Lessons For My 21-Year-Old Self

IMG_0096.JPG

Left: 21-year-old Val enjoying a cup of gelato in Rome. Right: 28-year-old Val at an MBA brunch.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading through some of my older blog posts. For those of you who are new here, I actually joined the blogosphere in 2010 as a freshman at UCF, with my blog’s focus more heavily geared toward relationships and college advice. It has been fun to look back at my earlier posts and think about where I was at that particular stage in my life and what was important to me.

One of my favorite posts I came across was a list of lessons I wrote to my 16-year-old self, courtesy of my 21-year-old selfIt feels like a lifetime agoand yet, I can remember vividly who I was dating, which friends I spent the most time with, what my struggles were, and where I hoped I would be someday. A lot has changed in the past 7 years — I’ve graduated with my BA and my MBA, I’ve been working in community engagement for several years, I’ve gone from hosting theme parties in the dorms to hosting baby showers, and the list goes on. Because of all the changes that life inevitably brings, I’ve decided to revisit my old post with some lessons to my 21-year-old self from my now 28-year-old self.

  1. You won’t completely forget the one that got away, but you’ll look back on the relationship with fresh eyes.
    At 21, you knew that your high school crush was ancient history, but the guy you fell for in college? That’s another story. You’ll be heartbroken when the relationship inevitably ends, and rightfully so — he was your first real love. You’ll also find yourself in some not-so-sunny relationships in your twenties, and start to look back at that college relationship through rose-colored glasses. But with time comes perspective, and you’ll start to remember the cracks in the foundation: the arguments you had, the tattoos you hated, the fundamental differences that pulled you apart. And then, something miraculous will happen: you’ll realize that you were, in fact, the one that got away.
  2. Making friends as an adult is a lot harder than it is as a college student.
    Some of the friends you make in college will be your friends for life (or at least until age 28 — jury is out on what happens next!). However, as everyone parts ways for graduate school, career moves, and relationships all across the country, those friendships will require a lot more TLC. Be open to meeting new people and exploring new friendships, which will be harder as an “adult” but still important for maintaining your sanity and quality of life. Talk to people you meet at work functions, go to places and events that interest you, and continue to be authentically yourself.
  3. Social media will stick around longer than you think.
    You may now split your time between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the occasional Snapchat, but your pictures will survive online for a lot longer than you realized at 21. Now, you’ll not only laugh at what you wore or how you styled your hair, but even more so at what you posted and how you captioned it. Embrace this and be kind to your younger self — college was a weird time. 🙂
  4. You still don’t have to know what you want to be when you grow up.
    Don’t pigeonhole yourself. There are jobs that exist that you aren’t even aware of right now, so it’s important to keep learning, be open, and build your relationships. You’ll grow into whatever you end up doing, so my best advice is to say yes to the things that interest you, challenge you, and scare you, as long as they fit within your values. Learn to say no when you need to, and set boundaries when the situation arises.
  5. You won’t fit every expectation you had for yourself at 16, at 21, or at 25.
    At 28, my life is not what I pictured in high school or college. It has evolved in ways I never expected, and that’s great! As a college student, I never imagined that I would be invited to public speaking engagements, attend blogger events, or do half of the cool things I get to do today. Life will always be full of surprises. Embrace the unpredictable and keep saying yes to the things you love.

What would you tell your 21-year-old self?

March 2019: Happiness Project Recap

Happy April, friends, and welcome to spring! I’m excited to begin a new month and a fresh start, as March ended on a heavy note for my family and me. Keeping up with the blog was more of a challenge in March, but I’m looking forward to bringing you some fun new content and sharing some happier adventures with all of you.

Speaking of happiness, I haven’t forgotten about my happiness project! As I mentioned in my earlier posts, January’s focus was on boosting physical wellness (which I successfully did!), while February’s theme was creating outer order through decluttering my home and life (which I also did!). I had high hopes for the month of March, which was focused on practicing mindfulness, and planned to incorporate the following daily goals:

  • Write down the happiest moment of my day.
  • Meditate and use positive affirmations.
  • Turn complaints into happiness.
  • Create my list of personal commandments (and follow them).
  • Practice 4-7-8 breathing techniques.

March 2019: Happiness Project Update | Wellness & Wanderlust

I used my resolution chart as always, but this time around, I had trouble keeping up. Although I included a lot of tried-and-true practices in my happiness project last month, I quickly learned that you can’t put mindfulness on your to-do list. As someone who is very task-oriented, I found it much harder to make time for meditation and incorporate breathing techniques into my every day.

In February, it was easy to squeeze in 10 minutes to de-clutter if I hadn’t done it already, but getting into the right mindset to meditate (or even remember to meditate!) was a lot more challenging for me. I did practice 4-7-8 breathing techniques when possible, and while I still struggle with this particular tenet of happiness, I find myself focusing on my breathing a whole lot more. I also did a fairly good job of turning complaints into happiness when it came to the little things, but once I began focusing on the larger themes of unhappiness in my life, it became a lot harder to look at the positive.

March 2019: Happiness Project Update | Wellness & Wanderlust

My favorite aspect of Month 3 was writing down the happiest moment of my day. Admittedly, I wasn’t always perfect about physically writing it down (maybe closer to 50/50), but I often found myself reflecting on even the hardest days and thinking about the moments that didn’t suck. Often on the bad days, there were still some pretty great things that happened, and when I was able to remember those specific examples, I ended the day on a much happier note.

The month of March taught me something important: I need to slow down. When I make the time to meditate, even for only a few minutes a day, I feel better. When I take deep breaths, my brain does a much better job of focusing. Writing down my happiest moment allows me to take control of how I end my day, and it gives me the ability to decide for myself – was it a good day, or was it a bad day? I will make an effort to focus on these practices in April at my own pace, incorporating them over time rather than merely squeezing them into my schedule.

For the month of April, my theme is to Slow Down and Lighten Up. This month was somewhat inspired by The Book of Hygge, which focuses on contentment and comfort, but also incorporates a lot of other practices I really need to follow:

  • Enjoy a hot cup of tea in the morning.
  • Light candles or diffuse essential oils after work.
  • Underreact to a problem.
  • Take time to be silly.
  • Laugh out loud.

What goals are you working toward? Are you doing a happiness project? Sound off in the comments below!

My 2019 Happiness Project

Can you believe 2019 is only a few hours away? This year really flew by, but I’m excited to let go of 2018 and bring on the adventures of the new year.
2018 came with its share of challenges, and as the year comes to a close, I’ll admit that I’m ready for an attitude adjustment. Throughout the year, my health and happiness took a backseat to graduate school, a busier-than-ever workload, and other areas of overwhelm. Because of that, I decided to tackle things head-on by embarking on a 2019 Happiness Project, inspired by one of my favorite books by Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project. In her book, Gretchen incorporates various happiness principles and research into her life over the course of a year, experimenting with a different happiness theme each month.
For 2019, I’ve created my own happiness project, focusing on improving various areas of my health and overall wellness in the new year. Each month, I’ll share what I’m working on and how things went down in the previous month!
My 2019 Happiness Project | Wellness & Wanderlust
Below are my areas of focus for 2019. Some of these are inspired by Gretchen’s book, while others come from different books, podcasts, and goals I’d like to pursue.
  • January: Boost Physical Wellness (More on that in a minute!)
  • February: Create Outer Order / Organize
  • March: Practice Mindfulness
  • April: Slow Down & Lighten Up
  • May: Make Time For Friends
  • June: Learn Constantly
  • July: Incorporate Ayurvedic Practices
  • August: Digital Detox
  • September: Work Smarter
  • October: Contemplate the Heavens / Spirituality
  • November: Explore
  • December: Give Back

The reason I’m focusing on boosting physical wellness in January is because I am truly ready for a detox. Between autoimmune issues and a hectic schedule, I need an increase in energy and overall health before I can take on any new challenges. To do so, I’ll be incorporating the following practices into the month of January:

  • Embark on a Whole30 to create more intentionality in my food choices and identify any new food sensitivities.
  • Go to sleep earlier.
  • Take a 10-minute walk each day.
  • Act more energetic.
  • Tackle the “nagging tasks” on my list.

