Life In the City: 4 Life-Changing Lessons I Learned on the Way to Twenty-Four

I am not the wisest person in the world. In fact, I’m so far away from wisdom that I nearly choked on my coffee when I got a message saying “you should write an article sharing your life lessons with the world!”

My self-deprecation rejected the idea before my mind had even had the chance to think about it. Little did I know, life had a crash course of lessons to teach me over the weekend that I let go of 23 and stepped over into my 24th year on earth, and so I thought: why not.

While on New Year’s Eve I write down my hopes, dreams and resolutions for the next year’s ‘new year, new me’ version of myself, birthdays are when I flip it, reverse it, and look back on what I’ve learned, desperately trying to see how I can make the next year a little better.

This year, rather than reflecting on what I can fix, I’m taking my own advice and focusing on what I’ve done right… for once.

1- There’s no shame in self-love

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One Evening, back when I was in the 8th grade, I got in the car with my best friend and her cool older sister as she drove us to our Thursday night hangout spot (Starbucks for Venti hot chocolates) and, in the midst of our car chit-chat, she’d said: “I’d love to be friends with myself!”

That phrase had caused an absolute short circuit in my little 14-year-old self’s brain. I remember two questions circling my thoughts at the time:

1- What magic carpet do you shove your mammoth-sized self-loathing and insecurities under, and

2- Is it on sale?

It only took me 10 years and a thousand mental hills to realise that your relationship with yourself is the most valuable, rewarding, and beautiful one you could ever have in your life- if you want it to be.

Just as you need to nurture your relationship with your friends, family and other-halves, your very own self deserves the same level of love and attention.

Not so surprisingly, coffee was my gateway to self-love. In the midst of my dark storms of not feeling enough- skinny enough, beautiful enough, funny enough, smart enough, lovable enough – I began taking myself out on coffee dates. Gradually, I moved up to lunch dates, cinema nights, and even gigs and concerts. All on my own; no one to hide behind.

Slowly, I began to fall in love with… myself. I began to truly enjoy my own company. And before I knew it, being alone did not feel like loneliness anymore.

It’s so easy to attach yourself to those around you- be it friends, siblings or partners- and turn them into your source of self-worth, self-belief and confidence. The most valuable lesson I learned was that my own company is just as enjoyable as being amongst friends. Being in a mindset where I cared about myself as much as I cared about those I love by feeding my body beautiful, healthy food, shedding the need to feel guilt over spending time alone drinking a delicious brew, working out to be healthy- not skinny- and finally mustering up the courage to look at myself in the mirror with admiration rather than resentment has changed my life.

Golden advice #1: Take yourself out for coffee. Alone, uninterrupted, with the mindset of tuning into your own dialogue and listening to what you need.

2- It’s okay (encouraged, even!) to celebrate the small victories

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Over a year after getting my Dubai driver’s license, the idea of whizzing out onto any motorway still gave me debilitating anxiety. Everyone who I’d told about my palpable fear of any road with a speed limit higher than 60 KM/hr had rolled their eyes at me, internally perceiving me as a dramatic attention-seeker- until they’d gotten in the car with me and witnessed my fear firsthand.

Honestly, the amount of tears I’ve shed while on SZR is way bigger than I’d like to admit.

However, a few months ago, I finally smashed that fear under my wheels and surpassed the anxiety and tears. What used to cloud my vision slowly turned into confidence and, one by one, the knots that had tightened in my stomach as I slid onto a motorway unraveled into pride (and maybe a little road-rage about the manic driving this city is plagued with- but that’s beside the point).

While this feat may have been a mindless accomplishment for 99% of drivers out there, to me, it had felt like climbing a massive hill- and I never let myself forget that. Every morning, I make sure to give myself a metaphorical pat on the back as I begin my journey to work, and another on my way home every evening. If we don’t celebrate our own little successes in life, who will?

Only you know your deepest adversities. Just as no one had really, truly felt the sheer panic within me as I got onto a motorway, no one will really, truly know the anxiety you feel as you pick up the phone to make a phone call, get up in front of a crowd to give a presentation, not touch that pimple on the tip of your nose, or even put down that doughnut as you mentally pull yourself away from another binge.

Golden advice #2: replace guilt with gratitude- for your strength, your perseverance, your drive to get out of bed despite feeling like you’re not ready for the day.

3- You Are Not an Island

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‘Danny Nedelko’ Music Video – Idles

It took me a few failed relationships, be it friendships or more, to learn this lesson. I’ve literally been there, done that, and got the t-shirt.

When you’re unhappy, your thoughts and perceptions on life and yourself can be so overwhelming that you don’t even realise how your depletion of positivity and love makes it impossible for you to give it freely to anyone around you.

The bubble you build around yourself, be it negative or positive, does not solely impact you. It impacts everyone you interact with- and the way you interact with them too.

It only recently dawned on me that, during my lowest lows, not only did my negative mindset impact my health, both mental and physical, but also the people I love. My reserve of love and joy had run so dangerously low that it went on total lockdown. I couldn’t give it out to those around me for fear of losing all that’s left of my will to live. So, I became bitter, low and unloving. I became a borderline stoic individual to protect myself from feeling sadness or pain. But what I didn’t realise was that my stoicism made my family miss me- even mourn the loss of the old me a little bit- and disconnect from me, at least for a while.

It wasn’t until I decided to put my happiness first that I felt the willingness, and even desire, to make everyone I love feel happy too!

Golden advice #3: Put your mask on before you help others put theirs on.

Golden advice #4: Pick your company the way you’d pick a pineapple. Okay, maybe don’t pick them up and smell their bottoms (hint: that’s how you’re meant to find out whether or not the pineapple you’re about to buy is a sweet one!), but make sure you are surrounded by people who bring out the best of you and who make you feel motivated to be more, do more, and live more.

4- You Are Not Always Right (And That’s a Good Thing!)

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The person who invented the word ‘Sorry’ really deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. Without it, we would all be walking around with our arms crossed and our minds going over how everyone in our past has hurt us.

Apologising is a craft all on its own though. You learn how to master it over the years, some people taking longer than others (and others hitting the bucket before ever learning how to do it properly). But for me to learn how to apologise, I had to go through a very, very hard realisation first: I’m not always right.

Growing up with the notion that mistakes are unforgivable sins, no matter how big or small, I was terrified of making any. So for me to admit that I had done something wrong was out of the question. That is, until someone I had held as highly as I thought possible had broken my heart and, instead of owning up to it, refused for the life of him to say one simple word: sorry.

That word cost him, well, me.

It was there and then that I decided to never be so bitter and angry with the world (and maybe with myself too) as to let my ego and pride get in the way of my relationships.

The best part about admitting I’m wrong? I get to learn lessons about myself, the people I love and the way the world works every single day! With every mistake comes an invaluable lesson I would have never learned if I’d never stuck my head out of that pesky little square we call our comfort zone.

Golden advice #5: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Shed the shame of being in the wrong and embrace the opportunity to learn.

This post is part of the Coffeee and Chaos ‘In the City’ series about life, love, and everything in between. Check it out here!

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