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Dr. Terrence Z. Johnson shares several life lessons that he learned in 2022 as he reflectively springs into a new season of self-awareness and self-care in 2023. “Don’t overlook what is going on around you now. Although it may not seem like it, you are getting prepared for your greater future,” he writes. Photo by Dr. Terrence Z. Johnson

Life Lessons: What Is Life If The Thought Of Tomorrow Is Better Than Today?

Like everyone else, I wanted to begin 2023 with a renewed sense of purpose and clarity. Now the year has slowed to a less chaotic pace, a reflective time to sit in and really uncover life’s lessons. 

Every day is an opportunity for growth. Time and effort focused on tomorrow can cause one to overlook the valuable lessons of today; and it’s easy to become buried in the busyness of pressing forward. On my journey to taking better care of myself, here are several lessons I learned in 2022.

Strangers can become family. Crossing over into new territory can be scary, so leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar takes courage. Transitions are just bridges transporting you from one space to the next. But transitions can also leave you feeling isolated and disconnected. I’ve learned that God sends you the right people when you need them.

I go to the Unlimited Potential Community Development Corporation gym everyday at First Baptist Church on Winchester Street in Gallatin, Tenn. That’s where I met Mrs. Linda and Ms. Kat, fellow volunteers at the gym. They have become family to me and affectionately adopted me as a son.

Two women with interlinked arms sitting in side by side seats (life lessons)
Mrs. Linda (left) and Ms. Kat (right) smiles for a picture while volunteering at the Unlimited Potential Community Development Corporation gym. Photo by Dr. Terrence Z. Johnson

I enjoy speaking to them every morning, sharing laughs, hearing their stories, and telling mine. They cook for me, too, which I love. It’s a wonderful feeling when people look forward to seeing you. If they don’t see me at my usual time, I’ll get a call or text.

I don’t always have to have an answer. For most of my career, I was leading someone to an answer or was viewed as a source for answers. I now know I don’t have to volunteer to answer when listening is more effective. I don’t have to be an expert. Being a student of life, people, and situations allows for introspection and self-reflection.

I have a story to tell. The journey of life is a winding road. Sometimes, it feels like a roller coaster—terrifying, exhilarating and unpredictable, with surprises at every turn. Within these twists and turns are snapshots of moments in time, memories that contain stories. These stories are what connects us. I understand that telling my stories resonate with people who have similar experiences. The stories of others inspire and motivate me as well. Our stories make us human, real people. And telling my story gives people an opportunity to tell theirs.

This motivational art piece Dr. Terrence Z. Johnson found at Goodwill is now a treasure hanging on his apartment wall. Photo by Dr. Terrence Z. Johnson

For most of last year, I told the story of my Dad and me. I realized that telling this story allowed others to reflect on their loved ones or experiences with grief. That was the story I felt compelled to tell, not that I wanted to keep talking about it; I believed it was necessary for other people. 

Writing forces me to go places I need to go emotionally. Sometimes I can’t even explain how I feel, and that’s OK. The words come at the right time. Sitting in front of a computer screen can be intimidating—not the writing process, but what will eventually come to life once I begin. I willingly open myself to being vulnerable and revisiting moments in time, digging beneath the surface to excavate the lesson hidden in the experience. 

As I grow, my values change. Evolving uproots the foundation of the world I once knew. I used to pride myself in the comforts of conformity. My value was attached to my career, materialistic things, status and titles. None of that is me. Illusions and idols are created to give a false sense of identity. I am left with only me when all of that is stripped away. I learned that I am invaluable, priceless even.

I am redefining my answer to, “So what do you do?” This question is difficult for me to answer. At this point in my life, my growth guides what I do. I am evolving and expanding, which introduces new perspectives. What I do depends on the situation, so it is better to ask me about what I am passionate about. 

I thought I knew what I wanted in life until I received it. For most of my life, I have been a workaholic, which served me well for a while. Over the last few months, I realized that I did not allow myself to enjoy the journey along with my accomplishments. I only focused on the result. I was used to prolonging enjoyment or celebration until the goal was completed. This practice often left me empty because the accomplishment never fulfilled me like I thought it would. I want a life filled with incredible stories, not a life full of regrets. What is life if the thought of tomorrow is better than today?

Grief comes in waves, and some days, it feels like I’m drowning. Grief can be an unwanted visitor in your daily life. One minute I’m fine, and then out of nowhere, I’m sad, or a movie triggers a reaction from me. Sometimes, I get upset with myself because it’s so random. The entire month of November 2022 was a gauntlet of grief with so many first anniversaries: the day Dad died (Nov. 5), his funeral day (Nov. 13, which is also my birthday), his birthday (Nov. 22), and Thanksgiving. By the end of the month, I was emotionally exhausted. But I did not hide from my feelings; I approached each one willing to give space for them. I am learning how to balance grief and still have space to live life. 

Accomplishments can become anchors. Accomplishments can anchor you to a particular moment in time and prevent you from moving forward. I remember Jamie Foxx was on “The Late Show with Steven Colbert” a few years ago, and he spoke about hiding his Oscar. He said he could feel his personality changing right after winning, and it was almost like he was putting too much pressure on himself afterward. I tend to avoid speaking about what I’ve done or accomplished because those were moments, and if I continue to be caught up in those moments, I cannot continue to grow. I realize that people perceive you from the version of you they initially met. 

In 2018 on “The Late Show with Steven Colbert,” Jamie Foxx discussed how he briefly let fame go to his head after his run on “In Living Color.”

Control is like trying to grip sand. When I attempt to control life, it slips out of my hands. Each day has its troubles and concerns, but I can increase my self-awareness and change how I react to situations. Distractions come when I am frustrated with the changes that life requires me to embrace. I then look for a diversion to occupy my time instead of focusing on controlling my actions. I’ve learned that my level of growth depends on what I am willing to release. 

It all makes sense afterwhile. Nothing in life is wasted. Even in the worst situations, there is a lesson to discover. Life continues to build upon itself. The struggles of today will be the foundation for a better tomorrow. Don’t overlook what is going on around you now. Although it may not seem like it, you are getting prepared for your greater future. You never know; your next assignment could be the best chapter of your life. 

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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