This week marks my two and a half year anniversary — a very non-consecutive week run, I should add, but impressive nonetheless.
It’s been quite a fantastic journey. Two and a half years ago, this was just a wish, a dream of creating something of my own. The task seemed daunting — how could I ever sustain a blog and come up with interesting and relevant topics that would be enjoyable to read, as well as recipes that people would be interested in making?
But as I learned at the Life Mastery Institute, every dream begins with one step — one step in the direction of that dream, followed by the next and the next and the next. Although I always maintained a vision of my destination (this blog), my focus was on the here and now and all the sequential steps that led me to this moment in time.
For the occasion, I decided to update my first year anniversary post, a piece that really spoke to me and was very popular with my readers. The premise: What If I could time travel and speak to myself at 18? What would I say? What would I want my 18-year-old self to know?”
Life lessons can come from the strangest sources, and we usually don’t see that it was a lesson presenting itself to us until much later, sometimes even decades later. I, for one, have always been a reflective person, trying to understand the vagaries of life and my mind is constantly whirling with ideas and thoughts — a good thing for blog-writing but not so good for getting stuff done.
So without further ado, here are 12 life lessons I’ve learned along the way. Lessons that I wish I could impart to a wide-eyed 18-year-old.
It’s Not About Finding Your Life — It’s About Creating Your Life
This may be a familiar quote (it’s by George Bernard Shaw) as I use it as a tagline for my business. But I think it’s so true. Finding is passive. It’s as if something is lost and that something (or someone) has to show up in order for us to live the life that we want. It’s out of our control.
I like the concept of creating our life. It’s about taking action, exploring all the possibilities and being open to things that we could never have imagined ourselves doing. And creating is an ongoing process, a continuation of learning, growing, and becoming.
Embrace the Fact that You’re Going to Make A LOT of Mistakes
Making mistakes is the best way of learning and growing. Mistakes are never failure — they are just feedback telling us, “No, that’s not the way, try it this way.” We’ll either succeed or we’ll learn something new. In life, it’s seldom about getting an opportunity; it’s about taking that opportunity and running with it. We’ll never be sure if it will work, but we can always be sure doing nothing will never work.
And that leads to the one mistake that we shouldn’t make — letting fear rule our lives and stopping us from moving forward. Remember, if we never act, we will never know what could have been, and we will be left standing in the same place, even if it’s an unhappy one.
When Seeking Advice, Be Careful Who You Choose
Opinions are like — let’s be polite and use — noses; everybody’s got one. People love giving advice built on their own opinions. The problem is their advice is based on who they are, not who we are. Yes, we want to seek out people who are intelligent, grounded, and have gone through a similar experience, but they also should be positive. It’s all about their attitude.
Experienced people will have an idea of the pitfalls that we may encounter along the way, but their focus should be on avoiding those pitfalls and succeeding. If someone is negative and has had a bad experience in a similar situation, they are more likely to present that advice in a negative manner and point out all the things that could go wrong. The unintended result could possibly lead us away from something that we really want to achieve.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
Many times, we are faced with a tough challenge and rather than asking for help, we forge on trying to do it all ourselves. There is no shame in asking for help. We can achieve so much more by working with others and getting the assistance that we need. As Margie Warrell wrote in an article in Forbes, “Too often we 'tough it out' rather than reaching out to ask for help when we need it most. Fear gets the better of us while depriving others of a chance to show they care and share their gifts.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
One of the utmost gifts humans have is the ability to inquire, to ask questions. As Mark Chernoff wrote in his blog, “Sometimes in the process of inquiry, the search is more significant than the answers. Answers come from other people, from the universe of knowledge and history, and from the intuition and deep wisdom inside ourselves. These answers will never surface if we never ask the right questions. Thus, the simple act of asking the right questions is the answer.”
Never Be Afraid to Say “I Love You”
Life is about connections to others. In order to flourish, we need the help and support of many, especially those we love. Any expression of love can put some of us in a vulnerable spot. But we need to know that vulnerability is a trait worth having. There is no greater regret than waiting until it’s too late to tell someone that we love them.
Everyone Is Doing the Best They Can
Maria Stenvinkel wrote in one of my favorite blogs, Tiny Buddha, “Everyone, no matter how annoying, self-destructive, or provoking they might seem, is always doing the best they can based on their mood, experience, and level of consciousness. I used to get angry or upset if someone was rude, pessimistic, or didn’t deliver projects on time.
Today, I know that I’m not in the position to judge. I don’t know what they battle. I don’t know what’s really going on in their life. All I can trust is that if I was in their shoes, I might do the same thing. This perspective has saved me a lot of energy that I previously used to waste.”
People are Not Clairvoyant, You Have to Tell Them What You Want
So many opportunities are missed because we didn’t speak up at the time. Whether it’s driven by fear, presumed protocol, or whatever stops us dead in our tracks at that moment, know that if we want something from someone, we’ll never succeed if we don’t speak up. People are not mind-readers. If we want a promotion or want a date or want a favor, we must open our mouths and ask for it. The worst thing that could happen is getting a “no.” A “no” won’t kill us, and it’s easier to deal with a “no” than having a lasting regret that we didn’t even try. Yes, it’s as simple as that.
