Zach’s Blog

3 Powerful Lessons from 2015

Imagine if at the beginning of each year we envisioned the next 365 days with the same emotional vigor we reserve for the critical reflection on the year gone by?

“There’s always next year,” I hear people say.

What about the one year that statement rings untrue?

See, the New Year, while great to celebrate the hope of newness, typically only feeds into our future-obsessive mentality that rips our consciousness out of the moments that matter.

Is that dramatic? Then, why don’t we have “New Day” resolutions?

How can we nudge ourselves to wake up and realize that we perpetually live within the most important moment of our lives?

Right now.

The New Year and all its fanfare should give us pause to reflect less on the things not done, the losses, the defeats, and more on what is being done here, now.

We are about to celebrate being stuck to a rock that orbited a star once more. We wake up and breathe oxygen. Do yourself a favor and just really think about that for a second.

As the annual blogs proclaiming “the top 5 ways to be happier in 2016” flood our “news feeds” and “timelines,” it is tempting sit and ponder the “what ifs,” but right now, here, I encourage you to ponder the “what’s here?”

Look around you, wherever you are. You are here. There are other humans who care about you. There are small moments of joy in every tiny second; do you see them? Why not?

As I move into a newly-labeled set of 365 days and try to negotiate all of the “New Year” clutter, I like to reflect on what is around me now, and meditate on the lessons I learned in the last 365 days that I can carry with me forever.

When we focus on lessons learned, we add to our awareness of our present situation, and can identify tools to help us navigate the upcoming moments in the day ahead, and, if we’re lucky, the 364 days that follow.

As told through some of my previous blogs, here are the 3 most powerful lessons I learned in 2015.

1. The world can be brutal and breathtakingly amazing at the same time.

As death, evil, and hatred seem ever more prevalent in the world when we turn on the evening news, it is not hard to be pulled down into the darkness.

We’re lucky. I’m lucky. I have the privilege to think about brutality because I am not experiencing it; simply because of where I happen to have been born.

Such privilege can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness; which are the exact feelings that feed Evil and our own psychoses.

But, we have to lift ourselves up.

Even in our privilege, there lies opportunity to witness and perpetuate the uniquely human trait of empathy.

People around the world opening their homes and giving their lives to weary people they’ve never met. People are literally shielding other people from bullets. Students are organizing against hate. Family members are caring for the sick.

We need to celebrate our humanity to drown out the evil. Turn off the news and ask someone, “What can I do?”

Before we start thinking we are too small, focus on the present; tending our own little gardens where we live and work. We all spend our time doing something with someone. Do you create a humane workplace that celebrates humanity? Do you serve your immediate community with kindness? Do you treat your friends and family well?

Each of these moments we create in our own little worlds factor into our species’ reputation.

As Theodore Roosevelt once said:

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

In the blog post, “Sunday Evening Thoughts,” I offered my reflections on tending to our little plots of life.

2. Answering the question, “What do I live for?” is revealing.

Last November, my wife and I had our first child. What a miracle.

And, in the midst of learning how to take care of a little human, I was completing my second year of a PhD program and working full-time.

In a moment, I realized what I was living for paled in comparison to what I could be living for.

Here is an excerpt from the post, “What Do You Live For?”:

I had started to believe in the human-created, material world-enabling illusion that I had direct control over my own life.

Archbishop William Temple once said, “your religion is what you do with your solitude.” It is clear, now, that my religion had quickly, and stealthily become myself.

Clear, now, because of a single laugh.

On Monday evening I arrived home from work at around 6 p.m. and quickly entered into the next bullet point on my to-do list, and my second life, being a Ph.D. student. I had a goal that I would read two chapters of a book on systems theory (and it is quite an interesting read!) before I even thought about going to bed.

Right when I got home, I mindlessly ate dinner, found my reading spot on the couch and started relentlessly plugging away.

Meanwhile, Tapley and my wife Erin had played, cuddled, and failed in multiple attempts to communicate with me – to which I nodded and stormed on with my to-do list.

Then, I looked up, and it was 7:30 p.m. – Tapley’s bedtime. I was not even finished with Chapter 1, when my wife said, “you should take a break.”

I mumbled some self-righteous thing and turned back to Chapter 1. Then, the miraculous happened.

Wedging itself between self-centeredness and the rest of my life was a thought: I had not held my own son that day.

I put my book down, and walked over to Tapley’s nursery where he was on his changing table getting ready for a bath. My wife saw me coming and quickly exited the room giving me some precious alone time with Tapley.

As I was looking down at him, he started acting in a way I had never seen over the past three months. He was squirming, contorting his face, and making gurgling sounds with a huge gum-revealing grin on his face.

Tapley had something he wanted to share.

As I started making some funny faces at him, all of his squirming and smiling built up and exploded in a big, amazing, and humbling belly-laugh.


What do you adore?

What do you live for?

Where has your illusion of control brought you?

The answers to these questions can be life-giving, as I have thankfully found this past year.

3. The time is always now.

Finally, and perhaps the most important lesson learned from 2015, is that the time is always now. 

While I know that mindfulness is trendy right now, we really can’t logically conclude anything other than the fact that the future is simply an accumulation of “nows.” The future doesn’t exist independent of now.

It is tempting to attach our hopes and desires to this nonexistent future  and by doing so we can miss out on the power of now.

This past year, I found myself living in a world of “if, then” excuses. “I am not ready to start seriously blogging,” or “I can’t publish research yet” or “I am too busy.”

Then, one day, I realized how much I was thinking and not doing. I asked myself, “If my future is an accumulation of right now, where am I headed?”

So, I simply started.

And, I started failing much more rapidly!

This past year has been a cycle of trial and error, trial and error, and trial and error. Through the failure, I have found success, but more importantly I have met passionate people, done interesting research, and have become happier – which translates into my family life and all of the spaces I find myself in throughout a day.

When you convert thoughts to small actions, every day, amazing things happen.

These three lessons will help me envision 2016 with a new set of tools.

What are your 3 most powerful lessons of 2015?

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