Why I Travel

Traveling serves many purposes. It allows for a chance to see the world outside of your hometown perspective. It gives people the opportunity for vacation, and gives those working in the field of tourism a job. For me, traveling has become something different.

Travel has become a prescription for my mental health.

The first 18 years of my life were spent fighting demons, both internal and external. Mental health was never a concern of mine, because I had already accepted the fact that my home, my reality, and my “comfort zone” would always be one of mental anguish. One where a good day is “just good enough.”

That’s a really sad reality for a someone to accept. Let alone a child, an adolescent, or a young adult.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and let me tell you, I’m pretty damn strong. I feel proud to tell my story, because it is one of perseverance, of self awareness and self discovery. It is a story of using everything in your power to change your reality, in order to change a mentally unhealthy life, to a life of flourishing, growth, and mental wellness.

The best decision I’ve ever made was going to school for psychology. I would have never sought help otherwise, because my reality was my norm. I didn’t understand how starved for positive mental health that I was, until I learned the true definition of mental wellness. Of abnormal psychology. Of mental abuse.

I’ll never forget the day I left my classroom in tears. The day my professor defined and described my home, my family, and my life, straight out of a textbook. I nearly vomited when I realized all the lies I was forcing myself to believe. I was faking happiness for 18 years.

After speaking with my professor, the wheels that moved the rest of my life began to trek forward. In 2011, my new life began. I sought the help that I needed. The help my family needed. I learned that it is not ok to be mentally abused. Ain’t that a funny thought.

Parents are just people. We’re born under this notion that parents are suppose to shower us with unconditional love. But what if you have a parent that can’t love them self? Or a parent that loves them self too much that there’s no room for anyone else. What if you have a parent with a caring, appeasing soul, born under the notion that they are suppose to do whatever it takes to make their spouse happy. Even if their spouse is incapable of happiness. What becomes of a child raised in such an environment? What happens when a child is told not to tell?

I am what happens.

After 18 years of being constantly criticized, of suffering threats, walking on eggshells, and feeling the weight of a parent’s regular suicidal threats on my shoulders, I learned that this was not the life that I deserved. That is not a life anyone deserves. And man, what a powerful realization that was.

So, why do I travel?

Sure, I escaped the mental prison I once existed in. But such a hellish reality comes with repercussions. Anxiety is a very real part of my life. Once I was able to actually focus on my own mental health, I learned that anxiety is one of the building blocks of what has made Lauren, Lauren. It was one of those “a ha!” moments of that’s what that feeling is!

One of my favorite quotes about anxiety is that anxiety is like praying for what you don’t want. It’s a constant worst case scenario playing in your mind on loop. It’s a constant worst case scenario playing in your mind on loop. It’s a constant worst case scenario playing in your mind on loop.

I began to test myself, pushing myself further and further out of my comfort zone, until I was on a plane from JFK to LAX with a 2 month solo agenda. I have never felt so alive. I finally felt free to be me. Nothing was holding me back.

I travel because I am strong, brave, and capable. I travel because there is such beauty in this natural world, and I deserve to experience it. I travel to make up for lost time, for those 18 years that I forced a smile on my face, as I carried the weight of my parent’s personality disorder upon my shoulders.

If you are reading this and any of my words feel all too familiar, if you are living a life of accepting abuse, pain, and anguish, and have been forced to believe that you deserve it.. I am telling you, you are so much more than your circumstance. It’s never too late to seek the help that can set you free. Let 2018 be the year that your new life begins.

Happy World Mental Health Day. I love you, life.

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A Laur by any other name 🌹

That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet,

Though having a family name makes such a loving bond concrete.

For 18 years I resided under a roof of abuse and pain,

But through such struggle and homestead strife, a warrior I became.

I kept my family’s secrets. I told myself “be tough.”

Until I realized the fight was bigger than me, enough was finally enough.

Families come in shapes and sizes, no two exactly the same.

But the role of a family is to raise you up, and to that family, I dedicate my name.

Today I start anew, off to new heights I go,

Grandpa, I wish you could see me now.

I am a Serpico.

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What good does it do to fight fire with fire? 

