Back to School: How I Do It, Now That I’m Out

38480791_1855289797843170_5314351120548626432_n

I haven’t been in school since I graduated from Arizona State back in May of 2016. That’s just over 2 years ago (wow… let me pause for a second to let that truth sink in. It definitely doesn’t feel nearly that long!)

However, despite the fact that I have no reason to purchase such things, I always get sucked in by back to school sales. I’ve always loved school supplies — but I guess now I should start calling them office supplies. Or maybe that’s just another way to justify the obsession.

Anyways.

Like I said, back-to-school sales always catch my eye. How can they not? From the middle of July to the middle of September, it seems you can’t get away from the back-to-school advertising, no matter where you look. (And by the time you do get a break from that madness, all of the fall decor comes out… which is an obsession of an entirely different level, and a blog post for another day.)

This year, I decided that just because I’m not technically going back to school, it doesn’t mean that I can’t capitalize on the mindset.

I think part of the reason I’ve always been pretty gung-ho about back to school — besides the fact that as a bookworm I had an inherently nerdy excitement engrained in me about getting back into the classroom — is because August always feels like my New Years. (More on that in this post.)

That said, I rounded up my top three ways to capitalize on the back-to-school mindset, even if you aren’t on your way back to the classroom:

Replenish your supplies
We all have an office of some kind. Whether it’s in a building full of accountants and lawyers and other PR people, like mine is, or whether it’s in the cozy corner of your living room, like my home one also is, you’ve got a place to sit down and get ish done.

I’ve always felt way more productive if I treat my workspace like an extension of my home (which, when it comes to my living room office, it kind of is). I keep it clean and organized, and I keep its supplies as well stocked as I keep my pantry. That means pens, paper, planners, the works.

And who says you have to be a student to take advantage of the student savings? Grab those pens that are on sale for a dollar and treat yourself to a new planner. You’ll be amazed at how much more organized your life feels once you’ve replaced your dwindling supply of paper.

Set some goals – or check in on the ones you have
Even though it’s not technically the middle of the year, I feel like most people look at the start of school as the halfway point. Kind of like how people look at Memorial Day as the start of summer, even if that’s not officially for another month, give or take. We humans like to take the Gregorian calendar more like a guideline, apparently.

So, while we’re playing with time, you might as well use this halfway point as a check-in on any big goals you’ve set for yourself this year. Or, if you’re a summer birthday like me, or simply couldn’t decide what you wanted to accomplish on January 1, or maybe your priorities have shifted a bit, now’s as good a time as any to reset, and outline new goals for the coming months.

Besides, planners are on sale, so why not add one to your restocking shopping list, and plan out a way to crush the next six months or so? (Until, of course, more planners go on sale at the end of the calendar year. I’m not a big January resolution person, but even I appreciate that there’s two time a year where you can justify buying a new planner.)

Readjust your schedule
Whether you’re on a school schedule or not, summer throws everything off. It’s just a natural time for vacations (thanks to that aforementioned school schedule, which apparently gets engrained in our minds), and in most of the country, it’s a time to spend less time indoors — aka, working — and more time outdoors… unless you’re living in the desert, but I digress.

Regardless, it feels like no matter what, summer is a time when we’re all a little lax with our sleep schedules, our workout regimens, and our vacation time. So take advantage of the fact that half the world is now adhering to the ring of the school bell, and adjust your schedule to one that makes you as productive (and happy!) as possible. Most industries will be in crunch time until the holidays now — weird how that works out, isn’t it? — and while your kid-toting coworkers are adjusting their schedules, it’s worth taking some time to look at your own, as well. For me, that means getting a bit stricter with my running schedule and meal prep, and remembering to take my weekends to actually take a break.

Someday, I’m sure back to school will actually be a part of my routine again, just not for myself. (Side note to anyone that wants to pounce on that comment – that someday is still quite a ways away.) But for now, I’ll take advantage of the cheap school… okay, fine, office… supplies and the refreshed mindset of those around me to readjust and get ready to do some damage to my goals for the next half of the year.

