2020
Mental Health

What I Learned This Decade

Beginning of 2020, new year and new decade too. Happy new year btw. Time for many to make new year’s proposition lists (which I did a couple of years ago here) but this year also I don’t feel like doing it. I have a couple of propositions in my head about what I want to achieve in this 2020 but I don’t feel it will be helpful to state them nor write about them.

Instead, I want to reflect on what I’ve learned this decade. Personally I feel like I’ve committed many mistakes but also expanded myself, my personality and interests, a great deal, other than trying many new things. Both mistakes and those tries taught me valuable lessons.

Part of this post is inspired by a great list by Mark Manson on 10 Important Lessons We Learned from the 2010s. Go read it, an insightful article to say the least.

Family is tricky business

One of the most important lessons I learned this decade is: identify the right moment to emotionally detach yourself from your family. That doesn’t mean cut any contact, of course not, but learning to have a relationship that is neither abusive, nor submissive nor in any way weighing on your mental health with your family is a necessary step into maturing and becoming a well-rounded individual.

People Sitting Beside Table
Photo by cottonbro

I’ve had my share of issues with my family in the past and up to the 2019, the year in which I have finally started to consider in a less emotional way the behaviours and words of my family. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about them, nor that I don’t love them, only that I am slowly, too slowly, learning to detach from their influence on my life on an emotional level, so they won’t, even involuntarily, hurt me. They unfortunately did, again involuntarily, in the past and it had a great weight on my mental health, for years.

Thus, learning that their words, judgments, impressions and requests aren’t so valuable to risk stressing myself out about them all the time. They’re people too, they can be wrong too, they can change ideas and ideals for the worst and in no case we should feel like we should follow them. We should respect them, politely disagree if needed, and learn an attitude of “benevolent laissez-faire”; let them talk and judge you if they need to, do not let them undermine your self confidence and successes. Having a relationship with your family on a more intellectual level, less emotionally heavy, is to me needed, sooner better than later, in anybody’s life. I’ve started this process way too late, and that’s one of the mistakes I’ve learned from in this decade.

I truly wish I won’t be here in 10 years time talking again about how my family is negatively influencing my mental health 🙂

Time and attention are limited. Use them well

Mark Manson raises this point a lot and if I had children I would teach them this as soon as possible. Time is a limited resource and with all the media surrounding us, attention has become limited too. Money you can lose and earn again, but both time and attention once are spent are gone forever.

Alarm Clock
Photo by Monoar Rahman

I’ve learned this decade to select better what I am interested in and it’s worth of my time and attention. I’ve greatly reduced my time on Twitter for instance. I don’t find it either as funny nor as important for my life as before. I went from posting an average of 12 tweets per day to 0 in the last 2-3 weeks. I “mariekondoed” a lot of my use of social medias, leaving basically only Instagram and Reddit that I daily check, and in both I’ve focused much more on what I follow, asking myself for each account or subreddit if I truly need to add it in my life or not. If I am even remotely in doubt, I don’t add it.

I’ve learned that there are also too many books, tv series, movies and videogames to be able to experience them all. It’s impossible. Even if we limited ourselves to only the genres we are interested in. I’ve started this decade actually asking myself if I am truly interested in these medias before paying for them.

I’ve greatly reduced watching tv (I basically use it only to watch football), I’ve accepted abandoning plenty of books if they didn’t resonate with me in the first hundred or so of pages. I don’t like Harry Potter, I won’t insist reading it just because everybody else seems to like it. There’s no time enough to be as everybody else’s wants us to be. Let’s be unique. I’ve learned that I enjoy the fun of Star Wars movies but I’m truly not a fan of the world. I thus spend 2 hours watching the latest movie of the franchise and move on immediately there after. I am not that engaged by its world to spend hours reading about the Siths or watching all the BTS of the movies. I’m a casual Star Wars fan, and I learned that it is fine being so too. Life is too short to ponder about things that we aren’t truly passionate about.

