July 14, 2016

25 for 25: Life's Lessons So Far

25 doesn't sound very old to most people, but chances are, making it to that quarter of a century mark guarantees I've spent over a fourth of my life. While there were birthdays I was more excited for (16, 18, 21, the ones with cool sleepovers and water balloon fights, etc.), there's something a little surreal about the 25-mark. I thought it would be a good time to think about a few things I've learned/realized over the years...
  1. You cannot predict life - no matter how stable it is at any given moment, it doesn't mean it will remain that way tomorrow. Whether it's: be careful about buying a house because you may not actually stay in it for a minimum of five years because you may not end up staying in grad school and want to move away, or some sudden financial burden or relationship or job change... you cannot know where you will be in five years. You do not know where you'll be a year from now. Don't depend on those plans. 
  2. Tell people you love them as often as you can. I never thought anything of my step-dad asking, "did I tell you I loved you today? Well, I love you today!" when I was younger... in fact, I sometimes grew annoyed at his predictability. But I understand the lesson now. It is so important to give and show love and gratitude and reach out to people you care about and remind them. I haven't done the best job of sticking with my New Years Resolution of being less out of sight, out of mind, but I understand its significance. 
  3. Gratitude is one of the best mindfulness practices for literally anyone. I'm one of those self-proclaimed realists that are maybe a little bit pessimistic, and I envy the pure joy, the sweetest, most sincere, non-annoying kind of happiness exuberating from people like my old Mormon boss... and just by focusing on the positive things that happen each day and all which you do have to be grateful for really does help me feel more optimistic. It's really hard to be grateful when it feels like everything is falling apart and your mental health is hitting a low point - but man, does it do the trick.
  4. Open your eyes and never stop questioning. I wasn't really taught to question things, as a daughter of the South, until I accidentally indoctrinated myself into an Honors College specializing in just that. Make sure you morally agree with things that affect you and your neighbors in the world. Fight against things you don't agree with. Be a force of change for the better. Plant trees whose shade you'll never sit in. Don't turn a blind eye to terrorism on the opposite side of the world. Be an active citizen of society. 
  5. Step out of your comfort zone. This is coming from the queen of comfort, here. If it weren't for stepping out of my comfort zone, I'd still be a picky eater missing out on all kinds of delicious food - maybe I wouldn't have this same love for food or cooking at all! If I hadn't taken the leap to go the "French Camp" or France or even the aforementioned Honors College, I would have never had those multi-week or years-long experiences that seriously impacted who I am today. I wouldn't have gone on one of the most fun vacations I've ever had. I wouldn't have had my experience with Teach for America. One of my biggest regrets from my high school era is skipping out on Arkansas Governor's School and staying home to work my first summer job instead - which was easy to do because it wasn't in my comfort zone and I didn't know what to expect. I would rather regret doing something that not trying it any day. I owe who I am to the space outside my comfort zone. 
  6. A great example of me stepping out of my comfort zone & posing for a local
    photographer who needed a "model," which made me feel pretty silly... but
    here I am, and Kayla did a great job - check her out!
  7. Just be yourself, don't care what others think, etc. - we've heard them all before. I thought I was doing this by expressing myself through hair and clothing and all of those things at an early age. I've started to realize the much deeper meaning, though. Live your life for yourself and no one else - you are the one who has to live with the consequences. A bad case of adult-onset social anxiety has made me really care what other people think about me, down to not wanting to take pictures of my food for fear of some stranger making fun of me in their head as I've mentioned in other posts and up to far more serious circumstances. Also, who you are will always be changing - you're constantly experiencing more of life and will learn and change from that. It's okay. It's a good thing. 
  8. Along the same line of not owing your life to anyone else, make others respect your boundaries. Know what your boundaries are. I've had friends share things like articles or memes saying you shouldn't abandon your friends just because they're bipolar, borderline, etc. While I literally agree with the statement I just wrote, I disagree with the points of those articles. Wholeheartedly. If someone is poisonous to you, if someone drains you and offers nothing in return, that is a toxic relationship, and I don't care if you've been best friends for a decade, you don't owe them anything. You have every right to remind them of your boundaries or even cut them from your life completely. Don't let someone guilt trip a friendship out of you, even if they do need support - it is not your responsibility. You owe yourself a healthy, drama-free life. 
  9. With that said, don't just give up on people. Love is a choice. It won't always be easy. It will take work. If you do want it, it doesn't just fall into your lap. But don't waste your time on those who won't put any of their own effort in. Don't let people mistreat you.
  10. Stuff. Don't have too much stuff. This is coming from the daughter of a slight hoarder... I've always loved stuff. Many of the items on this list are things that I still struggle with though I've realized their truths... and that's okay, and this is certainly one of them. Though I was always good with money, I've become quite impulsive with my purchases - things like Amazon Prime don't exactly help. Stuff crowds your space and makes you waste money on things instead of experiences and skills you will never outgrow. It promotes consumerism and labor that often stems from slave wages. Stuff doesn't often have sentimental or even useful value. If you never use it or it doesn't make you feel anything, you don't need it. I'm not quite to the "if I didn't make it or barter for it I don't have it" hippie-ism I so admire, but I'm leaning there. Create - creating feels so much better than consuming. 
