I’m not gonna lie; most of my adult life has been a mess.
In basically every way that one can be a mess. Buried in between all of the terrible moments were lessons learned and progress made. Even when I couldn’t always see it, these are three of the most important things I had to learn and practice to achieve my best self.
1. Fully embrace the quest for knowledge.
I remembered something about myself in this past year. And that is—I f*cking love to learn. And I’m not the type to just settle on one subject and learn what I can about it. No, I want to learn about everything. This attitude of what I would call unbiased education has done nothing but be of great benefit to me.
And I don’t just mean in the traditional sense, where our knowledge comes from books or school. A lot of what I learn comes from really listening to what other people have to say. And when I say unbiased, I mean unbiased.
For example, I’m probably one of the only staunch atheists who willingly goes to church on any kind of regular basis. Why? Because the pastor has been to hell and back, and I figured he would have some good advice to give—and he does.
All I do is remove the religious overtones in my mind. The messages of wisdom, knowledge, and just sound advice stay the same. I have found that when we explore outside of our comfort zones, we are exposed to a wealth of knowledge we didn’t even know existed.
The more I learn, the more I understand the world around me. The more I understand the world around me, the easier it is to find my place in it. I use everything that I am learning to lead myself to the best life possible. I don’t wait around for things to happen anymore. I am taught, or I teach myself whatever skills I may need to chase my dreams—and I make it happen. After all, if we want something done right, we often have to do it ourselves.
Possessing a wealth of knowledge makes us dangerous in the best of ways. If we dare to be dangerous, we can take on the world.
2. Express your true self.
It’s so important for us to have a creative outlet; this cannot be understated. For me, it’s writing, which is something that I love to do. While I was buried under the self-inflicted weight of codependency on my shoulders, I didn’t write at all. I was so focused on my partner and just the day-to-day bullsh*t of life that I didn’t give myself the mental space to express myself. I didn’t even realize how important it was for me to have a creative outlet until I no longer had one. It can be deceptively soul-crushing.
And before you start thinking that I’m just not the creative type, consider this—whether we are rebuilding an engine, writing a song, shoeing a horse, or painting a picture, we are creating something that wasn’t there before, with our own unique signature on it. If we broaden our horizons on what being a creative type actually means, we realize that we are all creative, just in different ways. I think that when we live telling ourselves that we are not something, then we will never be it.
For example, basically, my whole life, I told myself I couldn’t draw. I wasn’t trying to draw, and I didn’t have any science to back this up. It was just how things were in my mind. Until one day, I decided that I had become pretty great at teaching myself things (quest for knowledge), so perhaps I could teach myself to draw? $25 spent on some basic drawing supplies, a couple of YouTube videos, and a week later, I was drawing landscapes.
Now, they aren’t going to be hung up in any art galleries, but that’s not the point. When I stopped trying to create something based on what other people thought was good, I was free to create anything I wanted.
I think that’s what holds a lot of us back from expressing ourselves. In that, we are afraid that others won’t like what they see. Spoiler alert: no matter how great we are at literally anything, there is always going to be someone who thinks it’s sh*t. I have written some things that have thousands of views and others that have 50 views. I’m equally proud of them because I produced them for myself and to my own standards. We can’t let other people’s opinions stop us from creating what we think is valuable.
3. Find (and keep) what you value the most.
After a lot of thinking and self-exploration, I’ve found that the three things I have that I value the most are:
1. My freedom
2. My time
3. My happiness
Speaking as someone who has had basically all of their personal freedom either heavily restricted or just removed entirely, I can say for certain that it’s one of the most important things to me. Just having the power of choice in everything in my life really paves the way for living a good one.
Earlier, I had all of my rights restricted so heavily, this is something that I definitely took for granted. I know I’m not alone in this. Every day people continue to do things they hate simply because we feel like we have to. Sometimes we do. Going to a job that we hate just so we can pay the bills, for example. But just because that’s the way things are, doesn’t mean that’s the way they always have to be.
We have the freedom to change our lives into ones we want to live. It just takes time, effort, and a clear direction to head in.
My time, as you might have guessed, literally references my time. After having wasted 10 years doing nothing but negative sh*t and almost losing my life more times than I’d care to admit, just how valuable my time is is pretty easy for me to see. And since it’s valuable and finite, I use my time to make myself happy.
I enjoy my job, and it pays my way through life, so I deem that time well spent. As for my free time? I spend it exactly how I want to. Don’t feel like going out tonight? Then don’t. Want an extra hour of sleep on Saturday morning? Sleep away. Really need a day off from work? Take one. Obviously, there are situations when we kind of have to do things that don’t make us happy, but those situations don’t seem so bad when we are spending the vast majority of our time as we please.
When it comes to just about any person, situation, or choice in my life, I sit back and think:
Does this make me happy?
Is it worth it for me?
Based on the answers to those two questions, I make the decision that I think is best for preserving my happiness. And in doing so, I have been living a much better quality of life overall. After living most of my adult life doing what I thought would make other people happy, putting my own happiness first was quite the adjustment.
Especially because putting myself first most of the time sounds selfish, and maybe it is to some extent. But here’s the thing: we can’t be the best friend, partner, son, daughter, co-worker, or human being if we are miserable all the time.
When I put my personal happiness first, all of my relationships, as well as my life in general, improved as a result. The people who really matter to me understand and respect that. The people who don’t, don’t. Not every single person, place, or thing in our lives necessarily belongs there. And that’s totally okay.
With these three values in mind, I created a little mantra for myself:
I have my freedom; therefore, I control my time, which brings me happiness. ~ Jake Fortin
All of these core values are tied together, and they umbrella the vast majority of things in my life that I actually give a sh*t about. When we find and preserve the things we value the most, we learn more about exactly what we want out of life and how to keep it.
Can I promise that everything in our lives is going to be magically fixed if we simply follow what I just outlined? Hell no. But did I work at all three of these things personally and have the best year of my life? Absolutely.
I can only share what I have learned works for me. None of the personal growth I’ve mentioned happened overnight. A lot of these things take weeks, months, or sometimes even years of practice.
But if we stick to our guns, buckle down, and really work at ourselves, positive change will happen. Let’s make 2021 our year.