Star Wars Lego
Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com

Similarly, I’ve made a list of old movies that can be meaningful, from an artistic or psychological point of view, to me. Many I won’t like probably but they’re well reputed and should challenge my world views a bit. Same with books, I have accepted I will never be up to date with the latest bestsellers’ lists, I only read what seems intriguing to me now. Whatever. Tv series I can watch a handful each year and that’s it. It’s truly not that important to me to be up to date with the last The Walking Dead or The House of Paper. They didn’t intrigue me by the trailers, I never watched them, I can live perfectly well without ever watching both, thanks. With tv series it is especially important to be truly selective because it’s an investment of time and attention that lasts tens of hours and what if they end on a minor tone (Game of Thrones)?

I pretty much prefer medias that challenge me into thinking or make me reflect on an issue I never thought about or are plainly well done. There are plenty of movies that don’t get the spotlight but fall into these categories, why should I instead use my time for the likes of Marvel movies or Mad Max Fury Road? They’re entertaining but my intellect, knowledge, morals won’t change one bit by watching them. It’s not their objective either, they’re just popcorn movies. I believe now these kind of movies should have a much lower priority in our lives than before. Same with the 10th tv series about a “troubled family” or the “superhero from the future”. Do we need to watch all of them? I think not. Not anymore. Let yourself be the judge of what you need to spend your time and attention on, not society, with a focus on what you can learn and improve from it. Pop culture is important and all, but relatively so.

Work on yourself. You’re the only one that can

In an age of therapies, life coaches, bootcamps and such it may be an unpopular opinion but I learned this decade that only by working on things myself, my way, I can truly improve my being and learn new skills.

Don’t get me wrong, classes, courses and learning from the experts is invaluable and should never be dismissed. Absolutely. But do learn to apply what it is taught to your needs and personal experiences. Style too. Nobody can know exactly what is your style of being or what are exactly your needs and shortcomings. No courses can teach exactly what you need and when you need. You got to take the initiative and identify yourself your attitude and how you need to learn new skills, and in what ones you’re the most lacking.

Girl Reading Book In The Park
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

That means facing yourself, your fears and your strengths, weighing them all and then going looking for whom or what can teach you what you miss. Nobody can do it for you, the sooner you learn to do it yourself, the better you’ll be in the long run.

Experiment. Learn what you like, and what you don’t. Learn what you can be good at, what you can be truly great at and what you’ll always be just average at. Accept all and don’t spend an incredible amount of time to be what you will never be great at. That’s what the last decade taught me.

Another unpopular opinion: not everybody can be good at anything. We are different, and that’s a good thing. Everybody is better than somebody at something and worse than average at something else. Work on what you can, and especially care to, improve, not on everything. Again, time is limited, use it to work on yourself in the most efficient way. If you don’t, you may end up wasting your own potential. And that would be a crime you inflict on yourself.

What I didn’t learn this decade

I don’t want it to seems like I have everything under control and my life is surely going in the best possible direction as it is not true. I’m still and will be learning a lot, in the next decade.

I’ve surely not learned to balance friends and work. I’ve discussed a bit this right last year. I tend to give priority to my career and some friends are suffering from it. This needs to be fixed.

Nor I have made peace with some past mistakes, especially those that made my family suffer. Nor I have forgive my late father for things he did to me. And perhaps I will never manage to. Who knows. I have not a retirement plan and it scares me a great deal. The fact that in at most 30 years I won’t be able to work anymore and will have a monthly pension that will barely cover the rent alone, is a looming disaster that needs to be taken care of as soon as possible.

Life is far from perfect. But what I learned this decade makes me feel more prepared to push life from the current wildly imperfect state to one that is “satisfactorily good” in a few years.

Perhaps I can add that I learned this decade to be more hopeful. Yeah, perhaps that too.

Cover Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Neapolitan programmer, traveller and metalhead, co-author of PaperSounds blog.

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