25 Lessons by 25

I turned 25 years old a week ago (happy belated to me!), and I’ve been spending some time reflecting on some of the greatest life lessons I’ve learned.

This past year has entailed a big focus on mindset changes – not just related to fitness, but on success and happiness as well.

I’m excited to see what I’ll change and add in the months and years to come.


1. Always bring a sweater.

I may live in the south now, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up at a restaurant or an event and found myself shivering my booty off. Nowadays, I always bring a light sweater with me – or at least keep it in the car – for when the A/C is unexpectedly on blast.

2. Always carry a pen.

Don’t be that person asking a stranger to borrow a pen to fill out some paperwork. A pen weighs next to nothing and can save you a lot of headache the next time you find yourself in a bind. I keep a small one in the coin zipper of my pocket at all times.

3. Foster a dog.

Or a cat. Or some other kind of animal in need of desperate tender, love, and care. There are way too many stray dogs and cats out there who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. They need you.

I’ve fostered two dogs this year (one of whom we adopted within a month) and plan on taking more in when we move into a bigger home next year. It’s incredibly fulfilling and is a win-win for everyone.

From left to right: Ella (chi/terrier mix, first foster); M'Lynn (lab mix, second foster and eventual foster failure); and Ollie (pug, original baby!) 
From left to right: Ella (chi/terrier mix, first foster); M'Lynn (lab mix, second foster and eventual foster failure); and Ollie (pug, original baby!)

4. Make more time for play.

Playtime is grossly underrated. Especially in today’s culture of stress and overwork, it seems to have become a point of pride to be clocking in 80-hour workweeks and leaving vacation days unused.

There was a time when I was that person who believed that the longer I worked, the more successful and happier I would be. I’m now coming to learn that, while productive work time is certainly useful, a good amount of downtime is needed to re-charge as well.

Life is not that serious. There is so much of the world to explore and countless memories still to be made with your loved ones.

There will always be more work to be done. Go out of your way to get away from the office and have some real fun.

5. Don't sweat the small stuff - and it's all small stuff.

I used to be the queen of catastrophization (yes, I’m aware that that’s not a real word). Every little detail that didn’t go as planned had me thinking that it was the end of the world. I was a neurotic, paranoid control freak, and I allowed my emotions to be controlled by external circumstances.

Missed a gym session? Don’t beat yourself up about it. Ate a little too much chocolate cake? Guess what – that makes you human.

I’m still a work in progress, but everyday I’m getting better. For just about everything that supposedly goes wrong, I remind myself that it’s really not a big deal at the end of the day.

6. Find non-fitness hobbies.

This is for you fitness buffs out there whose idea of a good time is an extra long lifting session at the gym.

Listen, I love lifting as much as the next meathead, but I also think it’s important to be a little more well-rounded. I’m thrilled when I learn that another fitness chick enjoys activities outside of the gym.

Checking an item off my bucket list: learning to play the guitar. 
Checking an item off my bucket list: learning to play the guitar.

This year, I picked up guitar lessons (so fun!), tried my hand at knitting (lasted a solid week before quickly losing interest), and got involved with a local foster organization. Next year, I plan on getting more involved in my community by volunteering and attending social events.

7. Take ownership of your actions - all of them.

If you’re late for a meeting, don’t try to blame the dog. If you make a whoopsie at work, be mature and own up to it. If you overindulge on grandma’s apple pie, you don’t get to cry about it.

Shirking responsibility is juvenile. No more pointing fingers.

8. Don't be afraid to admit that you were wrong.

I may have been in business for just three meager years so far, but I’ve made countless mistakes.

There’s no shame in conceding to the fact that perhaps you let your ego get in the way, or what you believed before turned out to be untrue, or that maybe you shouldn’t have said something about that one friend of yours.

Mistakes are the world’s greatest teachers. I embrace all of them because each one taught me how to become a more compassionate coach, a more powerful writer, a more astute entrepreneur, and a better person.