4 Goals for 24

b7776118-c527-4bdb-a984-a628729ee576

The older I get, the more I frown upon the idea of resolutions. I think there’s a lot of unnecessary pressure that stems from the concept of a resolution, this gigantic thing that you have to do in a set time period. Don’t get me wrong: I respect the concept, and I know that for some people, it works really well.

It’s just not my thing.

I am, however, a big fan of goal setting. Now, I realize that some may argue that this is essentially the same thing as a resolution, and to that, I beg to differ, and I offer this counterargument: resolutions are measured by whether or not they are accomplished, whereas goals are measured by how much you have accomplished towards it. Say you set a goal to save 500 dollars, and you only save 430… you’ve still saved 430 dollars, and that’s still a pretty darn good accomplishment.

I’ll admit that perhaps it’s just a matter of perspective, but that’s how I like to look at it.

Perhaps the other reason I am not so much a fan of resolutions is because I’m not a big fan of New Years. Beyond its overhyped expectations, I guess I also never really saw January 1 as the start of a personal new year. I’ve always considered my birthday more of a time for reflection and goal setting, as opposed to the arbitrary day that the calendar changes.

So, that said, it’s time to set some goals because, in case you missed it, my birthday just passed (and if you somehow did miss that, you must be new… and in that case, welcome!)

Once upon a time, I set goals based on how I old I turned, but the older I get, the more ridiculous that sounds. I doubt I’ll want to set 98 goals when that time comes.

So, this year, I’m instating a new system, a set of goals based on four key areas in life:

Professional. Projects. Personal. Physical.

And, yes, before you ask, I did intentionally start them all with the letter P. I’m a big fan of alliteration, okay?

Professionally, I want to continue on the same track that I like to think I have been heading. Admittedly, this is the goal I am probably least public about, at least over here on the blogosphere, because those worlds are somewhat and intentionally separate. So for now, I’ll go ahead and leave it at that.

As far as projects are concerned, I want to grow this blog of mine. I’d like to put the effort in and reach one thousand Instagram followers and continue to share a message of balance between faith & life for anyone who’s interested.

Personally, I want to work on my relationship with the Lord. I’ll admit that I have fallen into a pattern of leaning on Him when things get tough, and pulling away when all is going well. That’s an unfair give and take, and that’s not how He wants us to be with Him. He wants all of us, all the time, and I recognize that – it’s just so easy to unintentionally credit your idols when life is going well. So I’m setting a goal to be more proactive and intentional about my time with the Lord in order to further strengthen that foundation.

And when it comes to physical goals, I’m a bit of a broken record. I still haven’t run my first race, and it’s still a bucket-list item. I know I physically can run a 5K – I do it regularly on a treadmill. For whatever reason, though, I’ve always held back when it comes to actually putting on a number. This year, that changes.

Four goals. Four main buckets, if you will, where there’s room for improvement.

Then again, there’s always room for improvement, isn’t there? We can always work on being better versions of ourselves, and whether it’s a birthday or a new year, or you’re one of those lucky people who is motivated to evaluate their goals and progress without a calendar reminder, it’s important to set a course for what’s to come.

Prioritize Yourself: A Lesson From My 23rd Year

August 1 is always a day of reflection for me. It’s the last day of whatever age I’m at, the day before I start a brand new chapter. With that comes the anticipation of what’s next, as well as the sweet melancholy of looking back at what has passed.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my birthday and I am happier than ever to see this next one come. So far, my twenties have been some of my favorite birthdays, earmarked by celebrations full of bubbles and love and milestones in my career and my life. Honestly, it’s been a wonderful handful of years and I can’t wait for what’s still to come.

That said, I like to look back at the past three hundred and sixty five (366 on a Leap Year) and consider what the world has taught me.

This year, the lesson is quite simple.

It’s okay to prioritize yourself.

