Wednesday, June 25, 2014

It's all about people...

I don’t typically blog more than once a week, but today, something got my attention in a big way. Sitting in a meeting, I listened as my boss broke through the craziness of our ever-muddled minds and got through to me with such simplicity that it left my over-thinking head spinning and reeling all day.

Recently, my boss returned from a trip to Africa. When she returned, she told us all about her trip and the life lessons she picked up while she was there. I guess I didn’t really listen, and I guess that maybe that’s the problem. I smiled and marveled at the bracelet she gave me (the one she told me took a week to make by hand, and the one that made me foolishly ponder what someone who made one bracelet a week did with the rest of their time). Today, though, I listened as she regaled the story for the second time.

My bracelet from Africa that now means a little bit more to me.

I really listened, as she blew my mind. She spoke of the way that things moved slower, and the way that people truly connected with one another—without all the chaos and distraction. She talked about how people really listened when the other spoke (yikes, I’m listening now, I promise), how they all joined in to help one another out, and how they didn’t get as concerned with the little things (you know, those things that send us into a tizzy and are resolved within a matter of minutes or hours).

She talked about how she was bringing those things back with her, and trying to find the balance between Africa-time and America-time. Yes, we live in a world full of clutter, we move at a pace faster than light most days, and we’re constantly bombarded with a million options. But, as I listened to her speak and noted her calmer, more at-peace demeanor, I figured she just might be on to something.

All day long, it has haunted me, making me ask myself the question:  how do we get back to a place where people are what matters? Having always been a big-hearted softie, this question has pierced even deeper. I’ve found myself asking:  are people not what matter to me, and did I somehow stray from that heart I was given?

I think the answer is far too complex to solve. In the world where a software crash (that will be fixed in a matter of hours) ruins our day, where we text or “like” rather than call, where we often find excuses to get out of things, and where we are so busy that we lose focus, it’s hard to make people our focus.

We are a competitive culture. Don’t get me wrong. I’m about as American as they come, and I thrive on competition. I love the aspect of setting and attaining goals, climbing ladders, and moving forward to being a better person. I flourish in settings where I’m challenged and can prove my worth. I get it. It’s who we are, and it’s how we’re wired. For many of us, we also grew up in a fast-paced culture (stop me now if you don’t remember how frustrating it was to wait on the dial-up internet just so you could see if you made someone’s MySpace Top 8). I was raised in the era of cell phones, internet, 24-7 news cycles, and quick service.

Just a side note here, but it really did...

We’re not used to waiting, and unfortunately, we’re often not used to doing anything other than looking out for ourselves and a small circle of people. Think road rage with me for a second (and note that I’m plenty guilty here). We rarely consider what that other driver is going through. Maybe they’ve just suffered a devastating heartbreak, maybe they’re worried about losing their job or how they’re going to feed their families, maybe they’re exhausted from working three jobs, maybe they’re just not paying attention. 

Everyone has something going on....if only we have the eyes to see it and the ears to hear it, maybe we can be the one who helps make a difference.

Whatever the case may be, we don’t stop to think that they’re people. Instead, we angrily “teach them a lesson” or gesture or honk our horns. We’re in too big of a hurry to realize that there’s a person behind that wheel. The same is often true anywhere we go. People aren’t people in our culture. They provide a service, they get in the way, they fulfill a need.

We use. We hurt. We ignore. And, I don’t think this is just an American trait—or even something that those in Africa have all figured out. I think it’s just a shift in focus. In our race to be the best, accumulate the most things, we have become too busy. We often throw out the phrase, “I don’t have time.”

All we have is are you using yours?

That’s the problem. We do have time. Time is all any of us have. We have time, and we have people who need our time. Whether it’s simply picking up the phone and calling an old friend, legitimately meaning it and waiting to hear the answer the next time we ask someone how their day is, or making a concerted effort to have empathy toward another soul in any circumstance, we must get back to where our focus is less on how busy we are and more on who surrounds us.

People are what matter. That is what I learned from listening today. Perhaps, if I did a little less worrying, problem solving, scheming to be the best or smartest, and stressing out about how busy I am, I could listen more—connect more—and remember that people are, indeed, what matters. 

