32 Life Lessons in 32 Years – Part 1
September – my favourite month of the year. It can boast some of the best weather, with leaves turning golden, skies still blue and a warmth that isn’t scourching, but also not completely absent.
It is a month brimming with new potential as the academic year all over the world picks up again after the long summer break.
And finally, it’s my birthday month and I am ALWAYS excited about my birthday!
Even though the month itself started on a low health wise, there is nothing that can cheer me up as fast as thinking about and preparing for my special day. When I say prepare, I mean reflect on the year I have had so far and planning towards what I want my new life year to look like.
This year, I thought I’d take stock of 32 major life lessons I have learned ahead of me turning 32 in 16 days. As it makes for a long list, I will be splitting them into 5 posts released for the next 3 Saturdays and Wednesdays in the lead up to my birthday.
So, here goes – Part 1 of my 32 Lessons on Love, Life and Leadership from 32 years of living:
1. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…
… that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. “ John 3:16-17
This Scripture is foundational to the Christian faith and therefore also to my personal faith and life. Whatever I go through in life, I am invested in this Scripture and the many others that tie in with this theme of redemption and love. It reminds me that love gives, reconciles and forgives and that is such a powerful truth for me to hold on to and build my life on.
2. Love is patient, love is kind…
This is a well known passage in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, read at many weddings. In line with the 1st lesson in this section, it means this passage is giving us a breakdown of the character of God Himself, not just love, because God is love.
So God is patient, God is kind, God does not envy – this was revelatory to me when I first heard it preached. We often struggle with not understanding the character or nature of God, but it is made very clear in Scripture.
Anytime I’m overwhelmed by the pain and chaos in the world and grapple with the weight of it all, I come back to the Word to remind myself of and root myself in the truth of the goodness and love of God.
3. Boundaries are this girl’s best friend
Although I’m setting professional boundaries well now in my counselling practice, this is still a lesson I am actively learning in my personal life.
I define good personal boundaries as interpersonal rules of engagement that set the context of all my interactions with others having taken my own needs and plans into consideration first. So for example, if I’m planning to meet up with a close friend, I choose a set time of let’s say 3 hours before I need to leave to my next plans and the friend agrees. If that friend is running late, my 3 hour window no longer automatically moves to fit their arrival time as it used to, now their delay it will start reducing our total time together. I used to rationalise that it didn’t matter, I could just move my other appointments around to still fit the 3 hours in, I want to spend time with them too after all. And if it was an unusual circumstance and I could move stuff around, I still would. But if they are 30 minutes, an hour or two hours (welcome to BMT) late every time we meet up, it is my responsibility to make clear my time is precious. I can’t always be available whenever they arrive for however long, or else I subconsciously send the message it’s okay to keep me waiting, as there will never be any repercussions for it. Boundaries are not about being difficult; instead they are an outward expression of your identity, your worth and your standards.
4. Self care is key
Whereas Lesson 1 is more about making time for me not just for others, this lesson is about what I’m actually doing in my ‘me-time’. Counselling clients does not class as ‘me-time’ just because I do it outside of my 9 to 5. Neither does life or business planning, no matter how excited I am about doing either.
Meanwhile, exercise, which I am not so fond of, is a legitimate form of self care. This is because self care has to do with anything that facilitates health and wellbeing, so sleep, a healthy diet, spending time with loved ones would be good examples.
Self care is a lesson I am still learning at the moment, especially as I’ve been sick way more often than is usual for me this year and although this has been primarily due to work stress, it hasn’t helped that I have had no set self-care routine. For too long I have seen self care as the fluffy stuff that I’ll just try and ram in between everything else, but now it is time I take it more seriously and actually make it an essential part of my daily and weekly routine.
5. Excellent leadership requires great emotional intelligence
By now, I’m assuming most people have heard of the concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI) before – if not, here is a brief working definition:
Emotional Intelligence refers to the ability to accurately recognise your own and other’s emotions and use that information to inform your own thinking and behaviour and to affect others in a desired way.
The reason why EI is so important is because no matter the business, we are still dealing with people at some point. If we can’t learn to read ourselves and other people, we can end up being the bull in a china shop, trampling all over precious goods that can never be restored to their original state again i.e. you can’t seem to fix that relationship with the important stakeholder because of what you did/say on x occasion.
Thankfully, this hasn’t happened to me so far as I’ve been consciously investing in growing my EI ever since I came across the term studying psychology 10+ years ago. But I’ve seen others fall into that pit and it’s ugly and unnecessary.
6. “Leaders guide attention” – Daniel Goleman
I have 15+ years of my own experience as a team member and half of them as a manager, and I am continually learning about what makes excellent leadership.
The more I immerse myself in the topics of project and change management, the more this simple statement rings true as a key to excellent leadership. And it has become a personal mantra to me in the past year.
When all hell breaks loose, it is a leader’s responsibility to navigate a way through the chaos until it becomes controllable again. This also means setting expectations for stakeholders and shielding your team from the unnecessary, not urgent and not important stuff that still tries to vie for their attention. It means mapping a critical path through the jungle of change and never letting “everything is a priority” be your battle cry. It means adapting your leadership style to respond skillfully to the fire and empathically to people panicking about it.
I have seen and experienced first hand what happens when leaders don’t follow this truth – think high sickness leave due to stress and burnout; high error rates/poor data quality; not meeting Service Level Agreements; low staff morale; unhappy stakeholders.
So I want to make sure I remember and act on this mantra for the rest of my life.
This is the end of Part 1 of my recap, but be sure to check out the other parts once they are released Wednesdays and Saturdays.