Don’t worry! If you missed Part 1, you can check it out here. If you already read that post, thanks for coming back! I know the anticipation was killing you, especially since I am a day late . . . Here are five more lessons I learned when life tried to drown me in 2017.
6. You can’t change people.
We’re approaching the end of January, and gym attendance has already dropped dramatically since January 1. In fact, according to statisticbrain.com, 67% of people who have gym memberships don’t even use them. If you are still plugging away at your new year’s resolutions, kudos to you! Statistically, you were probably more likely to have been hit by lightning or killed by a hippo, but you persevered!
Resolutions are tough because it’s hard for us to change what we are accustomed to believing or doing. Change is not impossible, for sure, but it’s difficult, even when we really WANT a change to take place. Here’s the point: If it is incredibly challenging just to change yourself, then how would you possibly be able to change another person who sees no reason for an adjustment in the first place?
Let me say this (to myself) one more time. YOU. CAN’T. CHANGE. PEOPLE. You can love them. You can encourage them. You can share your wisdom and experiences. You can listen. You can care about them from the very bottom of your heart. But you can only change yourself. You can play a supporting role for other people when they decide to change themselves. And that could be . . . well . . . never. Changing them is not your responsibility. Thank goodness. Because you can’t do it.
7. Grief is like a cloud.
Grief is like the clouds in the sky. At first, the clouds are thick and heavy, and very little light slips through. The days are foggy and dark, and time feels long and slow and kind of blurry. Fortunately, as the weeks pass by, the clouds break up and the sunbeams win. Brightness, clarity, and sunshine become normal again. The clouds become lighter and fluffier, and they blow by gently, and sometimes you don’t even notice them at all. Some days there is not a single cloud, just a bright blue sky, and those sunny days are more magnificent than they ever were before.
But clouds always return. They always blow in and out of the sky. They are smaller and farther between, but they are never really gone.
Sometimes you can feel a storm cloud rolling in before you see it, like older people say they feel the rain in their bones. Other times, a single dark cloud surprises you. It shows up out of nowhere in the middle of a clear blue sky. You are having a picnic or swimming in the pool, playing with your kids or laughing with friends, and you unexpectedly find yourself running for cover.
But the sunny days, after a while, far outnumber those sprinkled with clouds.
There is no timeline for grief, no good way to measure or explain it. Be patient with friends who have experienced a loss. It’s okay for you to ask them how they are doing, even after time has passed. You aren’t going to remind them of something that they have forgotten. Most likely, there is still at least one cloud in their sky, and they might appreciate that you recognize that.
8. Your value does not depend on your success or your failure.
After several disappointing team losses recently, my son was feeling defeated as an athlete. I could see it. He didn’t need a lecture on how to improve his skills or a play-by-play account of the team’s mistakes. He already knew that stuff, and I’m not his coach. What he needed from mom was encouragement.
We talked about the season and his goals and his improvements. We talked about some camps and some training he might like. But his disappointment was heavy, despite his usual resilience. I wasn’t really sure what else to say. And then these words spilled out of my mouth, “I know disappointment is hard, but do you know what would make this experience really tragic?”
He raised his eyebrows and looked up from his phone.
“If your value as a person were actually tied to your wins and your losses.”
I don’t really know where that came from, but my first thought was, DANG, THAT was some good parenting! Yes, I nailed it! Then my throat tightened just a little bit because the message was also convicting. Because sometimes I forget that my own value as a human being isn’t tied to what I do for a living or what I have in the bank or who likes me or how many mistakes I’ve made or what I mark off my to-do list each day.
The fact that I am losing my job does not diminish my personal value. Yes, teaching is very important to me, and, yes, I love helping teenagers, and, yes, I am proud of what I have accomplished over the past fourteen years, but my job does not determine my value.
The fact that I am going through a divorce does not diminish my personal value. Yes, it dramatically changes what I imagined for the future, and, yes, it has been a painful experience, and, yes, family is incredibly important to me, but my relationships do not determine my value.
The fact that some people don’t enjoy my writing does not diminish my personal value. Yes, rejection stings, and, yes, I wish everyone liked me, but what other people think does not determine my value.
Your value, the true measure of who you are, is separate from your parenting, your marriage, your friendships, your job, your hobbies, your paycheck, and your successes. Every one of those things can be stripped away from you, yet you would still BE.
You. Would. Still. Be.
And if that leaves you wondering where your value actually comes from, maybe it’s time to slow down and reflect on who you truly are and where you put your faith and what that really means.
9. The opinions of other people matter. Sometimes.
When I hear my high school students say things like, “I don’t really care what people think,” or “Other people’s opinions don’t matter to me,” or “Nobody is going to tell me what to do,” that can usually be translated into “I am making some very poor life choices right now.” The reality is that I rarely hear those words strung together by students who are experiencing success at school and in life at that moment.
But I specifically remember one girl in my English class who wrote that whenever she makes a decision, she asks herself what her Aunt Diane would do. Her Aunt Diane’s opinion matters. She trusts it. Every person needs an Aunt Diane.
There are people in our lives who play an important role in encouraging us to make the best decisions and in holding us accountable when they see danger lurking around us. Their opinions matter to us, even after they are gone. (My grandmothers’ voices still play a powerful role in my life.) But there are a whole lot of other opinions that don’t matter, voices that serve only to distract and discourage us, with no true concern for our well being at all. There are people who don’t even know us and people who have not earned our trust that complain, criticize, and try to convince us to give up on the good things we are doing. It’s so important to discern the opinions that matter from the opinions that don’t.
10. Bravery is not what people think it is.
The bravest people I know do not fit the image of bravery that American culture has created. We like to associate bravery with physical strength and tough words and a lust for adventure, but brave people are often quiet and humble. They often suffer and sacrifice in ways that other people don’t even notice. And bravery doesn’t always sound like we expect. Saying “I am not perfect” is braver than saying “I don’t make mistakes.” Saying “I was hurt by what you did” is braver than saying “That didn’t matter to me.” Saying “I made a mistake” is braver than saying “I don’t see a problem.” Saying “I can relate to how you feel because this happened to me” is braver than saying “Call if you need me.” Saying “Actually, life is hard right now” is braver than saying “Everything is fine.” Bravery can be big and loud, but it can also be quiet and unassuming. Be sure to notice and appreciate (and maybe even try to experience) both kinds.
Thanks so much for reading this post, sharing the blog with friends, and weathering the storms of life together! (We all need a village, right? Don’t tell me you forgot #1 already!) Here’s to hoping, but not expecting, to win the lottery in 2018!
*Pictures created using Bitmoji.
Join the conversation! Which of these ten lessons resonated with you the most? Comment below or on the Still Chasing Fireflies Facebook page!