10 Things I Have Learned in 10 Years

Back in November, I decided I was going to get a head start on the new year by writing a 2019 recap blog post before the year even ended! And then I realized I had one last 2019 goal to complete, and a little over a month to complete it:

Finally watch the entire series of Friends from start to finish (because it was leaving Netflix on January 1st).

At midnight on NYE, I had 2 episodes left. Thankfully, I went home to visit family on January 1st and they have all 10 seasons on DVD so I was able to complete my goal.

In the midst of all the show-bingeing, I kept getting ideas for different blog posts to write to close out the new year. I wanted to do a recap of 2019 and actually started writing that post twice, but forgot about it and ended up deleting the drafts. I wanted to write a post looking forward into 2020 and all the things I want to do this year.

And then I started seeing people doing those 2009 vs. 2019 photos and I thought that was really fun, but I didn’t really want to write an entire blog post reliving this decade (because as much fun as it’s been, there are phases of my life I do not want to go back to — like high school). But I started seeing social media posts where people focused on the progress they had made in the past decade, and that sounded more intriguing. And then, finally, I decided I was going to write this post after listening to an episode of Minimal-ish yesterday where Desirae talks about 10 things she has learned in the past decade.

To start, here’s a year-by-year recap of my major life milestones in the past decade. I turned 15 in 2009 and turned 25 in 2019, so obviously a lot has changed in those years of my life.

2009 – I finish my Freshman year of high school and start Sophomore year. I get my permit at the end of 2009, most of my friends already have their driver’s license. Occupation: Swim Lesson Instructor.

2010 – I finally get my driver’s license and start driving myself to swim practice at 5:00am. Occupation: Swim Lesson Instructor & Lifeguard.

2011 – Senior year begins, I am ready to be done. Occupation: Swim Lesson Instructor, Lifeguard & Occasional Water Aerobics Instructor

2012 – I graduate high school, retire from competitive swimming, and start my first year of college at Portland State. Occupation: Swim Lesson Instructor, Lifeguard, & Frequent Babysitter.

2013 – I start playing ice hockey, break my ankle (playing ice hockey), and barely pass Accounting. Occupation: Really Tired Swim Lesson Instructor, Lifeguard (and Lifeguarding Instructor), & Babysitter.

2014 – I start an internship, get certified to teach fitness classes, and retire from lifeguarding & teaching swim lessons. Occupation: Overworked Intern, Fitness Instructor, Front Desk Receptionist at the Gym, and Still A Babysitter.

2015 – I decide I’m going to major in Business Administration & Psychology. Occupation: Joined the wonderful dysfunctional family that is the restaurant industry.

2016 – I graduate college with all 3 of my majors: Management & Leadership, Human Resource Management, & Psychology (with a Writing Minor). I quit my job at the restaurant and move to Utah. Occupation: Restaurant/Unemployed For A Hot Minute/Babysitting Again.

2017 – I’m working at my first “real” job, Kevin and I start dating, Kevin moves to Utah, we get an apartment together (my first apartment), and we get married. Occupation: Support Team then Recruiter at MX Technologies.

2018 – Kevin and I move into our second apartment, I start going to therapy (finally), we celebrate our 1st anniversary, and I get a new job. Occupation: Product Support Analyst at RiskRecon.

2019 – Kevin and I pay off all our debt, buy Kevin’s dream truck, visit 10 national parks, celebrate our 2nd anniversary. Occupation: Still at RiskRecon.

Obviously I could have written an entire blog post recapping the last 10 years, but those are the big things. I went from being a 15-year-old child to a 25-year-old supposed-to-be-an-adult (but I’m really not sure I’ll ever feel like I’m qualified to be adulting). A lot of amazing things have happened and I can happily say that for the most part my life has been really great so far, and the parts that weren’t so great taught me some really important things (that I will now share with you).

I’m not going to list these in any particular order because they are all important to me, and I don’t think it makes much of a difference to try and rank them chronologically or from most important to least important. Looking back on this last decade of living, here are ten things that have impacted me and will be shaping this next decade of my life.

The goal in life should be to enjoy it, not live it perfectly.

