As I get closer to embarking on my 26th birthday, I’ve started to think deeply about the last 25 years and the many invaluable life lessons I’ve learned along the way. While many of these are still a work in progress, if I could go back in time, this is what I would tell my younger self.
1. It’s OK not to be OK all the time
There will be days where you don’t feel like your best self. Where you feel particularly off for no reason at all. Where you’re stuck living inside your head. Or where you don’t feel quite good enough for anything. In these moments you’re going to be extremely hard on yourself, but learn to cut yourself some slack.
Expecting yourself to have it ‘all together’ all the time will only set you up for a lifetime of disappointment. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to hurt. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to not have things figured out yet. It’s OK to not be OK all the time.
2. Stop being hard on yourself
You have always been your toughest critic and biggest bully, especially during times when you think you need to be doing more. For as much angst that you feel over not completing everything on your “list”, or for not getting to a certain point in your life that you believe you should be at by now, it doesn’t make you a failure. Also, it shouldn’t diminish what you have already accomplished.
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it all done. You have come so far already, so skip the series of guilt trips you inflict on yourself and know that if you give yourself a chance to fully recharge, you will come back with a clearer mind and better intentions.
3. Learn to slow down
Multi-tasking is great and all, but when you don’t learn to slow down you will get flustered and make mistakes. It might make sense at first to look at the big picture, but when you try to put all the pieces together at the same time, you are bound to miss some important steps along the way.
4. Let go of things you can’t control
You’re a control freak… it’s true. But remember you’re only human, and as much as you want to fix and control every situation in your life; you can only do so much.
It’s important to remember that some things are just not meant to be held onto and will only cause you more stress and anxiety. So, for your own wellbeing, learn to let go of what no longer serves you and see what happens. Put your trust in the universe and know that everything will work itself out the way it was always intended to.
5. Stop apologizing for everything, especially the things that interest you
You probably thought you were the only one who did this, but you’ll notice how often other people tend to apologize after they get done talking about something they are interested in.
It goes back to the whole being sorry about everything we do. Sorry for asking too many questions. Sorry for voicing our opinion. Sorry for changing our minds. Sorry for needing time to ourselves. Sorry for the way we look today. Sorry for not feeling 100 percent. Sorry for saying sorry too much.
Saying “sorry” as much as you do, is just a habitual filler word you use to avoid over analyzing everything you’re about to say or have already said (even though you did that about 10 minutes ago). Bottom line, you don’t owe an explanation for why you’re interested in the things you are, or why you choose to do the things you do. It’s what makes you, well you after all!
6. Everything in moderation
Too much of one thing is never good for you. Whether it’s food related, a nightly series of Netflix binges, or something else in your life, listen in to what your mind and body really need. Both are powerful tools capable of answering a lot of your questions for you.
7. Learn to say NO without explaining yourself
It’s hard telling someone no – especially those close to you – without justifying your reasoning. Maybe it’s just a natural defensive mechanism, but the need you feel to explain yourself after saying “no” is just pointless.
You’re not a selfish, ungrateful or terrible person for being honest with what you want and don’t want to do. If anyone gets upset or expects you to say “yes” to them all the time, they clearly don’t have your best interest in heart.
At the end of the day, if saying “yes” comes at the expense of feeling like you’re being walked all over, or you’re missing out on doing the things you really want to do, then it’s time to get comfortable saying “no” to leave room for the things you want to say “yes” to.
8. Do more of what you love
This one should be a given, but how much time do you spend doing what you love? So much of our time is spent pleasing others, pleasing our jobs, pleasing our other various commitments, but not enough time is spent doing what we actually want to do.
Your potential is endless, and it should be spent doing more of what drives you to get up early or keeps you up at night lost in the excitement just to get started. That’s where your true happiness lies.
9. Always stay curious
It’s OK to not know everything (that’s what Google is for by the way), but just because you don’t know something doesn’t mean you should lose your sense of curiosity or wonder. Go learn a foreign language, take a screenwriting class, get involved with a good cause, research strategies on how to beat your husband and friends in Catan (but really… I’ve only ever won once), start your own business or maybe try that kickboxing class you’ve always wanted to try.
Regardless of what it is, there is still so much left in life you have yet to learn, so ALWAYS stay curious.
10. Fear is paralyzing, but it will only hold you back
Everything you feared as child, somehow doesn’t quite compare to what you will experience as an adult. Between the excuses you’ll make to keep from taking risks, to the made-up scenarios that don’t actually exist in the real world except for in the proximity of your mind, or the feeling that you will never truly measure up to your full potential, there is so much fear you have created for yourself that only continues to hold you back.
While there is going to be much more ahead in life that remains in the unknown or unexplored category, don’t let the fear of not knowing your path or taking the next step keep you from living an intentional life.
Fear may be paralyzing, but never doing anything about it will only continue to immobilize you.
11. Generally speaking, don’t be a dick
We all have our moments, but for the most part try to refrain from being a dick just because you’re in a pissy mood or going through one of your perfectionist tendencies again. Just keep this in mind as a general rule for life.
12. Your job doesn’t define you
As much as you thought you wanted some high-profile career you had envisioned for yourself after college, you’ll figure out pretty quickly that life was not meant to be spent sitting being a desk working for someone else’s dreams.
Yes, there will always be bills to pay and unexpected expenses to account for, but your identity and self-worth don’t rely on some fancy job title or what you do to make a living to feel successful. It’s your interests, goals, passions, and who you choose to spend your time with that really count in this lifetime.
At the end of the day, you will always be much more than what is listed on your resume.
