25 Things It Took Me 25 Years to Learn

25 has been a pivotal year for me – this stage of my life feels very adult in a way that my early twenties didn’t. As Adele so wisely wrote, the future didn’t matter then like it does now.

Like most of us, I’ve become more confident and secure with age. I’m proud of how much progress I’ve made over the years, particularly in regards to fighting my anxiety.

However, I’m still a work in progress. Many of these lessons I’ve learned I’ve had to learn over and over, and there are days when I feel super down about myself and unsure of my direction. But no matter how much we improve ourselves, we’re always growing and learning right, right?

These are some of the life lessons it took me a quarter century to learn. I wanted to share these with you mainly because I’m curious if you’ve had to learn the same ones, or if yours are totally different.

Table of Contents

You don’t have to find your passion- you already have passions.

Riding

This Mark Manson article opened my eyes to the fact that you don’t have to “find your passion”, as you already have passions. They’ve been with you all along.

I’ve been interested in writing, photography, history, reading, travel and languages since childhood. Some of my interests took longer to blossom than others just out of circumstance, but most I’ve had my whole life.

I’ve also found passions tend to branch off into other passions. My love of food led me to love cooking, my love of writing and photography led to blogging.

Criticism is inevitable, so stop trying to please everyone.

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Although I’m an opinionated person, I still secretly hate when people dislike me. And although I really appreciate constructive criticism (in fact I think it’s one of the tenants of a healthy friendship), I can’t stand when people flat-out don’t like me.

I think the desire to be well-liked is something that particularly plagues women. But ultimately we all, and especially women, need to stop trying to be perfect. Because no matter what you do, people will criticize you, so all you can do is stop caring.

If you want to be more confident, gain skills and life experience.

Diving

Like many people, I lacked confidence in high school. But as I grew older, and accumulated more skills and life experience, my confidence grew.

In retrospect I think I lacked confidence because I wasn’t particularly focused or good at anything. I’ve learned confidence comes from taking pride in yourself – knowing that you’ve done hard things and are proud of your accomplishments.

You really cannot change people.

This is a lesson I’ve had to learn over and over again. You can’t change people. This includes: you can’t change someone’s behavior, you can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved, and you most definitely can’t make someone love you.

When I was younger, this was a chronic problem for me. Picky eater friend who only eats chicken breast? Introduce them to Indian food and frog legs. Friend who’s depressed but has no interest in being happy? Be their personal therapist and antidepressant.

Needless to say, this isn’t a healthy situation for either party. The friend being “helped” ends up feeling smothered or criticized, and the friend “helping” feels frustrated and drained.

If someone likes you, you won’t have to wonder.

Paris

Over the years I’ve learned that if a guy likes you, you won’t have to wonder about his feelings.

And even if you find yourself charming, funny and beautiful – that doesn’t necessarily mean he will. As Dita von Teese said, “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”

An unexamined life is not worth living, but you don’t need to examine every damn day.

I took an existential philosophy class my senior year of high school  and it threw me into an existential crisis that lasted for years. For most of my teens and early twenties, I felt hyper-stressed about life, and constantly asked myself, “Am I living my life to the fullest? Am I using my one short life well?”

Needless to say, constantly reminding yourself that life is finite and that someday you’re going to die leads to feeling frantic and stressed. (But hey, it’s probably why I traveled so much. So that’s one benefit.)

I now realize that while you should absolutely examine your life and ask those important questions, you don’t need to ask them every single day.

No matter how hard you work, you can’t have everything you want.

Beautiful Telluride, Colorado in the Summer

Now that I’ve settled in Colorado, I’ve realized that I simply can’t have everything I want. There are days when all I want is to jump off cliffs and party on Thai beaches, and there are other days when I’m so grateful for my group of friend and fluffy white bed.

I’d love to have both a fixed life and a life of non-stop adventure, but I can’t. So all I can do is be grateful for the life I did choose.

