21 LESSONS LEARNED IN 2021 (in no particular order)

The end of the year is a time of reflection for all of us. Of course I have a huge list new things I want to do in 2022, and the New Year is a great time for a new start, but those goals we set for ourselves may be more attainable and fruitful if we base them upon lessons we have recently learned.  Here is some of what learned in 2021, in no particular order.

  1. We do live in trying times, but it can get better – and we have the solution within each of us.  Between divisions and pandemics and all else that is going on, sometimes people believe that things will never get better. I disagree.  To me, it all boils down to compassion.  Compassion for others, no matter who they are, and compassion for ourselves, no matter what we have done.

2. Kindness breeds kindness. Compassion breeds compassion. If you are kind to others and to yourself, it will spread. 

3. Self Compassion is not selfish.  Self compassion and narcissism are not the same thing.  Scripture tells us to love ourselves. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 (NIV).  You cannot love others well without having that same love and compassion for yourself.  

4. You do not need artistic ability to do art.  I bought some cheap pieces of wood and acrylic paint from a craft store and the next thing I knew I was painting my fence and creating a beach oasis on my patio.  All that is missing is the water and the sand. 

Relaxing is peaceful and productive.

5. You do not have to be busy to be productive.  Resting is productive. When you rest your mind, things become clearer. New ideas occur to you.  Problems become easier to solve or they become less important.  A restful mind becomes re-motivated. 

6. Mindfulness, meditation and prayer (whatever works for you) do work.  But they do not work if you go into your meditation with expectations that it will give you instant peace.  This places a burden on meditation and it becomes just one more task on your plate. Instead, mindfulness, if practiced regularly (and not just when you are stressed), will train your mind to have more peaceful thoughts and responses to stressful situations every day.

7. But stress will still happen. We cannot prevent stress from happening. But we can work on our responses to things that stress us out. Sometimes stress is good and productive, such as the jitters we feel before a job interview or speaking in public.  Sometimes stress causes us to apply our brakes just in time to avoid an accident. And sometimes stress is caused by events out of our control and it does not feel good. In all cases, we can learn how to respond peacefully.

8. It is never, ever too late to change something in your life.  I have had clients in their 20s who feel like they have missed the boat or it’s too late to change.  I changed careers in my 50s and it’s the best darned thing I’ve ever done. I still celebrate this decision. I am still learning. Today I am most excited that finally, after years of wondering what I was doing wrong, I made it through a tube of flip-top toothpaste without making a glumpy mess. I am so proud. Turns out you just have to make sure it is closed properly after every use. Live and learn.

Sneaking the veggies in: kitchen sink tuna before I added the tuna – onion, celery, apples, green grapes, red grapes, green olives, avocado, lettuce, tomato, pickles, olive oil, mustard and red wine vinegar

9. To create healthy habits, start with small positive steps.  Healthy habits are a lifestyle change, and this can take time. So start small. Sneak veggies into food (a couple of ideas are under the pictures on the right).  I started off 2021 looking for a gym to join, but in the back of my mind I knew I wouldn’t go. So I started lifting weights at home, using some weights I bought years ago but never used. It takes a few minutes per day and I can do it while playing music or watching TV, in my jammies or dressed up. No drastic changes, but I do have muscles in my arms and back now. I feel stronger and stand taller, which is a big deal for me with my dystonia issue.

Semi healthy pizza – whole wheat pita with onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, green olives, cheese

10. Practicing gratitude is important. Noticing good things as well as bad things helps us to appreciate what we have. If starting a gratitude journal is too overwhelming, just think of three things you are grateful for before falling asleep at night. Or set your smart speaker to remind you at intervals to say something you are grateful for.

11. Acknowledge your accomplishments.  We often reflect on our screw-ups and what we can learn from them, and there is nothing wrong with this. But we forget about the things we got right.  Celebrate the things you do right and the things you accomplish, no matter how small they may seem.  (That dumb thing you said at a party that you are still beating yourself up for two years ago is a lot less important than the fact that you held the door open for someone, smiled at the person who served you or made someone feel good today).

A wealth of colors that do not match.

12. Don’t worry about colors matching. Surround yourself with things you like. Wear what you like. I have an aqua green toaster, a blue toaster oven and pink floors. No one has suffered because of this.

13. Find joy in the little things, Happiness is not a goal to seek, rather it finds us when we look for the beauty in the small moments of the day.

14. Giving is a gift. There is nothing that makes us feel better than the joy of giving. This includes supporting churches and/or charities that you believe in. It means giving your time to volunteer, or to listen to someone, or to reach out to someone who may need a kind word.

15. What other people do is not my concern. Does it bug me sometimes when people disregard the rules? (break in line in traffic, refuse to wear masks during mandates, spam texters (my particular grrrr at the moment…) Yes, I have pet peeves.  But I learned I cannot control this, I can only control my response. First, imagine the worst kind of torture you can for these people. Then take a deep breath and be kind.

16. Three new mantras: learn to say at times “this does not work for me” (practice boundaries).  And at other times learn to say “well, if that works for you…” and let it go, even if the urge to give advice because you know your way is the better way is killing you. Bite your tongue and know that even if it isn’t being done perfectly, it works for them. The third is to ask yourself this question before acting: What action or decision will bring the most peace to my life? In all things, seek peace. Peace is possible. (The third one is a biggie and should have its own number, but I wanted to keep the number at 21. I do plan to elaborate on this theme as a goal in 2022).

17. Love is love is love.  Romantic love is of course lovely when it happens. There can even be little sparks that are temporary but fun. Today I was trying to practice my annual ritual in Barnes & Noble of buying calendars for half price, but they have changed their practice. There was nice looking man there and I commented that they do not seem to be on sale yet, and he said “yes, I just asked and I’m so disappointed.” He sadly added, “this has always been my New Year’s Day ritual.” I said MINE TOO!! Then we went our separate ways, ships parting into the afternoon traffic on Veterans Blvd. But there are other kinds of love. We can all find someone to love, even if it is just for a moment in time. It can be love for a friend, or the person in front of you in line at the store, or the person sitting next to you in church, or a long-lost relative, or a person you are helping in the community.

18. I probably will not become a millionaire/famous author and that’s ok.  I had to learn to be ok with the fact that I love to write because it helps me to figure things out, and I love the process, even the clickety clack of my fingers dancing on the keys. I hope the things I write bless people, but if not, I have learned to let it go.  We never know when or where we will make a difference, so we should just keep doing what we enjoy without any expectations.

19. Sometimes it is best not to have any expectations. Often people become depressed around the holidays because they have expectations of Hallmark family gatherings, receiving thoughtful gifts, goodwill and good cheer from everyone, and then they are disappointed. It is great to expect things to go well, but sometimes having no expectations and just enjoying what you have is the best way to go.

20. Pay attention to people who are unseen. This may be older people, or homeless people, or lonely people.  A lot of people feel unseen. But everyone is important.  Make someone’s day by seeing them. 

21. Hope is always present, even if doesn’t seem so in the moment.  We had hopes that 2020 would be better. We had hopes that 2021 would be better. We have hope that 2022 will be better. We were right. We are still right, Yes, the pandemic continued. Yes, life is still frustrating. But good things happened too, and good things will continue to happen in 2022. 

All of these lessons can be elaborated upon in a lot of detail, and perhaps one of my goals in 2022 will be to write a blog about each one of them.  What things have you learned in 2021 that you can carry forward into 2022? HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!!!! I wish you all a year of peace and happiness and joy. 

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