The ability to laugh at our foibles not only makes us happier people, it also makes us more influential, more successful, and more attractive to others. When we take ourselves less seriously, we're able to see the humor in situations, look at the bright side when things don't go the way we think they should, and navigate through the highs and lows of life a bit easier.
And honestly, if we can’t laugh at ourselves, there’s a good chance someone else is doing it for us.
Learn How to Enjoy Being Alone
I firmly believe that this is one of the best thing that we can do for ourselves. So many of us are frightened of the “A” word — Alone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation with someone about how terrifying eating out alone or going to an event alone can be. One friend in particular told me about his trip to Paris. He went to meet friends but was staying in a hotel on his own. When dinner time came, if he didn’t have plans, he would NEVER go out on his own. Rather he’d buy some provisions and hole up in his hotel room…in PARIS! That seemed so wrong to me.
Although alone and lonely are often thought of as being one in the same, they really are not. Alone doesn’t necessarily equate with loneliness. Learning to enjoy being alone can serve as a catalyst for deeper personal growth and make us stronger and better people. There’s so much to be gained from learning to listen to and trust our intuition. Being alone is a perfect way to tap into that inner knowledge.
In a post on Psychology Today, Dr. Abigail Brenner wrote, “Being alone allows you to drop your ‘social guard,’ thus giving you the freedom to be introspective, to think for yourself. You may be able to make better choices and decisions about who you are and what you want without outside influence. Often, we are swayed by the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and behavior of those in our immediate sphere. Of course, you may ask others for their advice and opinions but ultimately, consulting yourself and making up your own mind about what you want to do will lead you into the life that’s best for you."
I personally wouldn’t trade my alone time for anything.
When someone is not grateful for something coming into their life (thinking to themselves, “It’s about time,” or “I can’t accept that dinner, or gift, or generosity”), they are living in a space of constriction and very contracted energy that ultimately comes from a lack of deserving. Gratitude is the vibrational flow and expansion that increases our sense of deserving.
In the Power of Gratitude, Kevin Eikenberry wrote, “Gratitude is an attitude. Gratitude is a choice. And gratitude is a habit. When we consciously practice being grateful for the people, situations, and resources around us we begin to attract better relationships and results. The habit will be strengthened as we make the choice each day.”
You Must Learn to Forgive
It’s natural to feel angry, to say “I’m not going to let that ‘so and so’ get away with that,” whatever ‘that’ is. However, resentment reduces us to our worst possible self, and, in some ways, puts us on the same level with that very person that we resent. This reminds me of that saying, “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
A crucial thing to bear in mind is this: as long as there is someone being “jailed,” there has to be a “jailer.” Being a “jailer” keeps us in a dark place; it’s exhausting, negative, and basically, jails us along with the offender. Forgiveness frees the one being jailed, but more importantly, it frees the jailer.
Try thinking about it this way — it’s about forgiving the person, not the deed; it’s not the transgression but the offender’s humanness and pain that leads to forgiveness.
These are just a few things that I would tell myself at 18. What would you say to yourself? What would you want your 18-year-old self to know?”
Cooking for Joan
For this week’s anniversary recipe, I decided to offer up a dish that could be served any time — breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner — the croque-monsieur (translated as "crunch sir")
Great croque-monsieurs have a few things in common: a single layer of French ham and Gruyere pressed between two slices of country bread. The bread is brushed with butter, filled and topped with béchamel — which makes the whole thing creamier and tastier — and the sandwich is then cooked on a griddle or toasted under a broiler so that the cheese almost liquefies and the bits of ham and cheese hanging out the side fall limp and caramelize. It should be rich, substantial, and salty and should be complemented by a chilled glass of wine or a refreshing beer — magnifique!
Prep Time: 15 min | Cook Time: 25 min | Makes: 4 servings | Difficulty: Medium
- ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 1½ cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ¼ ground nutmeg
- Kosher salt
- 8 slices country-style bread
- 6 oz. ham, (about 8 slices)
- 3 oz. Gruyère, grated (about 1½ cups)
- 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
Preheat oven to 425°
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foamy.
Add flour and cook, stirring, until mixture is pale and foamy, about 3 minutes.
Add milk gradually, stirring until mixture is smooth. Cook, stirring, until sauce is thick and somewhat elastic, about 4 minutes.
Remove from heat and whisk in mustard and nutmeg; season with salt.
DO AHEAD: Béchamel can be made 1 day ahead. Let cool; press plastic wrap directly onto surface and chill.
Spread bread slices with béchamel, dividing evenly and extending all the way to the edges.
Place 4 slices of bread, béchamel side up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet; top with ham and half of cheese.
Top with remaining slices of bread, béchamel side up, then top with remaining cheese and sprinkle with herbes de Provence.
Bake until cheese is brown and bubbling, 10–15 minutes.
DO AHEAD: Sandwiches can be made (but not baked) 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.
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