I had my 26th birthday yesterday! Honestly, I feel like I’m still 22 and fresh out of college, but I know that I’ve learned a thing or two since graduation. In fact, I’ve learned a lot over the course of my entire life. Today I wanted to share some (26!) lessons I’ve learned in honor of my birthday.
1. Trust your instincts. Sometimes I question my decisions a little bit too much. I recently trusted someone else’s judgment above my own and ended up in a bad situation. From now on, I am going to listen to my heart about important things that only affect me. If others are involved, then their opinions will obviously be acknowledged 🙂
2. Run because you can. Some people never have been able to experience a runner’s high or explore their neighborhood on foot. If you hate running, then at least go for a walk. I met a woman a few years ago who absolutely loved running, but injured her knee and could not do so any longer. On the days when I don’t want to run, I run for her.
3. The way you spend your days is how you spend your life. I realize that this is a slight cliché, but it is the absolute truth. My goal is to wake up every day and be excited by how I will spend it. Idealistic? Yes! I dream big.
4. There will always be dirty dishes. When I have a lot going on, I sometimes just need to drop it all and have fun with my friends. I’m a grad student who also has a job outside of school. There will never be a time when I have nothing on my agenda, so sometimes I just need to throw my hands in the air and take a breather for a night (or two).
5. Too much stuff is unnecessary. Get rid of clutter; you don’t need it. The more junk I have lying around, the more stressed out I am. The state of my apartment does not reflect this piece of advice, but do as I say, not as I do.
6. Sometimes you have to give up on things in order to pursue better things. About two years ago, I had a career going in a field that did not interest me in the slightest and a 5-year relationship with someone who did not respect me. I thought those two things were just parts of my life that I had to accept. Somehow, I saw the light and let go of both around the same time. I can’t believe how happy I am now compared to how unhappy I was back then. Seriously, people, let go. Live your dreams!
7. The road to success is not a straight line. Bumps in the road are a part of the journey. Giving up my career path/relationship put me in a state of confusion for a couple of months. I still question my decision to go to grad school and put further developing my career on hold (I definitely do not question getting out of my last relationship, though, haha!). The best things in life require sacrifice and many mistakes along the way. Believe me, I have made many mistakes, but I’ve lived to tell the tale!
8. Tune out the naysayers. You never know what you can or cannot do until you try. When I set out to run the Chicago Marathon and raise money for the American Cancer Society in 2012, a few close friends and family members told me that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Two people were particularly irritating – one thought I couldn’t run that many miles and the other thought I’d never meet my minimum fundraising goal. I killed both of those goals, which felt even better when I proved both people wrong. One even took me out to an expensive dinner and toasted my tenacity with a bottle of champagne. Don’t mess with me 😉
9. No matter how stressful life is, remember your loved ones. They are the ones who matter more than that promotion, test grade, or new car. People make life better. At the end of the day, who you have in your life is way better than what you have in your life. Plus, spending time with friends is a welcome distraction from stress.
10. Life is all about balance. Work hard, but schedule time for fun. Eat lots of veggies, but have that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream too. Life is short; enjoy it in a healthy way.
11. Spend your money on experiences instead of on stuff. Go on trips, eat at delicious restaurants, run a half marathon! Better yet, do these things with other people. Shared experiences make the world go ’round.
12. Say yes to opportunities. Going out with friends usually beats hanging out alone. Similarly, speaking at that conference might be nerve-wracking, but just imagine the networking you’ll do!
13. BUT, know when to say no. Sometimes we need to take a break. At this point in my life, I know when I need a night on the couch instead of a night on the town.
14. You owe zero apologies for saying no to others. This is your life. Do what you want as long as you give some notice and are not hurting another person. I struggled with this one for a long time, and occasionally still do.
15. Being alone does not equal being lonely. I’m an extravert, but even I need a night to myself. I used to think this made me boring or unpopular, but now I see that it’s good to enjoy solitude.
16. Try not to assume; nothing is as it seems. People are all fighting uphill battles. No matter who you are, life is hard. Just because someone is rude to you does not mean it’s a personal attack against you. Similarly, you cannot predict the outcome of any situation. Life throws tons of curveballs. It’s better to just expect the unexpected.
17. Things change in the blink of an eye. Appreciate every moment while it lasts. I remember being homesick my freshman year of college and wishing the semester would end. Now I wish I would have just enjoyed that time in my life a little more.
18. Be kind to others, even when they are not kind to you. As I previously mentioned, most (if not all) people are going through difficult situations that you may never comprehend. If you show them a little love, you may make their day a little better.
19. Be kind to yourself. I think people beat themselves up over too many issues. Give yourself a break.
20. Everything works out for the best. It’s like Steven Colbert said in his Northwestern commencement speech “If we’d all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses. So whatever your dream is right now, if you don’t achieve it you haven’t failed and you’re not some loser.” Everything changes and regardless of what happens, I know I’ll be able to handle it the best I can. Plans can certainly be broken and replaced by equally great opportunities.
21. Not everyone is going to like you. This is a fact of life that has been hard for me to deal with. I get better every day, but people pleasing is something that I need to stop wasting my time on. So what if ____ dislikes me? I can’t change who I am 😛
22. There are productive ways to confront people, like through I-statements. Telling people how we feel doesn’t always have to be scary. I learned this last summer when I participated in group counseling and applied it a few times since then.
23. Do volunteer work! I’ve experienced so much joy through volunteering – it’s almost as if the people I work with give me more than I give them <3
24. Don’t be afraid of getting older. I now see that every gray hair, wrinkle, and experience is a sign of wisdom. After losing a good family friend last year, I think of every day is a gift. I’m so happy to have my life. I would never want to start over knowing what I know now.
25. The scariest things in life are the ones that are most worth it. I had major stage fright growing up (and now), but I still auditioned for the shows at my skating rink. So much anxiety overtook my life the week before a show, but once I got on stage I felt great. Relief and a sense of accomplishment are two feelings that you definitely don’t get for free. I need to carry this advice with me because I am so nervous about my upcoming internship. These nerves mean I care and genuinely want to do a good job. This is going to be so worth it.
26. Never imitate other people or hide your personality. A manager at my old job did not keep it a secret that she disliked my personality. I tried to suppress my enthusiasm and loud speaking voice that bothered her, but they came out anyway. When I got a new (AWESOME) boss, she helped me use my personality to my advantage. I’m boisterous and can’t really act like a quiet person. Being quiet is just not me; I tried to change and it didn’t work in the slightest. If someone doesn’t like your personality, then show them the door. If it’s your boss, then find a new job like I did 😉 Life is too short to pretend. Always be genuine.
I hope you guys got something out of this post. If not, then at least I had fun writing it 🙂 My life has been such an adventure and I have gained so much insight over the years. I feel lucky to be me and can’t wait to see what the next 26 years bring. What have you learned in your life that is important? Please share!