This one took me a long time to learn. I’m a born people pleaser. It’s difficult for me to let go of the idea that something I do might let someone else down. In some ways, this has greatly benefited me and strengthened my relationships with my friends and family. I like to think of myself as reliable, as someone that will always be there if needed.

But in other ways, this has resulted in me neglecting my own self care, and as I navigate through adulthood, I’m realizing that self care is not selfish.

If you aren’t okay, how can you help anyone else be? 

In particular, I learned this lesson after my grandfather passed at the end of last year. It’s the first time I’ve experienced that sort of loss in my immediate family, and it was the second loss of someone close to me within the year. It wasn’t easy, to say the least. And while I remain bouyed and grateful that he left the legacy of an impeccable family behind, I’d be lying if I said I bounced back right away.

During that time, I had to say no to a lot of things, just for the sake of taking care of myself. I didn’t reply to texts as quickly as usual, I didn’t go to as many holiday happy hours as I may have liked. I needed time to be alone; I needed time to be with God; I needed time to be with my family. I just needed time, and for the first time, I recognized how important it was to put that time ahead of something, or someone, else.

Learning to be with yourself is an important part of learning about yourself.

When I emerged from my hermitting to rejoin the real world, I had a new perspective on putting yourself first.

Mainly, I finally decided to dub time spent with yourself as equally important to time spent in community.

It goes beyond that, though, of course, because we’re never truly alone these days, are we? That little thing in our pocket is always buzzing and beeping and tweeting and posting. I’m a huge fan of social media and an even bigger fan of messaging apps that let me keep in contact with loved ones who are flung across the world, but it is just fine to shut off sometimes. It is just fine not to reply to a text that is not urgent. It is just fine to laugh at the meme you’re sent, give it a little like, and then be on your way.

That is just fine. And no one should make you feel guilty for disconnecting.

It’s perfectly okay for work to be important. Just remember, your personal life is, too.

Now, I’ve always been a huge proponent of working to live rather than living to work. Admittedly, that’s a hard thing to do in my industry. PR is always on, and the deeper I get in my career, the harder it is to fully “switch off.” In fact, I was talking to my cousin last night and she asked what my schedule is, and as I rambled on about the hours I’m in the office vs. the hours I’m checking email, I realized how ridiculous it sounded to say, “Oh, but I make a rule not to scan too much on Saturdays.”

Alas, that’s the industry I’m in and, for better or worse, I love it.

But I’ve been better at setting ground rules. I only work late when I need to, and that’s usually just within the first couple of days of the month when all the reports are due. I try not to send emails after 6 p.m. or before eight in the morning. I try not to open my inbox on Saturdays at all, and on Sunday evenings it’s only to clear out the junk mail and get a footing for Monday. I turn off my email app on vacation. I try to be as present as possible at work so I can be as present as possible outside of it, too.

And so far, it’s working out pretty well.

Granted, there’s so many more lessons that you learn within the span of a year, but this one stands out to me as the most important. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all of the stimuli in our lives. It’s so easy, especially in our twenties.

So, as I enter my twenty fourth year (ack! Writing that out makes it feel so real!) I pledge to myself to prioritize myself when I need to. I pledge to switch off when I can, and be present as much as possible. I pledge to do these things in order to make myself the best that I can be, but also to make myself better for those I love.

And with that said…

Bring it on, 24.

ps: happy birthday, J. thanks for always looking out from that giant cloud trampoline in the sky.

Books I’ve Loved (So Far) This Summer

lrg_dsc00041.jpg

A while back, I posted about some of my favorite books that came straight from my high school summer reading lists (you can check out that post here). Then it got me thinking: what about keeping a log of all the books I read this summer? I’ve been trying to become a more active reader once again — I used to be such a bookworm, but as life got in the way, I found myself falling out of the habit of picking up a book versus, say, my phone. That’s not to say I don’t still love to read; give me a good book, and I won’t talk to you until it’s finished. It’s just more of the habit of it all that seemed to fall to the wayside as life picked up its pace.