Ever since I can remember, I have tried to do everything perfectly. I love doing things well and getting praise for it. I love being exceptional. I love justice, and doing the right thing, and following the rules. If there are instructions for doing anything (cooking, putting together IKEA furniture, learning a new skill), I want to follow them exactly.

I am also an all or nothing person. So if I stop following all the rules and stop trying to do everything perfectly, of course I would have to go the complete opposite direction and live a life of crime. Because how do you live in the middle ground between being a perfect, model citizen and being a criminal?

It took me almost this entire decade to realize it, but we’re just supposed to be living a life that we enjoy, not living our life the way we think it should be lived based on the notion that it’s even possible to live a perfect life, or live a life that measures up to the standards of other people. I’ve done a lot of things in my life that I don’t regret doing — like being a great student and going to college and not quitting on things just because they were hard — but I didn’t do any of those things for the right reasons.

I’ve lived a lot of my life doing things because I thought I was supposed to do them and I didn’t allow myself to even think of the alternative, of what would happen if I decided not to do them. And I realized that I was on the fast track to having an unhappy and unfulfilled life because of it. Yes, I’m glad I was a good student and went to college and didn’t quit on things, but I wish I could go back and do all of those things solely because they mattered to me, not because they were on the Perfect Life Path checklist.

Trying to live the Perfect Life became so overwhelming during college that I actually started trying to sabotage myself. I would procrastinate on homework, take on more work hours, watch hours of Netflix, oversleep, and the goal was to get myself to screw things up just enough to consider my perfect life “ruined” and I could stop trying to be perfect.

Of course, this never happened because I always managed to pull through, and — shockingly — life kept going even after I got a C in Accounting, even after I was late to work, even after I had to drop a class because I hadn’t had time to do any of the homework. Even though my “perfect record” had been tarnished, life kept going and I didn’t have a feeling of relief where I realized I could stop trying to be perfect now.

Slowly, over time, I started to come to the realization that even though I was trying so hard to live the perfect life, it wasn’t making me happy. In fact, it was making me progressively more miserable. After grappling with this knowledge for a few years and trying to figure out how to move forward, I’ve finally started living a life I enjoy — and I will never go back.

Here are some things that helped me make this shift from striving for the unattainable Perfect Life to living a life I really enjoy:

  • Quitting my job and moving to Utah. People living the Perfect Life are never unemployed, so not having a job for a few months forced me to have some much-needed free time in which I realized that not having a job is actually pretty great. So when I did run out of money and needed to get a job, I got one that I actually enjoyed (the next best thing).
  • Taking a gap year. I was too busy my senior year of college to apply for graduate school so I told myself I would take a gap year. When I wasn’t going to school full-time and working full-time, I found that I stopped constantly getting sick. Only working one full-time job felt so easy compared to that, I had so much free time. And I realized that although I may someday want to go to graduate school, I didn’t need to do it just to get it done.
  • Spending time with Kevin. Kevin and I are complete opposites. We have the same values and we have similar interests, but our personalities are totally different. Spending a lot of time with Kevin, especially after we moved in together, was incredibly eye-opening. Kevin is naturally happy all the time. He is just as happy if he has a productive or fun day as he is when he does nothing or has a boring day. Being around someone like that all the time made me realize I wanted to be more like that.

It didn’t happen overnight and it’s still a work in progress, but I am going into 2020 with a vision of what I want to accomplish this year and one of my goals is to enjoy each day. I’m great at planning and getting excited about future plans, but I want to focus more on being present each day and ending the day feeling happy and content.

Be yourself, and believe in yourself.

I spent a lot of time in high school and college reinventing myself, trying on different personalities and different styles, hanging out with different types of people, trying to find the version of myself that I liked best. I don’t think we were meant to be stagnant and stay the same for our entire lives, so I do think it’s valuable to try new things and have new experiences and push yourself out of your comfort zone — but in this process of trying to “find myself”, I actually lost myself.

Because really I wasn’t trying to find myself, I was trying to find a version of myself that other people liked. I was a unique kid, as we all are, and some of my unique traits were called out so frequently that I started to see them as “bad” traits and so began my journey of trying to create a new personality that I thought was a “better” me.

