2012 was a special year for me personally.
It was a year that taught me just how much positive change can be packed into twelve months.
And like all memorable and impactful experiences, I learned (or in some cases relearned) a number of valuable lessons along the way.
Some of these lessons I learned from first-hand experience. Some of these lessons I learned from reading. Some of these lessons I learned from watching and talking to other people. Regardless of where I learned them, I know I’ll be better for carrying them forward into 2013.
The goal of this post is to take a look back at 2012 and reflect on some of these lessons before diving headfirst into 2013.
And since one of the lessons I relearned this year was how much value finding great new music adds to my daily life, I decided to match up each lesson with a complementary song or two.
1. Embrace getting older.
I’ll admit to being a bit worried when my 30th birthday rolled around about 19 months ago. It was scary and intimidating for a number of reasons.
But I’ve loved my 30s so far, and not once since I turned 30 have I ever lamented getting older. This year, I truly embraced it.
Getting older is inevitable. We all know that. We’re young, we grow up, we age, and eventually we die. It is what it is. It’s life. And life is awesome. (Seriously, try to imagine your life without it!) So why lament anything something that cannot be changed?
Are there negatives about getting older? I suppose. The body breaks down. The mind will eventually slow. Certain opportunities may no longer be available.
But if getting older is inevitable, and we cannot do anything to prevent it, why dwell on the negatives? Why not focus all attention on the many positives?
Getting older means we have more experiences and more memories. We have more knowledge and wisdom. We gain maturity. We’ve loved, we’ve lost, and we know what each feels like and how to deal with it the next time.
And, hopefully, we understand our own happiness better and are more prepared on a daily basis to make choices that will foster it.
We can indeed grow older but still be happy as a new dawn. We just have to embrace it.
“Old Pine” by Ben Howard
We grow, grow, steady as the morning
We grow, grow, older still
We grow, grow, happy as a new dawn
We grow, grow, older still
We grow, grow, steady as the flowers
We grow, grow, older still
We grow, grow, happy as a new dawn
We grow, grow, older still
2. Spend time with people who make you happy.
In terms of understanding my own happiness better, I realized this year just how much I value being with people.
Of course I need and enjoy my alone time, like right now as I write this, but it takes far less time than I’d previously realized to fulfill my “me time” needs. And once those are met, alone time can provide diminishing or even negative returns.
But it’s not just spending time with any people that is important. I’ve realized how important it is to maximize the time I spend with people whose presence genuinely makes me happy and that impacts me in a positive way. Life isn’t long enough to spend time with people who don’t.
I’d rather be alone than spend time with people who are negative. Being around other people should lift us up, not bring us down. And when I find people who do lift me up, who make me smile, who inspire me, or who I just generally have fun with, I try to carve out as much time as I can to be with them.
And we do have to try. We have to make an effort. We have to be flexible. Especially as life goes on, schedules become more packed, and responsibilities become more varied.
It’s always worth the effort though.
Now, once I find people who turn my days into something more, I try much harder to make them a regular part of my life. And I’m so much happier for it.
“Things Are Better” by Tyler Lyle
And things are better when we’re together
These days turn into something more
3. Don’t be an island.
This lesson piggybacks on the last one.
I spent a lot of time in 2011 trying to “go it alone.” For multitudes of reasons, it just wasn’t as easy for me to open up and really develop relationships with people. And this isolation, in part, led to a path of poor personal habits that I used 2012 to reverse.
I realized that the isolation made it so much easier to make individual poor choices that built on one another to create a path that was neither healthy nor fulfilling. My choices were only affecting me, and were really being judged only by me, so the incentive to make tough but good choices was not always there.
But once I broke out of that mindset, once I started making time for other people and really allowing myself to open up again, it all changed.
We humans are social creatures. We need interaction with other people, but we also need connections with other people. We need people to talk to, to open to, in good times and bad. And these connections can help us stay accountable, to others and to ourselves.
I forgot that for a while. I won’t again.
“Everyman Needs a Companion” by Father John Misty
Everyman needs a companion
Someone to turn his thoughts to
I know I do
Everyman needs a companion
Someone to console him
Like I need you
4. Value your love and friendship so others will too.
While it is so important to make connections of all types – friend, family, and romantic – it is also important to remember that your love and friendship is valuable. And it’s okay, in fact it’s good, to expect the people to whom you give it to respect it and reciprocate.
What do I mean by this?
