2014 marks the completion of my first two decades on Earth, and has been a year of incredible transformation. We added a new (and fuzzy) member to our family, I traveled abroad for the first time, I tackled an intense summer of too many classes and work challenges, and I saw the end of a long-term relationship. Even looking back to the beginning of this semester, I feel as if I’ve learned so many lessons and taken in so many new experiences. I added a second major and made the decision to pursue a dual degree, I built my first website, I accepted a new internship and moved out of the “home” that was the Office of Admissions, got accepted into a spring break study away program in LA, and a really cool guy dropped me out of a tree and has become a pretty big part of my life. I’ve shed a lot of unnecessary weight from my life, and made some hard decisions in order to move forward. This year has been a year of growing up, branching out, and learning lessons. In 2014, I learned…

…to experience everything as much as possible.

One of the most monumental parts of my year was my study abroad trip to Italy. I spent a month and a half living with an Italian family and experiencing Italian language and culture up close and personal. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and also one of the most terrifying. Travelling to Italy was one of the first times I truly stepped out of my comfort zone– right down to boarding an international flight alone. It’s difficult to articulate the impact my experience abroad had on me (if you’re interested in reading my attempt, click here), but it was one of those things that truly changed my view on the world. Most importantly, it taught me to experience every moment at 100% and truly drink in the world around me. Travelling to Italy taught me how big the world really is.

…the importance of balance.

Returning from my study abroad, I bit off just a little more than I could chew. I was taking two intense, accelerated summer classes, working about 38 hours a week, mentally processing an international experience, and trying to balance out a relationship that was no longer working. It felt like every moment needed to be meticulously planned out in order to keep on top of everything, and I was experiencing a lot of emotional stress which just made everything harder. Because of that, I learned how to prioritize and how to choose what was most important and valuable to me. I learned to pay attention to the stress I was experiencing to guide me to a more balanced place. I also learned that me + 38 hours of work + 2 accelerated classes + lots and lots of emotion is probably not an equation to replicate in the future.

…how to focus on my own needs.

I have struggled to find the balance between selfishness and self-awareness my entire life. Because of that, I often go the route of ignoring or pushing aside what I want or need from those around me, because asking for it seems too self-indulgent to be good. While I was abroad, I was away from many of the long-term fixtures in my life, which gave me a chance to forge new relationships… relationships that included a relationship with myself. Given space from the world I was comfortable in, I was able to really listen to myself and gain a new perspective on the life I’d been living up to that point. I had a chance to sort out what I wanted to keep and what was causing more pain than happiness. As scary as that was, it felt good to listen to myself for once.

As I began to listen more intently, I realized a lot of those things I’d come to accept as comfortable and familiar were not the best things for me, and were not helping me grow into the person I wanted to become. The more I listened to what I needed from the people around me, the more I connected with myself and the more I connected with the world around me. Once I got the nerve to start asking for those needs, I realized I wasn’t being selfish, I was just extending myself the same courtesy I’ve tried to extend to everyone else around me– I became my own friend. I have found that sometimes paying attention to those needs mean saying goodbye or letting go of things I’ve become accustomed to having around, but I’ve also found that just because you’re accustomed to something doesn’t mean it belongs in your life forever.

…the importance of believing in myself.

I am not an inherently insecure person, but there were a few situations over the course of the year that really made me question myself. After breaking off my relationship, I had a giant blank space in front of me– I had absolutely no idea what was next because I had become so settled in to one version of my future. I doubted my ability to craft a successful future as I moved forward into the expansive unknown I faced, but it was in that doubt that I began to find an even stronger foundation to stand on. I am a Lindstrom and a Marton, which is pretty much synonymous with hard-working, driven, and persistent (some might venture to say a little stubborn at times). I had a lot of questions about where I was headed next, but as I moved closer to wherever that was, I found stability within myself even if I didn’t find all the answers.

