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Lessons Learned

2014 December 23



I read an article a few weeks ago that I liked. The headline, “How to Email with an Old Friend After Falling Out of Touch,” was what initially grabbed my attention. Maintaining friendships is a top priority of mine, and I’m not always the best at it. I thought maybe I could learn a couple of things. I like reading articles that promise a potential life lesson or two. The piece is actually a lovely meditation on the passing of time and shifting nature of relationships rather than a simple how-to list. In it, the author, Paul Ford, shares what happened when he decided to send an old colleague a list of lessons he’d learned in the past decade since they’d last talked. Instead of the usual “Things have been good. I got married, I work here, I have two kids, I live here, etc. We should grab lunch sometime” catch-up email, the list of lessons served as a true compendium of what he’d been through over the years. In return, his colleague wrote back a similar list a few days later. They’re not best friends, but I’m sure that the exercise was illuminating for both of them, both personally and in relationship to one another.

Usually, at this time of year, we’re busy with holiday obligations, wrapping up work to meet final deadlines, and scrambling to make New Year’s plans. The Best Of lists can get overwhelming–Best Books By Women, Best New TV Drama, Best Independent Movies, Best New Restaurants, Best Red Carpet Gowns, Best Articles Written about Puppies by Women Named Adelaide. Sometimes, the reflection and the looking back are exhausting.

And then there’s the looking ahead, to that shining bastion of possibility known as the New Year. As though once the calendar turns to January, all of our sins from 2014 will be wiped away and we will be fresh and clean. We will go to the gym every day and stop eating sugar and read 150 books and delete our Facebook accounts and save a million dollars and pay off our student loans and travel around the world and join a rock band. Or something along those lines.

So the end of every year is fraught with this quantified looking back and planning ahead. But since I read that article, I’ve been thinking about the notion of lessons. I wondered what it is that I’ve learned. A decade is a long time, and because this past year was certainly a challenging and eye-opening one for me, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to ask myself what I’ve learned from 2014. So,  in no particular order, here are some lessons I’ve learned in the past year:

I learned what it means to be a good friend. I learned how to ask for help. I learned that having an office with a door is helpful when crying at work. I learned that crying at work is not very productive, but sometimes necessary. Also, that crying in life is not very productive, but sometimes necessary. I learned how to find a therapist. I learned how to navigate online dating. I learned that Tinder is terrible.

I learned how to say goodbye to people, a dog, a city, and a life, and how to find my way in a new city, with new people, to build a new life. I learned that just because you move back to a place you once lived it doesn’t mean it will be the same as when you left it. I learned that it is heartbreaking to lose a pet. I learned how to make zucchini noodles and flourless peanut butter cookies. I learned how to cook for one. I learned how to hang curtains and what gender-free contra dancing is. I learned that I prefer Chipotle to Boloco, by a lot. I learned how to be the bigger person, even when all I wanted to do was yell and make prank phone calls and say mean things. I learned how to mourn for things that are not dead.

I learned to forgive, both myself and others. I learned that if I don’t have a pet of my own, I become that creepy lady on the street who will follow your dog. I learned what it feels like to have one of my books at work publish on time and be well-received, despite initial challenges. I learned how to adapt to great change, both personally and professionally. I learned when to let go and when to hang on. I learned how to ask for what I want (most of the time). I learned that, sometimes, if you’re in the right place at the right time, you just might end up in a magazine.

I learned how to be a leader. I learned how to be alone–and to revel in it. I learned that life doesn’t go the way you expect and people will shock you. I learned that you can feel beautiful even when your pants don’t fit you anymore. I learned that you can both love and hate someone at the same time. I learned how to comfort friends who’ve experienced great loss. I learned perspective. I learned what the water feels like in the Columbia River Gorge and how the doughnuts taste at VooDoo Doughnuts and that lavender grows all along the sidewalks in Portland. I learned how to dance in a disco cab and then at an empty hotel bar in Dallas. I learned how to organize a trip with friends. I learned what New Orleans smells like in the morning and what Bourbon St. looks like on a Saturday night. I learned what a lobster roll in Maine and oysters in Wellfleet taste like. I learned how to adjust my expectations.

I learned that sitting on my front porch is one of my favorite activities, and also that having a parking spot makes having a car in the city practically painless. I learned that driving to the grocery store makes grocery shopping less miserable. I learned the geography of Jamaica Plain. I learned that you can’t keep every friend. I learned that there are good men out there. I learned my own self-worth. I learned that you get what you give. How to take a writing class and how to take writing criticism. How to stop taking everything personally. How to appreciate all I have. How to march in solidarity and defend my beliefs. How to not let the weight of the world diminish the simple pleasures of every day life.

There are, of course, countless more, and all of these are not 100% complete–I am, as always, a work in progress. I do sincerely feel like I learned a great deal this year, and while I’m grateful for those lessons, I’m really hoping that 2015 isn’t a quite so lesson-laden year.

What has 2014 taught you?



3 Responses Post a comment
  1. Diana permalink
    December 31, 2014

    Jill, I truly look forward to reading your blog; your writing is delightful no matter the subject. My favorite line of this one, because it made me read it twice, was “I learned to mourn for things that are not dead.” I hope you have a full-length work available one day, because I’ll read it!

  2. January 9, 2015

    Jill, this is so beautiful!

    “I learned that you can feel beautiful even when your pants don’t fit you anymore.” <– YES TO THIS.

  3. January 27, 2015

    I don’t know how I missed this, but it is a beautiful post. I really love the idea of assessing a year in lessons learned, and your description of your lessons is tender and heartfelt I can get very caught up in measuring myself by goals and accomplishments (and run of the mill perfectionism), and his is a helpful way to reorient that approach. Thank you for sharing your lessons, and for doling some out.

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