How does one possibly sum up the year that was 2020? I can honestly say this was the most difficult, emotional, chaotic year ever, and it was also the year I learned some of the most important lessons of my life. So without further ado…
- Your life isn’t going to begin when you accomplish x or obtain y. Life started the day you were born, and it’s happening right now! It’s also never going to look exactly how you imagined. Don’t let the arbitrary deadlines we as a society set for ourselves freak you out. Being a single woman in your 30s doesn’t mean you’re an old maid. You still have so much life ahead of you, so go out and dance and kiss strangers in the rain and spend all your money on avocado toast and all that other stuff that’s supposedly reserved for younger folks.
- Fail early and often. Don’t let a fear of failure stop you from trying at all, because it’s through failing that we get to a better place. As an aspiring writer, I know better than anyone how easy it is to procrastinate. I put off writing a first draft because I worry it will be terrible, but so what? It’s going to be terrible whether I write it today or one year from now. If I write it today, I’ll have an extra year to polish it and work on my craft and turn that terrible first draft into something amazing.
- Don’t let other people dictate your life. Friends and family can offer helpful advice, but at the end of the day it’s about doing what’s right for you, not them. You’re the one who’s going to have to live with the decisions you make, so make sure they’re the right ones for you.
- Letting go of where you are now is scary, but it’s the only way to get to a better place. Leaving a job I didn’t enjoy was the only way I could get hired at a company I love. Leaving behind a bad dating situation is the only way to make space in my life for a much healthier, loving relationship.
- Life is so much more fun when you let go of expectations. That doesn’t mean not having standards for yourself or other people. That simply means going into situations without having preconceived notions of what it’s supposed to look like. Let life surprise you. Being pleasantly surprised is a lot more enjoyable than being constantly disappointed.
- Judge someone by what they do and not what they say. I spent plenty of time with sweet-talkers, who’d call me baby and hon, tell me I was beautiful, tell me how much they missed me, and then one day, dump me like a bag of hot potatoes. If someone isn’t putting in real effort—that means asking you out on dates, making time for you in their schedule, going out of their way to show you they care—they’re not worth your time.
- It’s not going to work out with most of the people you date, and that’s okay. The odds are that the majority of first dates you go on aren’t going to lead to relationships, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. Pick an activity you’ve always wanted to do, eat out at a restaurant you’ve been dying to try, have fun getting dolled up, practice your flirting skills, enjoy learning about someone else’s life, and if all else fails, think of the great story it’ll make one day.
- If someone really likes you, you won’t ever wonder if they do. And here’s a bonus lesson: listen to your gut. Deep down, we often know the truth, but we’ll go through a bunch of mental gymnastics to convince ourselves otherwise. You can ignore it for as long as you like, but sooner or later reality’s going to catch up to you, and the longer you wait, the harder it’s going to hit you.
- Have your own life. You shouldn’t be sitting around hoping your crush will ask to see you. For starters, this just sets you up for disappointment if they don’t. It also just makes you not a very interesting person. Think about it this way: would you want to date the person who spent the last week watching Netflix and waiting for you to call or the person who went to the museum, learned how to cook duck à l’orange, dominated their friends at board game night, and took a trapeze class?
- Have standards, and communicate them often. A relationship only works if both people are getting what they need out of it. When you really like someone, all you want to do is make them happy, and that makes you willing to sacrifice your standards. Don’t. Ever. Do. This. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Sure, it might scare off some guys, but you don’t want those kind of guys in your life in the first place. The ones who stick around will be the ones who respect you and will connect with you on a much deeper level. Believe it or not, having standards actually makes you more desirable, so if you don’t have some, get some!
- Have a life philosophy. That means knowing how you’re going to deal with setbacks, what’s going to make you happy, and how you’re going to live your life. Since I learned about Stoicism this year, it’s become my go-to philosophy, and I no longer feel like I’m just wandering aimlessly through my life.
- Some of the most powerful tools for happiness are 100% free. Since I started regularly meditating and journaling this year, my stress levels have dropped considerably. I’ve gotten much better at not ruminating on negative thoughts, and I’m learning to be more present in each moment which leads me to my next point…
- Forget the past and future, the present is where it’s at. You have no control over the past because it isn’t actually real, all you have are memories of it (mind-blowing, I know!). The future obviously hasn’t happened yet but the present…oh, the present is a beautiful place. You have the power to shape it exactly how you want, to make it as enjoyable or as horrible as you’d like. Right now I’m at home visiting my parents. I could spend my time moping in bed thinking about all the things that went wrong this year or I could spend it watching a good movie with my dad, cooking with my mom, laughing and having fun. The present is amazing, so enjoy it, appreciate it, and stop trying to live somewhere else.
- The quality of our social connections is the #1 thing that determines our happiness. Money, status, flashy cars…all that stuff means nothing if you don’t have good people in your life. Go out there and meet people who are interested in the same stuff as you, strengthen your relationships with the friends and family you already have, and prioritize experiences with the people you love over material goods.
- Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about putting yourself first. Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s a priority. Ever hear the phrase, “You can’t pour from an empty cup?” Being our best possible selves also means we can show up for the people in our lives in the best possible way. So go ahead and draw yourself a bubble bath, pour yourself some wine, and get your hygge on.
- Be grateful. It’s human nature to focus on the negative over the positive (those pesky evolutionary traits), but I’m willing to bet there’s a lot in your life worth appreciating. Nobody loves you? Your friends and family beg to differ. You’ve accomplished nothing in your life? Younger you disagrees! Practice gratitude as often as you can, even for the things you take for granted, like the home you live in, the food you eat, the fresh air you get to breathe. It’ll change your whole perspective.
- Happiness is not something you need to chase. I can’t speak for those with depression or other extenuating circumstances, but for a lot of us, we already have everything we need at our disposal. Psychology shows that most of the tools for happiness are pretty simple: meditation, gratitude, exercise, sleep, and social connections to name a few.
- Rejection is rarely personal and is by no means a reflection of who you are as a person. Getting passed over for a job doesn’t mean you’re not good at what you do, getting dumped doesn’t mean you’re not desirable. You never know what experiences and ideas have shaped another person’s perspective of you and the sooner you realize that, the sooner you can brush it off and find people who will appreciate what you have to offer.
- Be kind to yourself. I can guarantee you will make mistakes and bad decisions. You’ll do things you’ll still regret years down the road. You’re not the only one. You can’t judge yourself on the mistakes you made in the past with the knowledge and experience you have in the present. Besides, those mistakes are the very things that helped you grow and become a better person.
- It’s never too late to build the life you want. It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 60, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re out of time. Maybe you’re older than you would have liked to be when making a change, but you’re younger than you will be five years from now and that version of you is going to think you’re a dummy if you don’t take action. And guess what! You don’t have to wait for a new year to start over. You can start over as many times as you like—every month, every day, every hour, even right now.