“Beyond each impenetrable expanse of thundercloud obscurity reigns a boundless canopy of brilliant sapphire blue.” Cara Fox

Today, we remember a catastrophic event of modern history. New Yorkers can close their eyes and feel the depths of darkness experienced 17 years ago. For some, it was their first exposure to the personification of Evil. For others, it had confirmed the belief that all is not well. That hell is not a place experienced after death, but is a reality that exists on this Earthly planet, fueled by hatred, anger, fear, and downright indifference towards others.

It has been said that optimism is an intellectual choice. Choices put the locus of control in our hands, our hearts, and out minds. A choice is a decision, and if you are as scientifically minded as I, you know that decisions take time, focus, and effort. Whether your decisions are mediated by your thoughts, your feelings, or a delicate dance of both, they dictate your choices in how you act, or how you react.

What good does it do to fight fire with fire? 

Think about the force of a flame. While a fire has the power to destroy, it also does something quite wonderful. If channeled correctly, a fire can create light and warmth.

On a day like today, many of us gather together sharing our light and warmth with those who have experienced great loss. Loss, however, can still be felt on October 11th, November 11th, and so on. The love we share with others today can serve as a wonderful reminder of the power of camaraderie, thoughtfulness, and compassion towards our neighbors. But what will it take to carry such qualities with us for the remaining 364 days of the year?

9/11 allowed a nation to experience terror as a collective whole, providing a common ground of grief as we all try to pick up the pieces and trudge on. Individuals experience terror in their lives each and every day. We see celebrities battle addiction and depression. We see family members suffer illness and abuse. I ask again, what will it take for us to embody compassion towards others on a daily basis? 

In college, I acquired the nickname Buddha. Some people have found the nature of my being refreshing, while others have noted is as a weakness. For those of you who struggle to choose optimism, compassion, and forgiveness, I want to remind you of the light we all have burning inside of us. While it may be easier to fight fire with fire, all that’s left are ashes. But, if you tend to your flame as you’d tend to a campfire, you will always carry with you a source of warmth and light.

As optimistic as I am, I’m realistic in knowing that there is a force of evil that exists in the world, and that it is here to stay. As individuals, we have the power to choose to succumb to such darkness, or to use that darkness as a reminder to appreciate the light. Use it as a reminder, that although you may not be experiencing such darkness, others are stuck in its clutches and are in need of your warm, shining light.

So, when you wake up on September 12th, make a conscious effort to be as compassionate towards your neighbor as you were today. The ripple effect of empathy can far surpass that of evil.

When Are You Done?

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A question you’d never ask

to a rising or setting sun;

Star, oh star, tell me-

When are you done?

Today, I woke up, took a deep breath, and was able to enjoy a sense of relief that has been a stranger to me for the last 28 days. Four weeks ago marked the beginning of my comprehensive exam, which is the point that has the power to transition you from a student to a candidate in the quest for a PhD. Embracing the reality that the power is ultimately within me, and not within the exam itself, has led me to take on this challenge as I take on everything else— with strength in my gut, and a smile on my face.

A major factor I had to consider in my decision to pursue such a degree online was sacrificing being surrounded by a community of fellow learners, all going through the same stressful crap, at the same stressful time. One of my favorite parts about the program that I selected is that it requires you to attend 3 on ground residencies, in varying cities, in order to interact with the faculty and your peers as you build your dissertation research plan.. or DRP for short. At these residencies, I was able to connect with fellow learners and form a bond outside of our digital discussion boards. The beauty of maintaining such connections is the ability to keep your community of fellow learners in your pocket, as you go back home and continue the journey of PhD-dum.

Another learner I have grown quite close to; a fellow lady boss who has embodied the spirit of “I can do anything I set my heart and mind to”, completed her comprehensive exam a quarter before mine began. Naturally, she was the first person I went to for advice. What she told me was quite simple… don’t procrastinate! Now, completing a degree online means you’ve got to dedicate your time wisely, however, I call myself “Last Minute Lauren,” and often find myself experiencing the phenomenon of— due today… do today!

This was not the case for comps, though. Instead, I found myself experiencing the feeling of— due in four weeks… freak out every day about it until it is done! But giving into the negative side of a stressful situation doesn’t get you very far. In fact, it blinds you from the very tools that you need to keep moving forward. So, once I was able to convince myself that “I’ve got this”, and truly believe it, I was able to start writing with a fierceness ready to take the scientific world by storm.

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So what exactly were my comps like?

