March 8, 2020

20 Meaningful Lessons that Redefined My Life.

Do we fail fast and fail often—or do we stick to what makes us comfortable?

We all come and go. We make our imprints in this life and who knows who we’ll become. Change keeps filling our lives with more possibilities. And as more things unfold, what can we do to continually align to who we are and to our why

When I hit rock bottom in my 20s, I was in for a rude awakening.

That was the time I woke up to myself, enraged for not having essential life knowledge and skills sooner. I reached a place in my life where I felt so foreign, yet liberated. But if anything, I was returning home to myself and finally letting go of the societal pressures, and filling in the gaps that I missed about myself.

I hope these sharings spark your curiosity too. These were the key lessons of my earlier years:

1. Gain clarity and learn to move with it. I used to be so caught up in chasing a particular destination, not always knowing how to get there nor how to feel connected to it. Am I with the right person? Am I in the right job? Am I in the right home? But “right” itself is so subjective. Sometimes what is perceived as “right” from the outside, isn’t a fit for us.

And it’s a hard truth to swallow at times. And because of my lack of self-clarity, I often found myself disconnecting from what was right in front of me. Stuck in the past and and worried about the future, there was no grounding in the present moment. When I hit rock bottom, I realized clarity was the thing I needed most. It was the internal compass that brought a solid definition to who I was. And the very thing that got me to build the focus and momentum I wanted to live my big picture.

2. Spend time with the people who show up. Do we ever have moments where someone takes us for granted? To the point where there’s a feeling of us not being enough, respected, or worthy?

I often had to remind myself that if someone didn’t hold a mutually respectful relationship with me, it was time to let go. To not overstay my time and energy with whomever, when it could be done with someone else. Seeking out mutually beneficial connections are key to helping us support our own well-being, as well as that of others. Life’s too short to waste it elsewhere. Our self-worth and self-respect is something to advocate for. And if we don’t have those people in our lives, seek them out. Our tribe. Those who resonate with our values and who we are.

3. Commit to the inner work. If we’re ever feeling lost, wondering why things aren’t coming together for us, the answers are sitting inside of us. I used to be consumed by self-doubt. Constantly looking elsewhere for my answers. And it was a cycle of self-defeat. Every time I did that, I was bypassing myself, not giving myself any sense of compassion, nor credit to the value I had to bring to my life.

Sometimes our lives can bring us to scary places and we will do anything to reach out to anyone or anything except for ourselves. In those times, we’ve gotta remind ourselves that others exist to help us find our way but it doesn’t mean they have the answers for us. Our truth. Who we are. Why we’re living this life. That is all sitting in whatever foundation of inner work we have.

4. Cultivate connection. Sometimes, it’s hard to reach out. To remind ourselves that we deserve love. Loneliness used to be this thing that haunted me. I used to go from relationship to relationship, not understanding who I really was until I decided to go solo.

But in those times, I did not have to isolate myself. Those were the times when I reached out to folks who reminded me that I mattered. That I was worthy as a human and loved by others. So if any of us are in this state of isolation or defeat, let’s remind each other that we do matter. And to add on, hugs are essential too. They’re not our corny nice-to-haves. They are a great reminder of why humans aren’t meant to live in isolation as many suffer in loneliness today.

5. Feed your curiosity. Whenever I found myself plateauing in something, it bothered me. And when I witnessed myself disconnecting from things that use to light me up, it was also a red flag. One that constantly reminded me to not give up on who I wanted to become.

To remedy something like this, I questioned everything. Not out of skepticism, but with a desire to open up my perspective. How else could we expand our own doors for opportunity? It’s about acknowledging our sense for questioning and learning. We help ourselves connect and grow every time we do so.

Whether it’s an old hobby, a new craft, or exploring something new, why not go for it? Feeding our curiosity opens up more perspective and possibilities in our lives. By the time this becomes a habit, we’d have far outgrown our comfort zones. 

6. Embrace solitude. It’s similar to what I mentioned about cultivating connection. I went from relationship to relationship, where not only did I fear loneliness, I barely knew who I was, independent of any relationship.

