It’s almost Christmas and for me it’s that time of the year when I invest a great deal of thought (yes, even more thinking than usual!) in to reflecting on the last 12 months and all the lessons I learned that were boxed, wrapped, bowed, tagged, and delivered to me as gifts.
Now let me just point out that this time last year I sat making a list of things I would like from the universe in 2018 and having only just now checked it twice, I’ve realised the powers that be snuck in quite a few things I didn’t actually ask for!
I opened gifts I loved and gifts that didn’t feel like gifts at all. I opened gifts I happily kept and gifts where I shook the box hoping an exchange card would magically fall out – it would appear the universe is not particularly big on this!
I may not have wanted all the gifts I was given this year but I did need them all and I am incredibly grateful to each and every one of them for making me a stronger, and hopefully ever so slightly better, human being than I was this time last year.
So here it is, my twelve months of Christmas, lessons learned style!
12) On the Twelfth Month of Christmas the Universe Gave to Me…a Lesson in Change
Confession: I do not like change. As someone whose natural comfort zone is safety, predictability, and routine, being in the middle of the change swampland really scares me; and yet in a rather paradoxical fashion I seem to find myself seeking out situations, with quite startling frequency, that put me right in the middle of that swampland.
Why? Because this year more than ever I’ve learned that change = growth. I’ve realised that while comfort town feels safe, I don’t learn much there. I’ve felt stuck much of this year, rudderless and lacking in direction, it’s only in the past two months as I’ve started to push myself again that I’ve felt a sense of aliveness, energy, and enthusiasm starting to return.
The below video clip by the awesome motivational speaker Mel Robbins has really helped me start the process of getting unstuck!https://www.facebook.com/melrobbins/videos/i-feel-stuck-what-do-i-do-i-get-this-question-every-single-day-heres-my-answerfe/1884308328354115/
11) On the Eleventh Month of Christmas the Universe Gaveto Me…a Lesson in Acceptance
Accepting ourselves for who we are sounds like an easy thing to do but in reality, while it can be easy to accept the things we like about ourselves, accepting and making peace with our imperfections and flaws is often a much harder task.
We criticise and reject ourselves so often in what seems to be a desperate and fruitless search for a perfection that doesn’t exist. We often speak with so much more kindness, love and affection to others than we do to ourselves. We spend a great deal of time hating our bodies, hating our personalities, hating our quirks and I sometimes wonder what would happen if we embraced the things we don’t like so much about ourselves and started loving them as a part of what makes us unique.
Most of the things we don’t like about our inner or outer selves we may only dislike because society, or other people, have told us they are things not to be liked, things to be ashamed of. Comedian Francesca Martinez says accepting ourselves as we are is the highest form of civil disobedience and she’s right. If everyone was meant to be one size with one personality we would have been made that way, the fact that we weren’t speaks volumes.
10) On the Tenth Month of Christmas the Universe Gave to Me…a Lesson in Mirrors
Now, I know what you’re thinking, what on earth do mirrors have to do with life lessons?! Here’s the harsh truth I have learnt this past year – everything I see in other people, whether I like it or don’t like it, exists within me either as an owned, or disowned, part of myself. Let me share a an example with you.
I have a few people in my life who are highly assertive, forthright, speak your mind kind of people and I’ve always struggled with those traits. I’ve done a lot of work this year around why I get so strongly triggered by those particular behaviours and I’ve realised that my strong reaction is because being assertive and speaking my mind is something I have suppressed and disowned in myself from a very young age. The reason I shrink back around people that have those skills is because somewhere along the way I told myself that being assertive and being a good person were somehow mutually exclusive things!
I hate it when other people are judgmental, yet I can also be judgemental. I hate it when other people are patronising, yet I can also be patronising. I hate it when people lack empathy and compassion, when they can’t see another persons perspective, yet on many occasions I have lacked empathy and compassion, I have failed to try to understand another persons perspective.
I won’t say too much more on this as it deserves a blog post of its own but I am learning that what I react strongly to in others has more to do with me than it does with them. What we love or hate in others often reflects back to us the very thing we love or hate in ourselves.
