Subconscious successes

As we’re approaching the end of the year (and the decade!) I was thinking back on my new year’s resolutions and in what ways I had grown over this year. I realized that aside from my more conscious goals, I had quite a few “subconscious successes” and bits of growth that I thought it might be fun to discuss and consider. Here are the things I feel like I “accomplished” this year outside of my resolutions:

1) Calling people out more. Okay, to preface, I don’t mean this at all like the toxic “cancel culture” phenomenon that’s been coming to a head this year. I don’t think it’s productive to shame people, punishment should never be the point. But I decided somewhere along the line to be less passive about comments or behavior from my loved ones (mostly just my parents since I live with/interact with them daily) that I recognized to be harsh or unfair or misguided. So, for example, if one of my parents made a scornful or judgmental comment about something, I wouldn’t laugh or brush it off, I would challenge it, gently, or maybe play “devil’s advocate” just to encourage seeing both sides. And this isn’t to call out my parents or anything, we all have certain ingrained beliefs or notions about something or another, maybe especially little things, that come from our upbringing seeing only one side of something, that might be worth reconsidering for empathy’s sake.

I’m definitely not a social justice warrior-type, I have a pretty passive, inoffensive and hard to offend, go-with-the-flow personality overall, but I am very passionate about empathy. I think that’s why I love movies so much, and why my love of movies was rekindled so strongly by watching a lot of really thought-provoking films in my History of Motion Pictures class. I think it’s so stunning when you get to the end of a movie and your initial reactions are, “what was the point of that??” or “why did it end that way?” and you have to dig deep and think about it, and you realize that maybe the point was just to allow you to see a new perspective or empathize with a character that you don’t relate to, or paint a portrait of a way of life or a place that you’ve never experienced. Or, the point is just to show that there’s not always a clear resolution or a simple lesson or answer. Sometimes the best movies are the ones that feel like a slap in the face for no good reason, because you have to pull your own reasons out of it.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I’m some variation of mediator/peacemaker in most every personality test I’ve ever taken; I think it’s my gift. I decided to really try to use that gift more this year, even just quietly within my own little circle. I think it’s helpful to challenge people’s perspectives sometimes, because sometimes we say things or react without thinking, and we need to be mindful of whether we’re leading with love and empathy rather than with close-minded or hateful thoughts. “Love your enemies” is a humbling extreme of this practice, but I think it’s really not that extreme if you make a habit of it. It really feels wonderful to practice leading with love. I just feel like I’ve seen so much spiteful content on social media this year, and we all could benefit from thinking twice now and then, I’m not exempting myself at all. One of my favorite quotes you’ve probably heard:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

2) Finishing my Duolingo French tree. This year I’ve been more conscious and accepting of how my priorities necessarily shift in different seasons of life, and while I still hope to continue working towards fluency in French, I just haven’t had the time or desire to concentrate on working on it right now. However, a few months ago, about 1.5 years after starting my daily Duolingo habit last year (shifting to only sporadic usage this year) I completed my French language “tree” on Duolingo. It’s a fun accomplishment and it means that I’ve covered all the general categories of vocabulary, and theoretically have learned over 2000 French words. Now hopefully I can find a way to put that base of knowledge to use in developing actual conversational skills…

3) Letting go. This is one of those vague phrases that can mean a lot of different things, but like I mentioned above, I’ve realized that sometimes priorities shift in different seasons. I’m a person of many interests and so I just have to accept that there’s a time for certain things. At the beginning of the year I was hardly practicing piano anymore, but by fall I was learning three new songs and sitting down to play any chance I got, and loving it. Sometimes you have to let go of something for a bit to rediscover it down the line.

I also mean this in terms of my self-image and perceptions. I realized this year just how much time I have spent in my life worrying about what this person or that person thinks of me, and whether I’m “good enough” in so-and-so’s opinion, that I realized it was crushing my spirit more than a little bit. I finally feel like I’m coming to that point where I am content in my own skin and not constantly trying to play some kind of ideal character that I’ve written for myself for various situations. That’s a lifelong process, I think, but I feel myself shedding the last of the old teenage hangups of “am I cool or not” and I’m finally just like, there’s no such thing as cool. I’m me and you’re you and we are all great in our own ways and there is just no comparison or gold standard of how to look or act that’s worth getting stuck on. The people that like you will like you as you are and the people that don’t care for you won’t be swayed by you trying to cater to their tastes, you’ll just lose yourself in the process. It’s amazing how easy that is to say but how hard it is to take to heart.