Tonight, I'll listen to this on repeat and remind myself that things don't have to be "so automatic."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sweet Summertime

Summer is an all-time favorite season for pretty much every kid. It's the time when school is out, and everyone gets to run a little wild and free. I think it's only when we start to get older that some of us start to adapt and like other seasons a little bit more. It may be the cold of winter, the beauty of the leaves in fall, or the blossoms of spring that make us change our minds, but some realize that, since we work all year long, the seasons mean other things to us in adulthood. 

I was always a lover of fall until the past couple of years, when I reverted back to my die-hard love for summer. I will fiercely defend my love for summer as the season of patios, porch swings, cold beer, tanning, long walks outside, etc. It's a beautiful time, the days are longer, and there seems to be a lighter feeling in the air. It suddenly becomes okay to eat things like popsicles again, to act like a child and run through a sprinkler, to wear that bathing suit you dreaded buying, whatever. Everything seems a little more okay in the summer. 

But, I have to say, this summer, I've been highly amused by the progression of summer from the viewpoint of an adulthood. 

Stage 1:  The sheer joy, and the rushing the seasons to change! It's getting warmer outside, and summer is coming. 

Even when we know it's too soon, we're ready!

Stage 2:  The preparation stage. It's time to get those summer clothes out, dusted off, and ready to go. Whether you go through a Monica and Ross checklist, sing "Be Prepared" to yourself in the Lion King voice, or simply make a mental note of what you need to get you ready, you do it gladly.

You just sang the song, didn't you?

Stage 3:  Self-loathing and shame. Should have started that "summer body" workout a little earlier in the year. 

So much shame...

Stage 4:  Acceptance. So what, you don't have the beach body, or even all the money necessary to go on all of your dream vacations. It'll still be awesome, because you're awesome–fabulous, even. Own it!

If you're ever short on confidence, channel your inner Karen Walker.

Stage 5:  Celebration. It's finally here. It's going to be the best time ever. You know it deep in your soul. It's your time to shine. 

Keep telling yourself that, kid. Know what's going to hold you back? Work. Responsibilities. Being inside all day, every day. That's what. Cue stage 6...

Stage 6:  Jealousy. Jealousy of everyone who isn't at work. That guy sitting at the patio table at the brewery down the street in the middle of the workday, we hate you (probably without reason). Those kids out of school on summer vacation, enjoy it while you can, punks. Everyone who is outside and hanging out right now, those of us inside an office have a bit of bitterness, but we also wonder how you made it happen. 

This is how we feel….

Because this is all we want...

Stage 7:  Bad decisions. It's summer. Much like when you were a kid, summer can be an excuse for just about anything. Saturday morning mimosas? Why not? It's summer. Staying up into the wee hours of the night on a weeknight? Not a big deal. It's summer. There really are no rules.
It's summer. Live with NO RAGRETS!

Regret nothing, because it's summer, and we can all partake in the childish reaction of blaming someone else! 

Stage 8:  Reliving childhood. Smores, sprinklers, popsicles, late nights, playing in a park. It's all acceptable no matter your age in the summer.

Summer is an adventure. Embrace it. Live it up.

Stage 9:  Sheer stupidity. An hour tanning on each side without any sunscreen won't hurt me. Yes, I know it's the most intense part of the day, and I know I basically live on the surface of the sun here in NM, but I'll be fine. (Hint:  that's going to hurt a bit). 

As you're slathering on that aloe like it's going out of style, think of this little guy....We've all been there, bro. 

Stage 10:  Joy all over again. None of the silliness matters. It's summer. The sun is shining, and there's a sweet simplicity about life. Go hop in a pool, go to a ball game, walk your dog, or just hang out with your friends around a patio table. The possibilities are endless. 

All in all, summer is a great time, and it's easily my favorite! After all, it's the season of rocking aviators, live music, cold beer, and interesting adventures. Regardless of which stage you may be in, go out and soak up some sun. You deserve it. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What is it about 25?

Having always had a knack for befriending those who are slightly older than I am, I've had my share of "when I was your age" discussions or future predictions. Sometimes, they've been frustrating or infuriating, and other times, they've been insightful. It seems that there are certain "betweener" stages where these chats come a little more often. 25 is apparently one of those ages. 