9) On the Ninth Month of Christmas the Universe Gave to Me…a Lesson in Creativity
I’ve never really viewed myself as someone who’s creative, mostly because when I thought of creativity in the past I thought of artists who could paint, draw, or sculpt, and people who were musically gifted. I used to think ‘I wish I was artistic or musical’, but I figured that since I was the kid at school that was given the triangle to play and struggled to draw a stick figure, this was probably not going to be my destiny!
This year I’ve embraced the fact that creativity comes in many forms and I’ve been relieved to learn that I’m a lot more creative than I ever gave myself credit for, which is a really lovely discovery for me because I used to think that being academic was all I had. Now I see that when I cook or bake that’s me being creative, when I write, the words that spill out are my art. Creating this blog has been the most amazing experience for me – from designing the website, to working on Instagram posts, to writing each blog post, every day I have an outlet for my creativity and I’m loving getting to know this part of me that I’d not properly let out before.
So if you think you’re not creative, think again because you are, it’s just a matter of figuring out what that looks like for you!
8) On the Eighth Month of Christmas the Universe Gave to Me…a Lesson in Receiving
I am by my own admission a chronic over-giver, and while giving to others is a wonderful thing, sometimes we give so much that we end up losing ourselves in the process. I think one of the biggest issues with over giving is that if we’re always stepping forward to do things for others, it leaves no space for them to step up, after all, why would they need to when we’re doing everything?!
My Dad, who is a very wise man, recently said to me ‘you need to step back sometimes and see what comes’. I asked him what happens if nothing comes and he said to me ‘well at least then you’ll know’.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we should stop giving or that we should all be going out there and giving in the hope of receiving something back, but I do think that our relationships with others can get seriously off balance when one person is doing the majority of the giving and the other person is doing the majority of the receiving.
7) On the Seventh Month of Christmas the Universe Gave to Me…a Lesson in Giving
You’re probably mildly confused as to why giving is on the list when I’ve just confessed to having a problem with over-giving so let me explain! What this year has taught me about giving is that I need to learn that’s it not selfish to give to myself sometimes.
One of the reasons this blog means so much to me is that after thinking about it for a long time I’ve finally given myself the gift of actually doing it. There is a balancing act between giving to others and giving to ourselves. The latter isn’t the selfish thing we’ve often been taught it is, it’s vital to ensuring we feel fulfilled as individuals and that we can continue to give to others.
6) On the Sixth Month of Christmas the Universe Gave to Me…a Lesson in Authenticity
Ok so firstly, I do know that this whole ‘be authentic’ movement has gone a bit overkill in the last few years. That aside, the art of being real, of letting ourselves be seen in all our messy imperfection, has been one of my biggest lessons this year and remains a work in progress.
Brene Brown states that when we trade our authenticity for the feeling of safety we get when we fit in and belong, the trade off is often feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, resentment and grief. I don’t know about you but I’ve experienced all of these! If we live our lives trying to please everyone else then we’re no longer ourselves, we’re who they want us to be.
For me being authentic is a bit of a two part process. The first is me actually getting to know who I am, what I like and don’t like, what my beliefs, thoughts, feelings and opinions are; and the second is being courageous enough to start projecting that out in to the world.
5) On the Fifth Month of Christmas the Universe Gave to Me…a Lesson in Courage
There is a great quote that goes something along the lines of ‘ships are safe in harbour but that’s not what ships are for’. There have been many times when I have chosen to remain in the harbour, telling myself that one day, when I was less scared to put myself out there, I’d do the things I wanted to do but I’ve realised that as an introvert I’m probably never not going to be scared about putting myself out there and the only time that we’re ever guaranteed is now.
Fear can serve as a protective factor in our lives, alerting us to when we’re in danger, but the majority of the time there is no real danger and so fear ends up becoming a risk factor, the voice in our heads that holds us back from pursuing our dreams.