I had this huge imagination as a kid. I loved playing by myself. I didn’t need other people when I could create entire worlds inside my head. I had imaginary friends, I played with stuffed animals, and sometimes I would invite my younger brother into whatever world I was adventuring through that day. My mom — understandably — didn’t want me to become a hermit, so she forced me out of my comfort zone and I made friends and socialized with other kids. Luckily, most of my close friends liked — or at least tolerated — my imagination. But by middle and high school, it was all about fitting in and everyone, collectively, started rejecting anything that was “different” or would potentially hurt our chances of being able to have popular friends.

By the time I was in high school, I had hidden the parts of my personality that I thought would make it harder for me to fit in. I still had that huge imagination but instead of sharing it with others, I wrote story after story in journals that I never showed anyone. I still didn’t really care about fashion, but I started buying name brand clothes, wearing makeup, and coloring my hair. I kept up with the current trends and sometimes they suited my style, like that phase in high school where everyone started wearing sweats and slippers to school.

A few things happened over the course of several years that made me realize it was time to go back to being myself, confidently:

  • I moved 3 times in 2 years and got tired of having so much stuff. I had clothes that I never wore, things I had bought that I never used, and I got tired of lugging it around. Around this time, I also became interested in minimalism and got rid of a ton of my stuff. I felt free.
  • I work at tech companies with no formal dress code. If I worked at a company that required me to wear business professional or business casual, I might still have to put on a fake personality at least with my wardrobe. But both of the companies I’ve worked for since graduating college have a formal dress code of jeans and t shirts. So the clothes that I like wearing all the time, I can also wear to work!
  • I’d rather be comfortable. I like wearing comfortable clothes and shoes. I don’t care how cute it is if it makes me feel uncomfortable. I’d rather sleep in and have a relaxing morning instead of taking hours to get ready and stressing about how I look. I’d rather be comfortable being me instead of wondering if anyone knows that I’m pretending to not be me just to fit in better.
  • People like the real me. My friends are still my friends now that I’m being the real me 100% of the time, and if friendships haven’t worked out or lasted that’s okay and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with me or that I need to change to make someone else like me. And being married to someone who is in love with the real me is amazing.

I wasted a lot of time trying to be someone that I thought was better than the real me and I can confidently say now that there is no personality that fits me better than being my authentic self. I have things I don’t like about myself that I want to change or improve, sure, but I am going into this next decade loving myself for who I am and fiercely believing in myself.

It’s always the right time to go after your dreams.

Back when I was trying to live the Perfect Life, I thought that there was a Perfect Time for everything. I would plan and plan and wait for the perfect time, and it drove me crazy because I’d get so excited about the plans I had made and there was nothing to do but sit around and wait.

When we paid off our debt last spring (and even before then), I was making big travel plans. I wanted to go on a road trip around the U.S. and visit all the national parks. The first choice was to have flexible jobs that would allow us to work and travel. Since that seemed pretty unfeasible, I decided to work on plan #2 which was to save up money for a 6 month road trip in 2021 where we would either take unpaid time off from work or we’d just quit.

I literally planned this entire road trip. I still have the document with all of the details. After spending probably at least a month planning this trip, I was understandably depressed because what the hell were we going to do in the meantime! Were we just going to save money and live frugally and never do anything fun?

I tried to think creatively about how we could make this happen sooner, what we could do in the meantime, and I kept coming up blank. Because I was being too inflexible. I had planned out the next 5 years of our life and I thought I had it perfectly planned. Because I was so committed to “the plan”, I couldn’t change it. It took me several months of thinking before I realized that I was being handicapped by my own life plans.

We set a goal last year to go on an adventure every single weekend. I had my heart set on buying my airstream for our 2021 road trip and failed to take into account the perfectly usable camping supplies we already had. There are 5 national parks in Utah, and they are all about 3-4 hours away. We bought an annual parks pass and set out to have as many weekend adventures as possible, which you’ve already read about if you’ve been following this blog.

