I Just Got Out of a Toxic Relationship.

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Since the end of May/beginning of June, those of you who have consistently followed this blog may have noticed that I briefly mentioned or skirted around some issues I was dealing with in my personal life- in particular- my love life. While the details were scarce and the specifics may have been flat-out omitted at times, it was probably obvious I was processing some stuff with undeniable difficulty.

I’ve been on the fence about writing this post for a while. I wanted to give myself enough time to reflect and heal so my thoughts and words would be clear and concise. I wanted the take away to be something positive- not negative or (ugh..) full of self-pity. More importantly, I wanted to make sure I approached such a personal and sensitive subject with the respect it deserved. A few weeks ago, there were only two ways to do so on my mind:

1. Not discuss the subject at all- and go about my merry way without so much as acknowledging that I spent a good chunk of my Summer being heartbroken, and then not-so-heartbroken as I pulled myself together (and up)– and moved forward. I could have continued posting recipes, and writing about makeup and movies and all the things I love about Fall- and not once mentioned what I had been through.

But I realized that wasn’t being honest- both to myself or the readers of this blog- and honesty is something I value, respect and encourage. The truth of the matter is this: as happy and as grateful as I am for the good people, things, opportunities and adventures in my life- everything is not always sunshine, rainbows, unicorns and kittens all day, every day. It isn’t for anyone.

2. The other approach- nearly decided in my state of anger at the time- was to be petty and not hold back at all. I was so tempted to share it all: full names, times, places, phone numbers, screenshots- everything. I wanted this post to be the first thing anyone saw when they Googled the man who had hurt me and wasted years of my life. I wanted to forward the link on my blog to his family, friends, co-workers. Everyone. It was the karma I thought he deserved.

But, just like option one- I had a realization (after I’d calmed down and took that aforementioned reflection time.) I am not a spiteful or vengeful person. I don’t want anyone to hurt or suffer permanently because I was temporarily upset. It isn’t worth it- and it certainly isn’t worth losing myself in hatred or payback.

Instead, in my moments of clarity- I discovered the previously unknown third option- this option:

I wanted to share what had happened to me this Summer and what I’d learned- both for the catharsis of writing it down and to look back on if I ever started feeling sad and needed a reminder of my own strength- but also to help any other individual out there who finds him or herself in the same position I was in and who may stumble on this post someday when they’re looking for help or some perspective on the matter.

This blog is a window into my life, after all- good AND bad aspects of it. I had opened up following my father’s death and the resulting anxiety/depression I was experiencing after the fact- and now I’m opening up again.

So, let me start by saying it plain and simple: A man I loved and trusted- a longtime friend and lover for years- changed to the point where he was unrecognizable. And the cost was a multi-years-long relationship.

To understand the present and what little I know of the future, you must first understand our past.

The Beginning…

I met my ex (who, to protect his privacy, will now simply be referred to as my “ex” in all things: ex-friend, ex-lover, ex-business associate- just “ex”) while we were in high school. He was two years older than me- a junior when I was a freshman and a senior when I was a sophomore. We belonged to a couple of the same clubs/extra-curricular activities. His father was a teacher at our school and I was a student of his for a brief period of time.

I thought my ex was cute when I first met him- albeit a bit eccentric and maybe even dorky to some degree (and this is coming from someone who had glasses, braces, and dressed like Hot Topic and a thrift store threw up on me every day- so that’s saying something) but there was a mutual attraction. He was funny, flirty, and had accomplished a great deal academically at such a young age. He was the valedictorian of his graduating class and had obtained a full-scholarship to an impressive university in Western Massachusetts. He was somewhat arrogant, too- which I thought was actually a bit deserved given that his drive and determination had worked out in his favor- even though he had difficulty spelling basic English words correctly- a trait that followed him all the way up through our very last correspondence this year (I swear to God that is my first and final cheap shot. I promise.)

We had only gone out a few times during our two years at school together before he’d graduated and moved away and I focused on finishing up my own high school career and finding myself.

We didn’t see or speak to each other again for another four years. At that point, he had graduated college and I was 22 and out of high school- having took off running the second I was handed my diploma. I had briefly foregone college to instead travel, meet new people and try new things while simultaneously figuring out what it was I wanted to do for a career. While he continued to try and hone his craft, create art and find reliable income (and residence)– I had turned into somewhat of a party girl- jet-setting to England, hanging around festivals in California, or staying up all night in New York City.

MySpace (I feel like a fossil even typing that) is what brought my ex and I back together. I cannot for the life of me remember who sent the first message- but I vividly remember us making plans to meet up. I remember getting ready for our first date in years- and I remember feeling like no time had passed at all when we sat down for dinner (I also remember we hated the movie we saw that night- “The Eye” starring Jessica Alba.) We had both done and experienced a lot in the four years we’d lost touch- but there was common interest, mutual respect- and that same spark of attraction.

We made plans a couple days later- then again a couple days after that- and more a few days after that.

It didn’t take long for the relationship- whatever you want to call it or however you choose to define it- to become physical.

We carried on like that for just over four years- between him traveling to different cities or even countries for work or me taking off to visit friends across the country or go to a festival/show. We sent each other postcards, brought each other trinkets and knick-knacks. Sometimes if our schedule allowed- we’d take a day trip together. Other times (if we were lucky)– a weekend. He met my friends- who weren’t particularly big fans of his due to that aforementioned eccentricity and still prominent arrogance- but I ignored their criticisms. I met some of his friends. We spent a few holidays together- and if we couldn’t see each other during the actual holiday- we always caught a movie or grabbed coffee after our allotted time with our families was done. His father, whenever I’d come over- always treated me with such kindness. I never felt out of place or like I wasn’t welcome.

I look back with a sentimental smile. I was so happy then. I adored my ex. He was one of my best friends. I trusted him implicitly. I loved him and felt he loved me, too.

The Beginning of the End…

Things began to turn after my father died- and not just for the obvious reasons of losing a parent- but because it was the first time my ex had ever flat-out abandoned me when I needed him the most. I had phoned him in the early morning hours after my father had passed and I had, in a daze, come home from the hospital. I sobbed into the phone. I told him I needed him.

… And he told me his father would help me through my grief. I did not see him or hear from him again for eight months. Two seasons passed. The Boston Marathon had been attacked by domestic terrorists- and in the sunny afternoon hours of the day following the younger Tsarnaev brother’s capture and arrest- my ex reached out to me through my friend to talk- treading lightly and cautiously for obvious reasons.

Now, I’m aware that anyone in their right state of mind would tell someone who pulled such a stunt after a friend/lover they presumably cared a great deal about suffered such a loss- to go play in traffic- but at the time I really wasn’t in my right state of mind. I was still in mourning. I was coping with guilt and anxiety- and I was lonely. It was very easy for me to forgive and slip back into the comforts of the familiar embrace of someone who at one point had made me so happy and who I had trusted.

Again, it was like no time had passed and it didn’t take long for us to fall back into old habits. He was sensitive to the topic of my father and admitted he too, had felt the pain of my loss. He went as far as to tell me he carried my father’s obituary with him in a book (until the book was stolen some time prior to our meeting back up.)

He was going through financial hardships at the time- and I began to pay for things to ease the burden on his shoulders. I continued to pay for things for months. So much, in fact, that he began to jokingly refer to me as his “sugar mama”. At the time, I didn’t see anything wrong with it- but looking back- I believe it began to change his perception of me and my role in our relationship. I was starting to become less of a person in his eyes, and more of a commodity.

We almost moved in together until work took him out of state for nearly a year to New York in late 2014- and that’s where our friendship/relationship began to fall apart beyond repair.

Prior to my ex skipping out on me, the apartment we planned to share, and Massachusetts- we had become physical again- and while he was away- the physical aspect seemed to be the only thing on his mind. We exchanged risque texts, photos, and made plans for him to come back to Massachusetts or myself to come to New York for a weekend/visit that never seemed to come to fruition. He always told me he was too busy with work- although I only recently found out he had started dating a girl in New York whom he didn’t want me to know about or for her to know about how he was carrying on with me through what one may consider inappropriate photos or texts.

When his apartment was robbed in New York and he had to break his lease early due to his feeling unsafe on the premises, he turned to the law firm I worked for at the time for legal counsel. I personally handled every aspect of it- even getting him a full refund of his security deposit and a partial payment to cover his stolen belongings. For Christmas that year- I gave him the money to replace his stolen laptop since he needed it for his job. I mention it not as a slight against him for falling on hard times or to congratulate myself for being fortunate enough to spend money on someone- but because I really want to stress how I would have done anything for him because I simply wanted him to be happy and successful.

That was the last holiday season we’d spend together.

Upon his return to Massachusetts the following Summer (2015) after the expiration of his contract with the company he had worked for in New York, my ex came back a completely different man. Gone were the days of tender moments and spending time together solely just to see one another or enjoy each other’s company- replaced instead by sexual demands and no tolerance or patience for my emotional needs.

I was confused but complicit- feeling responsible for his change in some way and driven by guilt to make it up to him somehow. I was made to feel I had done something wrong. I loved him, and I missed my friend- the one I trusted and who I felt safe with. I wanted to get him back. I didn’t care what it took.

I truly believe by then my ex knew this- and used it to his advantage to get whatever he could out of me.

Throughout the remainder of 2015 and into 2016- our relationship became a mostly sexual one, unless my ex needed money or my legal expertise to further his career or business endeavors- although I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with it. The fog of sentimental memories had started to lift and I realized I was being treated like a toy or a personal ATM. He began lying to me- poorly and very obviously- about his whereabouts and what he was doing- using work as an excuse for never being around when I needed him, for being cold and for being distant. When I questioned it- I was treated like a burden. When I mustered up the courage to leave him and our past behind- he knew exactly what to say or what to do to give me a glimmer of hope that he still loved me and was just overwhelmed with his responsibilities. I was promised- multiple times- that things were going to get better and get better soon for us.

And once I had given in- he’d waste no time in sexualizing me and our relationship as soon as he could and the cycle would start all over again. My body and my money was all he cared about- a sad fact I only recently came to terms with over these past few weeks. At the time- my self-esteem was shot to Hell- and I fully admit I was too weak to turn my back on him.

By the end of Spring, I found out he was sleeping around with other women- a bitter pill to swallow when he barely had the time to treat me like an actual person who had done nothing but love and support him and his work for years- and when I told him I couldn’t continue on with him anymore: he assured me he had been safe each and every time (also a lie- and probably the most infuriating one of the many) and stressed how important I was to him. He told me he didn’t want to lose me- how he couldn’t bear it.

I had told my ex, more than once since his return from New York when things were indisputably different between us, that if either one of us had found someone new- someone we were serious about and someone we wanted to try and build a future with- then whatever we were doing had to stop. I never wanted to be “the other woman” if he was involved with someone else. I never wanted to be cheapened like that and I never wanted to play a part in deceiving another woman. I had boundaries- even in the weird, gray area I’d found myself pushed into by him.

I thought he understood, but just like so many other things- I had been wrong.

The Breaking Point…

And now, after all of that explanation- we find ourselves up to this past Summer- where a woman my ex had been dating since last November (right around the time I parted my ways with my former employer and he’d expressed faux-concern for me) contacted me after going through my ex’s phone, finding my social media- and this blog- and had put the pieces together. He was building a life with her while carrying on with me behind her back. I was forwarded hundreds of screenshots of things he had said, proof of things he had done- lies he had told each of us to our faces and via text.

We gave each other as much information as we could to get the facts in order and then confronted him immediately- and when blaming both her and I for his actions, then attempting to turn her and I against each other to lessen his accountability, and finally trying to make things right with each of us (only to continue to lie and attempt to seduce us both one at a time literally HOURS after giving each of us an individual face-to-face explanation and apology)– he finally caved.

And by “caved”, I mean he found some other unsuspecting woman to prey upon after blocking both myself and the other woman he had duped and used from his social media- presumably so we couldn’t warn his new girlfriend of what she was getting herself into.

Since June and up until the end of August, he has insulted me and my intelligence, tried to devalue me, discredited the 15 years we’ve known each other (and the 7 we spent as lovers) and get me to question myself and my self-worth. I have been degraded, manipulated, lied to repetitively- and then I’ve been sweet-talked, charmed, given sob stories, heard every pity party excuse imaginable- and have had empty promise after empty promise made to me. The other woman involved in this has experienced the same treatment from my ex- who wants to have his cake and eat it, too- by having us both while never being questioned or forced to answer for his behavior or his actions.

He also apparently didn’t realize this had since turned into a “sisters before misters” situation and both her and I had been sharing EVERYTHING with one another to keep the other from being manipulated or deceived.

At the very end of August, with more lies he’d told in the previous weeks being exposed- I had that “A-ha!” moment that many people in toxic relationships have before they get out for good once and for all. I remember sitting in my car, staring at my phone, and asking myself- out loud- “Ashley, is this really worth it? Is the stress, the pain, the turmoil and the tears REALLY worth the effort you’re putting into this guy who isn’t even the same person he was all those years ago? Is fighting to preserve your fond memories of the past and of someone who is long gone worth destroying your present or your future?”

And just as soon as I asked myself the question- I responded, again out loud- “absolutely not.”

The End…

The truth was finally apparent: I had allowed myself to be treated like a doormat for the better part of two years simply because I had a history with my ex. A history I thought I had to fight to preserve when it was clearly obvious- to everyone except me at the time- that I was the only one actively trying to keep it, and the relationship, intact. I was the only one who wanted things to be okay between us. I cared about him more than he cared about me. I was a distraction for him- something convenient to have around when he was bored or in need of comfort and/or support.

If my ex didn’t value me enough to be honest with me, to treat me with respect and compassion, to not use me solely for personal gain or sexual gratification- or care about me and my health enough where he would use protection while sleeping with other people after everything we’d gone through together and after everything I’d done for him- then he’d never value me or care about me enough to accept/admit accountability for his actions or change his behavior to be a better person and a better friend.

And that’s the type of selfish, irresponsible, immature, toxic and borderline-abusive person I can’t have around me. I couldn’t allow him to keep pulling me under with him as he drowned in a sea of his lies and deception. I had to break the surface and swim my way to safety, self-love and self-respect.

I texted my ex that day- one last time- to let him know he was not welcome in my life anymore. I asked him not to contact me again. He had replied, to insult me and try to once again pin the blame on me for our falling out- but I barely read the message before I’d deleted it and blocked his number.

I have returned any and all things he had gifted me over the course of seven years. Postcards, books, trinkets, clothing, and photos of us throughout our time together. I did not want mementos of him in my home or my personal space. I’ve erased all of our pictures from social media- a lengthy process if there ever was one- but it was remarkably refreshing to not have to be reminded of him and how happy we used to be or the type of person he had gradually turned into every time I signed onto any of my networking sites.

The Silver Lining…

I fully admit it has been a difficult Summer and walking away from someone I once loved with every fiber of my being for YEARS was not easy. I cried- a lot, and there were a few days where I couldn’t eat anything- but those tears have become less and less frequent and have been replaced with a newfound sense of strength (and also I’m back to eating everything in front of me- thank God.) I don’t stress out as much as I used to. When my phone beeps- I don’t immediately cringe worrying about what lie of my ex’s will be exposed next or what excuse he’s concocted to skirt responsibility he’ll throw my way. I have more time to focus on my work, my friends and my family- all of whom have shown me a tremendous outpouring of support and approval for my decision to do what was right for me and not what I thought was right for him.

More importantly: I’m able to focus on myself. In the days and weeks following the very final conversation with my ex- I realized how much of myself I’d lost leading up to and throughout this ordeal and what I’d given up for someone who couldn’t even meet me halfway. It made me sick. It was a wake up call and it’s been nice spending time alone and doing things on my own that make me happy.

It feels, like the first time in a long time, that I’ve finally stood up for myself. Granted, it was long overdue- but I did it and I’m proud of myself for not simply rolling over and tolerating being treated like an object or an afterthought anymore. In the 2006 movie ‘The Holiday’ (a cheesy romantic comedy and one of my absolute favorite guilty pleasures)– the late and great Eli Wallach tells Iris (a character I relate to in so many ways and who is played by the Goddess Kate Winslet)– who has just confided in him about the man she loves who has left her for another woman but keeps giving her false hope and leading her on:

“He let you go. This is not a hard one to figure out. Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.”

I’ve been thinking about that quote on and off since all this began to unfold this past Summer- and it resonates with me now more than ever. I’m a leading lady- and it’s about time I started being treated like one. Just like Iris, I put my foot down and told the man who was hurting me for years I was finished with him- and it felt amazing.

Let me reiterate: realizing you are worth it and you are deserving of happiness and love feels AMAZING.

Surprisingly, one of the better things to come out of this is the friendship I’ve developed with the other woman who was hurt in all of this, too (I’m still not revealing names for privacy reasons- but I would like to state that calling her “the other woman” makes me feel really bad since that’s not what she is at all. I just don’t know how else to refer to her without posting her name!)  It’s unfortunate but fairly common to see women turn against each other in scenarios like these- leaving the actual at-fault party free of blame while they’re too busy bickering or going out of their way to tear down the other- but this time the women actually teamed up to hold the person REALLY responsible accountable.

Since her and I have met in person (and she’s truly lovely)– we’ve hung out a couple of times. She’s bright, funny, and someone I have a lot in common with apart from our questionable taste in guys. I may have said goodbye to a 15 year friendship- but I gained a new one- and it’s based on honesty and support. I don’t regret that one bit.


In Addition…

Despite the occasional aggressive or angry undertones scattered throughout this post- I don’t want to vilify my ex. That was not and never will be my intention. He hurt me- badly, and his behavior was downright deplorable and reckless at times- but I don’t wish anything bad on him or for him. Our entire friendship and relationship wasn’t ALL bad. We did have good times- and I will always cherish those memories and in some way, I will always cherish him for being a part of them.

I just can’t have him in my life or anywhere near me anymore.

I admit I am not a perfect person- and I’m sure in many ways I was not the ideal friend/girlfriend/lover/whatever- but I tried my hardest to be and I fought as valiantly as I could to keep things together. I accept my share of blame and I take responsibility for those less-than-perfect things I did/said throughout the years. I own up to my mistakes and I have learned from them. Just like I’m learning from this now.

I hope my ex gets the help he needs. He has some deep-rooted honesty and commitment issues that I truly think he needs a professional to help him work through. He is surrounded by “yes!” people- meaning that the people in his life enable him and allow him to continue to act the way he has leading up to this point and they refuse to hold him accountable for any wrongdoings- and it has taken a toll on him and the relationships he has with those who care about him and who can’t sit back and not keep him in check from time to time.

I truly do wish him the best in all things. I wish him love, happiness and success in whatever path he chooses. I hope he has a long, healthy and fulfilling life. I really and honestly do- but I also hope this whole situation has taught him a valuable lesson- similar to the lessons I learned for myself. It would be a damned shame to walk away from this without at least gaining some perspective.

This post was to give everyone an in-depth and unfiltered look into what has been going on in my life this past Summer, and in some ways- the last couple of years. My detailing the history of the relationship was not an attempt to tell any sort of sordid or salacious tidbits- but rather to help those following along better understand why I was so reluctant to walk away from this relationship at first and the emotional, mental, and at times physical toll this had taken on me. I loved him, and I was heartbroken- and I tend to disappear when I am sad so that I can work through things without burdening those closest to me with my tears or overall lethargy.

I want people who find themselves in the same situation that I was in to take a long and hard look at it and ask themselves the same question I did: is it worth it?

Knowing someone for a long time isn’t a free pass for them treat you however they want. Sleeping with someone doesn’t mean that sex is all you’re good for. If someone you’re dating/friends with can’t respect you enough to show you common courtesy and treat you like a human being they value and appreciate- then you need to respect, value and appreciate yourself enough to know when to move on to people who DO. It’s perfectly acceptable to put yourself, your needs, and your emotional well-being first once in a while.

I did what was right for me- as painful and as difficult as it was- and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

And you have to do what’s right for you, too.

You owe yourself the chance to be happy. Believe that.


Advice for the Professional Twenty-Somethings

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My very first grown-up, “look at me adulting”, professional job came when I was in my early twenties and landed a coveted position as a legal secretary-turned-paralegal at a criminal and personal injury law firm. Prior to that, I had worked countless jobs in varying professions over the years: I was a cashier, a sales clerk at a department store, a manager at a popular shoe boutique, a makeup artist/skin care consultant, a tech at a comedy club and then a waitress/hostess.

While I learned new things and acquired different skills at each job- none of them really required me to set limitations on myself (like not staying out all night with my friends) or gave me a structured schedule. My days off always varied. My hours/shifts were always inconsistent. I never really planned excursions in advance and I was almost always inaccessible around major holidays where many of my former employers stayed open while the rest of the world closed up shop. I lived my life day-by-day- paycheck-to-paycheck.

Going from that to a regular 9-5, Monday-Friday took some adjustment, to say the least.

Now that I’m 30, and am currently engrossed in and embarking on my second professional career- I’m a little more prepared and experienced. I’m by no means an expert- but I have learned a lot of things along the way.

The good folks over at Casper– a startup company that makes mattresses that come in a box, which have grown to become popular to young adults in their twenties and on the move, got me thinking: what tips or advice do I have for young professionals?

I took a few days to look back on my career(s) and selected a few choice kernels of wisdom/knowledge that I’ve picked up over the years which I thought would be beneficial to those just starting their own paths in new or unfamiliar professions- and that I wished I had known a little sooner.

1. Adjust your evening and morning routines so you’re not just punctual and prepared- you’re downright early and fully ready to go. Every day.

In my early twenties, staying out all night on a Wednesday or Thursday went without consequence. I typically went to work in the afternoons- so crawling into bed at 4 a.m. and getting a few hours of sleep before it was time to show up for my shift (and get ready to go out again after work) became a regular thing. Of course, it was quite a shock to my system when I started working “normal” business/office hours and had to set a curfew for myself during weeknights- and even more of a shock to have to get used to a morning routine that included an actual commute- but I wanted to make a good impression and be taken seriously by my boss and my peers.

Here’s the thing, nobody likes BARELY making it anywhere on time. It causes unnecessary stress. You can forget important things while you’re racing out the door- and you never know what unpredictable factors can get in your way (traffic, inclement weather, etc.) and make you tardy- so I always made it a point to go to bed at a reasonable time to ensure I got plenty of rest and woke up a little earlier than most people would have liked in order to shower, get dressed, eat a decent meal, grab a coffee- and still make it to my office in time to get myself ready for the day’s workload- even if I encountered traffic or bad New England weather on the way.

DVR that show that’s on a little too late at night. Lay out your outfit and pack up your bag/briefcase with the next day’s essentials the night before. Charge your phone/iPad/tablet/etc. while you sleep. Shower in the evenings if you absolutely need some additional time in the morning to get a few more minutes of rest. Keep your keys in a designated location so that you can just grab them when it’s time to head out the door. Order and pay for your morning latte from your phone so you can just pick it up and go– there’s plenty of ways to save yourself time at night and in the mornings to ensure you are not just skating into work and clocking in on the dot each and every day- but that you are rested, energized, early- and ready to put your best foot forward.

Trust me- employers notice this.


Me & Social Media – Then and Now.

2. Get your social media under control.

I’ve been on various forms of social media since my late teens/early twenties- and I wish there were a way to create a flipbook detailing the way my photos/posts have evolved over those years. Drunken party or vacation photos have gradually morphed into less embarrassing photos of me and my dog, or pictures of things I’ve cooked/baked.  It’s not just because I’ve gotten older and a little more serious and aware of my surroundings (I absolutely still drink at parties and while on vacation, after all)– but because employers, both prospective and current- tend to check up on those associated with their companies/brands to make sure they are conducting themselves appropriately.

I know- it’s impossible NOT to be on some form of social media these days, and sometimes having to censor yourself can be downright exhausting- but I implore you to take full advantage of each site’s privacy settings if you absolutely and positively do not want your boss, co-workers or clients to see the results of your Saturday night out barhopping with friends, your thoughts on politics, or anything your crazy aunt/cousin/friend from high school who always says problematic and offensive stuff (we all have one) posts on your wall/tags you in.

Think before you post- “will this affect my job or my career if anyone sees it?” If not- go for it. If there’s a chance it might- it’s probably not a good idea to share it. If you still want to, just make sure yo put as much distance between yourself and your company/employer as possible so that any resulting issues cannot negatively impact or compromise your position, your job or brand. I never specifically name who my employer is anywhere at all- not even in any of my short bios on any sites I’m active on for that very reason.

3. Avoid office gossip at all costs. Worry about your own business and no one else’s.

At my last job at the firm, I briefly worked with a woman who spent all day every day gossiping about pretty much everyone she had ever come in contact with: former employers, people that worked in other businesses within our building, even my boss and his family. It made me extremely uncomfortable and I avoided her as much as I could without it creating tension in the office or negatively impacting my work- which was ultimately the best decision I ever made- since I found out shortly after I’d left my position in November that she’d started talking about me, too- speculating as to why I left and even going as far as to insinuate I’d had an inappropriate relationship with my boss.

So Cathy in accounting has the juiciest story about Mike in H.R. and that one girl who sits a couple of desks away from you keeps alluding to the fact that she has some dirt on one of your supervisors from a company Christmas party two years ago. As tempting as it can/could be to get the scoop (we live in a world that closely scrutinizes the words and actions of reality TV stars, after all)– I implore you- just avoid any and all office gossip. That is a slippery slope to go down, and it benefits no one. Worst of all? Apart from participating in and being a witness to the damaging of someone’s reputation/character- employers aren’t too fond of gossips, either- so you could also be damaging your own career and progress by associating with people who are too busy talking about others to do their actual jobs.

And let my own experience at my last job be proof to the popular saying- if someone is willing to talk about other people, then they’ll be willing to talk about you, too. Just avoid them and that unnecessary bad karma that comes with them.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for more responsibilities/a raise/a vacation- but just make sure your timing is right, first.

One of the most nerve-racking moments for me during my first professional career was standing in front of my boss’ desk and asking if I could take a few days off the following month in order to head out to California for a friend’s baby shower and to catch a surfing competition. I had only been at the firm for a few months when the invitation came- but I had never been late, had finished every assignment on time, and really wanted to go. I waited until the end of the day on a Friday afternoon- when everyone was in a good mood by default- before asking my boss for a moment of his time and timidly mentioning receiving the invite and my desire to take a couple of days off. He was more than accommodating and kind about it, which was a relief- and made eventually asking for a raise a LOT easier when the time came.

I know not all employers are so friendly, and some might not even give you the time of day to chat, let alone ask for a favor- but you have to develop the courage to ask for the things that will benefit you personally and professionally- and you have to hone in on perfecting your timing to better increase your chances of getting those things. Monday mornings are typically a bad time to ask for a raise/time off, as are the minutes following a stressful meeting- but when the timing is right (and you’ll know when it is. You’ll sense it)– go for it. Don’t be afraid!

5. Punch through that glass ceiling and don’t stop climbing.

One of the things I really like about my current employer is that it’s such a large, diverse company that there are literally a thousand and one different directions I can go. There are hundreds upon hundreds of positions I can fill and try my hand at- and they will adequately train me and make sure I’m a good fit for the job before they either let me do my thing in peace or find a different role for me that I might be better suited for. The possibilities are endless- which keeps me optimistic about my future in the company.

I understand that sometimes, particularly after a rough day or week- it can get downright discouraging if you feel that you’ve reached your full potential within your career and there’s nowhere else to go- but I assure you: there is always, ALWAYS room to grow and advance. You can never learn too much. You can never try too many things. Continue working hard and continue acquiring new responsibilities and skills. Keep an open mind and actively seek out new opportunities and positions within your company that interest you and which you believe you will find fulfilling.

Treat every day at your job like it’s your first day- and go that extra mile. Your employer will notice your enthusiasm and it will not go unrewarded. There is no glass ceiling if you shatter through it and keep on soaring.

I know that every workplace and environment is different- and those embarking on their careers will undoubtedly learn their own lessons along the way (I’m still learning new things in my current position!)– but I think the five tips I’ve listed above sort of transcend limitations and can be applied across the board to any professional job. They’ve helped shape who I am in my career- and I hope they can help shape others, too.

Thanks again to Casper for asking me such a complex and thought-provoking question. They’re a great company and are definitely worth checking out if you’re looking to update your mattress, sheets, and/or pillows anytime soon (young and seasoned professionals alike need a good night’s sleep, too!)

If anyone would like to share their own tips/advice for twenty-somethings entering any professional fields- feel free to share!


Twenty Things I Learned In My 20s

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On the left, me in NYC for my 20th birthday. On the right- me getting ready for the day this morning (my 30th birthday!)

I’m not going to lie- it’s kind of blowing my mind that I’m even writing this post right now. Good morning, world! Today is my birthday, and not just any birthday- but my 30th birthday. That’s right- the big 3-0. Some fear it. Some dread it. Some do everything they can to avoid it. Me? I’m kind of excited for it! I’ve been told by many people that “thirty is the new twenty”, and while it’s still a little too early to tell how accurate that sentiment is- I’m hoping that thirty is the new, wiser twenty.

Listen, getting older can be scary. It wasn’t that long ago, maybe a couple of years or so- where the mere thought of turning thirty all but made my blood run ice cold. Apart from facing my own mortality (I know, I know- I’m turning thirty, not ninety- but still..) and re-evaluating every decision I’d made throughout my twenties to reassure myself that most of my choices were, in fact, the right ones- I was terrified of how I could and would potentially change physically. Grey hairs? Fine lines? Things that I’d successfully managed to evade for most of my life were eventually going to show themselves within the next decade and I wasn’t sure how to handle it. It sounds superficial, sure- and maybe a little conceited (not my intention)– but when you’re used to seeing your reflection a certain way for so long- it’s a bit overwhelming to think that someday you’d be seeing a different version of yourself. What if I didn’t like what I saw?

Once I got over that fear, and rationalized that aging is not a crime or a punishment- but a blessing- the ease and the buzzing excitement followed naturally. I began to realize that as fun as my twenties were- they were a learning period- a trial and error part of my growing up. Now I had to take what I’d learned throughout my triumphs and challenges and apply it in the next phase of my life to ensure I wouldn’t repeat any of my mistakes.

And then, as I looked back and reflected on what exactly it was that I learned- I also realized that I wouldn’t, for any reason, want to re-live my twenties again- because the person I am now, the evolution and maturing of my mind, body and soul- has led me to a much better place than I was ten years ago.

I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’d learned- the obvious, the not-so-obvious, and maybe even the embarrassing- in the hopes of preparing/easing the tension for those embarking on a similar impending ‘Dirty Thirty’ journey as myself, and to give those still in their teens or their twenties plenty of time to consider my words carefully.

Take it from me. I’m older now, after all.

Twenty Things I Learned In My 20s

20. You don’t know everything there is to know.

In my late teens and into my early twenties- I thought I had it all figured out. Well-intentioned advice from my parents, older co-workers, teachers or mentors were met with scoffs and eye-rolls. They couldn’t possibly understand life the way I did, right? Wrong. As it turns out- those people who were giving me their (often unsolicited) opinions were speaking from their own experiences and were simply looking out for me in an attempt to help me avoid any pain or anguish that they, themselves, had gone through and bypass the difficult lessons learned in their own hard way. Once that humbling hurdle was crossed and I dropped my stubbornness and opened myself up to gaining new insight- even if I didn’t like what I was hearing or agree with it- I almost instantaneously noticed how much more perspective I inherited and how much I grew as a thoughtful and eloquent individual. Sure, I occasionally disregarded words of wisdom and faced my own consequences for it- but I still walked away with knowledge I hadn’t had leading up to it- and that’s a pretty good thing to have in your twenties.

19. But if you want to know a little more- is is never too late to further your education.

Sort of related to #20, but an important lesson I learned in my twenties was that it is never too late to learn something new and further yourself educationally. I bowed out of attending University when I was 18/19, since I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do and didn’t want to waste time/money being thrust into a major or a degree (and a career) that I might not necessarily be interested in by the time I graduated. I eventually returned to college and a legal studies major when I was 24- after much hesitation and deliberation. I thought maybe college wasn’t a good idea, that I was “too old” for it or that the opportunities that came with obtaining a degree had passed me by- and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I studied with people of all ages and from all walks of life when I went back to school- but we all had one common goal- we wanted to learn more and better ourselves.

My point is- if you’re not sure what you want to do- it’s okay to take some time for yourself to figure it out. Explore your options. Do your research, live a little- and when you’re ready- go back and attend that class, take your notes, ace the exams, and get your degree or your certificate whenever YOU’RE up for it- not when someone tells you to. You have plenty of time and it’s never too late to start or complete that journey.

18. The friends you have in your early twenties may not necessarily be the same friends you have by your late-twenties.

Upon entering my twenties, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I had about 100 friends I considered my “besties”. I was a social butterfly who went from concert to concert, party to party, and talked to anyone and everyone I could. Since then, my circle of trusted and true best friends has dwindled down to about 10-15, if that. I haven’t seen my best girlfriend from my early twenties in more than a year- and we rarely speak anymore (when we used to text every other minute way back when and hang out every single weekend.)

It’s not because I’m an unlikable monster (at least I don’t think I am!) but because people grow apart as they get older- and it’s okay. Marriages happen, children happen, as well as jobs and careers- and as people evolve and change and the things/interests/hobbies that once tied you together with a person or persons can seem not-as-important or interesting with age and life experiences. The best thing you can do is to let the changes happen naturally- and not try to solve/fix/repair/hang on to anything to keep someone close. Chances are, if you’re growing apart from someone- it’s because you’re growing as a person (and so are they- but a different kind of person!) and you will eventually meet new people who support and nurture the person you will become and whatever new interests and hobbies you acquire.

Look back at your past friendships fondly- not with sadness or anger- because they helped shape you in some way- and that’s a big deal.

And you never know- you may cross paths with those friends again in the future! Just let everything happen in it’s own time and pace.

17. Learn how to cook, do laundry, change a flat tire, file your taxes and other “grown-up” survival basics.

This one is important. As a twenty-something, there might be some pressure on you to be able to do an abundance of ‘grown-up’ things since you’re an adult and are expected to have some level of self-reliance, but I’ll make it easy for you:

  • Learn how to cook a handful of meals from scratch- not only to feed yourself but for those occasions (and they WILL happen) when someone or multiple people unexpectedly drop by and are inexplicably hungry for some reason.
  • Learn how to do your laundry because it’s YOUR dirty clothes and your parents/siblings/significant other shouldn’t have to deal with that kinda’ gross burden for you.
  • Learn how to change a flat tire on your own because it’s just a good idea and if you ever get stranded without cell reception or a AAA membership- you won’t be screwed. You can change your tire and get where you’re going- safely- as opposed to waiting on the side of the road for help to arrive.
  • Learn how to file your taxes correctly- if only to save yourself some stress and to avoid unnecessarily hemorrhaging money that should go into YOUR pocket. It’s a daunting task, I know- but it gets easier each time you do it and now there’s plenty of apps and services available out there to help you out with the process!

Other than those, everything else will come naturally. I promise.

16. Open a savings account and put an amount of money in it- big or small- every week. DO NOT touch the money unless it’s an absolute emergency.

I credit my dad for teaching me this one when I got my first job as a cashier at fifteen years old because the money I accumulated each and every week by resisting the temptation to spend all of my earnings on clothes or makeup really paid off when there was an emergency (car trouble, for example) or an unexpected bill or expense that I needed to make a payment for.

This one is simple- every week, without fail- put aside some money in a savings account that only you have access to. $100, $50, $20, $10- it doesn’t matter how much. Just as long as you do it every single week and don’t touch the money unless it is absolutely and completely necessary. This is going to teach you financial responsibility, priorities and budgeting- three things many twenty-somethings won’t learn until their thirties or forties (and after some fall into the dreaded credit card debt hole so many people get sucked into at one point or another.)

15. Get into a fitness regimen now before your super fun and super fast metabolism slows down.

Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be able to go out with my friends for a night of drinking and post-bar-hopping-cheeseburgers at 1:30 a.m. (like I did every weekend in my early twenties) and not have to worry about stepping on the scale the next morning or fitting into my jeans again- but those days are far behind me- and now I have to counteract any guilty, greasy, or chocolate-covered indulgences by busting my ass in the gym or eating salads and fruit bowls for four days straight.

It’s a fact- unless you have super genes- your metabolism is going to slow down a lot quicker than you expected in your twenties. Take it from me and take steps to prevent that annoyance before it becomes a problem (or an eventual and legitimate health concern.) Get into the good-for-you habits of eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, exercising regularly- and getting a decent amount of sleep each night. Not only will you generally look and feel better overall, but your body will have the head start it needs to start fighting off those excess pounds that tend to sneak up on you when your guard is down.

14.  Exfoliate, moisturize, and don’t forget the SPF. Don’t EVER forget the SPF.

If you don’t want to look like you’re pushing fifty-five by the time you’re in your mid-twenties, then you need to start taking care of your skin and you need to do it now. Exfoliate. Cleanse. Moisturize. Sunscreen. Those are the daily four that are going to slough away dead skin cells and germs, clean out your pores, keep your skin soft and smooth- and prevent the sun from ruining your gorgeous self with it’s intrusive-and-harmful-as-hell-rays. You don’t have to spend an astronomical amount of money for decent skincare products that do the job and do it well- and you certainly don’t have to hop on every overpriced and over-hyped trend that finds itself in the front window at Sephora. Do your research, browse reviews and testimonials- and don’t be afraid to ask a consultant or a dermatologist if you’re having any problems that might need a little something extra to manage (like acne or rosacea.)

Also- never, ever, EVER– fall asleep with your makeup on. You know better- and it’s just plain gross. Ew.

13. A relationship coming to an end, amicably or not, can be really tough- but you’re tougher. Hang in there.

Whether you’re doing the dumping or you’ve been dumped- the ending of a relationship can be a heartbreaking and soul-sucking ordeal to get through. There’s emotions, and history, and memories- and there will be points in the aftermath of a split when you feel like you simply cannot go on without that person- him or her- in your life. You might have questions, or need closure before you can move forward.

Trust me- you can, and you will- and you’re going to be okay. Better than okay, really. Take any wisdom and experience you learned from your past relationships and apply them to any future ones (like what you’re willing and unwilling to put up with, where you draw the line, your turn-ons and your turn-offs, areas where you can improve on yourself, etc.) Always remember that a healthy relationship is about mutual respect, building each other up, supporting one another- and bringing out the best in each other. It’s not about control, or fear, or manipulation- and if you find yourself in that situation- you need to do what’s best for you and your emotional/mental/physical well-being and get out of there. You’ll find someone better suited for you.

Don’t settle for less than what you want. If someone isn’t making you feel good about yourself or the relationship- leave. If someone cheats on you- leave. If someone cannot treat you like you are important or like they cherish you and all the goodness you bring to the world- leave. They don’t deserve you.

Also, if you are the one who gets dumped- please don’t ever think there is something wrong with you or that it somehow devalues you as a person. It doesn’t. You’re wonderful and you deserve the best- and you will find the best. The best just didn’t happen to be the person who left, is all.

12. Don’t fake your orgasms. Seriously. Just don’t.

I know this is coming out of left field- but it goes hand-in-hand with my relationship advice. Sex is a complicated, intimidating, and often weird thing- and even I still feel like I’m figuring it out half the time- but from one sexually active former-twenty-something to the rest of you twenty-somethings out there: make it easy on yourself (and your partner) and don’t fake it. It’s doing a huge disservice to yourself and to whoever you’re sleeping with because you’re allowing them to (falsely) think that they’re doing the job when they aren’t- and you should get that moment of awesomeness, too. Everyone should!

Of course, practice makes perfect- but so does talking. Communication during sex, even something as simple as “that feels good” to “that doesn’t feel that great” can make all the difference and improve the quality of bed rockin’ drastically. You’ll appreciate your honesty. Your partner will appreciate it- and your trysts will become a lot more fun and satisfying.

11. Even if you hate your job- work your ass off and continue to strive for something better.

I’ve worked enough crummy retail and waitressing jobs in my teens and early twenties to know that I have the patience of a Saint for putting up with kinda’ crazy customers and power tripping middle-management for as long as I did without completely snapping. Unfortunately, I know many don’t have that kind of resilience- but please hear me out. As terrible as you think your job is, and as insufferable as your boss/manager/supervisor and/or customers & clients are- tough it out. Be the best employee you can be. Come into work on time- bust your ass- and do your best to keep a positive attitude even when those around you are trying to plunge you into their level of despair.

Not only will toughing it out and rising above any workplace bullshit make you a better candidate for hire when you do apply for that job you actually want- because a strong work ethic is the first sign of a responsible and reliable adult- but your resume will look a lot better with a steady work history as opposed to bouncing from job to job to job.

You’ve got this. Just stay strong.

10. Travel as much as you can, whenever you can. Drink in different cultures, languages, art, and food.

I’m aware that traveling to a faraway or exotic destination for a month-long vacation may not be easy or even a feasible option for many- but when I say ‘travel” I mean to anywhere. It could be to an opposite coast- to one state over- or even to one town over. Just broaden your horizons and see as many places as you’re able to without breaking your budget. Try different types of cuisine you might have skipped over otherwise. Consider different types of art. Study a different culture’s history or try your hand at learning a new language. You don’t have to hop on a plane to travel- but I highly recommend opening your mind to other parts of your country and the world and compiling a list of the top 5 or top 10 places you’d like to see- anywhere on the globe- and then work your way to making it to each of them.

A trip I took to the U.K. ten years ago is still one of the best travel decisions I ever made- and one I hope to repeat in my 30s.

9. Trust your instincts.

Intuition can be a powerful thing- and it’s also something that needs to be trusted and not ignored or swept aside. If your heart/gut/instincts are telling you something is wrong- then there’s a pretty good chance there actually is and you should recognize that and think carefully about what’s happening around you before you proceed (with caution.) My own instincts became finer tuned during my twenties- and have never really led me in the wrong direction- be it avoiding potentially dangerous people or situations, making career and financial choices- or even just acknowledging “funny feelings” around my travels and tourism.

Your mind and your heart send you messages all day, every day. The key is to know when and how to listen to them. Once you’ve mastered that- you’ll trust and believe in yourself a whole lot more.

8. You don’t need a group of people to have a good time. Quality alone time is important, too.

There is an unfair stigma sometimes attached to those who choose to travel/attend events/dine out alone- and as someone who appreciates and cherishes her occasional alone time- I say screw that.

There’s nothing wrong with spending quality time with yourself and no one else. You’re important too after all, right? And being able to decompress, clear your head or just prioritize or put things into perspective free from the distractions of others (even your friends!) can be- at times- pretty damned refreshing.

Not only that, but I’m a firm believer in the idea that before you can be in a loving and committed relationship with another person- you have to learn how to be in one with yourself, first. What better way to learn more about yourself and truly be in the moment experiencing different things than by trying that new restaurant on your own, or seeing a movie or an art exhibit, taking a vacation- or even reading a book alone or going for a solo walk? Appreciate your time with yourself- and it’ll make your time with others all that much more enriching.

7. You’re going to fuck up now and then- and that’s perfectly okay.

Here’s something that needs to be taught by more teachers/professors earlier in everyone’s life: mistakes happen- all the time- but that doesn’t mean your life is over and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. You’re human- and just like every other human on Earth- you’re going to mess up here and there. The difference between a responsible and mature adult and an irresponsible and immature child is what you do when you make a mistake.

Here’s a tip: own up to it, learn from it- pick yourself back up- and do your best not to make the same mistake again as you move forward. There is nothing in this world that can’t be fixed with time, patience, hard work- and an open mind/heart- and a sincere apology (assuming your mistake hurt someone, that is.) Don’t let a screw-up ruin your ability to grow and become a better individual.

6. Go to the Doctor for checkups. Make (and keep!) your appointments with the dentist- and don’t rely on WebMD if there’s a problem.

Is there any worse feeling of pure dread when you look at your planner/reminders tacked up on your refrigerator and realize you have an appointment with the Doctor or the Dentist that day- or the following day? Or in a week? It’s like getting kicked in the stomach. Nobody likes making an appointment for potential pain or to receive any type of bad news- and in my early twenties I just opted not to bother with any of it at all for a long time. If I felt sick or had a question about my health- I turned to the good ol’ internet to help me self-diagnose and offer suggestions for care.

Here’s the thing: no matter what your symptoms are- be it a common cold or a UTI or a rolled ankle- the internet is always going to have you convinced you’re going to die by the end of the day. You need to suck it up and make actual appointments with licensed healthcare providers for annual checkups/cleanings/evaluations- and you need to actually be present for those appointments. A yearly physical, gynecological exam, visit to the dermatologist and periodic cleanings with your Dentist might sound like a drag- but you’ll be happy you stayed on top of your health in the long run. Not only will a clean bill of health put your own mind at ease (way better than WedMD ever could!)– but early detection of any potential health risks means you have a better chance of getting the treatment you need in a more prompt and effective manner.

Go make your appointments today- and keep them!

5. Treat yourself (occasionally.) You’ve earned it.

In between learning all of these lessons, working your ass off, and saving money- it’s really important that you treat yourself from time to time, too- otherwise- what’s the point? You have to stop and enjoy the little things now and then- and not restrict yourself from those same little things that bring you joy. Enjoy that cheeseburger or milkshake. Buy that new video game or outfit. Splurge on a spa treatment of a weekend away from home. You’re doing your best and you’re surviving one of the rockiest times people go through- you earned it. Believe me.

4. Not everyone is going to like you- and that’s 100% fine and nothing to stress out about.

A lesson I wish I’d learned sooner than I did is this one, for sure. I’m a people person, and with that personality trait came the unintentional worry about what those very same people thought of me. Everyone wants to be liked to some degree- but when you start to lose yourself in that eagerness or desire to please everyone is when there’s a problem. The truth is, I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, I know people out there who seriously dislike me- and you know what? That’s perfectly fine. I don’t care about impressing them or winning them over. They’re entitled to their opinion- just as I’m entitled to mine.

The older I get, the more I strive to surround myself with friends, colleagues and acquaintances who understand the type of person I am and who build me up and support me just as I do for them without cruelty, jealousy or just plain spite. THOSE are the people whose opinions I care about. The world is filled with diverse and interesting individuals with different ideals, passions, morals and values- and worrying about what each one thinks of you is completely and utterly exhausting. It’s also a waste of time. Find people who love you for who you are and don’t worry about anyone else. You’ll be much happier.

3. Don’t ever compare where you are in life to where someone else is in theirs. There is no comparison.

This one almost made the top of this list of lessons because of how often I saw (and continue to see) this happening among my peers. Do not, I repeat- DO NOT- compare yourself or your life with anyone else’s. Focus on YOU and making YOUR life the best it can be. That is the only thing that matters. Don’t dwell on so-and-so who has a great career and makes more money than they know what to do with. Don’t hang yourself up on so-and-so who is happily married with kids. Don’t stew with anger or resentment towards so-and-so left their material possessions behind to go hiking in the Alps or join the circus. None of it matters.

What matters is what you’re doing with your life and that you’re doing the best you can. What matters is that you’re happy and healthy. You might not be where you want romantically/financially/physically/career-wise by your mid to late-twenties- but that doesn’t mean you won’t get there eventually. Everyone goes through life at their own pace. Focus on yours and yours alone. Live YOUR life- and don’t focus too much on how someone else is living theirs.

2. Respect yourself- and don’t let anyone disrespect you.

Now that I have Madonna’s ‘Respect Yourself’ stuck in my head- let me just get to the point- this is a lesson that you have to implement now or you will regret it later on when you’re older because you’ll have more difficulty getting into the swing of this crucial and life-changing habit:


Respect yourself enough to put your foot down and stand up for yourself when anyone is trying to discourage you, tear you down, or make you doubt yourself. You are not a punching bag and you are not a doormat- and if anyone treats you that way- you have the right- no, the obligation- to defend yourself. Respect is earned, not given- and you don’t owe anyone any favors if they’re hurting you or trying to hurt you. Don’t put up with it- and I promise you- you won’t regret sticking up for yourself by the time you hit thirty. It will just be second nature by then.

1. Everything is going to be just fine.

Lastly, but certainly not least- relax. You’re not going to have all the answers by the end of your twenties. You’re not going to accomplish every single thing you set out to do when you were still back in your teens- and you’re going to hit obstacles and road blocks and question everything and everyone around  you (probably more than once) along the way- but it’s all going to be okay. Hang in there. Tough it out- and see it through.

Your twenties are about learning and gaining experiences- so get out there and do plenty of both!

 There’s other lessons too, of course- like drink plenty of water when you’re drinking plenty of alcohol, carry small bills on the outside of any money you carry in your wallet/purse to deflect potential thieves, phone-a-friend to stay on the line with you when you’re walking home at night or in a questionable area, how to tip properly- actively practice safe sex and take all the necessary precautions needed to keep you and your partner healthy, and read the fine print on any and every document you ever sign (and ask questions if you don’t understand it!)– among others- but I wanted to focus on the more mental/emotional/health lessons I’ve learned over the past ten years.

Everyone is on their own unique journey- but the above twenty lessons are what I’ve learned on mine so far. I hope they can help someone out there someday.

And with all that being said, I’m heading off to work for the morning before I kick off my official “Dirty Thirty” weekend with my family and my friends!

Have a great weekend, everyone!