As I sit here slowly crafting my next words, I can’t help but realize how much life I have lived in my short, yet hearty existence.
At the age of 21, I graduated college and struggled to find a career path. After a few months and countless attempts, I decided to make a big change. I packed my life into two suitcases (at weight limit, I can assure you) and moved across the Pacific Ocean to live in Australia.
22 was spent exploring, loving, and learning. I met beautiful people. I met my best friends. I met family.
After an eye-opening year abroad, I found myself turning 23, barefoot and drunk on the sandy beaches of Indonesia with two of my closest friends.
24 began on a boat, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. I had a tropical drink in my hand and was surrounded by an entirely new group of friends. This year has been a wild ride. I started my career, I fell in and out of love, I gained new friends and reconnected with old ones, I advanced professionally, and parted ways with those I needed to let go of. I capped it all off with a bittersweet cross-country move with my best friend by my side.
Arriving in Oregon, 3,100 miles from home, I have begun to create the life I envision for myself.
Here are 25 lessons I have learned by 25:
1. Love yourself first.
One of the biggest things I have learned is to never prioritize someone else’s well-being over my own. It’s possible to love whole-heartedly and fully without sacrificing yourself. Enduring a situation or a relationship that leaves you feeling empty means you are neglecting your emotional and mental state. Always take care of yourself. You are numero uno.
2. Gauge by actions, not their words.
It’s important to remember that indecision, is a decision in itself and good intentions and good character are very, very different things. I trust easily, which makes me vulnerable, but the fact of the matter is if someone loves you, they will show it. If someone misses you, they will call. If someone cares, you will know. It’s as simple as that.
3. Overthinking is the root of “most” issues.
Take every day as an opportunity for a fresh start. The sun sleeps, so it can burn brightly the next day. Let the past be the past and allow the present to take priority. Living through “what if’s” is a painful path to follow and will only keep you from being your wonderful, happy self.
4. If you want something bad enough, you will go to Earth’s end to make it happen.
Your true passions will always make their way to the surface. Put in the extra effort and make a move, and watch as the pieces come together. If you are stagnant and no moves are made, your situation will not change.
5. Never underestimate the healing powers of good food, good music and good company.
Sometimes on a bad day, all you need are friends, Fleetwood Mac and tacos.
6. Wear sunscreen.
Whatever, I’ve had a few “good” sunburns.
7. Forgive always, but never forget.
Forgiveness is something every person is capable of. I always believe in giving chances, sometimes one, sometimes five, especially to those I am close with. Forgive, but always hold onto the lessons. Take the learnings, put them in your pocket and hold tight, not for malicious reasons, but as a peaceful reminder on how to protect yourself moving forward.
8. Happiness is internal.
If you are not happy with yourself, another person will not change that. You create the joy that fills your life.
9. Honestly, sometimes you just need a solid cry.
Let that shit flow, you’ll feel better.
10. If you are not happy with something in your life, say adios.
It’s both a magical blessing and an aching curse to be close to a person, a job, or a place. The moment something disturbs the peace in your life, I find that it’s best to remove it.
11. Age doesn’t matter.
I know I am an old soul, but regardless of age always act young, have fun, enjoy the present, eat chocolate, skip working out to drink beer in the sunshine. Do whatever you want to do. Enjoy every minute and soak it all in, you won’t be here forever.
12. Don’t take things so seriously.
Color in a coloring book, it’s really fun.
Let people in, and they will surprise you.
14. Tell your family and friends that you love them, often.
For some reason, this has taken longer for me to learn. The people you’re close with are designed and meant to build you up. Call people for no reason, call them to say hi, call them to tell them how you fell and tripped on the bus, call them to find out what stupid burrito they had for lunch. It’s the small, minuscule aspects of relationships that make them special. Show and tell the people you care about, that you care. That’s it.
15. Talk to strangers.
It’s not a rare sighting to find me talking to strangers on the side of the road. I’ve been late countless times for spending too many minutes engaging in random conversation in line at the grocery store, pumping gas, or on my commute to work. I love people. I believe everyone has something amazing to contribute to your life, even if it seems small in the moment. When I lived with my parents and would leave the house, my mom always yelled, “Erika, don’t talk to strangers!” and with a gleaming smirk on her face she knew I would talk to every stranger. People fascinate me. People are amazing and broken and inspiring. Say hello, sit in the front seat of your Uber, high-five someone on the sidewalk. Every person is a stranger at first, then you get to know them, layer by layer, and they become your friend.
If you could pick any place to experience, where would that be? Do you have it in your head? How about you book it? Take your PTO and explore. If you’re looking for something different, quit your job and embrace the adventure into the unknown. Get the hell out of your comfort zone, I know the grass is greener on the other side.
17. Find a creative outlet.
Paint, write, draw, take pictures, collect sticks, learn to macrame, make ugly bracelets.*disclaimer: I’ve done all of these things, sometimes in tandem, and they don’t always look great, but shit, sometimes they do and then, well, it’s all worth it*
18. Don’t apologize for your feelings.
Feelings are feelings. I don’t believe any person has the right to judge or question the way you feel. It’s always easy to criticize, but others haven’t walked in your shoes or felt your heartaches. Be sad, be happy, be angry – whatever you want to feel, feel it and own it.
19. Order extra guac.
At this point we all know it costs extra, so just do it. Live a little.
20. Be transparent.
If you know me, you know that I am rarely capable of hiding my emotions. If I like you, I will tell you. If I love you, I will show you. In the rare event that I don’t like you, the worst outcome is that I probably will not share my food with you. I am not coy. I give everything and everyone a chance, until proven unworthy of my attention. So many people wander through life in a facade of what they think they should like and things they should love. Be honest with who you are and reveal that person to the world. Honesty and transparency attract all sorts of magic.
21. Love hard.
My heart has been broken, but I will love hard, forever and always. I would go to the burning edges of hell for my friends and family. Love with intensity and love genuinely. The people you cherish deserve that kind of love, and nothing less.
22. Say sorry, even when it’s really, really difficult.
Sometimes you are right, and sometimes you are just plain wrong. I am all for standing your ground. However, in most situations, peace is better than a tousle. Even when it pains you to your core, apologize, and mean it. If it means smoother sailing, it’s probably not worth creating the waves.
23. Being scared is actually pretty fantastic.
I find fear to be really, really boring. Do scary things. Jump off of a rock into the unknown depths of a lake, ask for a well-deserved raise, ask a stranger out for drinks (I know you all have Tinder), live abroad for a month, move across the country. Do whatever scares you, and do it with a smile on your face. The fear will quickly turn to excitement, and it’s the most incredible feeling.
24. Try and keep a cactus alive.
I’ve killed three.*bonus points if you’ve killed an air plant*
25. Being alone is an amazing, underrated and mystifying thing.
Being alone is not lonely. Get to know and love yourself. Be true to who you are, and dream up the life you desire. If you go through life passionate about yourself, you will be unstoppable.
I plan on treating my life as an extended road trip. It will be a long, dazzling journey full of breathtaking vistas, speed bumps, long-hauls, pit-stops and breakdowns. But, why make things complicated? Put the top down and enjoy the ride.