Even though getting older can often be a source of anxiety, I’m really excited about it. Probably because I was born middle aged, each year I feel that I’m growing a little more into my personality. I’m especially looking forward to the day I can go to bed at nine and not feel judged for it.
Birthdays are also an excellent opportunity to reflect on what all has happened the past year, where I was a year ago and in which direction I want to move now. Something I find especially valuable is taking some time to think about what I’ve learned this year, seeing as experience (which can only be acquired over time) is the most effective teacher.
Having looked back on my 21st year, here are some lessons I learned over the last 12 months. While often painful, I feel grateful for the insight these experiences taught me and am grateful for every single day (after all, no day is promised!). I look forward to whatever this year brings! Taylor Swift wrote a song about 22 so, it can’t be all bad.
The importance of the present moment.
If you’ve read a few of my posts this year, you may have been able to pick up on this one yourself… seeing as I’ve talked about it a lot. This year was one of a lot of anxiety. The kind of anxiety that makes you want to crawl into a ball and stay that way forever. Luckily, this year was also the one mindfulness was introduced to me. The idea of being present in this moment has been more helpful than anything else to manage anxiety. Ultimately, this moment is all we have, the future and past are just thoughts; therefore we can let the worries go because they only have power over us if we give them attention. Gratitude is also a powerful weapon against anxiety; and if you read my article for Verily, you know it’s also a stepping stone toward grace.
The value of family.
Recently I watched a commencement speech at Catholic University of America by Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan (two of my favorite people). What I loved about the speech (other than Jim’s insistence on starting a guacamole mail order service), was their point that while success is nice, it doesn’t really matter unless you have people to share it with. Jim said: “Remember, happiness is not found in accomplishments, income, or the number of Twitter followers you have. True happiness is found in family: living for each other, sacrificing together and enjoying the blessings of fresh guacamole delivered promptly to your door.”
In other words, accomplishments and success will mean little if you don’t have people to share it with. Not only that, but as Jeannie said: “Life means nothing without love.” And love is primarily found in family. Personally this year I came to this realization as I struggled through various challenges and found comfort (and the occasional instance of tough love) in family. I needed them and found that I could contribute to their lives as well… receiving love when I most needed it and growing through my gift of self to them.
The power of purpose.
Another thing I found this year was that in addition to the love received from family, a sense of purpose and meaning is essential to pushing through difficult times. Understanding that we are here and now for a unique purpose that no one else can fulfill, that our life can make a positive impact on others is essential to remaining steadfast when we face challenges. There are desires placed deep in our hearts that speak to our mission here. While often we suppress them to avoid the longing we feel for our dreams, it is those desires that tell us the purpose we were placed here for, the irreplaceable role we are meant to play. This was especially true for me this year as I faced the uncertainty of what to do after college. While not clear yet, just knowing that I do have a purpose and that I am contributing to that right where I am has been a tremendous source of peace throughout all the anxiety.
Why our priorities should be… priorities.
As Mr. Gaffigan pointed out, success, income, Twitter followers, while goods, are not the source of our fulfillment. Unfortunately, our culture seems a little confused about this. More and more millennials are putting marriage and starting a family on hold under the pretense of not wanting to ‘settle down’. We prioritize our fitness, dreams of travel and attaining the dream job over love. While this may seem like the practical thing to do, we can see that in reality it is less than satisfying (demonstrated in the increasing levels of depression and anxiety) as we are made for more. We are made to love and be loved… something not achieved in your job title or Yoga class. I learned this the hard way after taking my first job without giving much thought to it other than the nice office and paycheck that came with it. Now as a nanny, there is zero prestige that comes with the title, but I can tell you I find much more satisfaction caring for a nine-month-old (the one I am currently holding while trying to write this) than I did sitting in my nice office downtown.
Birthdays are not only a great reminder of what we’ve learned and how far we’ve come, but also that we are loved. Waking up to messages from friends near and far and receiving kind words throughout the day means more to me than I care to admit. Ultimately any lessons I’ve learned have not come without the help of people who care about me. And in the coming year I hope to continue to learn as I strive to grow and love more. As Jeannie Gaffigan said at the end of their speech: “Love what you do, love who you are, and most importantly, love those around you.”
I hope everyone has a great week, whether it’s your birthday or not.