This is my answer to The Birthday Question for the 30th year of my existence. I was asked the question by a number of people this year, which I think is awesome. For those of you who haven’t been exposed, the question is this — what is the most important lesson you learned this year? Because this is a special year, I was also asked to answer the same question, but scoped over the last decade. Serious business.
To answer the original Birthday Question, I wrote a massive list of things I learned and then sorted them according to impact to my life. What follows below are the things from that list in order decreasing order of importance. I’ve omitted a few things that I don’t think make sense to share this way. If you’re itching to know, I’ll probably answer privately.
So, the most important lesson I learned this year is that it’s okay to fix me and also to love me while broken. Or, to put it less harshly, to accept myself as good, flaws and all. I would guess for a lot of people that’s a strange thing to hear me say. I probably come across as confident and happy (or at least upbeat even if I’m raging) most of the time. In reality, I have very high expectations of myself that sometimes I don’t stack up against. I don’t think anyone who knows me would blink if I said it’s my nature to put a lot of pressure on people to achieve. The part that not a lot of people know is that I have always put much, much more pressure on myself than I put on other people. Part of my internal ruleset is to avoid letting other people feel the pressure I apply to myself.
This year, I learned (in some senses the hard way) that I have to be able to accept myself even in the face of failing some of my internal checklists, especially if I want to love other people. I learned that letting the cracks show and not being so perfect means I can grow and heal, better and faster. I learned to be compassionate beyond what I knew was possible. It also means I can be an open heart for others because I’m not afraid of being faulty myself. Obviously, I’m not just a wide open heart all the time, but it’s something I can be. This year I learned that people respect you for owning your flaws.
This year I learned that what I think is most important might be something that not everyone else agrees with or sees value in. I guess I’ve known this for a long time, but not in general form. This year I learned that this can be true at work as well as family as well as friends, and so on. Sometimes that means doing things other people disagree with and being willing to deal with the consequences of the difference.
I learned that everything most likely will just be okay. That doesn’t mean I learned to trust that knowledge 100% of the time, but I try to and fundamentally I know it’s true. I also learned this year that trusting people is easier than I thought it was.
This year I learned that choosing to work on what I *need* to work on more than I what I *should* work on is a dangerous proposition. Sometimes serving one need means neglecting something else. This year I put less of myself in my work than I have in the past 5 or 6 years. I needed to. I had some healing to do and some growing and I wasn’t willing to let work hold me back on that front. It worked out poorly for me in my review, but I learned a lot in the process. Sometimes accepting the cost of “failing” in some way affords breathing room that is more valuable anyway.
This year I learned that finding a role model and letting that role model know she or he is a role model changes the relationship. Not necessarily in a good or a bad way. It’s just different than being quiet about it.
This year I learned that I’m on a mission to realize a world that I wish I had. I think I wasn’t aware of this before, but I was just as ardent about achieving it. Knowing makes a huge difference. I get to decide how much energy I want to devote to it and decide if the world I’m driving towards is a good one (and so I can change course if I’ve gone wonky).
In a broad sense, this year I learned to be less afraid. Also that being less afraid means other people get to be less afraid, too.
Because this is my 30th year, the wise and giving Chaitanya Mishra asked me to answer this question for the last decade. Same process, different answers.
This decade I learned that where I come from means only as much as I’ll have it mean. I learned that I want it to mean more than I thought I did. I learned that I respect and value my humble beginnings and never want to lose sight of what that feels like. Importantly though, who and what I want to be matters more than where I come from in the end.
This decade I learned that I don’t need much love and affection, but I do need some.
This decade I learned that I want important people in my life who stay in it.
This decade I learned that I’m capable of more than I had any working models for when I was young.
This decade I learned to code.