15 Valuable Life Lessons I Learned in 2023

In what I planned to be a yearly tradition with a low likelihood of recurrence, I would like to share a summary of what I learned in 2023.

Our observations highlight the eternal knowledge that happiness is not a goal, but a harmonious dance with gratitude and purpose in the fabric of the year 2023, woven with the threads of life’s many lessons. These major takeaways repeat the fundamental reality that by accepting what each journey teaches us, we discover the profound delight of being.

Preparation is key

Being prepared is an essential habit, similar to arming oneself against life’s uncertainties. It fosters resilience, reduces worry, and ensures a more steady path through adversities, reflecting the adage that preparation is the key to grabbing opportunities and weathering storms.

Whether lining up for a fortnightly WIP call with a client, mastering the tenor lines for a church service, or a regular run the following day, preparation is key.

There were times I did it well, and it boosted my confidence. There were times when I failed, which resulted in a chaotic scramble in which opportunities were lost and challenges became daunting obstacles.

It’s a work in progress and I still have to learn a lot about preparation for 2024.

Journaling brings more benefits than I imagined

As if writing my thoughts on this blog is not enough, I also started to be more consistent with journaling.

Journaling has several advantages, including giving an organised area for self-reflection and introspection. It acts as a therapeutic outlet, assisting in the clarification of ideas and emotions, the reduction of stress, and the enhancement of mental well-being. Furthermore, recording events promotes personal growth by allowing people to identify patterns, make objectives, and acquire useful insights into their own lives.

What used to be a checklist of grocery items to buy or blog topics to write, it’s now like a conversation to myself via this offline platform.

“Today’s trek took an unexpected turn when I chose to travel down a dangerous track that had always piqued my interest. As I handled steep ascents and difficult terrain, my initial apprehension gave way to exhilaration. Along the process, I discovered that taking chances isn’t just about overcoming fear, but also about embracing the beauty of uncertainty.

The hike, however risky, provided beautiful views that I would have missed on safer routes. Each step required mindfulness, teaching me the value of resilience and adaptation in the face of unexpected challenges. The sense of success I had when I reached the top was deep, emphasising that growth frequently occurs on the outskirts of our comfort zones.”

Stop saying life is short; instead, make the most of the time given to you

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste much of it.” – Seneca

Time is a valuable resource that cannot be regained once spent, emphasising the importance of using it wisely to pursue worthwhile endeavours, personal progress, or anything that brings you inner delight. It may be a passion project, a pastime, or some well-deserved downtime.

Respecting other people’s time is also essential, as each individual has a limited supply of this valuable resource. Wasting someone else’s time might be interpreted as a disdain for the importance they place on the moments that comprise their existence. Recognising that time is a common currency requires us to build a feeling of responsibility in our contacts, seeking to be considerate and efficient in our connections.

I’ve graciously declined invitations with the vague “I have other plans” that I don’t think are a good use of my time. It is a personal right because we only have 24 hours a day. In many circumstances, we don’t have enough time to do all we want, so why squander this valuable resource on activities that are lower on your priority list?

Finally, the warning to avoid squandering time, both our own and that of others, serves as a painful reminder to live purposeful lives and to cultivate a culture of mutual respect for the priceless moments we all possess.

I try to be in an appointment at the set time, but I know a few time-wasters in my social circle. Disregarding the time of others is sometimes characterised by a lack of consideration, an inflated sense of self-importance, or a general contempt for the worth of time. Some people demonstrate this attitude by regularly being late for dinner appointments or social functions, exhibiting a disrespect for other people’s schedules and obligations.

A person who consistently arrives late for or extends meetings, or who responds late to a time-sensitive message, for example, not only disrupts the flow of the event, but also demonstrates a lack of respect and professionalism.

Get some patience, and lots of it

Right before my visa expired, we worked on getting a new one with the hope that I will be reunited wih my wife after almost four years of being apart. For one reason or another, we hit snags along the way. The police clearance did not arrive at its destination in time, my wife had a suspected bacterial infection that required further medication, and delayed the medical examinations.

