Just a few days before my birthday, I am feeling a bit nostalgic about my 23rd year. It was a big one for me. I am so ready for 24, but the 365 days in between these two ages challenged me, healed me, changed me. I have always been the youngin. I skipped Kindergarten and showed up for first grade younger than everyone else in my class. I was Off to college at 17 and started my first teaching job at 21. People often tell me that they think I have a lot of “wisdom” for my age (I put it in quotes because I find this hilarious), but really it comes down to a mixture of me needing to be more mature than my age said I was, and also absorbing so much wisdom and insight from other people in my life. I love lists, as you all know, so I have compiled one that describes some of the most important lessons I have learned in my 23rd year. Remember, I am not the wise one. I have been shaped and molded and loved on and spoken to by some of the most brilliant, loving people in the world…and professionals 😉
Here are 4 things that shaped me this year:
1. Laugh at yourself because if you don’t you will just cry
On two separate occasions this school year, I have gotten on the wrong highway coming to or from work. Yes, the place I have worked for 3 years. Imagine the scenario : cold, fall morning and you’re anxious to get to work to start the day. You are driving along the highway when you suddenly start seeing buildings and exits you usually don’t see on the way to work. You ignore it because you probably just never noticed them before. But then you pass the exit you get off to go to church on Sundays and realize you are on your way to Lansing. At this point, there are two options. 1. Laugh 2. Cry. I used to to cry. I used to get so angry and frustrated with myself. HOW DO YOU GET ON THE WRONG HIGHWAY GOING TO YOUR JOB YOU GO TO EVERY DAY? One can see why that would be a valid question. But where does that leave me? Crying, angry and feeling terrible about myself 10 miles away from where I should have gotten on a different highway. It doesn’t change anything about my situation and is emotionally draining. So instead of crying, I laugh. I call my friend Sami at work and tell her I am somehow in Kentwood and got on the wrong highway going to work. I get off the next exit and turn around shaking my head and chuckling, Oh, that is so me. When I finally get to work, I laugh hysterically when the secretary, who has already heard through the grapevine I got lost going to work, has placed a map and directions from my apartment to my school. I post them on my bulletin board and laugh about it with colleagues. My emotional reactions to the situation did not change anything. If I cried, I was still in Kentwood. If I laughed, I was still in Kentwood. But instead of beating myself up and setting a bad tone for the whole day, I just made the best out of it. However this past week when I got on the wrong highway coming home, I definitely didn’t broadcast that time.
2. Stick to your guns when it really matters, let it roll of your back when it doesn’t
In other words, “Choose your battles.” Now, in the years 1-23, I did choose my battles. I just chose ALL of them. With my mom, with my friends, in my relationships. They were all battles I fought. Whether it was as small as being 10 minutes late, or bigger like ditching me, again, for friends, they were all battle zones. Everything was a fight. I didn’t understand the concept of letting anything go. If it bothered me, it needed to be fought about. This made for a tumultuous few years. I have learned in the past year, that life goes so, so much smoother, when you show grace, don’t expect perfection and choose your battles very wisely. In my current relationship, there is definitely the occasional battle with me carrying the charging sword. But for the most part, this battle is one that is chosen because it is important to me and something that I feel strongly about. I try to separate myself from the emotional situation for a bit of time, examine it, and once all the emotions have died down, do I still feel strongly about this? After the annoyance or the anger or frustration has worn away, is this something I still want to fight for? Usually the answer is no. But sometimes, the answer it yes. Finding that balance of not being a warrior declaring battle, but not being a doormat and letting EVERYTHING go, is tough.
3. Intentional vs.Reactive
I someday would like to do a full post about this. This point changed my life. I have always been highly emotional and feel feelings VERY strongly. When some might just feel slight irritation, I would tend to feel enraged. Emotions were definitely extreme- (this may sound like another diagnosis…but the professionals are convinced this is all stemmed in anxiety…not so sure though). Anyways, I based most of my first 23 years on how I was feeling. This was rather exhausting because when something bad happens, even something small, I would be devastated and unable to get past feelings of sadness or disappointment. Until something good happened. Then I would be so incredibly euphoric and happy. These were not times of depression or extreme happiness that went on for days…this would go back and forth all day. Totally dependent on my circumstances, feelings and emotions. When your emotions are like a roller coaster, that makes for a very tiring day. Learning to feel and think more rationally has changed my life. Like in point two, about picking and choosing battles. While my initial reaction and emotion might be incredibly angry when someone forgets a deadline or doesn’t contact me back, I am able to take a step back and kind of evaluate, is this a rational response to the situation? If no, I take a breath, don’t act out on my feeling of the moment and try to think of an appropriate emotion that fits better. Slightly annoyed, a little offended, perturbed. Those emotions are a lot easier to let go of than fury and rage.
4. Let people in
I have always been very open in most aspects of my life. But it wasn’t until this past year where I felt safe and comfortable to literally open up some of my deepest struggles and anxious thoughts to the world. Since starting this blog and writing about my issues with anxiety, I have been SO incredibly blessed by so many people. Every person that tells me that they can relate or that they hear themselves in my writing or they struggle with the same thing, reminds me that letting people in is one of the best things you can do. I have realized I am not alone. And while most people have not been diagnosed with an actual anxiety disorder, we all have our demons and struggles and I really am starting to think I am not as crazy as I think. I have felt a lot of things this year- but it definitely wasn’t feeling alone. I have so many people walking with me and supporting me and encouraging me, and for that I am so grateful.
These 365 days transformed my life. For years and years, I felt like I was treading water. Always trying so hard to get “better” and regulate my emotions and be “normal.” Through the grace of God and so much other support, I think this past year changed my life more than any other. The person and woman I wanted to be is finally here. Not perfect. Not exactly how I want all the time. Not without her struggles. But the foundation has been laid to continue building up on these truths that I have learned all these years- and I will never stop striving to be the best version of myself and depending on God to bring me there.
PS. Mom and Dad- I am sorry you were the ones that had to live with the Jenna version 0-22. Specifically ages 9 months-19. Those were tough years for us all. Thanks for all of you who have known me through every valley and mountain and loved my anyways. And to the ones who just have met me recently…count your lucky stars 😉
Blessings not chins