I have never experienced another year remotely similar to this one. Over the past twelve months, I have faced so many new challenges and things I’ve never experienced before. Many of them were terrifying and threatened to level me but, it’s December and not only am I still standing, but I’m also a better person than I was in January. This year, I learned a great deal about other people, the world and myself. Now, not all of these are going to be sunshine and rainbows, many of them are going to sound a tad depressing at first but they’re real. Real-life isn’t perfect, it’s messy and, at times, painful beyond belief. But, as always, I choose to focus on what I can learn from each of these hard moments and become stronger, smarter and better for them. Here are 12 life lessons I’m glad I learned this year. What did you learn this year?
Disclaimer: A lot of these are going to be a bit cryptic and that’s because I won’t discuss some aspects of my personal life in direct detail but, no matter what you read, none of them is about Matt and me. In proof-reading this, I realised it could read like we were having issues and this was my sly way of venting about him but that’s not the case. Most of my lessons came through difficulties in my personal life this year as a result of things out of my control. Regardless, I’m really thankful for them and believe they make me stronger. There are 12 lessons on this list so I’m choosing photos from each month of the year, starting with January, to go with each lesson – a nice way to tie this whole reflection thing together, amiright?!
1. You can’t trust anyone but yourself
This year, I’ve seen the worst in people. I’ve watched people go from being someone I adored and looked up to, to people I will never speak to or acknowledge again. I’ve experienced so much deceit, lies, manipulation and disgusting behaviour from people I love, it broke my heart. But the lesson in all of it has been that the only person I can truly trust is myself. When it comes down to it, the only person who will ever have my back 100% is me. In theory, you can trust your family, your friends and your partner but what I saw this year is anyone in your life can do whatever they please and that may not be in your best interests. Seeing people turn like I have this year has really opened my eyes and now, more than ever, I trust myself. I will always trust my instincts, my voice and my beliefs because I never let myself down. That doesn’t mean I have to cut every single person out of my life or anything like that, it just means that at the end of the day, I will trust myself 100% to do what is best for me. Unless I’ve had too much to drink cos drunk me thinks greasy street food, bad dancing and more booze is a good idea (and it’s not!)
2. I’m far smarter than I thought I was
I didn’t do very well at school, it was just a struggle for me. I don’t learn well when someone just tells me what something is and then I have to go away and study it and do an exam. I do, however, learn really well when I’m shown things, have a chance to try them out in a hands-on scenario and get to see how they work to understand the mechanism behind it. I also have this thing where numbers rearrange in my head and I have a hard time perceiving the space between numbers like, I struggle to figure out what time I have to leave to be somewhere because it gets muddled in my head. Of course, all those things meant that school was hard and when I left school, I felt really dumb. I had low self-esteem because of it and truly believed I was stupid for a very long time. Through Little Grey Box and everything that transpired this year, I realise now I’m an intelligent person. I’ve solved some huge problems, found gaps and loopholes in technical situations, outsmarted people and broken down complex situations. It has made me more confident in my own capabilities than ever before and I’m so grateful for it.
3. I’m far stronger than I thought I was
There were moments this year when I couldn’t get out of bed. I was so overwhelmed and utterly exhausted, heartbroken and sad I just couldn’t move. I just… stopped. Those moments didn’t stop and they will continue to happen throughout my life but I’m proud of myself because each and every time, I was able to get back up. I still needed to have those days and had to go through the process of hitting a low point and allowing myself to process it but I recovered each time. I know, now, that I’m far strong than I ever thought I was. I know I can weather some intense stuff and not only survive it but come out the other side better for it. It’s incredibly empowering and the realisation has meant the low points have become less difficult because I know I’ll get through them.
4. I can be a bad-ass when I want to be
One of the huge things to happen this year in my personal life was a moment when I realised nobody was going to help me out of a hard situation. If something was going to happen to improve the situation, I was going to have to do it and that meant taking on a very intelligent man in a position of power. As a younger woman, it can be very intimidating stepping up to a man who is not only older than you but in a far more powerful position. I was sick to my stomach about it but my only options were to do it and have things change or accept the way things were and watch a disaster unfold. I stepped up and took this man on directly, without back-up. I was informed, quick on my feet, powerful and unflinching yet calm and resolved. Not only did I learn a lot about myself at that moment, but I also bested that man in his area of expertise and my god… it felt so good. Love is a powerful motivator and I’m so thankful for that lesson because now I know just how badass I can be when it’s needed.
5. Unconditional love is a powerful thing
Matt will tell you, I’m not one to feel too comfortable in love. I love people in my life and I genuinely love my life, my job and so many other things. But, when it comes to the real, genuine intimacy of loving someone like your partner, parents siblings and family, I struggle with it. It’s the vulnerability and closeness that get me and, as a psychologist once put it very well, I have some trust and commitment issues (don’t we all?!) I guess I’ve always thought that makes me a bad person but this year I learned that’s not true. Unconditional love is incredibly powerful and it manifests in many different ways. This year, I’ve done a lot for the people I love and it’s only now, in December, that I look back and realise just how much I’ve done, how hard it has been and how I’ve done it without question. That’s my version of love and it’s okay that it’s not the same as what I see other people show. I would do anything for the people I love and I’m really happy I’ve been able to experience that. People can say they care and that they’ll do anything for those they love, but I’ve actually seen and experienced this year and I guess I take comfort in knowing that when push comes to shove – I’ll do what needs to be done.
