21 Things I learned Before Turning 21

  1. Don’t be afraid to love. Love everything and love fiercly and I promise that love will always find its way back to you.
  2. That being said, do more of what you’re afraid of. Some of the greatest things happen just beyond that leap – just beyond your fear.
  3. Find the thing that grounds you – whether it’s a religion, a hobby, or otherwise – and invest yourself in it. Everybody needs a crutch.
  4. Spend more time outside. Feel the ground beneath you and the space around you. Let the earth make you feel small and humble you.
  5. Learn how to be present – whatever that means to you.
  6. Decisions are rarely hard to make, they’re just hard to do. Trust yourself and your insticts and go.
  7. Practice empathy every chance you get. You never know how far a little understanding can go.
  8. Become more self-aware. Learn about the who, what, when, where, and why that make up your being. Understanding yourself is peace.
  9. The opinions of others should matter, but not the opinions of everyone. Find your circle, learn who your people are, and trust what they have to say.
  10. Travel. Even if all you’re able to do is explore the cities around you, travel. There is too much life to be lived and too many things to experience. To do it all in one place would be a waste.
  11. Take advantage of the dull moments. Journal, meditate, exercise – don’t let spare time become wasted time.
  12. It’s never too late to reinvent yourself. Keep evolving into whoever your spirit is telling you to become and don’t stop until you can sit back and think, “this is who I’m meant to be.”
  13. Be nice. Just be nice. There is absolutely no reason for me to explain this. Be nice to strangers. Be nice to non-strangers. Be nice to someone even if they’re not nice to you. Just be nice to people. And don’t forget to be nice to yourself, too.
  14. Understanding your pain is the key to understanding happiness. Enjoy both.
  15. Things are almost never as complicated as they seem. Just trust that some things in life really are that simple.
  16. Remember that you’re not alone. It may not feel like it sometimes, but there will always be someone who understands.
  17. If somebody wants to be generous, let them. Don’t always fight it.
  18. Make goals for yourself. They can be as ambitious as a dream job or as simple as getting out of bed. Be proud of every accomplishment.
  19. One thing at a time. Focus on figuring life out one thing at a time.
  20. Have a mantra for yourself. Let it save you.
  21. It’s always a good day for a good day.

A Lesson from a Mountain


In Krabi, Thailand, there is a place called Tiger Cave Temple, a Buddhist
temple that sits on a mountain nearly 1,000 feet high (278 meters to be exact.) The cave got its name from a monk who, when meditating, claims to have seen tigers walking through the cave. Ever since, the site has been a popular tourist attraction that only the strong-willed can enjoy… after all, not everyone is willing to climb 1,237 steps to see a temple.

When I visited this place two summers ago with my brother and a friend we were staying with in Thailand, I was feeling disheartened about my journey. I had spent two years working and saving to fly my brother and I out to Thailand, but after being there for some time, I realized how difficult it was being in such a new place. Nobody spoke English. The food was not my favorite. I was always hot and always tired. It was all so new and overwhelming that I began to think I may not have been cut out for this adventure. I remember lying in bed after the first few nights and debating booking an early flight home – my doubts about the trip were far outweighing the adventure of it all and I didn’t know how to handle it.

But I kept on. I had worked too hard to get there and I knew I would regret it if I didn’t tough it out and give myself time to adjust.

At the end of the first week, we all flew to Krabi to spend a weekend at a resort owned by a friend of the friend we were staying with. The resort was surrounded with mountains that were lightly painted with trees and had soft edges that made the view gentler. The first night there, we made a short walk to the beach and watched the sunset before cruising the market for some street food. The next day, however, is when the real adventure kicked in and we headed to Tiger Cave Temple.

We all stood at the base looking at a sign that says “1,237 steps to top mountain” and watched as monkeys danced along the side. Our gazes shuffled between the sign and the top of the mountain and back to the sign again as we took everything in.

My Thai friends are all laughing and making comments about climbing to the top – some have done it before, some haven’t. They go back and forth between speaking Thai and English, so my brother and I stand to the side and take in our surroundings. Eventually we all come together (everyone speaking English, thankfully) and huddle around the bottom discussing how bad 1,000+ steps can really be and judge the expressions of others coming down as some sort of guide to decide if we should go up. After some discussion, we decide to make the trek, my brother and I being the first to start and one person staying behind with our stuff.