Though disappointed, I can only sigh in acceptance that this is beyond my control and, as a result, I will not squander unneeded emotional outbursts as a result of the event.

I was hoping to see her before our wedding anniversary, her birthday, my birthday, and Christmas. No, none of them came true.

Patience is a virtue that enables people to traverse problems with calm resilience, cultivating the ability to persevere in the face of adversity without succumbing to impatience or impulsivity. Patience training improves one’s ability to make meaningful decisions, create stronger connections, and deal with life’s inherent uncertainties, all of which contribute to personal growth and a more peaceful living.

People ask about it, and I respond with standard, “I have no update.”

Hopefully, that response will be upgraded soon.

Know when to back off or say no

In my multiple attempts to complete a hiking route alone, I encountered the traditional fork in the road: should I continue or should I turn back?

One great example occurred on a winter trip on Royal National Park’s 11.4-kilometer Karloo Track via Engadine Track Loop. I arrived at the starting point around 2:30 from a 2-hour journey. My progress has been hindered by unmarked routes and some scrambling. I discovered I wasn’t halfway through, and it’s 4:30pm, with less than an hour of daylight remaining.

Should I proceed or should I retrace my steps? Despite fears of not making it out of the wilderness before darkness came, I boosted my pace. I slipped over a creek and lost track of the GPS map, with battery draining. But persistence won. Soaked from waist down, I conquered the trail and left Engadine in the dark.

In hindsight, it was the right move to make, but I could have just backed off and retry another time.

Life is tougher than it used to be

Because of an abundance of complicated elements, life today is sometimes regarded as more difficult than it formerly was. While technology innovations have provided extraordinary advantages, they have also presented new concerns such as information overload and the constant urge to be digitally connected. Economic uncertainty and the changing nature of employment lead to increased stress, making it increasingly difficult for individuals to find stable and meaningful jobs.

Christmas greetings used to be that old “Merry Christmas!” cliche, but economic difficulty may have driven people to be more audacious. One response to my Facebook story: “pinaskuhan ko, bisan gcash 0906xxxxxxx” (you can send Christmas gift to my gcash account).

Furthermore, social media-fueled societal expectations and the quest of perfection can foster feelings of inadequacy and lead to mental health difficulties. A globalised world fosters connection, but it also exposes individuals to a broader range of expectation and complex relationships.

Hearing my wife lament about how difficult it is to stretch her budget and about the effects of the warming planet is heartbreaking.

You may be alone, but not lonely

Embracing solitude as a valuable learning experience promotes self-discovery and critical thinking. While belonging to a group can provide comfort and camaraderie, it does not protect you from loneliness, unwelcome gossip, or the risk of accidentally harming others through collective acts. Solitary moments allow for introspection, autonomous thought, and the development of a better awareness of oneself, providing essential lessons that group dynamics may not always allow for.

Being alone allows individuals to better understand their feelings, desires, and personal beliefs by providing a space for self-reflection. Solitary periods foster creativity since the absence of outside influences frequently stimulates new thoughts and innovative thinking.

Furthermore, being alone can improve self-reliance and independence by teaching individuals to make decisions and manage obstacles without the assistance of others. It functions as a mental well-being recharge, providing a break from social stimulation and allowing for relaxation and renewal. Furthermore, solitude can improve appreciation for meaningful relationships, as time spent alone often highlights the significance of true connections with others.

As of this writing, I completed 26 hikes in 2023, and almost all of them were in my solitude. Companions are always welcome, but so far I find comfort and freedom doing it alone.

Solo travel brings unique benefits…

During my Christmas break, I decided to make full use of my time exploring places and doing things I haven’t done before.

Travelling alone builds independence by challenging people to make decisions, solve difficulties, and navigate unfamiliar territory on their own. This increased self-reliance not only boosts confidence but also improves problem-solving abilities. I am more likely to ask people around me than when I have a companion, I learned how to conserve resources like battery power, and food when I am trekking in a remote location.

Also, I don’t have to rely on other people’s opinions on where to eat, how to pace, and when to take a break.

