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! ❤

Money, Minimalism, & Mental Health

It’s been a hot minute since I wrote something not travel-related so if you’re not here for it, keep scrolling. Some of you may recall that I was writing monthly recaps of my 2019 goals and that seems to have fallen by the wayside…somewhat on purpose!

I decided to take a step back from rigorous goal setting for the second half of 2019 and focus more on the general, vague, “how am I feeling about my life?” sort of perspective. And it has been great. I am a very goal-oriented person but this shift has been such a healthy one for me.

It’s been such a wonderful year so far and we’ve been so blessed — in all areas of our life — but especially financially. We paid off all of our debt in March and had a few months to celebrate our new debt-free life before making the choice to go back into debt.

Wait, what?

Yes, I said it. We made a calculated decision to go back into debt to buy our truck in June.

Was it the right decision? I think so, but time will tell. Ask me in a year and I’ll give you an update. Maybe we will change our minds and wish we would have done something different, but so far it’s given me no financial stress.

We knew we wanted to buy another vehicle after sharing one car for an entire year because it sucked. We could absolutely do it again if need be but it was not fun. We knew we wanted to invest in a good vehicle, one that we’d be able to use for all of the traveling we wanted to do this summer (and beyond) and one that would last a hell of a long time.

We ended up going with the Toyota Tacoma because it was Kevin’s dream, and it came down to me saying, “If you’re going to want this truck eventually, why don’t we just invest in it now?” It was also me that pushed Kevin to get the TRD Pro (the highest model) because again, why settle for something less than what you want — especially if you’re talking about a vehicle that you’re going to own for 15-20 years?

We had originally planned on buying the truck at the end of the summer so that we could save for a larger down payment, but we were ready to do some serious traveling and didn’t want to put it on hold. So we ended up buying it in June with a small down payment, effectively putting ourselves back in debt after becoming debt free just a few months prior.

We decided that the benefits of investing in the truck of Kevin’s dreams now far outweighed a minor setback in our debt-free journey. This is a vehicle that’s going to last us a long time (and we don’t plan on selling it in a few years to buy something newer and fancier). We’re currently paying more than double our monthly payment each month and our goal is to have it paid off by next August. I’ll post an update when the loan is paid off but currently, we feel like the small amount we’ll pay in interest was worth getting to buy the truck before we had all of the cash to pay for it.

Because if you haven’t noticed, it ain’t sitting around collecting dust! Kevin actually whines all the time about how many miles it’s got on it already and I’m like, babe, this is exactly why we bought it so we could drive to all these cool places! Sometimes, Kevin, sometimes.

Overall, I feel really good about where we’re at in our financial journey. We spent several months making this decision to buy the truck, it wasn’t like a drive by the dealership and hey guys so this happened thing, and maybe when we pay off the loan we’ll be like, man I wish we had done this a different way and I’m okay with that!

It’s all a learning experience and I think the most important thing is being able to talk about finances — with your spouse, obviously, but also with friends and family and people around you. If you’re uncomfortable talking about your finances, maybe that’s a sign that you’re afraid people will judge your decisions or you’re afraid you’re not making the right decisions. When we were racking up the credit card debt, I was terrified of telling my mom about it because I knew she’d hold me accountable and she would not listen to my bullshit. When we bought the truck, I called her and was like, “hey my dude, guess who just bought a $50,000 truck?!”

Because I was stoked and I had no buyer’s remorse and no stress! It was a planned expense and we had a plan to tackle the debt and it was our choice. I think buying the truck was a huge turning point for both of us — me in particular — in our minimalism journey.

If you don’t know what minimalism is, I don’t know what corner of the internet you’re hiding in. I highly recommend reading The Minimalist Home if you’re interested in a practical guide to getting started, but essentially what minimalism means to me is owning only what I love. In order to do that, I have had to clear my life of all kinds of clutter (physical, mental, digital, people, etc.) and I’ve made a lot of progress this summer.

After spending a year paying off debt, we may have let loose with our spending for a couple of months and have had to reign ourselves in a bit. Fortunately, we both get paid well at our respective jobs so we can afford to have a few “spendy” months. And, I am thankful that most of our extra spending was related to travel and not stuff.

Because I’ve spent most of the summer getting rid of our stuff. I’ve pared down my wardrobe to only the things I love and need, and I still find myself getting rid of things here and there. As it turns out, I prefer to wear the same five things every week.

I have made over $800 selling things on Facebook Marketplace. Although this makes me feel accomplished, I do recognize the fact that I would have much more than $800 if I had just never bought the shit in the first place. But, it’s a learning process and now we’re at the point where we’re living without a ton of excess stuff and we’ve evaluated our purchases over the past year and realized how much stuff we really didn’t need or want.

So now, heading into the last few months of 2019 my focus is going to be not letting stuff creep back in to my house and my life. We’re back on our budget bullshit, with a focus on — of course — those truck payments and some very aggressive savings goals for the rest of the year.

And the best part of this whole journey has been seeing how transformational this has all been for my mental health. Getting rid of visual clutter has made sitting on the couch in my living room much more peaceful and pleasant. It takes me about two hours every week to deep clean the house and do all the laundry. Realizing how much stuff I sold or donated that I thought I desperately needed has made me more mindful of what I’m still buying or bringing in. In August, I was buying a ton of stuff on Amazon and — after reevaluating whether I actually needed it — returned almost all of it.

It’s a learning process and I still feel like we could get rid of more things (maybe because I’m preparing us for life in an Airstream…), but it’s been so wonderful to see that it’s already had such a positive effect on my anxiety. This goes beyond physical clutter and I know I have touched on this in past post, but minimizing my relationships has truly done wonders. By letting go of relationships that no longer serve me, I’ve been able to devote so much more time and love to relationships that lift me up and bring me joy. Minimizing excessive time spent on social media trying to “stay in touch” with everyone and shifting my focus to having more meaningful contact with fewer people has made a huge difference.

I will continue focusing on minimalism in all aspects of my life as I’ve seen so many great benefits from it already, but one area that I’m most excited about applying it to is the holidays! I love giving (and receiving, I’ll say it) Christmas gifts, but I really want to shift my focus away from the gift-giving and toward the experience-having and memory-making. I’m really looking forward to that and I can’t wait to share how it goes.

As a side-note, I am considering doing a blog post version of a Christmas letter…more on that later!

I love writing about our travels and the blog is currently very travel-heavy, but I do like sharing these other aspects of my life and I hope you enjoy hearing about them! There will be more on money, minimalism, and mental health soon, so stay tuned!

How Gaining 30 Pounds Helped Me Become the Best Version of Myself

I have been so focused this year on re-integrating fitness into my life, tracking my eating habits, and losing weight, and I’ve also done a lot of reflecting on the journey that led me here. I feel like we are so quick to celebrate our weight loss success, while hiding or trying to forget those points in our life when we weighed more than we wanted to or let our workout routine fall by the wayside.

When we’re dissatisfied with ourselves, we stop fully living and enjoying our lives for a period of time. We put things off because we don’t look the way we would like to, our clothes don’t fit right or don’t fit at all, and we’re ashamed of our weight. I can only speak to this from the perspective of a women but I think men go through this too. My husband, for example, used to really hate his chest hair. I told him one day to stop shaving it because it was sharp and spiky and not comfortable for cuddling (priorities) and he was worried about going to the pool without a shirt because he didn’t want people to see it. Once I told him that I liked it and thought it looked fine, he told me he felt way more relaxed about it.

I think one of the dangers of having goals and being a goal-oriented person is that it’s hard to live in the moment and appreciate where you are right now, today. I struggle with this, especially when it comes to long-term goals. A year ago I decided I really wanted to go on a camping trip around the U.S in either a van, motorhome, or just tent camping, and it was really hard to have this dream and know that it might not be something that I can do for another couple of years. But we can’t just stop enjoying our lives because we’re waiting for the next great thing, and the same should be true for self-improvement.

