10 Life Lessons I Learned From Re-Reading My Old Journals

Three years ago, I took a psychology class that required I keep a daily journal. It wasn’t long before I became hooked on journaling, and I spent the next year-and-a-half releasing my feelings through writing in a series of journals. Here are the 10 most valuable lessons I’ve discovered by re-reading my old journals.

  1. Being Hard On Yourself Will Get You Nowhere

As a second-year college student, I was incredibly harsh on myself.  My first journal, in particular, was filled with self-deprecation and put-downs because I hadn’t yet learned how to love myself.

Those disparaging words caused me to slip further into allowing negative thoughts to dictate my self-worth, despite the fact that I was enough all along.

2. Effective Leadership Is Not About You

When I first began journaling, I was struggling in my very first leadership position.  I strove to be the type of leader who would command respect from her teammates, and who was simultaneously kind-hearted and firm.

Instead, I became caught up in my desire to be the sole leader on the team.  I made decisions I regret, and they led my teammates to lose respect for me and question my leadership abilities.

A true leader leads in the service of others, not for recognition or personal gain. Listening to others rather than simply hearing them and dedicating your time to meeting their needs will establish you as a caring, respected leader.

3. Perfectionism Is (Mostly) Overrated

A disturbingly high amount of my journal entries reflected my constant, raging perfectionism. I wrongly believed that striving for perfection would serve me well in all facets of my life, but I quickly discovered that complete perfection is unattainable, and always falling short of impossible expectations could easily ruin my already-wavering self-esteem.

Despite the shortcomings of my all-consuming focus on perfection, I am still a “reforming perfectionist.”  Perfectionism has served me well in many aspects of my life, from my concern with timeliness to my experience with digital magazine editing. However, I am now able to recognize that the downsides of perfectionism far outweigh the benefits.

4. Finding Community Will Free You

It was nearly impossible to express in my journal the sheer joy and shock I felt after a chance encounter at a conference that led me to another young woman with mild cerebral palsy.  At the time, I was suffocating under layers of shame about my disability, resistant to disclosing, and wrongly convinced that I was completely alone in my struggles.

That moment was the first time in my life that I felt completely free to be myself.  I spoke openly about my medical history to a complete stranger, and in return, I received validation that someday, I would come to embrace myself, disability and all.  

You may feel alone and misunderstood in your struggles, but you are never as alone as you feel. There is always someone who will understand you, and once you find others with similar experiences and foster a community, you will finally feel free.

5. It’s Okay To Ask For Help

In the pages of my journals, I detailed a long-held resistance to asking for help, from wavering over seeking counseling for my anxiety to agonizing about attending office hours for help on papers and projects. I viewed asking for any type of help as a sign of weakness, a detriment to my strength, capability, and independence.

Once I swallowed my pride and learned to accept help, I discovered the key to becoming my best self.  

Asking for help never reflects poorly on you, and it exemplifies more strength than charging ahead on your own. Once you learn to seek out help in the face of difficulty, you will find yourself blossoming in ways you never could on your own.

6. Battling Mental Illness Is Never A Cause For Shame

Until my senior year of college, I confined my struggles with anxiety, depression, and disordered eating to the privacy of my journals. I worried that if anyone discovered that I was battling mental illness, they would constantly view me through a lens tainted by derision and incapability.

When a severe panic attack prompted me to disclose my mental illness to my friends, I discovered a world of kindness, care, and acceptance I never could have imagined. In turn, I discovered that many of my friends battled mental illness as well, which drew us closer and strengthened our bonds.

7. Don’t Rule Any Career Paths Out Completely

The class that required me to journal was on helping relationships, and pages upon pages of my first journal contained pure disbelief that I could ever pursue a helping profession.  As a shy, aspiring attorney in a sea of people-oriented future psychologists, I constantly felt that my classmates were significantly better-suited than I to helping others navigate their problems.

Now, three years later, I no longer believe that I am incapable of pursuing a helping profession. In my 10 months as a respite care worker, I have had to listen carefully, show unconditional empathy, and exercise every skill I honed three years before.

Never limit your career possibilities based on your negatively-tinted perceptions of your skills and abilities. You could find your career trajectory branching out in an unexpected, promising direction, as long as you believe that you are just as capable as your peers.

8. There’s More To Life Than Accolades and Recognition

Throughout my time journaling, I had a singular goal, a pervasive obsession that nearly tore me apart: graduating from college Summa Cum Laude and with University Honors in just three years.  

Nearly two years ago, I graduated Summa Cum Laude and with University Honors after just three years of college, and now, I can definitely say that it wasn’t worth the stress and strife I experienced. The joy I experienced upon meeting my goal lasted mere seconds, and in the years since, I have never defined myself by the honors I received or by my early graduation.

Recognition may make you feel powerful, competent, and worthy, but tying your self-worth exclusively to accolades will destroy your self-esteem. Employers won’t care whether your GPA is a 3.5 or a 3.85, and neither should you. Obsessing over recognition from others will shatter you. Your worth should come from within, not from external validation that you are intelligent and capable.

9. Vulnerability Is Terrifyingly Beautiful

When I began journaling, I was terrified of revealing emotion, daunted by the prospect of my own vulnerability.  

Gradually, I learned to open up about my true feelings, my problems, and my fears.

Vulnerability is a terrifying, beautiful dichotomy, but you will never see the beauty in revealing your true feelings if you are unwilling to confront the terror. Slowly learn to dismantle your walls, and you will reap the rewards of empathy, connection, and freedom.

10. Believing In Your Abilities Will Take You Farther Than You Know

My love of journaling transformed into a passion for writing, and before long, my goal was to become a published writer. Today, I’ve had writing published both online and in print, authored viral articles, and become an editor for an online magazine. Had I listened to my initial doubts about my writing abilities or given up at the first indication of rejection, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today. My confidence in my abilities has flourished because I have never stopped believing in myself.

You may find yourself doubting your abilities, but recognizing your true talents will help forge a stronger sense of self-belief. If you believe you can accomplish your goals, you will discover that you can achieve more than you have ever imagined.

Previously published on Thought Catalog.

Photo by Easton Oliver on Unsplash


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