One of my favorite shows on Netflix, Big Mouth, has a moment where all the characters sing a song called, “Life is a F***ed Up Mess,”and I definitely believe it.
That said, sometimes there are just experiences that we have to go through in order to learn and grow as a person. Whether it be from travel, heartbreak, or a number of other incidents, here are some examples of people whose perspectives on life were totally changed thanks to a single experience.
1. Bucket List
After my dad died in 2014 of Huntington’s Disease, a fatal genetic disorder, I decided to get tested in late 2015. I am gene positive. Meaning, I will develop the disease at some point later in life, but am not currently showing symptoms. Although I’m only 26, I’ve begun working towards my bucket list and only 2 months ago, crossed off my #1 wish of visiting Germany. It was two weeks of everything I could have asked for. I have a relatively successful career, which I enjoy and am thankful for, which allows me to check off these items from my bucket list.
Knowing that my life expectancy is maybe 40 at best, based on my CAG repeats, it’s given me the chance, or maybe the reminder, to live my only life as well as I can.
2. Hard Times
Getting injured, having multiple surgeries, and having to quit my teaching job and go on long-term disability. Being on disability really sucked, and I have more compassion for people who are permanently disabled. I also understand homelessness better. I’d probably be homeless myself if I didn’t have parents who could help with some of the medical bills.
3. Simple Pleasures
Getting high at a music festival. My buddy and I got hungry so we got chicken strips. We sat down on the dirty ground and enjoyed our chicken strips amongst other festival goers. I realized how nothing is more important than being somewhere you love with people you love. No fancy restaurant, no expensive food, no flashy jewelry… just my bud and I having a blast. Will never forget that.
4. Moving On
I’m in my early 20s, and got dumped by my first serious girlfriend a few months ago. I really liked her and she was pretty into me, but I was constantly trying to please her and was letting her walk all over me because that’s what I believed women wanted. I never stood up for myself when she would flake/take hours to text and I think she lost respect for me because of that. Her excuse was that “she wasn’t ready” but I know I was at least partially to blame…
Instead of sulking and begging, I took the breakup as motivation to hit the gym, meet new people, read books, further my career, work on social skills, etc so that at least if she doesn’t want to give it a second try, then a better girl will take her place. I’m so much happier now because of it.
5. Still Here
Drug/alcohol addiction, followed by recovery.
I just shouldn’t even be alive. I told a psychologist I expected to be dead by 25. But I’m 25, not dead, sober for several years, and somehow getting a Ph.D. I literally had no idea how to stop drinking; I wanted to, but couldn’t. Somehow it happened, though. And now when I get super stressed at school, or when people bug me, I just remember the fact that I shouldn’t even be alive. All of my problems immediately become laughable and absurd when I do that.
So I’d say I learned not to take things so serious, because at the end of the day, I’m still just right here.
6. High On Life (And Drugs)
I’ve never had any truly religious or deep meaningful experience in my entire life. Sure I’ve had fun. But I’ve never really got a deep life altering, paradigm shattering experience in my entire life. Everything was just humdrum until I started experimenting with psychedelic drugs.
I was a vocal atheist and thought everybody who believed in anything like that was totally stupid. Not saying I am religious now because I’m not, but I was such a closed minded person about stuff like that.
Psychedelics showed me the potential for love. Both for myself and others. It opened me up to seeing how consciousness and existence is so much more than I ever thought it was and it showed me how to see the world a lot differently than I currently was. Also showed me just how insanely beautiful and wonderful everything truly is.
I lose sight of it all the time, but deep down those experiences are still with me.
7. Rags to Riches to Rags
So after a family member died I inherited almost $78,000,000. My family and friends attitudes changed completely after hearing the news. People I didn’t even know of started contacting me, almost everyone I knew asked me for money, the number of ‘friends’ I had doubled. About a week later, the lawyer that handled the last will contacted me saying there was a closer relative that they had missed. I went back to being normal and found out who my real friends and family were.
8. Take the Time
One of my best friends passed away unexpectedly last August. I didn’t keep up with messaging him every once and a while and slowly grew apart. He messaged me a week before he died simply saying “I miss you.” I forgot about replying like some people do and I got a call the following week from another friend saying he died. I was devastated because I had no idea he was ill. Later that day I was looking at my inbox and noticed his message and it floored me. I still beat myself up over it because all I had to say is “I miss you too we should catch up.” But I didn’t and he’s gone. It was a harsh lesson but it changed me, and no matter what I take the time to reply to any message I get from someone I care about.
