1. It totally gets better. Times of heartbreak and hardship come and go, and even at your lowest low, there is always a bright side. A little patience and a lot of self-love go a long way. Red wine and dark chocolate don't hurt either.
2. It's okay to cut people out of your life. Many relationships that were important to you in high school you'll find you don't have anymore in college and beyond. That's okay. People you love can still be toxic to your life. If you find yourself anxious, hurt, exasperated, embarrassed, or disappointed on a regular basis by a person in your life who is supposed to love and care about you, it's a good indication you've outgrown this relationship. For your own mental, emotional and psychological health and wellbeing, you have to know when to say, "enough!" Wish these people well and don't hold hatred or resentment in your heart, but cut ties and know you're doing the right thing for you.
3. Make your health a priority. Getting up the motivation to go on a run or do some yoga can be the absolute last thing you feel you want to do. Force yourself to do it. In my own experience, regular exercise makes me a happier, more confident and less stressed person. I used to equate exercise solely with weight loss, but it doesn't have to be that way. Exercise can be medicine, pure and simple. If you're having a bad day, sometimes 45 minutes of running, swimming, yoga or weight training can be just the thing to clear your head. Fight your inner lazy demon and just do it. You'll thank yourself in the long run.
4. It's okay to spoil yourself. Healthy habits can make you feel better overall and over time, but sometimes a little instant gratification can be the difference between a horrible day and a pleasant one. A little retail therapy, an extra glass of your favorite alcoholic beverage, or a bigger portion of comfort food is absolutely okay. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and if you need some chocolate because you just can't today, just indulge. It's not the worst thing in the world and you shouldn't beat yourself up for doing something every so often that makes you happy.
5. Don't compare your life to your friends'. So many people in my age group are married, have children, earned masters degrees or bought their first house. Every time I see a new engagement ring photo on Facebook my stomach drops a little bit. Not only is it not healthy to compare your life to another's... it will drive you crazy! Things will happen for you in your life when you are ready for them to happen. Don't rush any relationship or financial purchase just to keep up with the Joneses. Do you.
6. It's never too late to follow your dreams. I had a settled life that I decided to leave behind in order to move abroad at 24. The past three years have been a crazy roller coaster ride beyond my wildest expectations for where my life would lead me. You don't ever want to look back and think, "What if?"
7. Beauty standards are bullshit. If you're worried about attracting a partner and you think they won't be attracted to you unless you do X, you're looking for the wrong partner. I decided to stop shaving my legs at 24 and my armpits at 26. I wear makeup maybe four times a month. I'm a solid size 14, and guess what? I have an amazing, sexy partner who thinks I'm desirable no matter what. If you love high heels and makeup, dress up and flaunt it! If you are into sweatpants and being comfy, go on with your bad self! If you have naturally curly hair, rock it! Just be you and don't make yourself crazy over trying to look a certain way. It's bullshit, and the best men and women you're trying to attract don't care about that stuff the way you're supposed to believe they do.
8. Learn to cook. Learning to cook at home saves you money and makes you feel awesome. Even learning a few basic recipes you can cook from scratch to get started will make you feel good. There's a sense of pride you get from eating and serving something you prepared yourself. The more you do it, the better you get. It's also healthier overall and gives you more control over what you put into your body. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want a few basic vegetarian recipes. I'm happy to share.
9. Become friends with your parents. Once you're out of the house and on your own, it's easy to revert to seeing your family just a few times a year. As someone who is only able to see my family 1-2 times a year, I can tell you that you miss it when you don't have it. As an adult, my relationship with my parents has shifted so that I see them as actual people. Flawed and amazing individuals who I can really share anything with. There will be the awkward few times where you accidentally recount a story where you had lied to them when you were a teenager, but it becomes something to laugh about. I've grown to appreciate my parents so much more as real people than as the authority figures of yesteryear. If by some tragedy, misfortune, or circumstance a relationship with your parents isn't possible or desirable, find a few friends in people who are older than you. They just bring something different to the table.
10. Your beliefs will change and evolve over time. Being open-minded is really helpful here, but more than anything it just takes being able to listen to yourself. Contemplate and evaluate something that's being argued before you decide you agree or disagree. Think critically about the problems of the world. Be prepared to defend your opinions in a civil and compassionate way. Additionally, be open to changing your mind.
11. Don't feed the trolls! Sometimes, people are just mean, spiteful idiots. Nothing in the world you could tell them will change their worldview, because it's far too scary for them to consider another idea. Just leave them be. Hopefully, you won't have much proximity to these people, but they are everywhere. Don't take their blind insults personally, and learn to just walk away. You can't open everyone's mind.
12. Do nice things for strangers. Give up your seat on the subway to an elderly person. Pick something up and return it to someone who dropped it. Wave to little kids and make funny faces at them. Let someone in who's trying to merge into your lane. Give a homeless person some money or food, and even better, look them in the eye and have a conversation with them. Little acts of kindness make a difference in your day as much as the person you're helping.
13. Don't stop reading books. Books are so important and we process them much differently than we do reading something online. There's something to be said for the physical experience of turning the page, that new book smell, and getting lost for hours in the pages of a great story.
