2016 was a year that felt like I lived 15 years. I feel like I could have written a book month to month at some point with the content of what was going on.

It was a year that I experienced more than I could ever have imagined. I’ve grown, I’ve been out of my comfort zone, I’ve experienced, I’ve learned, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve made a point to be better, been better, screwed up again and I’ve made some incredible friends and strengthened and appreciated friendships that have been as consistent as every year turning to the next.

And I got a little niece this year who, despite not knowing English yet, laughs at all my jokes, so I’m not sure there’s much more I can ask for.

Here are a few things that I learned this year:

  1. Have the courage to be happy

I believe that we all are meant to be happy. Not jump up and down, and throw a party every day happy, but peaceful on the inside, and feeling like our lives are moving in the direction that we want. I wasn’t happy the last few years, but for some reason I stayed close to people that didn’t lift me up, and in situations that had me constantly questioning what I was doing. I turned my life upside down this year to get back to being happy, which took energy, it was scary, and took me to a hard, hard place financially. It hurt some people, but I knew that if I stayed any longer it would hurt me the most, and for one of the first times in my life, I put myself first. On the flip side now, I am reinforced with the idea that nothing in life beats waking up every day, excited about what you’re doing, loving and lifting up and being lifted by the people that are closest to you, and feeling like you’re on the path you’re meant to be on, that you want to be on. If you’re unhappy, don’t waste another day. Action is scary, but it is worth it. And good shit starts to magically (or not so magically) happen if you have the courage to make some drastic changes to your life in the name of inner peace and happiness.

2. You have a finite amount of time: use it wisely

I learned this lesson in abundance in 2016. In one case, I found out someone close to me stole thousands of dollars from me this year and likely a lot more over the last few years. Lots of friends said, “press charges”, “go after them.” That being said, I’ve learned in every action, I believe you need to ask is it your best use of energy?  I figured if it was about getting the money back I’d rather put that energy into something positive to create something new. If it was about revenge, well that’s about the biggest waste of the gift of time and energy. Time and energy don’t last forever. Use it wisely even if it goes against what you are “supposed” to be doing or how you are “supposed” to be reacting.

3. To live is to make mistakes; Surround yourself with people that give you the grace to do so

I used to be petrified of making mistakes, in all aspects of my life. So in a lot of ways, I took the safest road and did nothing. This year, I lived, took more action than I’ve ever taken, and I made mistakes, lots of them. But I’ve learned that the two things go hand in hand. You can’t take action, live your life to the fullest and do it perfectly all the time. When we mess up, all we can do is offer as gracious and honest apology as possible and hope that it’s accepted with the grace and understanding that all of us are out there messing up while trying the best that we can and with the promise that we will be better next time. It is also important to surround ourselves with people that allow us to make those mistakes and through doing that, encourage us to be the best version of ourselves.

4. Define your own rules and find your tribe

I was lucky in my 20’s to have a passion that my desire to engage in, outweighed the pressures of society around me to do things I was told I was supposed to do, like get a “proper” job. I also had a possee of people around me doing the same thing that gave me security as numbers often do. Coming into my thirties, I’ve found that some people will try and project their own insecurities on you about what you “should be” doing but just remember there are no rules. We can actually do whatever the hell we want if we are strong enough to follow what our hearts tell us is right. And there’s a tribe of people living life many different ways all around us that will encourage us in our journey, even if just in the comfort that they are doing the same thing. For me, I found my tribe through inspiring people from around the world in Thailand this year pursuing all kinds of different dreams. Find your tribe and define your own rules. There is no right way to do life and you are no better or no lesser for whatever way you choose to live yours.

5. Be grateful for all the good….because there is so much good.

Something that I’ve found incredibly helpful in turbulent waters is focusing on gratitude. And if you wake up healthy in a first world country, there is so much to thank God or your higher power, or just the good ol universe for. I spent a good amount of time in Thailand this year when to put it bluntly, things in my life were a mess. And every morning I walked to the gym and passed girls that had little choice but to prostitute themselves to make a living. It was a good slap in the face that regardless of where I felt I was, that I was so lucky to have the power to easily change my situation. Not everyone is so lucky. Choose to see the good in your life and embrace gratitude. It is truly life changing.

6. Growth comes through taking responsibility

So many of us, myself included, grow up in environments that it’s all about deflecting blame and it becomes a default behavior that we’re not even aware of. Instead of asking what we can do better or take responsibility for our role in how something plays out, we are the first to point out how we were a victim of the situation or put the blame on someone else.  It is hard and humbling to take responsibility, but it’s the only place where growth can be found. And guaranteed in every situation, there is something that we could do better. Search for it, take ownership for it, and give a better version of yourself next time. The longer I live, the more I become convinced that much joy in life comes from growth, and the quickest way for your life to stay stagnant is to play the victim and deflect blame onto others every chance you get. Taking responsibility for our role in any situation is the quickest way to reach the best versions of ourselves and shows strength, not weakness.

7. Every time we talk negatively about something we are projecting our own insecurities

I used to have someone in my life be very negative with me about my choice to play soccer. It hurt me deeply until I stepped back and wondered why they’d be doing this. I examined their life and realized that they hadn’t followed their passion and had succumbed to pressure, and by me doing what I loved, was a painful realization that they did have a choice. Since then, I’ve become very aware that people that are hating on anything are almost always doing it from a place of their own insecurities. I read a great quote this year from Paolo Coehlo, the wisest author out there: “ How people treat other people is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves.” That man has a gift with words and I know for me framed so differently the reactions to the words and actions of others.

8. Giving to others is what life is all about

I one time had the experience of giving away a good chunk of my net worth to a stranger. It was something I felt compelled to do after a friend relayed a story of her classmate who was in a fairly dire situation. It was over 10 years ago, and nothing I have ever done before or since then has made me feel better. As a side note, what I gave away came back to me x2 exactly 1 year later, but that’s a cool story to ask me over a beer. Yet for some reason I haven’t done anything so drastic again. We all fall into the bubble of either getting so wrapped up in our own lives that we don’t think about others, or we are so protective of our money, our time, or don’t want to complicate our lives, so we do little to improve the lives of others. I was reminded this year that giving to other people is quite simply where it’s at, and where that happiness we all chase is sitting waiting to be found.

So with these little nuggets of wisdom and gratitude from 2016 tucked safely in my back pocket, I’m stoked for what’s ahead in 2017.

I wish all of you an incredible 2017 too.

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