Fitting it should fall on a Monday – so we should call this a motivation Monday post. This won’t be about me per se. I’m not going to spend two hours writing about my life, expecting you to read every minute detail and be captivated. The truth is, even though its been interesting and even hilarious at times, I haven’t really lived a life that’s any more captivating than anyone else’s. I’ve had fun, and I’ve taken risks, and I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve loved and lost time and time again. Even though every single person can say the same, we can all say we did it differently.
You might think that having a birthday four days after Christmas is really unlucky. Its true that a lot of times the holidays are swept together. I’ve had a lot of ‘Christmas and Birthday’ combined gifts, even though my family has always been good to keep them separate. I actually love having my birthday at this time of year. For one, I’ve never had to work or go to school, and have always had this day as a rest.
More importantly, because it comes in under the radar and so close to the end of the year, I have always been able to use my birthdays as a reflection time, as a chance to look back on the year and even my entire life as a whole. Where am I going? What has changed? What needs to change? It can be a good opportunity to look at my ability to set goals and break down problems, and to see my life as the sum of my efforts and decisions.
This year has been defined by adulthood.
I mean this in the sense of going through a lot of forward life steps. This year I moved in with the woman I love, I moved forward in my business efforts and subsequently learned that things can stagnate quickly too. I learned a lot about my own nature, what I think makes me happy and what actually makes me happy. I worked incredibly hard for part of this year and was incredibly lazy for part of it. I have been injured and sick for part of it, and incredibly strong and fit for part of it. I had a quarter life crisis, worked a 60 hour week, and ran a 16 Km obstacle race.
So here’s what I’ve learned and come to reflect on this year:
1. Holding on to the Past can stop you from moving forward
2. Focussed Hard Work is the only thing that separates the successful from the unsuccessful
3. It doesn’t take a lot of time to make huge changes
I have definitely learned more than three things this year, but I wanted to boil it all down to three major points that can be helpful to anyone. These points are all encompassing of the lessons I want to communicate, and I’ll explain how I’ve learned each lesson and why its important.
Holding onto the past can stop you from moving forward
Remembering the past and learning from it is a very good thing. We should never be afraid of what we’ve done, because every single decision we’ve made has taken us to where we are right now. We need to use our mistakes to guide us to becoming a better person.
But when you hold onto an idea about who you are, or a part of your life that you can’t say goodbye to, it can become detrimental to your efforts.
This year I had to let go of my bachelor lifestyle. Being bachelor in a big city is actually pretty fun. Although it can be tough being alone sometimes, you have complete control of your life and all the time to do things you want. As a bachelor I built a business, went out with friends regularly, played video games, completed all kinds of personal projects, and only had to look out for myself.
I mastered that lifestyle, but I was still lonely, and I knew I wanted more.
Since I met my girlfriend, I could feel the changes slowly happening. I never felt this way with other women I dated. Suddenly I wanted a life with her in our own world, and I didn’t want to be a lone wolf any more. And then we moved in together in September of this year. This was a huge change. I’ve always been a go-with-the-flow kind of man, but you can never anticipate how big changes will affect you. A lot of the latter part of this year has been letting go of my old lifestyle, and living for more than just myself, and its been a great learning experience.
Although letting go of some of our old ways is hard, its exciting to move into new territory. There’s something to be said for boldly venturing into the unknown.
The biggest part of letting go of the past, in any situation, is realizing that although you enjoyed that part of your life, you’ll never forget the things you did or the way you felt. Things will change no matter what you do, but if you flow with the tide you can get the most out of it. Its when you resist change that your growth stagnates and you become jaded.
The ultimate lesson is: Enjoy your life where it is right now, and when it does change, remember the past fondly while always looking ahead.
Focussed hard work is the only thing that separates the successful from the unsuccessful
This is a lesson I’ve learned time and time again, year after year, but until now it hasn’t really sunk in. In school the reason for working hard is usually to ‘get good grades’ and ‘get into a good University.’ I never really worked as hard as I could have in school, mostly because I didn’t care. I had more important things to do, until I got to about third year University, and I really wanted to make sure I graduated. I was never in danger of not graduating, but my program had strict requirements and I wanted a particular degree, so I had to buckle down and get it done.