When the sign says 1,237 steps, it fails to mention that these are not normal steps. Some are small and could barely be considered a step, others are six inches or more and require a heap to get up. It wasn’t long before my legs were physically shaking, and I was drenched (and I mean absolutely soaked) in my own sweat. The 100+ degree heat, 90% humidity and physical exertion made it impossible to do this climb elegantly and I fully expected to look like a troll when I finished.

Thinking about all those steps doesn’t sound like something too terrible and it was easy to convince ourselves that we could do it. But in the actual doing, it became very evident how easily the mind had played us. There were multiple times when my brother would stop in fear that he was going to throw up and swear he couldn’t keep going. Occasionally, I would sit on a step trying to rest because my head was spinning so much from dehydration that I could barely see straight (did I mention I didn’t bring a water bottle?). I encouraged him to keep climbing, keep breathing, and he can do it – words I told myself the whole way up as well.

Ten steps. After a certain point, that’s all I could do before I had to stop and rest. I would would take ten steps then sit on the blue railing that lined the path to the top and look around. The trees were so thick that there was no way of telling how high you were and the only way of telling how far you had come were the signs that scattered their way to the top to let you know how many steps were left. People coming down from the top would give words of encouragement, telling us how worth it it is to get to the top and to keep going. I would smile at them and sigh with exhaustion because speaking was not something that I could do easily at that moment. But once I could breathe again, I would climb another ten steps.

You’d be surprised how much thinking you can get done when climbing a mountain. For a while I thought about my time running track (partially how I regretted quitting because I was very much out of shape – something this climb made very apparent.) But more specifically, I thought about my first time running in high school. I remember sitting in the car with my older brother as we headed to my first high school track practice. I was training with the long-distance team, which my older brother also ran for, and I was pretty nervous. My only previous track experience was field events so running six-eight miles a day was going to be a challenge and I knew it. My brother was telling me about what to expect; what the coaches were like, who the runners were, who to stay away from, etc. Then, as encouragement, he said to me, “your mind is stronger than your body, remember that.” This was nearly six years ago, and I still think about that quote every day.

As I climbed ten steps at a time, I kept my brother’s words close. “My mind is stronger,” I would mutter silently to myself. With each step, I would push anything physical I was feeling to a place deeper down and bring this thought further out. My mind is stronger than my body.

100 steps to go.

90 steps.

80.

I had never felt fatigue like I did when I was pushing through the last few steps, but my mind is stronger. If I believe I can do it, nothing else can stop me. It’s like Louis Zamperini once said, “If I can take it, I can make it.”

20 steps.

10 steps.

Final step.

I made it.

Without hesitation I made my way to a water fountain that had a small cup tied to the faucet with a string. I drank diligently until I felt even the slightest bit refreshed and my mind was a little clearer. I became strangely aware of the fact that all my clothes had soaked through with sweat and I didn’t even want to know what my face looked like. I was disgusting and I knew it. But when I made my way over to the edge and looked at where I was, nothing else mattered.

1,000 feet up and I could see everything. The tops of the trees felt small below. I could see the sections of land that were busy with people and the sections that were devoid of people but dedicated to agriculture or forests. I could see other temples peeking from the green scenery, their tops of gold or white standing out as the sun caused them to glow among their surroundings. I could see the dirt roads that cut sharply through the land and disappeared into the green. I could see everything.

I sat down as others made their way up the final steps and took in the view. My mind was running wild with thoughts. I thought about the past week and how I had debated leaving and how now I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I thought about the past two years and how hard I had worked to get where I am. I thought about my older brother and his encouraging words. I thought about the steps. All the steps and how all 1,237 of them brought me to where I was at that moment.

As far as I can remember, my thoughts stopped there. They didn’t go any deeper and I didn’t push for them to, I just brought myself back to the moment and found peace in the present. But as I reflect on my life now and I look back at my journey then, I realize the importance of everything I went through. I didn’t know it then, but I learned that sometimes in life, whether you can see your progress or not, whether you’re tired or not, whether you think you can make it or not, you just have to keep climbing.

Your mind is stronger than your body, and this mountain you’re climbing has nothing on your mind. Let its steep steps and willingness not to be climbed strengthen you. Let the ache in your body drive you. Let the doubts in your mind feul you. When the time comes, you will be humbled by the view from above. 

