It’s time to impart my 26-year-old wisdom

This past year I was in Lisbon! Wowee!

Birthdays seem to be favourite times for people to reflect on their lives, the year that has passed, and what, if anything, they have learned about themselves and their world. Given that I possess a long memory (so long, it seems, that I also remember things that didn’t happen), and an obsession with things past, I am no exception.

As I turn 26, and enter what I consider to be the last year I can truly refer to myself as being in my “mid-twenties”, I’ve been turning over the events of the past year in my mind. I’ve been examining them and trying to figure out what I did right, what I could have done better, and what had nothing to do with me at all. My 26th year was a good year, as years go. I was very busy, and was challenged to be braver and smarter than I usually think I am, but I was also very engaged, very supported by those around me, and very loved.

If there is one common theme to be found among the many little things I’ve learned in my 26th year, it is this: my own decisions govern a much larger portion of my life than I had originally thought (though obviously life still throws in events, obstacles, and lucky breaks all over the place).

On the one hand, this scares me. To be in the driver seat of my life is a big responsibility (and one, at the age of 26, I really can’t escape). On the other hand, on my birthday at least, it feels incredibly empowering, and exciting. Be gone, stupid things that bother me, it’s my world now!

ANYWAYS, I’m not getting any younger so let’s cut to the chase: now that I am a super wise 26-year-old and am no longer held back by my 25-year-old naivete (ha ha), the gift I will give to the world this year is a list of decisions that, before my 26th year, I never knew were really decisions at all:

1. My own limitations are my decision.

I learned this when I travelled across Portugal and Spain last October. I was very anxious about travelling by myself for a month. I expected to be overwhelmed. I expected that I would be subjecting myself to the cruelty of the universe and my inability to read directions on a map and I’d spend most of the trip having an awful time. But I was fine. Yeah, I got lost. Yeah, I wasted some time and money. Yeah, planning on the fly can get a bit stressful, especially with shoddy internet connections and foreign keyboards. But I saw the things I wanted to see and did the things I wanted to do (with a couple of exceptions). I knew where the boundaries of my comfort zone were, and I decided to step outside of them.

In Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia

I also tried to recognize where having limitations was beneficial, and in those cases, I decided to honour those limitations. For example, because I was travelling alone, I decided that my health was paramount. So I didn’t drink much, and I didn’t stay up too late (Barcelona is a pretty expensive place to just lie around and be hungover in). Sure, I missed out on some of the clubbing, but hey, I’ve spent the past six or so years in highly physical training of one kind or another. I am very aware of the limits of my physical stamina, and I decided to respect them by being good to my body while I was travelling. So did I miss out on things? Did I limit myself? Yes. But my limitations were my decision and the compromises I made were ones I can live with.

2. Falling in love is a decision.

I don’t think I so much fell in love this year as made a decision to step forward into it. There is a moment, in love, when you can decide to leave certain things unsaid, or undone. You can turn back, you can pull away. It might not be this way for everyone, or every time a person is in love, but this time, I decided. I decided to accept the potential for heartbreak. I decided to make space for a new past, one that included a person who had never been in my past before. I decided to make space in my imaginings of my future.

It is a big thing, to take on the potential for hurt, to include someone else in your wishes. I’m glad I didn’t tumble headlong into it, sight unseen, and just stick with it because it was too late to turn back. I’m glad I decided. It was worth the decision.

3. A family is a decision.

There’s a funny old saying that goes, “You can’t choose your relatives”, and biologically speaking, no, you can’t. Your parents will always be your parents, your siblings your siblings, and your children your children. But that’s beside the point.

My parents’ vegetable garden on the Prairie, July 2011

The family I will always want to have is a family that is close and supportive, whose memories of funny moments and happy times outnumber the memories of arguments or strife. I don’t ever want to have a family that dreads seeing each other on the holidays, or dreads telephoning each other, and fortunately for me it is unlikely that I ever will.

That said, it occurred to me this year that just because I will always have my family, that doesn’t mean that they can be taken for granted. The same attention I give to my romantic relationships (because there is the potential there to lose the other person if things don’t work out) can and should be paid to my relationships with my family. This means trying to watch my temper, trying to be helpful, and trying to be understanding of my family’s peccadilloes, (the way they are understanding of mine). My family has always been close to me, and we are funny and awesome. Now that I don’t get to see my family as often as I’d like, I want to make sure they will always remain close to me. Whether or not I put in the work to maintain strong supportive relationships with my family depends on me.

4. Being a nice person is not one decision, it is many many decisions.

I’ve always wanted to be a nice person. I presently want to be a nice person, and I’ll always want to be a nice person. But deciding to “be nice” is only the first decision of many. Being a nice person means making a decision every time I am faced with the opportunity to prioritize my comfort over the comfort of another. Sometimes it means deciding not to be snappy or rude to a stranger just because I’m having a bad day. Sometimes it means giving up something that I want, but don’t actually need as badly as someone else does. Sometimes it means inconveniencing myself a bit for the convenience of someone else.

Does my good side always win out? No, it definitely does not. I’m still a work in progress, and I’m okay with that (no one’s perfect). That said, do I think I am a nice person? Yes, for the most part I do, because instead of resting on my laurels and assuming I’m nice because I’m polite and don’t kick puppies, I recognize that being nice is a continuous process.

It’s not just about how good I feel when I do something nice (and I do feel good), it’s about deciding to make my coveted identity as a “nice person” an effortful and continuous state of being. Or, you know, an effortful and continuous struggle. Because as anyone who knows me well can probably tell you, I’m no saint. But at least I try.