I am a 20 year old college student with a lot of life in front of her, and I most definitely do not have answers to every question in front of me… but I have become sure in my ability to get there one tiny success at a time. There are times when we all stumble a bit, but what’s a journey without a few bumps in the road? Casting myself off into my blank space has helped me become comfortable with myself and with my identity, independent of anyone else or anyone else’s expectations for me. I am me, plain and simple, and I am getting there– wherever there is. It’s been a beautiful realization to know that there is so much life and so many chances in front of me to make it everything I want it to be.

…the value in slowing down.

I am a fast-paced, busy person. I’ve packed a lot into my first two and a half years of college, and I’m sure I’ll continue packing as much as possible into the remaining one and a half. Experiencing all I can is something that’s extremely important to me, but this year has also taught me the importance of taking a breath and slowing down. I have never felt very comfortable with the concept of “wasting time,” but I’ve learned that slowing down and savoring a quiet moment isn’t a waste at all. Letting Tigger curl up on my lap after a day of classes or work instead of launching right into the list of tasks to do before tomorrow keeps love and relaxation in the balance of my life, and waking up slowly, staying in my pjs, and letting someone else make breakfast for me reminds me that sometimes all it takes to make a great day is starting out with pancakes and Netflix.

…how I deserve to be loved.

For a long time, I have struggled with what it means to let myself be loved. I’ve accepted what’s been given to me as what I deserve, which has sometimes been wonderful– there have been many moments in my life where I have been loved very sincerely. There have been many others moments, though, where that love has not been sincere or productive… in fact, there have been times when it’s been something else masked as love that I’ve accepted instead. Over the past year, I’ve learned how to differentiate between the two, and how to walk away from those actions that are not loving and that I should stop accepting as such. It’s been difficult, even painful at times, and it’s taking a long time to stand up for what I deserve from my relationships and to break the habits I’ve acquired over time that have hurt me. It’s taken a lot of patience from those around me and more importantly from myself, but through this (long) journey I’ve found many strong people who continue to stand by me as I heal old wounds and move forward.

This year, I let go of more than one source of this “bad love,” and for a while I felt some big spaces that I doubted would fill up. Removing myself from those relationships helped me to see the impact they had on me, the good with the bad, and gave me the opportunity to learn lessons I had ignored (in some cases, for years). It’s hard to step away from relationships that have become so ingrained in your identity, especially when you focus on the good and justify or ignore the bad you should pay attention to. Most people in my life have been good people, but two good people does not always guarantee good love. It can be hard to walk away, but I’ve learned that it’s important to fight for what you deserve, and fight for what others deserve. No one deserves bad love.

In many of my past relationships, things have seemed totally fine on the surface, and everything appeared as it was “supposed to.” If I’ve learned anything, it’s that just because things seem to be the way they’re expected to be, it doesn’t mean everything is perfect. Every relationship, romantic or otherwise, has its own set of idiosyncrasies and quirks just like every person does. The most successful love I’ve experienced thus far is often a product of these anomalies mixed with a little patience and TLC… the most sincere love given to me has often not been the product of bouquets of flowers or the perfectly delivered “I love you.” It’s often come from whiskers tickling me awake or paws kneading my lap, a surprise dinner on the table when I come home, a shared cup of tea, or a pair of patient ears demanding that I be heard after a bad day, even if it takes a little while. Being the romantic that I am, I have sometimes thought that the best love must be big and loud, but experience has shown me that the love I crave most is in the little, often quiet parts that make up a whole. I have learned that there is nothing wrong with asking for the love you need, want, or deserve, because it is when given that love that you return the favor even stronger.

2014 has been a year of many important stops along the never-ending journey that is my life. It was a year of letting go and also a year of grabbing on with both hands. I have gained many experiences that I hope will carry me forward to even more, and I have learned to speak up. Finding my voice has been scary, but it’s helped me start asking for the things I need from my life in order to become the best, happiest me possible. I still struggle to find balance within my busy lifestyle, and sometimes I still struggle to take what I need for fear of being selfish, but this year has taught me that it’s okay to not have it all figured out… and that sometimes it takes focusing on you for a bit to give the best to those around you. I’m excited to see what lessons 2015 will bring, and I hope the decades to come will be as great as my first two.

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