9. Donate to a cause that you believe in.

I made a donation to the BioLayne Research Foundation this year because I want to help further scientific research. I’ve also written out checks to dog foster organizations. These are easy for me to do because it makes me feel like I’m making that much more of a difference in this world.

There are many causes that rely heavily on donations to stay alive. Find one that strikes a chord with you and give back.

10. Make exercise fun.

For eight years, I made myself miserable with long-distance running. Nothing wrong with it inherently; it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Yet I thought that that’s what I needed to do to get and stay lean, so I suffered through thousands of hours on the treadmill. I’d get up early in the morning and run 10 miles, and then run another 10 in the evening. It was a dreadful existence.

I’ve since discovered that deadlifts make my heart flutter, and pull-ups make my confidence soar.

And while I believe that weight lifting is the world’s best panacea (coupled with a proper diet, of course), not everyone has to become a bodybuilder. Find some form of exercise that you enjoy and look forward to. You’ll be happier and healthier.

11. Be reliable and show up.

Don’t be late and don’t be that flaky friend that no one trusts to actually be there. When you say you’ll be there by 3, arrive at least a few minutes early. Show that you value other people’s time as much as your own.

12. Don't text at the dinner table.

Really? Are people still doing this?

There’s not much more that breaks my heart than going to a restaurant and observing the couple at the next table scrolling through Facebook and not saying a single word to each other throughout the duration of the meal. Much to my dismay, this happens surprisingly often.

When we were dating, my husband and I came up with a rule for when we’d sit down to eat. We’d stack our phones facedown at the end of the table, and whoever touched their iPhones first had to pay the bill. (To be clear, he always paid by default – ha!) Of course, it wasn’t at all about the money so much as providing an extra reminder to stay in the moment.

Nothing says “I don’t respect you or your time” like sticking your face in your phone while you’re in the company of others. You’re not being efficient; you’re being a jerk.

13. Stop being so hard on yourself.

I think women are especially prone to this, though men are guilty as well.

Not everyone has to be a size 2, and not everyone is going to get into an Ivy League school. So what?

Constantly comparing yourself to others can become toxic when you overlook your own unique strengths. While you’re busy coveting J.Lo’s curves, someone else is wishing that they had your long legs. While you’re beating yourself up over not getting straight As, the next person over is studying her tail off to finally just get a B for once.

Sometimes, good enough just has to be good enough. It’s not always worth the stress.

14. Invest in relationships that matter.

Spend time with your closest, truest friends. Call them. Go out for meals together. Invite them over.

Some of my best friends live across the country, but we still make it a point to visit each other at least once a year.

 Flexing with two of my closest friends, Melissa and Marci, at my wedding just a few weeks ago. 
Flexing with two of my closest friends, Melissa and Marci, at my wedding just a few weeks ago.

I struggled with some pretty severe depression through high school and college, and I didn’t have very many friends as a result. It’s particularly painful for me to look back on those times because I remember how lonely I was all the time. While I can’t change what’s already happened, I’m busy making up for it now.

15. Find peace with your body.

No more negative language about the size of your hips or your muffin tops. No more waiting until you weigh 120lbs or fit into your jeans from high school to allow yourself to be happy again.

Let go of the illusion that your self-worth depends on your body. It doesn’t. It never has, and it never will.

I’m not saying that it’s okay to become a glutton; I think that we should all be striving to improve, in one way or another. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be at peace with where you are now.

Be gentle with yourself.

16. Challenge the norm.

Please don’t blindly follow the crowd simply because that’s what everyone else is doing. As an independent rebel (of sorts), I’ve always been a believer that you should follow your heart.

What’s normal is to go to school, get good grades, and then secure a safe job with low risk. You may not love what you do, but it’s the norm, so might as well, right?

What’s normal is to wear trendy outfits and keep up with whatever is in with fashion nowadays. One season: bell bottoms. The next: skinny jeans.

But what if that’s just not you?

There’s something incredibly refreshing about someone who goes against the grain and just does his or her own thing.

I dare you to be different.

17. Get uncomfortable.

I don’t mean sit in the worst seat on the flight or purchase a crappy set of bed sheets. Push your boundaries and get out of your comfort zone.