I spent hours in the library each night working on Physics problems with friends. We would take breaks for dinner and coffee runs, but it was class all day, and then every evening it was work until 9 or 10 at night, go home, and do it all again the next day. The night before a test, exam, or assignment due date we would stay until 1 or 2 am depending on the anxiety about the work.
But as hard as it was, those are the times I remember, because they were the test, the measure of my character. I had to battle through hell to succeed and I rose to the challenge. I loved that part of my life.
It’s easy to fall into a rut of complacency, where things are ‘good enough.’ You want more out of life, but you have everything you need right now, so why bother to work harder, try something new, or take a risk?
I’ve always believed that dissatisfied people change the world, and when you really don’t like where you are, you’ll work your ass off to make it better. Well now I try to put it a different way: Always look at the life you want as being a bit better than the life you currently have.
You should always enjoy what you have, don’t get me wrong, but always dream big and make it realistic enough that you’ll work for it. For the first time in my life, I’ve also found things I want that I never really wanted before. A home, a family, bigger and bolder adventures. All things worth working my ass off for.
I’ll leave this lesson with a great article I read yesterday, about the necessity of stress. Essentially it talked about Biosphere 2, a plan to study a closed environment of trees and plans and see how they survive. Trees in the biosphere grew very quickly, but they all collapsed. The researchers concluded that the trees fell because there was no wind in the biosphere, which would allow the trees to develop ‘stress wood’ to keep them strong. What an incredible analogy: We need stress and breaking, cracking, failure in order to become strong and develop fully.
It doesn’t take a lot of time to make huge changes (positive or negative)
This has been a big lesson this year. At the start of the year I had a goal to run three big races, an 8 Km hill run, a 10 Km race, and a 16 Km Spartan obstacle race. All within a 6-week span in April and May.
I ran three times per week, lifted weights, and played ultimate frisbee. I was as fit as I’ve ever been, and I ran the 8K and 10K faster than my goal times. The 16K killed me but I finished it. In just 5 short months I became strong, fit, and most importantly, I became consistent. And then something changed.
Well actually a few things changed. I became really busy with work. I was working two jobs on a very regular basis and worked nearly every day in July. This left little time to exercise or eat well. I was also stressed out, which is never a good state of mind for taking care of oneself. I started to find ways to totally shut off my brain from work life, and hide from everything to get some rest before having to head back to face the stressful grind.
And then, when it was finally supposed to let up in late August, I moved. All of a sudden it was October and I had barely worked out or eaten well in 5 months. What a complete 180.
It got me thinking a lot about how two big chunks of my year were extreme positive motion in one direction, as opposed to a small about of progress in several directions. Let me rephrase: I would have rather made a little bit of fitness progress and a little bit of work progress all year, instead of 5 months of extreme fitness and 5 months of extreme work. This is all about balance. It can be hard to balance all those areas of life sometimes, especially when you’re a business owner and somewhat of a freelancer.
But it was a great lesson in how quickly things can change, for better or for worse. It’s a good reminder that if you are in a situation you don’t like, it’s much easier to make positive progress than you think. On the flip side, if things are good, be sure to stay vigilant, because the ground can fall out from underneath you in a heartbeat.
My year did have a positive ending. Although I’ve spent the better part of the past two months battling multiple illnesses, I have been blogging every day since mid-October. I don’t do it because I want to be a professional writer or blogger, but because I wanted an outlet, a conduit for the lessons I’ve learned, and a way to keep up to date on my space knowledge and improve my science communication skills. In just two short months, my writing has improved, my space knowledge base is stronger, and for every person who comments that they enjoyed my posts, I get another reason to keep writing. I couldn’t care less about how many people read this, but it is absolutely paramount that I write it.
This year has been one of ups and downs, but I can confidently say I am better off than I was last year. As I get ready to go out and celebrate my champagne birthday tonight, I think beyond this year and look back at my life, and the experiences I’ve had that have led me to where I am today. I could have regrets, but it would be a waste of energy, especially when I like who I am and where I’m going. Hopefully you garner some amount of wisdom from all of this writing, but if not, it’s okay, because you can be sure that I have.