6. I know what I want and I will not compromise
I had a very rough patch over the last few months. I was just exhausted, which left the window open for doubt, fear and insecurity to creep in. I found myself feeling like a failure, questioning my abilities as well as my dreams. In a nutshell, I felt I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my career or, in some regards my life. I was embarrassed, angry, confused and fearful. Anyone who reads my ‘The Week That Was’ posts will already know all about this meltdown haha! I’ve slowly been getting back on my feet and am feeling better each day but the one really interesting thing to come out of it was, despite all my fears, doubts, tears and sadness, I never once wanted to quit. I never once thought about stopping. I’d be upset and vent to Matt but I’d always end it by saying, “But I’m not going to quit. I know this is what I’m meant to do with my life. I have to keep going.” Like I said, I can always trust myself 100% and I’m far stronger than I ever thought.
7. Being a woman is a powerful thing and I now understand it better
I turned 31 this year and saw my little sister turn 17. It’s interesting seeing how younger girls move, operate, dress and think when you’re looking at it from the perspective and experience of your 30’s. Subconsciously, I’ve made changes and adjustments to my inner and outward self over the years as a result of different experiences. When I see my sister do something I wouldn’t, I tense up because I realise she doesn’t know yet what that means to men and the power she has as a woman. That realisation also made me realise I understand my power and being aware of it has helped me tune into it. I’m now more aware of how men look at me, speak to me and interact with me and how my actions and demeanour can influence and guide those situations. Being a woman is a powerful thing but it’s also, sadly, fraught with danger. Now, more than ever, I’m aware of my power and how to wield and restrain it. I guess I’m more self-aware and take great comfort in it and my ability to control it.
8. Change is cyclical
In 2013 I began a huge period of change which led me to re-discover my love of writing, leave my job and commit to Little Grey Box. It has been five years since then and I’ve learned, grown and changed a lot. What I wasn’t expecting, was to experience a few of those 2013 feelings again. I just thought, “Well, I dealt with that and I’ll never feel that way again.” But this year, I’m at the start of another huge period of change for me and it made me realise change is cyclical. It sounds basic but, our whole lives are cyclical. I was afraid and, if I’m honest, felt a bit guilty at first because I have so many things I desired for so long, it didn’t seem justified to not be totally content. But, now I understand it better and accept change is a great thing. I’m looking forward to what this next cycle teaches me and finding out where it takes me.
9. It’s okay for your goals, dreams and desires to change
This one is directly tied to the one above. I felt guilty that I’d achieved so many of the things I set out to when I first started this journey. I felt I was being ungrateful, selfish and complacent because 2013 me would’ve killed to have been in the position of 2018 me. Everything I wanted to happen, happened! It took me a while to work through it but now I know that’s okay. People don’t set goals and then just stop when they achieve them, they set new goals and keep striving. It’s what motivates us! I’m really thankful for all the things I’ve achieved and never take a single moment or opportunity for granted. I’m carrying that energy into the new goals I’ve set myself for this new cycle of my life.
TIP: Explore new countries. Meet new people. Learn new languages. Gain new skills. Discover yourself and live the life you know you deserve. Be more than a tourist and see the world in a meaningful way with Global Work & Travel.
10. It’s okay to go through periods of depression and anxiety
I got hit hard with cyclical bouts of depression and anxiety this year. The more I’ve shared it here on Little Grey Box, the more people have spoken about their own experiences and offered up their support and kindness. It’s taught me that it’s okay to go through these periods of depression and anxiety. It’s also taught me that I can get through them and that they don’t define me.
11. My energy is incredibly powerful
Toward the end of this year, I made the decision to try and treat people how I want to be treated. I decided I want to spread kindness, respect and positivity and by treating others that way, I’d receive it back. It’s a work in progress because we all have our off-days and bad moments but I’m working hard at it. I treat everyone equally, from CEO’s to service staff and, I gotta say, it has made a huge difference to my life. I’ve started talking with people, particularly hard-working service staff, who are having a bad day for a number of reasons, and met their frustration with kindness, patience and really good, upbeat energy and have seen their demeanour change. That’s the power one person can have! By simply being kind and sharing your good energy with someone else, you can turn their whole day around. In each of those situations, something good has come out of it and it’s helped me realise how powerful my energy is and how important it is to use it for the better.
12. You never know what someone is going through
This one is directly tied to the one above and many of the things going on in my personal life this year. There have been so many days I’ve been incredibly stressed, angry, sad, tired and frustrated but have had to push it all down in social and professional situations. Of course, I can’t always contain it and a little squeak of my discontent may sneak out. It made me realise that people can be very good at hiding their struggles when they need to. it also made me realise that I can never truly know what someone else is going through so if someone’s rude or snippy with me, it may not be because they’re a butt-head, it may be that they’re going through one of the hardest times of their life right now and doing whatever they can to hold it together. Again, kindness, patience and respect go a long way.
As we move into a new year, each of us is bound to encounter a fresh set of challenges that will test us, push us to the brink and bring fear, doubt and uncertainty into our lives. But, it will also bring so much joy, laughter, love and excitement too. No matter what comes my way, I’m thankful I’m better prepared because of everything I learned this year. Rather than fearful, I’m stronger than ever before and after a real mother-flipper of a year, know I can handle whatever next year may bring.
Useful travel resources for your next adventure!
As always, our guides are completely free. If you found this post (or anything we do) useful, we’d be grateful if you considered using the affiliate links throughout this post. We’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Rest assured, these are the products and services we love and use ourselves. Thanks for your support! XO Phoebe and Matt.
Agoda – for booking hotels (& homes)
Booking.com – for booking hotels
ING – FREE ATMs worldwide + $0 international transaction fees
Motorhome Republic – for RV rentals
RentalCars.com – for car rentals
SCTI – for travel insurance
SimsDirect – best prepaid travel SIM cards
Surfshark – for online security & VPN (Watch the Netflix libraries of 30 countries incl. USA!)
TourRadar – for booking tours