A student can’t sit for comps until they have received a passing grade on their DRP, which has been developed throughout those 3 on ground residencies. The DRP is a detailed outline, rooted in psychological theory, advanced statistical methodology, and over 75+ scientific, peer reviewed articles that explains what exactly you plan on conducting a dissertation on.

When I say the word “dissertation”, people cringe. It’s a word that is associated with being long, difficult, boring, and most often related to Ross from Friends. But when I think about dissertation, I think about the love of a particular subject that it represents. If you’re willing to dedicate so much of your time and mental energy to learning so much about one thing, this must be what you were born to do.

On my very first day of grad school, my professor referred to us, those pursuing our Master’s in Psychology, as agents of social change. Everything I learned throughout this program, I learned through this lens, where I focused on how the tool of social media can be used in a positive way. On the first day of class at my online university, I was taughtthat a PhD is not something you get, but rather something that you become. It does not just mean being a learner to the highest degree, but instead, a creator of new knowledge. To me, my dissertation is the culmination of these two definitions, putting forth such effort and ideas into the world that are rooted in the promise of promoting positivity.

While there are hundreds of topics worthy of dissertation research, my particular interest falls within the category of Applied Psychology. Any time I tell someone I study psychology they say… “oh, so you’re analyzing me right now.” Psychology is so often associated with therapy that those outside of this psych world don’t know much about the other facets that exist. Put simply, there are two paths that you can take in studying psychology. If your goal is to become a therapist, your degree include clinical hours and supervised internships, training you to help others sort through their web of thoughts. Or, you can take the other path— a path that I never, ever ever ever thought that I would love as much as I do… the path of research.

As an undergrad, research classes were the most boring lectures I’ve ever had to endure. Statistics. Factors. Variables. Boring. Boring. Boring. The classes on the abnormal mind, on personality, on interactions, THOSE are the ones that really got me going. I learned and I learned and I learned some more, but when it came time to digest, that’s when I realized— hey, wait a second, none of these other classes would exist if it weren’t for research.

Researchers are the ones who dig deep, and ask the questions, based upon questions of theories that those before them have pondered. The next fork in the road comes when selecting what type of research you’d like to conduct. One road is numerical in nature, quantifying constructs into statistical puzzles. The other road, qualitative research, analyzes data in a descriptive way, painting a meaningful picture of a complex situation through methods such as interviews or case studies. I chose to trek along the numerical road of quantitative research, for math has always been a subject that my hyper-analytical mind has found soothing. In my comps, I wrote that “numbers are meaningless unless we can find the patters that lie beneath them”, and that’s something that a nerd like myself finds fascinating.

I always quote my favorite professor in defining science as a way to solve a problem. With the endless problems that exist in the world, science is pretty damn important. My dissertation will begin with the explanation of a problem. But, in science, you can’t just say that something is a problem… you’ve got to back it up. You back it up with the research that’s been created and peer reviewed by other researchers, that is based upon the research that someone else has researched. There a scientific world of interconnected truths that exists outside the realm of what we’re being fed by the media, but, I digress.

I have not digressed too far, though, because the problem that I am explaining in my dissertation is that of a distracted, digitally connected society. It has been said that because of the integration of digital technology into our everyday lives, we are becoming too distracted to consider our own thoughts. That is a terrifying reality. Living life in a thoughtless way makes us so easily controllable, but is something that I think can be remedied if we all choose to practice a little something called mindfulness. Being mindful is a concept that’s based upon Eastern thought, and represents the act of being present. If we are mindful, and choose to use digital technology in a mindful way, we are regaining our power over our own minds.

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A dissertation must not be confused with a plan of action to save the world. Such a mindset in tackling such a lengthy endeavor will drive you crazy. While science is a way to solve a problem, the world is not black and white. Each study that is conducted are the building blocks used that when considered together, become a force towards positive change.

So, I’ll ask again, what exactly were my comps like?

I received 3 separate questions, requiring a response of up to 17 pages per question, with 20+ research articles referenced within each response. Each question will be graded by 3 separate professors, double blind, meaning they don’t know who submitted it, and I won’t know who graded it.

Question 1 asked me to explain the theory my study is based upon, and why this theory is best suited for my topic, by also explaining other theories that I won’t be using. Classic learning… examining what you DO know, by comparing it to what you DON’T know! My study is rooted in Carl Jung’s theory of personality. This is the theory where that four letter typology comes from— like, for example, I’m an ENFJ— meaning I prefer extraversion to introversion, intuition to sensing, feeling to thinking, and judging to perceiving. Without going into 17 more pages of detail, spark notes version is here to explain that I’m interesting in knowing if these aspects of personality are associated with how mindful an individual is.