The day I chose to be single and live solo, it was like ripping off a Band-Aid. Painful at first. It brought up all my insecurities around being “alone.” I did not want to be the last woman in my family or friends to be married, nor the one who was childless. It took time for me to grasp that loneliness did not equate to aloneness. I had to unpack the unhealthy expectations and conditionings that I had from my social upbringing.

Being on my own allowed me to give an honest answer to, “who am I without another?” To really understand who I am and who I’m not. And the more I understood my identity as a person, the more I started to embrace who I was. While living a life of solitude can be quite daunting for some of us, it helps us discover ourselves in ways we never imagined. And, for the record, being alone does not mean loneliness—it is a healthy dose of what it’s like to live abundantly within ourselves.

7. Shift out of the stuckness. I used to feel like I was in a total dead-end with myself. Stuck in a rat race and not quite sure how to change it without losing myself, my relationship, my reputation, the career I worked hard for, and so on. But the reality was I could not escape change. No matter how much I tried to cling to my situation and work it out, change caught up with me, whether I liked it or not. And because of this, I ended up meeting things directly, carrying the willingness to live more vulnerably so I could grow beyond what was suffocating me. If there’s anything to take away from this, it’s about our willingness and perseverance to shift beyond our comfort zone. No one is forcing us to stay stuck except for ourselves and there are plenty of us out there who are ready to support those who wish to move beyond these places.

8. Take the time and space to heal. If we have wounds, know that they don’t set the tone of our story forever. I used to feel frustrated with the whole healing process. I was once in a toxic relationship with someone I really admired. A lovable person who taught me so much. He just wasn’t right for me. 

And this wasn’t to say he was a bad person. This was to acknowledge that there were plenty of things that we didn’t understand about each other. And the hardest part about this was going through a miscarriage with someone who wasn’t available to meet my needs. I had to come to grips with myself and let him go.

While I may save this story for another time, this was one of the lowest times of my life where I felt like a failure and hated myself for it. Being around babies and young families used to trigger me. And having people attempt to set me up with someone else was just like pouring salt on an open wound.

It took me years to grieve and heal, learning that it was more important to meet myself and move at my own pace. Not to measure up by any standards other than my own. When we’ve got fresh wounds, we’ve gotta remind ourselves that these are chapters of our life. Not the things that define our entire being. Some of us may take months, years, or more. But as we give ourselves the room to breathe, know that we are more than capable of building the narrative we want. Many of these experiences are meant to be the lessons that will keep arising until we really learn them. And as we take note of these things, we become more aware of how to respond differently, helping these wounds heal over time.

9. Honor ourselves and others. While many of us can identify with being problem solvers, humans aren’t meant to be problems solved. It’s not that there is something wrong with us if we find ourselves at odds inside or with others. Take me for example. Up till my mid-late 20s, I felt like it wasn’t okay to be me, as if I had to constantly prove myself to others. Didn’t feel safe. Didn’t feel like I was living the life I wanted. I was suffocating in a lifestyle that dismissed who I was.

At some point, I grew tired of it. I had to meet myself where I was, unpacking any harmful conditioning that I had taken along with me. This experience is about how we carry respect for ourselves and how we respect others. That it’s not our job to fix each other, but for us to be honest with what’s true about ourselves. And to also have that courage to let go of what isn’t.

It’s possible to build healthier connections and create a support system of people who support the journey we want for ourselves. That’s what allows true healing and growth to happen. To instill a sense of self-acceptance, self-advocacy, and self-compassion.

10. Set boundaries. They are there to help us set the tone in how we want to live. They are also there to help us coexist with the connections dear to us.

I used to find it difficult to draw the line with some people. With a couple of friends, relatives, and colleagues, some thought I was a problem to fix. Some were keen on fitting me into a certain label or mold, projecting whatever insecurities they had on me. Some didn’t bother to understand what my values were or had no regard for them. With these kind of tendencies, I worried. I worried about the harm and health of my connections.

Back then, I barely had boundaries. I was such a doormat that I did whatever to please others out of fear of losing them. But the moment I advocated for my own sense of self-respect and self-worth, my life significantly changed.

Boundaries allowed me to set the tone of how we treated each other. And if we weren’t up for it, we either kept more space between each other or parted ways. The more I did this, the more peace and contentment I experienced. Boundaries are much like a filter for our connections. Which ones hold the qualities we aspire to and which ones reflect the things that don’t resonate with us? It’s really having an honest conversation with ourselves and others, on what we will and will not tolerate out of our own self-respect.

11. Rise above the drama triangles. Victim, rescuer, and persecutor—how many of Karpman’s drama triangles are we participating in and how many are we keeping at a distance?

I used to be quick at jumping in to help others. When someone did something wrong, I found it painful to just watch and not help. What I didn’t realize was that helping someone didn’t always call for me to solve their problem.

If I found something painful, I needed to look inward as to why I was responding a particular way. In most of these situations, there was an inherent need for the perceived victim to learn how to advocate for themselves. To seek out the guidance of others but to also own up to their responsibility in truly addressing a situation, rather than handing it off to someone else.

On my part, I knew I had to learn to trust others. To trust that they will be able to handle whatever they are moving through and not let myself become a crutch for them. That is a favor to no one. The best thing I could do is hold space for them and listen without judgment.

Had I continually stepped in to help others, who knows how long someone might have gone without really learning how to advocate for themselves. If we’re always doing the problem solving for others, it’s like we’re giving them permission to fail. Every one of us has an inner being to advocate for. Sure, our support system can help provide guidance. But we need it the most from ourselves if we wish to grow and move forward. It’s time to step out of these drama triangles and not live in the mode of our projections or displace our responsibilities on to others.

12. Drop the finger pointing. It is much like the Karpman’s drama triangle in disguise and one that wreaks havoc on any connection out there.

I’ll admit I learned this the hard way. Getting involved in a business partnership between my relatives and friends was asking for it. Getting into who did what right and wrong became pointless for us, as much of the conflicts stemmed from the differences across our individual value and belief systems. There was no clear establishment nor alignment in how we would work together and treat each other. Without those guidelines there, it was hard to expect a partnership to succeed.

As a wise leader once said, “partnership means no finger pointing.” When that quality was missing in my situation, I was at odds with others to the point where we lost the common ground of mutual respect.

When we’re stuck in situations like this, this is when it makes all the difference in witnessing the humans on the other end of us—beyond their roles and their reputations. Noticing their values and intentions and how they align to ours. That’s where it’s possible to amend what’s broken. To replace the finger pointing with loving kindness and understanding. The way we meet each other is what makes the connection possible. Honor what’s shared and what makes us different.

13. Lead with active listening. If we have a desire to lead, know that none of us are perfect or the same. Some of us may have ambitions to climb a ladder. Some of us may want to lead others on behalf of a bigger cause. And others may not always want the same thing.

When I was going through corporate life in my 20s, I found it suffocating to follow the folks who were too focused on pleasing the most senior management in the room or too consumed by how everyone else perceived them.

I had a particular manager who was so out of touch with their own organization, where most of us felt stifled. The team had many opportunities to grow, expressed the willingness to take on new initiatives, and, yet, this person rarely listened to anyone. Feedback went in one ear and out the other. We heard the business needs and expressed our willingness to meet those needs. But this manager failed to acknowledge our needs. What’s worse is this person constantly berated others and played favorites, creating a toxic culture of inequity. And because of this, I felt compelled to look elsewhere and not look back.

If my manager wasn’t invested in helping me grow or showed me that they didn’t care about the well-being of the team, I simply felt like this person didn’t deserve to lead me. Fast forward to now, I’m glad I didn’t waste my time as I found plenty more worthwhile leaders who understood what it meant to actively listen to others. What separated these leaders from that particular manager was the fact that they had the willingness to understand others, and not lead us from a place of ego. That’s what cultivates trust and loyalty. They didn’t assume they were the smartest people in the room. And they also knew everyone brought something unique to the table.

14. Embrace imperfection. Perfection is like an invisible wall that some of us put in front of ourselves. Sometimes it’s our fear of not being enough. Sometimes it’s about minimizing our pain around shame, blame, or judgment.