9. Hugs Work
Up until I was a teenager, I didn’t like my sister much. She didn’t like me either. Then, one day, I read that hugging someone makes your brain release chemicals that make you trust that person more. I didn’t buy it, so I jokingly told my sister that it means we have to start hugging our enemies to give them a false sense of security, and stuff like that. Then we jokingly hugged and we continued to hug every day for a while.
And you know what? It’s weird, but it actually worked! She’s my best friend now.
10. Eat More Salad
I had been eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for about a month straight. I was in college. These things happen. Anyway, I had a little bit of cash put together, so a buddy and I went to TGIFriday’s. The waiter came, and as I was ordering my food, for some reason, inexplicably, I had to have a salad. My friend looked at me like I had grown a second head. He demanded explanations. There were none.
So I ate the salad. Literal chills started racing up and down my spine. It was like a religious experience.
So, I told my friend to order a salad. He was understandably concerned at this point. Why was this important all of a sudden? What’s the deal with the salad? I said, “Order. A. Salad.”
We still talk about it sometimes. That was 15 years ago.
Uh… so, the moral of the story is don’t eat so many sweets and vegetables are a required part of your diet.
11. Count Your Blessings
I traveled a lot early in my career. I spent a lot of time in quite a few poor countries.
I went to Haiti 6 times in my life to work. The poverty and corruption was like nothing I had ever seen before or really since. People would beg and beg for the scrap lumber from our shipping crates to build their houses. When they built a house, it was about the size of the walk-in closet in the first home my wife and I bought.
Ever since then, I have never complained. I have a nice house. Nothing extravagant, but it is a nice house. I have money to put food on the table. I have multiple grocery stores within a 10 minute drive from me and I can buy anything I want to eat. I have a job that pays well and I enjoy working at.
I don’t let the inconveniences of life bring me down. If I feel sorry for myself about something, I remember the really poor people I have come across in my travels (as opposed to what I call American poor) and I am instantly thankful for what I have.
12. Gone Too Soon
A few years ago I lost a long time friend of mine in a car accident. He fell asleep at the wheel on the interstate and crossed over into oncoming traffic, hitting a semi. We had known each other since we were 5 and went through grade school, middle school and high school together. He was 25 when he passed. I knew he had struggled with depression for a long time, but at the time of his passing he was actually in a really good place in his life. He was doing what he loved and had been dating a girl for a few years. He was happy!
So it really made me think if I were to suddenly be gone tomorrow, am I happy with where I’m at? I wasn’t, and I started to make a lot of life changes after that. I had been overweight for a long time and started working on my health and I’ve lost around 85 lbs since then. I got into a career I love and enjoy doing everyday. I stopped stressing about stupid things too. It’s not worth it. I tell my family and friends I love them a lot more frequently than I used to. And I always, always, ALWAYS make sure I get enough sleep before I have a long drive to make.
13. No Apologies
A random stranger in passing. When I was about 16, I accidentally stepped into an elderly woman’s way while walking down a narrow walkway. We did the awkward dance trying to pass one another, as we passed each other I turned and said “I’m sorry!” to her.
She turned back to me and with a stern, but oddly charming, tone says “Don’t you ever apologize for your existence. Just say excuse me and be on your way.”
At first I took what she said as her being rude. Then I walked away and let it sink in for a bit and since then it’s stuck. I always say excuse me now if I’m in someone’s way.
14. Enjoy Life
Gaining a friend and talking to said friend. Up to that point in my life I had lived on the internet and became something of a space exploration fanatic dead-set on pushing humanity into the cosmos. My plan in life was to work as hard as I could toward that goal, without any room for anything else.
Until I met my friend. She was much more normal than me (normalcy was something I disdained at the time), but not any less dedicated academically. She wanted to excel in life, but also enjoy it. It was the latter part that I had been missing.
15. Expand Your Horizons
To me it was definitely travelling.
And, not to sound like that guy, but by traveling I don’t mean two days in a hotel by the beach in some third world country, I’m talking several years in total immersion. Worked there, slept there, ate, met people, got drunk, got mad, fell in love, got heartbroken, split up, fell in love again, made money, lost at least as much, learned how to greet locals the proper way, and why how I’d do it in my country isn’t okay here, the whole thing.
16. Full Circle
For me it was a small comic, it had a picture of a girl at various ages of her life.
Age 6:”I love mommy”
Age 16:”I hate my mom!”
Age 30:”Mom was always right…”
Age 45:”I wish mom was here”
It really hit home and made me change for the better. I started helping my mom around the house and built an amazing relationship with her till now.