Question 2 asks about the current literature in the field. The board that approves or denies the right to research (which is my next step in this journey.. *gulp*), will throw your study out so fast if it’s been done before. A study can only have scientific merit if it explains why and how it is filling a gap that exists within the particular field of interest. Such a gap keeps widening within the world of social media psychology, because media itself is changing daily. What I’m doing, that other researchers have not done before, is considering the relationship between one’s personality type and mindfulness, along with how integrated social media use has become within their life.

Finally, Question 3 was where I explained my research methods, starting with my reasoning behind choosing quantitative research over qualitative, in a more words than just, “Math is cool. 😎” Each concept I explain, from personality, to mindfulness, to social media use integration has to be defined through valid and reliable assessments that exist. Then, once I get all of this data, what am I going to do with it?! I’m going to statistically analyze the hell out of it, that’s what I’m gonna do.

What comes next?

In one week, I’ll find out if I pass my comps, or have to make any revisions before resubmitting. Then, I get assigned to a mentor, and have to explain my study to the big, bad, Institutional Review Board, that can make me or break me. After jumping through that hoop, the dissertation games begin! I will write more, and more, and more about the theory and literature my study is based upon. Until finally, it comes time to actually collect the data. After reaching my magic number of about 100 participants, I’ll crunch the numbers and see what statistics has to say about the relationship between personality, social media use integration, and mindfulness. Yada yada yada.. there’s my dissertation!

But when are you done?

Short answer, never. While graduation commences after the dissertation is complete, you are never really done with your PhD. Again, this degree is not something you get, it’s something you become. I am slowly but surely realizing what people mean when they talk about their life’s work. The topic of social media use integration was quantified by researchers that I have been fan girling over since 2012. As a PhD you keep building upon the knowledge that you create, expanding this web of information to inspire others in your field to run with it, adding their own twists and perspectives.

I can say, with a smile on my face that the knowledge I am seeking to create is in fact my life’s work. Because here I am, on my first day that I don’t have to be writing about my dissertation topic… writing about my dissertation topic.

So when you see the rising sun,

And say; oh star, when are you done?

It will simply continue rising;

Her duties only just begun.

Rising. Setting. That consistent sun.

Oh star. Oh star. But when are you done?

Life and learning are but a process;

And such a journey is quite fun.

10 Things I Learned From 10 Cities in 2017

In 2014, I made my first New Years Resolution – to travel to five cities I’ve never visited before, and to fly solo on at least one of these trips. Since 2014, I’ve visited over 35 new cities and 10 countries, with more than a handful of these being solo adventures. There’s something about traveling that makes me feel like I’m not just living— but that I am truly alive. I’ve pushed further beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone than I could have ever imagined, which has given me a sense of confidence that has trickled down to every aspect of my life.

Each year, I reflect on my trips and the pearls of wisdom they have brought me. This has become my favorite post to write, for it forces me to mull over the moments that have been marinating in my mind as the months have gone by.

  1. Savannah, GA. | I’m my Mother’s Daughter

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This year I realized that I am one bob haircut away from turning into my mother. We’re two ENFJ’s in a pod, who have walked through fire to live a life of sunshine. Savannah was the first time my mom and I traveled together— no Tammy, no Grammy, just us. On the first weekend of January, my sister attends a theater conference in Upstate New York. My mom and I seized this window of opportunity to do something we’ve never done before: go on an adventure. The combination of a short flight, open containers, and River Street made Savannah the perfect destination.

My Mom has not been bitten by the travel bug as I have, however, we have both been plagued with a different beast: anxiety. Sharing my love of travel with my Mom goes so much further than showing her some of my favorite destinations. I am deeply indebted to travel for allowing me to realize that I can tame my own anxious mind. Our weekend in Savannah was spent going with the flow of what River Street had to offer. Not everything in life needs a plan— which sounds blasphemous when you’re as type A as we are. We didn’t have an itinerary telling us to take syringe jello shots at the dueling piano bar… those things just happen.

