19 Sep The Best Year Of My Life: 10 Lessons I learned
1.) My Journey To Self Acceptance
Comparing ourselves to others is a deeply rooted part of our minds. This problem becomes worse when people surround themselves with extremely high achievers–valedictorians, self-made millionaires, world travelers, teenage entrepreneurs, literal Olympians…It’s hard to look at the life of a person who has everything we want without feeling like our lives are inadequate. People who have more, whether that’s money, achievements, romantic partners, or life experiences, have become people who are more, but that idea is fundamentally flawed. Someone will always be smarter or better looking than you, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Being better at something doesn’t make someone better. Feelings of inferiority or superiority are not objective judgements about the world–they’re subjective interpretations of the comparisons we make. There is no set standard for who we should be or how accomplished we should be at any point in our lives. Everyone had different privileges, obstacles, and transformative experiences, so it makes no sense to use another person’s life as a metric for determining the value of yours. The only thing we can do is try our best, and our best may be less than the best of those around us. That’s okay. Your best is enough. You’re enough.
For the longest time, I never understood the common self-love cliché of, “You’re enough.” It can give off the impression that people are perfect the way they are and never need to change, but that’s neither healthy nor what the phrase is actually saying. The biggest misconception about self-acceptance is that we need to delude ourselves into thinking we’re perfect in order to accept ourselves. Compassion is rooted in reality. It requires us to acknowledge our flaws and shortcomings. When we think we’re perfect, there’s no need for compassion–the delusion takes up too much space. Believing “you’re enough” is an acknowledgement that you can’t be anyone other than who you are right now. People don’t decide to change their lives and suddenly love going to the gym or waking up at dawn. Change takes time, but more importantly, it requires us to start where we’re at. By default, you have to be enough because there’s nothing else you could be at this moment. There’s no other starting point that you get to start with. Maybe you’re out of shape, extremely unproductive, and an asshole to the people around you. That’s okay. Start there. Set the bar low–go on a twenty minute walk a couple days a week or try to study for thirty minutes a night or try to apologize for a past mistake. People have to meet themselves where they are.
Sometimes, when we look at ourselves honestly in the mirror, all we see is a list of bad qualities, but having bad qualities doesn’t make someone a lesser person. The essence of self-acceptance is to look at ourselves openly and honestly without shaming ourselves. In almost all my blog posts, I say something negative about myself. I make an effort to be open and honest about my flaws: I’m not even close to the perfect son, I have a superiority complex, and I can be rather controlling. The reason I am so open about my flaws is because I don’t judge myself for them. Yes, I’m very flawed, but being flawed isn’t a defining characteristic for any single person–it’s the defining characteristic for humans. When I was younger, I teased other kids because I wanted to feel special and because it was the only way I knew how to feel good about myself. It came from a place of hurt. That doesn’t excuse my actions. What I did was bad, but I don’t need to constantly shame myself for that. Shame never encourages healthy growth. Seeing our mistakes for what they are without passing an indelible judgement on ourselves is how we encourage ourselves to grow. Then, as we learn to look at ourselves with honesty and compassion, it becomes easier to love others, not the idealized versions of them we have in our minds but the real person in front of us, flaws and all. This works both ways. As we learn to develop compassion for others, we find more of it for ourselves. Learn from your mistakes, try to right your wrongs, and forgive yourself for not being a saint.
“I don’t know a perfect person. I only know flawed people who are still worth loving.” – John Green
2.) Be Weak In Front of The World
Our society is hyper-individualistic. Everything from sports, to history, to movies, to entrepreneurship is told as a story of great individuals doing world-changing things, but those stories aren’t real. Real change requires vast networks of unrecognized people working together, but that’s not how the stories are told. This results in a culture that values power and independence above all else. Growing up, these values lived at the core of my being. I felt proud that I became valedictorian because I never needed my family’s help with schoolwork, and I felt proud that I was an introvert because it meant that I didn’t need anyone else to enjoy my time. The chase for greater and greater personal achievement is addicting, but as I imagined the path that it led me down, I realized that it was endless. No matter how much I achieved, there would always be something more to achieve, but on top of that, none of my achievements really matter in the end. When I die, who cares how much money I had or how much I was able to do alone? What do I really have to gain by becoming more successful and independent?
