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We are born as a relatively blank slate, and each day it slate starts to fill in with every experience we have, no matter how big or small. We start with learning who supports us by making sure we are fed when we are hungry and soothed when we felt grumpy or need our diapers changed. As we get older, we come to realize that our choices and experiences are influenced by a multitude of individuals, situations, freedoms, and limitations.

There is so much to explore throughout our lives that it can feel that we will never have enough time or resources to experience all that we desire. As time progresses, we learn a series of important life lessons about how we perceive the inner workings of our world and how we interact with our surroundings. Some of these lessons are more difficult and painful than others.

As we discover aspects of being alive that cause us to feel uncomfortable or frustrated, our innocent perception of reality slowly gets stripped away. We may initially feel that the world is a generally utopian place, but we come to realize that things can get quite crappy in our lives despite our best efforts. We come to understand that there are many threats to our happiness and success; things we once counted on don’t always come through for us, and there are many variables in our lives that are out of our control.

As the levels of blissful ignorance slowly erode away, a more realistic viewpoint of our surroundings is created. Hopefully these difficult life lessons do not impact us in ways that make us choose to become maladjusted, unhappy people. These often serve to open our eyes so we can be better prepared to face challenges, cope with stressful situations, and create an amazing life. Here are some of the more painful, but important understandings I have experienced that I am grateful to incorporate in my life.

Life is Not Always Fair

Most of us were taught that good things happen to good people. If we all go by the Golden Rule, people will only treat us with the same type of thoughtfulness and compassion that they expect from us when interacting with them. In recent years, the concept of the Law of Attraction was made popular by the book The Secret, which encourages people to attract success to them by maintaining a positive attitude and doing good things for others. The benefits are thought to come back to you and enrich your life.

Unfortunately, some people who adopt this philosophy want an immediate return on their good deed effort. When rapid results don’t come back, some risk becoming jaded and bitter about their lack of reimbursement. There is no tit-for-tat in the world. It may be more personally beneficial to just do nice things because we know they are the correct things to do without expecting something in return. Sometimes doing a great thing can be reward enough regardless of the personal benefit to you.

People are Not Always Nice

Hopefully we have opportunities to surround ourselves with freaking awesome people full of interesting stories, big smiles, and a love of life. These relationships can support our own positive attitude and energize us to pass on happy-happy-joy-joy feelings to others.

But, even if we are Susie Sunshine most of the time, we all run into those people who are having a bad day or are just generally grumpy. Not everyone we encounter will greet us with a smile, hug, efforts to try to make us feel special, or validation that we are good people. We may not receive kindness back from those we give it to, so be cautious of expecting it or requiring it back from someone. This desire may leave us feeling disappointed or rejected. This is an important lesson about who to invest energy into so we don’t waste more than we already have given.

Situations are Not Always Easy

Although we may hope for the best possible result, often it’s safer for us to be cautiously realistic about outcomes of situations. We can wish upon a star for the best possible scenario to work out, but there are times that, despite great planning and hard work, things don’t happen the way we want. Sometimes situations take additional effort, face unexpected challenges, or require re-evaluation of how best to approach potential solutions.

Planning for success can take time and often does not happen as quickly as we hope it will. Many times, we want to rush through something to reach the end goal, but our timelines may not be sensible. Patience is a tough quality to develop, especially when it comes to accomplishing those things we desire. Taking a step back to look at new potential ways of facing challenges can help us become more successful in gaining what we want. It may just not be by the methods that you initially thought would work. Don’t give up. Just be open to looking at things in different ways.

Outcomes are Not Always What We Want

Most of us have a firm idea of how we want situations to play out. Our active imaginations use past experiences and hopes for a successful outcome to create a desired final goal. This can be a powerful tool to help us set our intentions and make an appropriate plan to get what we want.

However, pitfalls can happen when we get too rigid with what we think we want or need. There are times when we may get stuck in a singular idea of how things should be and may see other outcomes as being undesirable or a failure. Our situations may end differently than we may have envisioned, hoped for, or worked towards, but that doesn’t mean that our efforts were unsuccessful. Take some time to evaluate if your different outcome got you close to what you initially wanted. Becoming stuck in a concrete version of what you think should happen may stop you from acknowledging a wonderful success. Also, be careful about what benefits we expect from being successful with something.

Sometimes what we think we want will gain us happiness, success, favoritism, or a great time. There is nothing wrong with setting some expectations, but look at what you actually feel after you accomplish a goal. The outcome you experience may not align with what makes you feel positive about the situation. Keep your mind open to how you will feel after working hard for something.

It can be a huge benefit to fantasize about what it would be like to complete an action. Being a dreamer is fantastic, but work on keeping at least one foot based in reality and be honest about how you feel at the end of the process. Try new things and evaluate if those are actually beneficial for you. Feelings of personal pride and accomplishment can propel you to additional greatness.