If you’re familiar with my blog and my story, you know that I graduated from college in 2016 and made a lot of big life choices all at once. I moved out of the house I grew up in — and as if that wasn’t enough, I moved to another state entirely! This was a huge leap for me because I struggled with separation anxiety and homesickness throughout my childhood and young adult life. It was the main reason I decided to live at home until I graduated college, because I wasn’t ready to leave my family yet.

For someone who found it difficult being away from family and a familiar environment for even a few days, moving to a completely new state far away from my family and anything familiar was absolutely terrifying. I don’t like to half-ass anything, so if I was going to jump out of my comfort zone I was going to go all the way. This also made it difficult to fail, chicken out, and run home crying without a significant amount of effort.

This was the beginning of the complete unraveling and rebuilding of my identity. I was entering a new phase of my life. For the first time ever really, I wasn’t in school, I wasn’t playing sports, I didn’t have a calendar full of events and activities and deadlines and due dates. I had a clean slate, an open road, and it was overwhelming.

Of course, it was nice at first. I didn’t get a job right away when I got to Utah, and I spent a couple of months being lazy and not doing much of anything besides hanging out, reading, hiking, and watching tv. When I had spent most of my money, I got a babysitting gig but even that was only a few hours a day during the week. With my driven personality, I couldn’t “do nothing” for too long before I went out and got a real, 40-hour a week job.

Now this is interesting, because I feel like most people who work full-time say that they are busy and they have no free time — but this has not been my experience. For as long as I can remember, I have been in school full time and also had obligations and activities before or after school. Whether that was piano lessons in elementary school, swimming and soccer in middle school, swimming for two teams in high school, a part time job (or two or three) and hockey practice while in college, my schedule has always been jam-packed.

So having one full-time job, working 8 hours a day five days a week, is quite possibly the lightest schedule I have ever had in my entire life. I didn’t have to wake up at 5am, and I got home by 6pm and still had five hours left in my day. Not to mention the weekends!

And what did I do with all of this free time? Absolutely nothing. This is where I started storing some extra weight. You might think of it as my version of the Freshman 15, since I didn’t go away to college and had the luxury of eating home-cooked meals most nights. I wasn’t in great shape (fitness-wise) when I moved because my workout routine had gone out the window during my last (and most stressful) year of college, but I felt thin and had probably lost some muscle because I’d spent the past year working at a restaurant being on my feet for 12-hour shifts and living on a diet of coffee and bread and butter.

So I got into a routine and it went like this:

Wake up, go to work, eat breakfast at work (free bagels/smoothies twice a week and plenty of snacks for the other days), either eat lunch at work (free lunch twice a week — never chose the healthy options, never cared about portion sizes), get home and either eat a home-cooked meal, fast food, or (my favorite) an entire box of Annie’s Mac N Cheese (white cheddar shells, of course), and then watch Netflix from 6pm-11pm.

And of course, I had a desk job now, so I was no longer standing and walking all day long. I started working out again but I basically just did it because it makes me feel good — mentally — and used it to justify eating extra dessert.

I felt like I was doing enough with my life because isn’t this what adulting is supposed to look like? You go to work, get your 40 hours in each week, and come home and binge-watch your Netflix shows? Sure, some people hang out with their friends more but I didn’t really know anyone and I am not the kind of person that hangs out with friends all the time anyway. I hang out with people one evening and I need like a week to recover.

So I didn’t think anything of this lifestyle change, in part because I was still recovering from burning myself out the past 8 years in high school and college and never letting myself take a break or catch my breath. It had always been one thing after another, juggling several things at one time, and I was actually enjoying spending a lot of my time laying in bed watching Netflix for fun instead of using it as a procrastination tool.

I don’t know how it is for everyone else but my weight gain was so gradual that I really didn’t notice it until one day I woke up and my jeans didn’t fit anymore. And even then, I didn’t think anything of it because some of my clothes were really old, from high school, and I was sure I just needed new clothes anyway. I’ve never been a modest person so when Kevin moved in with me, I wasn’t shy about being naked in front of him and it was also a real relationship. I wasn’t trying to get him to like me or get him to climb in bed with me, so it didn’t seem to matter that I wasn’t in the best shape at the moment.

And to his credit, Kevin has never made me feel self-conscious about my body. He has known me all my life so he has quite literally seen me grow up, my little kid phase, my ugly middle school phase, my I have boobs now and I’m the shit phase, my I’m no longer a size 0 because my body finished developing phase, and my this is what happens when you stop exercising and eat whatever you want phase. He’s seen me naked at the heaviest I have ever weighed, and I truly believe he really does love me no matter what and doesn’t give a shit about my weight.

Case in point: I have lost 18 pounds since January and do you know what Kevin has to say about that? “Yes babe, you look amazing but now your boobs are so small!”

By the time we got engaged, I think I had reached my heaviest weight and it plateaued from there. In a way, it made me happy to know that once I reached 175 pounds I basically maintained that weight no matter what my diet and exercise looked like (but let’s not test that again). What makes me the happiest is that I never “felt” like I weighed 175. In my mind, weighing that much looked a whole lot worse than it did in reality. Of course, I was unhappy about it and I was irritated with myself for “letting it get this bad” without intervening.

But the best decision I made was to keep on living my life despite not having my shit together and weighing more than I wanted to. I wanted to get married in September and if there was one thing I definitely wasn’t going to put myself through, it was dieting. We were dealing with a lot of uncertainty and stress in our life. Kevin didn’t have a job, then he had one but then he got laid off. We were starting to put things on our credit card that we wouldn’t be able to pay off right away. We had to travel to Oregon several times that summer before the wedding. So I decided that I would find a wedding dress that I loved and felt amazing in with the body I had right then.

And looking back on my wedding photos, I don’t see those extra pounds. I see a really happy, smiley person who is so thrilled to be getting married to the love of her life (and equally thrilled that her wedding will be over and she’ll never have to do that again). I am so grateful that, in that moment, I was able to decide what was really important to me and focus on that. If it had been important to me, I would have found the motivation to lose 20 pounds before my wedding. It just wasn’t the most important thing to me at the time and I’m glad it wasn’t. I had no idea what my dress size was so I didn’t obsess over “having to fit into” a certain size. I think my dress ended up being a size 12, but some of the dresses I tried on went up to size 16 and you know what, it didn’t kill my self-esteem!

It completely broke my unhealthy relationship with the scale that I’d had from the moment my weight went from 113 to 120. For some reason, this was a tipping point for me and I became obsessed with my weight. I went through old photos on my computer last year and found tons of pictures of the scale with varying weights like 123.2, 125.7, 132.1. I would sometimes weigh myself in the morning and in the evening just so I could feel bad about “gaining” 3 pounds in one day. When I realized I was basically plateauing at 175, I stopped weighing myself. Until I made the decision to commit to losing weight, there wasn’t any reason to step on the scale in order to make myself feel bad about the choices I had made that week.

I could have “not let it get that bad” or started trying to lose weight sooner, but I think I had to make an important discovery first. I realized that not only had I never really cared about nutrition, I had never “tried to lose weight” for the right reasons. It was never about me. In high school, girls were pretty obsessed with their weight. A big thing was staying as close to 100 pounds as possible (who made this rule, I have no clue). I was quite a bit taller than some of my close friends, so at 120 pounds I thought I was “fat”.

The kicker is that I’ve actually never had a flat stomach. Looking back at old photos, I always had a little extra on my belly because a) I have always had a weak core and b) I love eating ice cream and never wanted to care about nutrition. Which was fine in high school when I was swimming 7 days a week and still growing, but doesn’t work so well in your early 20s when you stop growing and exercising simultaneously.

