26 Life Lessons from a Therapist
Today is my 26th birthday! In honor of it, I wanted to share 26 of the life lessons that I’ve been lucky enough to gather thus far, especially those that came out of COVID-19. I imagine that most of you will have to learn these lessons the hard way, as I did, but I hope this post puts you in the right mindset when these teachable moments come along. Let me know in the comments which of these life lessons resonates with you the most!
26 Life Lessons from a Therapist
1. Gratitude is pure magic.
Okay, well it seems that way, but there’s really science behind why it’s so helpful. The removal of stress that happens when you practice gratitude is a reward that stimulates the release of those feel-good chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and even the cuddle hormone oxytocin! So the more you practice gratitude, the happier and more connected to others you’ll feel.
I learned this life lesson when I started writing down the good things that happen every week in my Passion Planner. And that’s not an affiliate link, I’m just a diehard Passion Planner geek. On the left of every page, there’s a “good things that happened” column, and I try to fill it with 8-10 things every week. Sometimes I go real small, like “had Starbucks Friday!” and sometimes they’re easier to identify like, “put in a lease application for a new apartment!”
2. Be Present
Back in January, I made a pact with myself to generally just be more present. And then I was at a Superbowl party, and a bridal party I’m in starting texting incessantly about a bachelorette party problem. Which one was I supposed to be present with?!
I started trying to keep up with the group chat, and I swear, no one texts faster than a scorned bride. I got so anxious about it, Jeff made the executive decision to take my phone and ask me to be present with the people in front of me. In hindsight, I let them both down. I should have sent one text in the group chat that said something like “I’m a bit tied up right now, I’ll catch up on this when I can give it my full attention!” and then focused on the friends I was with.
3. Drink More Water
Drinking more water has helped, if not fully cured, every health problem I’ve ever had.
When I was in college, I survived entirely on iced coffee. People would say something to me if my left hand was actually free– it was like a security blanket. But as I entered my twenties, I feel like I literally started shriveling up. My eyes became so dry that it caused me vision problems and I had to buy special (expensive) gel drops. Water is much cheaper, my friends.
I got a Hidrate Spark water bottle as a gift, and it literally changed my life. It’s next to me as we speak, half a decade later. You sync it to an app on your phone, and it tracks your water intake via bluetooth. It gives you goals based on your activity level, and it lights up when you’re behind. You can also add friends to the app and have little competitions to stay more hydrated. I went from 0-12oz per day to about 60-75oz
4. Sometimes exercise is about consistency, not results
I have lost interest in going to the gym so many times because I had the wrong goals. I wanted to get skinny for a guy. Lose 5-10 pounds for an event, or the summer. But it turns out, if you go to the gym because you really want to be healthy, it’s a lot easier to keep it up.
When I was doing it wrong, I’d work out so super hard that I would end up burning myself out and not wanting to go again the next day, and then the consistency wouldn’t build. It’s great to push yourself, but not to a point you can’t sustain. To use one of the only sports metaphors in my arsenal, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
5. You really are stronger than you think you are
Think of all the times you thought you could never do something, and then life “forced” you to do it. Even in those moments, you still technically had the option to call it quits, but your priorities were such that you knew you had to get through it anyway.
6. Productivity is not the only measure of success
This is one of the life lessons I have to continuously learn every day. It’s not easy for me. Still, can you really be considered successful if you’re not happy? If there are no time slots in the planner for your family and friends?
I recently saw a post on Instagram that said “Busy is not a feeling,” and it really stuck with me. To take it a step further, busy is not a personality trait. How many times has someone said “how are you?” and you said “busy”? I challenge you next time to think about the emotion underneath “busy”. Maybe the person who asked how you are doesn’t need to hear it, but at least try to know for yourself. How are you, really?
7. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
Don’t put your best friend’s wedding in the calendar, COVID-19 will push it right into 2021. Or write down your move-in date, the previous tenant’s plans will fall through and push it back two months. Don’t even plan next week’s paycheck, three clients will cancel.
I’m being dramatic and more than a little bitter, and that’s because this life lesson, though a classic, has also been a really tough one for me to learn. And yet, it’s so important for people who like order such as myself. What can go wrong, will, so just resolve to only use pencil in your planner 🙂
8. We are not in control
Related to the previous lesson, there is a lot in life that we can’t change. The only thing we can truly control is our own behavior– our own reactions to the things that happen to us.
9. Stand up for what feels right to you
Honestly, others can tell when you’re just people-pleasing them. People-pleasers may be well-liked, but not deeply connected. It’s pretty lonely for your authentic self when no one knows what’s hiding under all those half-truths meant to make others happy.
10. There is always a silver lining (for those who wish to see one)
That last part is an important distinction, because that’s honestly the part that I had to learn this year. Yes, even during COVID there has been a silver lining of healing for the earth. But that’s not always what people need to hear. As the great Lorelai Gilmore says, “sometimes you need to wallow.”
COVID honestly changed the world of boundaries. People thought it was an introvert’s dream because we were home, but at the same time, everyone knew we were always home. And to top it off, the people we lived with were always home with us. It’s not easy to maintain the space you need. Check out my Teachable school, Millennial Life Academy for some lessons on how to create and maintain healthy boundaries with loved ones.
12. No one has all the answers.
I notice that a lot of my clients avoid saying “I don’t know.” And in the world at large, we have a pretty substantial problem with changing our opinions as we gather new information. What is it that makes us hold so tightly to what we think we know?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that being authentic enough to admit that you’re unsure (see life lesson #9) will help you connect more deeply with your loved ones. You’re more human when you’re not trying to show up as perfect. Not to mention, if you do happen to be wrong about something, the fall from that high horse hurts.