If you’re looking to make a change, I highly encourage you to pursue your own happiness project! Check out Gretchen’s site here for some helpful resources, including a “resolution chart” that can be useful for tracking your progress along the way. I can’t wait to share more with you all through the year! 🙂

Are you tackling a happiness project or any resolutions this year? Share yours in the comments below!

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small compensation.

5 Months Later: Life Updates

Grad - 1

Well, it’s official: I’m a college graduate (again)! Earlier this month, my graduate school career came to an end as I received my MBA. I’ve learned a lot over the last two years, formed some great friendships, and read more case studies than I’ll ever know what to do with. The past two years have been both rewarding and challenging, and there were times I didn’t think I would get through the program. I’m proud to have proven myself wrong!

People keep asking me what’s next in terms of education and career moves, but honestly, I’m just happy to have some free time to lay out by the pool or hang out with friends without worrying about any upcoming assignments or exams. In January, I talked about my happiness project, but this and my blogging itself fell by the wayside as I combined a full-time semester with my full-time job. Expect to see more content here at Wellness and Wanderlust as I readjust to real life.

Since my last blog post, here are a few snippets of what I’ve been up to:

  • I’m taking Gretchen Rubin’s online Four Tendencies Course, learning more about my Obliger tendency and how I respond to outer expectations. I’m a huge fan of Gretchen’s books and podcast, so I’m really enjoying the course!
  • I started a Whole30 to reestablish some healthier habits in my life post-graduation. I’m on Day 7 and definitely still feeling the hangover effects of cutting out sugar and gluten. Can someone please bring me chocolate?
  • My apartment is finally getting organized. It’s amazing how much everything piled up over the past two years. I’m excited to live like a more functional adult again! If you have any good books or resources for organizing tips, please send them my way.
  • I booked the tickets for my post-graduation vacation and have begun working on the itinerary. Now I just need to dust off my passport!

What has everyone been up to this year?

All Or Nothing Day: Creating A Life You Love

doallthingswithlove

Timing is a fickle thing. It is rarely convenient, and yet it controls so many of the decisions we make in life. We talk about timing when we tell our friends why we’re going to have to put off travel plans for another year. We blame timing when we think about why things didn’t work out with our exes. The trouble is this: No matter what path we choose, no matter how stressful life may be, time continues to move forward — regardless of how we choose to spend it.

I’m thinking about timing a lot today because it happens to be All Or Nothing Day, a day that is dedicated to giving your all and celebrating your passion for life. I first learned about this day from Heather Von St. James, a truly inspirational woman who survived a harrowing cancer diagnosis and has dedicated her life to raising mesothelioma awareness and educating others on the dangers of asbestos. Heather received her diagnosis soon after giving birth to her daughter, and after a difficult battle with the disease, has survived cancer-free for ten years. (You can read more of her story here!) I was so inspired by Heather’s journey and the meaning that All Or Nothing Day holds for her, and her story helped to shape my own perspective.

all or nothing dayWhen we turn down an opportunity that challenges us, it is so tempting for us to blame timing and other external factors. Deep down, we tell ourselves we have all the time in the world to do the things we hope to accomplish someday, without realizing that we could lose everything in the blink of an eye. We take a lot of things for granted, including the fact that we can always pursue our dreams next year.

In Jen Sincero’s book, You Are A Badass, she writes:

“When it comes to the creatures you love and the things you love and the life you love, what on earth could possibly be more important than soaking them up right now while you still have the opportunity?”

This line rings especially true for me, having recently experienced a loss in my family, and as someone who also got out of an unhealthy relationship not too long ago, I know how important it is to make time for the things and people that do bring you happiness and love.

As Sincero says, “If it’s something you want to do, don’t wait until you’re less busy or richer or ‘ready’ or twenty pounds lighter. Start right now. You’ll never be this young again.”

