the point, I asked myself again and again.
I am sure every writer, and every person, has gone through this stage in their life. In fact, you’ve probably gone through this more than once. Without a purpose, we really are lost.
3. Real memories occur off-camera.
Nine times out of ten, the images we see our friends and family post on the interwebs are posed and styled. It’s common knowledge. “Do it for the ‘gram”, that kind of reasoning. We know the tricks of the online world, but it’s still dangerously easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “My life is boring compared to theirs” or “Why do people like them more than me?”. More often than not, we put up pictures we think other people will enjoy instead of images that reflect who we are.
Ironically, my favorite moments of 2017 were not staged in front of a camera. They were little things, but, to me, they are worth more than a thousand likes. They are memories that belong only to me and no one else. I can go back to them during grey days and lonely hours. They will always be there in my mind, unblemished by the opinions of the Internet. I can relive them with the people I shared them with. There is truly nothing more comforting and satisfying then recalling a “remember when…?” moment.
It’s not bad to take pictures. If I am out somewhere, especially if it’s a new place, I will probably take pictures because I love photography. However, it’s also important to actually experience life, not just document it. Maybe it’s just me, but listening to a first-hand account of an adventure or an event is far more exciting and enlightening than looking at a static photograph.
4. The single life is not a terrible one.
Most people look at me funny when I tell them I’ve never been in a “relationship”. It just seems natural for a young adult. And while being single is more of a choice for me at the moment, I won’t deny that I’d rather not be.
Humans are gregarious. We love company—it’s in our nature. Sure, not everyone desires a romantic relationship. However, I do believe that the vast majority of people want someone in their life who understands them inside and out, like a best friend or a mentor.
It is both heartwarming and difficult to see friends in happy, loving relationships with their significant other. At the same time, you do observe a lot about people when you’re single. You learn from the mistakes your friends and family make while in relationships. You quickly decide what types of people you should avoid.
2017 may have been a difficult year, but I also had some incredible adventures. I learned things about myself that I probably would have been blinded to in a relationship. I didn’t look for happiness in other people; rather, I found it in little things like night walks through the woods with friends, mountain air, singing silly songs on long car trips, and late-night conversations.
People enter our lives in waves. They wash up on our shores, and most stay for a while. Eventually, they are swept away again with the tide. Perhaps this will come across as pessimistic, but not everyone in your life is here to stay. People disappoint. They leave, whether on purpose or against their will. They die.
You must understand this. Learning to find your own happiness and a love for yourself will prepare you for the next person the current decides to bring you.
5. Cut the negativity.
As a person matures into adulthood, it becomes increasingly harder to not be negative about life. School, work, family, and financial obligations are constantly dragging at your heels. You
I am one of the most sarcastic and judgmental people I know. I am also quiet, keeping many of my thoughts and opinions to myself. But sometimes these opinions do come out, and when they do they have an impact on the people around me. While sarcasm has become the lingo of today, it doesn’t have to be. Sure, everyone likes to laugh at a snide remark every once in a while, but it does get old. Continually forging a negative atmosphere is only going to push people away from you.
6. Life is not a scripted performance. It’s an improv act.
I have always hated speaking in front of people, but theater is one of the greatest joys of my life. Why? Because it has structure. You follow a script to plan out your every word and movement. On stage, I get to become someone else and forget my awkward, clumsy self for a moment. It’s escapism.
I am the sort of person who needs to have a plan for everything. I would rather avoid “going with the flow” if possible. Change doesn’t agree with me. This past year, I went through a lot of changes. I learned the importance of flexibility.
We enjoy having control of our lives. No control means chaos, right?
7. If you can get through high school, you can get through life.
High school is rough country. While my experience was not terrible, it was definitely challenging. When I started, I knew next to no one. The work load was several levels higher than what I was used to in middle school. Hormones were raging. Gossip and slander zipped through the halls like a virus.
Graduating back in June was a breath of fresh air.
I don’t regret anything I did back in high school. Yes, I made mistakes. Yes, I was constantly over my head in seemingly pointless assignments and projects. But I endured all the late nights, the failures, and the artificial environment for four years. When I arrived at college, there was little that intimidated me (okay, tuition payments and student loans are more than intimidating).
Adult life presents its own set of challenges, but in reality it’s not much different from high school. You have deadlines—lots of them. You have countless late nights. You have to choose your friends carefully. You have to accept that no matter what you do, not everyone is going to like you. But you always reach the light at the end of the tunnel.
Life is meant to be taken one step at a time. Learn that, and you will be okay.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen over a week, a month, or even a year. It’s a process. Like any process, change cannot be rushed. 2017 was a rough 365 days, and I’m sure 2018 will present its own set of challenges. But if you decide to wait until January 1 to start the process, you’re never going to.
January is coming to a close. It’s not too late. It never is.
If you’re trying to aim for perfection, you don’t understand life.
What did you take away from 2017? What do you want to accomplish in 2018, and how will you go about it?