Welcome to my annual “things I learned” post—and the last one of this decade (the first one was in 2012)! This piece of introspection and sharing is one of my favourite posts each year. The affection is not only for the reflection and distillation this post allows me, but also (equally) for the discussion in the comments, where you share the things that you’ve learned this year and offer further lessons. It’s wonderful. This year has been full of changes; another (unexpected) move; new friendships; wonderful music discovered; many books read; a few mountains climbed; loves found, lost, and grown; and many days and nights of great food and drink with wonderful company. I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot in the face of some very painful and surprising upsets and challenges. It’s been a doozy. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Taking the time to put myself together on a mostly daily basis is really important for my mental health. Taking half an hour to shower, get dressed, do my hair, and put on some makeup makes me feel like a more complete, more productive human. While I love lazing around in pyjamas, doing it all day, every day, leads to me feeling gross.
Don’t sacrifice your happiness to change the world. The world might not change, care, or appreciate it, and then what? Don’t make the worth of your life’s work contingent on the approval and appreciation of others. Maybe what makes you happy will change the world, and maybe it won’t, but don’t spend your one life doing something you hate just because you think it will change the world.
Trauma is a funny thing. Sometimes you don’t realize it happened (or how deeply it impacted you) for months or years afterward when something flares up.
Pick your battles, and realize you will feel some things are completely battle-worthy but are un-winnable or not worth the expense (money, energy, effort, etc.).
Unused supplies for creative endeavors (fabric, ingredients, paper, whatever) can start to feel like a burden to me; a previously agreed-to commitment that I no longer want to be a part of.
In the past, I’ve read mostly non-fiction, but I started reading more fiction this year and I’m so glad I did. I really appreciate the alternate and enhanced perspectives it lends to my daily life. Here’s a few I’ve enjoyed this year:
- Less: A Novel by Andrew Sean Greer
- The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
- The Tattooist of Auschwitz: A Novel by Heather Morris (not fiction, but a wonderful novel)
- The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
- The Wife: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer
- Runaway by Alice Munro
- Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman
- Amy and Isabelle: A Novel by Elizabeth Strout
- All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr
- Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Strout
- Anything is Possible: A Novel by Elizabeth Strout
- My Name Is Lucy Barton: A Novel by Elizabeth Strout
Check-in with yourself regularly—how are you? Are you happy? Try to avoid being blindsided by unhappiness so massive you feel like the only thing to do is give up and run away.
Compliment others readily. It’s free and fun!
I need trees and greenery in my general surroundings.
Moving still sucks, even if you’re moving on to something better.
Avoid recliner-type furniture unless you absolutely love recliners because they are heaaaaaaavy.
When a trauma is fresh I cannot acknowledge it with anything other than a panic response. It’s like a monster in the corner that I can’t look at or even think about, and if I do I descend into terror almost immediately. As time passes I can start to sneak glances at it, and then I can start to think about it a little bit here or there—though it’s almost guaranteed I will look too long at some point in time and backslide. With more time I can look at it for longer and longer, starting to find serenity and distance so I can calmly examine the trauma from all angles without panic clouding my judgment. When I am in that fresh trauma time I am an absolute disaster.
I think anxiety worsens as I age because the youthful cloud of “sure, bad things can happen, but not to me” fades away as bad things start to happen to me and the people I love.
Buy second hand wherever possible. Especially for furniture.
If you approach situations & interactions with anger you are significantly more likely to get anger back.
Just because the story in your head makes sense doesn’t mean it’s true. The conviction that you’re right, no matter how deeply held, has no bearing on the reality of any situation.
Sometimes people will just hate you.
A friend who watches another friend mistreat you and doesn’t want to “take sides” is taking sides… and they aren’t your friend.
Call-out culture seems to be here to stay, and I’m not a fan. At best, calling somebody out in public for a factual error is rude—it’s rarely helpful. Embarrassing somebody is almost never going to result in them changing their minds or their ways, or doing further research. If you aspire to teach, it’s even worse. Publically calling attention to somebody for not knowing the things you know is a poor way to attempt to teach others.
Take advantage of long layovers to get poutine.
High waisted pants/shorts/skirts are pretty dang awesome.
Clip up curls while they cool so they last longer.
Always travel with a spork.
Maybe I can keep house plants alive? I sure like them.
Organizing a thrift shop by colour is incredibly stupid.
I bought a clothing steamer and it is wonderful.
I throw out far too much food and I need to be better about eating what I buy and buying things I’ll actually eat.
I’ve been doing intermittent fasting for about a year now, and it seems to be working well for me. I’m certainly not going to declare it’s the perfect solution for everyone, everywhere, but I mostly like it and the flexibility it allows.
Picking at pimples and other skin imperfections NEVER HELPS. WHY DON’T I LEARN!? Even the smallest amount of scratching will leave a red patch that will last for hours. Squeeze something with determination? That’s likely to invent a problem even if there wasn’t one there before, and that can turn into an abused wound that lingers for a week. AGGGGGGH.
Thrifting while travelling is great fun!
American Costco kinda blows Canadian Costco out of the water.
Portable hard drives may be called “portable”, but they really shouldn’t be moved all that much. RIP my data 😭
There is no end of incorrect/bad information in the world. Attempting to police & call it out has the potential to be a black hole of time, effort, and emotional energy.
Apparently meditation is great, but it is also hard.
Lottie (my dog) will always want to go out so she can come back in again.
I love full grain leather furniture. Swoon. It warms up with you and is like sitting in a giant upholstered hug.
I’m not sure I’m on board with the weighted blanket thing. I thought I would be, and I have one, but most nights I end up throwing it on the floor and/or ending up in a middle-of-the-night weightlifting session with the thing as I try to drag it back onto the bed as it tries to flumpf onto the floor.
Take the time to appreciate small, wonderful things that people do, and tell them you appreciate those things.
Err on the side of less dye-setting time rather than more when dying one’s hair.
Isododecane is fabulous for breathing new life into anhydrous brow gels, liquid lipsticks, and eyeliners.
I cannot be trusted with a Costco-sized box of those super tasty Biscoff cookies.
If you can, go visit Frank Llyod Wright’s Fallingwater.
I don’t think Cab Savs are my kind of wine.
I’ve gotten a lot better at lighting fires and keeping them going in my fireplace! I’ve sorted out a kind of “taco” method and it works beautifully.
Sometimes purging/minimalizing/decluttering possessions can be great… but sometimes it can be a thing I do as a last-ditch “make me happy” thing when I am otherwise unhappy, and excess stuff is not the thing that is making me unhappy, so purging it isn’t really going to help things. Learn to recognize the difference.
I really wish I’d taken the time to learn how to do my hair in high school because then I’d be really good at it now. The learning curve is steep, but thank heavens for YouTube tutorials!
Ambient humidity is so dang fantastic for my skin. I can apply five different hydrating layers as part of my morning and evening skincare routines in Calgary and run a humidifier on high 24/7, but no amount of putting wet things on my face can measure up to just being somewhere more humid for a couple of days.
I’ve been working on developing/refinding some sort of personal style this past year. I’m definitely not “done”, but I’m having a lot of fun and I feel like I’ve made some great progress.
Ok; those are my lessons! What did you learn this year?