Saturday, January 4, 2014

The 13 I've Learned from 2013

Happy New Year Everyone! This month we thought that we’d do our own countdown of things 2013-past. I decided that I would list the 13 things that I learned from 2013 (and hope to carry into 2014). Maybe some of them will resonate with you! So here it goes:

1. Say “yes”

This seems obvious, but there are so many times in 2013 that I wanted to say “yes” but I didn’t, because of obligations, people’s reactions, the guilt (oh the guilt!). There’s always a reason not to say “yes” to something that you really want. It takes courage to look a situation in the eye, recognize that you actually do want it, and say “yes” to it.

Back in the beginning of 2013, my like family friend (and fellow writer!) Erica Cameron was trying to convince me to go to BEA towards the end of May. She told me that she thought she could swing getting me a ticket with her publisher. This was a HUGE deal that I didn’t realize until much later. I lamented missing work and the money that came with the missing of work. I tried to justify taking off three days. I almost said “no” and actually did a few times until almost the very last minute. 

But I didn’t and so many great things have happened out of that one “yes”. Erica’s publisher was Spencer Hill Press and BEA gave me the opportunity to meet like-minded people doing the kind of things that I didn’t think I could break into. From that one “yes” I got to see Erica’s debut novel cover reveal; I befriended a whole slew of new and wonderful people (which ended up landing me a place with Spencer Hill’s Contemporary imprint AND a place here with the Tangled lovelies); I got to listen to and receive 2 signed books from my favorite author, Neil Gaiman; I picked up an outrageous amount of free swag (books, bags, glitter tattoos..) All of this I would’ve missed had I said “no”.  My life was changed by going to BEA. Thank the gods I said “yes”!

2. Say “no” 

I know, this seems contrary to what I wrote above, but we cannot follow Jim Carrey into the world of Yes Man, blindly saying “yes” to anything and everything. 

There are moments when we just have to say “no”. And as a perpetual people-pleaser I found saying “no” almost as hard as saying “yes”.  See my July post about saying “no” by clicking here

Saying “no” for me became a survival thing in 2013. I just kept taking on way more than I could handle including: insisting that I would gain my MFA in two years, burning through semesters like wildfire; working several part-time jobs at once making my week work upwards of 50 hours while at school and then adding more work when I had breaks. I was doing too much. Saying “no” saved my sanity. And there’s a pleasure to saying “no” when you really mean it.

3. Practice positivity

Behaviors are learned and then practiced. It’s very easy to dwell on all the daily horrible that happens, but focusing on the positive, insisting that the glass is actually completely full (equal parts air and water) takes practice.

The end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 was very difficult for me. I’d made some poor choices in friends and they were affecting my general outlook on life. I was practicing negativity by gossiping, complaining about what was happening around me, and generally just adding to the bad feel all around me. It took many things to get me to see that positivity isn’t just for the mythical “happy people”. It could be for me and it could be for you too. You just have to practice it and know that it’s a journey. It will take time. I’m still working on it into 2014.

4. Say what you mean

It’s so fun to get caught up in being ambiguous when you're a poet (or really anyone for that matter), but you’ll soon find that the more you mask what you’re really saying in pretty words or veiled actions, the less likely you are to get what you really want in life.

I’m a classic case of keeping my mouth shut until I explode. Not a good thing to practice! I’m not advocating saying mean things (because our brains do go to those places sometimes) but I am saying that we need to be more clear  in our intentions.

5. Pressure is a privilege 

This is a favorite of mine. I wrote about it during NaNo here and still think that it’s a wonderful thing. Underneath all of my stress (mostly self-induced) there’s a love for the deadline. It signifies an end to something. And if it’s stressful, it’s nice to see the light at the end of the road!

6. Perfection is ugly, what we really like are the imperfections

This might seem clichéd, but that doesn’t make it any less true. There is a preoccupation with perfection, especially in this age of photoshop. But when you look at the world that we live in, it’s the imperfections, the inconsistencies that are beautiful.

7. Creating bad art is better than creating no art

This one’s also a little weird at first, but it’ll make sense, I promise. When I graduated from my MFA program, I didn’t write anything. I had this thesis with poems that I really cared about, but I didn’t write anything else. I didn’t know where to begin. I went to BEA and met these amazing writers and still I didn’t write. I was scared of making bad art, scared of writing something that meant nothing. But this kept me from practicing my craft.

