8 Life Lessons I Learned At 27
There is something quite nostalgic about birthdays that provide a suitable time for reflection.
Here, I’ve compiled the top eight lessons that I learned after another year on Earth, not in any specific order.
I learned how to manage my thoughts and feelings.
In the past, whenever an upsetting event happened at school, work or anything in my day-to-day life, I needed to talk to a close friend or family member about it.
I had a hard time understanding and managing my emotions because my thoughts and feelings were often convoluted, attributed to my complicated nature. It helped to express how I felt aloud to another person for reasons like needing to vent, needing sympathy, reassurance and validation.
But I realized that when you constantly vent, it’s burdening for the people you vent or complain to, especially if it’s always the same outlet like your significant other. Even if you have no intentions of being negative, the bottom line is that you still pass negative energy onto others. Slowly, you start becoming a toxic influence in their lives.
Don’t get me wrong. I fully believe that you should be able to rely on your family and friends. They are supposed to be your biggest supporters, always willing to listen, take care of, and love you unconditionally.
But there comes a time when you need to have more personal accountability for yourself. That includes being able to manage your thoughts and feelings.
When you consistently rely on others to do that for you, you let go of the opportunity to build mental toughness and grit. Eventually, you lose inner strength and your state of being becomes dependent on others.
If you can learn to independently manage your thoughts and feelings, you build resiliency in yourself, which seeps into every other area of your life.
You start becoming more detached from day-to-day events, not letting five minutes of an upsetting, annoying or frustrating interaction consume your mind for the following minutes, hours, days or weeks.
You start having more appreciation for life as you recognize that every moment is an opportunity for growth.
You start deepening and strengthening your existing relationships because you have more personal security when you take care of yourself, which, in extension, you show up better in your interdependent relationships.
The three habits I cultivated last year that helped me manage my thoughts and feelings were journaling, reading and outdoor walks.
Whenever I had a negative thought or complaint, instead of saying it aloud to someone and passing on that negativity, I wrote it down. When I wrote the negative thought or complaint down, I noticed my flaws, fears, triggers, negative thinking patterns, self-limiting beliefs and illogical reasoning, and eventually, I was able to let the thought go.
Journaling also helped me cultivate more self-awareness and gratitude.
Research shows that people think somewhere between 60 000 to 70 000 thoughts in one day, and 90% of those thoughts are precisely the same ones we had the day before. Perhaps that is why I always had the same negative self-talk.
In the past, I was a sporadic reader. I tended to read in quick bursts to finish a book and went terribly long periods without reading.
Now I read daily, a minimum of 10 pages per day, to expand my mind with new perspectives and ideas. Otherwise, I feel stagnant.
Ironically, the more I read and learn, the more I realize how little I actually know.
Though I already had the habit of weight training 4–5x per week, going on outdoor walks significantly improved my mental health. As research has shown time and time again, it’s not a new phenomenon that when your physiology changes, your psychology changes.
Walking and being out in nature also helped me feel more appreciation for the beauty of this world, feel more grounded on Earth, and helped me put things into perspective.
I let go of the idea of a ‘soulmate’.
Growing up, I often felt unseen and misunderstood. Though I had (and still have) incredible friendships and relationships, I often felt an acute sense of loneliness.
However, lately, I’ve begun to realize that perhaps everyone feels that way at some point in their lives as we are not the solitary warriors that we believe ourselves to be, even if it may feel that way at times.
Because of feeling unseen and misunderstood, I always yearned for a soulmate. A person who deeply saw, understood and connected with me, and who I deeply saw, understood and connected with.
I desired a relationship with a person with whom I could connect on the deepest level. A relationship where both he and I had the personal security and worth to divulge our greatest dreams, values, fears, insecurities, traumas, and the ugliest parts of ourselves that we tend to hide from the world. A relationship where we were authentic and vulnerable with each other. A relationship where we grew and built with each other.
Possibly one of the loneliest feelings in the world is being in a relationship with a person with whom you can’t connect on a deep level. When you try, and it doesn’t pan out the way you had envisioned, you’re left with disappointment and further unwillingness to try again.
Perhaps, this level of depth that I crave only exists in my idealistic mind. The realistic and pessimistic part of me has come to terms that it does not exist in the outer plane.
This is why I’ve let go of this idea of a ‘soulmate’. This belief in ‘soulmates’ is causing me more harm than necessary as believing that such a person exists, in a way, is akin to saying to myself that I’m incomplete without him. That I need this person to be happy.