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2. Boston, MA. | Embrace change

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I don’t feel completely ready to say goodbye to 2017. My baby sister is a senior in high school, and will be going off to Emerson College in the fall. I’m not completely sure how that’s even possible, because I feel like I graduated high school 20 minutes ago. Going away to college is the experience that transitions you into adulthood. It’s the years that you’ll build relationships that will bring you into your next phase of life.

We visited Boston this summer, and it was such an obvious fit for my sister’s college experience. This trip allowed me to face reality. The truth is that I’ll never be ready to let my sister go (ammi right parents?!), but I have faith in Boston, and the happiness this city will bring my sister. 

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3. Montréal, QC  | Fly solo (and do some pull ups)

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Sometimes you gotta go, where nobody knows your name. ☝🏻🎶 Montréal is my first Canadian adventure, eh, and certainly did not lack in poutine, friendliness, and maple syrup. Once you travel by yourself, it becomes something that you crave. I love to immerse myself in a new location, and flying solo forces you to dive in differently. One of my favorite things to do is take classes at different gyms, so I can learn from different trainers, and trainees wherever I am! On this trip, I visited Studio Epix for their HIIT morning workout. This was the first class that pushed me to try pull ups… and life has never been the same.

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4. Austin, TX | Be Genuinely Curious

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A professor once told me that the key to being a good listener is in being genuinely curious. That was a tip that has always stuck with me, and has been brought to life during my time in Austin. This year on my solo adventures, I grew quite fond of hostel life. During my time at the Firehouse Hostel, I went on daily adventures with interesting others, traveling from as far as Australia. It wasn’t hard to be genuinely curious about the paths that my new traveling posse have taken, that led us to the same place, at the same time. It makes me think of all the people we cross paths with on a daily basis, that we may be inspired by if it were for just a little bit of curiosity. We’re not cats, after all…

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5. Pilanesberg, South Africa | Life extends beyond ourselves

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This year I took the trip of my dreams, and went on safari in South Africa. Being smack dab in the middle of the animal kingdom was a consistent reminder that the universe does not revolve around us. We humans get caught up in our own lives, and don’t often sit and ponder about the lioness that is hunting to feed her cubs. This trip was a refreshing culture shock, that allowed me to disconnect from the human world. Albert Einstein once said, look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. Albie, you weren’t kidding buddy.

[Read more: Lessons learned on an African Safari]

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6. Cape Town, South Africa | Don’t talk about it, be about it.

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Many of our dreams are reserved for laters and tomorrows. I prefer to-do lists to bucket lists, because as much as I’m a dreamer, I’m also a doer. South Africa was a destination that I always considered a “someday” trip. One of those majestic places that I’ll visit “one day.” Until my best friend said- I’m going, you coming?

We should all dream big, but don’t be afraid to jump up and make things happen. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have travel buddies with travel dreams similar to your own! This trip will hold a special place in my heart, with each moment affirming my love for planet Earth.

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7. Atlanta, GA | You can always count on Waffle House

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This year, two of my trips were rooted in the nuptial love of my college friends. In September, my prom date, his girlfriend and I traveled as sister wives to Atlanta, where we celebrated the wedding of my cat’s namesake, (human) Jordan. Did we lose you, yet?

There a couple of things in life you can depend on. You can depend on the New Yorkers to be the loudest ones in the room.  You can depend on your best friends to travel as far as it takes to watch you walk down the aisle. You can depend on your road trip buddies to keep you belly laughing the whole drive. You can depend on Turbulence by Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke to get you pumped up. And, most importantly, you can depend on Waffle House to make sure you will fall asleep with a full belly.

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8. New Orleans, LA| Don’t jump in the Mississippi

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New Orleans was the scene for another nuptial adventure, that was fueled by Hurricanes and sleep deprivation. But oh, I’m sorry… I thought we were here to party.

This trip wins the award for most fun had in 2017. It has been four years since my friends and I graduated college, so this celebration also served as an epic reunion. There is nothing quite like a New Orleans hotel doubling as your old dorm. Our strong bonds was made stronger with the topsy turvy times that Bourbon Street introduced us to. If you look deep down to the bottom of the Mississippi, you may find some memories that were meant to be forgotten. But, take it from the itchy skin of my friends… you may not want to take that plunge.

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9. Miami, FL | If they don’t tell you how much, it’s probably $300

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South Beach has officially made its way to the top of the leaderboard on my list of cities visited. This year, I visited on my own in February, and as a birthday celebration for one of my best friends in November. We are a crew who would not snub our noses to the likes of a happy hour, and are a group of gals who don’t back down from a challenge.

