Viktor Frankl once said that, “What is to give light must endure the burning.” I believe that the mistakes we make in life contain important lessons. Unless we learn these lessons well, we will keep on making the same mistakes until we get them right. But once we have learned our lessons, it is important to share our insights with those who need it. In this way, we help to light the way for others with our experiences.
Today, I am going to share the life lessons that I have learned with you. It is my wish that my life lessons will light your life’s journey in some small way. This article is also my contribution to the Life Lessons Series hosted by Abubakar Jamil in collaboration with Farnoosh Brock. Without further ado, here are the lessons that I learned.
Thinking for Myself
I was born in Singapore where I learned to conform to expectations. Thinking was not encouraged. As such, I spent a large part of my life doing as I was told. I assumed that others knew what was best for me and had my interests at heart. If I followed their advice, my life would turn out well.
But as I got older, I realized that the best intentions did not always lead to the best results. Instead, it could actually cause more harm than good in specific cases. In truth, few people know how to read the times or to foresee the likely development of events. Thus, their advice is merely a calculated guess at best. At worst, it could be way off the mark.
It took me a long while and many mistakes before I realized that I needed to think for myself. No one can tell you how to live your life. They can only tell you how they lived theirs. In fact, I received all sorts of conflicting advice that only led to confusion about what I should do. I am not against advice. I welcome them because they may provide insights that I might have missed out. But we should not blindly follow every advice that comes our way. We have to think for ourselves and decide which advice is best to attain our goals. It was not until I started making my own decisions after listening carefully to advice that my life started to turn around.
Believing in What I Do
When I was fresh out of university, I went into insurance. At that time, I did not know what else to do with my life. Looking back now, it was a mistake and a poor choice on my part. Yet at the same time, it turned out to be a valuable learning experience for me. From the start, I found it draining to meet new people with the aim of selling them insurance. Although my superiors tried to teach me to view insurance as a noble calling, the sales quota that I had to meet made it hard for me to see the job as such. But more importantly, I did not believe in the job or the industry after all I had seen. As such, I was never a good sales representative.
Doing insurance sales was unpleasant for me. I found it hard just to wake up to go to work because I dreaded the pressure and disliked the job. Every job has its challenges. But if you do not believe in what you do, when you face problems you will lack the strength needed to persevere and give up. If you do not believe in what you do, you will not be doing it for long.
Clarity and Meaning in Life
I pretty much sleepwalked through the first 20 odd years of my life. I did not know what I was living for or why. Not only did I lack the drive, I also lacked a direction. This lack of clarity and focus caused me to make many mistakes in my life and my career. During this time, I blindly followed the advice of others hoping that someone could tell me what I should live for. As expected, their answers were never satisfactory. One day, it dawned on me that I had to create this meaning for myself. It had to come from within me, not without. Until I did so, my life would only spiral out of control.
It is important to know what you are living for and why. Failure to do so will make it hard for you to press on in life. Fear and doubts will assail you on all sides and sap your strength. Even though creating meaning in life is not easy, it is a necessary step if you want a life worth living.
For a large part of my life, I did not take responsibility for my actions. All I did was to find excuses, blame circumstances and brood on my problems. Naturally, nothing got done or better. Even though I was not happy with the way my life was, I did not do anything constructive about it. Eventually, I reached a dead end with my insurance job. I had quit sales and made the switch to backend operations thinking it would be better. Sadly, I was just deceiving myself. I realized that this was not how I wanted to live my life. There was no other choice for me. If I wanted to be happy, I had to take responsibility for my life to change its course.
Taking responsibility for my life was a daunting task at first. Suddenly, I found that I had to decide what to live for, how to live and what I needed to do. I could not rely on others to give me the answers I wanted. They could give me advice and pointers, but I had to make my own choices and find my own answers. As I read widely to acquire the skills and knowledge that I needed to achieve my aims, I found that I had to discard many of my old limiting beliefs. Doing so may have caused great upheaval in my life, but it was a necessary step. As I look back now, I have no regrets about taking charge of my life. I only wish that I had done so sooner.
Change is the Only Constant in Life
During my years in insurance, I never had a sense of security. In this industry, the pressure to meet your sales quota was great. All those who could not do so had to leave. This great period of uncertainty in my life made me keenly aware of change. Sure, I knew that things changed, but the true significance of it did not strike me until this point in my life. By then I had missed many opportunities to make better choices in dealing with change.
Upon reflection, I realized that I was always poorly prepared and lacking in foresight. To make matters worse, I was complacent and often took things for granted. I lacked the initiative needed to deal with change. Change is the only constant in life. Everything in life changes and this is why we always have to plan and be prepared. To do otherwise would leave us unable to seize the opportunities or to avoid the pitfalls in our way.
Life is a Matter of Perception
During my early life, I was rather pessimistic. I loved to brood and to perceive things in a negative light. I think moaning and groaning used to be a favourite pastime of mine. My inner dialogue only made things worse because I thought in a negative way and nourished myself with negativity. As a result, the problems I faced usually overwhelmed me.
But life is really a matter of perception. The turning point came when I realized that if I shifted my perception I would be better able to manage my problems. The change did not happen overnight. It took me some time to unlearn my ineffective thinking. But today, focusing on the solutions instead of the problems has become a habit. This new way of perceiving events has helped me to resolve the problems I face and to lessen the limits that hinder my progress.
Balance and Self-Control
I have long struggled with balance and self-control. You see, empathy comes naturally to me. You could say that I am like an emotional sponge. I find it easy to place myself in the shoes of others to understand what they are feeling and where they are coming from. I suppose being an INFJ has something to do with it. The downside of such a gift is that my emotions can be hard to control. During those early years when I lacked the wisdom needed to manage my gift, I suffered great emotional pain because of my attachments and expectations. I knew that if I did not find balance and learn self-control, I would be heading for disaster.
It has not been an easy journey but today I have learned to manage my emotions better. I still feel strongly, but no longer do my emotions cloud my judgment. Even so, I am well aware of the need to balance emotions with logic. I cannot forsake one for the other because both are necessary to lead a harmonious life.
Each of my life lessons did not come easy for me. Looking back at them now, I cannot help but wonder how I managed to learn them all in the first place. Back then, each lesson seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. But the fact that I am here today sharing them with you shows that you can overcome your challenges in life if you work persistently at it.
Can any of you relate to what I have gone through? What are some of the life lessons that you have struggled to learn? Do share your light with us in your comments below.