That is entirely false. Because I am whole and complete on my own.
I realized that rather than using my time and energy to search for a person who profoundly understands me, I must invest those resources into cultivating myself.
I let go of searching for my life’s purpose.
I was in university when I started contemplating and searching for my reason for existence. I had this recurring thought that I was born into this world for a higher purpose than what I was doing. But perhaps, that was a result of my entitlement from being a millennial.
Since then, I had been on a constant quest to find purpose and fulfillment because I acutely felt the emptiness and meaninglessness in my life at that time.
In pursuit of finding out why I was born onto this Earth and what I was supposed to do with my time here, I switched majors; I switched jobs; I moved to different cities and even other countries.
Eventually, I realized that the answer never laid in the external world. It laid within me.
Because you don’t ‘find your purpose,’ you create it.
By identifying your values and principles and living a life following them.
By finding meaning in the now.
My life experiences up-to-date have helped me identify my values and principles. And as each year passes, I have more awareness and execution of my direction and vision, more confidence in the character that I am building, and more fulfilled and at peace with the legacy that I am leaving behind in this world.
This leads me to the next lesson that I learned.
I became more self-aware.
I often heard that the greatest mastery is mastery over oneself.
Though lately, I’ve begun to think that perhaps it’s not quite possible to ever fully master ourselves because time doesn’t stop. Meaning, we are constantly creating new experiences and hence, in a state of a downward spiral or upward growth.
That does not mean that you should ever stop trying to fully understand yourself, though.
There’s strength in self-awareness, knowing your shortcomings, your triggers and your self-limiting beliefs, and in facing your darkness. Because it’s very easy to blame everyone else for the things that are wrong in your life. Because it’s tough to face the truth, that perhaps, you’re the problem.
It is only through understanding your values and principles that you can create the effective, meaningful and purposeful life that you desire. Otherwise, your distractions become your values and principles by default.
Last year was a blessing, though, at the time, that was far from how I actually felt, as I was the most alone both physically and mentally I had ever been in my life.
Perhaps my experience was something akin to that of the ‘dark night of the soul’. It was a year of reflection, of aligning to my authentic self, but most importantly, shedding the things that no longer served me to step into a new way of being.
Through that experience, I cultivated values that genuinely aligned with the person I knew I was meant to become. Such values included integrity, compassion, discipline, inner peace, service, creativity and freedom.
For me, integrity means following my values and principles at all times regardless of who’s watching, in my actions and in my thoughts. It also means keeping the promises I make to myself.
For me, compassion means recognizing that everyone is my mirror. As a result, I can be more understanding, empathetic, patient, tolerant, selfless and less judgmental.
For me, discipline means having personal accountability, holding myself to a higher standard, delaying immediate gratification for delayed gratification and having the grit to pursue my long-term vision.
For me, inner peace means being present at the moment. It means letting go of my attachments and simply accepting the cyclical waves of life because I trust in a higher power and in the Universe.
For me, service means using my time and effort to improve someone else’s world even a little bit because I believe true fulfilment stems from creating value and being of service to others.
For me, creativity means therapy in the form of writing and dancing. It inspires more self-awareness.
For me, freedom means having control of my mind, not being influenced by distractions, and financial independence.
I learned that to be of service to others, I must first be selfish.
When I was younger, I catered to the needs of others, often at the expense of my time, energy, sanity and depletion. I was afraid to say no, of letting people down, of people’s opinions.
Eventually, I learned to prioritize myself. I realized that I have control over who, when, what has access to my time and energy.
When I first started prioritizing myself, I feared that I was becoming less humane. But I realized that it’s not that I cared less about other people. It’s that I was simply better at setting personal boundaries.
Paradoxically, because I had begun to prioritize myself, I had become more understanding, empathetic, patient, tolerant, selfless, and present in my relationships.
I learned that everything is temporary.
Much of my anxiety and overthinking came from my desire to control things and have things end up the way I wanted them to. This desire for control stemmed from my attachment to outcomes, whether it was an assignment, a trip, a job, an experience or a relationship. I could not reconcile to the possibility of failure or loss.
Eventually, I learned that everything is temporary. When I first encountered this idea, I framed temporariness in a negative light, which again stemmed from my desire for control and my attachments. But lately, my view on it has changed.
