1. I learned that fear is never a good enough reason to do—or not do—anything because our worst fears rarely ever come true.
It has taken 26 years of life experience to draw the conclusion: What we fear most rarely, if ever, comes true. And no amount of preparation can fully mitigate the risks of living the life we want. If fear of the unknown is the only reason I have for not doing something, then I better find some other reasons. Because in fact, the presence of fear is often the best indicator I have for making the right decision.
2. I learned the characteristics or hobbies that make you feel “weird” or “different” will end up being your superpowers.
As a child, I found solace from chronic anxiety through storytelling. It began by talking out loud to myself, making up stories, and playing different characters. Once I learned to write, these stories unfolded on paper. It wasn’t until I graduated from college that I began to see my creative writing as a strength to be shared, not something to be hidden.
3. I learned you don’t always need to know where the path is going to know you’re on the right path.
There is something liberating about being present in the moment and surrendering control of the outcome. Malcolm Gladwell once said, “Every option is open to you once you realize you can’t predict the future. It’s only our desire to predict the future that limits our choices.”
4. I learned how to forgive others.
It’s easy to play the victim. Anyone can do that. But as Buddha taught, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Those who have wronged me rarely intended to cause harm, and ruminating on the ways I’ve been hurt only creates more pain. I feel physically and mentally lighter when I choose to forgive.
5. I learned how to forgive myself.
One of the side effects of a life of hustling—both personally and professionally—means an occasional lack of awareness of our impact on people. It’s important to take time to process and reflect on the ways we have unintentionally hurt others. Maybe these instances are romantic, platonic, racial, familial, or professional. Most of my interpersonal mistakes have been due to ignorance and selfishness, not malice. Although reflecting on mistakes makes me want to run and hide at first, diving deep into the internal places I’d rather avoid is the most meaningful experience. Self-awareness is the only way I can forgive myself for hurting people.
6. I learned when you show someone your vulnerabilities, they usually respond with empathy and vulnerability of their own.
I used to be afraid of vulnerability for the same reasons we all are: we can’t predict the outcome. What if telling the truth doesn’t go well? What if I’m rejected? What if I offend someone? Fair questions. But not good enough to avoid vulnerability. When I have chosen to be emotionally vulnerable with others, the responses are almost always full of compassion, gratitude, and reciprocal vulnerability.
7. I learned that writing is not only my greatest passion and joy but also my calling.
I’ve been writing creatively since I was a child. As I went on to high school, college, and then graduate school, I viewed creative writing and storytelling as a side passion. Not to be shared. Not to be a career. But my view has shifted recently, and now I understand the thing I love to do most? It doesn’t have to stay behind the curtain. It can be front and center stage.
8. I learned what it actually means to be brave.
Bravery is not an absence of fear. Bravery is showing up as your full self in the presence of intense fear. It is taking the leap despite every fiber in your body screaming to run back to safety. It is honoring yourself and your beliefs in the face of criticism and judgement. Bravery is honesty and authenticity.
9. I learned how to listen for God’s voice.
You know that inner voice of guidance and wisdom? Some might call it your gut, the universe, the angel on your shoulder, or your intuition. I call it God. And when I’m lost and confused, it is the only voice I listen to. It is the only voice that is eternally reliable. I’ve learned to listen by silencing outside noise (including my own mental chatter) and make space for God to speak to me.
10. I learned how to use my own voice.
I used to hesitate to speak up in class or meetings. But it’s better to speak up and have your idea shot down than to miss opportunities for your good ideas or thoughts to be heard. After learning how to advocate for what I want, stand up for what I believe in, offer an informed opinion, or admit a gap in knowledge, I’ve become more confident. I also recognize the importance in using my voice to amplify others’ voices who are being silenced.
11. I learned what’s most important in life.
It wasn’t until the 2020 pandemic that all of life’s distractions and interruptions were stripped away. I was left with only my relationships and my faith. And what I realized? Those two things are all I need to be fulfilled.
12. I learned that life’s greatest rewards come from taking risks.
It might be a cliché, but life really does begin at the end of our comfort zone. For me, that has been delivering presentations to a couple hundred people, interviewing for graduate programs and jobs, quitting graduate programs and jobs, sharing my poetry, and telling someone “I love you.” Some risks feel smaller than others, but they all have the power to radically change us.
13. I’ve learned how to rely on my emotions equally to—and sometimes more than—logic and thinking alone.
I became a master of compartmentalizing my feelings at a young age. During conflict, in order to feel safe and in control, I believed I needed to get smaller, level out my tone, and lower my voice. It felt safer not to engage in any emotional reactions. This was a survival tactic in many ways. But just like with any survival tactics we learn as children to function in our families, there are unintended consequences. Mine was a disconnect between what I thought and what I felt. I didn’t trust my emotional reactions; they felt primitive, unreliable, dramatic. I have since learned the importance in honoring and expressing my feelings.
