3 Harmful (Or Straight-Up Useless) Thoughts I Had To Let Go Of To Build A Life I Love

1. That anything worth doing makes a good story. 

In high school, two of my friends and I always talked about traveling the world together. We’d flip through our parents’ coffee table copies of 1,000 Places To See Before You Die (THE definitive list for everyone, obviously) and add to our running list of everywhere we’d go. I thought that was the kind of person I wanted to be — a world-traveler, not tied down by anything, with plenty of good stories to tell. Then, I went to college. I was lucky enough to be able to go far away from the hometown I was anxious to leave behind (no offense to it), and I quickly fell in love with staying in place — something that’s admittedly easy to do when you’re somewhere as beautiful as Vermont. I took a few trips during my summers, but I loved where I was living so much that I didn’t even want to part with it for a semester to study abroad. After graduation, I moved to New York, where I’ve been staying in place ever since.

I make time for travel, but it’s not what defines my life in the way I always thought or hoped it would. Those two friends actually did go on a months-long trip exploring south Asia together, and I know they’ve also traveled extensively on their own, and probably have dozens of interesting stories — one even ended up moving to Australia! I can’t speak to their experiences, and from what I can tell, they both seem happy with where they’ve ended up. But so am I. I was always invited to join them, but at some point, I realized I didn’t really want to. Not only because I couldn’t afford it at the time, but I also didn’t feel like making affording it a priority. Sometimes I get a pang of envy when I see a friend’s Instagram feed chock-full of shots of amazing foreign places, but I’m genuinely glad I didn’t choose to go that route. If I’d taken a lot of time off to travel, maybe my life would look more outwardly impressive, but I probably wouldn’t have built a small but lovely life in one place. I have no idea where I’d be career-wise, what my living space would be like, or whether I’d be in my relationship.

(And speaking of relationships, the same is true for them, in my opinion. A good love story isn’t necessarily a good, healthy love. I always expected to fall in love by meeting someone in a miraculous way, and while I’ve certainly had a few “meet-cutes,” none of them turned out the way I’d always dreamed. I met my boyfriend of 2.5 years on Tinder, and while I love our how-we-met story, it’s pretty much the same one as every other couple you know who met on Tinder.)

2. That caring about your appearance is silly.

I used to be afraid of turning into “one of those girls” — the kind that spent hours in front of the mirror every day, who posted selfies on social media at all, who poured money into their skincare and haircare and every other part of a beauty regimen we’re supposed to care about. I thought talking about diet and exercise was what boring people did. I wanted to be low maintenance at all costs. And so much of that desire was rooted in my wanting to impress guys without letting on that I wanted to impress them. I wanted to be the kind of girl who listened to the right music, watched the right movies, drank the right beer, and didn’t make a fuss over whether her hair was perfectly quaffed.

But the trouble was, I actually do care about my appearance. I love taking care of my skin and wearing clothes I feel comfortable and confident in. I don’t want to aspire to be a certain size (though anyone is well within their rights to do so), but I also have to be honest with myself and acknowledge that I feel so much better when I’m putting in more effort. Caring about the way you present yourself to the world isn’t shallow or silly — it’s incredibly personal. It has so much meaning. So maybe my skincare routine has too many steps now, and maybe I spend a lot more on clothes than I technically could. But feeling confident about the way I look helps me in literally every aspect of my life. It’s one less thing I have to worry about, so I can spend more time on the more “meaningful” things. And making a few healthier choices every day (plus spending an extra 20 minutes in front of the mirror every morning) to get there is a pretty low price of admission.

3. That a better life is just one tiny step away.

I’ve had a few times in my life when I thought I was oh-so-close to getting exactly where I wanted to be without any real effort. For example, when I was 24, I got a job with a sketchy startup that promised I’d be earning more money than I ever thought I would in my twenties…until it ended up never actually paying me. (I’m not going to re-hash it right now, but definitely read about the whole thing here if you’re interested. I’m still deeply embarrassed about it, but also recognize that I was manipulated and taken advantage of. And for what real purpose? Still no idea.) I thought that finally earning “real” money was going to be that easy: someone was just going to offer it to me. And I should have walked out the door the minute something felt off, but I was so blinded by the idea of getting that easy life fix that I put up with some truly out-there shit because of it.

I’m sure it works like that for some people, but not the vast majority of us. Even I was born into a fair amount of privilege — I got to go to college where I wanted without taking on substantial debt, and I’ve always known my parents would be there for me if/when I got myself into a crisis. But the kind of work I wanted to do at a compensation level that afforded me the lifestyle I wanted wasn’t just going to be handed to me. I don’t like to use the term “working hard” for what I’ve done, because what I do isn’t really that hard, not compared to what other people do. I work from a cushy desk, or even on a couch, and I have plenty of time left over to do non-work things during the week. But I did keep plugging away, because that was the only way I was going to actually start doing work I liked. When I couldn’t find a “real job,” I started freelancing, and I kept on doing it because I had to eat — and eventually, it led to the kind of work I’m glad I get to do every day.

And this doesn’t just apply to work. I used to think that being a happier, healthier, wealthier person was something that just happens, but it doesn’t. Even my apartment — I love the way it looks now, but I had to wait a while before we could afford to move and found the right place within our budget, plan out every detail in regards to furniture/decor, and save up for months so we could get all of it. I adore my life right now, but it didn’t just appear out of thin air — it was the culmination of a bunch of different choices, and a lot of simple persistence.

Holly is the Managing Editor of The Financial Diet. Follow her on Twitter here, or send her your ideas at holly@thefinancialdiet.com!

Image via Unsplash

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