I used to struggle so much with these things. When I didn’t feel like something about me or my contributions were enough, I just kept striving to make things better. Doing what I can to deliver beyond expectations or keep learning to prove myself.

Pushing myself was sometimes good. It got me to go beyond my comfort zones. And other times, pursuing my ambitions exhausted me. I had to remind myself that there was value in both my efforts and my imperfections. Not to trap myself with labeling my mistakes as “good” or “bad,” but as lessons learned. Not to dismiss my own ideas too early to the point where I felt too stifled to create. Not to throw a ridiculous benchmark over my head that burned me out in unsustainable ways.

When we’re so used to perfecting, sometimes we’ve got to take a step back and remind ourselves that maybe dialing it back would give us our sanity back. That it’s okay to wear lesser hats and not be overconsumed by the drive to know everything.

Imperfection happens to everyone. When we make mistakes, sometimes they can spur us into creating the next great idea.

15. Own up to your self-worth. It never feels good to be in a place where we can’t be ourselves.

My upbringing was loaded with competition where I habitually measured myself against others. And when I didn’t measure up, it crushed me, even if things weren’t as bad as they seemed. I just made it that way for myself. What I didn’t realize till much later was how much I really needed to recognize my own value. To make my intrinsic value known and stop trying to mold into something that took me away from it.

Every time we compare ourselves to something or someone else, it really doesn’t help us. It’s like setting ourselves up for perceived failures when it doesn’t have to be that way. Who said we had to constantly compare to others? Why not explore what makes us distinct? We are all unique and the sooner we recognize that, the better off we are in really cultivating and sharing from a genuine place.

We all have an inner critic. One with a nasty voice. And many times, what’s beneath it are deeply rooted fears or blocks that have occurred in our past. They’re the unmet parts of us that needed compassion extended to them. And doing that is really the starting point to owning our self-worth.

16. Listen to your body. True healing doesn’t just happen when we think and talk about it.

I used to have such a stubborn mind that would often rationalize its way out of most situations. And I’ll admit, when I had depression in my 20s, my mind wasn’t the thing that saved me. Sure, it got me through the day. I was a high anxiety performing gal who was so disconnected from my feelings and body, and only those closest to me knew what was happening.

During my darkest times, I didn’t feel excited about the things I used to love. I didn’t feel happy with whatever free time I had. I used to just breakdown and cry as soon as I wasn’t in public anymore. I had my own batch of traumas to heal from.

While my mind tried it’s best to help me get by each day, my body and emotions were at odds elsewhere. They did not comply with my mind. They were just tired of my life. And the biggest thing that changed this was picking up the practices of reconnecting to myself in different ways.

Talking helped to some degree but it wasn’t enough. Thinking had its limits where I was prone to ruminating. I recall going to a depression workshop where a counselor advised to “fake it till I make it.” Seriously, I thought it was the worst piece of advice I ever heard. The fake-it-till-I-make-it was like any other bypassing trick I knew. It was a Band-Aid that didn’t do a thing for me.

What helped me the most was acknowledging the pain that I was in. It was about exploring the most unmet parts of myself and really trying to gently feel and process them out in somatic ways. This was actually the time I started experimenting with a variety of activities. I signed up with a personal trainer. Started taking yoga classes. Got more into fitness classes. Deepened my somatic practice with qigong.

I was literally setting aside my mind, just giving my body a chance to register whatever was happening internally without trying to rationalize it. It was another way to meet myself. My body needed to feel out whatever I went through. And my emotions were the greatest indicators. When I was numb, it was a clear cry for help. And when I wasn’t feeling energized, it was an indicator that my body needed more attention beyond what the mind can do.

If anything, physical and emotional healing wasn’t something for me to get over with. It took an extra degree of awareness and care for me to pause and move through things more slowly and intentionally. The more I practiced this, the more I found myself reconnecting more wholesomely.

17. Embrace change. Whether we like it or not, we all go through it. Our careers. Our relationships. Our lifestyles. Our businesses.

