A couple of weekends ago, I was asked what I would do if I had twenty-four hours to live.
Apart from the vague ‘I’d want to travel’, I didn’t have an answer. Thinking back on that question now… I would continue doing exactly what I’m doing at this moment. Writing poetry. Meeting new people. Tweeting about my existential crises. Making a social impact through my research and project work. Taking life one day at a time.
I love what I do. My current career is split between research and project work for Walanga Muru, the Indigenous Strategy Office at Macquarie University, and YLab, a social enterprise that falls under the banner of the Foundation of Young Australians (FYA).
Since beginning both roles, I have learned a lot about myself. Personally, professionally, and creatively. But it wasn’t until I attended an ‘unconventional conference’ (Unconference) with YLab a couple of weeks ago that I realised how much I have grown in the last twelve months.
Those who know me—and even some who don’t—know that I am always busy.
The people closest to me share their concern that I take on too much work, that I need to learn how to say ‘No’. Maybe they’re right. But I’ve found that I like keeping busy. Otherwise, I begin floundering. A friend once called it ‘proactive anxiety’.
It wasn’t until the YLab Unconference, when I was forced to relax and do nothing, that I began learning to control the chaos in my mind.
At the Unconference, we were asked after each activity or workshop to take a moment and reflect on what we had just learned and why. On the first day of the Unconference, during those moments of reflection, my mind went into ‘busy’ mode. I thought of all the projects I had to finish, the tasks I might complete—anything that didn’t include sitting in a room with a group of strangers and reflecting.
I felt as if I floundered that day.
That night, however, I found myself thinking about all that I had done that day—and all that I had done this past year.
Since December 2016, I have completed an undergraduate degree, picked up a casual job, moved interstate, enrolled in a Masters course, began a writing career, picked up a second casual job, changed my Masters degree to a Graduate Certificate, graduated from that Graduate Certificate, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
What is the point of telling you all this?
With each opportunity, with each new experience, with each dog I have pet, I have inevitably learned something about myself (and the world) that I was previously ignorant to. Here are seven things 2017 taught me:
- There is no need to rush
Don’t get me wrong, I still love to stay busy! But I’ve learned that taking a moment to relax and reflect on what I have accomplished is usually a good thing. It was during one of these reflective moments that I realised that I wasn’t in the mindset to complete my Masters degree and that I wanted to take a belated Gap Year.
I’ve taken the time to take risks, and I’m no longer worried about what to do if they don’t pan out.
- Don’t feel pressured to please everyone
Deciding to graduate with a Graduate Certificate instead of completing a Masters degree was a big decision for me. It wasn’t that I didn’t value the Certificate as a qualification; it was that I had openly committed to the Masters path and felt like a flake for not keeping my word. I had placed too much pressure on myself and was constantly worried about what people would think. When I finally told everyone my plans, I felt such a sense of relief.
- Step out of your comfort zone
In August of this year, a friend told me about an opportunity to read some of my poetry at a local bookstore. At first, I was hesitant. I hated public speaking. On more than one occasion, I have had intense panic attacks when making presentations in front of my peers. But to speak in front of strangers? And to read them my personal poetry collection? What if they thought I was a terrible writer? What if my stutter got so bad that no one could understand me? I was more than terrified.
When I stepped up in front of that audience at that bookstore and I read my work, my entire body was shaking—but I made it through. I went on to read at more events. I grew confident. Now, I can’t stop talking!
- Do what makes you happy
All through my youth, I didn’t have a concrete idea of what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’. I wanted to be a writer and a journalist and an archaeologist and an historian and (at one stage) a hairdresser. I had too many dreams and wanted to do them all. As I ‘grew up’, my dream career continued to change. But a few things remained: my love of writing, my love of history and culture, and my need to have a dozen different projects going at the one time.
It’s taken a while, but I feel like I’ve finally found a middle ground. (Let’s hope I have, at least!)
- Question everything
My mother told me that, as a small child, I would always ask ‘why?’ She found this horribly irritating and steered me toward the local public library when the questions got too hard. This lead to my lifelong obsession with books and learning. Still, books do not answer all of life’s questions, and throughout my life, I have been afraid to verbalise questions. What if people think I’m stupid? What if I ask a question that has already been answered but I missed it? All of these questions, and more, ran through my mind.
I don’t have a revelation for when this mentality began to wane, but I was in class one day—in a small group of about seven people—and I asked a question I had been wanting to ask for a while but was too shy to do so. And guess what? The world didn’t end!
- Always have unconditional positive regard
At the YLab Unconference, one of the commitments we made to each other as a group was to have unconditional positive regard for one another. This did not mean we had to agree or get along. It meant accepting people as they are and going into conversations and workshops with the best intentions, and believing everyone else had the best intentions too. While there is a lot of criticism of ‘unconditional positive regard’ in psychology, as a life philosophy, I’m excited to give it a try.
- Be open to learning new things
In my studies, I learned what career paths I might want to follow in the future. In my research and project work, I realised what my strengths and weaknesses are, I’ve challenged myself and I’ve reaped the rewards. Through my budding writing career, I have fulfilled a lifelong dream and realised that I might be good enough after all! I would have never learned these things about myself without being open to new things and learning from those experiences.
2017 has been an… interesting year, to say the least. Though this blog post is reflecting on the past twelve months, I feel like it’s the beginning of the next chapter in my life. Truth be told, I was a little anxious about posting it. It felt a bit corny, a bit narcissistic. But I feel that, in order to move into the new year, I need to say goodbye to this year first.
As the end of 2017 nears and pretty, new 2018 planners stare longingly at me in the windows of overly expensive stationery stores, I am excited to see what the new year will bring. And, for once, I’m not scared of the unknown.