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.

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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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.
Ashley Fleckenstein