I used to resist change, clinging on to whatever I knew until l realized how limiting and stifling it was for me to stay within my comfort zone. Every time I felt stuck, it was an opportunity for me to try something differently. Sometimes it was tough and I had to trade out some of the things that allowed me to live comfortably or else I would never experience other possibilities.

Embracing change became my avenue for creativity and growth.Taking risks started to feel less scary for me. And in the times of failure, I became more appreciative of my efforts, taking in the lessons learned and carrying the perseverance to never give up.

18. Practice self-love. Not out of self-centeredness but a commitment to nourish and nurture all aspects of our own well-being.

How can we ever heal if we don’t fully accept ourselves? I had an upbringing where cultivating self-love was foreign to me. I didn’t quite know how to do it and I used to be so hardwired at not extending compassion to myself. I used to be an ambitious person who’d take on whatever she could do, yet couldn’t understand why she felt so internally disconnected.

Getting a degree and performing a job wasn’t difficult for me. What I struggled with was understanding the notion of self-love. What did it mean to revisit our darkest places? Do we ever have those moments where we feel like our inner critic is constantly beating us up? Learning how to make peace with something like that was hard for me. And because this was clearly an area that was so foreign to me, I moved right toward it.

I was eager to confront the most difficult pieces of myself and understand how to care for me. While I’m someone who’d often put others ahead of my needs, I really couldn’t grow or move forward without helping myself first.

When we are overwhelmed, it’s okay to pause. When we feel angry, it’s okay to feel that too. What’s important is tuning in to where our tension or pain is and really listening to it. It takes conscious effort to effectively care for the health of our minds, bodies, and souls. As we grow older, our bodies change. Our lifestyles and needs also shift. Our best bet is really meeting ourselves where we are. No one will do this for us except ourselves.

19. Live in the moment. While having an idea of our future as well as the context of our past is important, there is so much opportunity in the present.

I used to be quite the worrier. Someone who’d spend incredible amounts of time and energy trying to scope efforts and blueprint scenarios out of anticipation. Having too much of this was not healthy. It was this future-looking paranoia that consumed so much of me that I couldn’t be present with myself.

When things pivoted on the fly, what was the point to overplan? To anticipate? Sometimes, I made it harder on myself. If something shifted in the present, sometimes these well-thought-out scenarios wouldn’t even happen.

When I failed to root myself in the present, I simply burned out. The concept of pausing didn’t happen until I started seeing my physical, emotional, and mental health take a toll and disconnect from each other.

And it took me years to recover. To pick up healthier practices that would help me cultivate my ability to pause in the moment and take things in stride. Take the COVID-19 pandemic for example. Most of us had different plans for our lives in 2020 and none of us really knew we’d be living this reality we call lockdown or sheltering-in-place. We all had to pivot in some way, from panic to resilience. But to even do so, it calls for us to own up to our present moment, focus on what is within our control, and remain open to change.

20. Take note of the actions that make us feel alive and nurture them. Igniting our passions can be a wonderful feeling. Some of us choose to do this for hobby. Some of us choose to make a career out of our passions.

Whatever it may be, make it known. Why? It helps us cultivate our own connection.

I used to love arts and crafts growing up. They were the hobbies that kept me engaged for hours. And they came natural to me. But what’s funny was, I didn’t listen to myself. In my 20s, I became an engineer, largely influenced by societal pressure a.k.a. what was expected of me, and never gave myself a chance to cultivate my artistic talents. What’s ironic about it is that it blew up in my face throughout my mid-late 20s.

By the time I was far disconnected from my passions and at a dead-end with myself, it was tough. I couldn’t keep living a life I wasn’t passionate about. Couldn’t keep doing a job that didn’t fulfill me. It might have paid well to help me enjoy a comfortable lifestyle but it wasn’t the thing that made me feel alive. And when I hit this point, this was when I abandoned ship. The ship that wasn’t mine.

So, if there’s anything to take from this, it’s to be aware of what energizes us. Feed that. Make room for it. And don’t take anyone’s crap when they tell us it’s useless or pointless. If it is an innate part of us, meet it. Cultivate those gifts.

Doing so is an act of self-love and likely the thing we’ve been searching for if we especially felt something was missing.

~

 

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