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10 Life Lessons From My First Real Winter

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As someone who was born, raised and lived as a fully-grown adult in Florida, I never looked forward to summers. Why would I? Nearly every day in the sunshine state was summertime. Christmas? Warm. Valentine's Day? Warm. St. Patrick's Day? Warmer. It wasn't until I moved to New York City last August that I understood what "spring fever" or "summer dreams" really meant. And boy, do I get it now.

Since I moved, many have joked and jibed that I'll probably end up getting Seasonal Affective Disorder (and if that had been the case, I wouldn't be alone -- in some form or another, it affects approximately 14 percent of Americans yearly). But while this has been "an exceptionally terrible winter" (a direct quote from my sympathetic New York friends), this is still my first winter. Even if it had been more mild, it'd still affect me more than most. It's cold. It's bitter. It's miserable.

But more than anything, it has been the most incredible season of my life.

I've learned more about life -- and myself -- this winter than any other time in my young adulthood. The lessons I've gleaned from this Polar Vortex will have an impact on me into the remaining three seasons and beyond, and I am forever thankful for that. Here are 10 things that the winter has taught me:

1. There's value in the small pleasures. Without the bitter cold, there wouldn't be an opportunity to appreciate the warmth on your skin -- whether it's the fireplace in your living room or the random, blissfully "warm" Saturday in the middle of February. Before now, I never craved summers because I never had the opportunity to crave them. This season has made me endlessly grateful for the little things: a good weather day, the chance to get outside and even the small victory of coming across an open street corner with no snow or slush.

2. The sun will always reappear. In Florida, we had sunshine more days of the year than not, whereas up north you're dealing with more clouds and -- unfortunately -- snow. But even though the winter storms seemed unbearable and it felt like the sun was never going to come back, it always did. When there's despair, worry or stress, there's always a ray of light just around the corner.

3. If you fall, get back up. Nobody wants to slip on ice in a skirt and tights (three times in a row), but the point is you stand back up and take the next wobbly steps toward the subway. The same thing goes for anything in life, whether it's in your personal relationships or at work. You aren't going to sit firmly planted in the snow -- you're going to keep going.

4. Never pass up the opportunity to find some calm. This goes for a quiet (yet cold) walk in Central Park or booking a weekend trip in Florida. Sometimes we all just need an escape.

5. Give yourself a break. It's okay to get frustrated every once in a while (who wouldn't be after their umbrella has flipped inside out for the fourth time?) but don't let your immediate stress have any effect on you. And on the other side of the coin, don't be angry with yourself for being angry with the circumstances. You're allowed a moment of no emotional control.

6. Be open to flexibility. This goes for the weather and your work. If you have the opportunity to work from home during a blizzard, chances are you should take it. It takes a lot more than mental stamina to schlep through four inches of snow (like coordination and a good pair of snow boots), so instead of spending your energy trying to make it to the A train, save it so you don't become exhausted before you even start the day.

7. Don't rush. Don't speed through the snow (see lesson No. 3), the season or through life. Make slowness a priority -- it'll help you appreciate what's right in front of you because you have the time to notice that it's there.

8. Being mindful is always in season (but particularly this season). Stepping away from my screen, while more difficult because winter has me hiding in my apartment, has been more important than ever. There's an overwhelming urge to remain plugged in, scrolling through Facebook and binge-watching TV shows. That being said, this season has also taught me that being mindful with technology (and everything else that I do) is something that I should strive to incorporate into my life daily. While this winter may have been the start of the "Mindful Revolution," it isn't the only time of the year that's acceptable to practice presence.

9. Embrace new adventures. Yes, even if they scare you. During my first winter, I tried ice skating outside (and yes, I fell), looked into ski trips (with another guarantee that I'll be sitting in the snow more than standing upright) and had a random snowball fight in the park. Opening yourself up to new things -- even if it's something simple as an outdoor activity -- allows you to expand your comfort zone and push yourself in ways you never thought you could.

And, lastly, 10. Make the season an important memory. This lesson is a little personal but the statement bears some meaning. This winter will always be the season that I really became a New Yorker. I bought my first coat. I accomplished my goals. I was able to give a tourist subway directions. It's the season that created my new life -- and the season that gave me the chance to celebrate living it.