13. Give yourself grace.
For some who suffer from this desire to have all the answers, the underlying culprit is the need to have it all together. I say to those people, and to all those who are hard on themselves especially during the pandemic, give yourself grace. Your circumstances affect you, my friend. You may technically have more time in your day during a pandemic, but if you’re not getting as much done, that’s because a lot of your mental energy is being spent rightfully worrying about your health, job security, loved ones, toilet paper supply and more.
14. There is a difference between giving yourself grace and making excuses
Life lesson #13 is very important, but it should still be noted that there’s a difference between recognizing what’s going on for you, and using that as an excuse to not be your best self.
15. Life goes on.
People have found such creative ways to keep their lives on track throughout COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders. While that can certainly be taken to a problematic extreme, generally I find it very inspiring. Communities have come together to support their favorite local businesses, GoFundMes have been made for individuals who may not make rent, and friends have come together at a distance for events like birthdays, bachelorette parties, weddings, graduations, and much more. It’s really beautiful.
16. Detachment from outcome
Detachment from outcome is a tenet of Relational Life Therapy taught to me by my supervisor, Chuck Beardsley. I also think it can serve as a life lesson here. Chuck brought it up with me because he could see that I was draining myself trying to keep my clients’ marriages intact. He let me know that if I was too concerned with making sure marriages were saved, I might miss signs that the relationship was too unhealthy and might really need to end. The life lesson is similar– if you attach yourself too tightly to one outcome or goal, you might miss the thing that’s really best for you.
17. I am no imposter
Imposter Syndrome is real, and it’s a phenomenon where people feel like they don’t really deserve the success they’re experiencing. They feel like they’ve tricked people into believing they’re someone more qualified, more capable, etc. I’ve suffered from this big time, being so young in my field. But guess what? Joining a private practice at 24 years old was an accomplishment, not something to hide. I earned every credit of my masters degree. I did those thousands of supervised hours. Yes, there is a lot left to learn, but that doesn’t mean the success I have already found isn’t real or deserved.
I have learned that leaving my comfort zone helps combat Imposter Syndrome. So, recently I was a guest on a podcast called Mental Health Adjacent, I started training to become a certified Discernment Counselor, and I’ve put myself out there to find my own clients rather than waiting for Chuck and Sanya to hand them over to me. It is scary, but every time I find a little bit of success, the Imposter Syndrome fades away a little more.
It’s just the way to go, guys. Whether we’re talking about your romantic relationship, ending racism, running a business, or wearing a mask, kindness and empathy should always be at the core of what you do.
19. The ending doesn’t cancel out the rest of the story.
I have found, especially with my clients (if you haven’t noticed, they end up teaching me quite a bit!) that if something ends badly, we have a tendency to let it taint the whole experience. It doesn’t have to be that way. Especially with relationships– we comfort ourselves after a breakup by saying things like, since it didn’t work out, it wasn’t meant to be. But really, isn’t that sort of cancelling out everything good that came from the relationship just because it ended?
I believe lots of things are meant for us, just not forever. This mindset allows us to hold the good and the bad together without cancelling each other out.
20. Intent matters.
You know in The Good Place when they realize that no one was actually getting into The Good Place? Because, for example, buying your mom flowers ended up being net negative because they weren’t responsibly sourced. Same with Chidi and his almond milk! The life lesson there was that we can only do our best with the knowledge and resources available to us. If we are doing that personal best and learn from our mistakes, that’s all anyone can ask of us.
21. Open a retirement account yesterday.
The younger you are when you start it, the more time compound interest has to build up. But don’t check your investments every 30 seconds (especially if you invest in Disney and five minutes later their CEO steps down and another 30 seconds later they close for COVID) because things fluctuate a little all the time and it’ll just make you anxious! I have fallen into a routine of checking mine every week or two, but I am no financial expert
22. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Friends, I made this mistake all through high school, and that’s why I only have about one friend left from that dark, dark time. Acting like you’re too cool for everything (even if it’s because inside you’re really just scared of everything) isn’t a good look. Go to a party, even if you think people will wonder who invited you. Go to Coachella and let the awe of your favorite artists wash over the fear of crowds (and the jokes about Coachella). Dress up for Halloween. Dress up for theme parties. Make funny faces in your snapchats. I know we shouldn’t regret things because everything we go through shapes us into who we are now, but this is one thing I really regret at this point in life. Just– don’t be afraid to be silly.
23. A good apology, backed by action, is invaluable.
Don’t fall into the trap of explaining your behavior so the other person can see how you didn’t mean it, or what was supposed to happen. It puts the other person in the position of having to listen to you and potentially even comfort you, which goes completely against the idea of righting a wrong. See life lesson #18 about empathy. Check out this post with my free worksheet for formulating a good apology.
24. Insurance is fucking expensive
Twenty-six is the year I come off my parents’ insurance plan, and since I work as an independent contractor, I can’t enroll in a plan through my job. Let me tell ya– it IS rewarding to work at a job where you get out of it what you put in. However, there is certainly something to be said about having a stable 9-5 with health insurance.
25. Assume there is more to the story
Even the most abusive of my clients has a past that brought them to act this way. I’ve found that it’s very difficult to hold hate for someone when you know enough about their life. This might be one of those life lessons that you can only really learn
26. Language is powerful.
Changing way we speak is often the first step to creating lasting change. So, limit the use of always/never. If you have a problem with someone’s behavior, tell them how it makes you feel rather than how they’re wrong for doing it (See this post to learn more about criticism in relationship). Add “yet” to the ends of sentences like “I can’t do this.”
So, those are the top 26 life lessons I’ve learned in my 26 years. What are some of yours? Which ones do you have to actively practice every day, like me?