So, I figured that creating a log of all of the books I read this summer would both keep me accountable, and might bring some new books to light for you, dear readers, as well. initially, I was going to wait until the end of the summer and do a full book list, but then I realized, what would the point of that be? It wouldn’t give you the chance to enjoy these great summer reads, too! That in mind, I opted to highlight 5 of my favorites so far this summer.

Note: The rest of this post contains affiliate links – if you click through any of the links in the post below & make a purchase, I may receive compensation, at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

The Identicals
My boss actually told me about this book last summer, and I’ve been seeing it everywhere ever since. I’m a huge fan of Elin Hilderbrand. This story of two twin sisters on the sister islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard (places I’ve never been, but must someday see), touches on the bond of sisterhood despite it all, the differences between even those we consider most alike, and the secrets behind our grief and love. I read it in about a week, though if I’d had the option to sit down on an island beach and read it straight through, I likely would have!

The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer)
Disclaimer: I sort of cheated with this one. I technically read the third book in this series back in December, but then I decided to reread the whole series in order. Again, it’s the story of sisters — Carson, Dora, and Harper — who come together at their grandmother’s house for the summer, just as they did when they were girls. (Apparently, I’m a sucker for stories of sisterhood.) Throughout the three books, the reader gets to know each sister, her stories and her sadness, and her shining light. We also get to know their grandmother, Mamaw, and her sweet best friend/housekeeper/confidant, Lucille. It’s a touching series that will make you laugh, smile, and cry… and wish your family had a house on Sullivan’s Island, too.

My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton
Okay – I’ve been waiting to read this book for AGES. I am one of the many millions who fell in love with Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit musical, Hamilton (but I have not seen it yet so… if anyone wants to surprise me with tickets, I would not be opposed ;)). Beyond just loving the musical, I’m a huge fan of historical fiction. It’s probably my favorite genre. And on top of that, I loved the first book that Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie wrote together, called America’s First Daughter. Both books are based on the letters of the women behind the Founding Fathers, and they’re fascinating. They’re technically fictionalized, but it certainly offers another perspective onto the lives of people like Thomas Jefferson and, of course, Alexander Hamilton (yes, every time I say that name, it’s to the tune of the musical). That said, I liked the Jefferson book a little bit better… but this one was still quite good. Perhaps the only reason I thought it slowed down a little in the middle was because I was waiting for Daveed Diggs to jump out and start a rap battle?

The Atomic City Girls
And here we have more historical fiction. This one, I actually did read in the span of a weekend, because I was so engrossed and because it’s fairly easy to get through. This book details the lives of the people behind the Manhattan Project — not the scientists, but the builders (and okay, one scientist). It tells the little-known story of the women who were sent to work on a secret project in Tennessee, and all that came with it. I was captivated, and recommend this to anyone who is a huge fan of history and, in particular, World War II.

What Alice Forgot
If you like Big Little Lies (the book, not the HBO series, though I’m sure if you watch you show you’ve read the book, or at least heard of it), I strongly recommend reading some of Liane Moriarty’s other books. This one is the particularly fascinating tale of a woman who hits her head in spin class and has the piece back the last 10 years of her life. The last thing she remembers is being happily married and pregnant with her first child — but now, she’s in the midst of a nasty divorce, with three kids, and has had a falling out with her sister. It’s a good story, and I’ve certainly picked up worse books for $4.99 at the airport. (Actually, I’ve never found a book that cheap at the airport. It was a steal.)

I’m sure this list will grow and change as the summer goes on, so keep your eyes peeled for an update. For now, let me know what you’re reading this summer – maybe I’ll add it to my list!

Travel Diary: Denver for a Trip Around the Sun

I am sitting at the airport as I write this and, first off, I would like to acknowledge just how much I love the airport. It holds such a sense of adventure, such a promise of what’s to come. Plus, it’s a wonderful place to people watch.

But I digress, because that’s not really what this post is about.