I also got a lot of really unhealthy advice from just about everyone. I’m sure you’ve heard it before too. “Enjoy eating those donuts now because when you get older, you’ll gain five pounds just by looking at a donut!” This is horrible advice because really, we should always be able to eat what we want to eat. Moderation is the key. Weight loss and weight maintenance are very simple: calories in, calories out. If you want to lose weight, be in a caloric deficit. If you want to maintain you weight, eat about the same amount of calories as you burn. It’s not nutritionally advisable, but you could figure out a way to eat a donut every morning and stay within those parameters.

But basically, I never ever ever ate healthy because soon I would be old and the donuts and ice cream would immediately make me fat. So to try and lose weight, I would exercise a ton. Swimming kept me incredibly lean because it’s a great form of exercise, burns a lot of calories, and I was doing it like 20 hours a week! When I retired from swimming, I started going to the gym. Sometimes I would go to the gym twice in one day! And sometimes I would lose a few pounds but mostly I just kept slowly gaining weight until I plateaued at around 145.

I never thought about how I wanted to look or how I wanted to feel. I thought about how my friends looked, what size clothes they wore, how their bodies looked. I thought about guys I dated or wanted to date, and how they would want me to look.

So you can imagine how liberating it was to be “freed” from all of that. I now weighed an unacceptable weight, so there was no point in trying to attain these impossible standards. Plus, Kevin loved me no matter what so it’s not like I had to get in shape and lose weight for him. So I bought some “fat clothes” and spent a summer by the pool not giving a fuck about my stomach rolls and stretch marks.

Disclaimer: I absolutely had low-esteem moments during this journey. I cried when clothes didn’t fit me anymore. I got angry with myself. I put myself down. I called myself fat. I tried to be in denial and pretend I wasn’t 175 pounds.

But I also found out that I was worth more than my weight. My husband still loved me. Guys still hit on me. People still liked and respected me. I still had friends and coworkers. I could still physically do all of the things I liked to do.

And from there, I built myself back up into the person that I wanted to be. I started going back to the gym, not for weight loss or physical health, but for my mental health. Working out has always been something that I loved and it makes me feel amazing. I didn’t care what I was doing at the gym or how long I was there, as long as I worked out every day. I wanted to learn more about nutrition so Kevin and I did a Whole30. I learned so much about myself and how different foods affect me. I might have lost weight but I don’t even know because I didn’t weigh myself, I just focused on how I felt and how my body looked!

I decided I wanted to be strong again. Although I could still do basically any physical activity, I knew I was losing muscle and would have to build it back up at the gym. I have never had a lot of core strength so I really wanted to improve that as well. I started focusing on my workouts more and trying new exercises. Meanwhile, Kevin and I were still figuring out our food freedom. Moderation was a struggle for us and we alternated between a strict Whole30 regimen and eating anything we wanted.

In December of last year, I was pretty frustrated because we had eaten healthy for over a month and my clothes still weren’t fitting right so I decided to weigh myself. I was still at 175. I felt like a total failure. I had done so much work at the gym and on my nutrition the entire year and I still weighed the same. I figured I must be doing something wrong to not be seeing results (which wasn’t entirely true — I hadn’t lost weight but I had started gaining back some of the muscle I had lost, and I was eating way more nutritionally dense foods).

In January, I decided to do what I had always hated doing: count my calories. This never worked for me in the past because I would obsess over it and do things like hoard all my calories until the evening so that I could be sure I would “have enough”. I also thought it was too restrictive and not sustainable, but I was eating all the right foods and exercising so I thought I would give it a try.

I used MyFitnessPal to track my calories, which has improved greatly since the time I first used it like six years ago. You can basically use the barcodes on all of your food to get the nutrition information, and there’s even nutrition information for popular restaurants! This was a game-changer, since the first time I used this app I had to put almost all my foods in manually and it was really tedious.

My goal was to set a weight loss goal of 1 pound per week, which is considered “moderate” weight loss and seemed like a fairly healthy progression, especially since I was going to be gaining muscle at the same time. I bought one of those scales that also shows you things like body fat percentage. I decided I would only weigh myself once a month, and that I would “loosely” track my calories, meaning that I don’t include all twelve spices that I put in my meal and I don’t have a scale to weigh my food. I try to over-estimate my portion sizes because I think I usually eat a little bit more than I think. I also decided that it was okay to go over my allotted calories for the day, because the goal of this was to be more aware of how much I was actually eating.

I also started intermittent fasting, which works great for me and I highly recommend trying it. I eat between the hours of 1pm-9pm. This works well because I don’t usually get hungry until about 11 or 12 and I don’t like working out in the morning. I usually eat a small lunch because I love eating a big dinner. I don’t stick to this 100% of the time. Usually I do it consistently on the weekdays and then eat an early breakfast/lunch on the weekends.

I started working out at home and loved it. I think it’s a seasonal thing for me. If it’s really cold outside, I absolutely want to stay at home and have no desire to go to the gym. If it’s sunny and warm, I love going to the gym! I made it a goal to workout every day since my workout videos were so short. I even did them while I was in Phoenix and during a weekend trip to Moab! After 3 months, I got bored of the workout videos and went back to the gym. I have been following a workout plan created by my brother since then, and also doing some different weight-lifting videos at home.

I have improved immensely at doing things in moderation. I listen to my body and do the workout that best suits me everyday. I still don’t like taking a complete rest day, but I usually do something lighter like yoga on Sundays as a recovery. I love the intermittent fasting but I don’t worry if I want to have a snack after 9pm, or if I want to eat my lunch a little earlier. I count my calories daily but if I go out to eat and don’t have the nutrition information, I just guess and don’t stress about it. We plan our meals weekly and try to eat a balance of delicious and healthy food. Some weeks are more nutritious than others, but at the end of the day I focus on total calories. I’m not doing macros at this point in time, but I have thought about that and may try it.

And I think one of my biggest wins is that I’m writing this blog post in the middle of my journey to being in the best shape of my life. I had a moment where I was like, “Shouldn’t I wait until I’m done and I’ve accomplished my goal so I will be qualified to write this post about my journey?” But then I thought, at what point will I be done? Sure, I am hoping to be in “the best shape of my life” by June, but I won’t just stop there. I will create new health and fitness goals and I will go after those!

So this is my story, so far, of how gaining 30 pounds helped me rebuild my life into something that I’m doing for me and something that I am proud of and, ultimately, has put me on a path to be healthier and stronger than I have ever been before! I am excited to continue this journey and see where I end up, and I hope that this perspective was valuable. I hope it makes you celebrate those times when you definitely did not have your shit together, because life still happened and you still evolved and changed from those experiences!

It would be unfair of me to say that the year I gained 30 pounds was the worst year of my life, or that it was a crappy year, or that I’m ashamed of it — because the truth is that it was one of the best years of my life! I moved away from home and found my own path and rediscovered my independence. I married the love of my life. I rediscovered myself and decided to be who I wanted to be and stopped conforming to society’s standards or other people’s opinions of who I should be. It was an incredible year of growth for me and I am so proud of what I accomplished. Not only did I experience a tremendous amount of positive growth and change in my life, I created the foundation that has made this year such an amazing year — and it’s only halfway over!

I’ll leave you with this: Appreciate each phase of life you go through — the highs and the lows, the stressful and the calm, the good and the bad. It’s all shaping you into the person you were always meant to be.

5 Things I Wish I Could Tell My Middle School Self

Since I graduated college, I’ve been rediscovering myself, re-learning who I really am at the very core of my being, and working toward being the best version of myself that I can be.

It’s a tough thing to do while you’re in college, or high school even, because there’s really no time. When you’ve been in school since the beginning of your existence, you adopt a let’s just get through this philosophy.

Let’s just get through this term and things will slow down.