This year, I've received some of the most interesting life advice from those who are a little older (or a lot older), and they are equal parts terrifying, hilarious, and insightful. I've also received some unsolicited comments from those who are younger than me. 25 is an interesting age, one in which everyone seems to have an opinion of where your life should be and what you should be doing. Similarly, 25 is one of those landmark ages, so those who are younger have preconceived notions about what it means to be a "quarter of a century old." Everyone seems to have these ideas of events that are supposed to occur during or before the 25th year of life, and it creates some really interesting comments aimed at those of us who are 25. The things people say may be strange and frightening, but they're definitely worth discussing (and also noting why some of these aren't the best things to ask or say). 

1)  You think that's bad? Wait until you hit 30! 
Whatever this statement is about (whether it's a stressful work situation, a broken heart, an injury, a changing situation in life), if I trust you enough to share my situation with you, please do not discredit it because I'm younger than you are. Aside from that, I've probably seen you go through it and been there for you, and I have seen that it gets worse. I'm sorry, and I appreciate you trying to prepare me for that, but I'm not there yet, so let's let me live in my world without all these flashing red lights and warnings about the sky falling down on me someday. 

2) Happy 25th! Now comes all of the random extra body hair.
Thank you…wait! WHAT?!? Yes, this is a conversation I had alongside my birthday wishes this year, and it's truly a horrifying thought that I have so many things to look forward to as time progresses. I still have dreams and goals and things I want to accomplish, but now I also have more options and more choices at my disposal. Apparently, I can potentially become sasquatch in my old age. Cool, thanks, friend for the encouragement! 

Happy birthday, gorgeous! It's going to be a great year!

3) You're like 12.
No. I'm like 25, although, I do appreciate you lumping me in the "young" category. I'll take it, no matter how petty it is for me to enjoy being "young" for a moment. 

4) Hangovers will only get worse. 
I know this. I'm not 21 anymore. I've seen the progression of the "morning-after" feeling, and I know that it only gets worse. I no longer recover quite like the youngster I used to be, and I've also seen firsthand what my future holds, lest you forget that I've helped take care of many of you on those mornings, older friends. 

5) Your day will come. 
I'm 25. I'm not sitting around wondering if I'm going to be alone forever. I'm not soliciting advice from "Dear Abby," you're not a fortune cookie, and I'm not asking you to read my palms. I'm out living my life, having a blast, and living in each moment. So, please stop with this one. Just…please. I don't really care to hear your predictions about the one who is going to ride in and sweep me off my feet. I'm pretty good with where I am in my life and all that I have accomplished, all that I am blessed with, and all that I have going for me. 

6) One of these days that workout will hurt a little bit more, trust me.
It already does. It. Already. Freaking. Does. That's the point of the workout. I've always been one to push myself to the extreme when working out. I'm already walking like a little old man after a rough leg day, and I already have a couple of joints that pop. I realize this will probably get worse with age, but don't try to ruin my post-workout feeling with a rant about how it's all downhill from here. 

Leg bastard!

7) What is your five year plan?
I have two answers to this, and they vary depending on how sassy I'm feeling that day. Answer #1:  To be fabulous and happy. Answer #2: None of your damn business. That's my thing, and five year plans must be flexible anyway. I have learned that what doesn't bend breaks; therefore, I bend, I give myself and my plans room to breathe and grow and change with life's tides. 

8) There's going to be worse ahead, but there will also be happiness, so don't get stuck in this moment. 
I get this, and I actually appreciate it greatly. To be honest, I appreciate it the most because it came from a dear friend who was helping me through a tough situation and reminded me that there were plenty of good things ahead, and that there were also going to be more times that hurt. Sometimes, we need these realities spoken to us even if we already know. The hurt doesn't last forever; neither does the good. Appreciate it all for what it is. 

9) You make me feel so old. 
Not my intention…and I apologize. If we're going to be honest, your continual reminders of my aging through your comments make me feel a little old, too. Are we even now?

10) You should go back to school before it's too late.
Too late for what exactly? And, whose timeline/life plan am I following? Last time I checked, there wasn't a set map of things I had  to check off to be successful. Truth be told, I'm probably not going back anytime soon, and if I do, it won't be because someone told me to. 

This kid and me both. I'll go if and when I'm ready and possess the desire.