To me, that’s what the spirit of All Or Nothing Day is all about: taking charge of your life and creating a world that you love with the people (and animals!) that you love. If any of you who are reading this are looking for a sign that it’s time to move forward — in whatever way makes sense to you — please consider this your sign. Tell someone that you love them. Apply for that internship in London. Take that improv class that you’ve always been curious about. End the relationship that is making you unhappy. Do something, because life is too short not to.

 

Keeping It Frugal: Fun Ways to Enjoy the Weekend

pexels-photo-164474.jpeg
If you’re anything like me, you marched into 2016 armed with New Year’s Resolutions and high hopes for an incredible year. On this blog, I often discuss my journey to better physical health, but one aspect of wellness that we don’t always talk about is financial health.

If you haven’t set your New Year’s Resolutions yet (hey – we’re only 11 days into 2016 anyway!) and you can’t figure out what areas to improve upon in 2016, your finances are a great start. Nearly everyone I know, regardless of salary and socioeconomic background, admits to eating a few too many meals out at restaurants, spending $150 at Target when they only meant to buy paper towels, and going over budget simply to hang out with friends. Why not work to change that — to save money for the moments that really matter?

Luckily, there are still plenty of ways to maintain a social life without breaking the bank. (For other FREE tools for managing your finances and saving for the future, check out Personal Capital.) 🙂

  • Attend local community events.
    I live close to several expensive tourist attractions, so it can be easy to overlook all of the amazing local events and lesser-known attractions from time to time. That’s why I love to check my county’s convention and visitor’s bureau website for free or cheap upcoming events in the area! From art shows to film festivals, many cities offer an awesome variety of activities that will appeal to multiple age groups and interests. Check Facebook as well for event ideas near where you live.
  • Visit an educational venue.
    Take a trip to the zoo, a museum, the planetarium, or a wildlife sanctuary. Many of these places have a relatively low admission price (I spent $6 last month to attend a planetarium show) and even offer student discounts for those of you who are still in school. This gives you a chance to broaden your horizons and learn about something new, and can be just as fun to do with friends and family! My friends and I had such a great time visiting the planetarium last month that we even decided to attend the (free) Winter Sky Festival they are hosting this weekend.
  • Participate in community service.
    There are few greater feelings than the way you’ll feel by giving back to others less fortunate. You don’t need to write a big check to make a difference in the world — there are a lot of kind things you can do to help others. My parents volunteer for a food pantry and an animal rescue, so when I visit, I often join them to pack food or help out with the rescue dogs. Volunteering your time can be a lot of fun to do with your family and friends, but it can also be enjoyable even if you go alone.
  • Go outside.
    If weather permits, spend some time out enjoying nature. Go to a park or beach, grab a frisbee, have a picnic with friends, go on a hike, or just spend sometime outside together with a refreshing change in scenery. Not only is this an inexpensive way to hang out with friends, but it is also scientifically shown to make you happier and more productive. 🙂 Who knew?

What are your tips for a frugal but fun weekend? Share your suggestions in the comments section below!

Link Love Wednesday: Pineapple Edition

GarlandI don’t know about you, but this Wednesday really felt like a Wednesday. Did anyone else feel the drag of Hump Day today? Life has been rather busy lately — mostly good things — and despite my sleep deprivation and sudden aversion to exercise, I’m looking forward to the opportunities to come. What have you been up to in the last week?

Wind down from a long week with this week’s fabulous link love, and as always, share your own favorite recent finds in the comments section below!

Things I’m Loving Lately

  • The show Quantico on ABC. It’s addictive! Who else is watching?
  • Devonta Freeman, running back for the Atlanta Falcons. I picked him up on a waiver for Fantasy Football and played him for the first time last week. He surpassed 30 Fantasy points that week and I was not disappointed!
  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. It’s a great take on dating patterns in today’s generation and incredibly eye opening.
  • This incredibly cool tank top I bought for Halloween. I’ve been secretly living in this shirt. (Shhhh.)
  • Colbie Caillat’s cover of The Script’s song, Breakeven. I think I like it better than the original!
  • Scream Queens on FOX. It’s the perfect dark comedy and filled with familiar faces.