On one South Beach Saturday night… we got got. If the hot waiter looks too good to be true, he probably is trying to sell you something. Heed our advice and ask how much, and how big, one Coronita is before ordering four of them. But, my friends, if you do order four of them… you don’t stop until the last one is empty. Remember, your body can do this, don’t let your mind stop you!

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10. Denver, CO |  Get high

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I get by with a little help from my friends, and I get high with a little help from my friends. Denver was one of the last cities I visited this year. It was one of those Google Flights cheap rate induced decisions that I’ll never regret. The Rocky Mountains were calling my name, and I was like, u up?

We visited Estes Park on the last day the road to highest peak of the mountains was open for the season. In less than an hour, we were in a completely different climate. There was a ridiculous sense of tranquility that came with the altitude. I felt like an astronaut that was exploring a totally different planet (ok, maybe that was the edibles talking).

My faith is something that I often struggle with, but I always seem to find answers in nature. This year, I have been coping with the reality of the progression of time. My sister is growing up and going off to college. My grandparents are aging and have been ailing. We’re born, we grow up, we do some things between A to Z, and then life ends. Depressing way to end such an uplifting blog, huh?

Sometimes I feel stupidly optimistic, clinging to silver linings. But, my mindset so often comes from considering darkness, forcing me to exude light. I believe that the role I play in this world is dictated by my ability to be present, be appreciative, and be mindful. Sometimes it takes standing at the highest peak of a mountain to remember that you’re braver than you think. Take this time as we begin the new year to really reflect on the world and your place in it. Try to give more than you take, feel as much as you think, and smile at as many humans as you cross paths with.

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10 Lessons Learned from 10 Cities: 2016

10 Lessons Learned from 10 Cities: 2015

Hot Mess Express

Some people say that social media has made us all narcissists. Others argue that we’ve been narcissists all along, and social media is just a mere tool that we use to flaunt our narcissism. In either argument, the point has been made that there is a link between social media and superficiality.

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Social media makes us want to highlight the best parts of ourselves. Why would we want to share our flaws and imperfections with the world? We post the photos that we look nice in, and the moments of our day that we are proud of. We’ll post our most delicious meals, because no one really wants to see the meal that you burned because you left it in the oven too long.

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But, it is those meals that we’ve destroyed that make us human. It is the pimples that we cover with snapchat filters that give us something in common. No one is perfect. Everyone has flaws.

This morning, a friend of mine (& fellow blogger) tagged me in a post with the tag #gloriousmess, where she talked about the parts of herself that she has embraced as her glorious mess-ness. This is related to a global campaign of individuals sharing their flaws, promoting self love for every aspect of who they are. Campaigns like this one force us out of our comfort zone, bringing us face to face with the aspects of who we are that we would rather brush under the rug than scream from the rooftop.

With that being said, here are mine…

My mind is always filled with a million thoughts. I’ll talk so fast that I’ll stumble on my words, because my brain is moving a mile a minute… and that’s without coffee. I’ve got an overabundance of energy, and while that may sound wonderful, it can also cause me to come crashing down. I consciously have to manage where I exert my energy, which usually causes me to feel like I’m letting some aspect of my life falter. I am a Type-A perfectionist who is her own biggest critic. I can be wound so tight that I wear my shoulders up to my earlobes, and have to take zzzquil to get out of my head and off into dreamland (non-habit forming… yeah right). My addictive personality begs to differ.

Mindfulness and awareness are my tools in embracing what makes me a glorious mess. It’s one thing to acknowledge our flaws, but we must take one step further in becoming the best version of ourselves. For me, something that has helped me immensely has been practicing yoga once a week. It allows me to set aside time for myself to give my brain a break from the consistent flow of thoughts swimming though it. It’s teaching me new tools to carry around throughout the week to help clean up my messy mind… starting with the simple reminder to just breathe.

What makes you a glorious mess? Dig deep into your soul until you have reached a point of uncomfortable. Take those parts of yourself that you have tucked under your bed, and display them on your shelf. Embrace who you are— every damn aspect of you.

