17 Years Ago I Turned 17: Part I

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It's 2017, and 17 years ago, on Wednesday, I turned 17, making me officially the big 3-4! 

As I often do on my birthday, I'd like to share some life lessons that I've learned this year (or oldie-but-goodies that've become particularly relevant to me over the past 365 days). Because we're always learning and growing— at least, we should be — even a year or two ago seems like another lifetime in terms of what I've learned about life, and I find it incredibly useful to write these life lessons lists — not only as potential guidance for others, but also as a way for me to reflect on how far I've come (and how far I still have to go!).

This year has been a transformative one for me (and for a lot of other people!) in so many ways, so here are just a few of the things I've taken to heart this year: 

 

1. STAND UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN.

While I've always been a big believer of standing up for my beliefs — after all, one of my nicknames in college was "Beliefs" — this year I've learned more and more about the importance of identifying, standing up for, and speaking out about your beliefs. You can read more about this is in my post How to Share Your Beliefs (Even with People Who Don't Agree). (And if you're looking for more on standing up for your believes: 5 Ways to Fight Hate (Right Where You Are!)

 

2. NEGATIVITY IS REALLY POWERFUL.

Over the past year, I've encountered a lot more negativity than I'd like, mostly because I spend way too much time on Twitter, scrolling through the news which, let's face it, is often pretty negative. My news anxiety has been quite high (see: Break / Make / Take: Coping with News Anxiety) over the past year, and it's reinforce what I've known for a long time: negativity can be really powerful, seductive even, and simply being aware of that fact can help me cope with (and, when possible, avoid) it. (For more on how to keep yourself sane in a negative world, check out How to Distance Yourself from Negativity). 

 

3. SELF-LOVE IS A KIND OF MAGIC.

After declaring this the Year of Self-Love, self-love become even more important to me. Self-love is the foundation for all relationships. If you don't love who you are (or you're at least not trying to make that a priority), all aspects of your life will suffer. You know that whole "put on your own oxygen mask before helping others" thing on airplanes? That applies to love, too. If you don't help of yourself first, you're going to struggle to help others. Like most of us, I still struggle with this, which is why I wrote Struggling with Self-Love? 10 Must-Read Reminders just recently!

 

4. DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME. 

You're probably well aware of the notion that life is short, but how often do you really think about that when choosing how to live your life on a day-to-day basis? I've spent a lot of time curating my life this year (particularly when it comes to social media; see:Inspired Unfollowing: A Week of Conscious Content Choice), and it's reminded me of this very important truth: wasting your time — on people, activities, careers, etc. — that don't make you feel fulfilled and joyful is a bad idea. Of course, we can't always do what we want to do, but more than we realize, we have the power to control how our time is spent.

 

5. KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS (AND WEAKNESSES). 

If you don't know where you're strong and where you're weak, it's going to be tough to improve — and to thrive in the areas where you can be really successful. Discovering your strengths and weaknesses isn't as a easy as it sounds. It involves a lot of soul-searching and self-honesty, two things that require a lot of emotional and mental effort. Still, this year I've really tried to think about The Power of "I Am" and How to Harness It, trying as much as I can to honestly get in touch with my true self. 

 

6. PAY ATTENTION TO HOW YOU FEEL. 

Feelings will tell you a lot about what you should / shouldn't be doing. This isn't news to me (or probably to you either), but over the past year I've become more in tune with my feelings and, after writing this — A Life-Changing Question + Why You Need to Ask It — I've become even more aware of how important paying attention to feelings can be, and I've learned that I benefit a great deal from listening to them (even when I'd rather not!). 

 

7. BE MINDFUL OF THE WORK YOU CHOOSE. 

Not everyone has the ability (or the desire) to pursue some sort of calling or passion, but I've realized over the past year just how fortunate I am to do what I love, to do something I've chosen mindfully. Back in February, I wrote The Great 8 Challenge + 8 Years of Blogging! and it was so amazing to reflect on how far Positively Present has come. Though I'm still working on making this whole thing as financially successful as I'd like, I'm still incredibly grateful for the opportunity to spend so much of my time doing what I love. 

