25 x 25 (Five Lessons I Learned)
You know how sometimes something is a cliché but it is also completely accurate? Well, that's how I feel about labeling myself a lifelong learner. It sounds like one of those things people just say but I really do love pursuing knowledge not just formally but also in the day to day experiences that really determine the direction of my life.
1) Don't get ready, get started
I'm a thinker; an analyzer; a planner; an organizer. None of these aspects of my personality lend themselves well to spontaneity. When I was younger my parents and siblings would bemoan how slowly I went about basically everything. I've always had a penchant for taking in as much information as I think necessary before making a decision. Unfortunately, I tend to do that for EVERY decision from relatively uncritical decisions like which candy bar to buy to fairly substantial ones like which graduate program to choose. Over the years I've had a love/hate relationship with functioning in this way. At times, I've found it useful to balance out friends and family members who tend towards the 'leap before looking' side of things. And at times, I've found myself almost paralyzed from making a decision and often walking away from all of the options at hand. I credit spending more time with two of my more-spontaneous siblings over the past year with helping me to break away a little from the 'over'-analytical side of me. As I was expressing how much time and expertise I thought it took to start a baking blog, my older brother advised 'don't get ready, get started'. Since then, it's become a kind of mantra for me. I can't pretend I've become an expert 'action-taker' (whatever that is) but I have made progress! This blog is a result of that. I ditched an effort that was failing; started this blog, and in a little over a month of work it will be live. This in contrast to my previous attempt which on and off, I worked on for over a year, and never launched! So I'm not at all advising that a total lack of preparation is a path to success. I've just learned to appreciate the benefit of making decisions, moving forward, and filling in details along the way.
2) Have big goals, take small steps
I promise 'motivational speaker' is not among my career goals but these short phrases are really accurate for portraying some of the life lessons I've learned over the past year. Inspiration is wonderful, aspirations are admirable, and goals are critical but perhaps as important are the steps we take between where we are now and where we want to be. This past year I set goals of acquiring an intermediate level of French, of being accepted into the Peace Corps, of memorizing a chapter in the Bible, of reading a dozen books, and of starting a blog. None of those things plausibly take place in a single day or even several days. As an avid list maker, I sometimes fall victim to the instant gratification I receive simply from writing down my goals. I've gotten out of the habit of sharing goals with any but a few people who I know will keep me accountable as that is another barrier from actually taking action toward achieving them. As a pianist, I know from practice that only daily, regular, and focused actions taken on a small scale will result in achieving results that are worth standing behind. I've been reminded of that over and over in the past year. A year goes by so quickly and I want to take advantage of every day to take some small action that will help me become the best version of myself.
3) Life is short. Be intentional about building relationships
I've experienced a lot of grief this year with the loss of a grandparent I knew well, a grandparent I never met, and a person who was like a grandparent to me. They lived, respectively, into their 80s, 90s, and one was over 100 so at 25 years of age, I'm in awe of everything they saw and did during their lifetimes and observing their lives, I gained a deeper appreciation for how critical relationships are. The quality of each of their lives was based on the quality of the relationships they had with other people. This past year I've been more intentional about spending as much time as possible with my family and friends; from taking my nephews to the aquarium to flying across the country to visit my aunts in Los Angeles. As I get closer to the start of my Peace Corps service I realize how much I'm going to miss the relatively easy access I have to everyone I hold dear.
4) Meaningful work is critical
Each of my work experiences prior to moving to Atlanta had been challenging in different ways but all interesting and rewarding growth opportunities. From starting my own piano studio at 16 years old to managing upward of 75 residents in grad school to writing and editing English textbooks for students in East and West Africa, I've always embraced the value of hard work and the reward of a job well done. And I realize, now, that I've taken for granted the true joy of fulfilling work. Cliché it may be but wrong it is not; we too often don't appreciate the value of something until we find ourselves deprived of its presence. That was true for me in the past year where I struggled to find joy in two very different but ultimately untenable work environments. I left each feeling both relieved to have ended those chapters, grateful that I had the option to do so, and determined to be more appreciative of work that aligns with my professional and personal values and provides me with a sense of focus and purpose.
If you've made it this far, congratulations! We are departing from the abstract and philosophical to embrace the concrete and tactile. One of the most enjoyable lessons I learned this past year was how to make sourdough bread. I can't pinpoint the exact moment when I decided I wanted to add sourdough to my baking skills lexicon but once I did, I was all in! I purchased the wonderful Tartine cookbook authored by one of San Francisco's finest bread makers and got to work on my sourdough starter. If you're not familiar with the chemistry of bread, sourdough is a remarkably simple recipe and the starter requires very little manipulation. Flour and water are combined and nature is allowed to take its course in producing wild yeast. Easy right? Not so much. I tried and failed four times to get my sourdough starter...started. I ended up with a floury watery slurry that looked weird and smelled weird and did not produce the yeast I was looking for. After much trial and error, I determined the missing factor, which is perhaps the most critical, was temperature control. Solving for that issue gave me a bubbling, growing, happy starter from which I made two separate batches of sourdough (one of which is the cover photo for this post). While I am by no means an expert, I am thrilled to have acquired the preliminary knowledge for what I anticipate will be a lifelong pursuit.
This is the fifth part of a five-part series documenting my 25 x 25; twenty-five things I read, tried, saw, did, and learned before my 25th birthday. Check out the rest of the series below: