23 Years of Learning

For the past couple years I’ve had this tradition of writing a blog post on my birthday laying out some of the most significant things I’ve learned during that year. It’s been a practice I’ve enjoyed a lot because it has created a structured and intentional way for me to reflect throughout the year. You can check out the posts from years 21 and 22 if you’d like. As for year 23, here it is!

I’m learning that appreciation is a necessity, both as the lens I see through and as the basis for interacting with people. I think I’m not alone as someone who wants to be happy and make a difference in the world. But the ways that we’re often told to achieve these things seem flawed. Money, fame, power, and legacy are all things that can’t exist in abundance because their value comes from scarcity. So if our value as people comes out of scarcity then our neighbor becomes someone we have to out do in order to feel valued. It seems to me that this is how a majority of the world currently operates, and it feels yucky. However, appreciation doesn’t depend of me having more than everyone else in order to feel valued. In fact, the more I slow down and see the beauty of the work that those before me have done, the more I feel like a part of the big sprawling story that is humanity. When I appreciate life and the people in it I find it easier to believe that someone out there is appreciating their life and the space I take up in it as well. Appreciating the gifts, giggles, and greatness folks bring to the table makes our societies, communities, and individual lives better spaces. I’ve learned that I wanna spend the time between this birthday and my last birthday trying to do more of that.

Be Vulnerable
Ugh. Learning how to be vulnerable has been a theme of this past year, and it’s still not very easy! Through this past year, the most memorable moments that have contributed to stronger relationships and a more coherent sense of identity are the occasions I’ve stepped out from my suit of armor and allowed myself to be seen holding my uncertainty, pain, and fear. It’s not comfortable, but it’s good. Creating space to admit that we’re not always sure how to be good teachers, wise parents, competent leaders, loving partners, or socially conscious people makes an environment where questions are okay, flaws are worked out, and wounds can heal. My natural way of being is to hide all the doubt-filled, weird, imperfect pieces of myself from the people I’m around. But when I do that I end up hiding most of myself from the people close to me because I’m just an imperfect, weird, doubt-filled human. The most enjoyable, rich, loving times are the ones where I cut down on the self-monitoring and engage as my undiluted self. Of course this has risk. I’m more susceptible to being hurt, but I think that’s the risk of also being susceptible to being loved. Being vulnerable isn’t my default yet and there are times when it feels especially hard, but I’m content to take it one armor chunk at a time.

Do the Dishes
I’m realizing that words—even great words—are only a portion of the whole. I speak as a person who comes from the humanities and as one who finds great delight in the transcendent power of words. I think we too often value the preacher, author, and scholar in excess. A poetic cadence and elegant mouth don’t make one a person worth admiring. This past year I’ve wrestled with learning how to saddle the desire to be significant. Learning to appreciate the gifts of others and be vulnerable about my weaknesses has helped, but the urge to see everything and have influence is ever-present. One practice I’m trying to cultivate more to counter this is doing the dishes. So many folks are quick to offer a lecture on wisdom, but nobody wants to take out the trash. The pain of being one who enjoys writing is that writing well is so much easier than living well; at times the contrast can seem to flirt the line of hypocrisy. 23 years of life is teaching me that if we don’t contribute our effort and time with sincerity, then we don’t get to contribute our words with authority.

I hope this 23rd year will allow me to grow deeper in my ability to value others, freer in my uncertainties, and stronger at scrubbing dried on foods.