14. Horrible jobs are temporary. Every difficult job still provides you an opportunity to learn something about yourself or develop new skills (even if they aren't job related). Even the worst boss can teach you something important. It could be how to deal with difficult people. It could be how to not take things personally. It could be that you need activities outside of work that give you a sense of meaning. Once you've learned what you're supposed to in that situation, get out as soon as you can. Spending 40+ hours a week in a horrible situation is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
15. Network. Personal connections can make a huge difference in your professional life. A cousin of a friend could be the difference between interview practice and your next great job. Now that we have social tools, this is even easier. I've found freelance work and full-time jobs just by connecting with the right person on LinkedIn and sending them a message. If you move to a new place, networking is a great way to meet new people. Out of the many friends you have, someone is bound to know someone who knows someone in your new city. Take the time to connect with new people. At the very least, you can make a new friend.
16. Nurture your friendships. Good friends are hard to come by. Lifelong friends are family. Make the time to get together and stay in tune with what's going on in each other's lives. I never would have survived some of my darker times as an expat without my weekly Skype sessions with my best friend. Even if you just message someone for a quick chat on Facebook or Gtalk, you're putting in the time to stay connected. That's important.
17. Be able to laugh at yourself. Life is crazy and difficult enough without you needing to put additional pressure on yourself to be perfect all the time. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone is human. Don't take life too seriously, and don't be too hard on yourself. Because of my weak ankles and a particularly precarious pair of cowboy boots I refuse to give up, I've fallen flat on my ass in public at least three times in the past few months. After the mortification and shock wears off, I just have to laugh. I still won't get rid of those boots.
18. Save room for "me time." I can't tell you how important this is. Everyone needs a little bit of time alone. Whether you just want to get out of the house and do some shopping, go to a movie alone, or send your significant other away for the afternoon so you can binge watch the new season of Orange Is The New Black, be willing (and adamant) to carve out a little bit of time for just you. Sometimes, you just have one of those days where you hate everything. That's a perfect day for some quiet, solo relaxation.
19. Be able to admit when you're wrong. If there's one shackle of adolescence that's hard to shake off, it's (for me) that know-it-all, self-satisfied insistence that I know everything. Teenagers are all like that -- no one in the world can tell them anything. It takes practice (and being wrong), but learning a little humility builds character. No matter how old you get, you're never too old to learn something new, and you'll find that just about anybody can teach you something about life.
20. Get enough sleep. I'm guilty of breaking this one, and often, but the science is there: Not getting enough sleep increases your risk of diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, chronic migraines and obesity. When you're sleeping is when the majority of cell growth and repair takes place, and there is even evidence to suggest that our immune system fights the hardest when we're sleeping. Getting regular sleep can help fight weight gain, regulate stress, help improve memory and keep you more alert and focused during the day. Get. Enough. Sleep.
21. Enjoy the outdoors. As an American expat from a driving city, I am all too familiar with the tendency to stay indoors. Some days, walking to my car was the extent of my outdoor activity. Make time to enjoy being outside. Pack a picnic and a book and go to a local park. Go on a long walk or a bike ride with a friend, your significant other, or your dog. If it's a nice day and you're going out to eat, sit on the patio. I often find myself awed by the natural beauty of the Earth when I take the time to actually look at it.
22. Spend time doing something you love, even if it isn't your job. You have to make time for your passions and your hobbies. We spend way too much of our time in this life working to survive. In your free time, do something that nourishes your soul. Even if you're busy, just carve out a little time to do something you enjoy. It could be anything -- music, working on cars, fixing things, knitting, painting, volunteering, Rollerblading -- it doesn't matter, as long as it makes you feel good. We could all use a few extra moments to feel good throughout the day.
23. Forgive yourself for your past mistakes. Ever have that flash of an embarrassing memory creep back into your mind? Ever cringe at the you of yesteryear for something stupid you did? Maybe to someone you cared about who got hurt? You need to let that go. If you haven't tried to apologize (if there is someone to apologize to) and it would give you closure, try to reach out. You can't guarantee it will be a pretty outcome, but you can speak your heart and clear your mind of it. Life is too short to live in regret. The fact that you're feeling so bad so many years later is an indication that your heart has grown and matured since that time. You can't change the past, so focus on making sure the present you is a better person who wouldn't make those mistakes again.
24. Forgive people who have hurt you. Hell, sometimes they even did you a favor. People (generally) don't hurt you to be malicious; they hurt you because they lack something in themselves that would make them brave and strong enough to treat other people with respect. If anything, you should feel sorry for them, grateful they're out of your life, and move on. Don't harbor resentment and hatred in your heart. You're better than that, and those people don't deserve to hold that residual power over you.
25. The love of your life won't be a fairytale. The person you wind up in love with won't be perfect. Guess what? Neither are you. A lasting relationship is about acceptance, compromise, and communication. If you find someone who accepts you and loves you for everything wonderful and in spite of everything horrible about you, you've found a keeper. None of us are easy to contend with. We all have our mood swings, our social faux pas, our annoying habits -- we're all human. You might not get Prince Charming or Princess Charismatic, but you'll get a real person who loves you for just exactly who you are. Cherish that person. You never know how much time you'll get to have with them.
26. People can die anytime. Unfortunately, I've lost several friends my age over the years. It is always a horrible tragedy when someone is taken from the world when they still had so much living to do. You never know when your time will be up, so live every day as if it could be your last. People won't remember you for the promotion you got at work, or the nice car you drove. They'll remember you for the time you taught them how to read auras in your college dorm room, for your infectious smile, for the silly dance you did every time that one Lady Gaga song came on, and for the time you stuck up for them when no one else would.
27. Don't be afraid or ashamed of getting older. Birthdays are special. They mark our entrance into the world. Age doesn't mean anything unless you let it. It's not about wrinkles or grey hairs. It's about marveling at the fact that you're living this one life, this precious gift that you have no idea how long you can keep. Live it up.
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