Inevitable endings and new beginnings always make me more pensive than usual. I’m pretty reflective by nature, but there’s something about closing one chapter and opening another that sends me down memory lane with a pen and paper – taking notes on the past, chronicling my failures and victories in a way that will hopefully aid in my success on the journey to come.
Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned in the past 12 months.
- It’s okay if you suck in the beginning.
I don’t like trial and error. Learning by doing is not my strong suit, I’d rather learn in theory and then in practice. Of course knowledge would help anyone feel more prepared to undertake a new thing, but the problem arises when not knowing stops me from beginning at all. This year, I found myself in delay too often because I refused to be bad in the beginning. But it is not your demonstration of how well you do something that draws the attention of those who can help you be better; it is your willingness to embrace and expose the real depth of your ignorance that communicates to a teacher that you have need of them. To be the most inexperienced in a room means you have more access to new information than anyone else. It’s a blessing, and the reason why the Bible admonishes us not to despise small beginnings.
At some point in the middle of my musings, realized I was wrestling with pride.
Pride is sneaky, and sometimes it comes shrouded in fear. I thought it was fear stopping me from starting, but it wasn’t, not really.
I didn’t want to be a novice, the most inexperienced, noticeably incompetent. I started to look for shortcuts, but realized there are none, not to where I’m, headed. Pride always wants to ignore any process that requires humility, and the seat of the student is a humble one.
- Don’t expect to get better at anything you don’t practice.
I made too many excuses for misplaced priorities this year. Whether the excuses were legitimate or not is not the issue, the truth is vast majority of the time we make time for what we want to make time for. Of course this is nuanced, emergencies happen, life doesn’t go the way we planned, things come up that require immediate attention. But if we’re honest, we’re usually not as helpless to random happenings as we claim, and with a bit more effort, better planning, expectation management, and prioritization, there is a way for us to make time.
Perhaps the problem is our inability to accurately discern the season of life we are in. Different seasons demand different priorities. Priorities tell your heart’s story for a season – what you’re invested in, what you love and are committed to the most.
I chose how I wanted to spend my time, and in light of the repercussions of those decisions, I’m deciding to make better use of my time in the coming year. I find myself disappointed in the lack of progress I’ve made in some areas that were completely within my control, but the truth is I chose lesser things too often.
There are skills I want to develop, mindsets and habits I want to release and adopt. But it requires my diligent dedication to practice. Just because you do something well does not mean there’s no room for improvement. The fact that optimization is a thing proves that any processes can be better.
- Excellence is not static; it is dynamic.
This year I wrestled a lot with what it means to be excellent. I’ve been studying the prophet Daniel for well over a year, and as much as I’d like to move on, Yahweh keeps bringing me back to him. One of the things that is said of Daniel was he had an excellent spirit. He was aggressively promoted in his line of work, his quality of work was noticed by influential people on a regular basis, his work ethic and dedication were undeniable, even to people who scoffed at his beliefs and mocked his standards.
As I read his story again and again, something became apparent to me: excellence isn’t about meeting the expectations of those around or above you, excellence is about meeting the standard that Yahweh has set before you. If you aim to please Him in all you do by viewing every assignment as an act of worship, you won’t miss man’s mark.
As you evolve, so will your personal standard of excellence. It is dynamic, and dependent on your level of capability and willingness to commit to progressive change throughout each season of your life. Daniel wasn’t excellent because he just tried really hard, he was excellent because as his rate of responsibility increased, so did his capacity. With each promotion he increased his professionalism, honed his skill, pressed in prayer and embraced the sacrifices he would need to make in order to properly facilitate what was on this new level.
Excellence isn’t one size fits all, it’s personal, it’s internal, and it’s meant to grow with you.
- The only battles we lose are the ones we stop fighting.
I rang in 2019 with depression nipping at my heels. I was too tired to do what I usually do to fight it off, and I descended deeper and deeper into a bleak head space dominated by sadness, demotivation, and unnatural mental and physical exhaustion.
I don’t remember April, all I know is that somehow I made it out. Every day that month was a blur, but I managed to get up, go to work when I had to, stay in touch with loved ones, stay seen, and stay out of the bed for the most part. I don’t remember any of it, but I made it. And that counts for a lot.
As the fog began to clear around the month of July, I remember glancing back at the months that passed feeling panicked. I realized with dread, defeat, and painful disappointment, that I hadn’t done anything I wanted to do. I’d lost so much momentum, spending most of my energy examining and sifting through my thoughts, being intentional about my sensory intake, trying to work out as much as I cold, eating foods that helped my mind stay clear and aid my focus. I was really just trying to keep my head above water. Everything that’s second nature becomes a task and requires intentional effort and keen focus when depression is fighting you.
But the Holy Spirit showed me something that I remind myself of every single day. Each time the fog of depression has descended on me and I’ve fought to make it out, I’ve gained a little more self-awareness, more strength, and ultimately more ground.
When you’re disoriented, slowing down and going in reverse can feel the same. Sometimes when we’ve been fighting one thing so hard for so long, we lose track of the gains we’ve made. Yahweh reminded me that this may still be a struggle for me, but I’m not challenged in the same ways I once was. With each encounter I may struggle, but as I overcome in different ways I am becoming a more well-rounded and skilled fighter.
I’m still fighting and that is frustrating, but progressive deliverance is still deliverance, and an incremental victory is still a victory. I will only lose if I choose to stop fighting.
- Comparison is stupid.
Every single human being living on planet earth has a unique story that has never existed and will never exist again. I believe that we were all designed and equipped intentionally by a perfect Creator who knew exactly what He was doing.
If we are all different people, with different purposes, following different paths to different places, our lives have to look different. To compare your life to someone else’s is literally like looking on someone else’s paper during an exam, except yours is a Spanish exam and theirs is an Accounting exam.
Our lives are too nuanced for it to be helpful to constantly compare every aspect of our process and journey to someone else’s. I’m not saying that we cannot grow and learn from other people’s lives, because of course we can. I am saying that we need to understand that we will all need to commit to doing the internal and deeply personal work it takes to follow our own path to destiny.
The pace, provision, timing, and route of your life will not be the same for anyone else, and that is okay. I had to get out of the habit of comparing my career standing, relationships, mental health status, and so much more to other people’s by reminding myself that my life is not their life – I’m taking a different test.
Instead of looking around, focus on Yahweh’s specific plan for you. Who has He designed you to be? What has He placed in you to develop and multiply? Spend more time talking to Him about who He says you are than you do trying to be someone else.
Getting close to Him, giving Him my honesty, sharing my heart, pouring out the truth of where I was at and how I was feeling allowed Him to move in and give me the intimacy I so desperately needed.
No one knows me better than He does, no one sees me more clearly, understands me better, or loves me as deeply as He does. And when I’m longing for understanding and closeness of the soul, I’ve learned that in His arms is always the best place to start. He fulfills, trust me.
2019 was incredibly hard for lots of people, but I am hopeful that the best is yet to come. I encourage you to choose to believe the same.
Tell me – what has 2019 taught you?