What I’ve Learned

How two questions inspired this column — and opened the door to reflection and imagination.

Experience Life editor in chief Jamie Martin

Full disclosure: I wrote this column closer to deadline than anyone on our team was comfortable with. My writer’s block, I think, was the result of wanting to be realistic about my expectations for the new year — especially after the one that just came to a close.

The words finally started flowing after a late-afternoon recording session for the Life Time Talks pod­cast that I cohost. The conversation with guest Jen Elmquist, MA, LMFT, director of Life Time Mind, was focused on navigating the holidays, and had segued into a discussion about setting boundaries, having tough conversations, and recognizing that all circumstances — good, bad, and otherwise — are temporary.

As we were wrapping up the episode, Elmquist reminded us that 2020, while not what any of us expected it to be, still offered plenty of opportunities for learning and growth. And she encouraged us to think about these two questions as we transitioned into the new year:

  • How have the experiences of the past year made me better?
  • How will I take this better version of myself and move forward?

Reflect and imagine — it’s the theme of this issue and the heart of the practice that Elmquist shared. It’s also a reminder that, while we may be ready to leave the past behind us, to happily wave goodbye from the rearview mirror, we wouldn’t be who we are today if we hadn’t experienced it.

It’s like in the children’s book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, where a family of explorers encounters one obstacle after another: We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it.

For many people, 2020 will be remembered as one of the most challenging of their lives. For others, it may be yet another period when hard things happened — and they proved once again that they can do and survive the unimaginable. (See Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman’s cover story here for an inspiring example of this.)

But no matter the perspective, we’re changed in one way or another simply as a result of getting through.

So, back to Elmquist’s questions: How did the past year make you better and how will you carry that forward?

Personally, I realized a lot about how I exist in this world. These insights are motivating me to think creatively more often, to pursue learning opportunities that expand my knowledge and mindset, and to stand up and speak up — for myself and others — even when it feels uncomfortable.

When it comes to Experience Life, the past year has reaffirmed so much of what we cover issue after issue: that our daily lifestyle choices can have a profound effect on our overall health — that actions within our control can help us do better and feel better.

We’re doubling down on what we’ve reported about pursuing physical, mental, and emotional well-being — in this issue and future ones: Build up your body’s defenses; get moving with a heart-pumping workout; cook up some nutritious, satisfying meals; and learn strategies for embracing fear and uncertainty.

The new year will bring its own challenges. Each one does. But if we pay attention to and learn from what we’ve been through, we may discover that we’re ready to take on whatever comes our way — and even more than we thought possible.

is Experience Life’s editor in chief. Follow her on Instagram @jamiemartinel.

Photography by Sara Rubinstein

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