CultureEducation

Studying abroad was the absolute best decision I made in college. The idea popped into my head during my third year, and I headed for England just four months later. At 21 years old, I packed my bags and sat alone at the airport, excited and scared of what I (sort of) impulsively got myself into. I went to the University of Worcester in England for the Spring 2011 semester, where I stayed in a dorm with other international students. At the time, I thought the best part of it all was the absolute freedom to travel.

Flash-forward to almost five years later, I look back and realize that my experiences shaped exactly who and where I am today. It wasn’t just about the places I visited or the pictures I took; it was about growing up and learning from my mistakes. Here are three life lessons I learned from studying abroad, and reasons why I will always be grateful to have gone.

Ride the wave. You can try to plan and strategize everything you do, but often times, it won’t work out that way. We hear this all the time but it’s hard to conceptualize it until you’re out of college and living in the real world. When I was traveling abroad, there were flights I missed, things I forgot to pack, and money that I lost – and it all felt like the worst thing ever. I went nuts trying to figure my way out around problems, but ultimately I learned to be more flexible, innovative, and adaptive with my solutions. In your personal and professional life, many unexpected things happen and it makes no difference whether you can control them or not. It’s important to be willing to adapt to a new company, boss, or change the relationships you’re in and the career you are set on having. While it’s good to have a blueprint the next ten years, the truth is that good luck happens just as much as bad luck. Just keep moving forward.

You are a little freckle on the face of the earth. We always get told that everyone’s different and we shouldn’t judge anyone. But exposing yourself to different cultures makes you realize that your judgments and assumptions of others are only based on social standards that you grew up with. Whether they were instilled by your parents or friends, it’s all you know. Traveling and interacting with people that are totally different allows you to understand that the ideals you’ve been taught are not the only ones that exist – and you may not agree with them. What you always thought was “right” perhaps isn’t. Once you truly internalize what all of that means, the more you’ll be able to think for yourself. Opening your mind to the reality that people, many people, exist outside your bubble (your friends/town/country), the better you’ll be at accepting others despite your opinions of them. This characteristic is not only crucial to your personal development, but in your professional growth as well. No matter what industry you’re in, you’ll be exposed to people from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s not a matter of knowing everything about them, but a matter of having a respect for their differences.

Everything has a deadline. When you’re young, it’s easy to feel invincible and think everything lasts forever. This is because the transition between grammar school, high school, and college aren’t really that drastic; they all consist of classrooms, textbooks, summer vacations – the list goes on. You go through the motions with your friends and it seems like your 30th birthday is literally never going to happen. When I headed home from the U.K., I realized how quickly life passes by. One week I was at the Cliffs of Moher, the next I was camping out for Will and Kate’s royal wedding, and then suddenly I was just sitting on my couch watching TV in New Jersey. Now, at 26 years old, I can’t even process the fact that my early twenties are gone. Though it’s common to want to fast-forward to a future event (whether it’s graduating or turning 21), it’s important to stop and appreciate the here and now. One day, you might be wishing you were right where you are at this moment.

As someone who is all about making mistakes and experiencing things on my own, I am the first to say that reading about life lessons isn’t even close to learning them. But if there’s anything I hope people will gain by reading this, it’s to look for something to take a chance on while there’s time (and to obviously study abroad if you can). It’s not just about making new memories, it’s about changing yourself for the better, too.

Image: Flickr

CultureEducationExploreWellness

If you’re anything like me, you’ve read a ton of articles about finding the right career path or how to pursue your goals. You know the articles I’m talking about right? The ones that list pointers and ask you to write down what you’re good at (you have no idea), your interests (Netflix?), and visualize your ideal work environment (wherever you get paid). Then they tell you to “go for it” and “have courage” because the future is yours! It all sounds dramatic and you write down a solid to-do list, and you’re like heck yes. You take a second to check Facebook, text some friends, and a few hours later, your roadmap to success has transformed into another scrap of paper. You’re over it.

For some people, finding their passion came naturally. They sang in talent shows before they could even walk and now they’re on Broadway. Meanwhile, you’re having a quarter-life crisis wondering why you haven’t figured it out yet. Deep down, you do want to have those sleepless nights with bags under your eyes, working toward something you love. The issue isn’t your willingness for grit, it’s that you don’t even know where to start.

The truth is, it’s easy to get caught up in what you think you’re supposed to do or where to be – especially when your parents have expectations or when the goal is based on the size of your paycheck. On top of that, social media makes you painfully aware of the differences between your life and the lives of others. But it’s okay to be unsure of where you’re going. It’s okay that you don’t want the same things other people do. In fact, not all dreams should be pursued, and not all passions should be made into a career. On the flip side, just because something isn’t a career path doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it for the sake of pure enjoyment. The best part of not knowing exactly where to go or what to do, is just that – you don’t know where to go! It doesn’t have to be dreadful or frustrating, it should make you excited about life.

Fortunately, there are a million ways to stumble upon your dreams. Personally, I’m a big fan of wandering. This doesn’t mean you have to travel the world because let’s be honest, that’s pretty unrealistic. You’re not Julia Roberts in Eat.Pray.Love. What I mean by wandering is simply being open to what’s new and interesting, whatever that may be. If you’re in school, check out some new clubs. Not in school? Join Groupon & try new activities! Pick a non-profit that you believe in and volunteer! I think one of the best things you can do is to conduct as many informational interviews as possible. Expand your network. Not only can you gain mentors this way, but it will help you learn (without experiencing it firsthand) if the path could be right for you.

Think of this as a deductive process: keep checking things off that you don’t like, and as a result, you’ll be many steps closer to finding what you’re looking for. Safe to say, this is not a passive kind of wandering. You have to make sure that you wander honestly and unapologetically.

By that, I mean it’s not always fun or easy. Many times when people talk about pursuing dreams, they paint a pretty picture: Follow your heart, work hard, and you’ll live happily ever after. Yeah, sure. What I never read about is the emotional toll it takes on you and your relationships. You may find yourself feeling guilty, anxious, or even wrong when making decisions that are for you, and not anyone else. It’s the scariest thing on earth, but that comes with the territory. You can’t find your passion by lying to yourself.

While you are beginning to change and finding your place in the world, the people you love may not be down for the ride. You can’t blame them – they didn’t sign up for it, they didn’t agree to it, and it’s not their path. Because of that, their opinions can hold you back despite their best intentions. The more you grow, mature, and learn more about yourself, the more you may realize that some people around you aren’t meant to stick around. Brace yourself for the possibility that you may have to go through the journey without their blessing, but it’s only meant to make room for new people who deserve to be in your present and future. That’s not a comfortable idea, especially when “where you are” isn’t even bad at all. But if you want to be 80-years-old and in awe of the life you’ve lived, settling won’t get you there.

I can’t say there’s a “right” or “better” way to handle those situations, because the solution lies in your own personality, values, and what you can handle. All I can say is try to make the right decisions for you and be prepared to trust them wholeheartedly when they are questioned. Trust that they will lead you to where you belong. Trust that they will cultivate a life filled with love and genuine happiness in whatever path they take you. Trust that by being yourself, you will naturally attract others similar to you, and will push you to be better at whatever it is you embark upon. Success and happiness is different for everyone, so define yours. Just look at that girl who quit her $95k job to live on an island.

There’s a famous saying, “If you don’t write your own story, someone else will.” So make some big decisions and make some small ones that feel purposeful and fulfilling to you. Learn to take one fearful step in front of the other, and I promise the next step will be less wobbly than the last.

Image: Unsplash

Education

As the saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Building up courage after failure can be difficult. Overcoming the disappointment of failure seems impossible. Learning to try again after failure is hard because your attempts are weighed down with doubt and hurt. Trying again requires facing your mistakes so you do not repeat them. It can be daunting, but it can be done.

I experienced failure during my sophomore year of high school, when I fell very ill on the last day of finals. By my last final of the day, I had just managed to sign my name at the top of my math test when I ran to the bathroom. I stayed there until school was out because I was too sick to go back to class. Because I couldn’t go back to class, I failed the class and would have to take it over. It was crushing. I felt sure that I would have passed the test and the class had I not been sick. Yet, this is the way things happened.

Though my failure felt out of my hands, what happened next was all up to me. At our school, we had the option of making up certain classes by taking them over again in the regular school year, summer school or at the local college. You do have to make them up eventually to continue advancing. I put it off for a long time. I felt like it was a waste of my time since I had already taken the class and was about to pass it. It seemed like I would just be learning things I already knew. To be really honest, I was worried about putting in more time and energy and failing again. I was afraid of people learning I was a failure without an “excuse” this time.

I finally opted for a summer course at the college because I could not avoid it anymore. Instead of feeling bad for myself and sitting in class regretting why I had to be there, I mustered up the strength to give the class all my attention and energy, and I focused and followed every rule and instruction. I was never late and never missed a class. I gave it my all because I did not want to have to go through the same thing again. In the end, I had the highest grade in the class. I could finally put the whole thing behind me. It was a relief but more than that, I felt good about myself. I didn’t feel like a failure anymore because I proved I could do what I set out to do.

It wasn’t easy, but along the way and through my own experiences, I learned many lessons from failing:

  • Do one thing everyday that challenges you. There have been times I was afraid of failing so it took me a long time to get stuff done. It’s hard to commit to following through if you are scared. Learn to embrace the hard challenges.
  • If things don’t go right the first time: try again. Even if you have to keep trying, your efforts will eventually pay off.
  • Try to find someone in your life who will be brutally honest with you. It’s great to be self-motivated but I also have people in my life who don’t let me get away with everything.
  • Make peace with the idea that not everything will go your way all the time. It’s okay that it hurts when something bad happens, but you will not fail at life if you get a bad grade on a test. Don’t wallow in what you did wrong. Learn from your mistakes. You have to work hard and give it all you have to make it right the next time.

Through my life, I’ve found the things you put off have a way of coming back. Being afraid of failure has a way of holding you back. It is not just a matter of being held back a grade because you did not pass. Failing has a way of making you feel stuck. If you think that your efforts will get you nowhere, you won’t see the value in trying. An important thing to remember is that you can have failures in your life but no one is really a failure as a person. You can fail but you can always try again. So, face your failures. If there is something still gnawing at you, deal with it. Don’t let your failures hold you back because you have a lifetime of bumps and obstacles that will knock you down more times than you can count. What will set you apart and make all the difference is when you get back up and try again.

Image: Unsplash

EducationHealthSkills

Most parents seem to sign their children up for sports hoping that they’ll learn the importance of dedication, teamwork and responsibility, while “staying out of trouble.” Though these are realistic intentions, few people realize the true value of athletics. By picking up a tennis racquet, I wasn’t preparing myself for college athletics; I was preparing myself for life.

After nine years playing tennis and two playing for the University of Nebraska, I’ve come to recognize some of the most important things that I’ve learned over the years:

How to Handle Adversity

You may be strapped with homework, your coach is screaming at you and you’re running on four hours of sleep, but you still have to play tennis. Right? Well, I can tell you that the ones that choose not to don’t make it very far. So the answer is yes. Though being an athlete has its perks, the initial description I just gave is the life of an athlete. Something is bound to go wrong on a daily basis, but you have to keep picking yourself back up. You’re bound to forget about that day that your boyfriend wouldn’t speak to you, but you’re likely to regret the hours you spent worrying about it instead of giving yourself the chance to grow.

Choose the High Road

After you’ve played a sport at a certain level, you begin to see that hard work pays off. You’ve put in the hours and you’re now beginning to reap the rewards. So the next time you’re given a choice, you’re going to choose the harder path. Whether it’s doing sprints after practice, taking extra time to study for a test, or making amends with a friend even when you did nothing wrong, you understand what it means to take the difficult route. And you become a stronger, better person because of it.

How to Make Tough Choices

I’m ashamed to admit it, but when I was trying to choose which college to go to, I spent an entire evening crying on the couch. There I was, with several scholarship offers, bawling my eyes out. Most of my friends had had their “moment” where they “suddenly knew,” and I was distraught, simply waiting for mine.

But not everyone has that “moment.” In fact, I sometimes think it’s better if you don’t. I’m a realist and a planner. I had my pro-con lists down to every nitpicky detail, from strictly academics to which school had a Starbucks on campus. Though the lists may not have made my decision for me, they definitely guided me along the way. Not to mention, I conducted an extensive amount of research that I’m sure few student-athletes did.

But when it came down to it, the ability to make the decision was innate. I knew enough about myself, and the school, to make a decision I could live with. My friends were right about one thing, and that’s to treat it like any other relationship. It was the right combination of using my head and following my gut.

Self-Reliance

None of the benefits I just mentioned would be possible if it weren’t for one thing: self-reliance. This perfect combination of confidence and independence is what drives you to make tough decisions, run extra sprints and keep your head high. Throughout your entire life you’ll have people telling you 25 different ways to do something, but you have to stick to your guns. There is not one specific path to success, and it’s definitely not a straight line.

Courage

When Hemingway defined courage as grace under pressure, he hit the nail on the head. To me, this is the most important of them all. Being an athlete, you learn to handle high-stress situations, often when they are least convenient. You’re under the pressure of your coaches, professors and parents to do well, and it all begins to add up.

If I’m on the court, playing the #1 position for my team in a conference match against Northwestern, I can’t break down. It’s simply not an option. As an athlete, you understand when the situation is more important than your emotions. You understand the consequences and are able to register that it’s only temporary. To be able to evaluate all of these things in a matter of seconds can only be defined as one thing: grace under pressure.

I can’t imagine trying to summarize the lessons I’ve learned over hours of training on the court. Dedicating my life to athletics not only benefited my health and my college experiences, but also made me grow as a person.

Being an athlete forces you into the tight, uncomfortable crevices of life that most people aren’t familiar with. But in reality, everyone is pushed out of his or her comfort zone at some point in time. Athletes just face it earlier than most; sometimes earlier than they’re ready for. So the next time around, they’re more than prepared. Behind the braided ponytails, bruised shins and tired eyes, they’re becoming something bigger than themselves.

CultureRead, Watch, Do

Use the weekend to catch up on things you didn’t have time for during the week. Take a couple of hours for some reading, watching, and doing.

***

ReadThe Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. Keeping in theme with the Leadership Trait of the Week, Courage, The Alchemist is a true story of facing fears and the risk Santiago takes leaving his home in Spain to embark on his journey.

Watch: The Up Series by Michael Apted.

Do: Catch up with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

Skills

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, one of the characters accompanying Dorothy to see the Great Oz is the Cowardly Lion. Born without courage, the Cowardly Lion joins Dorothy, Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman on their journey with the hope that Oz would give him what he always lacked, remarking
“…my life is simply unbearable without a bit of courage.”

It seems appropriate that Courage is the first Leadership Trait of the Week since this is the week Carpe Juvenis launched. Launching this website has required risk-taking and courage, and while it isn’t always easy to block out the negative voices in your head, it’s important to keep moving forward to get to a place of confidence. When we feel nervous or have self-doubts, these are the 12 words of encouragement that keeps us going…

1. Stand up for what you believe in. There’s a lot of peer pressure out there, and whether it comes from friends or family, always remember that you have the final choice. You have the ultimate power to stand up for what you think is right, wrong, or somewhere in the middle. Even if no one else agrees with you, listen to your heart and stand up for your beliefs. To us that’s pretty courageous.

2. Make decisions. At the end of the day, making a choice and following through is courageous in itself. Choosing one thing and sticking to it can be pretty scary, especially when the other option is also enticing. By deciding what to do and making a choice, you are taking a bold step in a certain direction.

3. Speak what is on your mind. Don’t just stand up for what you believe in, but speak those thoughts. Get others involved, share your feelings and experiences, and voice the words you sometimes feel too shy to say.

4. Listen to others. Sometimes having courage doesn’t mean speaking your mind, but instead it requires having the courage to not talk and listen. This is especially courageous when you are determined to let others know what you think. Listening is pretty powerful.

5. Try something new. When you are on the verge of doing something new, it might be a little exciting and scary. It takes courage to do something you’ve never done before, but trying new things is a great way to practice being bold and fearless.

6. Forget perfection. The fear of not doing something perfectly can be so paralyzing that it prevents us from taking the first step. Once you accept that no one can be perfect, you will have a little more courage in making a move.

7. Take risks. Taking risks will always be a little scary. Exhilarating, but definitely nerve-wracking. In order to take risks, you’ll need courage to back you up. It takes courage to take that first leap, but the outcome can be so great. No risks, no reward.

8. Acknowledge your weaknesses. There’s nothing more powerful than acknowledging your weaknesses. Why? Because once you know where your weaknesses are can you start to improve. You can get stronger. Don’t kid yourself about your abilities, you’ll only be hurting yourself. Admitting what you can improve is not only incredibly courageous, but it will help you become more courageous, as you can take the proper steps to become even better and stronger.

9. Imagine the aftermath. If you are nervous about failing or the consequences of what will happen in a certain situation, close your eyes and imagine the aftermath of the event. When you visualize something in your mind, you gain a little more confidence and courage to actually take those steps. If you can imagine it, you can do it. Whether what you imagined actually happens or not, you have mentally prepared enough to build up courage.

10. Block out the negative voices. You know those voices in the back of your mind saying you can’t do something? Yeah, we’ve had those too. They sneak in when you least expect it and give you doubts about your abilities. It can be incredibly difficult to push those thoughts out of your mind, but practice blocking them out and spinning them into positive words of encouragement. You are the only one holding yourself back. Once you push out the negative voices, it will feel as if a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.

11. Control what you can, release the rest. One of the greatest feelings is realizing that you can’t control everything, even though that realization can be a little terrifying. Understand what is in your control, and let go of the rest. Don’t worry about things you have no power over. What you do have control over is your actions and ability to take steps in a direction that allows you to step outside of your comfort zone and be courageous.

12. Never give up. Learning how to have courage is a gradual process, and is one that requires patience. You might not immediately be able to face your fears or say something that you feel, but don’t give up on yourself. Keep moving forward and eventually you will overcome what is holding you back.

How are you courageous?

Culture

It takes courage to voice your thoughts and opinions, especially when you’re unsure if others will agree. Be brave and speak your mind. If saying what you think comes easily, then it also takes courage to know when to keep quiet and hear what others have to say.

To try today: say what is on your mind or listen.

Both are courageous and just might positively change the way you interact with others.