11) There's still time. 
The subject behind this message changes from conversation to conversation, but I'm quite aware that there is still time…for whatever I want to accomplish. I can feel my heart beating, and I'm taking in breath. Therefore, I'm fully aware that there is still time. I'm not in a rush, and I know that good things take time. 

12) Have you ever tried botox?
This was a question in passing the other day, and I legitimately had no comment. Some days, 25 feels young and vibrant. Some days, it feels really old. The botox day was a "really old" day. The short answer is no. I have not. I have not had a need for it, but now you made me look in the mirror for a good, solid five minutes, analyzing every detail after we had that chat. 

After you've analyzed your face post-botox questioning, put on the lipstick, hold your head high, and walk away (all the while noting that you don't need botox--at least not yet).

13) I have no idea what I'm doing.
I relish my conversations with other 24-26-year-olds. We can freely admit to one another that, while we're enjoying the adventure of life, we often feel as though we're practicing this "adult thing."

At least once a day...

14) Do you realize you're now older than the characters on Friends when it started?
I do now. Thanks for ruining my day. Just walk away slowly, please. 

15) When I'm 25, I'll be married and have two children.
My young cousin asserted this to me in such a confident and direct manner that there was really no response from me other than laughter. Good for you, little guy, good for you. 

16) So, you're old enough to remember pre-crazy Britney?
Yes. Yes, I am. Somehow 30-somethings tend to forget that five to ten years of age difference is really not that much, and I'm not that much younger. Most of our childhood/teen experiences (especially when they come to pop culture) are going to be very similar. 

17) When are you going to grow up? Why are you sitting at the kids' table? Or… You don't take anything seriously. 
Facts:  I am a grown up. I'm sitting at the kids' table because sometimes they're more entertaining, and I have that option as a single individual at most of these events where everyone is married and/or has children of their own. And, I take many things seriously. I have a job, I pay bills, I have had to be the responsible one in many situations, I have a dog I care for, I have a car that I keep in regular maintenance, I have many responsibilities. I have many things I care deeply about and have passions in life. Still, I enjoy life. I don't think that means I'm not "grown up." I think it means I find reasons to smile, laugh, and enjoy most situations. It's a balancing act at 25 between the kid we were and the adult we now are, and most of us do a good job of handling it.

18) Have you ever tried online dating?
(Raised eyebrows) Maybe I have. Maybe I haven't. Wait. Do I even know you? These are the types of suggestions that come from the most random people–people who have no business knowing anything about my dating life. 

19) You should learn to cook if you want to be a good wife one day. 
Hmm? What? I don't think I heard you over the sound of my now imploding mind. Seriously. Mind = blown with that statement. A) I can cook, quite well, actually. B) I do it for me, when I want to. Most of the time I don't want to, and I live with a man who is a far better cook than I am. I have no need to cook oftentimes. C) That's not the standard definition of "good wife" anymore. It's not 1950. D) Once again, what?

20) I have a friend you should meet. You two would hit it off great, and I realize 47 is a little old…
I don't date 47-year-olds. I just don't. Not going to happen. I realize I spouted off all that "I'm an adult" stuff earlier, but I'm not that much of an adult. 

21) You're going to regret that one day. 
Maybe I will. Maybe I won't. My choice, my consequence. And, I'm no longer in that "old enough to know better, still too young to care" mindset.  I'm old enough to know better, and I'm old enough to care. More often than not, my decisions are carefully weighed, and fully thought out. Sure, I have my spontaneous choices, and I do some things just because I want to. But, I can assure you I've put cautious thought into any big decision I make, and if you don't understand the decision, there's a chance you don't understand what I had to choose from. 

22) I'm old enough to be your dad.
Yes. Now this is sufficiently awkward for both of us. Regardless of if we are in a work situation, a bar, or wherever we may meet, let's not make it awkward by placing this weird context on things. 

23) You should do X, Y, and Z while you still have time.
Once again, I like to seize the day as much as the next gal, but why are we acting as though I'm on some kind of race timeline. With whom am I competing for these milestones and goals? Am I in a race with all my peers, and am I supposed to be comparing my life to theirs and their weddings, babies, jobs, etc.? That sounds like the recipe for the opposite of happiness to me. I am in competition with no one other than who I was the day before. I want to be a better version of me, and I want to follow my own timeline. Sure, time flies, but we're not on deadline for these things that society wants us to have by 25.