I am on my way home from Denver, where I just spent a lovely three days with one of my favorite humans and her two cute pups. This is becoming a bit of a tradition. Every year at the 4th of July, I fly up to the Mile High City to see my best friend. Of course, this year, the Fourth fell on a Wednesday which was mildly inconvenient, so we just bumped our timeline up a little. Which actually worked out so well, because we also have a mutual love of Kenny Chesney, who happened to be playing in Denver this past weekend.

Naturally, we went.

This was my fourth time seeing Kenny, and Jen and mine’s second Kenny concert with one another, and it was just as fun as it’s ever been. I’m the product of Parrotheads, which probably means I was destined to be a part of the No Shoes Nation, but even without that prerequisite, there’s just something about a Kenny show.

I’ve always loved water, and always felt like, eventually, I’m destined to live beside it. Every Kenny Chesney concert simply confirms that prediction. There’s a feel to him — he’s a little bit country, a little bit rock, but he’s island through and through.

Plus, there’s the fact that Kenny was my first ever concert (I don’t count the Cheetah Girls in fourth grade), and you tend to have a bit of an attachment to whoever that was, right?

Besides, in my adult years — more specifically, since my junior year of college — it’s become a bit of a tradition to see him every tour, and if you know me, I’m a huge sucker for traditions.

I love knowing that you can always have something to look forward to. I love know that every summer, I’ll buy a plane ticket to Denver (granted, next summer may be an exception as we potentially shift our annual reunion overseas… but still, you get the picture.) I love knowing that Kenny Chesney will put me in a great mood and that I’ll be whisked off to the islands no matter where I am — whether it’s in the middle of the desert, at the edge of plains, or in the foggy bay.

But most of all, I love knowing that a friend will be there. I love knowing that I can call her up in the middle of the night because she’ll answer, and not just because she’ll be awake because of her crazy producer schedule. I love knowing that I can text her about the most mundane things and she’ll at least read it even if we’re both awful at replying. I love knowing how easily we can freak people out by accidentally saying the same thing at the same time. I love knowing that there’s a person I can always go to to remind me what’s important. I love the fact that we went from random Spanish project partners to coworkers to roommates to twins.

I mean, come on. We even unintentionally matched our outfits.

Now, to be honest, I didn’t start this post with the intention of making it a note of appreciation for my Shining Twin. But, I also started this blog on the floor of the Denver airport and I’m finishing it sitting upright at my desk, so I guess intentions can change with time, right? I always fall into a post-trip funk (anyone else with me on that? Coming home is great and I love what I come home to, but there’s still an element of sadness when a trip concludes). It’s heightened, when you just leave your best friend.

Anyways. Thanks, Denver, for another incredible trip, and here’s to the next one, in (pretty much) one trip around the sun.

Becoming Sustainable, Sustainably

I’ve been on a kick lately – all about sustainability. It’s just at the very forefront of my mind, and honestly, how could it not be? It seems everywhere you look, there’s a new, horrific story about how human consumption is damaging the earth. God gave us this earth to take care of, to nurture, to love, and our rampant consumerism is killing it.

Literally.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend to be a composting, family-towel-using icon of sustainable living. I’m quite the opposite, actually. But lately, I have been looking for easy ways to reduce my own footprint. Ways to be sustainable… sustainably, if you will.

Note: The rest of this post contains affiliate links – if you click through any of the links in the post below & make a purchase, I may receive compensation, at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Get a reusable shopping bag

This, to me, is literally one of the easiest things you can do. In some states, like California and, I believe, Hawaii, there are laws in place to encourage people to do this simply by charging for bags. (Personally, I think Arizona should get on board with it, but that’s a ramble for another day.)

Most grocery stores these days sell reusable bags right at the front, and for a fairly decent price. I mean, come on. You can pick up a tote at Trader Joe’s for 99 cents. Just skip the oh-so-tempting caramel sea salt chocolate bar that they lure you in with at the impulse grab stands one day and get a bag instead… and then go hit up the sample counter an extra time to reward yourself for doing so. I won’t tell. 😉

Reusable cups – and straws!

