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10 Important Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Reading My Past Journals

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10 Important Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Reading My Past Journals

I was sixteen or seventeen years old, drinking coffee in my habitual diner. I scrawled into my journal, as the waitress came by to refill my cup of diner-strength (read weak) coffee. She asked if I was keeping a diary. When I told her yes, she smiled and said, “That’s so important. Keep it up.” I started being more diligent about it after that, and I’m so glad I did.

Getting things out onto paper helped me stop obsessing over them, or just helped me vent in a safe way.

Looking back, I’m grateful for the breadcrumbs to my psyche I laid out for myself. Sifting through my past, I’ve found enduring truths about who I am and how I can improve my interaction with life now.

Here are 10 important life lessons I’ve learned from reading my past journals.

1. Things always seem way worse in the moment

As I go back over the situations I struggled through, I remember feeling really crumby, desolate even, over things that don’t seem like a big deal now. As time has marched on and I’ve come further along my way, things that used to seem huge fade into the inconsequential past.

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All that emotional pain and agony has become something I can barely recall; sometimes it even makes me smile to think of how worked up I was over silly things.

2. Not all relationships are meant to last forever

The people who have come into my life formed who I am in various ways. Wrapped up in my current day-to-day, I sort of forget that there are people out there, whom I don’t talk to anymore, who really know me. I feel autonomous and self-contained a lot of the time, but I’m not. I have affected people and people have affected me deeply.

In some ways it’s saddening to realize that you’ve connected with others on such a level, and you may never see them again. But the truth is, it’s okay. Some relationships serve a purpose during a season and then when that season passes, it’s normal and healthy to move on. They are what they are and when they’re not anymore, it’s really okay. You don’t have to stay connected to everyone.

3. It’s easy to demonize people when you’re hurt

Reading over past scenarios, I can see through my own hurt feelings and spot potential misunderstandings. In the moment I was blinded by what I wanted, what I was afraid of, or I simply had a myopic perspective based on my own mental maturity at the time.

Looking back, I can completely understand other’s motivations for things which seemed nothing but hurtful at the time. It makes sense. They weren’t trying to hurt me, they weren’t just huge jerks for the sake of it. There were circumstances I couldn’t grapple with; that’s all.

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4. It’s easy to idealize people when you’re infatuated

Conversely, there were people in my life whom I had on a pedestal and repeatedly tried to make relationships work with, when it really made no sense. Caught up in infatuation, or wanting to fit in with a particular group, I would excuse and dismiss obvious signs that showed incompatibility or pure disinterest.

I would try to force friendships or romances where there simply wasn’t a natural draw. From there I would beat myself up over never feeling accepted by these people, when I should have just accepted that they weren’t all I imagined them to be or at least not in how they related to me.

5. It’s important to write the good things down

As cathartic as journaling can be, one of the best experiences I have reading over old entries is when I come across something funny or just a nice day or happy time in my life. Sometimes I have completely forgotten about some really beautiful holiday I had with family, or a hilarious phrase one of my nephews said, and I get to recall it through my diary.

I wish I had written the good stuff down more than the bad stuff I was dealing with. I’m doing this more now.

6. Your biggest looming challenges will be accomplishments one day

It’s so encouraging to read about things I was so nervous about that I couldn’t sleep, which are now in the books. Things like going to college, getting to travel or moving to a completely foreign city were all intimidating things I wanted to accomplish so badly; now I’ve done them.

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I still have a ton more learning to do, literally thousands more destinations to visit and don’t see myself settling for just the one foreign city, but my new goals seem so much more achievable when I reflect on the fact that I’ve already conquered so many.

7. Mental maturity develops gradually

As insightful as I thought I was at the time, every single time I go over my old journal entries, the me who wrote my thoughts and opinions about things, seems like a younger and younger child. There’s nothing wrong with the way I was thinking back then, it was just where I was or as far as my mind had expanded at that stage in my life.

This is encouraging because any time I feel overwhelmed, I remember that there was a time when I would’t have been able to deal with things that are old hat to me now.

8. The path to your true passion can be full of detours (and that’s okay!)

There was a time when I wanted to be an actress, then a singer, I think a doctor was in there somewhere too. One consistency was my desire to explore. I was always curious and wanted to to see and experience more; to never feel like I had limited myself. In the long run, I’ve found that what I really am is a writer, but it wasn’t always clear from the beginning (even though my incessant journaling and writing stories might have tipped me off).

I studied film in college and then toured for a while playing in a band with my best friends. Through all of these ventures I was finding what fit. Everything I engaged along my path lead me closer to where I am now, to knowing more exactly what it is I’m shooting for.

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9. Finding patterns in your behavior over the years can help you check your behavior now

Like any habit, it can be difficult to recognize in the heat of the moment. The principle of writing things down and analyzing them to find patterns is recommended for people who are trying to pay attention to what they eat. It’s easy to convince yourself that you eat “pretty healthy” but when you actually write everything down and then review it, you might be surprised with the amount of not-so-healthy things slipping into your menu.

The same thing applies to other behaviors, like relational interactions. Everything seems justified in the moment, and in retrospect you can always fudge details in your favor. But when I’ve written it down and then read over it again later, I can see recurring ways I didn’t deal with things as well as I could have, or said things I didn’t need to say. It’s eye opening, and helps me check myself when I’m in a current conundrum.

10. You have to do it yourself

I’ve found that a lot of the time I was waiting for something: waiting to be picked, discovered, revealed. Not necessarily by any person in particular, but almost by life itself. I waited for things to unfold instead of diving in and figuring it out myself.

No one is going to tell you what it is you really want in life and exactly how to get there. How could they? It’s hard enough for a lot of us to nail it down with certainty for ourselves. Stop waiting. If something interests you, dig in and find out all you can. Through this refining and exploring, you’ll become more focused and life will open up in a way you couldn’t have experienced otherwise.

Featured photo credit: Close-up of a young girl writing into her diary, in the park via shutterstock.com

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Last Updated on November 18, 2021

10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

  • honest
  • reliable
  • competent
  • kind and compassionate
  • capable of taking the blame
  • able to persevere
  • modest and humble
  • pacific and can control anger.

The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

Abigail Van Buren

3. How does this person take the blame?

Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

5. Read their emails.

Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

  • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
  • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
  • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
  • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
  • Too many question marks can show anger
  • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

6. Watch out for the show offs.

Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

8. Their empathy score is high.

Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

“One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

Stendhal

 10. Avoid toxic people.

These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

  • Envy or jealousy
  • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
  • Complaining about their own lack of success
  • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
  • Obsession with themselves and their problems

Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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