13. Remember, everything is temporary
This one you might have to remind yourself of daily, especially during times where you feel particularly lost in what you think you’re “supposed” to be doing. But these emotions, these thoughts, your job, where you live, even this life – it’s all temporary.
Nothing lasts forever because everything in life is always in transition. You have a lifetime of more experiences and life lessons ahead of you, so don’t get swayed too easily by the emotions you are feeling in the present moment.
These storms were not made to last forever.
14. When in doubt, dance it out
Overthinking is your WORST ENEMY. It leads to all your hesitations, doubts and fears. If you ever find yourself spiraling in this direction, stop what you’re doing and dance it out. It’s guaranteed to work 9/10 times, or at least remind you that not everything needs to be taken so seriously all the time.
15. Get out of your head and be present
Your mind is one exhausting place.
It may be your safe haven to retreat, but it’s also the main cause of your internal combustions and most of your panic attacks. With your brain constantly being pulled in a million different directions all the time, you end up spending more time in your head shuffling through your thoughts than you do living in the present moment. You won’t realize until later how much you miss out on in life when you do this, almost like none of those moments even existed because you were never really there.
It won’t be easy, but the more you practice being present, the more it will become a habit and the easier it will be to stop the constant stream of chatter in your head.
16. Stop treating everything in life like it’s a test
Goals and deadlines are important but stop setting hard deadlines for yourself that make you feel like a failure when you don’t achieve them. You work hard every day, and if you need a day off or two to relax and not do a damn thing, what’s the harm in that? Life is not a series of pass or fail (you’re not in school anymore), so focus on the progress you have made so far versus speeding through everything to feel satisfied.
17. You’re responsible for your own actions, no one else
Don’t blame other people for the reason why you are the way you are, or for all your shortcomings. Yes, you are a product of your environment (something you’ll notice more the older you get), but you are also responsible for your own actions and how you choose to react to what’s thrown at you. If you don’t like something about yourself or how you repeatedly approach something the wrong way time and time again, then change it. You are not stuck that way. But putting the blame on someone else, is going to keep you heading in the wrong direction.
Same goes for inanimate objects. The couch is not out to get you just because you stubbed your toe on it and spilled coffee on yourself again. It’s all about how you choose to react, and you have the power to change that as well.
18. Make peace with your past
“Woulda, coulda, shoulda” – a common streamline of thoughts you let fester and eat you alive. Not only that, but you can’t go back in time and change your past. And why would you? It’s what shaped you into who you are today; without it you wouldn’t be the same.
There is no rationing with your past actions. If you think about it, your prefrontal cortex (the brain’s rational part) doesn’t even fully develop until you’re 25, so everyone including you are bound to make a few bad calls here and there. No one is perfect and we all mistakes, but the sooner you can make peace with your past, the sooner you can focus on the present you and what’s right for her.
19. Be unapologetically you
Quirks and all, embrace the true you. Be real. Be raw. Be authentic.
It’s easy to lose this, especially with all the pressure from both the media and social media. It can also be hard to find yourself, or confident in your decisions when you’re busy looking at what everyone else is doing.
Stop wasting time trying to be something you’re not. Be honest with yourself, stay true to your authentic self and be unapologetically you.
20. Don’t wait for the universe to tell you you’re ready, just do it
You’re really good at talking yourself out of things (like, scary good). But really you are just good at making excuses to put off going after what you really want. While there are a million and one reasons you could list to avoid doing something because you don’t think you’re ready, or you don’t know enough about it to pursue it yet or you’re just waiting for all the stars in the sky to align, then you’ll never end up doing it.
There is no perfect time to put yourself out there or make a big change. And if you keep waiting around for the universe to tell you you’re ready, you’ll be waiting around for a reply forever.
21. People can drain you, or they can energize you. Choose wisely
Some people are a huge energy suck (you know who I’m talking about). The ones who continue to take from you, but never replenish. Or the toxic ones who bring you down because in reality they are not happy with themselves. Or the ones so negative about everything that you start to develop the same mindset just being around them. These kinds of people don’t deserve your time or energy because one, they will never change and two, they will only continue to drain what’s left of you to give.
Instead, focus on surrounding yourself with people who inspire you, who have your best interest in heart and who make you want to be a better person. These are the people that are the most valuable in life!
22. Travel as often as you can
Make a promise to yourself to visit somewhere new at least once a year, whether that’s to a bordering state or someplace halfway around the world. You will learn more from your experiences than you will from spending your money on things you don’t need.
23. If you don’t like where you’re at in life, change it
If you don’t like where you’re at in life, do something about it. You are not a tree, so pick up your roots and get a move on.
While this is much easier said than done, you’re allowed to change your mind, you’re allowed to chase a new direction, and most importantly, you’re allowed to take full control of where you want to go in your life.
We are the only ones in the driver seat, so use this as motivation to know you have the power to change your situation at any given moment. You don’t have to commit to one place, one job, one hair color or anything else that makes you unhappy.
The worst thing you can do for yourself is settle for less than what you’re worth.
24. Believe it or not, there is always room for dessert
Anyone who has ever turned down dessert should not be trusted. Period. End of story. Case closed.
No, but really this should be a general rule for life because let’s be real, there’s always room.
25. Love yourself
This is probably the most important lesson you will ever learn because even with an awesome support system of friends and family, the only person who is stuck with you at the end of the day is you (so you might as well have a great relationship with yourself, right?).
If you don’t love yourself, you’ll never be able to truly give your love to another person or allow yourself to be loved in return. It all begins and ends with you chica friend.
Stay curious, be present, travel often!