10 Things That Took Me 22 Years to Figure Out

Sunday, October 25, 2015

photos of me by Connor Allen | others by yours truly 
By no means do I feel like I have anything figured out in my life, but I do feel like I've learned a few crucial lessons in my years. Most of them I've had to learn the hard way, through plenty of mistakes, but since it was my 22nd birthday last week I've been thinking about some things I've tried to take to heart. While I'm still learning (read: stumbling) through life, here are 10 things I've found to be true:

1. Make time for people who matter

Each year as I've gotten increasingly busy with work and school I've started to realize how important it is to manage my time effectively. But I've also had to learn that just because you're busy, it's not an excuse for not showing close friends and family how much they mean to you. Everyone is busy. It's important to cultivate and maintain those relationships because life is only going to get busier. I've learned this is especially important with family. Sometimes your mom just wants to hear how you're doing, you know? And it's equally as important to check up on them too. You can't always wait to hear from someone and give them your time, make time for them.

2. Comparison is the quickest way to end your happiness

Growing up in an age where everyone can choose exactly what part of their life to show the world, it's amazing to me that any of are able to get out of bed without being weighed down by the pressure of living a flawless life. Social media allows people to curate their lives within a centimeter of perfection and if there's one thing I've learned, it's to take what you see with a large grain of salt and don't compare your life to theirs. Comparison caters to those tiny voices in our heads that make us feel like scum and they love it when we begin to hate ourselves. Remember, you never get to see the difficult times these people of the internet go through and if you want to remain a happy, sane person, take Instagram and blogs for what they are: posts about their best moments and nothing else.

*Bonus thought: Stop keeping score. The whole, "she has more shoes than me or his parents paid for his college or they're not even that smart how did they manage to get that job" needs to stop. Life is no place for a scorecard, throw it away and you'll be much happier.

3. You show people how you want to be treated

The way you carry yourself, the way you react to conflict, the amount of times you allow someone to disrespect you and your time, these are all things that condition people on how you want to be treated. People see me as an outgoing person, but what they probably don't know is that I hate conflict and have a really hard time telling people they're wrong, or that I want to be treated differently. At times, especially in the work place or regarding friendships, I don't want people to be upset with me so I just don't bring up issues in order to avoid the strain of confronting someone. I've learned though, that nothing will ever change if you don't open up and talk about it, and by being clear with how you want to be treated, you won't waste time being quietly upset that no one takes you seriously or values your time or what have you, because you've let them know what you want.

4. Never send anything angry

People are going to make you upset in life. It's inevitable. What I've learned through my mistakes as an awfully impulsive person, is to never, never, never, ever send anything (an email, a text, a message) while angry. Emotion makes us do stupid things and it's best, especially when shrouded in anger, to avoid impulsive decisions. There is nothing wrong with waiting to send that hateful text or that seething email until you've calmed down. I promise, it's not worth it. Sometimes I just write out emails I wish I could send (never put the actual person's email in the "to:" bar incase you accidentally hit "send" out of habit) and by the time I'm done fuming and venting and cursing their name and their children's children, I feel better and don't even need to send the email.

5. Ask yourself, "What did I do?"

Speaking of conflict, it's easy to blame the other person and dream up ways to ruin the rest of their life, but...I'm slowly learning to do the opposite. Ask, "What did I do? Why are we fighting? Is there something that I could have done differently?" This is so important. If you take just a second to see things from their point of view, it can be immensely helpful to resolving the problem. I realize that this is incredibly difficult to do when you're upset, but I know that it works. It's also helpful to discuss things instead of going to bed angry or just ignoring each other's feelings. Forcing the hard conversations to happen can lead to figuring out how to deal with and solve problems more effectively than burying your head in the sand and hoping it all goes away. But that conversation goes a lot smoother if you've already thought about what you contributed to the conflict instead of dwelling on how they've "wronged" you.

6. It's okay to say "No - I can't"

What's that? You want me to edit your paper? Sure. You need a ride to the airport? Okay! You want me to help you design your website? Sign me up. Need a video for your blog? Just tell me when. Want some photos for Facebook? Let's do it! Get the idea? This one is so hard for me. I love to help people out. I want people to know I am good at things and I can help you get things done. This can-do attitude will be the death of me. Here is what I've learned: you are doing people a disservice when you agree to do something, but can't do it wholeheartedly. It would be better if you had just said, "I can't do that now, but I'd be happy to help you out another time when I'm not so busy." There is nothing wrong with that. It will save you both time and effort and allow you to maintain your sliver of sanity. I have tried many times to take on a multitude tasks at once and the stress I feel from trying to get everything done (and done well) completely negates the good feeling I get from helping others. Know your limit and stick to it.

