Reflection on This Year

I love getting older. Every year I feel more in touch with who I am, more confident, and wiser. I feel like I have a better handle on this whole “being a human” thing and I’m not fumbling around like a baby deer anymore. I know myself now more than ever, I feel more capable, I have skills I can contribute to the world, and I’m watching my future begin to take a clearer shape.

Every year for my birthday I make a list of things I’ve learned in the past year. I write these lists in part to reflect on my journey over the past year, and also to remind myself of valuable bits of wisdom I sometimes forget. I’m astounded by the number of big changes and how much I’ve learned and experienced this year. Since my 26th birthday, I saved as much money as I could, finished graduate school, packed a backpack, and left home on a one-way ticket. I didn’t know what was in store for me, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t be back anytime soon. I participated in a yoga retreat, backpacked Southeast Asia with a good friend, volunteered on a farm in the middle of nowhere, cared for elephants, and became trained in Thai massage before finding the counseling job of my dreams in Thailand.

Reading through my old journal entries over the past year, I was able to compile a list of about 100 things which I carefully whittled down to 27. My list this year is colored by the unique contrast of living my fantasy life coupled with the reality of experiencing my first year in a career path which invites me to walk with people through their beauty and their pain every day. I am overcome with gratitude and awe at how this year has turned out. If year 27 is anything like year 26, I will be blessed.

27 Things I’ve Learned By Age 27

1. You cannot rush your development. If you speed through life on a mad dash to the finish line, you will miss it all. So slow down and take breaks. Keep reminding yourself of this over and over again because you have such a strong tendency to overwork yourself. Your to-do list is a hydra. If you wait to relax and live until you’ve vanquished it, you never will.

2. Take calculated micro-risks. Don’t let the fear of losing your life keep you from living it. After all, rarely are risks truly life-threatening. So drop the fear. Take the chance. Even if you fall flat on your face, at least you’ll be able to say you’ve tried, and you can always return to where you started. The costs of inaction far outweigh the risks of trying. You never know, you might just land your dream job. 😉

3. There is no such thing as a fairy tale ending. Even the life of your dreams, no matter how amazing, is full of challenges. You cannot escape the obstacles life throws your way, but you can learn to meet them with skill and grace. Find the challenges you are excited to face.

4. What bothers you most about others is usually what bothers you most about yourself. Other people are mirrors reflecting yourself back to you. Every trigger is an opportunity to practice compassion, self-awareness, and new ways of responding.

5. Even if you love a million things, they can only be done one at a time. There is no such thing as multi-tasking. A good life is made up of millions of moments mindfully lived. Embrace the lessons and moments of today and trust they will add up over time.

6. Speak your dreams into existence. You never know when a stranger might point you to exactly where you are meant to go.

7. True friends are difficult to find. Hold onto them when you find them, even if it means navigating 13-hour time differences for phone calls.

8. It is possible to be sobbing about something truly painful while still remaining present and grounded through the experience, knowing that it will pass. True emotional health is not measured by how well you can hold it together, but by how valiantly you feel what is unquestionably there. It takes much more strength and courage to feel the shit than to pretend it’s not there. Let the tears flow. They, like everything else, are impermanent. The only way out is through.

9. Don’t mistake weather for climate. Difficult phases and emotions are temporary, and they give contrast to the warmer, sunnier times. Don’t get so caught up in the rain that you lose hope the sun will return. Developing the ability to remain essentially equanimous while your mood plummets and soars is one of the most influential things you will learn this year and something which will need to be consistently practiced.

10. It’s okay to be sad, anxious, or angry sometimes. Uncomfortable emotions have a purpose: they alert us to what is important to us, and to when we need to protect ourselves. You cannot avoid uncomfortable emotions, nor should you want to, because if you did, you would miss out on all they have to teach you.

11. Every step is part of the path. There are no such things as detours. Everything you do in life is leading you towards the next door you will walk through. If you’re brave enough to step through an unfamiliar door, dozens more will open. Keep walking. The world is full of possibilities which will only be available to you if you trust your path and keep walking it.

12. There is a big difference between leaving home because you’re running away and leaving home because you yearn for something more.

13. Some of us were seeds sown in the wrong climate. Growth is much easier in the climate you belong in. Find it, transplant yourself there, then watch yourself bloom.

14. You will not “find yourself” once and for all. There is no end to self-knowledge. The self is an ever-changing phenomenon with infinite depth, and getting to know it is a journey you will undertake for the rest of your life.

15. The brain is inextricably linked to the rest of the organism. You cannot do lasting psychological work by treating the brain and leaving the body behind.

16. Your yoga journey truly begins when you get into the body and feel. And move. And feel. And soften. And feel. And adjust. And feel. And breathe. And feel…

17. The unexamined aspects of the shadow will drag you around if they are not witnessed, attended to, and loved. Even your scariest parts will soften with kind awareness.

18. Wear high-quality high-SPF sunscreen on your face every single day. Your skin will thank you.

19. Life is improv. There is no right or wrong way to play your part, and no reason to take it so seriously. We are all just making it up as we go!

20. The future will not limit you. You will always have a choice. You will decide if and when to get married, have children, commit to a long-term job, or move to a suburb. If you make that decision it will be because you want to, not because you have to, just like you’re making the decision to spend your 20s exploring because it feels right. The only thing that can “force” you into something “age-appropriate” is your own fear. Just make authentic “yeses” every day.

21. Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect to be shared. There is no such thing as “perfect,” anyway. Craft is honed through practice. So start practicing, start sharing, and trust that your unique voice needs to be heard.

22. Don’t be so quick to jump to the solution to other people’s problems. The greatest gift you can give others is helping them come to their own answer, not giving them yours.

23. Don’t waste any more time agonizing about what you are meant to become. You can sit on your butt and reflect about your true nature for an eternity and still remain unsure, or you can get out into the world and find it by living it. You won’t find your niche by merely thinking about it. You’ll live your way into it as you interact with the world. It can be effortlessly built with a balance of time, exposure, and reflection.

24. There are so many ways to live a life. If you believe you are limited to what your parents did or what your friends are doing, think again. If you want to live a different life, try doing something different. Meet new people. Get new leads. There are people of all ages who are living nomadic lifestyles and pursuing their dreams and turning their passions into businesses they can make a living on, and they are not destitute. They are thriving. Anything is possible.

25. Give yourself the love you wish you always had. Tell yourself “I love you” when you tuck into bed at night. This simple practice will go a long way.

26. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone, least of all yourself. You deserve to be here no matter what.

27. The most special thing about your journey is that it is uniquely yours and can only be lived by you. No one else on this planet will ever get that chance. Don’t waste time wishing you were anyone or anywhere else. Be you.