“But living for one’s self, even very successfully, will do absolutely nothing to fill the gasping void inside of you.” -John Green
A society that praises individual power and prowess must also look down on unassuming but important work. Weakness and vulnerability become things that are met with disdain and contempt rather than love and support, and when we buy into this mindset, life becomes a lonely and tiring game. Friends become competitors, and loved ones get pushed away. The only way to escape this mentality is to allow ourselves to be weak. Cast away your pride and lay yourself bare in front of the ones you love. I made it a point this year to be as vulnerable as possible, and as a result, all of my relationships have strengthened. It’s scary to put your beating heart in the hands of another person and hope that they will not crush it, but it’s the only way we can feel connected to those we love. Being weak always felt harder than being strong because I had always taken so much pride in solving my problems alone, but I never want my pride to get in the way of my relationships. When I feel sad or insecure, my first instinct is to not tell anyone and deal with it on my own. I know I am more than capable of doing that, but I remind myself that I don’t need to do it alone. Sometimes I pull away because I am terrified that I’ll rely on others too much, but there is nothing wrong with leaning on others for support. Life is so much more warm when we allow ourselves to rely on those we love.
When our desire for power and strength dissolve, the idealized image of being at the center of a world changing movement also fades. Instead of needing to be the protagonist of the human story, we become a single thread within the human story, becoming a part of a vast web of interconnected people. We lose the addictive and gratifying feeling of self-importance, but we gain connection. Our lives become a collaborative project between ourselves and those we love, and this gives our lives meaning. Everything I am and everything I will be is influenced by the love and care my friends and family have put into me. I have never doubted for a second that they matter and are loved, and I know they feel the same way about me. That’s how I know that I matter. If we choose to share our lives, there will never be a time that you are helplessly alone, and that will make the hardest moments more bearable and the happiest moments more fulfilling.
3.) Love Requires Choice
The connections that bind us together can also suffocate us if we let them. We ought to be weak and rely on others, but it’s equally important to not lose yourself in the desires and needs of your loved ones. Webs of people are at their strongest when all of the individual points bring their own unique qualities to the table. Even though it’s not the sole purpose of life, climbing mountains, metaphorical or literal, alone can be amazing opportunities for growth. To be sheltered in the life and community you’ve grown comfortable in does a disservice to yourself and those who will never know the person you truly are. Figuring out what matters to you and who you are might mean that you make decisions that your loved ones disagree with. That’s okay. Prioritize yourself and your own journey first. Personal boundaries are not restrictions on relationships but guidelines that allow us to interact with each other in healthy and supportive ways. When people dissolve their personal boundaries, it often leads to toxic relationships.
“[Love] is not about obligation but desire.” – Wataru Watari
The basis of relationships (familial, platonic, and romantic) is “desire”. I want to be a part of my friend’s lives, and I want them to lean on me with their problems. Building and maintaining relationships is not easy. It requires effort and energy to listen to another person’s emotional needs and be there for them, but I want that responsibility because genuine relationships are worth the effort. Wanting to do something isn’t the same thing as enjoying it. The distinction lies in having a choice. When you feel like you have to do things for other people, regardless of what you want, relationships will begin to weaken, but you can choose to do something you don’t enjoy because you want to help out a loved one. It isn’t fun to comfort a loved one through hard times, but I would drop anything for someone in my inner circle. In fact, I wish my friends would rely on me and give me the opportunity to be there for them, but this kindness and love can’t be forced. Back in the spring, I started working more hours at the nail salon with my mother because it was getting busier and busier. I worked more hours than I wanted, and it made it harder for me to consistently write, read, or go to the gym. The stress manifested itself as countless arguments with my family about work. It became a thing that I had to do, regardless of what I wanted, and my relationship with my family soured, even though I was working to help them. When kindness is forced, it saps all of the love out of good-intentioned actions. You need to be able to say no in relationships, or else the relationship itself will weaken.
This conversation about boundaries is a two-way street. As we grow closer to others, we begin to develop expectations of others, and sometimes, their boundaries can feel like personal condemnations. We think, “If you really cared about me, you would…”, but that’s not how love works. Another person’s boundaries have nothing to do with you, but everything to do with what they want and need. Respect their boundaries and expect that they respect yours.