Go bungee jumping. Speak in front of a large crowd. Make a cold call to someone you look up to. Invite that cute guy out for coffee sometime.

Allow yourself to feel vulnerable. Do things that scare you.

Life is so much more fun that way.

18. Take fewer selfies.

Gym selfies. Bathroom selfies. Work selfies. You name it – there are waaay too many.

Stop. Just stop.

19. Give the benefit of the doubt.

I like to think that my first impressions of others are dead on, but there have been more than a handful of times when I’ve really gotten to know someone and realized that I was completely wrong about them. I’ve always felt a little guilty when that’s happened.

Interestingly, we tend to judge others based on their actions, while we judge ourselves by our motives. For example, if Bob is quiet and doesn’t make eye contact with anyone at a get-together, he’s rude. If I do the same, then it’s okay because I know that as an introvert, I’ve been over-stimulated from being around people all day and just want a little alone time.

I try to remind myself of this and throw people a bone whenever I can.

20. Read more books.

I read somewhere that an alarmingly high percentage of adults never read another book again after finishing school. How depressing is that?

Devote some time each day – even if just 10 to 15 minutes – to a good book. Education doesn’t have to stop once you earn your degree. There is always, always going to be more to learn.

Less Facebook, more paperbacks.

21. Make your home your haven.

Your home is the place where you spend most of your time. I don’t care if you live in a sprawling mansion or a dinky little hole in the wall. You don’t have to shell out thousands of dollars to make it look nice. Treat it with respect and keep it clean.

You should be able to look forward to coming home each day. This is the one place you should definitely feel safe, relaxed, and stress-free. Make your bed, vacuum the carpets, and do the dishes regularly.

22. Take more vacations.

I love three- or four-day getaways because they feel like just enough time to unplug from the world without feeling completely disconnected. I’m not crazy about airports or airplanes, but it’s worth the temporary hassle to visit somewhere fun and relaxing.

A honeymoon counts as a vacation, right? :)

Hell, even a stay-cation is great (that’s a vacation that you take in the comfort of your own home or town). The point is, vacations keep you balanced and remind you that there is more to life than work.

23. Prioritize sleep.

Sleep is not for the weak; sleep is for the smart and the successful.

Getting good quality sleep can mean the difference between feeling crabby and unmotivated and feeling invincible. Personally, I need around nine hours of shut-eye to feel on top of my game. If I want to get an early start to my day, that usually means I need to be in bed by 10 o’clock at night at the very latest, and I will absolutely bend over backwards to make sure that happens.

24. Don't worry about the haters.

The more successful you are, the more haters you’re going to have – that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

I used to get upset over every single critical remark made to me or about me. I didn’t like when someone didn’t agree with my beliefs, and I became angry when anyone challenged my views.

Now I realize that this is all just a part of the process. Besides, why would I want to give haters the time of day when there are so many more people who do like what I have to say?

As well, I think that actually listening to legitimate criticism with an open mind can be incredibly helpful. They may be making a valid point, or they may challenge you to approach a situation from a different, better angle.

At the end of the day, haters gonna hate.

Shakin' it off with Marci at my wedding!

25. Don't chase money; chase your passion.

I can’t think of a single person who can honestly say that he or she has been completely fulfilled by chasing money alone. Studying a specific major in school solely because it will lead them to a job that pays well or cutting corners to make a few extra bucks – these are losing strategies.

On the flipside, I’m not saying that being passionate about something automatically means that you’ll be able to make a living off of it. But there are so many ways to get creative and realize your dreams nowadays.

When I was finishing up school a few years ago, there really wasn’t a job market out there for what I specifically wanted to. So I created it for myself. I was passionate about helping people create lasting behavior change and life happier, healthier lives.

Did I think it was possible at the time? Nope. But I took a chance anyway and realized pretty quickly that I had a talent for what I did. I’ve since been able to make a pretty successful living off of pursuing my passions, and the money has taken care of itself.

If you value integrity and always take the high ground, I do believe that everything will eventually all work out.