Relationships need to have equal give and take on both sides to work long-term. Otherwise an imbalance is created that is unsustainable and will lead to issues down the road.
If we are always the ones doing and giving, we are investing more into the relationship than the other person. And whether we realize it or not, we are creating expectations that the other person may be unable to meet or even uninterested in meeting.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with taking a selfless approach to relationships with friends, family, and significant (or potential significant) others. In fact, that’s the right approach. But if we always do, do, do and give, give, give, without receiving reciprocation, how long before we start to develop negative feelings about the situation?
And what incentive does the other person have to respect or value the relationship when they have to invest so little to receive so much of you?
We naturally place more value on things that we’ve had to either work hard for or invest a lot in. This is easy to understand when it comes to, say, business investing. It can be easy to overlook when it comes to personal relationships.
Certainly we should not shy away from working hard at relationships, and investing a lot of ourselves in them, but we must be mindful of what it may mean if we are the only one doing the working and the investing. It may mean they “just aren’t that into us,” whether it be as romantic interests or friends. Or it may just mean that they are selfish in relationships.
Whatever it means, at some point we cannot continue investing in something that provides no return. That undervalues our love and our friendship, which are two of the most valuable gifts we possess and can give. We should never undervalue either, and we can’t let someone else either.
It doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on the relationship, but if he or she is not rising to meet our level of investment, then maybe we need to back off a bit ourselves to bring the relationship back into balance. It’ll be better for both parties in the long run.
“Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting” by Glen Hansard
And love don’t leave me guessing… ohh love… don’t keep me here.
Show yourself, show yourself.
5. Listen to words, but trust actions.
When it comes to investment in any type of relationship – or investment in anything really – it’s important to remember that talk is cheap. Action is what shows a true commitment to something.
Words come easy. They do for all of us. It doesn’t require much to think something and then say it. Following up those words with action, however, is not always so easy.
I can say that I think such-and-such stock would make a great investment, but what really shows I believe it is if I actually plunk down some money to invest in it.
Same with relationships and friendships.
I can say that such-and-such is an awesome person and that I really value their presence in my life, but if I don’t make time for the person or show him or her appreciation, then what did the words really mean?
Words without action really mean nothing. I’ve always known this rationally, but I also know that sometimes I want to believe certain words so much that I’m willing to look the other way when there is no matching action. Not anymore.
And it goes both ways. Not only do I now try to be more cognizant of making sure people’s actions match their words, especially when deciding whose words I’m going to trust and whose I won’t, but I am also focusing on making sure my words and actions match too.
When I say something to someone, I don’t want them to immediately have their guard up and say, “Yeah, but does he really mean it? Will he actually do what he says? Should these words actually carry any weight at all?” I want people to know that my words are precursors to action, not just hot air to make that particular moment easier.
So, don’t listen to a word I say…or do listen, but judge the action. It’s the best way to know what I’m really thinking and what I really want. And it’s like that for everyone.
“Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men
Don’t listen to a word I say
The screams all sound the same
6. Things change, so take responsibility for adapting.
The one thing that never changes is that things are always changing.
Take lesson #4 above, for example. Relationships with other people are constantly changing and evolving. Sometimes they go how you expect them to, and sometimes they don’t, for better or for worse. And as they change and evolve, it is up to each of us to take personal responsibility for adapting with them.
Because as important as developing relationships with others is, and not being an island, we still have to be able to stand on our own two feet. It is no one else’s responsibility to guide us through changing times, which can sometimes be difficult to navigate.
We were put here on this earth by ourselves, and ultimately we are responsible for ourselves. There is no substitute for personal accountability. Always being mindful of that is what will allow us to keep moving on in a positive direction, no matter what may come our way.
“Things Are Changing” by Gary Clark Jr.
I can stand alone
I was put here on this earth
By myself woah I gotta keep moving on
7. Breathe with purpose.
Of course, dealing with change is often easier said than done. Change leads to uncertainty, which can lead to stress, which can lead to myriad negatives that can impede positive progress.
As I’ve learned this year, my first as a serious and dedicated practitioner of yoga, these are the best times to slow down the breath, find some calm, and get re-centered.
I have been amazed how much of a positive impact learning to control my breath has had in every area of my life.
Specific to yoga, learning to breathe properly helps me make it through challenging moments in class. And in much the same way, learning to breathe properly has helped me to be so much better at making it through challenging moments that the world presents.