4.) Understand What You Can and Cannot Control
Many of the best decisions and experiences of my life–taking a gap year, living out of my car for a month, starting this blog–stem from the fact that I actively carve out the life I desire. I refuse to be a passenger in my own life. When I was younger, I thought my life would naturally become more adventurous and exciting as I got older, but life isn’t something that just happens to you. It’s something you seek out and build for yourself. Sometimes, the space between coming up with an exciting idea and that idea materializing in the world can feel like an uncrossable chasm, but it’s not. I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to take a gap year because I had no set plans, but I took that first step anyway because I thought a gap year would lead to exciting opportunities. Then, when ideas hit me or opportunities presented themselves to me, I ran with them. This year, I hiked breathtaking trails, snowboarded in Colorado, and slept beneath starry skies, and it was all because I said yes to meeting a couple strangers or took the leap to live out of my car. Make active decisions that guide your life in the direction you want. Focus everything on taking that first step across the terrifying chasm, and once you do, you’ll discover that there’s another step and another and another…eventually, you’ll look up and realize that your life has begun to resemble what you imagined.
Despite everything I just said, sometimes, life does just happen to you. A corollary of actively chasing exciting opportunities is purposefully minimizing time spent on superfluous things–applying to random internships to boost my resume, working more hours than necessary, and most high school homework. This guiding philosophy lies at the center of a lot of my best experiences, but it has also caused me suffering. I constantly think about what I want my life to look like, but I cannot always control my life. Working at the nail salon pushed this lesson to the forefront of my mind. Writing and reading consistently became harder because of how much time I spent working. The hours I worked at the nail salon ate away at me because I kept imagining other things I would rather be doing. Every hour that passed felt like my life was slipping through the cracks in my fingers. Those weeks where I felt constant stress about working were the worst weeks of my year, but they didn’t have to be. I needed to realize that the nail salon needed help. There was no getting around that. If I had just accepted that those alternative realities weren’t my life, I would have found peace.
Life is about finding a balance between accepting the unchangeable things in your life and chasing wholeheartedly after the life you want. As I get older, I’ll have to file my own taxes, apply to entry-level internships, and take boring classes. Some things I cannot change, and when I accept those things, I will suffer less. When I recognize what I have to work with or around, I can carve out the life I want with the leftover pieces. While I am very non-religious, when I think of this lesson, the serenity prayer often comes to mind:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
5.) How to Deal With Negative Emotions
When we ask questions about the quality of a person’s life, our questions are almost always pointed towards the external world. What’re your hobbies? How much money do you make? Have you traveled anywhere recently? This implies that peace and joy are caused by the external world, but those feelings are independent from the physical world. Across the world, across different socioeconomic classes, across different life situations, there are people who find peace and joy. In contrast, plenty of people suffer despite the affluent circumstances they’re in. Physical circumstances do not determine whether or not we find joy in our lives because pain and suffering exist on different axes. In order to understand what this means, we have to separate the sensation of feeling and the mental framework that shapes our experience of those sensations. Commonly, feeling sad is understood as a “bad” thing and feeling happy is a “good” thing, but this isn’t true. There’s a reason people love sad movies that make them cry. We enjoy feeling sad, sometimes. Other times, we’re sad because of unrequited love or failed ambitions, and those are times that sadness can feel unbearable. It chokes us from the inside and scratches at our chest until it’s hollow. The thing that separates these two situations is our acceptance of sadness. There’s no running away from unpleasant experiences in life. The best thing that we can do is embrace them and let them be felt. It’s only when we try to force the emotions inside of us away that they make us suffer.
