Always Be Polite and Other Advice from my Latest Birthday

I had a birthday earlier this month. That feels especially important now because I can now say, in every sense, that I am in a new year. Because I really, really needed to be in a new year.

2013 was very hard. Possibly the hardest although there was some stiff competition from 2009 and 2010. I have made a decision that I am not going to dwell on any of that, though, so I won’t get into further details. All I really need to say is that the last five years have been awful in just about every way possible and I am glad to see them go. I got a new camera recently and for this first time in a while I actually feel like photographing things. I’m starting to think in terms of months or even years down the line instead of being mired in getting from day to day. The change, honestly, is astounding–yet another difference you can only see when you look backwards or sideways.

With this new year I feel like I’m a little wiser and maybe a little smarter. I had tried previously to be Unflappable whenever possible. It turns out that is actually impossible in many scenarios even though it was an interesting exercise.

Now I’m just trying to be zen and make my peace with things. That’s where the advice I have to share comes in:

It’s taken a while but I’ve realized it’s much better to not dwell on things beyond my realm of control. People will stay in touch. Or they won’t. This new plan will work. Or it won’t. In the end, whenever the end is, everything will come together. I forgot that somewhere along the way but it is a help to remember.

Now that doesn’t make bad times easier or any more fun. But I’m hoping in the future if I hit another rough patch it might help with the crushing feelings of uselessness and inadequacy. (I won’t rehash but I will say it is only just now–a few months into Shiny New Job–that I can actually see my self-esteem and confidence coming back. I’m generally a confident, self-assured person so let me assure you that several years is a very long time to feel worthless even when you know intellectually it’s absolutely not true.)

One more piece of advice: being polite to absolutely everyone is life changing. In a good way. When things were rough (and when I worked in retail) I noticed there are lot of rude or just inattentive people out there.

I decided I didn’t want to be one of those people. Which, it turned out, was a really easy thing to change. I just decided to be polite to everyone. I thank bus drivers, I wave to Shiny New Job security officers in the morning, I ask cashiers how they are. It’s really easy and even on bad days, it doesn’t cost me a thing. But you never know when it will mean a lot to someone else. Just the other day I asked a worker at a bookstore cafe how she was. I told her it was my first time in the store and we just had a small conversation. No big deal. But her face lit up when I asked how she was because she thought it was so nice that I wanted to hear.

That’s a pretty good return for something that literally costs nothing, isn’t it?

I’ll end here by saying to all of you, dear readers, that if you’re in a good place I hope you can stay there for a nice, long while. And if you aren’t, I hope you get there soon and I have every confidence that you will. It might take a while, and it might not mean much coming from a faceless blogger, but it will get better. Hang in there. (And until then, I hope someone asks how you are today and wishes you well.)

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