Choices

I’ve come to learn that we have a lot more control over our life than we think. Sure, we can’t control the choices or actions of others. Yes, the workings of the world around us are out of our hands. But we control our actions and our perceptions, and that’s a lot.

So, if you want to do something, do it. Maybe it will take time and hard work, but it can be done if you prioritize it and try.

If you want to be someone, be them. I don’t mean someone else, but merely a better version of yourself. The only one standing between who you are and who you want to be is you.

If you want to accomplish your dreams, keep pursuing them no matter how hard it gets or how crazy people think you are. You must be fearless in your pursuit.

Choose to be fearless.

Choose to be happy.

Choose to be you.

It’s like the wise Dr. Seuss once said, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Perspective

As spring break is in full gear for students everywhere, social media seems to be overtaken by pictures of the beach or videos of friends in exotic places. I remember clicking through photos of sandy beaches and palm trees as I sat outside… in a lawn chair… with five inches of snow at my feet and a fire as the only thing keeping me warm(ish). Needless to say, my spring break was a little different than some of my friends back home. I mean, who could turn down camping in southern Indiana in the middle of a snowstorm? It was obviously a well thought-out plan. My friends and I spent the entire trip joking and laughing about every little situation we got ourselves into (like pushing a van out of the mud at 10 a.m. or forgetting to pack lunch for a 6+ mile hike), which made the memories even greater. But at the beginning of the trip, my friend said something to me that really stuck. She mentioned how some things seem a lot bigger when you’re up close, but as soon as you step away, suddenly they’re not so large.

Maybe you think that’s profound or maybe you think it’s ridiculous, but either way, I loved it (shout out to you, Riley!). We went camping at Clifty Falls, which is right on the border of Indiana and Kentucky and very close to some smoke stacks that were part of an energy plant. From our campsite, you could see the stacks peeking through the tops of the trees, but they seemed so small and distant. But once we started our hike and were standing right next to the stacks, we realized just how large they really were. It was like being in a big city for the first time and realizing that pictures will never do justice for the enormous skyscrapers towering over you. Whether I was standing next to these smoke stacks or passing a waterfall or sitting at the top of the trail as I looked at the land beneath me, I couldn’t help but to think about perspective. I started to think about times where I was faced with a problem that felt as if it was towering over me in the same way those smoke stacks were. A problem that, when looking at it, made me feel uneasily small and insignificant. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt like that – who has felt helpless in the shadow of a problem looming over them. But then, like Riley said, as soon as you put things into perspective and take a few steps back, that thing is no longer as big and scary as it was up close.

I think the reason I like this so much is because we seem to quickly put things into a perspective that enhances what we see, rather than diminishes it (or maybe that’s just me?) We put our problems under a magnified glass expecting to solve them that way, rather than taking a step back and changing our perspective. Maybe that mountain you’re facing isn’t really a mountain at all, but you’re standing too close to see how to get around it.

I could have easily examined everything that happened on that trip through a lens that made the bad seem worse and the great seem not so good, but I didn’t. I changed my perspective, and even though I could barely feel my toes and I constantly smelled like fire, I saw the trip as something wonderful.

Take a step back.

Change your perspective.

Who am I

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

 

My name is Erin and I am a lover of all things travel, writing, and dreaming, though not necessarily in that order. I am a college student with no prospects of becoming the next Ernest Hemingway or any other famous writer, and I don’t foresee myself leaving as large of a mark on the world as Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. I do, however, want to leave something. So maybe that’s why I’m writing now. Perhaps the words I leave behind, be it on page or online, will stick and that will be my way of changing the world – even a little bit.

There is not a lot to who I am because chances are, I am just like you. I feel passionately about many things, such as the power of an educated mind, the love of a broken heart, and the beauty of a simple thing. I have dreams and aspirations, both realistic and unrealistic. I am very good at contradicting myself and I often get lost when telling a story. I love meeting new people and trying new things, and I am a firm believe that the best things in life happen just beyond your comfort zone.

I will talk a lot about life and share quotes and stories that I hope will encourage you one way or another. I hope there are times where you disagree with what I say, because that means you are thinking critically about the words of others, and that’s great. I also hope there are times where you agree passionately with what I have to say, because that means you are feeling passionate, and that is wonderful. But most of all, I hope that no matter what, at the end of the day, you are left with a constant reminder that it is always a good day for a good day.

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