“The root of suffering is attachment.” – Buddha
As a society, we’re extremely averse to feeling negative emotions. Whenever we feel sad or in pain, we reach for whatever distraction will take away the unpleasant feelings, but emotions fluctuate all the time. Whether we’re happy or sad, it’s important to understand that our current emotions are not our permanent emotions. Our minds are like the sky. Consciousness, the experience of our emotions, is the deep blue that fills every corner of the sky. Emotions are like clouds, drifting into and out of our consciousness. For a while, they drift across our minds, making us experience whatever they have to bring, but eventually, they will dissipate. In its wake, the blue sky continues to fill the sky, never wavering. Sit with your emotions. Let them run their course, and when the emotions begin to choke you and fill your chest with a fist sized hole, take a slow and deep breath and remind yourself: all emotions and physical sensations are impermanent. There was a time before this feeling, and there will be a time after it.
The key is to realize that the emotional beasts inside of us are impermanent and will go away if left alone. A while ago, I got into a romantic entanglement, and like many teenage relationships, it ended quickly. Even though it hadn’t been that long, I had become emotionally attached to this girl, and when it ended, I couldn’t help but miss her. I remember laying in my bed and realizing, “Wow, I really miss her…” For a while, I just lay in my bed, letting myself feel my emotions. It felt like I was reaching out into the darkness for the familiar touch of a light switch, only to be met with the cold touch of a stone wall. That hollowness inside my chest came from forming a connection with someone and having that connection be severed. It was a natural byproduct of caring, so I didn’t push the feeling away. I let it rattle around the inside of my body, gnawing on every bone in my body. Eventually, I got up and continued with my day. In the moments of silence, I often found myself missing her, and I welcomed those feelings, letting them run their course. One day, I woke up and noticed I missed her less, and a while later, it dissipated even more. This applies to a lot of the negative emotions we feel: insecurity, jealousy, FOMO. Don’t feed the emotions by scrolling through old pictures of you and an ex, by seeking excessive validation from your significant other, or by comparing yourself to others to feel better. Recognize the emotions you’re feeling and let it run its course. Allowing yourself to experience unpleasant emotions won’t make you happy, but that’s okay. The goal isn’t to never feel pain but to find peace in those feelings.
6.) “You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work.”
As a society, we value results above all else. If you don’t achieve the final result you wanted, everything you did was in vain. Pride and fulfillment are prizes reserved for the victorious, while the rest of us are left empty-handed, but this idea is fundamentally flawed because we can’t control whether or not we achieve something. People often congratulate me on going to Stanford or giving a TedxTalk that got a million views, and while I appreciate the congratulations, it’s hard for me to accept them because these things didn’t happen because of me. They happened to me. Plenty of people who “deserved” to get into Stanford didn’t, and there are plenty of videos better than mine that have less views than mine. Anyone would agree that feeling pride in the natural color of your hair, your height, the weather, or winning the lottery would be ridiculous because those aren’t things that anyone can control, but that applies to almost all achievements. Students can’t control whether or not they get an A on a test, without cheating. They can only control how much they study the material. The only thing that people can control is the work they do, not the result.
The way we talk about and admire “natural talent” reflects our societal values. We idolize the kids who manage to fly by without putting any real effort into getting straight A’s. Meanwhile, kids who studied their asses off, developed disciplined schedules, took meticulous notes, and got a B were pushed to the side and quietly told to be better. I know for a fact that I put less effort and work in than some of the other kids in my grade (this is not to say that I put in no effort), yet come test time, I flew through tests that others struggled to get a B on. The validation that comes from getting an A on a test that you barely studied for or feeling like the smartest kid in the room tastes amazing, but when pride and fulfillment are rooted in results, it creates fragile egos that get shattered with the smallest gust of adversity. Kids who gain their value from being successful have no control over their sense of self-worth. Their value will always be reliant on the opinions of others, and there is no amount of success that will ever be enough. Validation from being the best in the room will inevitably be met with the crushing realization that there will always be more successful and talented people. Once our identity or self-worth becomes wrapped up in success or results, we’ve entered into a race we’re destined to lose.
