I’m 27 years old and I’m still constantly learning things that I thought I’d never need to learn. Sometimes we are hit in the face with realizations that make us think, “I should have known that!” I’ve recently learned 5 life lessons that seem like common-sense and could have been extremely helpful if I’d known these things sooner.
1. Your coworkers are not your friends.
All human beings have a need for companionship. Even the most introverted people out there have the desire to make friends. It’s who we are.
As adults, it’s much more difficult to make new friends. You don’t have school to meet people in class, there aren’t many grown-up “extra curricular activities” where you can meet like-minded individuals (and if there are, you don’t have as much time to attend them), and friend-making apps are just awkward. I kind of think this is why people get married– for a 24/7 bestie.
Anyway, the only place you see people and spend most of your time is at work. Unfortunately though, your coworkers are not people you should see as your friends. Why? Well, the work environment is, with all due respect, a place of constant competition. Although humans are wired to find companionship, we are also wired to survive. Therefore, everyone you work with is looking out for one person–and one person only–themselves.
You may think you can trust your coworkers and maybe you generally can. However, if there comes a time where you stand in a coworker’s path to success, you’ll be under the bus before you even get to the stop. In other words, “Don’t f*ck with my paycheck.”
Ever wonder why you’re the only one who puts forth effort to maintain a “friendship” with your coworker outside of the workplace? It’s simple: Your coworkers are not your friends.
2. Just because you are comfortable with something, doesn’t mean that everyone else is comfortable with it.
Maybe to the more “woke” of us or even to those who are simply more aware of their surroundings, this is a big no-brainer. I, on the other hand, apparently have been existing in my own imaginary bubble where everyone agrees all the time for 27 years. So something I have learned about the hard way is: *NEWS FLASH!* not everyone is lax about most things.
Look, I’m not saying that I’m a go-with-the-flow type of person at all. I’m actually the opposite most of the time. However, I’ve realized recently that I see MANY things as “no big deal” that the majority of other people identify as important or even personal! Here are some of my experiences:
a) I’m not saying that I’m unprofessional, but…I’m not very professional: I’ve been in the workforce for almost 4 years now (yikes) and I’m still trying to getting a grasp on what it means to represent yourself professionally. There are obvious things that I understand, like “don’t wear a crop top to work” or “don’t flip off your boss,” but damn, there are way more rules that I actually didn’t realize were important. For example, when I worked at The United Nations (don’t get too starry-eyed; it was a mouse infested basement), I wore heels everyday because it made me feel like an adult for some reason. However, I’d forget everyday how much heels actually hurt your feet, so I’d take off my shoes under my desk. No harm, no foul, right? Right…until one day I didn’t even think about it and got up to give my boss something across the office in my bare feet. Halfway to her desk I realized I was shoe-less, but instead of turning around I just thought to myself “oh well, it’s no big deal.” BOY WAS I WRONG THOUGH because as soon as my boss saw my feet she chewed me out for being unprofessional. Okay…so wearing shoes is a big deal. Got it.
Unfortunately, I’ve been caught off-guard by breaking other professional norms too though: putting my feet on another chair (apparently showing the bottom of your shoes to someone is an insult in some cultures, by the way, eeeeek), chewing gum while teaching, wearing a beanie to work EVEN THOUGH I was having a bad hair day, being 30 seconds late to literally every meeting ever, not replying to e-mails in a timely fashion, accidentally calling my boss “dude” or the lovely few times I’ve accidentally let a curse word slip out when talking to my boss (no kidding– one time I overslept for work and woke up confused by a call from my D.O.O. and my first word of the day was a very loud “FUUUUUUUU**).
b) I’m an open book; one could argue that I’m too open: To put it bluntly, I don’t really give a rat’s ass about secrecy. Oh, we just met? Here’s all of my daddy issues. Let me tell you about how I’m an alcoholic, and maybe even read you a long list of my flaws. Look at all the different medications I’m on to try and keep me stable!! Incredibly embarrassing stories? Happy to entertain you. What else do you not really want to know about me?
The funny thing is that I’m only exaggerating A LITTLE BIT, and my shameless approach to life has gotten me into some trouble (shocker). Some of my actual friends have gotten upset with me because I’ve assumed that they also had no shame. One time a friend of mine (btw, at this time we’d been friends for over 2 years) was talking about how she was living with her boyfriend at his parents’ house, and I laughed and asked “how in the world are you guys able to have sex with his parents next door!?” Seems like a harmless and humorous question to me, but it offended her that I’d even ask about her sex life. I genuinely couldn’t wrap my head around why she was so uncomfortable with my question, but that’s because if she had asked me that, I’d probably have given her more details than she asked for. Who cares?! Well, she cares, and I’m sure there are many other people who feel the same way she does.
I have lots of other stories about times where I’ve assumed that my friends or even acquaintances or coworkers think exactly the same way I do, when in fact they do not, and I’ve triggered something unknowingly. I’ve gotta’ stop assuming shit, dude.
3. Saying “I’m sorry” too much actually makes the phrase lose its value.
I won’t go super into detail on this one since Emily wrote a whole article about why saying sorry kind of sucks, which I’ll shamelessly plug right here. But in short, I’m constantly apologizing for things that don’t need to be apologized for. It’s mostly stuff like, “sorry I suck” or “sorry for crying,” but am I actually sorry for feeling the way that I feel? Maybe I’m sorry for myself, but apologizing to someone else only makes me look weak, and then when I apologize for something REAL, it doesn’t seem significant. Learn when to say sorry and when to just be confident.
