Things I learned in 2014.

2014 was a year for hindsight being 20/20. I hit a lot milestones this past year, but I was blinded to them because I didn't open my eyes to them, or maybe because they weren't the milestones I expected to meet. It wasn't until some self-reflection that I realized that I've moved forward in strides, rather than standing still the way I've felt throughout the past 12 months. Here are a number of lessons I learned at the close of this year. I hope they inspire you to find your hindsight lessons, too.

1. Find what you love and make it happen. Life provides us with a multitude of pathways; some of which are secret passages we have to seek out. Things seem so obvious when you're looking at them on a map- this goes there, that leads here. But being faced with our lives head on creates a lot of confusion and non-compliance to the rules. Sometimes when you're there, in the moment, you realize that you're following a map to a place you were only headed for the sake of following the dotted line. I think that one of the most beautiful points in our lives is when we realize who we want to be, and not who we're expected to be. I realized this year that I want to see the world, especially the obscure places not many people try to go. I'm learning more and more that I'm fascinated by the culinary world around me, and also that I want to learn as much about world history as possible. Some of these things are interests that I've held, others are new. But it's been really exciting to discover things that I'm anxious to learn more about, especially since it takes a lot to gain and then hold my attention. I'm not saying I'm going to become a travel-food-history journalist, but I expect 2015 to be a year to further develop those passions, and I can't wait to see where they'll lead me.

2. Let your friendships flow, and chose to receive and let go with love. From my late 20's until now, I've had a multitude of people who have simply gone other directions with their lives. And it's often been heartbreaking for me to let go of those people, some of whom I've known for decades. But trying to keep them in my life is much more heartbreaking, as we attempt, time after time, to force an outdated friendship. The people who want to be in your life will be, and the people who can't, or sometimes wont, will no longer hold a place as anything more than a memory. That's okay, and while you may feel hurt at losing someone you care about, they once gave you a beautiful friendship. It's important to honor that by letting go with love. The proactive step is to make time for the people who make time for you, and dedicate your energy to developing those friendships. Nurturing friendships with those whose lives are in line with your own allows both parties to expand on the commonalities that brought you together, helping you each to grow as the people you're aiming to be.

3. Let love breathe. One of the biggest things I learned this past year was how to love other people by allowing them space to breathe. This was one of my biggest "hindsight" lessons, because I experienced some strikingly similar situations in 2014 that I'd once been on the other end of. I think that we often tell ourselves that we need to nurture love, and that is true. But we also need to allow love to nurture us, meaning that we need to allow others the opportunity to give of themselves. It not only gives us a chance to relax and not be "on" all of the time, but it shows faith in the other person by telling them that you trust them to steer things for a while. I've had relationships where I smothered and tried too hard, feeling like perfect couples wanted to share every experience and to be together as often as possible. Now I see how impractical that really is. I want to be in a reciprocal relationship, where we compliment each other's lives, but aren't each other's lives. Two people can't grow together if they're stifling each other from growing individually.

4. Never stop learning. Does anyone remember The Newlyweds TV show with Jessica Simpson? It was during this really unfortunate time in television (which may still be happening but I just stopped watching), when it became endearing to be a stupid girl. We all felt sympathetic for these adorable little idiots and they, I suspect, played it up even more. I'll admit, I played the part from time to time. The past few years, 2014 in particular, were about going the opposite direction. Maybe part of it is just me getting older, but I want to know what is going on in the world around me. I obviously care about making sure my hair isn't a mess and if I can buy pants that make my ass look good, right on. But I stopped subscribing to silly make-up magazines and scouring the US Weekly website, and started paying attention to the news and reading actual books. I guess I also just got tired of reciting the same useless crap. And yes, some of the stuff I read consists of silly anecdotes and bread recipes, but I seek out things that better my life rather than fogging it with idiocy.

5. You're in charge of the way you feel. I've spent a good portion of my life as a victim to my emotions. I often feel sad, or lonely, or jealous. Other times, I feel optimistic and capable. I'm incredibly superstitious and vulnerable to outward influences on my feelings, and maybe I'll always be that way. However, this year I found that most of the times when I've felt sad, I'm allowing myself to feel sad. When I've felt lethargic or trapped, I'm allowing myself to feel that way. I've had several discussions with close friends as of late, many revolving around unfortunate things happening around them. In those scenarios, there isn't much to be done about bad things happening, but you can always control the way you respond to those bad things. And your choice response to the world around you is what makes you the person you choose to be, not the person your world chooses. It's sort of empowering, to know that you can choose to change your perspective, rather than fall victim to an unchangeable world around you.

The funny thing about 2014 is that while it was happening, I felt really confused. I had ups and downs at my job, I reignited some friendships and disengaged from others, and while I stayed home more this year than I ever have before- I also traveled more than I have during any other year of my life. It's hard to see the truth when it's staring you in the face, and I didn't recognize this year for what it was until near the end of it- but it was one of my biggest years for growth in my life. I don't know if I will ever feel my age, and at 31 I don't know how "on par" I am with other people in that bracket. But I also feel more like "me" than I have in a long time. Maybe ever. Which is a good thing, considering that I'll be "me" for the rest of my life.

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