 

8. MAKE PEACE WITH MONEY. 

Whether you have a lot or you barely have any, money is a tough topic, and one that I generally try to avoid thinking about (suuuper healthy, I know). This year I've been working on getting more comfortable talking (and thinking!) about money (see: Making Merry (When Not Making a Lot of Money), and while I definitely wouldn't consider myself in a great place, I'm on a much better path than I was a year ago, and that's all because I've been able to open my mind up to thinking about money in new ways. I've learned that my state of mind has a great impact on my financial state.  

 

9. READ AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. 

Since the rise of the internet and the instant access of smart phones, my offline reading level has decreased dramatically, which makes my book-loving heart heavy. While I do read a ton online, that's not quite the same as reading a book, either fiction or non-fiction, which gives such a deeper experience. This year I created The Ultimate Book Gift Guide, and it was one of my favorite activities because it reminded me how wonderful books are and how I need to dedicate more time to reading!

 

10. LEARN TO LET GO OF WHAT YOU CAN'T CHANGE. 

Recently, my obsession with Kesha's song "Learn to Let Go" inspired me to write Your Happy Ending's Up to You as a ode to the the idea that I've learned (and am always learning again and again): you have to let go of the things you cannot change if you want to live a positive, present life. The past is over and you cannot go back. Likewise, this year I was also reminded of how important it is to choose to let thing go, as I wrote about in Let the Dead Leaves Drop: Lessons from Autumn on Letting Go

 

11. CELEBRATE YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS. 

Like a lot of people, I'm not always the best at tooting my own horn (a life lesson I definitely need to improve in the years to come!), but whenever my sobriety anniversary rolls around, I somehow manage to find the courage to be a little bolder about celebrating myself. (Read this year's post: Self-Love + Sobriety : The Perks of Being Sober) Every time I achieve a big goal like this, it's so exciting to celebrate it, and I highly recommend celebrating your own accomplishments (no matter how big or small!) as much as you can. 

 

12. CHOOSE YOUR DISTRACTIONS WISELY. 

This year, my phone use has gone up dramatically, and I've learned that it's up to me to look closely at how (and why!) I choose to distract myself so much. I wrote about phone use in Wireless Wonderland: Managing Phone Use to Stay Present, but I've also been doing some soul-searching recently to uncover why I seek distraction so often and how I can make those distractions more positive. (For example, when I really want to zone out, I try using Song Lyric Therapy and drawing illustrations for Instagram, rather than just mindlessly scrolling through social media.)

 

13. LIVE LIKE YOU LOVE YOURSELF. 

A question I've found myself pondering a lot this year is: Would someone automatically answer "yes" if asked, "Does Dani love herself?" Honestly, I'm not sure everyone would because loving yourself isn't all about feeling. It's about action, too. I've been giving a lot of deep thought to self-love as I work on my next book (yay!) and I've uncovered a lot about how self-love plays out in our day-to-day actions, as I wrote about in R-E-S-P-E-C-T Yourself: 11 Things to Do Daily. I'm still a work in progress, but, hey, aren't we all!?

 

14. SEEK OUT KNOWLEDGE ON NEW TOPICS.

I've always been a lover of learning, and I spend countless hours each week trying to absorb new information through articles and books and people. One lesson I've been especially in touch with over the past year is seeking out knowledge on new topics. For example, before this year I'd never heard of the concept of "hygge," but I ended up researching it and writing about it (Hygge: What It Is + How to Do It) and striving to embrace, and it serves as a reminder that there's so much to learn, particularly from other cultures. 

 

15. KNOW THE VALUE OF "NO."

While I've been writing about the power of no for years, this year I've been embracing it even more. I've been striving to get in touch with what I really want (What Do You Really Want? (+ a Worksheet!), and doing so has reminded me of how important it is to say no to the things you don't want in your life. There's only so much time, space, and emotional effort available to each of us, so it's vital to know what you want so you can say no to the things (and people and vibes and experiences) you don't want. 

 

16. TRY AS HARD AS YOU CAN TO STAY PRESENT. 

My desire to be more present in my life is one of the reasons I started this site, but, eight years later, it's still a struggle for me. Each year, I learn more and more about how important it is to stay in the moment (and more and more tools for embracing that mindfulness), but one of the best lessons I've learned is paying attention to others, particularly non-humans, stay in the moment. Still as it sounds, this article I wrote actually taught me a lot: A Pup's Guide to Being Present

 

17. YOUTH IS GREAT — BUT SO IS AGING. 

Older people always go on and on about how youngsters shouldn't waste their youth, about how wonderful it is to be young. Youth is great — but so is the freedom and knowledge and self-awareness that comes with age. This year I realized (particularly after writing this What I Wish I'd Known 20 Years Ago),  if I had a choice, I'd much rather be the age I am now than a younger version of me. Sure, there are some downsides to aging, but there's a heck of a lot of good stuff too.