17. Power of Empathy
An anthropology course I took in University. The professor told us that when we look at different cultures we have to “make the strange familiar, and the familiar strange”.
So basically you need to look at cultures outside of your own and try to see them with empathy. Really try to look at it as if it was your own culture, that it was normal, or something you grew up with. And to do the opposite with your own culture.
Taught me a lot about looking at my own culture with a critical eye, and looking at other cultures with empathy.
18. Lesson Learned
I was dating a girl for 2 years and was so damn certain she was the one. She was passionate, confident, and could light up a room when she entered. At the same time, we were very different in that regard and I struggled to stay balanced in something that I wanted so badly to work.
Anxiety and a lack of motivation were a serious pattern for me. She pushed me, tried to say that it was important to her that I got a grip on things but I just couldn’t come to terms with it. In the end one day while driving back to her place she told me she couldn’t do it anymore and that she felt I wasn’t ready for a relationship. I needed to learn to believe in yourself or I would always leave people staring at a wall of nerves.
The experience hit me like a bombshell and for a long time I felt like I wasn’t going to make it through. I just wanted to do anything to stop feeling defeated. One day while sitting there and thinking I realized that I let my fears rob me of someone I deeply cared about. It had to stop and I needed to get help.
I reached out to my folks, explained to them what I was going through and got help. After spending some time planning what I wanted out of life I began committing everyday to building back to a place where I could be proud of what I was doing. I never forgot what she said to me, and while it hurt a great deal it made me realize that I was defeating myself out of enjoying life.
Last year I saw her for the first time in 5 years. She was engaged, had moved to a new city and was happy as ever. I thanked her for helping me to realize what I was doing to myself and wished her the very best.
Every time I struggle, or start to doubt myself I remember what that experience taught me. If you are going to lose something, don’t let it be because you defeated yourself. Take charge, do your best and accept the outcome – but don’t sell yourself short.
19. Dumb Luck
Growing up I was absolutely miserable. Being the fat kid in school, no attention from girls, very very few friends, more athletic family members who would single me out and pick on me. This went on through high school unfortunately.
When I was 19 things began falling into place for me through sheer dumb luck. I was (wrongly) diagnosed with ADD and the adderall they put me on caused me to lose 70 lbs in ~2 months, then the family came into some money as a result of a medical malpractice suit that killed my grandmother a few years earlier and my dad paid for me to study Japanese in Japan for 6 months.
Losing the weight and going to Japan were exactly what I needed to shake off my miserable former self. I had finally done something I could be proud of and it just kept catalyzing more and more positive changes in my life. It’s weird to think I spent the first 20 years of my life hating myself, hating the world, hating my family, just as such a miserable guy. I love all those things now.
20. Beauty in Heartbreak
Had my first real breakup last year. For a while, I was devastated and truly depressed. However, after a while I began to discover more things about myself and what I wanted and what I liked. I began to appreciate things and people that I took for granted before. 2016 was one of the worst years of my life, but I can confidently say that so far 2017 is the best year of my life. I’m still single, but I’m truly happy with that and with myself.
21. Love Isn’t Magic
It showed me that love is not magic. It’s something that has to be worked at together. When one party can’t or won’t do equal work, the relationship fails. It feels amazingly good when it works and feels amazingly bad when it breaks down. The fact that my fairytale image of my parents marriage failure led me to (at least try to) have a more realistic view on life. No amount of want alone can make things happen in relationships. It’s like carrying a really big fish tank: it’s difficult with two people, and it’s pretty amazing to move things along to new places, but one person can’t do it. If someone isn’t invested in moving it along, it will drop and break. And it’s a real big mess to clean up and deal with all alone.
22. What’s In a Grade?
I locked myself in a bathroom stall and literally beat myself up for 15 minutes. I cried for many days afterward.
Soon enough, I got sick of living in this misery. I wanted to let go and accept it so I could just be happy. But to be happy in spite of such a grade would mean redefining my values.
Panicked, I looked up whether I could still stand a chance at Caltech, my dream university, if I got such a grade. The general consensus was “eh, pick somewhere else.”
That was it! Not “no, you suck,” not “no, Caltech wants smart people.” Just pick somewhere else.
So now I’ve truly accepted the loss of my valedictorian status, as painful as it may be. There’s nothing I can do about it now, and looking back, I can see that all this grade anxiety did nothing but crush my spirit. Now I centrally define myself as a friend, reader, learner, inquirer, helper, and daughter of God, identities that will endure my whole life – not as the tenuously hanging valedictorian.