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10 Lessons I've Learned in the Past Decade

By Jason Freely / a few months ago
10 Lessons I've Learned in the Past Decade
Photo by @xinelaine-photo on VSCO

Ten years ago, I was twenty-two. I was living in my parent’s basement and owned three things to my name: an LG Chocolate phone, a bed, and an old Macbook laptop. I had my first job, where I made a whopping $30,000 a year. I was letting the interest rate in my student loan debt crawl to copious depths. I didn’t know how to cook anything beyond macaroni and grilled cheese. My favorite piece of clothing was a dress from Express that looked like a royal blue ace bandage.

The same year I got my first job, I quit my first job. I became a flight attendant. I traveled the world. I lived alone. I refinanced my student loans. I grew into myself, after falling in and out of hazy self-love. I met my future husband. I cruised back into corporate America and worked relentlessly to climb up the latter. I wrote two books. I stalled on the latter. I tripped on the latter. 

This decade has been good to me. It’s been bad. It’s been a seaside wave pulling sand into the ocean and a thunderstorm that floods my basement. I have hated myself less than I have learned to love myself. A decade has defined me well. Ten years, packaged up in a bow, gave me the chance to look back and see how far I’ve come. It’s given me a chance to learn and unlearn some real and valuable sh*t. Here they are in list form. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this decade, it’s that lists rule.

1. If you lean into what truly makes you weird, you will thrive. 

For a long time, I let others tell me what to love. Throughout college, I followed what everyone else was passionate about. Advertising! You will love advertising and breezy ad agencies and Dashboard Confessional! But deep down, I wanted to lock myself in a room and write about what I was going through in tremendous depth, while listening to Celine Dion. I hated Dashboard Confessional. The things I loved were kind of dorky: horses, Fleet Farm, Hans Zimmer movie scores, prose essays, baths. I had horrific taste in music, food, beer, everything. This decade has taught me to lose my cool and be myself. I found that when I put my energy and art (specifically writing) towards what I truly loved, I became successful. People can see right through fakeness; it’s when we are truly ourselves that we become supportive of one another.

2. You are not that important to most people. 

I mean this professionally and platonically and I mean it with the deepest, most honest portion of my heart. PEOPLE AREN’T THINKING ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE DOING AS MUCH AS YOU THINK THEY ARE. I struggled to learn this, especially growing with my throbbing Leo ego. At parties, no one is thinking about how awkward you are in the corner playing with the dog. At networking events, no one minds if you talk to one person the whole time (that you’ve known for 10 years). No one cares if you’re not married, don’t have kids, gained ten pounds. This lesson feels a lot like the movie He’s Just Not That Into You. But in real life it’s called, People Just Aren’t Focused on You, Literally They Don’t Care One Bit. Please Stop Being So Obsessed With Yourself. And if you remain comfortable in that space, living becomes a lot more spacious. 

PEOPLE AREN’T THINKING ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE DOING AS MUCH AS YOU THINK THEY ARE. . . . At parties, no one is thinking about how awkward you are in the corner playing with the dog. At networking events, no one minds if you talk to one person the whole time (that you’ve known for 10 years).

3. You’re not dying. You live with anxiety. 

I wish I could let my past self in on this (what I thought was a very shameful secret.) When I discovered I had anxiety last year, I realized the signs had been very, very real for a long while. It took me three decades to figure out! And I had ignored the signs. We must take the time to listen to our bodies; visit the doctor or a therapist. And chances are, we aren’t having a brain aneurysm.

4. Don’t take rejection personally. 

Rejection is not an expression of self-worth. Rejection is not an expression of self-worth. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I experienced a lot of rejection in ten years. Men I thought I was recklessly in love with didn’t care about me. Jobs didn’t want to invest in me. I pitched 800 magazines and no one cared about my writing. But I learned something very important through that gut punching journey. Rejection is a sign that something (man, job, career, school) is not a match. It’s not a reflection of who I am as a person.

5. In another ten years, you will have everything you want now and not feel any different.

This is an important one for me. If I close my eyes and imagine when I was twenty-two, I wanted a good career, an apartment in the city, the relationship of my dreams, to own a pet, and to be an author. I HAVE ALL THOSE THINGS AND FEEL THE SAME!! I don’t mean this in a negative way. I am extremely proud of myself and grateful for what I have. I just want people to understand that the “more, more, give me more, more, more” mentality isn’t as satisfying in the end. We need to be satisfied with what we have in this very, singular moment.

6. Being alone (and okay with it) is important.

Being alone was painful until it wasn’t. And when it wasn’t, that’s how I knew I was okay. I learned the most random, valuable things about myself when I lived in a 400-square foot apartment (PSA: this included a lot of self-talks and burnt pizza and crying). I learned that I am introverted and need to recharge in quiet. I learned that I am annoyingly tidy; clutter can ruin my day. I learned a few things I didn’t like about myself. I’m a little controlling and have OCD. When people come over and make a mess, I straighten things and clean obsessively. What I watched and listened to and ate in private, I learned were things I truly loved (shitty sitcoms, classical music, hot cheese) and hated (being naked, stark lighting, jackets on chairs, etc.). I learned these things about myself because no one could tell me otherwise. 

7. Work out for your insides, not your outsides.

I have always struggled with weight and appearance. If you’re a woman and don’t float away with a sneeze, society looks at you like you’re taking up too much space. So, I have always sought working out as a painful regimen. Burn as many calories as you can! Sweat until you die! I’ve craved exercise for bad reasons. Then, one day, during an Alchemy class, I realized what working out truly offered me: a strong brain. When I realized exercise helped calm my soul, working out wasn’t scary anymore. I didn’t dread going to the gym.

Rejection is a sign that something (man, job, career, school) is not a match. It’s not a reflection of who I am as a person.

8. Stop being so self-deprecating about getting older.

In my late twenties, I built a bad habit. Every time I’d be in a room with more than three twentysomethings, I was terrified. And I started making fun of myself. It’s the weirdest thing that came with age and I’ve been trying my hardest to make it stop. I would make up these telltale stories about my bad knees and how hungover I’d be after two hoppy beers. Now, I know to shut my damn mouth and say something positive about my age. 

9. What you manifest, you become.

Personal manifesting is unreal. If we take the time to visualize the way we want our life to be, truly write it all down, draw pictures of things we want to create and set the scene for our lives, THINGS HAPPEN. It sounds crazy, but I’ve seen it work so many times in my life. I own a Passion Planner that helps me plan out my entire year based on the goals I have, month by month. 

10. No one has things figured out.

And if they act like it, they’re an asshole.

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