What will you take with you?
I’ve known K for around 15 years now, and during a recent routine catch-up, we came around to a paradigm shift that I’ve not stopped thinking about since.
The theme of my past year has centred around simplicity. People who are great at what they do excel at knowing what not to do — while average people try to do everything. What often makes someone great is they get immaculate with the basics. So I try to do the same: I eat simple foods, I see my friends and give them my attention, I go on walks and bike rides, I smile often, and I work out and stretch where I need to. The years are hard enough, so moving through the days and weeks with a stable foundation makes a world of difference.
Back to K, paraphrased, he said: when you look to next year, or when the next few years are about to be particularly important to you, think of yourself carrying a suitcase containing your entire life inside. All that extra baggage comes at a cost and will wear you down. So what do you really want to carry with you?
We talked for a while before reaching this maxim. The best real-world example of it is when people go travelling. If you’ve ever packed for a long trip, it’s one of the moments you realise just how little you need, especially if your trip is indefinite.
Looking back, as always, I find that life is a strange sort of beautiful. Emotions travel like waves washing over you. Some days, you really feel everything; others you can’t remember a single second. You notice how inescapable the ebbs and flows are as much as your periods of disenchantment and re-enchantment. You learn to make time for discomfort, or life forces it. You make time again for the things you love and either are good at or fail miserably with. You over-analyse your wrongs, or the thought doesn’t cross your mind.
Life feels bigger, faster, richer. Your decisions get better (or they don’t). You start to understand your needs (or ignore them anyway) and learn what allures you. Either way, the old version of you never lasts.
My all-time favourite lesson (from K, coincidentally) is still that health always comes first. But then, with that, the impetus moves onto this: what will you carry in your suitcase, and what will you remove? Temporary pleasures, impulse purchases, friends or people that make you feel good — or who you have around for the sake of it — and habits of procrastination come to mind.
And when it comes to what to pack, here’s what I’m taking:
Don’t “find yourself” by being the same as others: (from Ted Chiang) character is not a combination of moments in isolation but the continual choices you make each day that lead you one way or another. You are the rolling average of your actions.
Enter and absorb ecosystems: if you want to surround yourself in a particular social or intellectual milieu, you must go to the ecosystem where said groups live and introduce yourself. Imagine that no one is waiting for you, but open arms will be there when you enter. I’ve had a great time with this and plan to find more.
Curate your moods: music is my favourite way to create time capsules, mitigate any symptoms of seasonal depression (rare), embrace a feeling, or create happiness. I have 19 (and counting) themed Spotify playlists, and they’re great for nearly every occasion. Don’t let factors out of your control dictate how you want to feel.
Don’t be last to leave the party: nothing good happens at a party after a certain point in the night. At first, drinks were flowing, and everyone was having a good time. But eventually, people begin to leave. One or two first, then a few couples, followed by the mass exodus. If you’ve ever left at the end of a party, you’ll know it’s not usually a good time. It’s the same for our 20s — a decade often dominated by friendships. But that’s life; it happens to every generation. I’m lucky to live near many friends I’ve known my entire life, and they play huge roles here. But I’m not far from the mass exodus. Some already moved for a better job, bought a home, or gone travelling, while many are engaged, married, or raising kids. Your friends who once had all the time in the world will eventually have other priorities and things to do, and so should you.
Adult relationships run best on accountability and forgiveness: ownership over your actions is a part of healthy relationships and gives you plenty in return. I’ve found if I never took accountability for my most unhealthy habits, learned to forgive people or internalised my source of self-worth, I wouldn’t be near where I am today — and I’d probably have no friends.
Come to dinner with interesting stories: if you could have a long dinner with six of the most interesting people you knew, who would you invite? The best dinner guests are either well-travelled or gifted storytellers; fluid in conversation with a wicked sense of humour. Now reverse the roles. Ask yourself, why would people want to pick you? If you can’t think of a reason, there’s your starting point.
Know what your relationships do for you: relationships are generative in that spending time with certain people can unearth certain properties: fluid conversation, thought-provoking questions, deep concepts, enriched ideas. The same applies to your partner as it does to your good friends; your journey will be supplemented by other people’s energy. Some relationships will be impossible to change, others get better with more time and investment. The important thing is knowing what someone brings out in you and whether you can mutually unfold the same thing in a healthy way. You’ll know whether you have the patience and devotion for it.
Paint your life in colour: amplify your weirdness, and celebrate your uniqueness. It ties in with the previous point; if a relationship can’t facilitate your authentic self, decide quickly whether to keep it in your suitcase or leave it behind. In a similar vein, avoid people who are quick to criticise, criticise everyone, or are always angry. They will suck the colour out of the world, and it will have a long-term impact on you.
Embrace the quiet of the AM: I’ve always been a morning person. Since I was a kid, this was my favourite time to be up. And no matter what time I go to sleep, my body wants to be up in the morning. The early hours of the day are often the most peaceful, and I tend to be more productive.
Inhale, exhale: take slow, deep breaths more often. You’ll be surprised by how little you’re doing this.
There are many lessons I’ll share throughout 2024. But I wanted to highlight a few and share my appreciation to you for reading my blog. It’s been 3 years of writing it, but it’s still the beginning. Thank you for being here and have a wonderful new year.