What are you loving this week? Share in the comments section below!

How To Overcome Your Fears in One Simple Step

person-stream-cliff-river.jpg
A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak on a career-related panel in front of 300 students. The invitation was incredibly exciting, and I was honored to share my story with others who would benefit from my experience. A few years ago, however, this type of speaking engagement would have completely terrified me.

As a high schooler, I was so afraid of public speaking that I used to shake before presenting in my English class. I was an All-American cheerleader and loved talking to people one-on-one, but whenever I had to give a presentation in class, my heart raced and my teeth chattered. When I first enrolled in college, the fear had subsided somewhat, but I still found myself mumbling “I’m sorry” in the middle of speech flubs.

However, over the years, I have learned how to manage this fear. During my senior year of college, I taught conference workshops on blogging and social media, and a few lunchtime seminars focused on resume writing and interview skills. Most recently, I spoke on the aforementioned panel regarding the importance of communication skills in the workforce. I may still not be the perfect speaker — I am guilty of a few ums here and there! — and I may still get butterflies in my stomach before I present, but I overcome my fear through action.

In other words, we can overcome our fears by doing the thing we are afraid of. I’m not suggesting you do something completely reckless and life-threatening (I am afraid of the bear that I saw near my neighborhood last month, and I am not going to approach him with food to try and get over that fear), but I do believe that the best way to move past our fears and insecurities is to face them head on and take action.

Public speaking still makes me nervous, but I overcome those nerves by saying “yes” to those public speaking engagements and using them as opportunities for growth. Most, if not all, members of the audience are not there to criticize or condemn what I am saying. They are there to learn. Therefore, I recognize that by speaking to that audience, even if I stumble over a word, I am providing helpful advice and information. I have value.

As my friend Max likes to say, do one thing every day that scares you. By doing this, you are quieting those voices of inadequacy and lessening your fear every time. You are saying yes to opportunities and learning from them. You are growing. You are allowing yourself to be more of the person that you want to be.

Want to overcome your fears? Give yourself a chance to face them.

Unfinished: The Tricky Thing About Closure

Lifetime_How-I-Met-Your-Mother_6_Unfinished_79899_LF_2013_HD_768x432-16x9“You need demarcation.”
“Demarcation?” I asked.
“It means a clear separation between two things,” he told me. “A solid end before a clean beginning. No murky borders. Clarity.”
Sarah Dessen, The Moon and More

*

As I was binge-watching old episodes of How I Met Your Mother, I came across an episode in season six that struck a chord with me. In the episode Unfinished, Robin has recently broken up with Don, a boyfriend who had left for a job in Chicago just as things were getting serious. Robin experiences both anger and remorse as she deals with one of the most difficult break-ups of her life, concerned that she will never have closure, and that she and Don “will always be a loose end.”

closurelaw-smIt is a problem that so many of us face in our lives, whether we are going through a break-up or experiencing another monumental change. Within the realm of relationships, it is difficult to find closure if one or both parties aren’t ready to let go, and as much as we hate to admit it, we often aren’t ready. Lines of communication are kept open, words are minced to soften the blow and suddenly we find ourselves wondering where we would be if X, Y and Z had never happened. Things end in a way we don’t expect and don’t like, and the closure we yearn for is suddenly out of reach.

I remember at the end of my junior year of high school, I finished my cheerleading season with injuries and a few sub-par performances that my sophomore-self wouldn’t have been proud of. Because of my senior year schedule and my new position as a yearbook editor, I knew that cheerleading in my senior year was out of the question, but it was hard to wrap my head around the fact that my season hadn’t ended the way I wanted it. I was devastated, and considered forcing practices and games into my schedule so that I could end my cheerleading career on a brighter note, if only to gain the closure I so desperately needed.

delete-buttonOf course, I realized that would have been a mistake, and while I initially mourned the uniform and pom poms (bear with me, I was a teenager!), I eventually moved on. I had a successful year as a yearbook editor, and not re-joining the team gave me more time to write freelance articles locally. As an adult, I have never regretted the decision I was convinced I would regret at age seventeen.