24) Do you have children? OR… Do you want children? OR… Why don't you have children?
Unless you are a close immediate family member or a close friend or someone I am dating, this question is probably off limits. It's inappropriate, and I shouldn't have to define or explain my life choices to anyone. Moreover, this is a private matter. Before questioning, people should consider the fact that, if a woman wants children and does not have them, this question may be a heartbreaking matter to her. If she doesn't want children like I don't want children, she does not owe you an explanation for this. It is her life–not yours. 

25) What's holding you back? 
I appreciate the sentiment in this message. I've always been optimistic, and I enjoy looking forward to the future. Still, there's something about this statement that hints that I'm missing the boat, actively denying myself of something, or somehow not doing enough to get to where I want to be. Like I said before, you don't always know what I have to choose from. This is an expression of encouragement I will gladly and gratefully accept when I have asked for advice or input, but it's a little harder to stomach when it's unsolicited. (Because sometimes, there are a lot of things that hold us back from whisking away to a new place, taking that trip, etc. that are out of our control:  finances, self-respect, our jobs, our families, whatever it may be).  

The fact of the matter is that most of these comments come from a place of genuine love or concern, and I usually take them with a grain of salt and a laugh. Still, I feel like there should be a little more tact in most of them, or I feel like someone should have given me a heads up. Something along the lines of: "Hey, once you hit 25, EVERYONE AND THEIR DOG is going to have life suggestions for you, because let's face it darlin, you're not living according to their plan" would have been a sufficient warning. I'm kidding slightly, and maybe it lasts past 25. I'm not quite sure on that. I'm not there yet. I just know that it's been amped up this year, and that every time I tell someone my age, it's as if they have an epiphany about wisdom they must impart upon me. It's a strange phenomenon, and all joking aside, it's opened my eyes to the fact that, perhaps, we should all be a little slower to offer unsolicited advice and suggestions. Perhaps, instead, we should listen, offer only if asked, accept that each of us takes a different path, stop jumping to conclusions. 

None of us exists within a cookie-cutter mold. And, truthfully, none of us has it all figured out. If you think you do, we all probably want to hear from you even less. There are certainly things each of us can learn from one another, but these tidbits of knowledge should not be handed out in the form of preconceived notions or judgments about our life. Aside from that, cut us some slack at 25. We're past the point where nobody likes you (that's 23 for those of you who don't listen to Blink-182), but we're still dealing with a lot of changes coming our way (see above about the wrinkles, adult responsibilities, and sasquatch's a lot to take in, so be patient). We have a lot of things happening in our lives and a lot of shifting roles, and in the midst of it all, we're trying to find the "new normal" under which our generation demands a great deal from us. It's no longer enough for us to choose one thing and be great at it. (I blame Pinterest for this, by the way). We must now all take on sewing, crafty things, be a cleaning genius, have a successful career, etc. I could go on all day, but I will stop. The fact is that we've all got our own things that we're working toward, so instead of asking us about that five year plan, consider instead asking us what we're doing now. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Thank you, Coach!

In honor of Father’s Day this coming weekend, I think it’s important to recognize the unique and difficult role played by fathers. For me, this role is one that I can sum up in one word:  coach. To some, that may sound cold, calculated even. But, to me, it’s far deeper than that. In my world, coaches play a vital role in confidence building, teaching life lessons, and molding a person. I've had great coaches (my dad being the best and the most influential), and I've had some not-so-great ones. I know the impact they can have on a kid's life. 

Sports played a huge role in my life, and my father was, in fact, my first coach. He’s the one who taught me to shoot and dribble a basketball at the age of 4, swing a bat, throw a football, and hit a volleyball. Similarly, he was the one who painstakingly and patiently tried to teach his impatient daughter how to fish and how to play golf (both of which ended in frustration on my part). He was the one who took a great deal of time to learn the techniques to teach me how to pitch a softball. From paying for camps every summer to making endless purchases for ankle braces, shoes, equipment, and anything I needed, to talking me through the good games and the bad, he was always there.