“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work…without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat.” -Bhagavad Gita
Society promises us that once we achieve great things we’ll feel fulfilled and happy, but pride and fulfillment are best found in work, not results. Once we understand that we can’t control the results of our actions, it becomes easier to cultivate detachment from the results and focus all our efforts on our actions. At the beginning of the year, when I sat down to write, different worries swarmed my mind. Why write a novel if it won’t get published? Why write a blog if it’s not going to be super popular? These ideas came as naturally to me as breathing. When those thoughts came screaming into the forefront of my mind, the full weight of the worthlessness of my efforts threatened to render me inert. In those moments, I could only remind myself that I could not control whether or not my book ever gets published. Hell, I couldn’t even control whether or not my writing was good. The only thing I was capable of doing was sitting down and trying my best to write 1,000 words, so that is what I did…for seven months. The daily effort of writing became a fulfilling win in and of itself. I found peace in the quiet mornings that I woke up to hammer out 1,000 words before heading to work. Before I knew it, I was over 100,000 words into my first draft and had posted more than 10 blog posts.
7.) Life Is Beautifully Mundane
I often get lost fantasizing about the life that I want to have. Pictures of exotic destinations or awe-inspiring hikes line my Instagram feed, and it’s hard to not compare the flat lands of Dayton, Ohio to them. This problem of FOMO (the fear of missing out) reached its peak for me in the fall. While I went to nail school for 30-40 hours a week, learning about the different types of massages (effleurage, tapotement, vibration, petrissage, and friction), other kids lived out of mansions together and travelled the country. Torturing myself over the fact that my life seemed dull in comparison to theirs would have been easy, but I realized how ridiculous it was to suffer from the fantasy of what my life should have looked like. The fantastical vision of our lives we have in our head are only that–visions that only exists in our heads. Nail school wasn’t where I wanted to be, but it was where I was. There’s no life that we get to live other than the one that’s in front of us. It’s not perfect, but it’s real.
Life isn’t the highlight reel that people post on Instagram. Living a great life has become synonymous with going to hype concerts, travelling to exotic locations, or going on picturesque dates with our significant other, but those moments aren’t what make life worth living. They’re fun and exciting, but don’t believe anyone who tells you that a week long trip at a nice Airbnb was enough to change their life. The vast majority of our lives are much more unassuming and mundane than those moments. Some of the best moments of my year were the quiet ones–watching anime in my living room, quiet nighttime walks around my neighborhood, sipping hot tea from my custom-made coffee mugs in the morning. If we buy into the luxurious idea of what life is supposed to look like, entire swaths of our life will pass us by as we wait for the next moment where we truly “live”. We’ll be stuck in the waiting room of our lives. When we’re at the doctor’s office, there’s always that brief window of time when you’re just sitting and doing nothing, waiting to be called on. It may feel like those minutes are just something you have to get through, but those aren’t just minutes. They’re the endless hours you spend studying for that midterm, they’re the ten hours shifts that you have to work to pay for bills or trips, they’re the long airplane rides where the guy sitting next to you has commandeered the armrest, they’re the quiet moments on road trips where everyone has run out of things to say–they’re your life.
Those small moments aren’t perfect, but they, like all other moments, will be lost in the endless flow of time. We’re often too busy living our daily lives to realize how unique of a time this period of our lives is. Everything feels so normal because it’s been the same for so long, but the small moments that makeup our daily routine will not always be there for us to fall back on. Over the last two years, my friends and I have grown up–they left for college, made new friends, went on exciting trips across the country, and started internships. As we all grow up, the life that I’ve grown accustomed to is slowly being pulled out from underneath me. During the summers, all of my friends used to be trapped in Dayton, Ohio, for better or worse, so we passed slow and lazy summer days together. Now, everyone is travelling or working at internships. That isn’t a bad thing. I’m sure all of us would rather be doing what we’re currently doing than be 15 again, but the reality that we’ll never be 15 again and trapped in our small suburb gnaws at me. Everything I have always taken for granted is going to change–sand volleyball with my friends, dinners with my family, 8 hour shifts working at the nail salon. These things feel so normal, but they aren’t. Even when I do these things again, they’ll never have the same feeling of normalcy that they once did. Being able to take those moments for granted is a privilege. Luckily, we don’t have to wait until these moments have passed to appreciate them at their fullest. Take a deep breath, look around at the people you’re with, notice what you’re doing, and take in how happy you are to be sharing this moment with them. It won’t always be there.