Calming my breath down, especially in moments of stress or when I am trying to ward off a negative or pessimistic thought stream, always allows me to come back to my center. And when centered, I am calm, rational, and optimistic. This allows me to make good decisions and move forward in a positive direction.
Slowing down the breath helps me to filter out noise and negativity so that I don’t lose my heart or my smile. And then I can give trust and show love, which is what life is all about.
“Slow Your Breath Down” by Future of Forestry
Slow your breath down
Just take it slow
Find your heart now, oh
You can trust and love again
Slow your breath down, just take it slow
Find your smile now, oh
You can trust and love again
8. Take leaps of faith.
When we possess our hearts, when our smiles are present, and when we can trust and love … we can take leaps of faith. And in my experience, especially this year, taking leaps of faith is always worth it.
Now, that doesn’t mean that a leap of faith will always result in the desired outcome. But I firmly believe that the journey is more important than the destination, and the excitement and growth that so often accompanies leaps of faith almost always makes them worth it, regardless of the specific outcome.
I’ve only ever regretted leaps of faith I did NOT take, never ones I did. And even the “bad” ones have taught me valuable lessons, provided memorable experiences, or introduced me to new people and ideas that I may never otherwise have come across. And that’s all part of growing and moving forward in life.
Keep in mind: there is a difference between a leap of faith and just a leap.
A leap of faith suggests a certain sense of optimism at where the leap could lead. Perhaps it’s a new job. Perhaps it’s a new love interest. Whatever it is, if it’s a true leap of faith then there is a rational, reasoned belief that the desired outcome is possible and that it would be for the better.
A leap, on the other hand, would just be that. And I’m not suggesting just start taking leaps, or making changes, simply for the sake of change.
I’m no longer ever going to let fear prevent me from taking a leap of faith. I have in the past, and I’ve regretted it. I didn’t this past year, and it turned out to be one of the best years I’ve ever had. Coincidence? I think not.
Leaps of faith give us the opportunity to move towards greater things, greater happiness, greater fulfillment. But we have to be willing to leap. Do it. If faith is present, how can we ever regret it?
“Flying For The First Time” by Elenowen
Said a prayer with broken wings
Hoping to move toward greater things now
And face the fear
9. Love can hurt … but it’s worth it.
Perhaps the most universal leap of faith of all is when we choose to open ourselves up to loving another person.
There is no more awesome and wonderful and powerful feeling in the world than love. Sharing love with another person is simply sublime. It is incomparable.
But, as we all know, love can bring pain too. When we open ourselves up to loving, we simultaneously open ourselves up to the potential for massive disappointment and hurt.
Such is the nature of love. One of the reasons why it is so special and cherished when right is because we know how much it can rock our worlds negatively when it’s wrong. And vice versa.
Still, even with this potential for hurt and pain, the kind that only unrequited love can really bring, the chance for love is absolutely, positively, always worth the leap of faith.
Great reward often only comes with great risk. And that’s how it is with love.
I chose these two songs here for very specific reasons.
“Bay of Pigs” is one of the best metaphors for lost or unrequited love that I have ever heard. There are few experiences in life, if any, that are harder to get over and move past. Perhaps some parts of us never really do, especially if the love was real and strong.
“Stubborn Love” counters this sadness and hopelessness by reminding us that no matter how hard unrequited or lost love is to deal with, it’s always worth it. Because it’s better to feel pain than nothing at all. The opposite of love is, in fact, indifference. I love that lyric. It’s so true. A life of indifference simply is not one worth living.
So never be afraid of love. Only be afraid of not giving it a chance.
“Bay of Pigs” by Rogue Valley
Doubt crept up on its own
Like frost bite in the cold
Like hunters in the snow
With only phantom tracks to follow
From the bay of pigs
Deep into my head
And underneath my ribs
You find a way inside
“Stubborn Love” by The Lumineers
It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all
The opposite of love’s indifference
10. Hold on when you get love, let go when you give it.
I’ve already dedicated an entire blog post to this particular lesson, taken verbatim from one of my favorite new songs of 2012. This is a perspective on love that I am so thankful to have learned this year.
As you might guess from lesson #9, I believe that love is always worth holding onto. What is more joyful than having feelings of love for another person? I cherish those feelings. And they are mine.
But as I wrote in aforementioned post:
…sometimes putting the desires and happiness of someone else first – even when they directly conflict with your own – is the only way to truly express your love for someone. Sometimes you have to, well, “let go when you give it,” as the song says.