Regardless of my interests, he took the time to learn if he didn’t already know. And, for those sports and subjects he already knew, he took the time to teach me and to help me grow—as an athlete and as a person. We bonded many times over weight lifting, game film watching, and even simple things like basketball shoe shopping.

During my childhood and teen years, this was a huge part of who I was, and I found my identity in sports. As I’ve grown up, I have developed a variety of new interests, but his steadfast support, encouragement, coaching, and love has never faded. He is still the first to volunteer to read something I’ve written, remind me that’s what I was made to do, and shamelessly promote anything that I release. He's always willing to listen to my professional accomplishments, offer feedback, and coach me through those situations. 

He remains my coach. He remains the one who reminds me to pray, have faith, work hard, set goals, and to take risks. Importantly, as he always did, he finds a way to offer life advice that sticks with me through the years and through the situations. Always the coach, he once reminded me that you have to “finish the season.” Coming from my background in sports, this lesson was put into terms easy for me to understand. We all have difficult times (just as you have losing seasons, teams that can’t quite get it together, or a coach who has given up on a team), and you must press through. You must finish the season with the hopes that the next will be brighter. It's the lessons like this one that play in my head and offer me a pep talk on bad days.

For years, he has been my example of strength, unwavering optimism, and independence. From a young age, he taught me the importance of hard work and working until a job is done. It is him I credit with my work ethic, my stubborn determination to see a job to completion, no matter how many hours I have to put in or how hard it may get. You see, not only is he the one who taught me to push through the pain, but he is also the one who taught me to not be afraid to fail.

Case in point:  I distinctly remember a time when I was about fifteen years old, and we were remodeling parts of our house. I was home during the summer days and was his helping hand with the projects. One day, I slept a little late and missed talking to him about the day’s plans before he left for work. I called his cell phone to ask him what I needed to do, and he very calmly told me to start on the ceiling. THE CEILING! Like it was no big thing for a teenager with little experience to cut a hole in his ceiling and get to work. I remember questioning him, only to have him tell me, “just go for it. If you mess it up, we’ll fix it tonight.”

That’s my dad. He’s the one who can find a solution when there seems to be none. He’s the one who encourages his children to take risks, to move forward toward personal growth and progress, the one who will unwaveringly love and offer support. Every accomplishment, every milestone, he's been by my side! 

Just as he was "coach" to us, I'm grateful that he has the opportunity to continue that legacy for another generation!

He is my coach, and I could not be more grateful to have such a strong example in my life. I know that he has been a coach to many, and has always been giving of his time—not only to my siblings and me, but to kids across generations and communities. He is a man of integrity, loyalty, strength, perseverance, faith, and great mercy. He is a man who believes in teaching, making a lasting impact, and helping grow people.

Happy Father’s Day, and thank you for everything, coach! I love you! 

Truth! The man is, and will always be, my hero!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

On the other side of the QLC

Previously, I wrote about my QLC (Quarter Life Crisis for those just joining us), the difficulties facing those in the near-25 age group, and what it's like to question most things in your life. As I stated, it's a pretty in-your-head, confusing time period of life, and I'm pretty sure that in the midst of my complaining, I addressed the fact that one day I would go back and talk about how it gets better. 

Alas, I have passed over to the other side of the QLC and can now look back and laugh pretty hardily at the silliness (albeit, all the while still understanding the complexity and legitimacy of the crisis). That means that the time has come for me to address what exactly it means to move through that process and once again learn to accept that, while we may not be in control of nearly as many things as we would like, the 20s can actually be a time of great growth, legitimate happiness, and exploration of goals, priorities, and options. 

To be completely honest, I'm not quite sure what happened to get me out of my QLC. As some of you are aware, the QLC was a pretty rough time for me, as it is for many who go through similar periods of time where they are unhappy, uncertain, and feeling as though they are on the wrong track. I was in a period of trying to balance my "grown-up" life while still wanting to be young, trying to decide on a career path that would be both fulfilling and meaningful, trying to figure out my place in a world where friends constantly come and go and relationships last about three days on average, and ultimately trying to decide what it was I needed and wanted to do with my life. It was a time of confusion, searching, trying to find answers with the therapist at the bottom of the wine bottle, and heartache. 

I think we've all needed some of these at least once...