And on that note, while there is something to be said about a life of adventure, but there is something to be said about a life of community. I’ve found long-term travel is like window shopping – you meet all these amazing people but you can’t take them home with you.

Intellectual starvation is real.

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As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that it’s as important to take care of your mind as it is to take care of your body. Your mind too can get out of shape, so it’s important to exercise it. For me, I’ve found the best way to stimulate my mind is a. hang out with people smarter than me, b. read challenging books and c. study foreign languages.

When you have to break up, break up quickly.

As most of us know, break-ups are downright awful. I’ve dragged out relationships in order to avoid breaking up – and frankly, it was a huge waste of my time and that of my significant other’s. Like ripping off a bandaid, it’s best to get it over with.

Nip anxiety and depression in the bud- they’re rabbit holes.

When I start to feel anxious and depressed, I try to immediately think positive thoughts before I slip into the abyss of anxiety. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, you should think of your mind as a harbor, and turn away any unwanted thoughts.

I find if I don’t fend off anxiety and depression right away, my mind spirals down into a dark place. And it’s much easier to nip negative thoughts in the bud than it is to climb out of that hole.

Gratitude is the counterpoint of anxiety.

India

This is something I’ve mused about before, and something I will have to remind myself for the rest of my life.

If you ever feel anxious, think about all the reasons you’re grateful for your life. Not grateful for what your life could be, or what it was – be grateful for your present self and present life.

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Bloggers love this expression. And for good reason- it’s so true, particularly in the age of Instagram.

Comparing yourself to other people never ends well, and usually leaves you feeling discouraged and sad.

Also dangerous is comparing yourself to your former self. I often beat myself up for not being as flexible as I was when I was in yoga school, or not as fluent in Spanish as when I studied in Argentina. Newsflash- none of us is perfect, and our abilities are always in flux. You can’t be 100% top of your game in every way at all times – there aren’t enough hours in the day.

The sooner you can accept who you really are and build your life around it, the better.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forced myself to be someone I’ve not, and for what? Nothing. So what if I have no interest in visiting Croatia and hate watching football? Life goes on.

Once you accept your own quirks and preferences and build your life around them, the sooner you’ll stop wasting time on things you don’t enjoy.

It’s better to be loved than to be right.

Um, I should probably get this tattooed somewhere. This is a big one for me.

One of my worst traits is that I love being right and can be obstinate when others disagree with me. However, it’s best to pick your battles. And sometimes, it’s best just let things go, as hard as that may be.

Loyalty to toxic friendships is loyalty to self-destruction.

Yet another lesson that took me forever to learn. You can’t stay loyal to friends who are bringing you down – it will only hurt both of you in the end. It’s important to try to fix things but it’s also important to know when enough’s enough.

“Comfortable” is often an excuse for complacency.

Comfortable is one of my least favorite words. I’ve had boyfriends and friends who’ve liked to be “comfortable” all the time and frankly, I find that way of life really boring. Life is too short to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings and live the same weekend over and over again. Push yourself. Try weird foods. Book the ticket.

Curiosity is the most underrated virtue.

Canyoning Vietnam

Curiosity helps us combat fear. So many times in my life when I’ve been afraid of something (scuba-diving, canyoning, etc.), my curiosity to know what it’s like has been greater than my fear.

(Side note- FOMO is also helpful for facing your fears.)

Be yourself, but not too yourself.

Being yourself is obviously a good thing. But being “too yourself” can backfire. In college I was eccentric and outspoken, and gave people advice they didn’t ask for. Being yourself doesn’t mean you have a free pass to do whatever and say whatever you want.

Regret and self-doubt are the two most pointless emotions in the world.

Regret does nothing. Ever. It just eats away at you and makes you feel ashamed.

Self-doubt is similarly unproductive. It causes you to falter, waste time and often scrap projects that would have been worthwhile.

So don’t look at your past with regret and don’t face your future with self-doubt.

If you have rage in your heart, rage effectively.

If you’re an ethical person and care about others, there are times when you should be angry. After all, sex slavery, terrorism and lots of other horrific things unfortunately exist in this world.

