Kung Fu Panda has to be one of my all-time favourites, who doesn’t love a movie about an underdog saving the day, has you laughing until your stomach hurts and not to forget the big chubby panda. One of my favourite scenes is when the panda tries to meditate to find inner peace. It has been something I aimed to achieve in life — to be content and find my inner peace. The first time I watched the movie, I was extremely far from it — peace or contentment. As I sit back in my comfy Eurostar seat on my way to Paris, reflecting on my life thus far, I find myself considerably closer to where I want to be.

So time to put things into perspective. Let me first acknowledge the fact that I am currently on a train to Paris for a weekend alone. When I was a kid, I only ever saw these things in movies. I don’t even think I thought it was even imaginable for me, that I would spend a year living abroad and travel Europe to my heart’s content. That I would have photos with some of the most iconic structures and landscapes that were only available to me through books and television. And then to travel alone, that is where inner peace comes in. I did move to London for a year, away from all the people I love dearly, but living alone is not the same as going on holiday alone. The Merell I knew at the beginning of the year would not have been looking forward to a weekend alone in Paris. I am extrovert, I am very social and usually draw my energy from the people around me. Even worse I constantly needed the validation of others; a rather nasty handicap.

So what changed? This year was about taking time for myself. Learning to live with me, accepting my talents and flaws, and finding my inner peace. There are 5 lessons that have helped me with my inner peace.

1. The grass is not always greener on the other side. I don’t particularly like this cliché but this will definitely be my feedback when I return to South Africa and people ask me ‘how was my year abroad’. Nothing replaces the feel of the African sun on your skin. We are so blessed in SA to have great weather, abundant space, delicious food and a true sense of community. Sometimes we overlook the small things in life that make all the difference. Living abroad is a trade-off at the end of the day and I will be happy to return to the country I grew up in. Another example where the grass is not always greener — my job. Most people, especially in my industry, usually think that other departments are fancier than the jobs they have. I learnt to ask myself simple questions to stay happy: what do I want, what will make me happy, what will make me feel good about waking up every day. And not doing things because it is perceived to be more significant. This lesson comes from seeing that success arises in any situation, but you need to be motivated enough to push through the rough patch and always give your absolute best. You need to have an end goal in mind.

2. After a year of travelling and leading a very active social life (this is an understatement, hehe) — I realised “me” time is important. Taking time to recuperate, to recover and to energise from within. To reflect on progress, to identify issues that make me unhappy or habits that are limiting my progress. Taking time out to reflect on these things, comes from the realisation that you are the most important person in your life. At the end of the day, it is YOU. You need to the best for you. You need to know what you stand for. You need to know what you will accept and what you won’t. This is hard to pin down if you are always busy, if there is always someone around, if you always in a crowd or on your way to do something. Never be too busy for yourself.

3. Love. Count your blessings every day. When I left home at the age of 17. My mum called me every day and even 3 times on the weekend. I didn’t appreciate this until I moved to London and I was unable to talk to her as often. Sometimes I knew exactly what she say but this woman took time every day to check on me and let me know she cares. She still WhatsApps every day and I may be busy at work, we may have the same conversation, day in and day out, but she takes that time out of her day to check in on me. And I value it more than 100 Tinder matches. I also learnt who to call a friend and who not to. I know who to keep close and who does not add value to my life. I know which relationships to give my attention and keep growing even though we may be miles apart.

4. I put way too pressure on myself. While in theory it is great to push yourself and be best at everything you do. Life doesn’t always work out that way. You can plan to the finest detail. You can have the best 5-year plan. You can have every good intention. Life will always throw you a curve ball. I have learnt to roll with the punches, as they say. Now that sounds easy but trust me, it took me a very long to realise and practice and it is still an ongoing process. What has helped me was instead of procrastinating or overly stressing; plan and prepare myself, and then allow things happen. Once they do, they can either be what you expected which is great, or not then you need to regroup and carry on. The serenity prayer comes in handy: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” This was said to me many times but again it takes a while to conceptualise and put into practice.

5. Lastly, the race is against me. In the journey of life. I just have myself to compete against. No one has walked the exact same path as me and hence I have no competition. When looking back at my success I need to judge myself against what my goal was, what I started off with, the challenges life gave me and then what I did. We all know people who love to brag about themselves, embellish reality or even just going on Facebook these days can make you think twice about your life. Just remember people only post the happy moments. It is that stage of my life where people my age are getting engaged and having kids. Especially when it is someone close me, it always makes me rethink what I am doing with my life. And thanks to my self-reflection, I am able to be happy and know that I am also on the exact path to my goals.

Bonus point. The Law of Attraction. I loved physics in school and while we did learn that opposites attract. My theory of the ‘Law of Attraction’ is much simpler. The universe conspires for you. Once you set your mind to something, the universe has a way of helping. Life is also about attracting what you want. For example, a woman always says that she can’t find a husband, chances are extremely likely that she won’t if she constantly says it. I have used this theory to attract many things in my life and let’s just say I am happy with the results.

Originally published at medium.com