It’s not easy, but it’s right.
Sometimes we have to let go, because it’s right for the other person, even if it kills us to do so on the inside. But if the love is real, we’ll do it, and we’ll end up feeling joyful about it, because genuine love is selfless and giving and caring.
And if we find that we can’t do it, maybe the love was not what we thought it was. This, to me, is what separates love from infatuation. The former lasts, the latter is often fleeting. And at this stage in my life, I’m interested in what lasts.
“Hold On When You Get Love, Let Go When You Give It” by Stars
Take the weakest thing in you
And then beat the bastards with it
And always hold on when you get love,
So you can let go when you give it.
11. Learn to let go.
Of course, letting go is easier said than done, which is why it warrants its own lesson.
And though we’ve been talking a lot about love in these last few lessons, learning to let go applies to so many different areas of life.
Learning to let go of negative, hateful, or angry feelings.
Learning to let go of desires that are no longer relevant or possible.
Learning to let go of mistakes or missed opportunities that have turned into regrets.
When we don’t let go of things, they anchor us to the past, which impacts our ability to be fully present in the now, which will directly impact what our future ends up being.
Notice I didn’t say, “let go of the lessons you learned from mistakes or missed opportunities…” or “let go of the lessons you learned from negative feelings.” When mistakes are made, learn from them so they don’t happen again. Then carry the lesson forward but purge the regret. When someone makes us feel angry, we should forgive, though that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to forget. We let go of the negativity but keep the lesson.
When we learn to let go, we are acknowledging that what’s done is done. It cannot be changed, so it shouldn’t be dwelt upon. We take a breath, piece together anything that is broken, and then rise again. It makes for a better present, a better future, and in turn a better life.
“Let Go” by Everest
So take a breath
My dear friend
Take it slow
And let go
And rise again
You’re not done yet
“Better Life” by Paper Route
And what is done is done
Piece together what’s been broken
Can you ever give up someone
A better life, a better life is waiting
12. Be grateful and show appreciation.
And finally, a general lesson that each and every one of us can incorporate into each and every moment of our lives.
Think of the happiest people you know. Chances are, these are people who live lives of gratitude. And I don’t believe that only certain people can be this way. I think we all can, if we work hard enough at it.
Just like we build our body’s muscles by working them out, I think we can build our mental muscles, especially as they relate to attitude, by working them out.
Try it. The next time you’re stuck in traffic, instead of lamenting the traffic and getting frustrated, find something to be grateful about.
You have a car!
You have your health and faculties to actually be able to operate it!
You have extra time in the midst of your busy day for brain-storming or thinking about something!
I could go on. Frankly, in almost all situations, there are endless things to be grateful for. We just have to train our minds to have that perspective as opposed to the perspective that looks for things to be frustrated with. At first it may be hard, but eventually it becomes habit. A very positive habit. It just requires focus to do consistently.
I know this sounds corny. It is corny. But it also works. I’m as happy as I’ve ever been, and I know one of the reasons is that I’ve made finding reasons to be grateful – especially in frustrating situations – a major focus.
And when we are truly grateful, we show appreciation. And this appreciation is what completes the gratitude cycle.
When someone does something nice for us, especially if he or she has gone above and beyond what was needed or expected, we should show appreciation. It will undoubtedly fill that person with joy, and it will make him or her more likely to go out and go above and beyond for someone else. In that sense, we are paying it forward. That’s what the cycle of gratitude is.
Imagine a world in which everyone is filled with gratitude and always showing appreciation for what they have and what has been done for them. It’s a beautiful place.
Obviously we can’t control anyone but ourselves. But we can all make a difference in our little sections of the world by brightening our own life, and the lives of those around us, with gratitude and appreciation.
Besides, we all have at least one thing to be grateful for, a common bond of gratitude than can bind us if we don’t take it for granted. No matter what situation we’re in, we can always look to this simple thought as a source of gratitude:
It’s good to be alive.
Actually, it’s great to be alive.
I can’t think of any better sentiment to head into another new year with. Let’s all have a great 2013!
“Good To Be Alive” by Jason Gray
I wanna live like there’s no tomorrow
Love like I’m on borrowed time
It’s good to be alive, yeah
I won’t take it for granted
I won’t waste another second
All I want is to give you
A life well lived, to say “thank you”