What I've Learned In 2018

Every year on the 31st of December I take account of the events of the year and think about the lessons I’ve learned. It’s something very important, as you can only connect the dots looking backwards. If we never lift our head, it’s easy to miss the signals we might need to course-correct.

2018 has been very eventful for me, with many good and bad things, mostly good. I’m grateful for everything that happened, as they’ve taught me many lessons.

It’s not all about me (in fact, very little is)

For a large part of my life, I was very self-centered and I had this constant urge to consume lots of self-improvement material. I was, to use Mark Manson’s term, a “self-improvement junkie”. It doesn’t mean I actually did improve myself all the time. In fact I mostly failed at that, which in turn made me feel miserable or guilty.

Manson says in his article:

For the self-improvement junkie, the purpose of self-improvement is not the improvement itself, rather it’s motivated by a subtle form of FOMO (fear of missing out). The junkie has this constant gnawing feeling that there’s still some magic tip or technique or piece of information out there that will create their next big breakthrough.

This is the most substantial change in my thinking that I can distinguish between me from a few years ago and me now - I’ve learned that it’s not all about me! “D’uh!”, you might say. I know it might seem obvious, but because we see our entire lives from the same set of eyes that are stuck on our head it’s a mental pattern that’s difficult to break out of. David Foster Wallace talks about that in his talk, This is Water. I really like this quote of his from that talk:

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

What does this mean for my life? It means that I dedicate more of myself to helping others, to take care of my surroundings and to important causes. I started willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality.

This is a fundamental change in thinking, and I don’t think I’m giving it justice in how I describe it. It helped me break out of a self-improvement craze and mental self-flagellation. I didn’t completely break free from it, but I think I’m doing much better.

Living with integrity

The most important lesson I’ve learned this year is how important it is to live according to one’s principles and values. I’ve been lying to myself about how I protect the environment by cycling and using less plastic, and then I was ordering crap from Amazon several times a week. I’ve been lying to myself about how I love animals, and then I was eating them every day.

I took a hard look at myself and decided: those behaviours, and others that are not in line with my principles and values, have to change. Once I took that decision, the rest was easy. Suprisingly easy, in fact.

What’s true for you? Like deeply, soul-achingly true? Are you living in integrity with that?

I strongly believe that the clearest threat to our civilisation’s future is climate change, caused by and for the profit of a microscopic percentage of its citizens. I’m seriously pissed off about our society’s lethargy, and if you don’t feel the same then you’re not paying attention!

I have joined Extinction Rebellion, a sincere and courageous movement that challenges oligarchy and neoliberal capitalism for their rank excess, and the political class for its deep lack of sincerity. It’s aims are ambitious, but they’re on par with the level of change required to save our planet from catastrophe. However, its members are very dedicated and well-organised, which gives me a lot of hope.

If you asked me a year ago, I would’ve never imagined that I would dedicate so much energy and time to something that brings me no benefit personally. Okay, I lie when I say it brings me no benefit. In fact, I met a lot of passionate, kind, intelligent people who I’m proud to call friends.

Life is much more meaningful - and also much more fun - when you take charge and act. It’s sad to realise how much of modern life is designed to lull us into being comfortably numb; we’re expected to go about doing what we’re told because it’s easy. […] There is no more fulfilling or happier way to live than to take a stand for something you think is right. Even the smallest creatures have the power to change the world. - Srdja Popovic

I feel like I am finally awake; a truly transcendentally alive individual. I feel as if my spirit has expanded and it will never go back to the size it was before.

May your coming year bring you lessons as valuable as these were for me. I also hope that together, as a society, we’ll manage to make some positive changes in a world that deeply needs them.

Happy new year!

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