“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” -Kurt Vonnegut
8.) Confidence Is Born Through Adversity
On paper, I am pretty successful, but despite my accomplishments, most of my life has been colored by a deep sense of insecurity. No matter how much I did or achieved, I could never outrun the feeling that I wasn’t enough. This runs contrary to the typical view of confidence. Typically, people believe that confidence comes after someone has become successful or wealthy, but external validation and praise will never make a person truly confident because there will always be more. The first time someone gets an A in a class, they feel incredible, but eventually, getting an A won’t be enough. They have to be at the top of their class. For a little while, that will satisfy them, but then, being at the top of their class won’t be enough. They have to go to one of the most prestigious colleges in the country. For a little while, they bask in the glory of attending one of those colleges, but then, they need to be at the top of their college class. It never ends. For the longest time, I was this kid. Growing up, I’d built an identity around being the smartest kid in the room, and that feeling of superiority put me on cloud nine. Life, however, is about a lot more than just being smart. People cared about athletic abilities, looks, musical talent. In those domains I didn’t match up, and because I felt superior because I was “smarter” than others, I felt intensely inferior because I was less than others. True confidence is internal. Once you buy into the hierarchy, you’re giving power to the very thing that will destroy you.
The only way to gain true confidence is to let go of the hierarchy. Confidence is not rooted in our current abilities or past achievements. It is born out of the knowledge that we can get through life’s challenges. This year, I threw myself into things that I knew I would struggle with: nail school, living out of my car, snowboarding. Before I went to nail school, I had never polished a nail in my entire life, so even when I finished nail school, I sucked at doing nails. In the spring, I was in the middle of a pedicure and the woman stood up and left because she was displeased with my work. All of the shame of failing and not being good enough that I’d ever experienced came rushing back, choking me from the inside, and after she left, I went into the bathroom and cried. I cried for a couple minutes, and then, my hand found its way to my chest and then my hair and then around my face. “I’m still okay,” I whispered. I took a deep breath and gently reminded myself that failing doesn’t make you lesser. The only way to let go of the shame you feel when failing, is to not shame yourself when you inevitably fail. I left the bathroom and gave four more pedicures that day. To this day, I’m still not great at giving pedicures, but I’m much better than I used to be. This lesson continued into my month-long venture into vanlife. There were many times on my trip I would have done anything to be in the comfort and familiarity of my home. Many nights passed where I felt sleep-deprived, frustrated, and anxious (often all three at once), but I had no choice but to get through it because I was already so far away from home. Every time something went wrong, I kept telling myself that I would get through it and come out the other end okay–there was a beginning to the pain and there would be an end. Camping forced me into situations where I had no choice but to get through the frustration. When we come out alive on the other side of failure and adversity, the fear of those things lose their grip on us because we’re more assured that we can get through the any future obstacles.
“The stability we cannot find in the world we must create within our own persons.” -Nathaniel Branden, Six Pillars of Self-Esteem
True confidence isn’t characterized by the external world, which means no matter where you’re at in your life you can begin to build confidence. This is different from the type of confidence I had imagined as a kid. I used to think that being confident meant existing without insecurities, struggles, or flaws. Confidence was something I achieved only when I overcame my personal problems permanently, but true confidence comes when we accept our struggles. When I feel insecure or overwhelmed, I don’t look down on myself for it. These are things everyone feels, and what matters is how we deal with those moments. Acknowledge the insecurity or anxiety and recognize that you’ll come out the other end okay. That kind of confidence allows you to see failure, rejection, and stress as small blips rather than defining moments. In a world where TikTok has destroyed our attention span, the polar bears are dying, and a small strand of DNA has stolen a year and a half of our lives, the only constant is ourselves, and when we feel like we can trust ourselves to get through anything, it gives us firm ground to walk on.