After we hit every Utah national park, we realized that a few others were slightly farther but still doable. We went to Yellowstone & Grand Teton. We went to Great Basin in Nevada. We made it to Death Valley just before the end of the year and successfully visited 10 national parks in 2019.

10 national parks that I thought I had to wait until 2021 to see because that’s what the “perfect plan” entailed. Don’t get me wrong, I am a great planner. My plans are awesome. But they give me tunnel vision. I am unable to see how I could do things differently. I want to stick to the plan.

Yes, it would be wonderful to go on a 6-month road trip around the United States and I hope someday we can still do that or do something similar. But for now, we’re throwing out the long term plans and asking ourselves:

  • What do we want to do today? This week? This month? This year.

Already we’ve made plans to visit at least 10 more national parks in 2020. If we get to all of them, that’ll be 20 total that we’ve been able to visit without having to go on a 6-month road trip. I’ve been so inspired by many full-time travelers and van-lifers but I think it’s important to recognize that you can do so much without having to radically change your life. Eventually, I hope that we will be in a position where we can travel frequently and have more flexible work schedules, but in the meantime I’m going to do everything I can to live the life I want right now, today.

Go after your dreams and goals. Even if it doesn’t look exactly the way you want it to. Even if you can’t have everything you want exactly the way you want it. Making big future plans is great, but don’t forget to make plans for today.

Marriage (or any relationship) doesn’t have to be hard.

Kevin was my first real, serious, adult relationship. We didn’t date for very long — on account of knowing each other for literally forever — before getting married. I wasn’t worried because I knew I had found my person. I had watched my parents make marriage work through the hard times and stay committed to one another and committed to their kids — and stay in love.

I am so grateful to my parents for showing us what a real marriage is like. As kids, we watched them go through the ups and downs of life and they never lied to us when things got hard. They argued in front of us sometimes, and wouldn’t retreat to another room just to raise their voices. We got to see them work through issues in real-time, transparently.

Our family went through a fair amount of challenges when I was a kid and it weighed heavily on my parents’ shoulders, but never broke them. I was infinitely better prepared for marriage because I expected challenges and arguments and fighting. I knew there would be days when I didn’t like Kevin very much, and there would be days when he didn’t like me very much. If you go into any relationship expecting it to be perfectly harmonious all the time, you’re going to be disappointed.

However, I am tired of hearing about how marriage is just hard. Yes, there are challenges. There are ups and downs. There are things that you go through personally, and you go through together. And I know Kevin and I haven’t even hit our “challenging” seasons of life yet — they’re coming — but marriage, on a daily basis, as a whole, should not be hard.

I reject the notion that marriage is just supposed to be hard. If your marriage is hard, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with you but I also don’t believe you’re supposed to accept that that’s the way it is. You could be with the wrong person. You could be in the wrong situation. You could have some work to do on yourself. They could have some work to do on themselves.

Note: I am married so I’m going to talk about my relationship as a marriage, but I believe this applies to any relationship. If you’re not married or won’t ever get married, I think this still applies to the outlook on relationships in general.

I think it sets us up to expect something bad to happen. It puts us in a negative mindset. We’re expecting things to be hard, and when we’re not — I think we can end up manifesting that negativity on our own. There’s no reason that it has to be hard. Some parts of your life will be difficult, but your entire relationship doesn’t have to be — and you shouldn’t expect it to be, right from the get-go.

If your relationship is perfect and amazing, stop waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s great that it’s perfect and amazing and that doesn’t mean your good luck will suddenly run out. There is a middle-ground between expecting things to be perfect and expecting something bad to happen — and that’s where I’m trying to be. Having reasonable expectations of my partner, and not sitting around waiting for something to go wrong.

Focus on yourself.

I wasted so much time in high school and college watching what other people were doing and measuring my own success against theirs. I would try and model my life after people that inspired me and continuously fall short of my own expectations (because unfortunately no one was bankrolling me to just be an athlete and train 24 hours a day, or be a student and just study 24 hours a day — I had other things going on).

We hear about this constantly on social media. Don’t compare yourself to others. Focus on your own journey. Compare yourself to yourself. But that only scratches the surface.

