As a type A, fairly organized human being, I absolutely LOVE setting goals and making lists. There is something deeply satisfying about checking things off a list and feeling extremely accomplished.
What I found, however, is that sometimes it’s challenging and exhausting when you don’t make it through that goals list because you set too many unrealistic expectations for your day. Sometimes life just happens. We have too many meetings or we are entirely too exhausted to work out in the evening when we come home from a long day. Sometimes we need a Saturday of rest and rejuvenation instead of running errands.
Recently, I’ve been setting 3 reasonable expectations/goals for myself every day. One of my favorites is to “laugh a lot.” Others include “stay positive,” “make time to breathe,” and “to make time for yourself.” Yes, these seem very surface level and unspecific, but mentally those are the personal goals I need. Although I have a million other lists of work projects, monthly to-dos, weekly chores, etc. I find that my 3 simple, “happiness” goals truly make me feel like an accomplished person.
I challenge you to make time to set 3 simple goals for your happiness tomorrow. Make it a daily routine. Remember that life is entirely too short and that in order to make the most of it, we need to remember to make time to feel fulfilled, joyful, and at peace.
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.
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
– Fred Rogers
I like to think that I have everything going for me in my life: a good job, a loving family, a caring partner, awesome friends, etc. Despite all of this, I still find myself struggling with self-confidence & self-worth from time to time. As a young woman in 2017, I know that I’m not alone in this. We live in a world where the rights, beliefs, ideas, pay wages, and physical appearances are constantly critiqued, invalidated, and questioned by our society. On a personal level, I have found that past relationships have contributed to my consistent struggle with their mentally abusive tendencies and hurtful words that were spoken. Yes, I’ve come so far since then, but every now and then like everyone else I am still haunted by my past. I consistently have to remind myself of my self-worth, my awesomeness, my strengths, and my accomplishments, which is why I’ve reflected on some of the key things that I have to keep in mind:
I am enough.
I have to remind myself that I am enough as a person. I constantly struggle with my confidence in my appearances, my capabilities, and overall who I am as a person. I have a habit of always worrying if I’m not pretty enough, outgoing enough, or thin enough when it comes to my relationship (my wonderful boyfriend constantly reassures me that this is not the case). I find myself hesitating to speak up or offer ideas at times because I’m afraid I’m not smart enough. Again, although I’ve made progress I still have to find ways to advocate for myself and remember what I’ve accomplished. I find that when I’m in these moods, taking a walk to reflect or doing some journaling helps.
The past is in the past.
As I said above, I find myself struggling with some of the painful things that have deeply affected me and my life. Yes, these things have unfortunately shaped a lot of my decisions and have been difficult to overcome, but I need to recognize that they are not repeating themselves. Again, I have a habit of worrying about things that aren’t true or aren’t going to happen (yay for living with anxiety). I need to work toward rationalizing my thoughts, recognizing that things are going well, and appreciating the blessings in my life.
I am stronger than I think.
Motivating myself to work out, complete nagging tasks, and deal with other daily challenges is a struggle, especially when I’m having a bad week or my depression is present. I have a tendency to go take a nap to forget my problems in an attempt to “make it all go away.” I need to recognize that I’m mentally stronger than I think I am. I need to push myself to do something positive in order to overcome those tasks. I need to recognize that I am capable.
No one said that working toward self-care and self-love would be easy. We all have bad weeks when we just want to hide from the world. Remind yourselves of the awesome things you’ve done when you are having these weeks. Practice mindfulness. Go do something healthy for yourself. In the end, it’ll all inevitably work out.
“Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived”- Eleanor Roosevelt
I like to think that I’m living a happy life at this point. I am content with where I am, who I am, and what I am doing with my life. Despite my current state of contentment, I decided to pick up the New York Time bestseller The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. The book delves into Rubin’s decision to fulfill a year of finding happiness by experimenting with the practices recommended by scientists, philosophers, popular culture, and others. What I love about this book is that Rubin was already content with her life; she just wanted to maximize her experiences to make sure she was “living life to the fullest.” In the first section, Rubin takes advice from the great Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, who established a list of virtues that would help to guide him toward his fulfillment of happiness on a daily basis. Rubin decided to create a list of “Twelve Commandments” that she would adhere to daily, and so I have decided to do the same.
