January 22, 2014

21 Things I’ve Learned by 21. ~ Kathryn Herbert

It’s easy to think of 21 as the age of alcohol, but there is much more to 21 than simply legal drinking.

True, a nice wine with dinner or a pint with friends is lovely and, at times, a God-send (we’ve all had those days), but there is much more to learn by 21 than how to hold our liquor—or how not to, depending.

1. Listen intently: There are few things more important in life than listening well. You encounter new people and new situations every day, often without any indication of what may eventually be important. If you listen intently you should notice your external awareness growing, and what you’ve listened to may become important.

2. Ask questions: Even if you’re not particularly interested in a conversation or lecture, try to formulate at least one question. You will not only make the speaker feel important, but you may also learn a thing or two, yourself.

3. Keep memories fresh: Memories are powerful. They remind us of past trials and their solutions, of people who have facilitated our personal growth, and can cheer us up when we’re just not feeling it. Memories are strength. Keep as many positive ones as possible.

4. Look from a different perspective: It’s so easy to get trapped in our own heads. Our needs and wants are painfully evident to us, but are they so evident to others? Not usually. Although we all have our own needs, many of which are important, we have to be mindful that others have needs they see as important, too. When these needs clash, try to realize that someone else may need help more than you do. Try to learn someone’s life circumstances or personal difficulties before snapping your judgment. It can only be beneficial.

5. Forgive: As with our own perspective, it is incredibly easy to be absorbed by our own hurts. If we can take a moment to re-assess a situation, we may notice that the easiest resolution to a problem is to say, “I forgive you.”

6. Learn what you can and can’t control: This bullet in particular is exceptionally hard yet exceptionally important. A lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety comes from our attempts to control what simply can’t be controlled. Acknowledge those things that are out of your control. Do your best to help other more controllable factors turn out in your favor, but don’t try to flip fate.

7. Be kind: You never know what kind of a day someone else is having. Even when you’re not feeling particularly cheery, try to be kind. Brightening someone else’s day may just be the boost your mood needs—and may be someone else’s saving grace.

8. Let go: Maybe you’ve suffered a loss, or there’s that one nagging mistake that keeps eating away at you. Remind yourself that you can’t change the past, as cliché as that may be. Until time machines are invented, you can’t change what has already happened. Chalk your mistake up to “lesson learned” and move on. Losses are more difficult, but there are still many useful outlets for built-up grief. Talk to friends or family, keep a journal, or take up a new hobby. Acceptance of impermanence is crucial; letting your upset go is vital.

9. Write it down: How many times do you wake up in the middle of the night willing yourself to remember in the morning what you just remembered? Don’t trust your 2 a.m. brain: write it down. If there is something important you need to remember, write it down. Sometimes just the simple act of writing is enough to make a thought stick in your mind.

10. Keep copies: You don’t want to be sitting at your desk cursing yourself for not having proof that you submitted that form/notice/bill, or that you did/wrote/signed that document on such-and-such a date. In the game of your-word-against-theirs, their word will always win. Keep copies.

11. Keep receipts: Just like with copies, you never know when you may need proof.

12. Wreck something: Sometimes all we need is something to destroy. Have an old rag that you can rip when you’re overwhelmed, or hand-shred some old documents you no longer need. If you like organization or are afraid you’ll wreck something that’s actually important, I recommend investing in Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith. Her whimsical journal is an excellent medium for relieving stress without the added worry of accidental collateral damage.

13. Cry: Crying doesn’t mean you’re weak, it means you’re human. To cry is to show you care. If you feel the need to cry something out, do it; just make sure it’s at an appropriate time and in the appropriate place.

14. Talk: No one knows what you’re thinking, not even the Long Island Medium. The only way anyone will know what you’re thinking is if you tell them. Oftentimes people aren’t frustrated because they don’t care; they’re frustrated because they do care but don’t know how to help. Take a deep breath and explain how you feel and why you feel that way. You’ll be amazed by how helpful others can be when they understand your side.

15. Don’t accuse: You may want to rip your partner to shreds for that Thing they did that made you feel that Way. Instead of tearing them apart by saying “You did this to me,” or “You this to yourself,” or any other phrase involving “you,” re-frame your comments by switching grammatical perspective. Instead of using the accusatory “you,” switch to “I”: “I’m sorry you feel that way,” “I didn’t intend for that comment to come off so harshly,” “I don’t understand why you feel that way.” “I” is much more conducive to calm and productive discussions. It keeps the other person from being defensive, and makes them more willing to open up.

16. Set an example: If you feel someone isn’t behaving properly, or is acting out of turn, instead of calling that person out, set the example. When another guest is interrupting people, make a point to be an attentive listener. When someone is hogging two seats on the bus or train, make a point of moving over and making room for another traveler. Eventually the person “in the wrong” will notice and will amend their ways.

17. Just do it: Sometimes the loudest statement comes not from tedious campaigning but from simple doing. As the saying goes, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Words can go a long way, but many times people need a leader, not a lecturer. Take active measures to improve a situation without calling undue attention to yourself and campaign sparingly. People will notice your efforts: let those efforts speak for you.

18. Know who you are: Our jobs, our schools, our communities, and our families all require us to be different people. It’s easy to feel lost. Don’t let yourself get lost. Take some time each day to either figure out or remind yourself of who you are, what you enjoy, and how to stay true to yourself. Switching responsibilities doesn’t mean being a completely different person—bring your individuality to everything you do. This will surround you with people who shares the same values as you, land you a job most suited to you, and allow you to find happiness within yourself.

19. Apologize: Sometimes we want so desperately to be right, or are embarrassed to admit we’re wrong about something we feel we should know a lot about. It’s okay not to know. And it’s okay to be wrong. What’s not okay is making excuses for your mistake and trying to make someone else feel bad about being right. Accept your error, apologize sincerely, and move on. Chances are no one will remember the mistake by the following week.

20. Stay occupied: This is not to say stay busy. We all need to take breaks, but avoid becoming idle and lazy. Pace yourself through your work, and when you’ve finished or have reached a point where you can take a rest, do so constructively. Meditate for a few minutes, pack tomorrow’s lunch, catch up on an episode or two of your favorite show, or take your dog for a walk. Whatever you do, don’t become lazy and complacent, but don’t overwhelm yourself, either. Find your balance.

21. Love: Everyone will be hurt by someone they love at some point. Sometimes multiple times. This shouldn’t stop you from loving. No one is perfect, and everyone must do what is best for themselves. Sometimes what is best is what brings someone far away from you. That’s okay. If you truly love someone, you will let them grow. Holding people from themselves for your sake is unfair and selfish. Love is selfless. If someone doesn’t return your love you’re better off without them.

These things take time and practice, but they’re all easy once they become habit. Maybe this New Year, instead of making a resolution list that will probably result in some disappointment, resolve to be a better, more self-aware individual—it’s much simpler than it seems.

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Assistant Editor: Daniel Garcia/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Blyzz/Flickr.

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