By focus on yourself, I mean focus as much time and attention on yourself as you can. Get to know yourself better than you do now. Spend time with just your thoughts — not the intruding thoughts about what other people are doing with their lives, or even thoughts about the progress you should be making in your own life.

Life isn’t about progress. Progress is great. I’ve always been an athlete. I go to the gym every day. I have goals for the short-term and long-term. I’m always trying to be better than myself. But if you’re always in the mindset of focusing on progress, you lose sight of how you might feel when you’re just stagnant. When you’re simply existing.

Focus on yourself each and every day. Not always with a goal in mind. Learn new things about yourself. If you can’t stand being still and not moving toward that progress, sit in the stillness and ask why?

In my case, I was constantly pushing myself toward progress every day, all the time, and eventually — after really listening to myself — I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do every day.

Sometimes I just want to nap.

So now I nap. Whenever I want. Partly because I’m in a phase of my life (with no children) that allows me to nap freely, and I know someday I will look back on these days and long for them — so I nap.

And yes, rest is essential for progress too. But sometimes a nap is just a nap.

We’ve collectively wasted too much time caring about our weight.

Continuing on the fitness path, I think this may be one of the most critical things I’ve learned in the last decade — and I am so thankful I learned it now and not a decade later. As a society, we’ve got to let go of our obsession with weight. We’ve got to get to a point where we step on the scale and experience zero emotional response to this number. Because life is too wonderful and precious to be wasting our valuable time on it.

I’ve been through quite a journey — mentally and physically — in this decade. I started out as a competitive swimmer, able to eat whatever I wanted without gaining weight. But I still had body image issues because my stomach wasn’t flat. When my body started developing and I went straight from 100 to 118 pounds in what seemed like a day, I thought my life was over.

I’ve always loved working out. It’s my quiet time. My alone time. If I could work out 6 hours a day, I would. But in the back of my mind, it’s always been tied to my weight. When I graduated high school, I stopped swimming but kept eating the same amount of calories and my weight has steadily increased since then — aside from a brief stint in the restaurant industry where I lived on coffee and bread and lost all my muscle.

About a year ago, I reached my heaviest weight ever and surprisingly, I really didn’t feel different unless I looked at the scale. Denial? Or happiness? In 2019, I started getting serious about my training again. I missed the structure and was excited about having my brother as a personal trainer, so I didn’t have to make my own workouts anymore — and I wanted to lose weight. I spent all of 2019 in the gym. I loved it. I stopped weighing myself halfway through the year — after I’d lost about 20 pounds — because I knew if I wanted to keep gaining muscle I would see that scale go up and I didn’t need that kind of negativity in my life!

Last week, I weighed myself for the first time and found — shockingly — that I only weighed 10 pounds less than I had started out at the beginning of 2019. How could all my progress have reversed itself?

It didn’t. I have gained a shit ton of muscle this year. My body looks dramatically different. I have taken my physical fitness to the next level. And thankfully, I have been working a lot on my mental health too, so I was able to stop myself from spiraling into this rabbit hole of delusional thinking.

I almost disregarded an entire year of progress based on a number. I’m quitting that kind of mindset in 2020. And you should too. The whole world should.

You’re on your own journey. Do it your way.

If you’re looking to improve any aspect of your life, there are a thousand books and opinions on the topic and each one is claiming to be the only right way to get to where you want to be. God forbid you go against the grain in this climate. But the good news is — you’re on your own journey, and it’s okay to try out different things and maybe do the wrong thing a few times before you find the one that’s right for you.

As an example, I’ve gone down many conflicting paths on my journey toward optimal physical and mental health. I’ve done Whole 30’s and I’ve read The Fuck It Diet — and I’ve learned so much from both. I’ve done intermittent fasting and I’ve eaten 3 meals a day and I’ve done that thing where you eat like 5 meals a day. I’ve tracked my eating on an app and I’ve eaten whatever I want in whatever quantity I want. I’ve done my own unstructured workouts and I’ve had coaches and trainers. I’ve done a lot of weight lifting and a lot of cardio.