The Twelve Commandments of Angela
Okay, so I definitely stole this one from Rubin. I think that it’s essential to refocus and to remember to be myself in all that I do. I need to embrace my flaws, my strengths, my quirks. I need to run with my passions and embrace my creativity. I think this is something everyone needs to keep in mind in a world that makes it easy to doubt yourself and to struggle with self-confidence. Being you is a good thing so embrace it.
Find beauty in the simple things
Recently I’ve made a personal commitment to walking at least once a day outside, rather than just working out in the gym. I’ve been embracing more early morning walks and appreciating the nature around me. The late October leaves have been incredible, especially as the sun starts to rise every day. I find so much peace when I observe and appreciate the simple beauty of our world: a heart-shaped leaf on the ground, breathing in a fresh cup of coffee, finding a moment of silence in the midst of a hectic day. Appreciating these things completely changes my attitude.
Let go, Let God
Sometimes it’s easy to think that I can control everything in life. As a type-A perfectionist, I have a tendency to overanalyze everything that crosses my path. I’ve learned that some things are out of my control and completely in God’s hands. I need to understand the value of living in the moment, being the best that I can be, and understanding patience.
I find myself saying “thank you” on a daily basis (thanks to the awesome manners I learned from my mom). Sometimes I don’t think about it as I’m saying it, which is a problem. Do I really appreciate what that person has done for me? Am I being genuine enough? And am I appreciating more of ordinary gifts that have been provided in my life? When I take time to actually think about what I am thankful for rather than just saying it (#mindfulness), I find that I am more genuinely appreciative.
Find time for reflection
I find that I am most at peace with myself and my world when I self-reflect. I have learned to evaluate my past experiences (and current ones) through reflection. These are the times when I grow the most and understand the best decisions to make. Self-awareness is something that we can all benefit from (although it doesn’t come easily) so that we can embrace our flaws, strengths, and passions.
Find time for self-care
No this is not a joke. Yes, I do know I am a Hall Director. Self-care time is essential to being a successful, healthy, happy human being. In today’s world, it’s easy to get caught up with emails until midnight, to take on more projects than we can handle, and inevitably, to easily burn out. Taking time each day to read, walk, bake, or do something else for myself helps me to lower my stress, gather enough introvert time to “be social,” and to find balance. I also value getting 6-to-9 hours of sleep every night, which is sometimes impossible in the Student Affairs world. Despite this challenge, I strive for it daily. My super cool Fitbit also yells at me when I don’t sleep enough, which is really helpful.
I need to be genuine in everything I do and in everything I say. We build relationships from being genuine to others. People connect to others who legitimately care about them, share common interests, and legitimately want to talk to them. If you’re genuine in your daily life, you’re going to connect to others in a deeper way.
“Do small things with great love”
This absolutely fabulous quote from Mother Teresa is one of my favorites and I strive to live by it daily. Doing small acts of kindness can change our world. Every week I send achievement notes to residents who have been recognized by their RAs. I have had so many residents come to my office to thank me for the notes. It’s such a blessing to know that I am helping to bring a bit of joy to someone’s day.
Remember to breathe
I find it necessary to remind myself to breathe before entering a challenging situation, a difficult meeting, or answering emails at my desk. Taking a few extra seconds to collect my thoughts goes a long way.
Live with an open mind & an open heart
This one is pretty self-explanatory. I try to go into every situation with an open mind and heart so that I can fully understand where someone is coming from. Often times we will never know exactly what someone else is dealing with in life, so it’s important to embrace them and to support them no matter what the circumstances are.
Find your peace
When I was younger, my mum always taught me never to go to bed angry. I remember sitting up and talking through family arguments with her and my sister (until after midnight sometimes) so that we would be able to find our peace before falling asleep. It’s important to find peace with those you love, as well as those challenging situations with others that may be nagging you. Or if a challenging situation isn’t possible to resolve, find peace within your heart and hope that the other person finds peace within his/her heart as well.
Talk to your mom every day
I talk to my mum every day, often times 2-3 times a day. It doesn’t matter if you’re 23 or 43, talking to your mom makes everything better. If you’re not close to your mom, find your go-to confidante. It’s important to know that someone has your back at all times.
It is important to continue to better ourselves every day through personal reflection and growth. I am going to personally commit to my “Twelve Commandments of Angela” when I face a challenge or simply need to get through the day. Although it’s much easier to fall into the mundane, I find that I appreciate life so much more when I go out of my way to make the normal days extraordinary. I think this is something we can all strive for.