It’s only in the last few months through developing this blog and putting it out there for all the world to see that I’ve started pushing through the fear of failing, of what people might think of me, and following the voice inside of me that tells me this is what I’m meant to be doing. It may not work out the way I’m hoping it will but if it doesn’t then I’ll be redirected towards something else and it’ll be without any regrets or ‘what if’ moments.
4) On the Fourth Month of Christmas the Universe Gave to Me…a Lesson in Boundaries
Boundaries are those invisible lines in our lives that let other people know what is and isn’t ok for us, when those are crossed and we fail to hold people accountable we’re teaching them how to treat us and that can lead to us feeling a whole lot of anger and resentment.
I suck at boundaries, I mean really, really suck at them. I have a hard time saying no and I have a hard time letting other people know when their behaviour has crossed the line. I think sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in wanting to play the role of the helper, to be liked and approved of, and to want to see the best in others, and that can make it hard to set and enforce boundaries, even when our own wellbeing is suffering.
There is a fantastic book called ‘Not Nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent, & Feeling Guilty’ – I highly recommend it if setting boundaries and people pleasing are issues that you struggle with https://www.amazon.co.uk/Not-Nice-Pleasing-Speaking-Unapologetically-ebook/dp/B076VVH14M
3) On the Third Month of Christmas the Universe Gave to Me…a Lesson in Intention
High performance coach Brendon Burchard suggests that the reason we may not be getting what we want out of life is because we are prone to being distracted and undisciplined, meaning we’re not often clear with life about what it is we actually want. When we don’t have intention, when we lack a clear vision and direction, we are prone to opting for the easy path of carrying on as we are.
How often do you find yourself just kinda bumbling along? I know I do! Days, weeks, months go past and I have all these thoughts in my head about who I want to be and what I want to be doing and then…..nothing! I realised I was getting stuck in the thinking a lot at the expense of the doing, I was getting caught up in wanting to go about things perfectly instead of just getting started.
Realising that I lacked intention was a great starting place because I’m now on the road to fixing this. I’m actively setting goals and taking steps each day, no matter how small, towards achieving them and the exciting thing is those steps will add up and who knows where I’ll be this time next year!
2) On the Second Month of Christmas the Universe Gave to Me…a Lesson in Perception
Novelist Anais Nin once said that we don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are. When we’re around others who hold similar perceptions of the world life runs relatively smoothly, but it is in our interactions with those who hold different perceptions and realities where conflict can arise.
I’m not sure about all of you but I have a habit of falling in to the trap of projecting my perception of the world on to other people. I have a perception of what thoughtfulness looks like, what support looks like, what love and care looks like, and I find myself often getting stuck in thinking my way of showing those things is the right way.
Learning to recognise that others may hold different perceptions, that they will see the world through their own unique lens, that they won’t always agree with my way of thinking, and that there is no one right way to express or do something, has been a really humbling experience for me.
1) On the First Month of Christmas the Universe Gave to Me…a Lesson in Fun
“Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?” I’m not sure who said that but the point is that we all have an inner child inside of us, the happy, mischievous, playful lover of life but somewhere along the lines he or she gets buried deep inside of us and we forget about them.
We trade that happy, mischievous, playful child for responsibility, working hard, paying the bills and all the other things that can come with being a grown up. In essence we often become adults who survive and exist rather than live. We may feel a heaviness, sadness, or numbness because we’ve sacrificed a very important part of who we are.
A few months back while my parents were visiting me we spent a few days in London. Walking along the Southbank my Mum spotted a carousel, something I’d not been on since I was a kid, and with an excited twinkle in her eyes suggested we jump on. I cannot tell you how much I laughed in that few minutes we were whizzing round but it was a lot!
I realised my life needs waaaaaaay more laugh my head off carousel moments so that’s what I’m going off in search of in 2019.
So there it is, twelve of the lessons I learned in 2018. Some of them were hard, some of them are ongoing, and I know the lessons will keep coming, but if I can learn them without becoming hardened by them, if I can use them to make me a stronger, kinder, smarter, more compassionate and more thoughtful human being then I think I’ll be doing okay.