Again, another super easy switch to make, and one that I can vouch will save you money on your daily Starbucks, while also conveniently limiting your use of single-use plastic, which is one of the biggest waste issues we’re battling right now.

Starbucks, and many other coffee shops, offer a cup discount for a personal cup – which, of course, makes sense as it avoids them having to use their own inventory. But it’s also a really good incentive to use one, especially now that they sell such cheap reusable options… Starbucks has a $2 hot cup and a $3 reusable cold cup up for grabs. I may or may not have bought multiples of both, and now am fully stocked for all of my iced coffee needs.

While you’re at it, maybe consider getting reusable straws too! If you’re like me (and my best friend, and my aunt, and many other people I can think of), you love straws. It just makes drinks taste different… and better! But have you ever paused to think just how many single-use straws you go through in a week, or even in a day? If you switch to something like these stainless steel reusable straws, you’ll easily reduce your straw consumption… and, on the bright side, won’t have to worry about running out of straws at home ever again!

Meal prep

Okay, this one might seem like a fairly odd one, but I’ve been really focusing on reducing my food waste lately. I don’t compost — mainly because I don’t quite know how, and because it’s a very intimidating concept, if I’m being honest — so I’ve tried to reduce what food waste I do have left simply by, well, making sure I can eat it all. I already try not to buy packaged food when it’s not necessary for the sake of cutting down of packaging waste (like packaged fruit, etc.) and the packaged food we do buy (deli meat, etc.) I try to find either recyclable or reusable packaging. I’m not kidding when I say that 90% of our Tupperware is from the deli section. The other 10% is “borrowed” from my parents… 🙂

Anywhos.

I’ve learned that prepping meals so that there are guaranteed leftovers avoids putting me in the awkward spot where there’s not quite enough left to save, but also way too much left to eat. (Although, again, being with a human garbage disposal does come in handy here, as he’ll usually eat clean up for the table if necessary.) Portioning out when cooking so that there’s a promised second meal helps me significantly reduce any unnecessary food waste from my cooked meal. It’s also made me more conscious of preserving what I can while actually cooking the meal, so I’d consider that a win-win.

(Plus, how adult do you feel when you’re bringing actual food to work instead of a PB&J? So adult.)

Search secondhand 

Garment manufacturing is a big issue when it comes to sustainability. I’ve always been a fan of making clothes and things last as long as possible. Shopping secondhand comes naturally to me (well, as naturally as any shopping might come. I’m not a huge browser and I love the sale rack, so shopping for clothes generally isn’t something I’d consider “natural.” But I digress.)

Plus, searching for finds secondhand offers the benefit to your wallet, too. I recently fell in love with ThredUp, which you can read all about in my awkward review. It was an easy and affordable way to refresh my summer wardrobe (I got my new favorite blouse out of it), and I felt better about my conscious purchasing.

Now, I realize this is only the tip of the iceberg… and that that might not be the best metaphor to use in this scenario, but I’ll assume that you catch my drift. But I don’t think that sustainability needs to be this huge, terrifying, intimidating concept that seems unreasonably difficult to implement into your daily life. Even the smallest things can make a difference.

So… what about you? Do you take any conscious steps towards keeping your own carbon footprint as small as realistically possible?

Building Balance

I’ve been staring at the blank page of this blog post for a while, wondering where to begin. (Update: I wrote this post and then let it sit in my drafts for a while, that’s how unsure I was of posting it.)

When I dove back into the blogging Instagram world, I was quickly reminded of the effect that it can have on one’s psyche. There’s so many pretty pictures out there of pretty people doing pretty things, and it can, sometimes, be a bit overwhelming.

It has gotten me thinking a lot about balance. And, in honor of National Mental Health Awareness month, I thought it best to share a bit of my own story. Forgive me if this is rambling, or redundant, but this is also a little leap of faith as I open up about something I don’t often do: namely, my relationship (or, my previous one) with food.

