13 Lessons Learned in 2013

The speed with which 2013 has traveled has been uncanny. There have been agonizing days of sluggish pain and then months that have flown by in a blink. For me, 2013 has been the most eventful year of my life. There has been more change and adventure in this year than any other. With New Year’s Eve upon us, I’ve been trying to think of my resolutions but I keep thinking back to all that has happened this year. It’s made me realize that before I can come up with resolutions, I need to gather my thoughts in terms of what I’ve learned this past year. And so, in no particular order, here we go.

    13 Lessons Learned in 2013

1. Some friendships and/or relationships are kept out of obligation and habit. Don’t feel guilty for letting go of individuals that no longer make a positive difference or provide a supportive influence to your life. That’s not to say that you HAVE TO completely cut ties or make the promise of “not talking to so-and-so anymore”. It just means that you must become smarter about what to say, when to say it, and what your expectations from this individual are. This eliminates possibilities of disappointment and hurt.

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2. Never underestimate yourself. Cliché, I know. But if there’s one main lesson I’ve learned its that I, as a human being, have strength and resolve and can persevere. Don’t lose that confidence. Paired with determination and hard work, you can conquer most things that come your way, if not all.

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3. Take control of your life; you don’t have to work according to the crowd. Concrete example: during my first two months at UChicago, I ran myself ragged. I was battling a severe case of bronchitis on top of struggling with “the imposter complex”. Between classes, readings, and my health, I was doing myself no favors. I didn’t dare skip a class or not do a reading no matter how much I wanted to, because everyone else around me was doing it all. Not freaking out about a reading when everyone else was made me feel incompetent and guilty. I ended up with no food in my pantry, no clarity through my readings, and a bitter feeling in my heart. One day I woke up thinking, “This is absurd.” I made a calculated decision to skip a class that I knew wouldn’t affect me later on and took some time to myself. I went grocery shopping, treated myself to a lovely lunch, and attended my next 3 hour class with more focus and dedication than I had had all quarter long. I altered my reading and study habits to suit myself rather than following what everyone else was recommending. I took breaks as and when I felt that it was reasonable to do so. I took back the reigns and managed to control the stressful situation rather than letting it control me. I ended up on the honors roll and, forgive me, I did it my way.

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4. Multitasking is impressive, but not at the expense of productivity. In college, I prided myself on being able to juggle a dozen tasks at once. It certainly worked to my advantage in the workforce as well. In graduate school, I have come to realize that the true strength comes from slowing down and committing my best to one thing at a time. I find that there’s actually LESS time wasted because I’m less scattered and more confident that I have done everything I needed to for each task. That being said, I still have a long way to go with this.

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5. Take chances. In 2013 I quit my job, traveled solo around Europe, moved to a new city, started living alone, and took the plunge to being raw and honest with key people in my life–parents, partners, and friends. I know all too well that I could have actively chosen to not do any of these things. But I did and I have no regrets. It wasn’t done very gracefully (I’m an ugly cryer), but it was brave and truthful. Everyone needs those moments.

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6. Become aware of what you are willing to compromise and not compromise on in your life. Being a member of society means that there will be plenty of times when you will need to step down and give a little on your needs or beliefs. And that’s okay. I’ve learned that what I cannot compromise on are my standards. As a woman, I have often been told I need to “lower my standards”. I’ve been teasingly referred to as pretentious and not-so-teasingly judged as demanding. Deep down, I know that I only expect what I give in return. And that every time I do ignore my instincts in favor of appearing more easy-going, it has ended unhappily. So stand tall and commit to your convictions.

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7. Understand and be good to your body. At the start if 2013, I committed to becoming healthier through exercise. It felt amazing. During the process, I got carried away with how good my body began to look and I lost focus. I was more interested in becoming as skinny and toned as possible rather than simply staying healthy. As a result, I indulged in various fad diets, from smoothies to paleo. Guess who’s an angry panda when denied food she loves? This girl, right here. I would deny myself things only to over-indulge later. I began controlling myself through food rather than sensible, scheduled workouts. It was an easy fallback, given my new overwhelming lifestyle as a graduate student. Through see-sawing back and forth between various dietary experimentations and not enough commitment to what really mattered, smart exercise, I lost all the progress I initially made at the start of the year. It’s time to stop trying the quick fixes and commit to what feels good.

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8. Don’t be afraid to think differently than you have before. Graduate school took me completely out of my element and threw me into a world that constantly challenges everything I am and all that I have based my thoughts on. Don’t wait for a life changing experience to teach you how to open your mind. Instead of struggling against the current, be open to new ideas. Be understanding and respectful of those that are different from you. Be aware of what you say and keep track of things said that were not received well. Don’t give up who you are or what you believe in, just make room for new thoughts. You may find yourself becoming passionate about topics you had never given a chance to before.

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9. Get to know yourself. Take the time to acknowledge who and what inspires you. I only just found out what my favorite color (bright coral or a soft baby pink) and favorite flower (peony) are this year. Go figure. I always thought it was purple and the pink star lily. As it so happens, I chose purple as a child because it was Jessica’s favorite color from the Sweet Valley series and dammit if it’s good enough for Jessica…. As for the pink star lily? It was the first flower I identified that wasn’t a rose and that was good enough for me. But, it turns out, it wasn’t. There you go. Also, I am obsessed with fun, comfy socks.

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10. Learn to be patient with pain. We’re not toddlers anymore, which means memories stay fresh longer and the bad ones are harder to forget. Not every cut is physical and not every problem can be fixed within the hour. Don’t put timelines on healing yourself from breakups, failures, betrayals, or any other emotional experience that a blog out there will give you a prescribed time period of recovery for. Giving yourself a time period puts stress on you and, to an extent, has you thinking about your problem longer than you may otherwise have done. Accept the pain but don’t let it rule you. It’s okay to be sad and disappointed. But instead of saying, “I give myself X number of months to move on”, just use every day to keep living your life. Don’t focus on your negative emotions. Don’t revel in them. Don’t indulge them. Don’t measure your progress according to that of others. Just keep breathing, working, and smiling when the occasion arises. You’ll find that the pain, while still present, cannot be fought but can be managed. Manage it. Eventually it will become a part of you, like a scar that has healed over leaving nothing more than a painless mark.

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11. Don’t be ashamed of your weaknesses. Don’t hide them from your loved ones and deny them to yourself. Accept them as a part of who you are and slowly learn to live with them or find productive alternatives. Most importantly, never be ashamed of anything that helps you be happy. Pay attention to those that make you feel uncomfortable about these important revelations, because these are the people that you should move away from. Thank the people who support you through the same and be there for them the way they are for you.

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12. Don’t cling to the past or fantasize about the future. Live in the moment and if you don’t like how you’re spending those 60 seconds over and over, recognize your power to change it.

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13. Selfishness is a stepping stone to happiness. It’s time to stop viewing the word “selfish” as negative because boy oh boy does it have a lot of positives. It’s simply the act of living for YOU. Don’t bend to someone else’s needs for awhile. Spoil yourself: don’t save that pie, that outfit, or that free moment for a special occasion. Don’t sit around waiting for someone else to make you feel special. Don’t sacrifice your wants for something that won’t yield a greater return. You know what you want. Get it. Do it. Make yourself happy.

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Most importantly, the real resolution for 2014 for all of us should be:

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