It took me a very long time to recognize that I deserve the beautiful life that I have. Often times we find that our struggles define us and for some people, it’s nearly impossible to get past the bad times in our lives. I’ve been taking a lot of time to reflect on my journey. I’ve reflected on how far I’ve come as a person despite my past relationships, traumatic situations, and at times, having the cards stacked completely against me. No life is perfect. It may seem that some people have it all together but what we need to realize is that we all have a journey and all of our life journeys are sloppy at times. Here are just a few of the life lessons that I’ve learned from my beautiful, yet sloppy life.
I Deserve to Be Where I am Today (& so do You)
I worked a very long time to get where I am in my career. Although I’m only halfway through graduate school, I’ve had quite a journey so far in regard to employment and my career life path. Throughout my whole life, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. In the fall of 2013 I quickly realized that this wasn’t my life path (right when I was in the middle of my student teaching experience). I truly believe that I had a mental breakdown at that time. I knew that I wasn’t happy. I came back to my room and had panic attacks every single day. I knew in my heart that I wasn’t on the right path. And so I decided to quit student teaching to focus on my mental health. I worked at a Barnes & Noble for almost a year (which I loved, by the way) and focused on taking on side projects in student affairs (which is what I really love). I’ve had at least 10 random part-time jobs and work study positions over the years. I made it through undergraduate school despite the challenges of being a first-generation student. And now I’m here, working through grad school and doing work in Residence Life. I hope to continue to be successful after graduation. I deserve it.
No One Can Define You But Yourself
People are mean sometimes. Yes, I believe that people are mostly good but in reality, people tend to be mean when they are not happy in their own lives. I suffered through years of bullying as a child. I was called names because of my weight on a daily basis. Fast forward into high school and college. I was in an abusive relationship and other relationships with abusive tendencies. I learned to hate my body and everything about myself. I was never pretty enough or smart enough or thin enough or outgoing enough. It took me roughly 24 years to love myself and the life I’ve worked for. My time working at Saint Mary’s College was the turning point for my self-confidence when it came to my body image and my career. I took an intentional two year break from dating. I focused on “dating” myself and reflecting on the things that I love to do. I also reflected on and refined the skills that I am good at. I truly learned that I deserve to be where I am: happy and successful. I am the only one who can define my life. By learning to love my body and myself I took away that power from those who would try to hurt me with their words and actions.
Laugh so You Don’t Cry
Life is stressful. There will always be stressful days and things that go wrong. I learned that I need to laugh things off instead of constantly crying over them and letting them destroy me. It is so easy to let negativity consume our thoughts. When something goes wrong at work, I try to step away and laugh at the absurdity of the situation. When I think about something particularly sad, such as the death of a loved one, I try to reframe and think about a joyful memory with that person. Laughter is truly the best medicine. When we try to find the good in our unfortunate circumstances, we have the power to reclaim happiness instead of letting negative emotions to destroy us.
Happiness is Something that You Create
I know a staggering number of people who say that they would be happy if they had more money or a new car. I’ve learned that waiting for happiness to come to us is not how we should live our lives. Happiness is something that we personally define and create. Yes, having money or other things may ease some difficulty in our lives but that is not truly the answer to a happy life. We need to take steps to create our happiness. Go out for coffee on a Saturday. Make a phone call to the people you love. Do whatever you can to create happiness for yourself. Your life will be so much more fulfilling.
Capture Life in Moments, not Things
At the end of the day, you’re going to find the most joy from the moments that captivate you than from the newest electronics. Yes, buying new things is nice (and often necessary), but when you have the option between going on an adventure and buying something for yourself, I suggest that you go for the adventure. Life is all about the little quirky moments that make you happy, not about the new expensive things that you want to buy. For example, this year for our anniversary, my boyfriend and I decided to take a trip to Washington D.C. instead of buying gifts. We had an amazing time, laughed a lot, and had the opportunity to spend a super fun weekend together. We have no regrets about this decision and plan on trying to do it every year if we can!
It’s okay to have a Career that you Love without Allowing it to Take Over your Personal Life
In America, we have this tainted perception that in order to have a career that we are passionate about, we must give up a lot of other things, like a family, relationships, self-care, etc. It is important to know that you do NOT need to pick or choose which of these things you want. Life is all about balance. I am currently a full-time graduate student pursuing a career that I absolutely love and feel called to. I also spend every weekend I can with my significant other, his family, and my own family. I map out the workout classes that I want to attend every week. I also make sure that I go grocery shopping for healthy food so that I’m not eating like crap. If you plan out things accordingly, you can have it all. Yes, having a career while balancing a life is extremely stressful, but you need to know that it will all work out if you make the time to invest appropriately with all aspects of your life. Yes, I love my job, but my family and my significant other come first. I want to be successful in my career and to help others as well. It is okay to want both of these things.
Make Self-Care a Priority
I say this all the time, but one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is to make self-care a priority. Self-care doesn’t have to be extravagant trips to the spa or vacations to Hawaii (although those sound amazing). Self-care is simply the daily, weekly, monthly or yearly things that you do in order to maintain your balance, to refocus on your happiness, and to take care of your body and mind. My self-care practices involve getting at least 7.5 hours of sleep every night, taking coffee breaks when my anxiety is high (I know this doesn’t make sense, but grabbing a cup of coffee really helps me to recenter myself despite the caffeine), talking to my loving partner every day about the good things and the bad, grocery shopping instead of doing takeout, and going to yoga and Zumba classes as much as possible (which is about 2-4 times per week when I can). Self-care is saying no to things that you cannot add to your “plate.” It’s about advocating for yourself in the workplace and knowing that it is okay to speak up about your feelings. Taking care of myself is not selfish. You need to know that this is a part of life. If you don’t take care of yourself and practice self-love, you will not be able to love and take care of others.
My Mental Illness Does Not Define Me (& neither does Yours)
Mental Illness is often difficult to talk about because many people are still extremely judgmental about the validity of mental health needs. Although we are doing much better as a society at reducing the stigma, there are still many people out there who choose not to understand what we go through. I’ve learned that even though my Depression and Anxiety are a huge part of my life, they do not define me. I am not my mental illness. It has taken me years of hiding my mental illness and refusing to accept it for what it was. I went of medication when I thought that I was “better” (which I wasn’t). I still have days where I want to hide in my room because facing the world seems too difficult. I sometimes have panic attacks when I have a million things going on and my brain does not know how to cope. I’ve grown so much in self-awareness when it comes to my mental health. Your mental health journey will look very different from the journey of others. Just know that your needs are valid. Learn to embrace and understand your mental illness in order to practice the self-care that you need. Also know that what works for one person may not work for another.
Life is not easy. It wasn’t meant to be easy. Life is sloppy at times. We have absolutely amazing days where we wake up and feel like we can handle whatever comes our way. Other days we can barely make it out of bed. I deserve laughter and love, a career that I am passionate about, health and happiness, family, a partner that I couldn’t live without, and an extraordinary life worth living. You deserve this too. Get out there with your head held high. Pick up your feet. Yes, some days are really tough but I need you to know that when you get to a point of true joy in your life that the journey will be worth it.