Art, essay

Annual Reflections

Annual reflection_Illustration by Aileen Torres-Bennett
Illustration by Aileen Torres-Bennett

My birthday is in the last month of the year; a natural time to look back at the past 12 months and assess.

For me, birthdays aren’t so much a celebration but more of an opportunity to take stock of the past year’s lessons and accomplishments.

I believe that all of life is evolution. If you stop evolving, you stop living.

How was I better this year? What mistakes did I make, and what have I learned from them? How do I feel about where I’m at in this particular point of my life? These are the questions I think about.

And, so, I look at the last year.

It’s been a good one.

It was a year of internal wrestling. I’ve always been a high achiever. I was a high performer throughout school. I graduated at the top of a high-school class of more than 400 people. I earned my undergraduate degree in three years, with an overall GPA of 3.95. I took a year off, then went on to receive a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, earning this distinction at the tender age of 22.

I assumed I would reach the pinnacle of my profession at a young age, moving quickly up the ladder.

But life hasn’t unfolded like that, due to a series of personal failings–failures of character, failures of vision, failures of nerve. The result: a lot of wasted time and talent in my youth.

External factors, too, the latest having to do with holding on to a job that has given me the flexibility I desire, but just as much frustration in the way the organization is run, which seems about to result in an inevitable job loss from a failed business. I tried to right the ship, but my advice was not heeded, and I have finally come to accept the situation.

So much of my identity has been tied to career, and it has been a long process over several years to separate the essence of who I am from what I do professionally. I have had to learn how to compartmentalize work in the context of my life as a whole. I have experienced a roller coaster of fluctuations in self-worth over the past years, all stemming from focusing on things out of my control.

This mental and emotional chaos has served a greater purpose. I’ve emerged with a clearer sense of self and an improved acuity of acceptance. I have learned to discern what I can and cannot control, and, subsequently, to focus positively on what I can change for the better, and to let go of what I cannot influence.

Gaining this clarity is essential to live a joyful life.

Living a joyful life doesn’t mean you are ecstatically happy every single moment. Struggle is part of the human condition. The key to being happy on a daily basis is to put your problems in perspective by working to understand yourself, other people and challenging situations, and to be grateful for the good in your life.

Moving to Fiji has given me the chance to gain physical and emotional distance from what had been troubling me. The move came with new troubles, but I’m able to put them in perspective. This has helped me feel balanced, and that feeling of being on solid ground with a strong sense of self helps me approach issues with better discernment. This doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated. My emotions still flare up–that’s part of being human–but I try to understand why I feel the way I do, say what I need to say to the person I need to say it to, and move on.

Oh, and I smile and laugh a lot, too. If you can see the humor in a situation, including your own silliness, you’ll be alright.