Let’s just get through this year and things will slow down.

Okay, let’s just graduate college and things will slow down.

After I graduated high school, I jumped right into college. At age 17, I was younger than most of my peers, and way younger than everyone in my Business Administration 101 class. I went from AP Classes, swim practice twice a day, and a part-time job to the PSU Honors Program, teaching fitness classes, learning how to play ice hockey, working an almost full-time job, and paying for the majority of my tuition.

I graduated college, quit my job, and moved to a new state all within the same two months, and since then I have finally had some time to lose the “let’s get through this” philosophy and really start living.

During this period of self-discovery, I’ve realized that I really started to lose myself somewhere during my middle school years. For most of us, middle school was a god-awful time and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that many of us disguised our true selves in order to get through those torturous years with as little scarring of our souls as possible.

I guarantee that someone’s reading this (I’m talking to you, mom) and thinking, I don’t know what she’s talking about, I had such a lovely time in middle school. You are one of the lucky ones. Bless your little un-scarred soul.

I may have only been out-of-touch with my true self for about a decade, and that’s not too bad, but I still would like to turn back the clock and tell that little girl a few things I have learned since then.

1. Listen to your mom.

This one is really the most important of them all because I can tell you right now that my mom did give me all of this advice and my young, stupid self chose to ignore it. If your mom is not as amazing as mine and gives terrible advice, then listen to your dad, or your best friend’s mom, or your older siblings. They’ve been through it all before and they do actually know what they’re talking about.

2. Wear whatever you want.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that soon, a day will come when you are forced into the world of Business Casual/Business Professional wardrobes. Maybe you love wearing pantyhose and slacks and uncomfortable shoes, or maybe you get lucky and your work has a really lax dress code (I have been blessed in this regard), but you should enjoy the freedom of being a kid and wearing whatever you damn well please while you can.

The second reason is that, if you are anything like me, you will eventually return to dressing the way you want. I can’t tell you how much money I would have saved if I had stopped buying all the clothes that everyone else was buying and just stuck to wearing boy’s basketball shorts, t-shirts, tennis shoes, and swim team sweatshirts. Swap the basketball shorts for a pair of yoga pants and this is my daily wardrobe now. For work, I wear jeans, boots, and a long sleeved shirt every single day. Seriously, I wear the same pair of jeans and I rotate about 5 shirts.

3. Don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks of you.

I was going to use a non-swear word but I know the kind of music kids are listening to these days, and I really want to hammer home this point. Most likely, the friends you have in middle school will not be your lifelong friends. And if they do end up being your lifelong friends, it’s because they have always accepted you for who you are and never judged you for the way you dressed or did your hair or for not writing with giant bubble letters.

This really goes hand-in-hand with wearing whatever you want, because the whole reason I didn’t wear whatever I wanted is because it became “not socially acceptable” to dress that way. I don’t really know why, but when I was in middle school if you dressed like a tomboy, everyone thought you were a lesbian. And of course, I probably had to go home and ask my mom what a lesbian was because I had no idea (one of those innocent, sheltered firstborn children).

But gradually, I stopped dressing like a tomboy and I started buying the name brand stuff. That was also a big deal. I remember throwing a big fit about having to buy some generic-brand boots because my mom wouldn’t buy me Uggs. Spoiler alert: You don’t buy Uggs when you live in Oregon because it rains all the time and they get ruined. I started wearing bras even though I was still flat-chested because apparently it wasn’t okay if boys could see the outline of your nipple through your shirt even though it still looked exactly like their nipple.

And I started brushing my hair and trying to make it look nice, and I even started getting highlights because that was what the popular girls were doing. Disclaimer: I still get my hair colored, but to this day I have no idea how to use a curling iron and will probably never learn. Ponytail/bun all day, every day!

The point is, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or what anyone else is doing. If someone needs you to act or look a certain way to be friends with you, they’re not your friend. The sad thing is that I’m 100% certain my friends still would have loved me and accepted me if I hadn’t done any of those things, but I felt the pressure to fit in and I stopped resisting it.

4. Popularity does not mean a thing in the real world.

It might seem like the popular kids have the greatest lives, but being popular won’t help them when they’re trying to get a job or apply for college. If they experience great success in their lives, it’s because they have actual skills. They aren’t just popular, they are also smart, motivated, dedicated, and driven. That’s what will get them places.

Sure, there are still cliques in the real world, and there is an aspect of popularity in the business world. People who are more extroverted may have an easier time networking and meeting new people and finding new opportunities, but there are so many ways you can network and find your niche or your dream job.

5. Don’t waste your time on boys.

I always wanted to be one of the boys. I have two younger brothers, and many of my best friends have been boys. I was never interested in anything girly, like painting my fingernails or trying on makeup. I’m completely convinced that I started liking boys because that’s what all the other girls were doing. They’d pick a boy and obsess over him and try and get him to be their boyfriend. If I wasn’t surrounded by that kind of behavior, I don’t think the idea would have occurred to me until much later.

If I hadn’t felt pressured to be in the same phase everyone else was in, I don’t think I would’ve had a boyfriend until high school or maybe even later. I wish that I hadn’t felt like I had to participate just because that was the thing to do. Chances are pretty high that whoever your boyfriend is in middle school, and even high school, will not become your husband, so if you have no interest in it, why bother? Be one of the boys for a little bit longer.

Be Yourself

That’s all there really is to it. Just be whoever you want to be. Ignore the current clothing trends and the petty drama and the fact that everyone is trying so hard to fit in. You don’t need to fit in. This is not what the rest of your life will be like, and I can guarantee that your life will be so much better and so much happier if you do the things that make you happy and ignore the bullshit.

I know that I would have been ten times happier in middle school, high school, and even college, if I had kept on being my authentic true self and hadn’t tried to be like everyone else. In the end, it was all a waste of effort because I still can’t take a Pinterest-worthy photo of my messy bun, I don’t know how to curl my hair, I don’t have a thigh gap, I don’t know the first thing about makeup, and I don’t own name-brand everything.

But I don’t care about any of those things.

Because I do have an amazing husband, a really great well-paying job, an apartment full of plants that I haven’t killed yet, one really comfortable pair of sweats (plus access to all of my husband’s clothes), a lot of dry shampoo, a car that’s paid off, and an amazing group of family and friends who would not be surprised if I wore my favorite pair of sweats to a wedding.

So, if you feel like you lost yourself somewhere along the way, I encourage you to take a moment and remember that person. They are still in there, waiting to get out, and you should let them. Because wouldn’t life be better if we were all our own unique, authentic, amazing selves? ❤

Transitions, Traveling, & Anxiety

My Anxiety Journey

For those of you who don’t know me that well or are just now reading this blog, I have had anxiety since I was five years old. As an adult, I traced it back to a trip my parents took a month after 9/11. They were traveling by plane and I thought this meant there was a high likelihood that they would die and never return from their trip. Because I had heard what happened on September 11th from my family, from the news, from friends, from school. It was the first time something truly horrible happened in my life that I was old enough to remember and impossible for my parents to shield me from.

After 9/11, I started to have separation anxiety whenever I was away from my parents. Whenever they went on a date and left us with a babysitter or I went to a sleepover, I was usually fine until bedtime and that’s when the anxiety would hit. I had no idea what it was at the time, so it generally manifested itself physically and I would feel sick to my stomach. It wasn’t as bad if my brothers were there, so at one point I moved into their bedroom for awhile and the three of us shared a room.

Over time, I learned how to overcome this and, at the very least, “make it through the night”. That’s what my mom said when I called her crying, begging her to pick me up from a trip with a friend in Canada (yes, Canada). She’d say, “You just have to make it through the night.”

