By Jason Menard
You’re never too young or too old to learn. And as we welcome 2014, I’d like to offer a few lessons that I’ve had the fortune (both good and bad) to learn — and, in some cases — relearn as I say goodbye to what ended up being a life-altering 2013.
I’m not a woe is me guy. On this blog and in my social media feeds, I tend to avoid talking about my personal life. You’ll never read a “sigh” or see an open-ended statement that begs for a sympathetic response. What I do is try to offer solutions based upon my experiences — and while I prefer to talk about my professional or political interests, every once in a while it’s worthwhile to share something a little more private.
To put this post in context, my personal life has undergone a tremendous upheaval over the past month and a half. Some readers will know some of the details; others have no clue. And out of respect for those involved — and the process that continues on — I won’t get into any details.
But regardless of the motivation, the result has been an opportunity to learn some things about myself — and the people around me.
Appreciate your Friends and Family
I will be the first to admit that I have been a better acquaintance and colleague than I have been a true friend. Over the years, I’ve pulled away from relationships — partly for altruistic reasons; partly for selfish ones. And while I can excuse my decisions and justify them, the fact is that I should have been more assertive in fighting for them.
This has been proven above and beyond by some amazing people coming forward and offering their support to me over the past few weeks. Of course, we need to appreciate our parents and everything they do. But beyond that, old friends and new, young and old, have been there for me in ways that I can’t even express my appreciation for. And likely have not deserved.
Conversely, I’ve seen a few people act in ways that make me appreciative that I learned their true nature now as opposed to later. I don’t believe you have to like everyone, but I do believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt — and the courtesy of asking questions instead of making assumptions.
Don’t be Quick to Judge
Which brings me to lesson number two. Throughout the year, I’ve seen plenty of examples (both personally and second-hand) of people rushing to judgement about someone’s personal motivations and beliefs in an absence of facts. Whether it’s assuming personal motivations for professional criticisms or downright libellous statements in public, it’s a challenge that’s only getting worse in our social environment.
In 140 characters, there’s not a lot of room for extraneous content, but there appears to be plenty of room for supposition and inference. A lot of bad feelings could be avoided just by a little common courtesy. Our digital communications must be governed by human interaction.
It’s also also important to appreciate other people’s needs and personal situations, especially as it relates to their decisions. There are those who live their lives as if they were guided by motivational posters. But life is complex and those simplistic statements tend to neglect the nuance.
It’s easy to say, “this is what you should do,” but it’s harder to understand why someone may not. This example isn’t from 2013, but shortly before. There are those who often say, “If you’re not happy with your life, do something about it.”
But that’s a selfish outlook. People have obligations and responsibilities that preclude their ability to think only of themselves. Add kids into the mix and it’s even harder.
I used to work in a place that was destroying my soul. But because of family (not to mention injury) obligations, I couldn’t just pick up and leave.
Life isn’t perfect. There are challenges we have to endure. But they also offer us the opportunities to learn and grow. Sometimes learning what not to do is as important of a lesson as learning from your successes. And the importance of listening not only to what’s being said, but what’s not being said, is critical — and I appreciate the opportunity to learn those lessons.
Yes, we need to make time for ourselves and to find ways to enjoy life. But that has to be done in conjunction with the needs of others. If we focus only on ourselves, we end up neglecting others. That’s no way to live.
Focus on What’s Important
There’s no right or wrong answer for this. Personally, I have a hard time getting worked up about certain political issues because, in the grand scheme of things, they’re not worth it.
Just over 12 years ago, my one-day-old daughter underwent an emergency operation to allow her to breathe. After that, very little can truly be seen as life-and-death to me.
Even though this latest situation, that 12-year-old remains the focus. And ensuring her future is happy and healthy is first and foremost in my mind.
I’m not going to be that guy who says, “You can’t understand unless you have kids.” There are many people out there who live fulfilling and successful lives without kids. Kids change your perspective and motivations, but they don’t make you better or worse than anyone else.
We all have causes, beliefs, and ideals that we hold dear. And as important as it is to stand by those convictions, it’s more important to be respectful of others.
In the end, it’s easy to judge. It’s easy to fire off a pithy comment that ends up denigrating an entire group of people who don’t agree with you. But our true value and contribution to society as a whole comes from how we respect each other and how we take each other’s needs and beliefs into consideration.
It’s how we treat each other in good times and bad. It’s how we give each other the benefit of the doubt, until such time as that doubt is proven — not inferred.
And it’s about appreciating who and what we have in life.
What Change Truly Is
Back to those motivational posters: you can likely reference a half-dozen cheesy statements about change. But the fact is that change sucks. It’s scary, it’s heart-wrenching, and it’s nerve-wracking. In life we want to be happy, content, and comfortable, and change throws all that in the air.
Sometimes the results of change are better; sometimes they’re worse. But it’s a part of life and how we approach it and embrace it leads to its result.
Yes, my life has changed. And thanks to the lessons I’ve learned — and relearned — I believe that it’s going to be for the best long term. I believe that because of my amazing friends, my willingness to keep my mind open, and my focus on ensuring the best for the most important person in my life.
My 2014? It may appear to be a year of change, but at its foundation it’s a year of thankfulness — for the people around me and the lessons I’ve learned.