I’m a big believer in life-long learning and, at times, a bit anxious about that statement. The truth is, these years we’re in right now are some pretty wild and tough ones. But we’re experiencing them on this vast spectrum and none of us can capture all the lessons ourselves. We’ve GOT to learn from others, too.
So I sent an email to people all over the country and in different places in their lives, some in school, some ready to find a job, some firmly rooted in a career and others feeling timid about how miserable they feel.
I asked them one question: What’s the MOST important lesson you learned in 2012? Here’s what they had to say.
1. Convention is overrated.
“I will have a TABLE of people at my some-day wedding that I met through Twitter, Facebook or email chains. I have met so many people who I consider to be important pieces of my life that I NEVER would have met if I were too skeptical to look outside of the ‘box’.
Also, that hard work will always, ALWAYS pay off. Always.” – @dmdgiants, senior at Marist College, intern with the New Jersey Devils
2. I am enough.
“On a particularly self-loathing day in 2012, I decided to do some research on positive mantras when I came across this one. For much of my life, my perfectionist self had struggled to be “the best” (whatever that means) and often compared my successes, and shortcomings, to others.
I work a nine-to-five at a software company only to come home after a yoga class, maybe a run and an hour commute to write away for whichever assignment I was lucky enough to receive. These days are trying; these days are long. I go to bed exhausted and hope to awake with renewed energy and strength.
I spent much of 2012 hoping for a better future – a better job (full of writing), a better outlook on life, a better me.
Then one day it hit me. I’m missing the best of today looking for a better tomorrow. I am missing the beautiful imperfections of the now in hopes for an impossibly flawless future.
I need nothing more than to be the ‘me’ I am today.
3. Make yourself happy.
“I learned last year that you have to make yourself happy, no one else will do that for you. Take time to do the small things that make you enjoy life, like reading a book or baking your favorite cookies. Take care of yourself because you can’t be the good in the world if you feel like crap.” – @cerogers0, graduate student at James Madison University, student teacher
4. Go four for four.
“1. You can and will make the same mistakes twice if you’re not careful. But you can also rebuild your life a thousand times over. Thankfully, there’s no limit on that.
2. Every single person has his or her own idea of what happiness, success and failure would look like in his/her life. Define yours and don’t compare yours to anyone else’s version.
3. Leave when you need to leave.
5. Find a hobby.
“Don’t be ashamed to live your college life on the couch, not going to class, eating bonbons and watching the Kardashians because that couch is the perfect training grounds for the soul-deadening desk job — in which you will spend 35 out of 40 hours of your working week alternately staring off into space and compulsively checking every manner of social media site and/or food blog — that awaits us all. But perhaps it’s important to find a hobby just to enliven your soul or alleviate boredom or some shit; mine is moonlighting as an ESL teacher.” – @samanthascotti, proofreader, ESL teacher
5. The Internet is a web.
“I’ve learned not to underestimate the power of a single connection to a person or organization because it can lead to even more connections and more opportunities for development. The three online communities that I write for (HUGstronger, So Worth Loving, and The Write Teacher) are all things I found through The World Needs More Love Letters, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of them.
Related to that, I’ve also learned that making connections over the Internet is okay. I think a lot of people are worried about the internet somehow making us less social or ruining our lives, but there’s a wealth of information, opportunity, and cool people out there on the World Wide Web. It’s not a black hole of distraction if you use it right.” – @erind90, senior at Clarke University, blogger
6. Let love in.
“2012 taught me that it’s okay to let people love you. It’s okay to trust that you are lovable and intriguing and close to perfection for someone else. Don’t be scared to smile at a stranger- they could have a story you need to hear. Take the risk and email the girl whose blog you read – she could surprise you and reply (Thanks, Kaleigh for replying to my own email!). Let a boy ask you about the scars on your heart and tell him the truth- he could teach you what it’s like to feel a little bit closer to whole. And most of all, it’s okay to love yourself. Look in the mirror, smile and realize you are beautifully made. Love makes life, life.” – @lab54, photographer
7. Trust yourself.
“I think we have this tendency to second guess ourselves. Because of our age or where we are in life or because we’re just unsure of what will happen next. Trust that initial gut feeling though; it happens for a reason. Know that being young does not mean sacrificing confidence. Be bold, be curious, and be open to learning. Just trust yourself along the way as well – you’re capable of doing great things.
My P.S. lesson is that you should always invest time, love, and energy in people.” – @fiestaga, Outreach Coordinator for Reading Partners – Baltimore
8. You’ll survive the sting.
“One day, you’re going to have to leave behind all the magnificant-things-happening-at-this-moment-in-time for something even more wondrous. It’ll sting for a bit, but without moving forward, how will you bloom?” – @lovemesomebags, student at James Madison University, Chief Designer at Gardy Loo
9. Honesty is terrifyingly necessary.
“Honesty is an essential part of bravery. Be honest firstly with yourself. Don’t be afraid of who you are, what you want, and how you are feeling. After you can learn to be honest with yourself, you can be honest with those around you. Honesty can lead to some of the most terrifying moments for your soul, but they are moments that grow your soul and your relationships. Do not fear honesty. It is your companion and your victor.” – @livfierce, student and photographer
10. Love yourself first.
“I think that the most important lesson that people not only our age but every age can learn to is to love themselves. Our world can be cruel and cold (I know this too well) and too often do people let that affect the way they think about themselves, judging too harshly and beating themselves up. We spend so much time trying to be like other people we forget to be who we are but once you embrace who you are fully, it is beautiful and liberating and fearless. And yes everyone has insecurities, I will always think I have man shoulders, I don’t wear many hats because I think my head is too big, I think I am a little too messy and I wish I didn’t procrastinate so much. But when it comes down to it, none of that stuff matters because the truth is, I had to sit and think for 10 minutes to come up with those four things because instead I kept thinking that I like, no, LOVE that my eyes change different hues of blue and my hair is kind of out of control curly sometimes, that I speak my mind too often. I LOVE that I laugh too loud, and smile too big and I eat too much sugar. All things that could be listed as flaws but I just can’t see them that way.
So here’s the secret to being happy, to loving others and to success. Except it’s not so secret. Everyone from Maya Angelou to Albert Einstein to Lady Gaga can be quoted saying how important it is to love yourself. Because once you start those positive thoughts will consume you and radiate out of you. So you will be willing to risk, and change and take chances (which is my second most important piece of advice) because once you know how wonderful you are, others can’t help but see it too.” – Emily, student at Temple University, aspiring actress