7. Don't listen to people who don't matter

Something I've actively tried to work on is not crumbling under criticism. While I recognize that constructive criticism is a necessary part of progress, not all people deserve to have their words taken to heart. What's that saying again? "Haters gonna hate." No matter what you do, you are never going to make everyone around you happy and even attempting to do so is a great way to stifle your personal happiness. Listen to those you respect and care about, take into consideration what your boss and professors say and stand by your own intuition. But don't pay attention to the dull roar of the masses telling you you'll never succeed, you'll never be as good as them, you'll never make it, you're fat, you're ugly, no one cares...etc. Those people don't matter and they probably really don't care about you, they're too busy feeling insecure about themselves. Have enough confidence in yourself to let the opinions of others roll off your back without a second thought. Or better yet, don't consider them at all.

8. Be passionate about whatever you want

We hear it all the time: "Be yourself." But for some reason, we all ignore that sentiment and try and follow this imaginary manual that mandates what we do and what to say. There is no rule book guys. If you are a girl who writes and loves books and happens to have an opinion on everything then, own it. If you are a guy who is studying finance but is obsessed with art history then, be obsessed! If you like to dress up on the weekends in cosplay and have Dungeons & Dragons competitions then don't let anyone tell you you're weird. What we're missing in life is passion. I can honestly say I'd rather listen to someone who is passionate about something I'm unfamiliar with, than hear someone go on about something they think I want to hear. Passion is genuine. It's real and it's something I wish I'd had the confidence to shout my passions from the rooftops earlier in life. I spent way too much time trying to be "cool girl" when I should have just been unapologetically and authentically, me.

9. Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth

Nothing can settle and make a home quite as heavily in your chest as lying. Lying to your family, lying to your partner, lying to your friends, lying to yourself. Each of them takes a toll on a person, no matter how hard we try to bury it underneath good intentions. For a long time I struggled with balancing my need to make my family and friends happy and making myself happy. Often the things that made me happy were the same things that made my friends happy, so there was no issue. But then I grew up and started to change and form my own opinions and found out it's not such an easy thing to manage, particularly where religion is concerned. This point goes back to #8 I think though: just be yourself. And if yourself is someone that does things differently or believes things differently than your family and friends, then it's okay to be that. Just don't lie about it. Because soon you'll find yourself in a tangled, suffocating web of lies that will become really painful to maneuver out of. The people that matter in your life will come around and those that don't, still deserve to know the truth and you'll be infinitely happier for it.

10. There are always two ways to get anywhere

When I was younger I was really concerned with the route my parents drove to get us back home. I was used to the road signs and the streets and the trees we passed and when we didn’t go the way I was familiar with, I got worried. I asked my mom, “Where are we going? Are we going home? This isn’t the right way.” She explained patiently every time, “Katherine there are always two ways to get anywhere.” Ask anyone how they got to where they are and you’ll hear a story that twists and turns and folds backwards on itself many times before it spits that person out in the position they are today. There is no linear path in life. I’m often paranoid about doing the “right” thing. Am I in the “right place” in my life? Did I choose the “right” major? Am I already behind because I don’t already have 50 “right” internships that will land me my “right” job? Those questions are a waste of time. There is no “if I do x + y + z, I will get this.” If I like to write, I went to college, and I’m passionate, I will get my dream job. No, that’s not how it works. There are so many factors and variables that contribute to someone ending up where they are and while it’s important to do things that will put you in a position to be where you want to be, there is always another way to get there.

Whew, that was a long one. If you got all the way down here I just want to say thanks for reading. Even though these are things I've discovered through my experiences, it doesn't necessarily mean these are perfect for you. The beauty of life is that we're all here, stumbling around, trying to make a name for ourselves. So if you've got any advice for me, please, feel free to share!

I'm all ears,


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  1. I love everything that you wrote. It's fun watching kids grow up and become incredible adults.
    The only advice I will add to what you've written is to never pass up an opportunity to serve another person. Doing things for others has only ever brought me happiness and created some of my most powerful memories. When I have sacrificed my time and money to help someone else, I have never regretted it. I look back often on those who I've done anything for and I remember the feeling of love for another human being that was generated in doing that act. I have found my happiness by helping others find theirs or by at least making their life a little easier. "No one has ever become by giving."- Anne Frank

    1. Thank you Mr. Smith!

      I've learned so much from you over the years and I'm so glad to have had your influence in my life. Keep on teaching grumpy 9th graders to open up to the rest of the world. I will take your advice to heart and I'm glad that we've stayed in touch!


  2. Ugh, totally blew it on the quote. Let me try again.
    "No one has ever become poor by giving." -Anne Frank


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