4. It’s not all about you.
I’m not a pre-teen in a graphic t-shirt that reads “It’s all about me” in big bold lettering. I also don’t explicitly say or think that the world revolves around me. No one does! However, I know that I’m not the only one who thinks that everyone is out to get me. This is what what I mean when I say that it’s not all about you.
For example, say that you’re walking down the street and decide to look down at your phone to check your e-mails. As your eyes are down, you accidentally bump into a woman, making her iced coffee fall out of her hand, spill onto her blouse and all over the ground. The woman immediately curses you out and calls you “ignorant” or “careless.” This sets you into either anger, irritability or negative self-talk. Maybe you were checking your e-mail because your boss just chewed you out for not replying to e-mails in a timely manner. The woman calling you “careless” and “ignorant” now triggered your own fears of being just that, even though you were only trying your best to fix a problem that originally made you feel that way! You think to yourself, “This b*tch doesn’t know what I’m going through! She can buy another coffee, but I won’t be able to buy anything when I lose my job!” or “I guess I can’t do anything right!!”
This is an example of making this negative interaction about yourself. We’re all guilty of this! Instead, trying asking yourself why this woman reacted the way she did. Maybe the blouse you ruined was a gift she got from a friend who just passed away. Maybe her bank account only had enough money to buy that coffee and she used it on that because it made her happy and helped her forget her financial troubles. Maybe SHE was running late to work where she was ALSO just chewed out by her boss for timeliness and now you’ve slowed her down and made her look even more of a mess. The point here is that we don’t really know what other people are going through. We also need to evaluate our own part in things. If you hadn’t been looking at your phone, you wouldn’t have spilled her coffee in the first place. This is a small example, but it can be applied to anything.
Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own problems that we assume everything bad happening to us is directed toward us personally. This is not always true! Think about how much you think about yourself: your position at work, your relationship, how others might view you, your depression/anxiety, your family, your goals, etc. Something I never thought of was this– everyone else is also thinking about themselves most of the time.
I used to walk around worried that everyone hated me or that they were all plotting my demise (sometimes I still do). What was incredibly liberating is realizing that in reality, no one is thinking about me. Everyone is thinking about their own stuff, just like I’m thinking about mine.
On the same note, how many times have you hurt or wronged someone else because you were wrapped up in your own bullsh*t? The iced coffee example applies here too. We are not the center of the universe; it’s crazy to me that I never fully understood this simple fact, especially because I’ve never thought of myself as a selfish person.
5. Sometimes when you think that the universe is out to get you, it might actually be you sabotaging yourself.
This connects a bit to the previous lesson about how the bad things that happen to you aren’t always about you. However, this one is more about self-loathing when we see negative things happening in our lives over and over again and not seeing our own actions as the common denominator.
When it rains, it pours, right? There is so much validity in this statement. I’ve personally been in this situation myself for several months. For this one, I’m going to get personal so I can very clearly explain how I learned this lesson:
About 7 months ago, I was in a financial predicament due to my own excessive spending along with paying way too much for rent to live in my own one-bedroom apartment. My lease was coming to an end, so I was looking for 3-bedroom apartments with my now roommates so I could spend less money each month on living expenses. We finally found a place, but my credit score wasn’t high enough to get it without a co-signer or paying a $4,500 EXTRA down payment. I somehow figured it out, but I knew I was about to be very broke for a very long time after moving. In the midst of packing and moving, the first day of school with all online classes was quickly approaching, so I had to learn how to teach over Zoom correctly and prepare a million things for that. I was stressed, but keeping my head above water. 3 days before classes began, I was hit with a horrible shock: my uncle passed away unexpectedly.
My uncle’s death was something I could not control, but my negative spiral afterward was not the universe’s fault. I unknowingly sabotaged myself.
When my uncle passed, I had to miss the first week of school to go home for funeral services. I don’t regret missing that week of work, because I needed to be there for my family. When I got back to work, I was completely out of the loop. This school year was a totally new experience; we had to relearn how to teach effectively, our duties had been shifted to more useful tasks while teaching online, and the expectations of teachers and students were very different. I had to play catch-up while also moving into my new apartment and dealing with the sudden waves of crippling grief over the loss of my uncle. For about 2 months after returning to work, I felt like a complete failure, dropping the ball over and over and never being able to pick it back up. Every time I messed up at work, I frantically apologized and swore it would never happen again (this connects to lesson #3), but I continued to mess up.
I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get out of this hole I was in. I thought that the world was out to get me and everyone was watching and waiting for me to fail. Eventually it all caught up with me and I thought that life was treating me unfairly.
My psychiatrist brought to my attention that my troubles were caused by self-sabotage. I was constantly continuing to mess up because I was subconsciously telling myself “I’m only going to fail, so why bother?” I was not being abused by the universe, but actually digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole that was only initiated by things I couldn’t control. He told me the only way to fix this is to consciously take any and all opposite action– do things you don’t want to do. Clearly what I’ve been doing recently isn’t working, so I’m trying to take his advice. We’ll see what happens!
What’s surprising to me about these life lessons is the fact that they seem so obvious. But it’s these seemingly common-sense ideas that we almost always learn the hard way, leaving us dumbfounded and confused. Remember though, humans are inherently flawed, so next time you find yourself thinking, “I should have known that already,” remind yourself that no one knows everything and that life is all a learning process.