I realized that because everything is temporary, it means the hard times are temporary. So now, whenever I am going through a difficult time, I have faith that this, too, shall pass, and I have the strength to endure.
I realized that because everything is temporary, it means the good times are temporary. This realization helped me cultivate a grateful heart, more appreciation for every moment, and detachment from outcomes.
Detachment is something that I still struggle with, but I am actively working on. I am very future-oriented, and as such, I often live in my head and sometimes struggle to stay in the present. As I’ve become aware of it, I’ve cultivated habits that help me be more present, like journaling, walking, dancing and writing.
One thing that made a dramatic difference in my life was finding meaning in the ‘now’, asking myself, “What is the opportunity at this moment?” When I started to ask myself this question every day, it changed my thoughts in how I perceived my job, my interactions and my experiences which ultimately, impacted my perspective on life.
As I’ve begun to be more present at the moment, I’ve started placing more trust in a higher power and in the Universe that everything is happening as it should. I believe I am exactly where I am meant to be.
I began to heal from my inner child’s wounds.
Last year, I uncovered many of my inner child wounds like fear of abandonment and rejection, shame, distrust and people-pleasing.
I realized that I was unconsciously thinking the same thoughts, which lead to making the same choices. When I made the same choices, I demonstrated the same behaviours. As I showed the same behaviours, it created the same experiences and emotions which drove the same thoughts.
I realized I needed to heal from these wounds. Otherwise, I would be caught in this endless cycle.
My healing process started with acknowledgment. I thought of, recognized and accepted the things that caused me pain in my childhood to help me begin to understand their impact on my adult life.
Next, I journaled my thoughts. Journaling helped me identify my negative self-talk, thinking and behavioural patterns, and feelings of unworthiness and inadequacies, which were all by-products of my wounds.
Then, I wrote a letter of forgiveness to myself, forgiving myself for the choices that I made in the past.
Finally, I set personal boundaries, built healthy self-care routines and prioritized self-love.
Throughout this time, I also limited my access to social media. Firstly, I didn’t want to fall into the comparison
trap. Secondly, I wanted to build internal security and worth, not based on external values like the number of views, likes or comments on a post, beauty, status, money or acceptance.
Building personal security and worth has helped me become more authentic, vulnerable and courageous.
At present, I am in the process of healing because I still have triggers, but I am proud of the woman I am becoming.
I began to appreciate my family more.
When I worked on healing my inner child’s wounds, I revisited memories from my childhood. As I recalled my experiences, I realized that I harboured many negative emotions like anger, hurt and resentment towards my parents. Of course, I still felt love for them.
Initially, I focused on the fact that my parents were never there because of work. They never attended my elementary school graduation, high school graduation or even my convocation. Even silly and mundane things like helping me with my homework. Eventually, the ultimate betrayal was when they moved to a different country without care for my brother and I. We felt abandoned.
As I started healing my wounds, my outlook on ‘family’ changed. In hindsight, I realized how ungrateful, selfish, privileged, entitled and immature I was. Still, I have long forgiven myself for being like that in the past.
I had and still have so much to be grateful for. For the fact that my father, mother and brother were alive and healthy. For the fact that our family had the basic necessities for life. For the fact that my parents provided for
my brother and I to go to school, to travel and for our endless opportunities in a privileged world.
Last year, I had the realization that what I had considered the ultimate betrayal was possibly one of the best things that had ever happened to me. Because their move triggered the start of my growth.
I realized how fortunate I was to have been born as their daughter and as my brother’s sister.
So, thank you, Dad, for showing me the importance of tenacity, resourcefulness, work ethic and dedication.
Thank you, Mom, for showing me the importance of selflessness, compassion, tolerance and patience.
Thank you, Brother, for showing me the importance of discipline, consistency and inner strength.
While I’m on the appreciation boat, I also want to thank my best friends.
Thank you, Amanda, for showing me the importance of having faith.
Thank you, Lily, for showing me the importance of pursuing creativity.
Thank you, Vince, for showing me the importance of loyalty and acceptance.
Thank you, Wayne, for showing me the importance of reason and logic.
Thank you, Ray, for showing me the importance of unconditional love.
Thank you, Peter, for showing me the importance of playfulness and spontaneity.
Well, this was definitely a long one. If you made it to the end, you’re a trooper.
My hope is that you can take away at least one thing from this article.