3) Being less materialistic. This is something that I’m sure precipitated from the previous changes that I mentioned in the last point. I think any materialistic tendencies often come from a place of insecurity or unhappiness/discontent. As I have gradually begun to really take to heart and accept my worth as a person, just as I am, flaws and all, I have genuinely stopped desiring more “things.” I used to love shopping cheap fast fashion for new clothes whenever I could in high school and early college, but now I really value those pieces in my wardrobe that I’ve had for years and worn over and over, and I’m much more thoughtful and practical-minded when it comes to clothing purchases and any purchase in general nowadays. I’m usually trying to replace something old or worn out rather than add something new, and many of my current favorites in my wardrobe were purchased secondhand. I love pretty and cool “things” as much as the next person, but now even if I initially see something and think “ooh I want that,” 2 out of 3 times I just end up reconsidering and losing interest. For me, the long-term peace and happiness of having less things has mostly overcome the short-term thrill of getting something new. I mean, I’m super lucky that I really do feel that I have everything I could possibly need right now.

This year for Christmas I got just a handful of gifts (that I picked out and got myself, lol), a few small practical things and a few fun things, nothing major…a hairbrush, a scarf, a new record album, stuff like that. To not really even have anything to open on Christmas morning besides some chocolate in my stocking, and being perfectly at peace with that…to go to church and be fully present…it’s a wonderful feeling to me, a feeling of growth and finally stepping away from unnecessary desires. I am absolutely not insinuating that getting gifts for Christmas is bad, it’s just that there is a difference between wanting some gifts for fun/practical reasons, and feeling like you need certain things in order to be happier in some way. This season and this year, I have felt more detached from my “wishlist” and more present in general. I was way more excited to go see the Nutcracker and spend time with family these past couple weeks than about any physical gifts, and I’d like that to always be the case. I think a sense of creative fulfillment replaces the urge to have things as well.

4) Complimenting people more. I may have mentioned this in the past, but I really feel like I’ve gotten better at just giving compliments without overthinking it. I used to be like “oh I don’t want to make it weird, or give someone too many compliments” but it’s like, really? Too many? I mean, I guess you could maybe cross that line at some point or start seeming disingenuous, but for the most part if you have an urge to compliment someone, you probably just should without thinking twice about it. Pretty much everyone really appreciates it, and some days someone might really need to hear it, even if you’ve said it before, and especially if it’s something deeper than “you look good” and an affirmation of their character or something. Although people definitely appreciate being told they look good, too. 🙂 I never regret complimenting someone, but I usually regret not saying something if it strikes me. I’ve been given a few memorable compliments this year and it always warms my heart to receive any such thing.

5) Being more proactive than reactive. I always need to work on this, but this year I think I had a lot more success with avoiding burnout in schoolwork and other such areas by recognizing when I would be extra busy and prioritizing accordingly, whether that meant sacrificing something else, reducing other obligations where I could, or trying to work ahead or at least plan out what needed to get done and try to focus on one thing at a time. I admit there were times this past semester, whether weeks or even individual days, where I felt like I was just not going to make it through and get everything done. And there were times I just woke up and gave it to God and said “please just get me through this day” and somehow, things would work out, even if my own plan went completely out the window.

As a person who is not a type-A workaholic, I really need a balance of work and play in my life or I burn out quickly, so it is definitely important for me to put in a little extra time and effort in planning and looking ahead to make sure I can be mindful of where I can afford some time to do things I enjoy in between necessary work things, or even spontaneously recognizing when I need a break even when I can’t fully afford it, and making it work by making it intentional. Like, OK, if I sacrifice some sleep, I can chill and watch some youtube videos for a bit because I need to mentally decompress from the day more than I need sleep tonight. Or hey, I need sleep, so I’ll tell my ballet teacher I can’t come to class tonight so I can work on this and go to bed early, or work through lunch on it tomorrow. It’s not always ideal, but when life gets a little chaotic, sometimes you just need to be a little creative in your solutions to keep the balance. Also, sometimes it works out that you can still do a good enough job on something in a lot less time than you initially planned to spend. In the past, I would just let things get chaotic, get overwhelmed, procrastinate instead of taking intentional breaks, and then I would feel burnt out because I was trying to keep too many balls in the air at once instead of thinking about which ones I could temporarily drop to keep juggling the important ones in a sustainable way.

Welp, those are my (somewhat long-winded) subconscious wins this year. It’s really surprising what you can come up with when you sit down to reflect on the non-concrete stuff. It never really feels like you’re changing that much, but when you look back at a year or a decade (!) as a whole, there’s a lot of growth and doors opened and closed that may surprise you. As they say…hindsight is 20/20. So here’s to a 2020 full of more small wins and growth to start a new decade that we can look back on clearly and fondly at the end of next year.