If you celebrated Thanksgiving or Native American Heritage Day, I hope that you’ve had time to enjoy family, friends, fun, and food. Since this is the season for gratitude (although gratitude is best as a daily practice), I hope that you’ve also had time and space to reflect on all of the wonderful things in life that we appreciate.  If you ask the average person to create a gratitude list, nine times out it ten, they will list their family, friends, home, health, job, car & other external blessings. 

But one of the things that we don’t do enough is to reflect and show gratitude for all of the life experiences (even the ones that hurt like hell at the time) that have shaped and molded our very essence. Sometimes when we break-up from a significant other, we’re so busy nursing our broken heart, that we don’t fully take time to digest the lessons learned. In the spirit of gratitude, here are just a couple of lessons that I am grateful for:

1. “You Teach People How to Treat You” (lots of people take credit for this quote but I first heard it from Maya Angelou): Recently a friend commented on how much I had changed since she and I met close to 15 years ago. She said, “You are not the same person you were when you were with ‘X’, that’s for sure”.  

At that moment, I thought about how much shit I took from “X” and how many chances I gave him.  Of course, after I hit my bullshit limit, I left.  My therapist recommended that I make a list of all of “X’s” bad behavior. Looking at that long ass list in black and white was eye-opening. But I had to take accountability as well. 

One of the things I realized was that I had taught him how to treat me. Tolerating all of the bad behavior and giving him multiple chances showed him that it was ok to do exactly what he was doing…..so he continued again, and again, and again. And I forgave…..again, and again, and again. People only do things they believe they can get away with.  He knew that he could come back and say all the right things (another lesson: actions speak louder than words) without truly making the changes needed to maintain a healthy relationship. 

My friend was right. I would NEVER tolerate some of the things I did back then. It took another relationship after this one for me to truly learn this but eventually, the lesson stuck. And this lesson, like so many others, is the foundation of a whole new set of non-negotiable standards that I still live by to this day.

2. Reciprocation – Ok, here’s my disclaimer: Not everyone is going to love the EXACT way that you love. They may express their love in a different way (everyone has a different love language) but it still counts. What is NOT ok is when you give 100% of yourself to people who can barely give you 25%.  

Years ago, I had a friend who was a drama magnet. Let’s call her “Y”. “Y” was beautiful, funny, smart, and outgoing.  But there was always something going on in her life, some crisis that required that I drop everything and be there for her. Sometimes, I’d spend hours on the phone with her listening to her latest drama and helping her find her way through it. Whether it was trying to interpret a boyfriend’s Jedi mind tricks or coaching her through some corporate bullshit, I supported and encouraged my friend through a plethora of situations.

But on the flip side, when I was the one who needed a listening ear or advice or someone to help me through a situation, “Y” either gave minimal support or she was missing in action. It was disappointing to realize that the golden rule did not apply to “Y”.  

It’s not about going tit for tat or keeping a tally of who did what. It’s about having the conviction that you are worth as much as you give. I learned that it’s ok to leave a situation in which you are not getting nearly as much as you give. Relationships are investments, with rewards and risks. If the other party in the relationship wants the reward but isn’t willing to give a moderate investment and take a risk, you have to decide if you are ok with the imbalance and unrequited effort. 

We learn a ton of lessons throughout our lives. Some lessons, we learn right away. Other lessons require us to learn and re-learn them a few times before it sticks. But our connections to others and the lessons we learn during those interactions are invaluable building blocks for our character.  For that, I hope that we all are grateful 🙂