The #1 Lesson I Learned This Year

A few months ago I wrote a post about the 11 Important Lessons I Learned This Year.    Each of the lessons really deserved more than the 16 words I gave the longest one so I started to unpack them. If you know me at all, you know that rather than thinking linearly, I think in circles, swirls and stars. Given this predilection, I decided to just write about the ones I had something to say more about when I had more to say.

After a summer filled with illness I decided I had more to say about one life lesson in particular.  In fact, I'd say it's the #1 lesson I learned this year.

#1 Today is the only one you have.

New? No. Trite? Maybe. But still.

Do you live as if today is the only one?

I know I certainly haven't. In fact I've wasted at least 50 days of my life laying around, immobilized by fears, eating potato chips and watching Meg Ryan movies.

I wasted at least 1,000 days in horribly negative situations or with negative people. I lived in a city that wasn't right for 2,920 days too long before finally finding the courage--or maybe just desperation--to move across the country to a city where I could breathe myself in fully. If you stretched out all the days I've wasted being worried, stressed out by negative situations, or even just wasting my time it'd probably run across the length of the United States. I used to regret all that time I spent being upset and not enjoying the moment. But then I realized that being upset about being upset was just silly. And, it's just going to ruin another day.

This summer I contracted Whooping Cough. It struck so hard and fast that I spent maybe a couple of hours out of bed each day for the entire month of July. I soon became bored with watching movies and so I just sat in silence for hours each day. Although the realization of the importance of each day had struck in June I still wasn't really living it. Somewhere near the end of July I started living each day as if it were the only day I had. Since then I've created many small miracles in my life:

  • I wrote more in two months than I have in a year.
  • I changed my spending habits so that I only spent money on things I absolutely love.
  • I spoke my mind even when I didn't know how it would turn out.
  • I stopped dating someone I really cared for because they only brought drama and heartache.
  • I booked a trip to Seattle and Portland--my first real vacation in two years.
  • I started taking better care of myself and am even learning to cook.

Life hasn't been all bon bons and trips to paris but I have enjoyed every day. In spite of being sick or not knowing when I might land my next client I found a part of every day that was spectacular. I can truly say that I've enjoyed the journey.

How about you?

Do you live as if today were the only one you have?

If you did, what might you do?

Lesson #1: The Illusion of Control

The 11 Important Lessons I Learned This Year post was so popular that it spurned a great deal of conversation on Twitter and in real life. So, I thought I'd unpack the lessons a bit more. Since I think in circles, swirls and stars this may not be a completely linear process so we'll start with #1 and see how it goes.

Here we go.

1. The more control you try to assert the less you actually have.

Control is just an illusion. We can have some control over some mutable things. But there are plenty of things that are immutable and some that are purely out of our control. It's true wisdom to learn when you can enforce some measure of control over a part of your life. Pay attention to the part about "your" life. You can't control anyone else. No matter how much you think you might be like a hypnotist who can make anyone do anything you wish. You may get a small measure of control for a bit but it will always be fleeting. The reason? Free will baby.

The other way that people try to exert control is in getting the job done. You seen or done this right? In this case, a person gets so focused on getting. the. job. done. that they all end up trying to control everything--including you. Oh, they would tell you that the job just needs to get done. It seems like in their head it's life or death. They take over your job--and everyone else's. They yell, scream, demean, manipulate and generally engage in all sorts of other unbecoming behavior--all as a means to gain control in order to get the job done. You know what happens when a person is faced with something this acute. Yep. Frantic efforts for some measure of control.  It's also just as useless. Oh, you might get the job done but you'll piss off so many people in the process that you'll lose relationships like water from a leaky bucket.

Control is a tool often employed to make up for insecurity. It's a lack of trust. When we say we don't trust others it's actually more often true that we don't trust ourselves. Or we don't trust that things will turn out exactly as they need to without our intervention. I know it may be hard to hear that your attempts to control are misguided, insecurity-driven and ineffective. I'm open to other reasons people try to control--I just haven't found a legitimate alternative yet.  And I don't want to pretend as if this is a method that will ever give you true happiness, success or peace of mind.

The more you try to control another person or a situation the more it will slip out of your hands like a loose knot that easily unravels with one good pull. Worse? It just makes you feel worse and makes you feel even less secure. And that's not helpful.

True strength comes from trusting yourself. Trusting yourself is actually something you have a measure of control over. That's a really good place to put your efforts to control someone or something.

11 Important Lessons I Learned This Year

June 2011 really sucked. Sorry. I'm doing cold immersion into this blog post just the way it happened to me. Three endings happened in rapid fire within 2 weeks leaving my life unrecognizable. It was a simply awful time in my life. Usually I might try to pass of this kind of life suckiness with a bright "I'm fine!" but there was just no getting around this particular cluster. There were times I wished I could have jumped in a time machine that would take me to one year in the future. But since that technology hasn't been invented yet I lived through it...one day at a time.

As I look back a year later ultimately my life is 10x better because of those endings and the new beginnings I created as a result. There were many insights that came to life. Thought I'd share 'em with you just in case they might be helpful to you one day. Or, this day.

1. The more control you try to assert the less you actually have.

2. Drama is a luxury. One you can't afford. Especially Other People's Drama.

3. Trying to control yourself in a relationship will kill it. Let be what it is.

4. When three separate people urge caution about a person--believe them.

5. You're always worth way more than you think. Ask for more.

6. It always takes much longer than you think. 8 times as long. Factoid from: Deep Survival

7. Self-respect isn't just important. It's the only thing.

8. Conversations that start after 11pm never end well. Don't start 'em.

9. Things just work or they just don't. Forcing something is just sheer folly.

10. Being gifted is a gift. Embrace your natural talents. This is how you'll be successful.

11. Today is the only one you have.