14. I learned how blind I could be to my own motivations.
For a long time, I wanted to be a psychologist and professor. This dream wasn’t all for the wrong reasons by any means. I wanted to teach, mentor, help people, and work with college students. But for all the honorable motivations I had for pursuing a Ph.D., there were plenty of inadequate motivations too. I wanted to be viewed as highly intelligent and important, to be commended and rewarded for my work, and to feel that rush of pride when I told people what I did for a living. Mostly, I was afraid of inadequacy and incompetence. It was only after I left my doctoral program did I see these hidden, misguided motives clearly.
15. I learned the importance of recording memories in real time through journaling and photography.
I took my first international trip when I was 16 to Guatemala. Since then, I’ve visited many countries, and I always keep a journal of my adventures. Years later, when I reread my journals or flip through the pictures, I’m reminded of many memories, experiences, and feelings that might have otherwise been forgotten.
16. I learned that listening well is the best way to love well.
I used to wish I was more outgoing and talkative. But as my grandfather once said, “I find you learn a lot more by listening.” This is true. You also love others better when you listen. Most of the time people just want to be heard, not given advice.
17. I learned God uses our hardships to get our attention.
For most of my life, I kept God at a distance, on a shelf where I could pull him down just when I needed him. But God doesn’t want to just be dusted off when it’s convenient for us. Would my best friend or boyfriend or parents be happy if I only engaged with them in the privacy of my home but mostly refused to be seen with them in the real world? God was trying to get my attention. And He did so through a season of confusion and despair until I finally surrendered. It might sound dark to others, but to me, it’s the most compassionate, merciful way to get someone’s attention. We don’t think we need peace and salvation when we’re happy and coasting through life. We only recognize our need for saving when we feel like we’re drowning.
18. I learned how to listen to my gut and not just outside voices and advice.
Opinions and advice can be helpful, but they can also cloud our judgment. Too many contradicting opinions can confuse us. When choosing between what others think I should do and what my gut tells me to do, I’m choosing my gut every time. It never lets me down.
19. I learned the long-lasting impacts of family dynamics.
Who we learn to be as children to function in our families is who we become in the world as adults. Patterns of how we respond to conflict, express (or don’t express) our emotions, and offer and accept love are not easily understood until we become aware of our family history.
20. I learned that changing your opinion or worldview upon new information is the biggest sign of intelligence and maturity.
As I get older, I become more aware of how tightly many adults are willing to hold onto their beliefs, even in the face of contradicting evidence. It’s as though a threat to one’s worldview is a threat to their character. But the people I respect most are willing to apologize, admit wrongdoing, and do better once they know better. I strive to be one of those people.
21. I learned that traveling alone empowers you.
My first solo international travel experience occurred as a junior in college. I explored pockets of London by myself regularly and flew to several cities in the UK alone. It was exhilarating, slightly scary, and empowering. It showed me I’m capable and independent.
22. I learned you attract what you think you deserve.
When we don’t have our values straight, we settle for situations and people that don’t recognize our value. I’ve been in relationships before where I mistook pain for love. Only once I became content being on my own did I become more selective about how and with whom I spend my time.
23. I learned one of the greatest gifts to give and receive is honest feedback.
Being nice doesn’t equal being kind. Trying to keep the peace by brushing over conflict is only harmful in the long-run. My master’s program in counseling taught me the immeasurable benefits of offering constructive feedback (strengths, areas of growth, etc.) as well as being open to receiving feedback.
24. I learned that real love isn’t finding someone who brings out the best you but rather someone who helps you return to yourself when you’re at your worst.
Young girls often have a fairytale conceptualization of romantic love. It comes from the movies we watch and stories we read. We grow up believing we must find a “soulmate” who will become our “other, better half,” as if we were born half of a person. But I’ve learned that true love is a deliberate choice we make to share our already-full life with another person. True love isn’t just picking the other up when they’re down, it’s holding them while they’re down and then rising together.
25. I learned that quitting doesn’t equal failure.
I used to think quitting meant an admission of failure, that you got things wrong, or that you couldn’t accomplish what you set out to do. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sometimes the most courageous and difficult choice we can make is the one to walk away.
26. I learned how to be still.
When faced with a difficult decision, my first inclination was always to research, poll those close to me, and seek advice. Sometimes this is a helpful part of the process, but ultimately you are the only person who can decide what you want. To establish inner peace and find my answer, I’ve learned to quiet my mind. I strongly believe the answer always lives inside of us; it is simply up to us to stay still long enough to let it surface.