So here it is, 2020. As anyone who read New Year’s Grieve will attest, NYE is not my favourite time. I don’t hate it, I just don’t care. Same as last year…
That being said, you cannot escape the fact that it is a time of reflection. And whilst I do spend quite a lot of time reflecting anyhow (almost to my detriment) it is always nice to look back and take stock of a parenthesized period of time.
As I read my January 2019 entry back, I am reminded how funny it feels to read something I’ve written almost a year before. These little notes we write to ourselves, digging them out in the ‘future present’, become a time capsule connecting two people. With many of the people you were in between lost in the time sandwich.
But! If you keep writing notes to yourself you won’t ever be too far away from those versions either.
It has been a weird old year. One predominantly spent in Toronto, a place that has made me love Canada more, despite how weird and hard it has been at times. Not terrifyingly so. I am aware of how privileged I have been. Moving to another country with friends, seeing a different side of life. And there have been a lot of good things to come out of my time here. Many new friends, new opportunities, more writing! And experiencing the roller-coaster nuances of dating Canadian men (spoiler: it has been eye-opening). Through various explorations, I have also decided on my next set of goals and my proper career path! Not bad for 32…
Okay, so it has taken me a while to get here, and I know others are already neck-deep in their chosen life. But I have had the opportunity to look at my life from every angle. It has given me a depth and brevity on the topic. So, here on the lip of the New Year, I can say without a doubt that I am happy for everything that has come before it. So here I go, sliding into the gullet of 2020!
But what have I learned?
Patience. A fuck-load of patience. It hasn’t always come off, and sometimes I have had to enlist the help of friends to let me vent. To those people, you know who you are:
Thank you, I love you.
But, in choosing my trusted people who can listen without prejudice, taking my time to see issues from all angles, I have been able to create strategies and tackle the problem with a calm and clarity. With peace.
Either way, I am a far more patient person now than I have been in the past. I’ve found the root of harnessing patience is in asking questions, rather than positing answers. Curiosity is the best way to get around being impatient. The more questions you ask (even if you cannot answer some of them), the more you can seek fresh perspectives. Seeing the world through a different lens allows for a broader understanding of other’s motives. Meaning you no longer feel personally affronted by their actions or behavior.
Patience also gives you the gift of time. Things won’t necessarily be fixed today, or tomorrow. But in the meantime you can get on with the things that can be dealt with. Impatience for things to fall into place exactly as you want them only hurts you in the end.
Relinquishing expectations. Understanding that these are not something to die by. Far better to understand that your expectations may not come off exactly as you imagine. And this is totally fine! It may in some cases lead you to a better outcome.
Either way, loosening the grip on your expectations is the only way to allowing yourself to be happy. If you are constantly pitting your current situation against the way you perceive it ‘should’ be, you will only see a mountain of disappointment. Allowing expectation to flow with real-world happenings gives you the opportunity to see the pathways up that mountain.
You are responsible for your happiness. This might seem obvious, but you would be surprised how often we place expectations on others to make us happy. By doing or saying things to make us feel more loved, accomplished, better. Or simply pinning our hopes for a happy future on them. I have fallen foul of this many times, and finally realising that I am the only one in control of my joy has helped tremendously.
Let me whack in a disclaimer here: No-one can feel happy all the time. Life is a series of—internal and external—ups and downs.
All you can do is remind yourself of this, putting systems in place to combat negative feelings. Whether that is focusing on tasks or hobbies that make you feel centered, taking a bubble bath and forgetting about the outside world for a while, or going for a run, walk, hike or cycle (delete as appropriate). It is in having small self-care routines that keep you from sliding into the black hole of funk.
I mean, Black Hole of Funk should be a band, but that is probably beside the point.
When you stop seeking a saviour in the external world—choosing instead to connect with yourself on a deeper level—you begin to strengthen your resilience internally. You can talk yourself down, bring yourself up. And not one single person can take that away from you. When you realise that you are solely responsible for your happiness, you become your own best friend. You will be mindful of how you treat yourself.
Talking to yourself is really fucking useful. Last night, I was talking to myself in the mirror, asking myself some pretty searching questions. I’ve been doing this in earnest for probably 6 months, and the things that come up when I talk to myself out loud are SO interesting.
My system is vaguely this: I look at myself in the mirror, take a deep breath and ask the questions that are going round in my head. Usually with the dulcet backing tones of my electric toothbrush. Maybe I’ll ask myself a few times.
Once that is done I may stand and stare for a while, but otherwise I will go about my day. While I complete tasks or wander around making tea (or food or whatever) I talk to myself. I say things I really feel, I say things I think I feel. Trying them on for size, seeing how they fit. Often I will say terrible things that no-one should hear. Just to get them out. But what I always find is this: resolution.
I may not always expect the answer that feels right. I may not always welcome the answer. But I do get one. And it hasn’t been wrong yet.
Conflict resolution is something we should all learn to do better. And learn is absolutely the word here. It is a skill, it takes practice.
I come from a fairly ‘shouty’ family. Conflict has kind of always been resolved like this:
- Bottle everything until it has to come out
- Get very angry, raise your voice and say everything that is on your mind (without any vetting)
- Some kind of slanging match
- Neither side understands the other
- Crying occurs
- Both parties retire, unsatisfied, to lick their wounds
- A mediator (other family member) arrives to discuss. They shuttle back and forth with emotional updates.
- Repeat until both parties re-unite
- More crying, possible hugging
- Conversation is had, both parties come to an understanding.
- Hugging and crying
I won’t deny that we do always reach a fair standing—and I love my family to absolute bits—but it took me years to understand that shouting and being angry in a fight is not the best way to resolve conflict. Seriously, I think I have only started getting a handle on this in the past year or so. As shameful as it is to admit!
I have realised that I would never ask for what I want in a conflict. Or I would hold it in for as long as I could, then ask in a passive aggressive/demanding way that immediately raised the hackles of my ‘opponent’. In doing so, I would never get what I want as they would (quite rightly) deem my request an attack.
My conclusion is this…
Historically, I’ve found my own desires almost shameful. I feared rejection, and tied myself in knots fixating on what the other person might be wanting or thinking (instead of just asking). I have also been privy to the thought that my expectations (there is that word again) of how I should be treated were just how things should be. With little or no consideration of alternative viewpoints.
In doing some massive soul-searching this past year, I’ve made my peace in knowing I can only ask for what I want, and be comfortable with getting it, or not.
There is no shame in having desires, and another person’s inability to meet these is not a direct comment on you. As always, there are other factors at play. But you have to know how to ask, and how to accept any outcome with grace.
Better conflict resolution comes from disengaging with your expectation, approaching the situation with curiosity (putting yourself in another’s position) and composing yourself with kindness and patience. I am still working on this, and I’m sure I always will be. But the improvements are vast, and my ability to think critically has increased exponentially.
Alright! Another signature long-ramble from me to you. I hope you stayed with it, and that you found something of use to put towards your growth in 2020.
And at the very least, this will serve as a little time-capsule from me to me in 2021.
Now go write yours, and have a great year!