26 Things I Learned by the Time I Turned 26

Last year was the birthday where I was due for a midlife crisis. Instead of freaking out, I looked back and thought about what I’ve accomplished during my time here on Earth. This year, as I creep up on the dark side of my 20’s, is the first time I’ve ever felt the feeling of– “ew, I don’t want to be 26.” Ten years ago I was having a ball at my sweet 16, and today, I’m falling asleep before 11pm with Gold Bond foot cream next to my bed (..I wish this was an exaggeration).

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On the bright side, I’ve collected some tidbits of wisdom over the years, so respect your elders & read on…

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  • Don’t be afraid to take the spotlight. Growing up, I was the most introverted little girl you could have ever met. My confidence has grown out of recognizing my strengths, and not being afraid to say, “I’ve got this.” Establish yourself within your field of expertise as a leader, a role model, and a teacher.
  • Ask for help. No one person is the absolute best at anything. As Bill Withers once sang, we all need somebody to lean on. Whether it’s help taking in the trash, or with making a big time decision, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Send thank you notes. Our world has quickly turned digital, which makes getting a thank you card in the mail THAT much more special. Don’t neglect to show appreciation in a meaningful way.
  • Keep an open mind. Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. If you’re rigid in your mindset, your more likely to break. Keep an open mind and go with the flow, while still paddling in your intended direction.
  • Always give 110%. Whatever you are, be a good one. If you’re an ice cream man, be the best damn ice cream man you could be. It doesn’t matter what you do, do it will all of your heart

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  • There is no occasion that calls for white framed sunglasses. Or anything Ed Hardy.
  • You are more than your circumstances. What you have lived through does not define you. Don’t use your past as an excuse, use it to propel you forward.
  • Drink water. Lots & lots of it. Hydration is no joke, no one wants to feel like a wrung out sponge.
  • Practice being a good listener. This is easier said than done. Listen beyond the words of what others are saying, and try to be in tune with their emotion.
  • Forgive, but don’t forget. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, then I just got got. Don’t carry around the burden of a grudge, just let it go and know better next time.

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  • Value your education. Don’t go to school just to go to school. Sink your teeth into every last lesson, and find ways to make that knowledge applicable to your life.
  • Recognize that everything is a learning opportunity. A negative situation feels a lot less negative when you pick apart what you have learned from it.
  • Don’t let money be your motivation. If your eye is only on the dollar sign, you will miss out on so much more. If you work hard, you can make a living doing what you love– despite what the Negative Nancy’s of the world have to say.
  • You don’t have to please everybody. Not everyone will be in your corner, and that’s okay. It’s impossible to make everybody happy with every decision that you make. Be your best self, and that is enough.
  • Set attainable goals… and then crush them. A dream without a plan is just a wish. Make your goals measurable, that way you can track your progress on the road to greatness.

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  • Any chance you get to travel, take it. There’s so much to be learned from the world and those living in it. It’s the only way to stretch your imagination completely outside of its bounds.
  • Travel solo. It’s not as scary as it seems. In fact, it’s probably the most empowering thing you’ll ever do.
  • Have situational awareness. There are certain sights and sounds that should trigger red flags in your mind like, “don’t walk down that street” or “maybe I should take a cab.” Listen to your inner voice.
  • Talk to strangers. This goes against everything we’ve learned as a child. But, if you don’t talk to strangers, how do you make new friends? Naturally, be aware of how much information you give during a conversation. But don’t be afraid to spark up some chit chat with someone new.
  • Know what you don’t know. And ask questions to those who do. That’s what learning is all about.

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  • Stay cool. Don’t lose your temper, despite how aggravating a circumstance can be.
  • There is value in having hard copies. Don’t lose your printed photographs in this digital world. I still prefer a hard copy of a book over a kindle.
  • Carry a journal with you. When I’m out dining solo, I’d rather be the girl writing in a journal than the one that’s on her phone.
  • Enjoy good food. Don’t feel guilty about every calorie you consume, but also don’t eat processed foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Take pride in the food that you prepare, and put into your body.
  • All of the best activities make you sweat. Find the workout that works best for you. Some people hate running (present company included). That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other ways to get your heart rate up.

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And finally, the 26th most important life lesson I’d like to share with you: live every damn day like you can die tomorrow.. because as morbid as it is, you can. That’s the only thing we’re guaranteed in this life, and yet we act as if we’re invincible. This isn’t an excuse to make frivolous decisions, but a wake up call to remind you to do more than just exist. The world is spinning and none of us are getting any younger, so carpe the hell out of every diem.