Furthermore, solo travel allows you to meet new people and build connections without the distraction of familiar companions, resulting in richer and more honest conversations. Because plans might alter, it teaches flexibility, and the capacity to embrace ambiguity becomes a crucial life skill.

.. and strangers are friends you haven’t met yet

As my train neared Bowral and I prepared to depart, I encountered Mr and Mrs Murray, an elderly couple sat near the exit door. I indicated to assist them because they had three suitcases and shoulder bags between them. The train, however, left the station as we neared the exit door. The wife, who was stranded at the exit door, apologised for causing me to miss my destination. We got off at the unmanned Burradoo station and learned that the pair was from Broome and had flown in to Sydney via Perth. They had already lost three hours owing to the time change, but the cheerful Mrs Murray continued to talk to me as though I was a long-lost friend.

While waiting for their friend Div to pick them up, we had a quick conversation about our plans in town. Our brief experience validated my view that strangers are undiscovered friends.

If you’re surrounded by toxic people, step away from them. You might realize that a committed friend is just a smile or a greeting away.

Strangers can become friends because, despite our differences, we frequently share common experiences that bring us together in unexpected ways. Discovering similar stories can draw individuals together, transforming strangers into friends. All that is required is a simple friendly gesture.

Every conversation should be an opportunity to learn

Every conversation, no matter how informal or meaningful, gives an opportunity for growth and learning, depending on your conversation partners’ openness and how the discussion is managed. The exchange of ideas has the ability to provide insights, broaden perspectives, and increase knowledge. Active listening encourages people to absorb information, explore alternative points of view, and even challenge their own biases. Even in seemingly normal interactions, subtle nuances and shared experiences can reveal new layers of knowledge, enabling a lifelong learning process about oneself and the world.

Ryan from my choir group and Tito Jing from MFC are examples of those friends I enjoy conversing, where free flowing knowledge and advice is worth the time spent.

Conversations also provide a forum for the exchange of varied perspectives and expertise. For instance, I ask about Ryan’s perspective on sleeping patterns of his students and handling discipline in school, while I seek Tito Jing’s advice on interpersonal relationships.

Interacting with people from all origins and walks of life provides access to an abundance of wisdom and perspectives. Each individual contributes a distinct set of knowledge and viewpoints to the table, strengthening the collective pool of wisdom. Accepting every interaction as a learning opportunity fosters a culture of intellectual curiosity and empathy, resulting in a dynamic atmosphere in which the exchange of ideas becomes a strong catalyst for personal and collective progress.

A real friend shows up in time of need

Losing a mother can feel like retreating into your own emotional shell, consumed by grief. True friends, however, shine through this darkness, offering unwavering support with condolences, prayers, and even financial help.

Friends that stick by you through life’s ups and downs are vital pillars of support, providing a sense of stability in an unpredictable world. Their continuous presence throughout both happy and sad times demonstrates the power of long-lasting bonds, giving a source of comfort, understanding, and stability. These friends, who ride the waves of highs and lows, not only share in the joys, but also offer solace and encouragement in times of adversity, adding enduring friendship to the fabric of our lives.

Yet, there may be a sense of disappointment with those you consider friends but who, for various reasons, seem to fade away, highlighting the importance of tempered expectations during challenging times.

Adopting a positive approach towards the silver lining rather than scrutinising fair-weather friends acknowledges the complexities of individual struggles. It recognises that everyone suffers from their own struggles and that demonstrations of support might sometimes appear discreetly or through silent prayers.

Adopting this viewpoint encourages empathy and understanding, allowing for the observation that people demonstrate caring in a variety of ways, even if their difficulties restrict the scope of their outward assistance. This approach promotes optimism by emphasising thankfulness for genuine connections and acts of kindness received, regardless of their size or significance.

Gift-giving is not my love language

As I unboxed the gifts I received in 2023 and previous years, I reflected on the fact why I am comfortable not giving gifts and feel awkward receiving them. While my wife is an avid gift-giver, I struggle to picking which gift to give someone. The hesitation might stem from a desire to offer something meaningful and practical and the fear that the recipient may not find the gift received from events like Secret Santa genuinely valuable.