So “Happy Birthday” to me.

I’m probably one of the luckiest ladies alive, considering the often-charmed circumstances in which I spent my 26 years. Now that I’m a little bit older, I hope I am indeed a little bit wiser (otherwise I just wasted a lot of everyone’s time imparting my wisdom) and I hope at this time next year I will be able to look back on continued growth, and more bitchin’ good times. I hope you will too.

Granada, October 2011

[Note: This year I had hoped to repeat my Five for Five Project in the weekend before my birthday, but unfortunately a personal matter took me out of the province. Instead, to express my gratitude for 26 years on this great planet I have donated $26 to the David Suzuki Foundation.]

New Year’s Resolultions Now, Then and Totally Irrelevant

Every year I make New Year’s resolutions, and almost every year I break them. Likely because mine are always so broad and vague that I don’t have a concrete way to keep track of whether I’m sticking to them or not. Apparently it’s easier to keep resolutions when they are clearly defined goals, and more easy to accomplish. This is also supposed to be better for my self-esteem, or something, because apparently not meeting goals makes us feel bad.

Eff that. I don’t see any point in making resolutions that are easy. The easy ones won’t be of  use to me. So here are my resolutions for the year 2012:

  1. Try not to be so grumpy so often. This is a resolution I’ve made a few times, because I know I have a bad habit of letting little things (like being late) get me down, and then letting my swearing and banging around of household utensils rain down on any innocent bystander who is unlucky enough to be in my path. Great stress relief for me, uncool for the people around me.
  2. Drink more water. Eugh. I never drink water. And then I get headaches. The simple solution is obviously to drink water BEFORE I get a headache but I hate drinking water because water is BORING. This may just be something I’ll have to put up with.
  3. Make my friends a priority.  When I get busy I live at the mercy of whatever I wrote on my calendar, and sometimes that means going weeks without seeing my closest and dearest friends, the ones who are always here for me when everything else I’m doing ends, winds down, or disappears. And that sucks, because I love my friends, and generally speaking they’re more fun than the obligations on my calendar.
  4. Finish what I start. Lately I’ve been feeling a little smug that some of my 2011 plans actually came to fruition, like my European Adventure and the fact that I’ve kept up with this blog. In reality, I am a procrastinator, a lazy-bones, and a scaredy-cat, and most of my plans and ideas barely make it past their inception. Which is a shame because whether they be writing, art, or home improvement projects, some of my ideas are actually good ones and I’d probably enjoy seeing them through.
  5. Be nicer.  This is a big vague goal and probably goes along with not being as grumpy, but when my TC and I were talking about resolutions this is one of the ones I came up with almost immediately. I think I am a nice person, but I also think that part of being a nice person is not resting on your laurels. To really be a nice person means making a continuous effort to have empathy, to maybe not share that retort that’s on the tip of your tongue, to donate what time/money/resources you can spare to make someone else’s life better, and basically to try to comport yourself in a way that does as little harm as possible to the people around you and your planet. And it’s not easy! When I have a shitty day there’s a part of me that wants to make it the world’s problem, that justifies my snappy remarks and occasional lack of charity, patience, or understanding. Which isn’t nice. And that part of me will always be there, making life interesting, but I am determined to soldier on nonetheless.

Because I am currently back at my parents’ house with my boxes of old diaries and journals at hand, I thought it might be fun to see if I’d written down any resolutions in junior high. And I did. On December 31, 1998, at the age of 12, I made the following resolutions:

  1. train more for skiing
  2. work harder in school + extracurricular
  3. get all the social life stuff worked out
  4. stop being such a grump
  5. try new things and try my best
  6. be healthier + nicer

I’m actually quite surprised at how many of my resolutions were the same as they are now, though I did make a couple resolutions that are no longer relevant. With regards to getting my “social life stuff worked out” I think I was referring to a friend at school who had found a new group of friends that I didn’t get along with and I was having some problems with the new pecking order in the class. I also had a mad crazy crush on a cute little Grade 7 boy who in turn had a crush on the new best friend of my old friend. Sigh. Grade 7 was complicated.

To my credit, since being 12 I have been doing better at trying new things and at being healthy. Success!

Since I found some resolutions in my Grade 7 diary I assumed I would also find some written around the new year in Grade 6. Alas, James Cameron’s seafaring masterpiece got in the way of making New Year’s resolutions. In the interests of reflection and exposition, I am posting my first entry of the year 1998, written when I was 11 years old:

Jan. 8, 1998

Dear Diary,

I watched Titanic this holiday and, omigod! I’m going crazy for Leonardo DiCaprio again. Only this time it’s worse. Almost everything reminds me that he died at the end of the movie. Somehow, it’s way worse than Romeo + Juliet. At the end, the girl he was in love with is 100 or something, and she dies and goes back to the Titanic and she’s young and with him again. It’s so sad. Someday, I want to get Leo’s address and write him a letter. That would be neat.


And then, inexplicably, I stuck a sticker from a glycerin soap bought at the SoapBerry Shop into the diary at the end of the post. Three months later I devoted an entire page of my diary to little pictures of “Leo” that I cut out of magazines but if writing Leonardo DiCaprio a fan letter was my resolution for the year 1998, I never did do it.

Huh. I wonder if “finishing what I start” means I ought to write a letter to him now….

I’ll think about it. In the meantime, I wish you all a very happy New Year, and I hope the year 2012 brings great things and good changes to your lives. Get excited! I know I am. I mean, omigod!

Omigod what a dreamboat.