A few years ago, prior to my 26th birthday, I wrote a piece reflecting on twenty six lessons I had learned in my short life, which went on to become one of my most popular posts to date. With just a few more years passing by, quite a lot has happened in my life. I have had the vulnerable opportunity to love. I have lost loved ones, both to death and to pride. I have encouraged many people in my life. I have also probably hurt even more. I have walked away from a job and a career, into the uncertainty of doing something for the greater good that I was passionate about. I have walked up to total strangers and started conversation, some of whom have become important figures in my life today. I have lost friendships, including one friendship I cherished dearly and whose marriage I failed to attend last month. But in the end of all things, I have simply lived life with all its ups and downs, much like all of you.
And for many of us, as much as both web-based and mobile technologies have advanced and grown, we are losing touch with each other at a faster pace than ever before. We are “friends” on Facebook, but for many of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, we barely have a couple friends we could truly call upon in our darkest hour.
I would like to briefly propose 3 simple life changes that I have made in the past 6 months that have greatly improved my quality of everyday life. You don’t necessarily have to follow these changes. For some of you, actually following one (or more) of these changes could be detrimental to your being. Maybe you’ll get something out of them. Maybe even something I didn’t intend to impart or say…
1. Live More Simply; Less Extravagantly.
As I have recently transitioned into the non-profit realm working to help others become as self-sufficient as possible by providing ways to overcome barriers, I’ve been getting to see more poverty than I ever have in my lifetime. That, coupled with the fact that I now make less than an elementary schoolteacher, has forced me into living more simply. It has led me to downsize on possessions, pack lunch every day, cook most evenings through the week, and has even forced me into cancelling numerous services including internet service at home (which has been very refreshing)! Cutting these distractions out of my life, have made substantial impacts. For the past 4 months, I have finished reading a book about every 6 days. ((The last three books I finished were The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky)) As you can see, there is both reading for pleasure as well as for personal enlightenment and growth. I have replaced some costly activities (like going out to restaurants or going to bars or events) with free outdoor activities and sports/gym. By combining that with eating at home and eating clean, I have been getting into the best shape of my life (at 8% body fat). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve scheduled a day out of the weekend to splurge on eating what I want or getting together with friends. This has afforded me very intentional time with close friends that I can look forward to each week. I’ve also been figuring out ways to volunteer and give my time to meet with individuals to counsel and encourage them. By consolidating my possessions and refocusing my time and energies outwardly, it has ironically improved my quality of life in substantial ways. I’m realizing that the older I get, the more I’m certain that at the end of my life, the question will be “How much have you given?” rather than “How much have you gotten?”
2. Make an effort. Connect. Move on.
First of all, be open to love those around you deeply without any hesitation or regard for reciprocation. That being said, once you’ve taken an effort to connect and you’re met with a wall of pessimism or an attitude of apathy, move on. Don’t mull on rejection or get hung up on any one interaction. There are so many people in this world and if they’re close-minded or are guarded off, that’s their loss. Now I know what you’re thinking; there are many sketchy and weird folks out there. But honestly speaking, genuineness is not that hard to pick up on. Also, I’m not talking about the proverbial “Hey, nice to meet you. We should hang out sometime!” If someone says this to you, they’re full of shit or are used to attending too many networking events. I’ve taken a new approach to connecting with folks. Instead of “we should hang out sometime,” throw out a few possible days and times that work, and if they really want to connect with you, I will guarantee that the exchange will lead to a solidified date. In 2012 alone, I’ve reached out by email to numerous folks, and for every 10 individuals that I send out at least five specific days to meet up, I would say that 8 either respond with “sure we’ll definitely meet up” or don’t even respond at all. Again, I’m not saying individuals who do not respond are bad. I understand that some folks are busy. But I also strongly feel that people always do what they want to do. If they really want to meet with you or connect, they will. I’m just saying, no need to waste their time or yours; that time will be better spent elsewhere. Over the past few months I’ve taken steps to focus on more intentional relationships with my close friends as well as those willing to connect and invest time and energy. For those relationships that did not pan out, I’ve realized that they were simply road signs pointing and leading me to meet individuals I see as worth making a priority in my life. This aligns with the final point…
3. The ones that matter will want to know. The ones that don’t know don’t matter. ((Twist on Dr. Seuss))
One thing I’ve come to understand in the past few months is that people can’t really relate to you if you’re trying so damn hard to put up a facade of invincibility. For the longest time, even amidst going through some tough situations, I’ve always tried so hard to stay calm and collected. I’ve tried to put up the whole “everything is going to be okay” facade. But like that one Jessie J song, “it’s okay not to be okay.” I had a great heart-to-heart late last year with a friend who had the loving heart to call me out on this. She said to me “You know, I think sometimes, more people would be able to relate to you and connect with you if you didn’t hide your struggles or try to keep it all together so much.” She was right. The other thing is that people are fickle. Every individual goes through suffering and hardships that make him or her act out of their element. Recently I’ve literally had individuals that I care about, drop out of my life. While my initial response was anger, I realized that I oftentimes do the very same thing. Furthermore, if you think about it, it’s an understandable human action. I strongly believe that people will come and go in your life. Furthermore, some will even come back into your life after leaving it and it may be even better than it was before. That’s the beauty of life and of human beings. We’re all constantly growing and changing. It’s not fair to hold an image of someone from how they used to be at a specific point in their life. You have no idea what things they were going through. I know I’ve had more than my share of struggles through which I’m sure I’ve made many bad decisions or acted apart from who I was made to be.
We see the faces of those around us and make our judgments, and yet we don’t know the conditions of their hearts. With time and experience, all people grow and change (for better or worse) and it’s important to acknowledge that. The ones that matter will make an effort to be a relevant person in your life. And the ones that don’t know or choose not to care or know don’t matter anyways.
And how do these three points relate? By connecting to others who want to connect to us, we can really know and enhance our own selves. And only by working on ourselves, can we begin to enhance our connectedness to the people around us.