It became easier to stay at home while my parents were gone, because at least I had the same routine, so when they went on trips, one of the grandparents would usually stay with us. If we stayed at one of the grandparents’ houses, my brother and I shared a bed (and eventually all 3 of us shared a bed, once Christopher was born). If all else failed and I couldn’t sleep, I’d climb into bed with the grandparents. In middle school, I slept over at my friend Stephanie’s house enough times that I started to feel pretty comfortable (plus, half the time we stayed up till 4am so it didn’t matter if I couldn’t sleep). My mom chaperoned most field trips and swim meets and even if she wasn’t in the room with me, I knew she was close.

This continued to be a challenge even when I graduated high school. Part of me really wanted to go away to college, and part of me wanted to go to the local community college so I could live at home. My decision ended up being mostly a financial one. Going to Portland State allowed me to live at home and save astronomical amounts of money, but it was a plus being able to stay at home because I didn’t have to deal with the anxiety of “leaving the nest” just yet. And I didn’t want to leave the nest. I love being around my family and I’m so glad I got to have those extra four years at home.

When I graduated college, I was so done with Portland. After commuting from Gresham to Portland for the past 4 years for school and work, the last thing I wanted to do was get a job there. I couldn’t afford to live in the city, so even if I moved out and got my own place, it would still be a ridiculous commute. So I decided to move to Utah!

I had one momentary freak-out at a hotel in Boise, texted with a couple of friends who helped me snap out of it (avoided telling my mom anything was wrong out of fear that I’d cry, “please let me come back home!”), and finished the drive to Utah the next day. Since moving to Utah, I have had my fair share of days where I wish that my mom was just a five-minute drive away instead of a 12-hour drive, and I’ve had my ups and downs with anxiety, but this move really helped me conquer the separation anxiety I’d been struggling with since childhood.

Transitions & Traveling

Looking back on this as an adult, I’ve realized that I didn’t necessarily have separation anxiety. I have anxiety that is exacerbated by transitions and traveling. I am a very structured, routine person. I love my routine. I love going to bed at the same time every day. I always brush my teeth before I go to bed. I work out every day. I often eat the same breakfast every single day for months before switching things up.

One of the ways I coped with this anxiety as a kid was adhering to my routine. If I could keep most of the routine the same, I had less anxiety. It was when the whole routine disappeared that I really had a problem. At sleepovers, it was virtually impossible to have any semblance of a routine, but the nice thing was that there were always a few people hell bent on staying up all night. So if I couldn’t fall asleep, I’d just stay up with them! Once I told myself it was okay to stay up all night if I couldn’t fall asleep, I had less anxiety and usually ended up falling asleep.

As an adult, I find that I still have these same anxious feelings when I travel. Vacations are difficult for me because it takes me a few days to transition into a new routine, and then when I’m finally used to it the trip is over and it’s time to readjust to the normal routine. In an effort to make those transitions easier, I have loosened up certain parts of my routine when I travel. I used to take my own pillow(s) and blanket(s) anywhere I traveled. Now, if where I’m traveling has pillows and blankets, I’ll leave mine behind. I used to overpack, trying to think of every possible thing I could need. Now, I pack a reasonable amount of clothes and I try and remember anything money can’t buy, and I don’t stress if I end up needing something and have to buy it while traveling.

I still do a lot of crazy things while traveling to keep things as close to “normal” as possible. When we stay in hotels, I’ll cover up all of the little lights from the tv, microwave, and anything else so that the room is in a state of true darkness. I also bring a fan everywhere I go (for the white noise) except when we’re camping and have no electricity. I had a “blue blankee” when I was a little kid and now have this giant blanket that my mom refers to as my “adult blue blankee”, since it does bear a striking resemblance to that blanket. If we’re going on a longer trip and we’re not flying, I’ll take that with me as it provides added weight (I like heavy blankets when I sleep).

I try and stay flexible with my bedtime while traveling, but there are times where I hit the wall and either push through it or sneak away to take a nap or go to bed early. Occasionally, I really do lose it and have a meltdown when Kevin wants to watch Sports Center at 12:00am at the hotel and all I want to do is sleep. I wish I were one of those lucky people who can fall asleep with the tv on, but I still have yet to master that skill.

A Work in Progress

Our last trip, during Thanksgiving, was better than some. As a whole, the family got along really well and no one really had a meltdown or a big fight, which is a pretty big deal if you know us. We’re loud, emotional, and passionate, and we got through a game of Monopoly without killing one another! We were at the beach house for a whole week, so by Friday I was used to my daily routine and then we had to leave on Saturday. Two days after we arrived, I told Kevin I wanted to go home. Then, the day before we left, I told him I didn’t want to leave.

Our sleep schedules were erratic, staying up late watching movies and sleeping in until at least 9 every day, but I noticed that the best I felt was the day I woke up at 6am to go Black Friday shopping. On our next trip, I am committing to waking up at a normal hour every day, even if I stay up late. I think even napping in the afternoon feels better than lazily waking up at 10am. I also noticed that I had a few irritable/grouchy moments over the course of the week, so I’m committing to working out for at least 30 minutes a day on our next trip. I love taking a break from working out while I’m on vacation, but the reality is that it makes me so much happier (and drastically affects my mood when I don’t make time for it).

One of my goals for 2019 is to conquer my anxiety. I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I have 0 anxiety, but I’d like to be the one controlling it instead of the other way around. I’m working toward this goal by acknowledging my anxiety rather than ignoring it, and doing the things that make me happy and lower my stress levels instead of ignoring those things because I “want to be like everyone else”. It’s similar to the epiphany I’ve had recently about eating habits. Sometimes I wish I could be like everyone else and eat whatever I want without gaining weight, but the reality is that “everyone else” really isn’t like that and, more profoundly, I don’t even enjoy eating out or eating junk food all the time.

When I was younger, I used to feel ashamed of my anxiety and I felt like people would make fun of me if they knew I had a security blanket. Luckily, I had a pretty great group of friends who never made me feel bad about leaving a birthday party and not staying for the sleepover, or for having my mom chaperone all our field trips (plus, she really was the best chaperone ever!), or for leaving my own sleepover to sleep upstairs in my own bed.

As an adult, I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self she had nothing to be ashamed of. I will shamelessly bring my giant adult-sized blue blankee wherever the hell I want! It is the perfect top layer for any bed and you can throw it off if it gets too hot (as Kevin will attest, he throws it off nearly every night), not to mention it also happens to be the perfect couch-snuggling blanket! And if you don’t use a fan for white noise while you sleep you are missing out, my friend. Fans are not just for cooling off in the summer!

So, if you have anxiety and you have some bizarre coping mechanisms, there’s no reason to be self-conscious! And if you don’t have anxiety, hopefully you understand us anxious folk a bit better after reading this! And if you’re reading this waiting for my post on the Kemper Family Thanksgiving Extravaganza of 2018, don’t worry — it’s coming! And if you’re my husband and you’re reading this, thanks for putting up with my vacation anxiety and helping me work through it (you’re the best!).

And finally, if you have some life hacks for dealing with anxiety (bonus if they are related to transitions & traveling) that you’d like to share, I would love to hear them!

When Anxiety Takes Hold

The other night I sat on our big, blue ottoman, curled up in a blanket, crying. My husband sat on the couch facing me. He listened as I listed off all of the things that were stressing me out and causing me to feel so helpless.

There’s too much credit card debt, I feel like we’ll never pay it off. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to do all of the things I need to do, like workout and spend time with you and get enough sleep. My job is too stressful right now and it takes all my mental energy just to make it through the day. 

Everything just poured out. Tears streamed down my face as I sat there, ugly crying, and I kept adding things to the list. The weight of the stress was too heavy and I couldn’t get out from under it. I felt like I was drowning, like all of these things were weighing down my shoulders and pushing on my chest. Being a living, breathing human was the bare minimum I could accomplish and even that felt like an effort.