In my college years and early twenties, I have been in situations that initially lacked closure as well – a break-up I wasn’t ready for, a perfect first date that never led to a second, jobs I applied to that never called back. I have craved closure and sometimes I have even gotten that closure thrown back at me in the worst possible way. However, I have also met new people along the way and even ended up at my dream job.

7fd7600e150ac1bce69b852d20676a53Throughout Unfinished, Robin struggles to erase Don’s phone number from her memory (and from her cell phone), but by the end of the episode, she forgets it. And just as Robin forgets Don’s number, you too will forget your ex’s nuances (or the job you didn’t get, or the sport you quit, etc.) in certain ways because your brain will be focused on something else: a hobby, perhaps, or someone new. Breaking up with closure can be a tricky thing, but it passes with time as you change your circumstances and create your own closure.

“And the heart,” says Judith Ortiz Cofer in her poem To a Daughter I Cannot Console, “like a well-constructed little boat, will resume its course toward hope.”

The Weekend Five: Things I Learned in the Six Months Since Graduation

Me as a college graduate!

Me as a college graduate!

It’s crazy to believe that it has been a little more than half a year since I graduated from college! It feels like just yesterday I was ordering a cap and gown and finishing up my last few senior projects for the year. About a week before walking across the stage, I accepted a position in my dream job, and looked forward to beginning anew.

Six months later, I am finally adjusting to working full-time and living on a different end of town. As I settle into “adulthood,” I am still in love with my work and apartment, but I have also learned a lot since the day I turned my tassel and accepted my diploma.

This week, I will reflect on some of the lessons I have learned in the past six months. Feel free to add your own post-grad lessons in the comments section below!

The Weekend Five: Things I Learned in the Six Months Since Graduation

1. Not everyone will like you.
It’s harsh, but it’s true. No matter how sparkling your personality is, how hardworking you are or how well you match your accessories to your outfits, you won’t win the heart of every single person you encounter. As someone who cares admittedly too much about what others think, this was an especially difficult truth for me to accept. Sometimes this has to do with the other person — maybe he or she is jealous of you, or just bitter about something you can’t control. And sometimes this has to do with you — maybe you’re an acquired taste. Instead of trying to change those people, focus your energy on the things you can control.

*

ElleWoods2. Take advantage of everything you can get your hands on.
“That’s not in my job description” isn’t necessarily a good reason to turn something down. Whether you have the opportunity to learn a new software program or head up a project in a different area than you’re used to, you can make yourself a much more valuable asset by saying “yes” and trying something new.

*

3. Tragedy doesn’t care about timing.
In other words, life isn’t always fair. I learned this lesson the hard way when I experienced two great losses in my life within four days of one another. Although I knew that both were coming, they still hurt, and it was difficult to cope with one while coping with the other. Sometimes, you’ll experience several hardships in a short time, but you still have to pick up the pieces, show up at work the next day and function as a normal human being. Remind yourself that things will eventually turn up, and find healthy ways to cope with your feelings.

*

graduation4. Timing is, however, important.
Never underestimate the significance of being in the right place at the right time with the right people. I would have begun networking earlier in college if I had known how helpful it would be in the time that followed. From job prospects to relationships, timing can make all the difference in how successful you are. Work hard, but be patient.

*

5. Learn to laugh about the bad experiences and mistakes you have made. After all, you can write about them in your memoir someday!
Remind yourself that this too shall pass. Whether you just endured a difficult breakup or struggled through an important interview, the way you handle your hardships will define you. You won’t be able to find humor in everything, but try to learn from your mistakes and not dwell on them forever. When I look back on some of the things I worried about in college, I can’t help but laugh and ask myself, “What was I thinking?” Nowadays, I think a little reflection and a few laughs are just signs that you’re growing up.

*

What are some of the things you learned when you first graduated?