Lessons from 26, Part Two

Lessons from 26, part two (read part one here):

6. Sometimes you have to let go of what you used to want.

At age 18, I completely believed that I would become a lawyer specializing in family and child law, live in a big city and get married and have children by age 26. At age 27, I work in development communications for a hospital system, do not live in a big city, am not married and still view kids as a couple years off.

It's entirely normal, particularly in one's twenties, to change gears several times--your location, your job, your relationship. This is a decade of great change for most people, which can be exciting, confusing and/or frightening. Perhaps all three. As I made personal and professional decisions, I continually asked myself whether or not I currently wanted something or I used to want something. This practice of discernment was very helpful because I often discovered that I was making a choice based on past priorities and interests, rather than what I actually saw for myself. Instead of thinking, But this is what I thought would happen or This is what I had plannedI ask myself: Do I want this, now? Is this still important to me? Does this fit in with my personality and goals and preferences? Does this make me feel more alive or stuck? And sometimes the answer is surprising.

The bottom line is that we are always changing, and it's crucial to embrace that reality rather than hold fast to a static self. It requires honesty and openness. It results in authenticity.

7. People don't behave how you want them to.

Danielle LaPorte once said that she does not worry for her friends. She writes, "Can't do it. Won't do it. Refuse to." When I first read that, I thought, Huh? I am always worried about my friends! How they're doing at work, how their relationships are going, if they feel happy and successful, etc. LaPorte, however, argues that there's a critical difference in terms of "worry" energy and "concern" energy. She says that other people don't need our "worry." It's not helpful, and it doesn't make you a better person. Worry obstructs, weights things down, is wistful, tangles, gossips; Concern is pro-active, rises to the occasion, is penetrating, peels back the layers, enrolls.

In other words, worry is an effort to control another person, while concern only focuses on what you can do in a given moment. It sounds reactive, but it's not. There are lots of things that I want for other people. I want my friend to respond to my text messages in a timely fashion. I want my parent to start working out more. I want my coworker to be nicer to me. And so on. Chances are, my friend will keep communicating at her own pace, my parent will keep brushing off exercise and my coworker will maintain the same attitude--and all of that could be extremely frustrating to me.

But I can't control their thoughts and actions and behaviors; I can only control my own. Like LaPorte says, I can be pro-active: I can tell my friend I love hearing from her more frequently, I can invite my parent for a run or workout class, I can ask my coworker to go to lunch. It feels counterintuitive--they're the ones not doing it "right"! But that doesn't matter. 

Can I get people to fit into my own definition of what's right? Not always, and definitely not without a fight. Would I rather be right or happy? Happy. And I can control that part.

8. Prioritize your key friendships.

Here's the ugly truth about friendships: they are time-consuming, expensive and exhausting as much as they are priceless, beautiful and crucial. That other, harder side of the coin explains why many friendships dissipate over the years. People grow and change without one another. They acquire houses and spouses and babies and dogs, all of which require their full attention. They move or leave each other for jobs and relationships and whims. Everyone is busy and nobody has an hour to talk on the phone.

I quickly learned that if I wanted to have vibrant friendships, ones that would last a lifetime, I needed to pick and choose and prioritize accordingly. That sounds mean, but it's really just being realistic. I can't have 25 best friends; it's just too much. (Not saying I'm so popular I would have that many, but for me, I need a smaller group of people in order to be a good friend and feel like the friendships are fulfilling for both parties.) Whose husbands/wives and kids do I want to know me, down the road? Who would I call in an emergency or tell a secret to? Whose home would I walk in and grab a snack out of the refrigerator? Those are the people I make time for, despite any inconvenience. Those are the people I will drive six hours or hop on a plane for, who I want to talk to every single day via text or Gchat, just to see how they are (but if we don't talk for a week, I'm not worried that there's something wrong with our friendship). While I still have other friends whom I adore and try to see or talk to whenever possible, I prioritize the people closest to my heart. They get my time and energy and resources first.

The same logic goes for new friends: who do I seem to click with the most? Who do I envision being friends with a year from now? Those are the people I try to see for happy hour or lunch; those are the people that get my time and energy and resources on a local level.

9. Take chances.

This is a continual reminder AND a life lesson. In the past year, I took a lot of chances on both a personal and professional level. It's been challenging and rewarding, from the mundane to the serious. And so I consistently try to challenge myself to try something new whenever possible--even if it feels hard and scary at the time, and even if I totally crash and burn, I always feel a little bit stronger knowing I at least put myself out there.

10. Expect the unexpected.

There's a quote from Shauna Niequist that I just love. She writes, "Anything can happen in a year. Broken down, shattered things can be repaired in a year. Hope can grow in a year, after a few seasons of lying dormant."

Think about where you were a year ago. There were probably some good and bad surprises along the way, right? For me, the past year was full of unexpected change, even though so many things stayed the same. A year ago, I didn't know I would kind of like this city, or that I would have new friends, or that I'd volunteer at an art center, or that I'd start this blog, or that I'd still be without a cat, or that certain people would flow in and out of my life, etc.

You can't know what will happen in a year's time, no matter how much you plan or predict--nor will you know how it will make you feel, whatever does happen. That doesn't mean throw caution to the wind and ignore all responsibility; it just means pay attention to the present and enjoy the moment you have, right now.