9.) Understand Your Emotions
I love logic and solving puzzles. When everything makes sense and fits perfectly where it’s supposed to, it feels incredibly satisfying, and this used to drive me away from trying to develop a deeper emotional understanding of myself and people. There’s this common sentiment that emotions are a mystical and unpredictable thing that can’t be understood rationally. Everyone knows about the CS or engineering major who feels more comfortable with robots or machines because those things make sense to them, whereas understanding human emotions is like trying to understand dark matter, but emotions have their own logic. It’s hard to develop on our own because we’re never taught it and because it requires silence and introspection to understand ourselves. Our emotions have causes, often deeper underlying causes than what we currently feel, and if we seek to understand the roots of our suffering, it allows us to face our problems head on. One of the biggest problems I had growing up was how dependent I was on validation. From doing well in school to chasing every pretty girl that would give me attention, I just wanted some sort of external validation, and in turn, I would get torn up if a girl didn’t like me or when I thought I wouldn’t be able to live up to the image that other people had of me in their heads. In hindsight, it looks obvious that all my insecurities were symptoms of this internalized belief that “I wasn’t enough”, but the only reason I recognized that is because I took the time to sit down and ask myself questions about how I was feeling and why I thought I felt that way. Then, I was also able to really ask myself, “when did I learn that I wasn’t enough?” and “how do I rewire my brain so I don’t think like that anymore?” Almost all of the things I’ve learned or written about over this year are not the product of classic logical thinking. It’s been a process of emotional maturity and understanding. Our emotional well-being is just as important as our physical well-being.
“The purpose of studying Buddhism is not to study Buddhism, but to study ourselves.” -Shunryu Suzuki
People often look down on people who make emotional decisions, claiming that they are “too emotional” or “not making rational decisions”, but often, logic isn’t disconnected from emotion. Understanding our individual emotional processes is just as important as understanding our logical processes. Humans are not perfectly rational agents. Maybe facts don’t care about our feelings (thank you Ben), but we care about our feelings. Our emotions and illogical tendencies color the way we interpret facts, which facts we choose to ignore, and what we do with the facts. There’s an endless list of cognitive biases that humans are known to make. Understanding how we feel allows us to be more aware of when our emotions affect the decisions we make, and this allows us to make better decisions. A couple months ago, I sat alone in my room enjoying my daily dose of anime and League of Legends, and I remember scrolling through Snapchat and seeing pictures of my gap year friends hanging out without me. Instantly, my mind raged with FOMO and jealousy. It churned out ideas of things I needed to do with my time–I’d been spending too much time working! I needed to make more time to hangout with friends! My life needed to be more exciting! For thirty minutes, I tried to reconstruct my entire daily schedule to include more activities with other people, and I didn’t even realize that I was trying to run away from the feeling of FOMO. In my head, I was taking a rational and objective look at my life, deciding that I should incorporate more recreational activities with other people; however, from an outsider’s perspective, it was clear that I just never wanted to feel FOMO again. Noticing that my thought process was driven by FOMO, stopped me from making decisions I didn’t need to make, and I spent the rest of the night relaxing with my favorite past times. The same thing applies to all decisions we make. Are we making our decisions out of fear, of jealousy, of insecurity, or of anger? Being more aware of our emotions makes sure our decisions are driven by negative emotions.
Humans aren’t robots that can subsist off of food and rational thought alone. We’re deeply emotional creatures that depend on each other for our emotional needs, and understanding your own emotions and emotional needs allows you to better connect with others. There’s a classic male trope where guys are confused because their girlfriends vent to them, but they also don’t want advice on how to solve their problems. This, admittedly, used to mystify me because I was only looking at it through a single framework–emotionless, cold logic, but people don’t just want advice from others because almost everyone is capable of practically solving their problems. What we really want from others is to feel heard. We want to feel like we’re not crazy for feeling the way we do, and when our emotional cries for understanding are met with cold logic, it hurts. When I confide in others and they seek to understand me, it fills me with warmth. It makes me feel less alone–it makes me feel connected. Ultimately, connection is what we all want, and it takes emotional understanding and vulnerability to get there. Understanding how we feel allows us to relate to the struggles of others. I’m in my first week of college, and to be completely honest, it’s a little lonely. I’m blessed to have great friends, but it’s easy to believe that everyone else knows everyone else or has more friends than me. Luckily, I’m not the only one that feels this way. In a time where everyone is just trying to not look or feel alone, it makes us feel even more lonely when we try to act like everything is perfect. Being able to share that feeling with others and have it be reciprocated has made me feel so much better because it reinforces what I hope to be true–we’re never truly alone.