As I added more and more things to the ever-growing list of stressors, my husband calmy, softly interrupted my lamenting:

Oh baby, you need to start talking about the good things.

And I’m not exaggerating, this literally stopped my negative thinking stream-of-consciousness brain dump in its tracks.

I looked up at my husband and I saw that he was hurting. He was hurting watching me cry, watching me in pain, watching me crumble under all this stress. He was hurting listening to me list off all the things that were going wrong in our life. He was hurting trying to take responsibility for all of the things causing me stress.

But he knows it could be worse. He tells me all the time.

So, I asked him:

Can I come and sit next to you while I talk about the good things?

And he said:

Of course, baby.

I curled up next to him and laid my head on his chest and started listing off the good things.

We’re together. We’re married. We have jobs that pay well and have good benefits. We have a roof over our head. We have food to eat. We have clothes on our backs. We have family and friends who love us. We’re in love and we’re happy. 

He kissed my forehead:

That’s right, we are happy, aren’t we?

Listing off the good things made me cry even harder. I don’t know whether it was the weight of the stress being lifted off my shoulders or the guilt of forgetting that there are so many good things.

I think sometimes, especially for those of us who struggle with anxiety and depression, it’s easy for us to forget about all the good things. We get stuck in this rut of negative thinking once we let the anxiety take hold, and it’s hard to remember the good things when we feel like we’re drowning in all the bad things.

Remember the good things.

Talk about the good things.

Write about the good things.

For me, the struggle is accepting and enjoying where I am now in my life. I have so many goals and dreams that I get hung up on where I want to be and frustrated that I can’t just be there right now. It’s not that I don’t want to work for it. I just want the work to be going faster.

I get so hung up on chasing my dreams that I feel unsatisfied and unhappy with where I am and what I’m doing right now. I can’t be present in the here and now, because the future seems like such a better place to be. I get overwhelmed by all of the things I need to accomplish in order to get to where I want to be. The worrying sets in, and the anxiety takes hold.

I am posting this to remind myself to take a moment each day and express gratitude.

To appreciate the good things.

To be present in the here and now.

To love my life, my husband, and most of all, myself.

And I hope that you will too.

 

 

 

The Perfect Student

I think I’ve always been a perfectionist. Even as a little kid. I watched and learned from other people. I was never the kid that just went to the edge of the diving board and tried to do a front flip. I watched people try, again and again. I wanted to get everything perfect on the first try.

Looking back, I don’t know who started it. Did my parents set high expectations of me? Did I come out of the womb with high expectations of myself? It was probably a little bit of both. And don’t get me wrong, I’m glad my parents set high expectations of me. It was me setting even higher expectations of myself that got out of hand.

Either way, it was expected that I would get a 4.0 GPA all four years of high school. It’s actually funny because I went to a Montessori school from preschool to 4th grade and they didn’t have grades. We had to do standardized testing every year, but that was all the structure we had (that I remember).

Then, in 5th grade, I changed schools and was introduced to the world of grades. Only no one really explained anything to me, in the beginning. It happened without warning. My teacher sat me down one day and said, solemnly, you have a 76% in Science. 

I stared at her blankly and did not understand for the life of me why she was so sad about this.

It was later explained, either by her or by a classmate, that a 76% meant I had a C. And a C was bad. A C was average. I was not average. I was supposed to be perfect.

All of a sudden, there was this system. My homework was worth something. The system was point-based, and to be the best all I had to do was get an A. This was not a difficult task. Most of the points came from simply doing homework and turning it in. I didn’t have test anxiety yet because I hadn’t taken many tests, so I did fairly well most of the time and didn’t worry when I didn’t do as well.

By the time I got to high school, I was a pro at the system. It was easy to get straight A’s, but it was time consuming. I was playing sports, too. In middle school, I did swim team and played soccer. By the time freshman year rolled around, I had to pick one or the other.

Being a club swimmer came with its own set of challenges. I had practice twice a day on Tuesdays and Thursdays, practice every weeknight, and a three-hour practice on Saturday mornings. I regularly started my day at 4:50am and didn’t get home until 6:30 or 7:00pm. I was up doing homework until at least 10 or 11pm, sometimes midnight. I had no social life, aside from the lunch hour at school and the time I spent hanging out with other swimmers.

But still, I got a 4.0.

I had absurd amounts of homework in high school. Absurd. Don’t even get me started on the amount of homework kids have in elementary and middle school these days. Half of it is just busy work. Here, fill out this bullshit worksheet so we can make sure you actually read the chapter. And you want to know what the crazy thing is?

I cheated.

I was so terrified of the idea that I wouldn’t be perfect, that I would lose that perfect 4.0. There just wasn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. A group of friends and I would copy each other’s homework if we didn’t have time to finish it, and we would occasionally cheat on tests because we just had to get 100%. My English teacher always said that it’s the A students you have to worry about when it comes to cheating, and she was 100% right.

We didn’t cheat because we were stupid. We cheated because that’s how you beat the system when you don’t have enough time to get all your work done. We were the smart kids, the valedictorians, the ones who gave speeches at graduation.

And I’m not saying all 4.0 students cheat. I’m sure there are plenty of kids out there who were better than I was, and who somehow found a way to get everything done and never copied someone else’s homework. Good for them!

But I’ll tell you what. The system still beats all of us in the end.

Because we grow up in this world where everything is graded, everything is part of this system, and that’s not real life. We grow up thinking that if you make a mistake, you lose a point, and you’re average. If you make a big mistake, you lose a lot of points, and you’re a failure. In the real world, you have to be able to make mistakes otherwise you’re never going to grow. You’re never going to take risks.

There are worse things in the world than bad grades.

You know what’s harder than getting into college? Paying for it.

There are a lot of scholarships to be had, but they don’t cover the cost of everything. While we were all taking AP tests, some kids were working part-time after school. I started working part-time in high school, teaching swim lessons, but it was only a few hours a week–hardly anything. Maybe the kids that worked on the weekend while we wrote college essays had the right idea.

You know what’s worse than getting bad grades? Being unhappy.

I took Spanish in high school and continued taking it in college. I was originally going to minor in Spanish, but I finally got to the point where I walked into a 400-level Spanish Lit class and had no idea what was going on. It was the first day. The professor was speaking 100% Spanish, 0% English, and he also kind of mumbled so I really didn’t understand half of what he was saying. I realized in that moment that I actually hated Spanish classes and I did not care how much being bilingual would help me in my career.

I dropped the class and replaced it with a business class that term.

I have no idea why I took Spanish classes as long as I did. I felt like I just had to keep going until I was a fluent speaker, but somewhere along the way I realized that wasn’t going to happen unless I went to some Spanish-speaking country for six months or a year and actually immersed myself in the language and culture. I improved my Spanish more while working at a restaurant and speaking Spanish with a few coworkers than I did in all of my college Spanish classes.

I think part of it was not wanting to quit. Quitting is the same as failing, right?

Wrong.

Dropping that Spanish class was a breath of fresh air. I was enjoying taking Psychology classes and I couldn’t minor in both Psychology and Spanish if I wanted to graduate in 4 years. Now, I could focus on the Psychology classes that I actually enjoyed. I was paying for college, after all, so shouldn’t I be doing what I want?

But it wasn’t even about doing what I wanted. It was the system, making me feel like I had to do all of these things because it was the smart thing to do. It was exhausting, always trying to check all the boxes and make sure I was doing the right thing. I lashed out in my own way, tried to rebel against being a perfectionist, but I could never bring myself to do anything really crazy.

Until now.

My husband and I have been talking about possibly buying a trailer in a year or two and traveling all across the country in it. Living in it! Maybe we’ll have to quit our jobs, maybe we’ll be able to keep our jobs and work remotely. Maybe it won’t end up happening, maybe we’ll find a new dream that we pursue instead.