And guess what? All of those experiences taught me something. I don’t regret doing any of them. The only thing I regret in regard to my fitness journey is caring how much I weighed — and we’ve been over that. So whether it’s fitness or some other area of your life, I encourage you to read everything and learn everything and experiment with things you’re curious about. Form your own opinions instead of absorbing the opinions of others.

Do it your way.

There’s room for everyone at the top.

It shocked me when I realized this but — it’s possible for everyone to be successful! I feel like I was raised as a girl and a woman with this scarcity mindset that only a select number of women could ever be successful at reaching their true potential so I was competing with all of the women around me on some level. I feel like we see this in movies and television too. Women are catty and mean to one another — they never have each other’s backs.

And I will tell you that in my experience, women have only ever behaved that way in real life in two scenarios:

  • Middle school (because we were all being brainwashed by this BS on tv)
  • When I’ve tried to compete with other women (instead of uniting with them)

As soon as I got out of the mentality that other women were out to double-cross me and take what’s mine, I haven’t had a problem! Women at my work, women I have relationships with, women I follow on Instagram — they’re all supporting each other. There’s no gossip or drama. Yes, I’m 100% sure there are still bad people in the world who engage in the gossip and the drama and are out to get you, but once I stopped assuming that — I stopped seeing that kind of behavior.

There is enough room at the top. There are enough resources. We don’t have to compete with one another or tear each other down. I’ve found that I’ve been more successful at work and in my personal life the more I’ve focused on supporting others. It may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s a hard habit to break when you’ve been brainwashed into thinking that this kind of behavior is normal all these years.

Thankfully, it’s not — and it doesn’t have to be.

Write your own financial story.

I have learned enough about money to fill up a whole blog post, but I think the single most important thing I’ve learned is to write my own financial story. Just because everyone is living with student loan debt until they’re 50 didn’t mean I had to. Just because it’s common to have credit card debt doesn’t mean I want that to be my reality. Just because I have 7 years to pay off my car loan doesn’t mean I have to take that long.

I get to decide what I like to spend my money on, how much I want to spend each month, how much I want to put in savings, how fast I want to pay off my truck. I get to make a lot of those choices because I’ve taken steps to improve my financial situation, but regardless — it’s going to vary from person to person.

Kevin and I love traveling and we love eating out, and we’re also paying off our truck at an aggressive pace — we’ve made all of those things work for us. My mom and Kevin love buying coffee from Starbucks and Dutch Bros — it’s not something I love anymore and want to spend money on, but I love buying them coffee because I know it brings them joy!

You get to decide what you want your financial story to be, and you get to decide how to reach your goals. There are a lot of resources out there that are really helpful, but ultimately it’s about what you want and what works for you.

Share your wisdom and your experiences with others.

I love writing. I started my first blog in college, I think. I love writing about anything and everything, but I struggle with self-doubt and insecurities all the time. What if I’m not qualified to write about this topic? What if I’m ignorant about this topic? What if this upsets people? What if I look back on this blog post in ten years and I’m embarrassed about what I wrote?

I’ve written so many blog posts and deleted them. They’re not good enough, they’re too politically aggressive, they don’t have enough facts, they’re about things that I haven’t personally experienced.

All of these excuses really shouldn’t matter because if what I write helps even one person, it’s worth it to me. Even if it makes ten people angry and helps just one person gain a new perspective or realize they’re not alone, that’s worth it to me.

So this year, I’m going to continue sharing my experiences and my thoughts and my wisdom. Even if I change my opinions in the next week, month, or decade. Even if I don’t consider myself qualified enough. Even if I think I used too many swear words or got too aggressive with my political opinions. I’m going to learn, I’m going to become a better writer, and I’m going to reach someone by sharing that experience.

To everyone who has made it this far, I applaud you. I considered shortening this to 5 things I learned in the last decade — but it didn’t have as good of a ring to it, so I soldiered on. This was a full decade for me — a lot of life and a lot of learning — and I’m excited to see what the next one has in store. I hope these ten things were helpful to you in some way and I look forward to continuing to share more of my life with you in 2020.

Cheers to a new decade! ❤

Published by Sami Hertel

Oregon native, current Utah resident, blogging about my adventures on lifeafteroregon.com!

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