Hidden in plain sight: 4 life lessons from 2013


By Belinda Thomson

We divide up time to create meaning. Minutes and hours structure our day, weeks and months populate our diaries. But years are powerful: they help us see the shapes, patterns and rhythms of what we call a lifetime.

And so I like an end-of-year reflection, just as much as I enjoy a good New Year’s resolution. The past 12 months have taught me a few lessons – which seem obvious now but took me a while to see.

Pain doesn’t make you a better person; but it does tell you about love and friendship. I had my fair share of personal turmoil this year, from losing two beloved grandparents to struggling with a career crisis. Through all of my angst, which is no greater or lesser than any normal person’s, I was constantly reminded of the bonds of family and friendship.

I remember, many years ago, I asked someone with a degree in philosophy what he thought the meaning of life was. He didn’t refer to any old, dead Greeks or Germans – neither Socrates nor Schopenhauer.  He said it’s about the simple stuff: your family and friends.

When my cousin Rod choked up during his reading at Poppa’s funeral, overcome with emotion, my brother stood up beside him and they finished reading the piece together. It’s the moments like these, in the depths of pain, that the best of who we are, and how we love, shines through.

People want to help; you just to need ask them. Have we, in our modern, hurried world, lost the art of offering assistance? Maybe a little. But I have also observed that most of us want to help others, we just feel awkward offering.

My Gran, now living on her own after 60 years of marriage, was trimming a tree recently, but simply couldn’t reach the tallest branches. When an unsuspecting young man – a tall young man – walked past the front gate, he was pressed into service on those branches. They ended up having a good old chat, and he trimmed the tree beautifully. And you know what, I bet it made his day.

We all want to be there for others, sometimes we just aren’t sure how to do it. Which tells me two things: people should ask more often, and we should offer more frequently.

It’s hard to know what will make you happy. There are plenty of studies that quantify the sources of happiness. Big houses, nice cars and home theatres are pointedly not on the list – their pleasure wears off quickly. Meaningful work, strong relationships and contributing to the community are the big drivers of happiness.

But the details are often puzzling. What do we mean by meaningful work, for example? In surveys, those serving burgers can find just as much meaning as nurses or teachers.

My own career change has shown me that it’s less about who I am working for, and more about who I’m working with. I now know that I dislike freelance consulting, when it’s just me and a computer. I miss my team, my ability to lead and mentor them, and the energy I get from working with awesome people. It took me all of a month to work that out; what I do it about it is a much trickier question.

But that’s the thing about life. The answers aren’t always obvious. Or they are so obvious, they’re hidden in plain sight. I know I’m a team player, an extrovert who is energised by others, and a shit entrepreneur – I hate charging people for things and I hate selling myself. So it’s actually blindingly obvious that I wouldn’t like being a solo consultant in charge of my own business. But I had to prove that to myself first, apparently!

Sometimes, you just have to write like nobody’s reading.  I don’t know how or why it happened, but I’ve had writer’s block for the past five months. I just couldn’t think of anything worth writing, even privately. Or perhaps I’ve been lacking the clarity required to shape a story. Or maybe I just lost my confidence – the confidence that anyone would want to read it.

So my insight this week was: who cares? Who cares if anyone reads it, if they think you’re full of shit, or if you’re barely making sense? You’re a writer, for good or ill, and you’re not living authentically if you’re not writing something.

And with that insight, I’ve broken my own rule and made this post much longer than 500 words. Because hey, who cares? I am the master of my own blog!

I hope your holiday season provides time for reflection, connection and rest. And tell me, what have you learnt this year?

  1. Excellent lessons and so nicely constructed, as always!

  2. That I should never forget what outstanding human beings my children are.

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