Creating is important. It doesn’t matter whether it’s “good” or not. “Good” is subjective anyway. If you let the fear of “good” and “bad” eat at you, you will cease to create. So make art. Write a horrible poem about candles and napkins. Doodle in your calendar. Sing in the shower. Create!

8. Boundaries are important

This is another continuous thing that I’m learning. Setting and maintaining certain boundaries are necessary. We all have people in our life (for whatever reason) that are takers: of energy, of positivity, of creativity. Boundaries help so that we aren’t jerks by saying “I’m cutting you out of my life completely”.

Living in New York City, it’s easy to just cut people out for the smallest of reasons. It’s a small yet large city that has brilliant hiding places. While I have had to cut some people completely out of my life there are others who that’s impossible to do that too. So I created boundaries. This could be useful for family members, your boss, co-workers—anyone that you will remain in contact with but maybe need some boundaries with.  Don’t be afraid to draw the line—just don’t go crazy with it.

9. Second chances are great—fifth, sixth, and seventh chances are not

I try my best not to hold grudges. I give people millions of chances when they do things that really hurt me and 2013 showed me that I don’t always have to do this. I don’t have to remain friends with every ex-whatever in my life.

Sometimes I can be a doormat and give out chances like free candy, but I came to the realization that this isn’t necessary. What’s the point in keeping someone around who generally makes you feel like crap? If you have to deal with them, create boundaries (see above), but otherwise move on! This is difficult and much easier said than done. But someone who requires fifth, sixth, and seventh chances isn’t looking out for your best interests. They are feeding off you and you don’t deserve that. I know I don’t.

10. Actual conversations are way better than text messages
I know. Text messaging is easier when you’re in a rush. I’m a busy person, I get this. But an actual conversation—you know, that verbal thing that enables us to relate to one another—are super important.

I can’t tell you how many romantic relationships I had that never were because the guy just wouldn’t pick up the phone. This goes all the way back to when I was 18. Text messages cannot convey tone. I know this. I’m a very sarcastic person and you won’t realize that unless you talk to me—over the phone, through Skype or in person.

This is important for friendships too!

11. Making time for you is vital

This seems obvious, but for me it’s difficult. It’s much easier for me to focus on another person, to listen to their problems than it is to deal with my own issues. It’s also easier for me to keep busy. But the value of making sure that each day I do something that’s purely for me, is immeasurable.

Here are some examples of my own just me things: grabbing my favorite hot chocolate, taking a ballet class, going to the gym, picking up a bottle of wine to enjoy at home in front of a movie, cooking dinner.

12. If it feels wrong, it probably is

Some call it a gut feeling, others label it intuition—whatever it is for you, LISTEN TO IT! There’s a difference between being uncomfortable in a situation and feeling like it’s completely wrong. You’ll know it when you feel it. If it feels wrong, get out of there.

13. Don’t settle

This is a big one for me. It’s really easy to settle. For me it would simply be going back to my family in Florida, getting an apartment, leasing a car, having a random job. It would be so easy. I’d have my parents to fallback on and an environment that I’ve grown up in. But my dreams would vanish. By pushing on and challenging myself to leave my comfort zone, I’ve made some amazing relationships, done some really fulfilling things, created some truly expressive art and I know there’s still more to come.

If you want more, don’t settle. You’ll regret it every day.

Here’s one additional thing that I’m doing to honor 2014: I’ve saved a jar from 2013 and every time that I do something that makes me happy, an accomplishment that I’m proud of, I write it down on a scrap of paper, date it, and put it into the jar. The idea is to have a reflection of the positive of 2014 come January 1st 2015.

And that’s my 13. I was really happy to say goodbye to 2013, but I learned a lot and hope to take these lessons into 2014 with me.

Anything on this list resonate with you? Want to share what you gained from your 2013? Please comment! I’d love to hear your stories.

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  1. This is the second time today I've read about the jar thing- can't ignore the universe-I'm going to do it this year!

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  3. Asja, this is fantastic! Many of your 13 are things that I've learned and experienced first hand this year as well. Setting boundaries, saying yes and no and taking time for myself. I'm proud of all you've made of yourself. We're growing up and it's an amazing yet sobering feeling.

    The idea of making art, good or bad is so true. You put it into such clear eloquent words. I stopped painting and creating for a while in fear that what came out wouldn't be any good. Once I let go of that misconceptions, I'd never felt happier and more proud of myself.

    I wish you only the best for this next year. =)

  4. What a neat list! I think I can agree on every single thing you've learned from last year. I like that last one, not settling. I sure hope this works out for me, too. I want to prove this idea right.