But this idea of just packing up, getting rid of all my things, living in a trailer with no permanent address is so unlike me that it’s crazy, right? No, I don’t think it’s unlike me at all. I think it is very much like me. I think this desire to live a truly minimalist life, to wake up somewhere new every week, to live my dream now instead of working hard to have enough money to live my dream later, is exactly who I am. I just lost this part of myself somewhere along the way when I became trapped in this system, in all this structure.

Screw the system.

Teach your children that they are worth more than a grade.

Tell them that it’s okay for them to fail. It’s okay for them to forget their homework and face the consequences.

You don’t have to write their college essays for them just so they don’t fail.

Let them learn. Let them follow their interests. If they don’t want to go to college, ask them what they want to do instead.

And let yourself fail.

Let yourself dream. Let yourself imagine what your life would be like if you weren’t stuck in this system. Imagine what you would do if you made the rules.

And then do it.

 

 

Stop Being Busy

I’ve noticed lately that everyone around me seems impossibly busy. At my work, people complain to me that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. No matter how hard they try, they can’t make it to all their meetings on time and get everything done that needs to be done.

I’m calling bullshit on this. Being busy is a choice.

There seems to be this misguided concept that in order to be successful, you have to be in a constant state of busy. You can never catch up, never hit reset, never come home and say I got everything done today that I needed to do. Why do we think this way?

Well, I think it goes back to our old American way of thinking. If you work hard, you’ll be successful. Unfortunately, no one is walking around preaching to people that they should also work smart.
While in college, I worked as an intern for a man who owned his own business. He taught me how to run his business so that I could be in charge of things while he was out of town. It wasn’t rocket science, and I picked things up very quickly. After I had worked for him for about a month, he sat me down and said that he was going to give me a raise. Apparently, I did everything twice as fast as his previous employees. What took them five or six hours only took me two or three.

He didn’t have to give me a raise. He could have just let my efficiency be my own downfall. Because I worked faster, I would have made less money than I could have if I had forced myself to slow down, waste time. But I’m not like that. I don’t think I could ever waste time just to get paid more. My own time is way too valuable for that.

I am no longer an hourly employee, but there is still this expectation in my current job that we work 40-50 hours a week. Now, I have absolutely no problem working 50, 60, 70 hours a week if there is work to be done. I’m not a lazy person, trying to get out of doing my work, but I fundamentally disagree with the concept of the 40-hour work week.

Who got to decide that we had to work 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week?

Now, of course it depends on the job that you have. Some jobs are very flexible, some are very structured. If you work at a bookstore and it’s open from 9-5, you’re going to be there from 9-5 whether it’s a busy day or a slow day. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, you work 24 hours a day, even on sick days and holidays. If you’re a freelance artist, you can work whenever you want but you have to sell your work in order to get paid.

But regardless of the structure or lack thereof at your current job, I think we can all agree that this assumption that successful people are busy people needs to go out the window.

How about this: happy people are successful people.

I don’t know about you, but being busy does not make me happy. If I can’t get everything done and I have to go home at night knowing that I’ll be behind the next day, I get stressed out. If I have to miss an important meeting so I can get something done, I feel guilty for missing the meeting and stressed that I’m so busy I had to miss it.

If I get everything done by 4:00pm and I’m ready for everything that’s going to happen tomorrow, I would love to just call it a day. Head out of the office early, maybe go home and read a book or tidy up the house or go to the gym or take a nap. But I get worried that people are going to think I’m skipping out early or I’m not really doing all my work. And I also get worried about the other people that I work with who can’t call it a day and leave early. I want to help them get everything done so they can leave at 4:00 too.

So, how about we collectively decide not to live in a constant state of busy?

Here are a few ways to start:

  • Have realistic expectations for yourself. There really are only so many hours in the day. If your to-do list is three pages long everyday, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Figure out what you can realistically get done every day and stick to that.
  • If you’ve got too much on your plate, delegate. If you have to do everything on your 3-page to-do list, figure out what things you can assign to other people. Especially if you are a manager. Your employees should be taking things off your plate. You should be delegating to them and training them to take over certain things so that you can focus on the things only you can do. 
  • Create a game plan. Daily. As soon as you get to work and get your coffee, write down all the things you have to get done and decide what order you want to tackle them. I recommend doing the most difficult things first, but that doesn’t work for everyone. Figure out what works best for you.
  • Only attend productive meetings. If you have a weekly meeting where absolutely nothing gets done, say something about it. And if you are hosting a meeting, make sure it has a clear agenda, is productive, and worth your time (and everyone else’s).
  • Clear out your inbox every day. I start with my oldest emails first and go from there. By the end of the day, my entire inbox (except occasionally, one or two important emails) is clear. I move emails into folders if I need to save them and reference them later, but I don’t move or delete an email until any necessary action on my end has been completed.

Once you have freed yourself from the plague of being constantly busy, don’t fill that time with more busy clutter.

Your time is valuable. It should not be filled to the brim with to-do lists and plans and structure. Give yourself some wiggle-room to enjoy not being busy, to breathe, to de-stress, to do whatever it is you’ve been needing to do for yourself but you’ve been too busy to do it.

Busy does not equal successful.

Happy equals successful.

Choose Your Family

People always say you can’t choose your family. I have heard many a disgruntled relative or frustrated parent say this over the course of my lifetime.

I disagree.

You can choose your family. You just can’t choose your relatives. Once you are related to someone, by blood or marriage or adoption or whatever, you can’t get rid of that association. They are your relative, but they may not be your family.

I googled the definition of family just now and at first found a couple of things that are more in line with what I would call relatives, but I also found a few definitions that I really loved:

A group of objects united by a significant shared characteristic.
A group of people united in criminal activity.

If anything, we really should be choosing our families based on the latter definition. Who would you want in your circle if you were robbing a bank or running a drug cartel? I like the first definition though, which has roots in biology, because it goes back to that idea of surrounding ourselves with people who share our core values and beliefs.

The definition of a relative is a person connected by blood and marriage.

In my last post, I brought up this notion we have that we’re supposed to keep all of our relatives in our close circles simply because they are related to us. I really want to challenge this line of thinking because I don’t think any of us should feel guilty for who we have close relationships with and who we don’t, regardless of whether or not they’re related to us. I think we also need to make the distinction that just because people may not be in our closest circles doesn’t mean we don’t love them, appreciate them, and support them in their own lives.

I have relatives that I have lived close to my whole life, and relatives that live in other states. The distance between us does not determine how close our relationships are. I only see my California-residing relatives every couple of years and I don’t really keep in touch with them other than Facebook, but when my family goes down to California or they come up to Oregon we have a blast. I love them just as much as my Oregon-residing relatives.

But I did not invite them to my wedding. Why? Well, partly because I was only engaged for six months leading up to my wedding (not a lot of time for people to make travel plans) and my husband and I decided that we did not want to wait a year to get married (which would have given us more time to plan, save money, and invite more people). I didn’t want to make anyone feel bad if they couldn’t go due to the short notice. And we wanted a small, intimate wedding (which is really impossible unless you elope, but we did pretty well).

The main reason, though, was because my husband’s family did not go to our wedding. My Oregon-residing relatives all know my husband, so I knew that having them there would make him feel supported. I was worried that having all of my extended family there, especially all of the people he’d never met, would make the absence of his own family hurt even more (a special thank you to the Evers family members who were there to support Kevin on our wedding day – we love you!).

My point is that I did not allow myself to feel the pressure to invite all of my relatives (and friends) because I knew that they would understand and they wouldn’t take it personally and even if it hurt their feelings a little, they’d get over it. Because we are all adults and we have to make the choices that are right for us. And we shouldn’t have to feel all of this guilt and pressure over making everybody else happy.
It’s impossible, really, so why not focus on our own happiness?