For a perfectionist like myself, it was a tough reality to accept that I had made some left turns when I should have gone right, to realize that, at times, I had put my heart on the line a little too easily, to accept that I wasn't happy with the direction my life was headed with the career in which I was working. In the midst of all of this, my QLC struck with a vengeance and held on tightly. In fact, it held on so tightly and for long enough that I had to create a "QLC" playlist on my iPod to remind me that it was all going to be okay.

And, I'm here to say that it is. Honestly, it's been okay for quite some time. Shortly after I turned 25, I let go of some toxic people in my life, I switched jobs, I began to wake earlier in the mornings just to allow some time for a cup of coffee on my porch swing, and I embraced the fact that this crazy life has a lot of unexpected curves that can bring beauty––even through difficulty. Also, I realized that, even though I'm a "quarter of a century old," I'm still allowed to make some mistakes, act silly, and have a less-than-clear idea of where I want to go in life. 

On the other side of the QLC, I have many valuable lessons. 

I have learned the value of living in the moments. That is perhaps the most amazing thing I took away from my difficult time. Not all things last. Not all things are spectacular. Not all things are easily spotted. Still, there is beauty in the simplicity of small things. There is beauty in fleeting things. We miss this if we're always looking at the big picture or if we're constantly planning ahead. Sometimes, the short-lived and the unexpected things are some of the most amazing things we can take in, if we just make ourselves willing to look for them or to take the risks involved in experiencing them. 

I have learned that there is beauty in difficulty; there is even more beauty in that moment when you breathe in happiness post-difficulty. This first breath of ease is filled with more gratitude than anything I've ever known. The growing process over the past year has been a painful one, almost as if I was being broken by life to be molded into who I have become. Yet, I can fully attest to the fact that, when I discovered that newfound happiness, I felt a weight lifted and freedom like I've never experienced before. Like coming through a fog into clarity, it is freeing to go through those changes, no matter how painful, and realize that life is what we make it. 

I have learned that the people who are there for you no matter what are the most priceless gifts in life. The same people who stick with you in the darkness, but are also there to celebrate your successes, share their stories of happiness with you, laugh with you, or do nothing at all with you…those are the people who you cannot afford to lose in your life. I had some friends who were only there in the confusing and stressful times, and I later learned that, in some weird way, they thrived off of that atmosphere. Whether they were miserable and wanted miserable company or whether they needed to see someone more confused than they were, that's the only time they were around. These people were toxic, and would find ways to bring others down to their levels. Then, of course, there were only the happy-time friends, and these people have their place, but it's not a secure, trusted place. It is the people who can be both, and who will allow you to be both in their lives, who are the ones of greatest value, and I thank every person who is one of these people in my life. 

I have learned that music really is the balm of the soul. Whether it was letting a few tears fall and muttering things like, "Dammit, Adele, you really get it," jamming out to Five Finger Death Punch, realizing that maybe Miranda Lambert has actually been writing about my life all along, or feeling the lyrics to "Get Thru This" in my soul, music was like a drug. It was a form of expression for this time in my life, as it has been for many times. Finding the perfect song or perfect 50 songs (let's face it, I'm a woman and can have 50 emotions at once) that describe what you're thinking or feeling is one of the best feelings in the world. It reminds us that, what we're going through, there are others who can relate. It also gives us a chance to share those feelings with another without having to try to describe it or without having to bombard our poor friends all over again. Additionally, music can be interpreted, and I believe that it allows us to more fully understand what we're feeling at times. 

…said every girl ever!

I have learned to appreciate even the small things. No one has it all together, and no situation is perfect. There is imperfection in everything, and there is something unpleasant in every day, but that does not mean that it is a bad day, a bad situation, or a bad life. In fact, it's those little imperfections that can make us more grateful for the good. 

I have learned to enjoy the journey. Having always been very goal-oriented, the bumpy path toward success is a huge ego-killer sometimes. No one likes to pick themselves up from a face plant and try to piece back together the broken and bruised chunks of our plans, but we have to do so from time to time. And, it's always a chance to learn and laugh. Looking back, some of the toughest days provide the best anecdotes down the way. That time you flipped out and threw something, that time you made a fool of yourself, that time you drank too much and sang "Friends in Low Places" to complete strangers, that time you thought you were at the end of your rope…all of it can be quite the stand-up routine once it's in the past. 