 

  

It's my hope that, in writing about what I've learned this year, you've learned something too! Stay tuned for Part 2 coming next week!  And if you want to help me celebrate my b-day, check out some of the things I make below and support Positively Present with a purchase! :)

 

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5 Hang-in-There Holiday Tips

 

You Are Not Alone


I love the holiday season (if you couldn't tell, from all of my holiday-themed posts!), but with all of the joy, glitter, and fairy lights also comes a level of stress and pressure that's unprecedented during the rest of the year. Even if you're in a great place emotionally, financially, and mentally, the holiday season is bound to present some challenges that aren't present during the rest of the year. And, if we're honest, most of us aren't in that perfect emotional / financial / mental place so, around the holidays, whatever troubles we're currently facing are compounded by a number of factors:

 

  1. memories of past holidays (both good and bad),
  2. recollections of those no longer in our lives and a kind of re-mourning for them,
  3. increased financial expectations in the form of gifts and holiday-related obligations,
  4. stress related to trying to give (and hoping to receive) the perfect gifts, and
  5. societal pressure to suddenly have the most merry, festive, Instagrammable life ever.

 

Top all of that off with the end-of-the-year thoughts about what we did (or didn't...) do over the past year and the looming expectations to make the coming year the "best year yet!," and it's no wonder most of us have trouble staying positive during the holidays! Even for the most positively present person, these additional stressors can cause a lot of emotional challenges, and they can be even harder to cope with when it seems as if everyone around us is embracing the holiday spirit. 

The holidays can be -- and often are -- a really wonderful time of the year, but it's important to recognize the level of additional stress and pressure they bring to our lives, and make sure we're addressing it (rather than convincing ourselves that we should be enjoying every single moment). Here are some of the best ways to do just that. 

 

  1. Take note of what's working out. When it comes to the holidays, it's tempting to think everything has to be just perfect. For some, there are annual traditions to adhere to. For others, holiday parties to look picture perfect for. And, as you're probably well aware, life doesn't always go according to plan. With so many expectations around the holiday season -- buy the perfect gift! wear the most festive outfit! kiss your partner in the snow! wake up to a Lexus in your driveway! -- some of them are bound to be unmet. And that's okay. Instead of focusing on what didn't go as planned, direct your attention to what is working. Maybe you weren't able to afford a new, sparkly dress for a party, but you were able to get your nephew that hard-to-find gift he really wanted. During the holidays (and in general!), it helps to keep expectations low and to celebrate the things that are going right. 

     
  2. Know you're not alone in how you feel. The holidays -- through advertising, celebrity culture, and social media -- make us feel like we should be happy 24/7 all throughout the month of December, but it's important to remember that what you see online (and even in real life) isn't the whole story. All of us go through bouts of stress or loneliness or sadness or discontent at some point during the holiday season, and that is completely normal. We're being sold picturesque images of the perfect holiday everywhere we look, and it's no wonder that we sometimes feel disappointed that our lives don't look like the ones we see online. Remember: not everyone is falling in love, unwrapping the most fabulous gift, surrounding themselves with laughing, happy friends, or joyfully riding in a horse-drawn sleigh. 


  3. Make the holiday what you want it to be. Think, for a moment, about what a "perfect" holiday would look like. What you're picturing is probably an amalgamation of images you've seen online, watched in films, or read in books sprinkled with a bit of your own unique holiday experiences. It's important to remember that your holiday is yours. It doesn't have to look like what you see everyone else doing. Most of us (myself included!) do what we're expected to do around the holiday season because it's what's socially expected. But don't forget that you don't have to do what everyone else is doing. If you're into the traditions, the events, the decking-of-the-halls, go for it. But don't feel like you have to do all of the expected holiday things just because everyone else is doing them. 


  4. Shift your focus away from consumerism. Gift-giving is one of my favorite things to do, and always has been. There are few things that thrill me more than finding the perfect gift for someone I love. But, in case you missed it, the holidays are extremely consumeristic. From the gifts to decorations to sparkly attire to hostess gifts to festive fare and more, there are so many things to purchase around this time of year, and, even if you're super into it all, it can be a lot. One of the best ways to combat the consumerism is to make time to give back. Whether it's a donation to a charity, time spent at a soup kitchen, or simply helping a neighbor hang lights, there are countless ways you can give back. Doing so will help remind you what the holiday season is supposed to be about: love, giving, kindness, and joy. 


  5. Pay attention to what's real. With the holiday season comes a great deal of fantasy -- images of reindeer flying overhead, two people falling in love beneath the mistletoe, unwrapping an amazing gift, having the most fabulous time at a party are a few that come to mind -- but it's important to remember that, as magical as the season feels sometimes, we're still living in real life. People are going to be imperfect; situations are going to be flawed. The more we focus on the fantasy, the harder it becomes to appreciate the little joys in reality. If you're focusing on what things should be, you're missing out on what they are, and that's almost certain to cause discontentment. (Read more about this in Why You Need Lower Expectations.) When it comes to the holidays, expect less and you'll enjoy so much more. 

 

As wonderful and festive as this time of year is, it can also be such a challenge because most of us expect so much. We want every holiday to be the best ever, which is a lovely goal to have, but that goal can also cause a lot of distress (especially if it's literally impossible, such as when you're facing the first holiday after the loss of a loved one or if you're going through a very difficult time emotionally). If you're struggling, remember that you're not alone. There are many, many people who are going through difficult situations and, while you cannot necessarily remove yourself from pain, here are some things I've written in the past that might help: 

 

  

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Making Merry (When Not Making a Lot of Money)

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A Positively Present reader sent me an email a few weeks ago: her husband had been laid off, and she was worrying about the financial aspect of the holiday season. She asked if I might write about how to enjoy the holidays while struggling financially, and I thought that was a wonderful idea -- especially because I've been struggling financially for years. 

It might seem like things are great -- lots of books being published, new products being launched -- but working for yourself in a creative field is no joke financially. Some people, I know, have the good fortune of doing what they love and being well-off while doing it, but most creatives -- designers, authors, bloggers, freelancers -- struggle financially. And I'm no different. Since starting this business, I've learned how to give up a lot (for more on that, check out my Positive Penny Pinching e-book), and I actually think it's been a great thing for me, learning to live without excess, to focus on what really matters. 

That being said, not having excess funds during the holidays can be especially rough. I love nothing more than giving gifts to those I love, and it's hard when I can't afford the gifts I want to give or I can't attend certain events because they're too expensive or I can't donate to all of the many, many causes I'd like to support because, first and foremost, I have to pay my rent. This isn't meant to sound whiny or like I'm complaining -- I have chosen this path and I truly believe someday I will be financially successful while doing it -- but it is meant to say that, if you're struggling financially, I get it. It, quite frankly, sucks. 

So I decided to spend some time rounding up the best ideas I could think of to make the most of the holiday season without spending a lot of money. Because, no matter what holiday you celebrate, it really isn't about spending money. 

 

CUT BACK ON GIFT-GIVING

One of the best ways to save (or not spend) money during the holidays is to cut back on the gift-giving. If your family is anything like mine (and like a lot of families in America), big piles of gifts under the tree are an essential part of the holiday season. But they don't have to be. This year, my family is doing gift-giving a bit differently. Rather than buying lots of gifts for each person, we're each giving each other one special gift. A friend of mine as cut out gift-giving altogether in her family; instead they are donating the amount they'd spend on gifts to a worthy cause. If giving gifts is essential to your holiday experience, try setting a spending limit or limiting the number of gifts you give. You probably want to give your immediate family members a gift, but do you really need to give gifts to all of your friends? Tell them ahead of time that, instead of gifts this year, you'd rather do something special together instead. 

 

FIND NEW PLACES TO SHOP

One thing I've learned over the past few years of pinching pennies is that you don't have to shop where you've always shopped. When I was younger (and richer), high end brands were my go-to. So much so, that that's what I was remembered for in my high school yearbook (major eye roll!). Brand names were of the utmost importance to me, but since then I've shifted the way I think about shopping and products. There are plenty of places to shop for good deals -- TJ Maxx, Home Goods, etc. -- and there are also surprisingly interesting things at shops like Dollar Tree and Five Below. (It is important, however, to keep in mind how things are made. If something really cool is selling for $1, you've got to wonder how much the person making it was paid...). The key is: keeping an open mind. If you're used to spending a lot on a gift, it might not even occur to you that you could spend a fraction of the cost by simply checking out different stores, searching online for deals, or looking out for coupons.  

 

GIVE TIME, NOT THINGS

I'm sure this isn't the first time you've heard this piece of advice, but it's an important one. What the people in your life really want from you is your time, attention, and love. (And, if the people in your life don't just want those things from you, you might want to rethink why those people are in your life!) If possible, getting rid of the gift giving can be a great way to save money and to reconnect with the true meaning of the holiday season: love and togetherness. Instead of spending money on gifts, find a fun, free activity (there are usually lots around this time of year!) and take part with your family or friends. And, if you don't have enough money to give back to charities you'd like to support, you can also give your time to them as well. (I know you might be thinking, "But I don't have any time!" but, honestly, you do. We all spend time on things that aren't adding positive value to our lives, and we can, at least for the holiday season, cut out some of those things in favor of spending time with loved ones or donating your time to a local charity.)

 

MAKE YOUR OWN DECOR

I love decorating my place for the holidays, and each year, the stores fill with beautiful new items that I long to buy and use to decorate my apartment. And most of these beautiful new things are not at all in my budget. However, I've learned over the past few years that you can make a lot of really great decor to brighten your home without spending a lot (or, in some cases, any!) money. Not only is this a great way to save money, but it can also be one of the fun activities you do with friends and family. There are tons of great resources online for creative, inexpensive holiday decor, but you can see a lot of my favorite DIYs on my Christmas Cheer, Creative Crafts, and Perfect Printables Pinterest boards. (An additional tip: try to limit the time you spend in shops trying to sell you holiday decor to reduce temptation to buy things you don't need or could make yourself.)

 

CUT OUT THE COMPARISONS

All year long, we're granted access to friends and family members' lives through social media, and these sneak peeks at peoples' lives gets amped up at the end of the year. It can seem like everyone is getting amazing gifts, decorating their homes in picture perfect decor, and doing fun (and expensive!) festive things. But comparing your life to others' lives never does any good, and will only make you feel like you're not spending, doing, or being enough. And anything that makes you feel that way has no positive purpose in your life. If comparisons are getting you down, try disconnecting from social media for a bit or unfollow people, brands, or celebrities that are making you wish you had more than you currently have. 

 

AMP UP YOUR GRATITUDE

When you're feeling down about not having enough money to spend on the things you'd like to purchase during the holidays, turning your attention to gratitude can be tough. You might feel stressed, anxious, or despondent about your financial situation, and that can make it really hard to focus on what you have. But when you turn your attention to what you have, rather than what you lack, everything changes. Everything. Whenever you feel down about your finances, take out a piece of paper and start listing all the things you do have: friends, family, a place to live, your health, a clear mind, a pet you love, unique talents, etc. It's not always easy to see these things when we're blinded by the festive "buy this!!!" lights of the holidays, but most of us truly have what we need, even if we can't afford what we want. Remembering this is the most important thing you can do for yourself when you're struggling financially. 

 

BONUS: IF YOU DO HAVE EXTRA MONEY . . . 

If you're flush with funds this year, yay! This is a great time of year to give back to causes, brands, and people who have positively impacted your year. Consider shopping at small business, buying from local stores, and giving back to those who provide free content for you year 'round. If you're not running a small business, working as a freelancer, or in a creative field, you might not realize how difficult it is for most of these creators financially. On the surface -- the beautiful Instagram layouts, the uplifting blog posts, the inspiring tweets -- it's not always evident how these creators are doing financially. And, as online consumers, most of us (including me!) have come to expect content for free -- we listen to songs on Spotify, read news articles without paying for a newspaper, visit websites where all of images and words are free for our perusal -- and few of us really think about how that content is made (and paid for). So, if you do have extra money, consider buying things from the creators who produce free content that you enjoy. You have no idea how much that support could mean to one small business owner.  

  

  

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