But raging against the machine without doing anything isn’t virtuous – it’s a waste of your energy and talents. So if you’re angry and want things to change, do something.

Sometimes doing the right thing is really dull, but you should probably do it anyway.

Monday through Friday I (try) to wake up early, eat a healthy lunch, snack on almonds, shower, drink water, work out and sleep eight hours. Is it the most exciting schedule? No. Would I rather be on a beach in Indonesia drinking a Bintang dancing to house music? Uh, yes.

But, as well all know, all of these healthy but boring micro-decisions help us reach our goals in the end. So as much as I might dislike routine, I know it’s important to help me become the person that I want to be.

Life, and people, are so much more nuanced than we think.

Black-and-white, sensational statements are what sell headlines (and blog posts). But over the years I’ve learned to have an open mind to almost everything, and do not draw conclusions quickly, as real life often falls within a spectrum of grey.

Discipline is overrated and self-forgiveness is underrated.

When approaching a creative project, discipline is vital, but so is self-forgiveness. So many times I’ve sat down to write and felt so discouraged that I gave up within a few minutes.

“As for discipline—it’s important, but sort of overrated. The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness. Because your writing will always disappoint you. Your laziness will always disappoint you.” – Liz Gilbert, Big Magic

I’ve learned what’s most important is to just keep pushing forward, and most importantly, not to judge yourself.

To create good habits, tackle one habit at a time.

Salad In the past, I would try to stop eating sugar, drinking beer and start working out all in the same week. I’ve learned that it’s much more effective to introduce one good habit a week (or nix one bad habit). I.e. going to the gym Monday through Thursday one week, and the next, riding my bike to work every day. Gradual shifts are generally more effective than cold-turkey pledges.

Take all advice with a grain of salt- you know yourself best.

In the end, you know yourself best. So disregard this entire post if it just doesn’t resonate with you.

What life lessons has it taken you a while to learn? Did you also feel like 25 was a pivotal year?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

46 thoughts on “25 Things It Took Me 25 Years to Learn”

  1. I am in awe that I have such a wise granddaughter, who can
    express her learnings in life so well. It is obvious that you are
    a profound thinker, a fabulous writer, and a superior person, and I do not mean that in a snobbish way. You are to be commended for
    paying attention, admitting your mistakes but not dwelling on them,
    for aspiring to be the best person you can be. I admire , love you, and
    am proud of who you are.
    Much much love, Gamma

  2. Salient and wise words for a 25 years young woman. In truth, reading and following your blog has been a whole lot of fun, I seriously can’t imagine how anybody can dislike Ashley Fleckenstein. To all the haters, they are the real losers. I 100% agreed with you, life is short, one must stay away from negative energy and embrace positive, healthy relationships. I wish you all the best in Colorado.

  3. I can relate to so much of this! I too do extensive travel but have settled down in Boulder and found myself thinking many of the same things you reflected on in this post!
    Thanks so much for writing this!

  4. oh wow.What a beautiful,insightful blog. lt has taken all my 88 years to learn many of the ——what?——-ideas, lessons,truths,you have spelled out so perfectly. your grandmother and I have used the “Would you rather be right or be loved” from the day of our marriage but you have passed on a litany of tenants for a wonderful life.Keep At it.You are such a joy.Love always. papa Lou.

  5. You have such a good way of expressing yourself! I related to a lot of this post, especially about struggling with routine. Some days I want to go to NP school right away, and other days I want to put it off for another 5 or so years while I travel nurse and backpack around the world after each contract. To the dismay of my younger self, it’s looking like it’s going to be the latter :) I turn 25 this summer, but I have a feeling it’ll be a year with a lot of (hopefully positive) internal change!

