5 life lessons from my year out

Michael took a year out and shares his learning!

Written by Micheal Callaghan


I finished a law degree in Trinity last year, after four years of pouring over legal texts, attending 9am lectures, and gaining excellent experience in the art of procrastination. While most of my classmates had firm plans to undertake further study or begin working with law firms, I consciously decided I would spend the year pursuing other interests. At the time I was a participant in the Wave Change programme for young social entrepreneurs. I was working on establishing a local sustainability initiative, Transition Monaghan, in my home county. The plan was that this would take up half my year, after which it would be on a healthy footing, allowing me to spend the other half teaching and traveling around the world. While it was a great year, full of unique experiences and life lessons, it rarely went according to plan. As I spend the last few weeks of summer, before I begin a masters, I am extremely glad I took this year before embarking on further education.

1. Life doesn’t always go according to plan

As I said above, I had hoped that I would have completed various sustainability projects, perhaps even found a magic pot of gold from a nice philanthropist and have spent about six months travelling the world. While I did complete some projects, earn a little bit of money from my passions and do a little bit of traveling, none of this panned out in the way I had imagined. While it is brilliant to aim for the stars, sometimes we barely get to the clouds. Unexpected things happen, bills creep up, and projects stall. Unfortunately this happens in the real world, and while this itself wasn’t such a learning curve, I felt that I have developed the resilience and experience to be able to foresee such roadblocks and also deal with them better when they arise.

2. Sometimes saying 'No' can be a good thing

Sometimes in life you just have to say ‘No’ to things. Whether that be your involvement in a group, taking on a new project or responsibility or simply to going on a mad night out, sometimes you just have to pass. The thing is, while you might feel uncomfortable, the sky really doesn’t fall down. Most people are understanding of your decision, and if they are not, they probably don’t deserve your time. You need to know when enough is enough, which leads me into the next point.

3. You have to look after yourself

This is really important. Whether that be physically or emotionally, your body is a temple and how you look after yourself will determine your ability to give more. It’s simple, if you’re not feeling well in yourself, chances are you won’t be able to give as much as you should to yourself, your work or those around you. Whether that be refusing extra projects, deciding to take a holiday or getting rid of ‘clutter’ in your life. While on my quest to turn my hometown into a sustainable Mecca, I really forgot to look after myself. I took on too many projects, was always working, was trying to be everything to everyone and really didn’t make much time for myself, my family or friends. This all caught up with me. When things happened that required me to take a step back from all of this, I nearly froze up. I was trying to achieve too much in a short space of time, and when things got in the way, it lead to anxiety and my projects stalling spectacularly. I felt terrible for letting people down, and couldn’t face the fact that I had gone from 100 to 0. However, when I eventually explained my absence, and that I needed to take a step back, people were very understanding and grateful for my honesty and what I had done up to that point. I was a recent college graduate, who was working non stop without pay. I forgot about myself and almost forgot to have fun. This should never happen. While it is great to do things for other people, you need to make a little time for yourself too – you will be all the better for it!

4. Ask questions, speak your mind

If you don’t ask you certainly won’t get! This is true, whether in a professional or personal capacity. While some people have better intuitions than others, I’ve never met any mind readers. If you’re screaming to say something, or have something on your chest, it’s better to get it out. In a professional capacity, if there is something that is bothering you in the workplace, it is a good idea to mention this to your employer. They might not always be able to help you, but at least they will be aware of your concerns. I have been working with a great new start up and am lucky that they try to accommodate my needs. I recently was unhappy in my sales role. I was very nervous breaking this news to them, and while they were a little disappointed, they understood, and were willing to give me a new role in an area that I both enjoy and am good at. This probably wouldn’t have happened, if I hadn’t expressed my concerns. Be open, honest and level headed. The same can be applied to your personal life. If you have an issue, it is better to speak about it in a calm and open manner rather than let it fester.

5. Planning is important

This is true from an everyday perspective and a longer term point of view. When my girlfriend first told me that she had a 5 year plan and used daily action plans, I must admit, I was a bit sceptical. After trying out the action plan, I really couldn’t understand why I hadn’t always used them. Whether it be mental notes, scribbles on a scrap of paper or full action plans, they definitely help to keep you organised and aware of how much or little you are getting done in a day. Plans should be realistic, and tailored to your circumstances. There’s no point planning to buy a house immediately, if you have no money, however you could plan towards saving for a house over a time. After my year of lessons, I am beginning to develop a more long term plan for myself, one that is imbued with the reality that it often takes time and dedication to work towards a certain goal.

While I probably could have read these tips in a book, or article like this, I feel that having learned these through experience over the last year or so has given me a strong foundation for what lies ahead. There is nothing wrong with making mistakes or with plans not being realised. What is important, however, is how we respond to our setbacks and learn from our life lessons.

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