  • Usefulness: I am concerned that the recipient will not find the gift useful or meaningful, resulting in a sense of waste. They may be conscious about avoiding products that may go unused or discarded. I’ve received gifts that I didn’t use after unwrapping them.
  • Environmental Impact: People may be discouraged from engaging in gift-giving customs due to concerns about environmental sustainability. I am aware of the environmental impact of making, packaging, and disposing of things. That is why I like my office’s gift of grocery/Amazon vouchers, things such as socks and handwash, or experience gifts such as Spotify subscriptions, because the giver is almost certain the receiver will find them helpful, even if they are regifted. So not receiving a gift benefits both myself, the giver, and the environment.
  • Clutter: Coming from Hong Kong, where apartments are small, I value a minimalist lifestyle and am hesitant to contribute to the accumulation of possessions for others. Fear of contributing to someone’s clutter or load may make individuals hesitant to provide tangible gifts, especially if I am unsure if my gift would be useful at all.
  • Regifting: I can’t blame people for regifting unwanted gifts for practical, financial, or environmental reasons. Regifting can make givers feel unloved since it implies that the initial gift did not correspond to the recipient’s preferences or needs, possibly indicating a lack of thought in the selection. It could imply that the initial effort put into selecting the present was neither respected or acknowledged.

You don’t always need to give everyone a reason

The notion that you don’t always have to justify your actions to everyone emphasises the importance of personal boundaries and the freedom to make decisions without feeling forced to justify them to others.

Silence or refusing to explain oneself can be an effective form of self-preservation or privacy. For example, refusing a social invitation without explaining why can be a good way to prioritise personal well-being without going into needless detail. Similarly, making certain professional decisions without providing comprehensive arguments might demonstrate independence and confidence in one’s choices.

While it may elicit guesses and comments from others, it is crucial to realise that such are their rights. You have no control over what they say, but you do have power over how you respond to it.

It is okay to quit

“Success does not lie in sticking to things. It lies in picking the right thing to stick to and quitting the rest.” Annie Duke

The word ‘quit’ can be unfairly associated with giving up or a loser’s mentality.

In fact, it is an acceptance that occasionally abandoning a project or endeavour is a valid and important decision for one’s personal well-being or growth. It recognises that quitting may be an act of self-awareness and courage, allowing people to refocus their energy towards endeavours that are more aligned with their aims, values, or changing circumstances.

It could be a new year’s resolution to learn a new musical instrument or a new language, on which you have expended sufficient energy and time but have made little progress. It could also be something you want to do, but it no longer fits into your plans or interferes with other life objectives.

Doing so is acceptable, if not praiseworthy, because it demonstrates self-awareness, adaptability, and the guts to prioritise one’s well-being or pursue more gratifying alternatives. Accepting that a specific endeavour is not contributing to one’s personal growth or pleasure shows maturity and the ability to rethink goals and priorities.

It creates new chances and allows people to redirect their energy towards activities that are more in line with their changing objectives and ideals. Finally, letting go may be a significant act of self-care and a step towards a more honest and meaningful life when done wisely and purposefully.

Enjoy life

After a long, grinding year, you deserve a good break and a pause to enjoy life. This is exactly what I did in December.

Watch a baseball game, watch “Home Alone” at the cinema, take day trips to Windsor, Bowral, and Gosford, and explore the night skies with a telescope in the Blue Mountains.

Accepting life’s unpredictability without precise planning may be a freeing and joyous experience. Allow yourself to have a “cheat” dinner without feeling guilty, savouring the unexpected gastronomic joys that come your way. Explore the joy of spontaneity by taking unexpected journeys to local areas, whether it’s a hidden treasure in your city or an “accidental” road trip to a neighbouring town.

Find consolation in the simplicity of a day spent reading a book in the park, letting the pages unroll naturally. Accept last-minute invites and social events, savouring the bonds formed by spontaneous meetings. By letting go of the desire for a strict schedule, you open the door to serendipity, enabling life’s surprises to become the source of your greatest joys and memories.

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