    • Being a travel nurse must be an awesome way to have a stable life and indulge your wanderlust! It’s hard being restless, but it also inspires us to travel so much, so I think it’s overall a positive thing :)

  6. Love this post! I think it’s important to reflect on what we’ve learned/experienced and how to leverage that to continue to grow as people.
    I can definitely relate to “Comparison is the thief of joy”. I think that is especially relevant in the social media age with people choosing to share/post specific things as to portray a certain image of themselves.
    One important lesson I’ve learned recently while travelling is the importance of finding what makes us happy and to pursue that happiness. Life is too short to be wasted trying to achieve someone else’s goals or idea of what you should be.

  7. Omg wow get out of my head; I felt myself nodding and resonating with everything on this list so much!! One thing I’ve really learned over the past year is the “You really cannot change people”; I would add a little corollary to that—You can’t change people’s behavior; you can only change your reaction to it. Great list!

  8. I love reading aticles like this – they are very inspiring. I feel like each year between 25 and 29 has been pivotal for me, there are so many decisions to make when you are a ‘grown up’. In the last 4 years, I have moved from Manchester to London, bought two houses, renovated two houses, sold two houses, then moved to the other side of the world – New Zealand!

  9. You listed things you’ve learned but, what are the things you regret the most? Regret for the things you’ve done and the things you didn’t

    • I have a lot of regrets but I try not to think about them that way – I think it’s healthier to position them in your own mind as lessons learned. I think regret generally just leads to feelings of shame, which are pointless. Hopefully that makes sense!

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  10. This is such a fun post. I feel like 25 has been treating me pretty well so far. I finally feel like I’m growing into myself, you know what I mean? I especially like your piece about intellectual starvation being a real thing. I have also been finding this with my creativity lately!

  11. Congratulations on reaching 25 Ashley, as 25 is such a lovely year to be!

    You’ve done fantastically well and are an inspiration to many young women. For that alone, you deserve a golden star!

    This is a lovely post and really there’a nothing to add except keep reaching for the stars, gaining as many skills as poss. and the life experience and confidence that you will have attained, will flourish ans nurture you.

    I don’t have any sisters and on growing up, others girls were utterly cruel as I was extremely thin, had three brothers and thus enjoyed the company of boys, was a swot (clever), wore trousers all the time, and had never worn make-up until my last year at university! Other girls considered me to be ugly and not worth their time. By 23, I knew that they were wrong.

    I’m beautiful. And I never looked back!

    Keep doing what you’re doing! xx

  12. I found myself nodding to each of these lessons that you shared. I’m not 25 yet (I’m 22), but the subject of time, my future and learning from my mistakes is always on my mind and it’s something that I think is both a good thing and something that drives me a bit crazy. I think one of the important lessons that I’ve learned recently is to not blame myself for having made mistakes because I’m doing the best I can and that’s all that anyone can do. It takes off the pressure of having to be ‘perfect’ and I think it gives more room for growth. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post :) x

    • So glad you enjoyed it, Ella! I couldn’t agree more – I often blame myself, especially retroactively, but I was always just trying to do my best. Self-forgiveness is so important.

  13. Everything is so, so spot on! I wonder how one mind can come up with such a great list. PS I recommended your blog to a friend and told her, “I know I don’t know her in person, but I can tell I’d like her!” :-)

  14. Really love this post. It took me 22 years to learn some things and some I still need to figure out. Sometimes the most obvious truths can be eye-opening when we truly think about them for a moment :)

  15. Ashley,

    I found your blog and find it truly inspiring. You seem to eloquently put down in type thoughts I frequently have but seem unable to express myself. You are an image of who I would like to be: a stong, inspiring and adventurous woman!

  16. This is a great list! It’s both original and yet widely applicable. Plenty of your quarter life lessons resonate with me as well. I’m glad I found your blog!

  17. I’ve had this post book marked for over a year now, and every time I reread it I find it even more true / thought provoking / inspiring. It’s so beautiful!

  18. Just stumbled upon this blog – love the article! I too am a travel bug and just graduating college so excited to see where I want to go in life – but these lessons are super important. Keep it up!

    xx

    P.S. Just gave you a follow on Insta too :)

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