  11. Learn how to apologize. Learn how to apologize sincerely. Learn how to swallow your pride and apologize even when you don't think you really should. That doesn't mean every time you don't think you should, don't be a pushover, be sure to stand up for yourself. But figure out if it's worth it. Sometimes you do just need to be the bigger person. It will save a lot of heartache. 
  12. Connect with Mother Nature. Whether through recreational activities like hiking and kayaking or through soil, cooking, food - connect. It will bring you peace. It will help you find your place in the universe. Keep Mother Nature healthy - care about global warming, about climate change. Recycle, reuse, reduce. Take care of her so she can continue taking care of us. 
  13. Empathize with those around you. You won't always agree with your neighbor. You won't always share the same religion, nationality, skin, opinions... but they're just living their life like you. They're just human beings reacting to their experiences. Love them. Listen to them. Give back to the communities that raised you. Forgive them for their mistakes. Don't let yourself wallow in loneliness - there are so many potential relationships waiting to be savored around you. 
  14. It is not the end. It is never the end. It will get better. It can always get better. Meet your needs. Treat yourself. Do what you need to do to get to the other side of the burden. You can do it. Try to figure out what life is trying to teach you. 
  15. Humor is one of life's biggest blessings. Sometimes we need to be reminded when we're taking things too seriously. 
  16. I struggle with patience. A friend reminds me of this frequently and I have worked on it and I don't think he typically gives me enough credit, but he isn't wrong. I have a go-go-go personality. I'm trying to learn slow living. I'm trying to learn to savor and dawdle. I'm trying to learn to relish boredom and stop multi-tasking so much. There's a lot to be said for meditation. You can't always be waiting for the next thing. 
  17. The world isn't fair, your family was right. Do not compare your life with that of your seemingly luckier friend. It will make you sad. Life is trying to teach you something different, so listen. Do remind yourself others always have it worse - that it doesn't negate whatever you might be going through, but remember to appreciate what you do have and remember whatever it may be is in some way or another temporary - that this too shall pass. 
  18. Miscommunication, in some form or another, is responsible for most disagreements. Communicate as clearly as you can. Follow up and make sure you understood someone if what they said bothered you - chances are, it's just a common case of miscommunication. We're also all a little bit "crazy" so let's not embarrass one another for it. 
  19. Don't let procrastination become a habit - keep your will power and self-determination high. Exercise your brain like any other muscle or it will become as useless as any muscle you don't exercise. Stay motivated, stay alert. 
  20. Documenting life is beautiful. So long as you're living it, don't let someone tell you you're taking too many pictures or spending too much time with your nose in a journal. Our memories will fade and things you think you'll never forget will be forgotten. Preserve them, pass them on.
  21. Put your money where your mouth is. If you're totally against a corporation, your money speaks. Invest in things you believe in. If you're against sweat shops, shop around for fair trade - or if you're like me and can't afford Free People, buy secondhand and reduce/reuse/recycle. If you want to support local organic produce and farmers, buy from them. If you want to preserve mom and pop shops, buy your Christmas presents from them instead of the big box store. If you don't agree with propaganda fast food chains present, don't eat there. Vote with your dollars. Don't just keep helping the rich get richer. 
  22. Travel. Soak up other cultures like a sponge. Don't be a sheep of your nation. Don't make up excuses. It's one of the best experiences and treat-your-self-isms you can get. And everyone can do it, even Sally-Mae from middle-of-nowhere-southern-U.S.
  23. I am such a people pleaser and I love to make other people happy that I sometimes forget to focus on myself and do things that make me happy. Don't get me wrong, I get plenty of Netflix-binging most weeks and this does technically count. But sometimes I act like the finding-myself days are long past in college, and they're not. We should never stop getting to know ourselves and doing things that make us who we are. And I just don't thing Netflix makes me who I am. 
  24. Sometimes people won't like you. And unless it really matters to you (for instance, a mother-in-law), it's okay to let it go
  25. Systematic racism is real. As good-intentioned, open-minded, and compassionate as I was it even took me a couple of years to wrap my head around what #BlackLivesMatter really meant. I can't imagine what it will take for equally good and kind people I know who watch a little too much Fox News. It is so ingrained in our society that we can't even tell it's there and it feels like there's nothing left that could actually convince those people there's a problem. But keep doing your part. Keep standing up and protecting your brothers and sisters even when others make it hard. 
  26. One day you're going to wake up and realize you've been around for X number of years. It goes by a little faster each year. Don't get caught in a cycle of sleep work repeat. Live. 
So, take these bits of "wisdom" with a grain of salt - not that I don't think 25 year olds can be wise! This is my reflection of the first 25 lessons to come to mind. There have been many and will continue to be many more.

(Fun fact: this post was written in a couple of weeks in advance and is scheduled to post at the exact moment I turn 25.)

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