Surround yourself with people who love and support you, who share your core values and beliefs.

These people might be your relatives, they might be your close friends, they might be a mix of both. I, personally, am very close with my parents and brothers and couldn’t imagine our relationship being any different. But it could very well have been different if my parents were toxic, if my life was different growing up. And that could be your story. You should not feel the need to keep people in your close circle if they are toxic or if they bring you down. Sound familiar? I’ve said it before, and the point is that it doesn’t matter if they are related to you. The same rule still applies.

Understand that people change, and your close circle might change over the years.

I remember being a kid and being so close with my cousins. I loved going to family gatherings and hockey games and hanging out with them. I still love them all to pieces, and it’s great to see them on holidays and birthdays. It’s great to watch them grow into young adults, but our relationship is not the same as it was ten years ago. And that’s okay. They have their own friends and they’re growing into these unique human beings, and they know that I will be there when I can to support them. And who knows, maybe in the future we’ll have that really close relationship again.

Also understand that some people don’t change, and you may have to leave them behind.

When we’re little kids, we have this unconditional love for family members, relatives, close friends, and that stems from knowing that our parents love these people and trust these people to be around us. As we grow up, we form our own opinions about these people we’re surrounded by and that unconditional love starts to fade. It’s not that we stop loving people, we just start noticing their quirks and their flaws and their personalities. And we start to figure out who we like spending time with. I encourage you to let your kids do this. Let them decide which family members, relatives and friends they enjoy being around. This doesn’t mean they get to be rude to everyone else, but they do get to have their own opinions and share them, when appropriate. We don’t live in the children must be seen, not heard era anymore. Plus, I guarantee they won’t be any more rude than their druncle (drunk uncle) is at any family gathering.

Ultimately, you have to do what is right for you.

Only you know the ins and outs of your relationships. You get to decide who is in and who is out. This isn’t some high school clique, this is your life, and you do get to decide who is involved in it.

Choose the people that make you happy and reduce your stress.

They’re your family.

Toxic Families

I’ll be totally honest here. I probably have no right to even attempt to give advice on how to deal with toxic families, since I have had a hard time figuring out how to deal with my own family. But I’m hoping that my own experiences will help you to find the right course of action in your own situation. Or, at the very least, make you feel like you’re not alone. Because you’re definitely not alone.

Every family has drama. But you can have drama and that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are surrounded by toxic family members. The way I would define a toxic family member is someone that is repeatedly bringing negativity, drama, or complication into your life. So even though family drama sucks and it’s easy to point fingers, don’t eliminate someone from your family circle because of one or two small issues. Our families are usually very close to us, so we try harder to work through problems with them because we know that we’re still going to have to see them at the next birthday party even though we’re super pissed off that Aunt Karen is currently on some pro-NRA agenda and is lashing out at everyone else for being too liberal (this is not a real-life example by the way – I don’t have an Aunt Karen).

There are three things that have helped me deal with toxicity amongst my own family members.

The first is open communication. I know, weird right? Who would have thought that just communicating openly with people could help resolve issues? Pardon my sarcastic tone, but it’s a really simple thing that would solve a lot of problems and misunderstandings if people actually did it.

The second is understanding that everyone has their own truth. This is a hard one, especially if you’re one of those people who sees things in black and white and thinks you’re right most of the time (like me). The thing is, you only see things from your lens, your perspective, your view of the world, no matter how progressive or open-minded you think you are. Everyone else still sees things through a different lens than you do. But that doesn’t mean that they’re wrong and you’re right. It just means that their truth is different than yours.

Acknowledging that someone else has their own truth does not mean you are justifying it or agreeing with them.

It just means that you are acknowledging that they believe what they are saying. You don’t have to think they are right. In fact, you can think they are utterly and completely wrong. But you can’t really tell them that their truth doesn’t exist or shouldn’t exist, because it does.

It has nothing to do with being right or wrong.

The third thing is realizing that you can still love someone despite all of this. You can still love a toxic family member. You can still love a family member who has an extremely different truth than you do. You can still love a family member who is really just a pain in your ass. Trust me. Your parents loved you even when you drove them crazy, didn’t they?

There is a consequence for every action, right? That consequence could either be positive or negative, depending on the situation. When dealing with toxic family situations, everyone involved needs to understand that there are going to be consequences for their actions. It’s one of the most basic principles we teach our children, so it shouldn’t be that hard for adults to understand.

For example, if Aunt Karen thinks it’s okay to make openly racist remarks at the Thanksgiving dinner table, the consequence might be that you don’t take your kids to see Aunt Karen anymore. The consequence also might be that you teach your kids about racism and they call Aunt Karen out the next time they hear her saying something inappropriate.

Aunt Karen isn’t going to know about these consequences unless you say something. No, it’s not your job to say something and you’re right, she probably should be able to figure it out on her own. But let’s go back to that idea of open communication. Let Aunt Karen know your feelings on her racist comments. Let her tell you about how back in her day everyone said those things and it was fine.

Then you can say, “Well Aunt Karen, I understand that you don’t believe there is anything wrong with being racist because that’s how you grew up, and that’s fine if you don’t want to change that, but I have already told the kids that I don’t find your behavior appropriate and if it continues, we won’t be coming to see you anymore.”

Now it’s Aunt Karen’s choice. You’ve acknowledged her truth and you’ve let her know the potential consequences. It’s up to her to decide what she wants to do in response.

This is not an ultimatum. You have every right to decide who you spend time with and who your kids spend time with. You are under no obligation to spend time with someone just because they’re related to you. Don’t let anyone try and tell you otherwise.

One of the most freeing things my family has ever done is we started spending Christmas at home. Just my parents, my brothers, and me (and now my husband and my brother’s girlfriend). We used to wake up early (around 7) and open presents, then my grandpa would come by for brunch, then we’d get dressed and drive to Hillsboro to spend the rest of the day at my grandma’s house with aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was exhausting and by about 2:00pm we all just wanted to take a nap.

Now, we have no schedule for the day. We wake up when we want to and we take however long we want to open presents. We eat whatever delicious breakfast my mom has prepared for us. We take naps in the middle of the day. We go out and deliver presents to friends. We play games. We eat pizza for dinner. And we love it.

Does this mean I don’t love my extended family? Of course not. I do see them at other times throughout the year. Now that I live in another state, I really value the time I get to spend with my immediate family. And realistically, it would be impossible to see everyone during the short time I am back in Oregon so I do have to prioritize.

The point is, you are not obligated to spend time with family just because they’re family. You are not obligated to do things the way that they’ve always been done. You are not obligated to tolerate someone’s shitty behavior because they’re family and that’s just who they are. Side note: there will be a follow-up post on this because I think it’s such an important topic.

I cannot stress this enough. If anything, I think we should hold our family members to higher standards than we hold other people. After all, these are the people in our closest circle. The people that we have listed as emergency contacts. The people that can pick our kids up from school or watch our pets while we’re on vacation. The people that we spend holidays and birthdays with. It seems ridiculous that we wouldn’t hold them to higher standards.

But we let a lot of things slide with family and I think that’s a mistake. Because we don’t really let things slide. We just don’t mention them and we keep a running list in our head of all the things we let slide, until one day Aunt Karen does something and it’s the last straw and we just lose it.

So if you’re dealing with a toxic family situation or a toxic family member, don’t let it slide:

  • Communicate openly with all parties involved.
  • Acknowledge each person’s truth.
  • Be transparent about the potential consequences, but let each person decide their own path forward.
  • Remember that your love for this person isn’t contingent upon whether they make the “right” choice. You can still love them, even if your relationship changes going forward.

If you decide to cut ties with a toxic family member, you do not have to justify this decision to anyone. That decision is yours and yours alone.