10.) Understanding Life Will Make You Better At It
My junior year of high school, I struggled underneath the weight of a course load that promised to propel me to the top of my class, while pulling out the existential ground I stood on. Everyday, I struggled to find the energy to go to school, and I couldn’t help but wonder why I bothered working so hard. College felt like a distant and tenuous goal that led to an even more ambiguous future. My attendance record became marked with late arrivals and absences, and my grades began to plummet. The only thing that got me through the year was sheer momentum and willpower (this experience is actually what I wrote my common app essay about). I struggled because I had no clue why I was doing the things I was doing, and since then, I have made understanding my North Star. Life can be studied and understood, and the more you understand life the better you will be at it. One of the main reasons I took a gap year was to give myself the time and space to answer these questions–what’s the meaning of life, can we construct meaning if there is no objective meaning, what is the nature of happiness and fulfillment, what is confidence, what is the purpose of relationships? In order to answer these questions, I’ve learned about modern Psychology, eastern Philosophy (Buddhism and Hinduism), and western philosophy (Albert Camus), and honestly, some of the best lessons I’ve learned have come from my analysis of John Green novels and anime (Oregairu, Hibike Euphonium, March Comes In Like a Lion). Whether it’s through a philosophical text or the analysis of Hachiman Hikigaya’s emotional character arc, I’ve learned about myself and how I want to live my life. Our lives don’t need to feel like we’re wandering around a dark and mystifying maze. Understanding the answers to some of these questions will illuminate the path in front of us, but it takes time.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates
The things you learn can practically improve your life. Learning how to live is like learning how to play basketball. Someone who mindlessly dribbles a ball or chucks the ball at the basket is sure to improve, in some capacity, but compared to someone who studies and implements the correct dribbling technique, shooting form, and defensive stance, the person who mindlessly picks up the game is going to do worse 100% of the time. All of the blog posts I’ve written this year are mainly about the theoretical lessons I’ve learned, but when I’ve implemented those theoretical lessons into my life, my quality of life has improved. Since I’ve learned about the relationship between shame, vulnerability, and connection, I haven’t shied away from having tough conversations with my loved ones. As a result, my brother has become my best friend, and I feel like I can tell him anything. Understanding my superiority complex and the inevitable suffering that comes from it has allowed me to lessen my grip on it, and I’ve become much more warm and compassionate towards myself and others because of it. Focusing more on the present has allowed me to appreciate moments so much more than I used to, and it has made life a much more enjoyable experience. Understanding how to live felt so different than the learning I had to do in high school, where I just memorized random sets of isolated facts. This type of learning directly connects to the everyday experience of living.
As I’ve constructed a mental framework of principles that I believe in, my life has not only become more enjoyable and fulfilling, but it has also become less stressful and anxiety-inducing. When you don’t have a solid framework of how you want to live, every decision you make is from scratch, and there are a hundred different ways to analyze every single decision. It’s terrifying. How do you find the balance between work and leisure? When do you push yourself to do something you’re scared of? Should you pick the internship that pays better or one that you think helps the world more? Do you pick a solid and stable career choice or do you chase passion down a cloudy path? I started my gap year thinking that I was going to major in computer science. There were a lot of signs that picking computer science would have been a great decision–I was capable of doing computer science, my brother had done computer science, I genuinely liked computer science, I would make good money, and I go to the best possible school for computer science, but over the course of the year, I fell in love with psychology. Growing up, I joked about how people who majored in psychology, English, or religious studies would probably end up unemployed, and now I am one of those people (coincidentally, I am probably going to minor in religious studies and take many English classes for fun). To me the idea of majoring in psych is genuinely scary and unknown because it strays from the direct pipeline to success. For most of my gap year, I still said I was going for computer science, but one day, while I was in the nail salon, it hit me that I mainly kept the computer science dream alive because I was scared of losing the stability/clear path that it promised. One of my principles is to not live life out of fear, and since that moment, I haven’t even considered majoring in computer science, but that decision wasn’t something I made in that moment or after months of anxious debate. That decision was made whenever I decided that I refused to live a life based on fear. Take the time to construct a mental and philosophical framework that upholds your values and makes you feel fulfilled. Once you understand how you want to live, what you value, and why you bother getting up in the morning, life becomes so much clearer and fulfilling.