I have learned that being a "grown-up" has a different meaning every day. At times, I was pretty hard on myself for not "having it together," or not doing the things I was "supposed to do." But, the fact of the matter is that, even though I have been known to call some truly unsuitable items a meal (things like gummy bears, or a diet coke and a Cliff bar, or even just a plain tortilla, and once simply a can of green beans––shameful, I know), even if I let my inner child win the "I MUST HAVE THIS" war at the store a lot, even if I only remember that Thursday is trash day about once a month, and even if I've never remembered to send a Christmas card––not even once––I am still an adult. I pay my bills on time, I take care of myself and a little dog, I'm successful, I do well at my job, and I can provide myself with the fun 'treat yourself' perks of being an adult. I am a "grown-up" even if I don't know what that means all the time, and I don't have to have it all together. Life is fun, and I am actually acting my age––because, let's face it, 25 isn't the most "got it together" age anyway. 

Some days, I think most of us would give anything to make it stop, but we also get to buy alcohol, make our own decisions, and do what we want. It's kind of awesome!

I have learned that success does come, and dreams can come true. Five-year plans have to be flexible. The road to dreams is one that curves, is full of potholes, and occasionally can't be found by google maps. Nonetheless, with enough hard work and enough people in my corner, I have found that success is attainable. I recently had the amazing experience of attaining a lifetime goal, and it has reaffirmed my fire for believing in the dreams of my heart, regardless of the roads I had to take to get here. 

"Dreams aren't perfect; they come true, not free."

I have learned that it's okay to be tender-hearted, compassionate, and soft. Living in a world that often downgrades these qualities, I felt a lot of pressure to become hardened and jaded, and I even felt like life might be easier if I was so. During my QLC, I was convinced that these situations wouldn't have hurt as much if I could just turn off all feelings and just live cold and hard. That's possibly true, but I also know (with renewed certainty) that I would have missed a lot of the lessons and that I wouldn't have come out of it so appreciative or optimistic. Without a soft spirit, there are so many possibilities we miss out on. 

I have learned that there is nothing more healing to the soul than being with those you love. For me, this took many forms. Some of them were nights on the back porch with my best friend, either singing along to the radio, talking about everything, sitting in silence, or hitting the town. They were nights of simplicity, but they were also nights that reaffirmed that I wasn't alone in my circumstance. Some of them were trips back home, to visit the people and the places who made me who I am. Some of them were phone calls in the middle of the night with old friends, remembering how far I've already come. I even allowed myself the chance to heal by giving myself alone time to remember all the reasons that I love me; whether these were times spent journaling or times spent driving my car through the valley and listening to my playlist, they were some of the most healing things I could have asked for.

Surround yourself with people who will not only take this picture of you and let you be silly, but also will give you a look similar to this when you just need to "get over it." They're the ones who will "love you through it!"

I have learned that freaking out about the little things won't do me any good. My hair is going to be a mess about 80% of the time (curse these curls), I'm never going to feel completely comfortable in certain clothing options, there are circumstances beyond my control, and I'm never going to be perfect. Do I still stress about some of these things? Absolutely. Just ask my roommate who had to deal with me and my attitude while wearing a dress I hated recently. Nonetheless, I have reached a point (call it old age, if you will) where the things I cannot control do not control my every thought. They're still there, but I have embraced acceptance. 

I'm seriously not quite sure who snuck into my room and took this picture of me when I first wake up...

I have learned that having faith in a better tomorrow is never wrong. Yes, I believe in living in the moment. I believe in relishing everything, even the bad times. But, I also have faith that good things are in store. This faith was reaffirmed, and post-QLC, I am in a job I love, I received a book contract, and I'm surrounded by some of the most fun, most loving people I could have ever asked for. 

Sure, there are still difficult days. But, as promised, I agreed to write post-QLC and affirm the fact that I did survive, and I did so without any crazy tattoos, motorcycle-buying, or Vegas weddings. The QLC is, no doubt, one of the silliest and hardest things all wrapped up into one crazy little package that I have ever experienced, but here's my post to say:  "it does get better." And, while I'm sure there are plenty of difficult days ahead, I will be here, living in the moments and enjoying the rest of this crazy 25th year of life.

If you missed the original QLC post, you can check that out here: