Water, Binaries, and a God-Sized Hole

On a drive this morning, I passed by several churches of different denominations all with a giant cross extending from the roof into the backdrop of blue sky. I thought about the people who say that humanity invented God out of a desperate, pathetic attempt to make meaning and find solace from suffering. It’s an attempt to fill a hole, they argue, that does more harm than good. But I wonder why such a hole exists in the first place. If we were not made for something else, why do we so desperately crave something else? Something we can’t exactly name. Why do all our human attempts at filling this hole inside of us with earthly things (booze, drugs, food, fame, money, achievement, and people) fail us every time? Why do we always end up disappointed at best or devastated at worst? It’s like the saying: you can never have enough of what you don’t need.

So, did we invent God as a mythical idea meant to merely soothe our weary souls? It’s a reasonable question. Or were we born with a God-sized hole because only God can fill it? If God could be fully understood, would God be worthy of worship?

To me, faith is both balm and fire. My faith can be medicinal, yes, as it does soothe me. It provides me with the kind of peace and assurance nothing else in the world ever could. But it’s also fire. Something urgent and untouchable. A call to action and a call to serve. Not to bury my head in the sand. If I believe Jesus is who He says He is, then I have an obligation. If I am willing to receive this gift of grace, then I am obligated to share that gift of grace with everyone with whom I cross paths. And I don’t mean through ministry. I don’t mean through politics. I mean through humility and empathy.

This thought led me into thinking of the binary between scientific and spiritual. The seen and unseen. The logical and creative. Order and chaos. The irony is that they imply separation or mutual exclusivity, but indeed one cannot exist with the other. Male cannot exist without female. And vice versa. Order is insignificant without chaos. Science and faith are dependent upon each other.

So, I think about the question: are you more of a creative type or logical type? Sure, most of us have genetic propensities for one over the other. But I think it’s a moot question. We are whole people, made in the image of a God who embodies every shade of every spectrum. The tension we feel, I believe, is self-imposed from the lie that we must choose sides. We must be one thing over another. Why can’t we accept we are all of it? All at once? Why are we so uncomfortable with gray in a world that tells us to think in black-and-white?

The danger of binary is why we feel guilty when we experience joy during grief. Or melancholy on a beautiful, sunny day. It’s why we struggle to reckon with historical figures who did both immeasurable good and committed horrific injustice like slavery. Or when we tell our sons that boys don’t cry and tell our daughters to keep quiet and stay small. We are trying so hard to fit the human experience into neatly tied boxes. It’s like when Francis Collins writes: “The pure, clean water of spiritual truth is placed in rusty containers, and the subsequent failings…should not be projected onto the faith itself, as if the water had been the problem.”

The water is not the problem. It’s our attempt to contain and label it. And I wonder what might happen if we let it run freely? If we made more space for nuance. If we welcomed shades of gray. If we could tolerate paradox. Maybe we’d stop fighting so much. And stop yelling in comment sections and stop hating each other. But perhaps such a thought is idyllic and impractical. Perhaps that is why only God can fill this God-sized hole in each of us.

What’s the Difference Between Depression and Burnout?

I’m sitting at my desk on a Saturday trying to get work done. It’s November of 2019. But just like every day for the past three months, I can’t complete a single task. Just opening my email inbox has become painful. I have little to no motivation, energy, or joy.

When I describe this apathy and fatigue to a therapist, she says: “If we’re anxious for long enough, we’ll eventually become depressed.”

That must be itMaybe I’m depressedResearch shows that low to mild levels of anxiety can be normal and healthy; they keep us alert, safe, proactive, and productive. Manageable anxiety drives us to overcome challenges at work, propose effective solutions, and collaborate on shared goals.

But now my tank reads empty. I procrastinate on everything. I’m too tired to be anxious. Since anxiety no longer has a productive place to go, it disappears.

After a year of living this way, I decide to make a major career shift. I withdraw from my Ph.D. program. And for the first time, I have no concrete plans for the future. My sole focus becomes rediscovering what makes me happy. And then something amazing happens.

Healthy anxiety returns in the form of motivation. My passion to write and create is reignited. I’m inspired and excited about the future again. And from this excitement erupts a realization: I hadn’t been clinically depressed at all. I was burned out.

But what’s the difference? And why do we — including clinicians — often confuse the two?

What is depression?

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and impacts over 264 million people, according to the World Health Organization. Although depression can arise at any point in one’s lifetime (and more than once), it typically first occurs between ages 18–25.

Symptoms include depressed mood, anhedonia (i.e., diminished pleasure or interest in things), change in appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia, feeling worthless or guilty, fatigue, poor concentration, psychomotor agitation, and thoughts of suicide or death.

Although symptoms fall on a spectrum of severity like any clinical disorder, one must experience at least 5 symptoms for at least 2+ weeks to meet diagnostic criteria. Depression is pervasive; it makes it difficult for one to experience joy in nearly all areas of life for much (if not all) of the day on most days.

Some people can pinpoint exactly what they believe to be the cause of their depression such as a major life transition, stressful life event, or past abuse and trauma. It’s important to note that major depressive disorder is different from grief and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), although these things can certainly coexist.

Others experience depression and have no idea why. This can lead to feelings of guilt. Maybe you’ve thought “I have everything I need. I shouldn’t feel this way” or “Others have it much worse than I do”. But discounting the reality of our mental health only worsens symptoms. There are often other factors at play beyond our control like genetics and biochemistry.

The good news is that depression is one of the most widely researched topics in mental health. It is also one of the most treatable. There are many scientifically validated interventions and strategies to improve daily functioning.

What can I do?

1. Self-employed strategies

In some cases, it’s possible to minimize or eradicate symptoms of depression through self-employed strategies.

Changes in diet have been shown to improve overall mood and alleviate depressive symptoms. Increasing one’s intake of selenium (e.g., Brazil nuts, whole grains), vitamin D (oily fish, eggs), Omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., flaxseed, walnuts), antioxidants (e.g., berries, vegetables), and protein (e.g., animal or plant-based like tofu, lentils, and chickpeas) can improve mood and sleep.

The benefits of exercise in treating depression are also well-established. For example, one study found that depressed adults who began walking for 20 to 40 minutes 3x per week for at least 6 weeks showed a significant reduction in symptoms compared to a group that did not exercise regularly.

If you’re not yet ready to consider psychotherapy or medication, implementing a healthier diet and regular exercise into your routine has shown significant benefits. Setting and accomplishing small goals is also helpful in alleviating depression.

2. Psychotherapy

None of these treatment approaches should be considered in isolation. Indeed, many doctors and clinicians recommend a combination of therapy, improved diet and exercise, and medication.

I’m a major advocate for the importance of therapy in treating mental health. Research shows that people who engage in therapy have better psychological outcomes compared to those who do not.

Although cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common modalities for treating depression and anxiety, there are additional approaches guiding therapeutic intervention.

No matter which approach works best for you and your therapist, the process is designed to be a collaborative effort to identify unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors that may be contributing to your depression.

I’ve seen a handful of therapists throughout my lifetime and can personally attest to its immeasurable benefit to the quality of my life. No need to wait until you’re depressed either. There’s a reason we go to the doctor for check-ups, not just when we’re sick. It’s preventive. Here are some tips on beginning your search for a therapist.

3. Medication

Although there is still a stigma surrounding the use of medication in treating mental health, antidepressants can literally save lives. After consulting your doctor or psychotherapist, you may find it helpful, even imperative, to supplement treatment with an antidepressant. Others find their depression lifts over time without medication.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are among the most commonly prescribed medications worldwide. It’s always important to discuss potential side effects with your doctor and/or therapist. Since I am neither, this article won’t outline the pros and cons of antidepressant use. However, I encourage everyone to do their own research and advocate for their needs.

Ultimately, this decision should be between you and your healthcare professional(s). If you or someone you know is in crisis, here is the link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

What is burnout?

The term “burnout” was first introduced in the 1940s but was not systematically analyzed until the 1970s by a psychologist named Herbert Freudenberger.

Thanks to the research of psychologist Christina Maslach, three major clusters of burnout have since been identified.

1. Emotional and physical exhaustion

2. Cynicism and depersonalization (i.e., perception of observing oneself from outside one’s body)

3. Diminished sense of personal effectiveness

Other symptoms include fatigue, body aches, headaches, and gastrointestinal disorders. Cynicism may manifest through anger, frustration, or feelings of isolation. Changes in appetite and sleep may occur as well.

Unlike depression, burnout is not traditionally recognized as a medical diagnosis. Most countries, including the United States, describe burnout as an occupational condition. Indeed, this is a key difference; the cause of depression may be unclear or arise “out of the blue”, while burnout more clearly results from an occupational source or work stress.

One report argues the five main causes of burnout are: 1) unreasonable time pressure, 2) lack of managerial support, 3) lack of role clarity, 4) unmanageable workload, and 5) unfair treatment.

So, who is most likely to experience burnout?

Freudenberger (1974) argues it is primarily “the dedicated and the committed”. This is why those in the helping professions (e.g., physicians, nurses, social workers, counselors) are experience burnout at higher rates. These are roles marked by long hours and excessive demand of one’s energy, resources, and emotional capacity.

More women than men tend to experience burnout in their lifetime. Some studies suggest this is due to differences in work conditions; women make up more of the helping profession/human services job sector and have been shown to have, on average, less authority in the workplace.

My experience as a burned-out graduate student looked like cynicism, irritability, disillusionment, and dissatisfaction. I was emotionally exhausted and felt unable to focus on even the most mundane tasks. I had lost my sense of purpose, direction, and meaning in the work I was doing.

Of course, I didn’t attribute this to burnout at the time. I didn’t yet have the language for it. It seemed neither did my therapist.

What can I do?

Researcher and author Brené Brown shares she once heard a priest say: “If you don’t want to burn out, quit living like you’re on fire.”

We live in a culture that prioritizes hustle and productivity at the cost of employee or student wellbeing.

Unfortunately, because burnout is not considered a clinical mental health disorder like depression, it’s harder to obtain an accurate diagnosis and receive proper solutions.

When my exhaustion first arose, I thought the problem was me. I believed if I just pushed harder, worked more, and stuck it out things would magically improve. Or at least I would adjust to the pressure.

But I was wrong. Who wants apathy in place of misery? I wanted to feel alive again. So, after a year, instead of continuing to drown, I chose to get out of the water.

When I left the culture of academia, I regained my sense of clarity, purpose, and drive. I took my intellectual curiosity with me and utilized it in ways better suited to my values and goals.

It’s clear in retrospect that not only was I not the problem but neither was my burnout. The problem? A profession or work environment that doesn’t fit and leads to depletion.

Indeed, Freudenberger argued that since burnout is linked to undesirable job conditions, it should therefore be approached at an organizational level not just at an individual level. His suggestions include shorter working hours and more staff supervision, support, and training.

Quitting one’s job is not always the feasible — or even optimal — choice in many cases. There are other science-backed strategies to alleviate symptoms of burnout.

1. Prioritize self-care

This includes everything from improving our diet (i.e., meal planning over vending machine runs) and making time for exercise. We make time for things we prioritize. Those 20 minutes spent scrolling could be reallocated to a brisk walk outside the building. Five minutes of a lunch break could be spent practicing mindfulness, deep breathing, meditating or praying.

One thing I’ve started doing is tracking my daily activities in an Excel spreadsheet. In the evenings, I give the day an overall rating from -2, -1, 0, +1, +2. At the end of the month, I track how much time spent on which tasks were most likely to result in a higher rating for the day. Then I schedule my time accordingly.

2. Change your circumstances

This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to put in a 2-week notice.

It starts with consideringwhich elements of my job are fixed, and which ones can I alter? Can you delegate certain tasks to others? What projects can you put on hold? Can you temporarily work from a new environment or at home? Sometimes implementing these changes requires advocating for your needs to a boss or supervisor. Don’t be afraid to do so. It will likely improve the quality of your work.

3. Seek support

One of the hardest parts of both depression and burnout is feeling like you’re in it alone. There can be shame wrapped up in our exhaustion, which inhibits us from reaching out for support.

Research shows that support systems help us better cope with stress and improve our motivation. Support can come from anywhere: friends, family, colleagues, or therapists. It can also provide us different but equally important things such as emotional support, comfort, advice, information, or a new perspective.

Much like depression, burnout leaves us feeling trapped and helpless. But we get to choose how we respond to our circumstances.

It’s important to a) name what we’re feeling, b) take steps to change/improve our circumstances where we can, and c) establish connections to those who can help in circumstances we cannot. Then we will be on the road to recovery.

If it feels like you’re drowning, look for a life raft nearby to catch your breath. And if that doesn’t help, it might be time to get out and swim in new waters as I did.

Why Predicting Your Future is Overrated

I’ve been thinking lately about how the plans we make for our lives rarely come true the way we expect. Of course, this is something people tell you as you age. We hear teachers, pastors, and parents constantly say things about expecting the unexpected, as counterintuitive as it may be.

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans…” you know, the usual clichés. But I don’t think we fully grasp what that means until we have enough life experience, or at least one major formative event, to look back and recognize just how true this is. I know with an unshakeable confidence now that God gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want.

One of the most beautiful things about childhood is the wild imagination. To create fearlessly, to dream tirelessly, and to imagine wildly are all markers of the innocence of childhood. You dream about what your life will look like as a teenager, then college student, then young adult, then parent, etc.

As a child, I used to write because of the pure joy it gave me to tell stories. The prospect of using the exact same words and language as many others before me yet the story was new every time? It was pure magic. Stories are magic.

But as the years go by, some slower than others, walls form in our minds and our hearts. These walls are often cultural messages about who a young woman or man should be. They are societal messages about what success should look like. Sometimes they’re familial messages about what values you should have. Or internal messages about whether you’re good enough and why or why not.

Time passes and it becomes harder to create with abandon, to imagine without fear, and to dream out loud. I’ve come to understand it’s the walls, the barriers, within us that are often the hardest to overcome. They hinder our ability to tell honest stories.

How many of us have willingly settled for less even though we knew we deserved more? Or perhaps you made assumptions about others that led you to treat them worse than they deserved? Maybe you’ve doubted your innate abilities and gifts, pursued things for the wrong reasons, criticized yourself too much, or silenced your own voice out of fear? Of course. We’re human.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes and less-than-ideal decisions over the years. But from those decisions, I’ve gained important lessons, funny memories, and formative experiences. They weren’t experiences I planned. In fact, they were sometimes ones I actively tried to avoid.

Yet amid the difficult seasons, I’ve also gone after what I wanted by applying to and getting jobs/internships for which I wasn’t sure I was qualified. I’ve voiced my opinions in classrooms and meetings. I’ve been honest even when it terrified me. I’ve trusted God and accepted uncertainty. I’ve taken chances that paid off. I’ve apologized and forgiven others.

So, what I’m trying to say is the idea of life working out the way you want it to doesn’t even make sense. How could any of us possibly predict all the people we’ve met, lessons learned, heartbreak endured, risks taken, and experiences that have shaped us?

Of course we have some say in the direction our lives go. This is not suggest we must all roam aimlessly without plans for the future. It’s simply to argue that those in-between moments, the unexpected moments of pain or joy, are what make a life.

This takes us back to the best thing about a child’s imagination. Children don’t dream about their future to be certain of it. They dream because the uncertainty is exhilarating to a young mind. Their imagination is boundless. All the different journeys are equally promising, equally open to possibilities. Our imagination never abandons us. Rather, we abandon it. Often by accident, without ever knowing.

I’m at somewhat of a crossroads in my life. I suppose we all always are. We are always facing forks in the road. Different paths to take. We just might not have our eyes open enough to notice. We assume we’ve already chosen our path, so we can’t possibly change course now. But a child who dreams of becoming a doctor or a teen who contemplates becoming a scientist doesn’t suddenly feel locked into this proposition. No, they become liberated by it.

We aren’t supposed to become prisoners of our dreams. The moment our dreams begin to confine us is the moment we need to explore other ones. Nothing squashes a dreamer’s spirit more than feeling trapped. If breaking free from a confined life means quitting a job, packing up and moving, leaving an unhealthy relationship, or taking a chance on a new one, then by all means we must do it.

The only certain thing about life is its uncertainty. I know that’s not a new idea but accepting this uncertainty while holding onto our creative imagination for dear life is the only meaningful way to live.

I used to chase degrees and resume lines like they would ultimately define my success in the world. As if, at a certain point, I would finally feel like I made it. I used to view everything I did as small steps toward reaching “my dreams”. But looking back on the last 26 years of my life, my fondest memories occurred during the seasons of my life when I didn’t know where the journey would take me. My favorite, happiest times occurred when I gave in fully to the present and let the future remain a blank state.

I think that’s why I’ve been a writer since I was little. You quite literally give yourself a blank page and lean into it. You don’t know what will end up on the page when you begin—you’re not even sure while you’re doing it. You just trust the process.

And it’s only after you finish writing that you read over the pages and acknowledge what you chose to fill it with. If you don’t like the story it tells, you know there is always another page waiting. But, on those lucky occasions when the words arrive effortlessly, they become the lighted torch you carry when the sky darkens and the road dissolves. 

26 Things I’ve Learned in 26 Years

1. Fear is never a good enough reason to do — or not do — anything.

It has taken 26 years of life experience to draw the conclusion: what we fear most rarely if ever, comes true. No amount of preparation can fully mitigate the risks of living the life we want. If fear of the unknown is the only reason I have for not doing something, then I better find some other reasons. 

2. The characteristics or hobbies that make you feel “weird” or “different” will end up being your superpowers.

As a child, I found solace from chronic anxiety through storytelling. It began by talking out loud to myself, making up stories, and playing different characters. Once I learned to write, these stories unfolded on paper. It wasn’t until I graduated from college that I began to see the skills/hobbies/passions that emerge in childhood are strengths to be shared, not aspects to be hidden. What makes you feel weird as a kid is usually what makes you admirable as an adult. 

3. You don’t always need to know where the path is going to know you’re on the right path.

There is something liberating about being present in the moment and surrendering control of the outcome. To quote Malcolm Gladwell, “Every option is open to you once you realize you can’t predict the future. It’s only our desire to predict the future that limits our choices.”

4. How to forgive others.

It’s easy to play the victim. Anyone can do that. But as Buddha taught, “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Those who have wronged me rarely intended to cause harm, and ruminating on the ways I’ve been hurt only creates more pain. I feel physically and mentally lighter when I choose to forgive.

5. How to forgive myself.

One of the side effects of a life of hustling is an occasional lack of awareness of our impact on people. It’s important to take time to process and reflect on the ways we have unintentionally hurt others. Maybe these instances are romantic, platonic, racial, familial, or professional. Most of my interpersonal mistakes have been due to ignorance and selfishness, not malice. Although reflecting on mistakes makes me want to run and hide at first, diving deep into the places I’d rather avoid is the most meaningful experience. Self-awareness is the only way I can forgive myself for having hurt people.

6. When you show someone your vulnerabilities, they usually respond with empathy and vulnerability of their own.

I used to be afraid of vulnerability for the same reasons we all are: we can’t predict the outcome. What if telling the truth doesn’t go well? What if I’m rejected? What if I offend someone? Fair questions. But not good enough fears to avoid vulnerability. When I have chosen to be emotionally vulnerable with others, the responses are almost always full of compassion, gratitude, and reciprocal vulnerability. The key is to know your motivations for doing so. 

7. Writing is not only my passion but also my calling.

Sometimes we don’t view our passions as compatible with our career calling. I used to view my creative writing and storytelling as a side passion. Not to be shared. Not to be a profession. But my view has shifted because writing remains the one constant in my life. Now I understand that the thing I love to do most doesn’t have to be hidden behind the curtain. It can be front and center stage.

8. What it actually means to be brave.

Bravery is not an absence of fear. Bravery is showing up as your full self in the presence of intense fear. It is taking the leap despite every fiber in your body screaming to run back to safety. It is honoring yourself and your beliefs in the face of criticism and judgment. Bravery is honesty and authenticity.

9. How to listen to God’s voice.

You know that inner voice of guidance and wisdom? Some might call it your gut, the universe, the angel on your shoulder, or your intuition. I call it God. And when I’m lost and confused, it is the only voice I listen to. It is the only voice that is eternally reliable. I’ve learned to listen by silencing outside noise (including my own mental chatter) and make space for God to speak to me.

10. How to use my own voice.

I used to hesitate to speak up in class or meetings. But it’s better to speak up and have your idea shot down than to miss opportunities for your good ideas or thoughts to be heard. After learning how to advocate for what I want, stand up for what I believe in, offer an informed opinion, or admit a gap in knowledge, I’ve become more confident. I also recognize the importance of using my voice to amplify others’ voices who are being silenced.

11. The things that are most important in life.

It wasn’t until the 2020 pandemic that all of life’s distractions and interruptions were stripped away. I was left with only my relationships and my faith. And what I realized? Those two things are all I need to be fulfilled.

12. Life’s greatest rewards come from taking risks.

It might be a cliché, but life really does begin at the end of our comfort zone. For me, that has been delivering presentations to a couple of hundred people, interviewing for graduate programs and jobs, quitting graduate programs and jobs, sharing my poetry, and telling someone “I love you” first. Some risks feel smaller than others, but they all have the power to radically change us for the better.

13. How to rely on my emotions as much as — and sometimes more than — logic alone.

I became a master of compartmentalizing my feelings at a young age. I felt safer and more in control during conflicts when I didn’t engage in highly emotional reactions. But with any tactics we learn as children to function in our families, there are unintended consequences. Mine was a disconnect between what I thought and what I felt. I didn’t trust my emotional reactions; they felt primitive, unreliable, dramatic. I have since learned the importance of honoring and expressing my feelings. The best things in life — like falling in love — aren’t often logical anyways.

14. How blind I could be to my own motivations.

For a long time, I wanted to be a psychologist and professor. This dream wasn’t all for the wrong reasons by any means. I wanted to teach, mentor, help people, and work with college students. But for all the honorable motivations I had for pursuing a Ph.D., there were plenty of inadequate motivations too. I wanted to be viewed as highly intelligent and important, to be commended and rewarded for my work, and to feel that rush of pride when I told people what I did for a living. Mostly, I was afraid of inadequacy and incompetence. It was only after I left my doctoral program did I see these hidden, misguided motives clearly.

15. The importance of recording memories through journaling and photography.

I took my first international trip when I was 16 to Guatemala. Since then, I’ve visited many countries, and I always keep a journal of my adventures. Years later when I reread my journals or flip through the pictures, I’m reminded of many memories, experiences, and feelings that might have otherwise been forgotten.

16. Listening well is the best way to love well.

I used to wish I was more outgoing and talkative. But as my grandfather once said, “I find you learn a lot more by listening.” This is true. You also love others better when you listen. Most of the time people just want to be heard, not given advice.

17. God uses our hardships to get our attention.

For most of my life, I kept God at a distance, on a shelf where I could pull him down just when I needed him. But God doesn’t want to just be dusted off when it’s convenient for us. Would my best friend or boyfriend or parents be happy if I only engaged with them in the privacy of my home but mostly refused to be seen with them in the real world? God got my attention through a dark season of confusion and despair until I realized He needed to be front and center in my life. To me, this is the most compassionate, merciful way to get someone’s attention. We don’t think we need peace and salvation when we’re happy and coasting through life. We only recognize our need for saving when we feel like we’re drowning.

18. How to rely less on outside voices and advice.

Opinions and advice can be helpful. But they can also cloud our judgment. Too many contradicting opinions can confuse us. When choosing between what others think I should do and what my gut tells me to do, I’m choosing my gut every time. You are the only person who gets to live your life. 

19. Family dynamics have long-lasting impacts.

Who we learn to be as children to function in our families is who we become as adults in the real world. This is developmental psychology 101. Patterns of how we learn to respond to conflict early on, express (or don’t express) our emotions, and offer and accept love are not easily understood until we become aware of our family history and dynamics.

20. Changing your opinion or worldview upon new information is the best sign of intelligence and maturity.

As I get older, I become more aware of how tightly many adults are willing to hold onto their beliefs, even in the face of contradicting evidence. It’s as though a threat to one’s worldview is a threat to their character. But the people I respect most are willing to apologize, admit wrongdoing, and do better once they know better. I strive to be one of those people.

21. Traveling alone is empowering.

My first solo international travel experience occurred as a junior in college. I explored pockets of London by myself regularly and flew to several cities in the U.K. alone. It was exhilarating, slightly scary, and empowering. These experiences help us see just how capable and independent we are. 

22. You attract what you think you deserve.

When we don’t have our values straight, we settle for situations and people that don’t recognize our value. I’ve been in relationships before where I mistook pain for love. Only once I became content being on my own did I become more selective about how and with whom I spend my time.

23. One of the greatest gifts to give and receive is honest feedback.

Being nice doesn’t equal being kind. Trying to keep the peace by brushing over conflict is only harmful in the long-run. My master’s program in counseling taught me the immeasurable benefits of offering constructive feedback (strengths, areas of growth, etc.) as well as being open to receiving feedback.

24. Real love isn’t just finding someone who brings out the best you.

Young girls often have a fairytale conceptualization of romantic love. It comes from the movies we watch and stories we read. We grow up believing we must find a “soulmate” who will become our “other, better half” as if we were born half of a person. But I’ve learned that true love is a deliberate choice we make to share our already-full life with another person. True love is finding the person who helps you return to yourself when you’re at your worst. It isn’t just about picking the other up when they’re down, it’s holding them while they’re down. And then rising together.

25. Quitting doesn’t equal failure.

I used to think quitting meant an admission of failure, that you got things wrong, or that you couldn’t accomplish what you set out to do. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sometimes the most courageous and difficult choice we can make is the one to walk away.

26. Stillness moves us forward.

When faced with a difficult decision, my first inclination was always to research, make a pros-and-cons list, and seek advice. Sometimes these are helpful parts of the process, but ultimately you are the only person who can decide what you want. To establish inner peace and find my answer, I’ve learned to quiet my mind and sit still in silence for several minutes. I try not to think or weigh my options, rather I stay present in the moment. I strongly believe the answers we seek already live inside of us; it is simply up to us to stay still long enough to let it surface.