Trigger warning: this post deals with eating habits, restrictions, and dieting.

Now, there’s obviously a lot of different types of balancing acts. It seems like these days, we have to juggle so much, whether it’s our health, our jobs, our social media usage. Where is it that you find the sweet spot of feeling like you’re doing enough, but not too much? How do you know when to take a break, without doing too little?

It’s taken me a while to figure it out, and I won’t even pretend like I’m an expert at it. I think that balance comes as you grow and get to know yourself better, and I also think that balance can mean different things at different stages in our lives.

For example, once upon a time (aka, my freshman year of college) I decided to go “healthy.” I was determined to avoid the Freshman 15, so I rerouted that determination towards only eating healthy foods, work out regularly, etc. The only problem is, I went way the other direction. I skipped eating mindfully and started to pay too much attention to what I was eating, and working out regularly became like a drug: if I didn’t get my run in that day, I felt miserable, and not due to lack of exercise. If I didn’t get to work out and I ate something “bad for me,” I felt worse than miserable. Granted, I did indeed save myself from gaining the Freshman 15… I lost it, instead. And then some.

Needless to say, I wasn’t so healthy, even though, in my mind, that’s all that I was. Ironically, it was my mind that wasn’t.

I remember coming home from school that summer and my mother reminding me, gently, to be careful. I knew what she meant, and though I was stubborn at first, I eventually eased up a bit. I started being okay with the extra slice of cheese on my sandwich, with not knowing what I was going to eat for dinner until I ate it, with skipping a day or two at the gym. Eventually, I found my true balance again, and by the time I went back to school, I regained my balance with food again.

Besides, that sophomore semester, I had a goal, one I needed to be happy and healthy for: I was going to England.

I left for England the January of my sophomore year of college, and I spent the next seven months having the literal time of my life. (I’ve written, talked, and reminisced on that time more often than not, so there’s no need to rehash the wonderfulness of it now, just know that it was incredible.) It was the first time in a long time that I literally did not think about food or worry about how I looked. I just wanted to experience everything, and experience I certainly did.

I came back from being abroad heartbroken to be home, and upset with the number on the scale. But I was so afraid to fall back into my freshman year habits, so I took it one step at a time. I started junior year with a resolve to be better about exercise, but maintain my England-driven attitude towards food. And it worked, at first, but as all exercise-only diets do, I plateaued after a while. Then I dropped the exercise and started to only eat “healthy foods.” That, again, worked for a bit but stalled after some time. I couldn’t seem to get back into healthy habits I had once had.

The rest of college was a struggle to get that balance back. I’m not saying it was an unhappy struggle, though there were times where I would get discouraged or upset. But who doesn’t? I tried to make the most of my junior and senior year, because if England taught me anything, it was that the time spent in that atmosphere was short, and I didn’t want to take it for granted.

The idea of true “balance” came when I was out of college, as I think it does for many of us. Suddenly, I no longer had the excuse of too many classes or a looming thesis deadline. At the same time, I was living completely on my own, for the first time ever, and learning so much about myself in the process.

And of course, lot of my story is, of course, so strongly about faith. Don’t think for a second that I think I could have gotten to where I am today had I not unrelentingly turned to God for guidance. I have Him to thank for the courage to get through it, the support He put in my life, and the strength to find that balance. In fact, I can honestly say that I didn’t feel the full power of regaining my own balance until I fully pulled Him into the equation, and for that, I am incredibly grateful. He showed the true force of His stable, loving hand as he guided me through this journey.

This journey that, in time, helped me figure out what balance means to me.

Balance, to me, is working out 4 days a week and being an utter slug the other 3. Balance, to me, is eating eggs for breakfast and a salad for lunch, and pizza for dinner. Balance, to me, is a hard workout followed by a bagel breakfast. It’s running 3 miles one day and just weight lifting the next. It’s having a wine night only to wake up and hike the next day. It’s putting a stone in the “healthy” side and a stone in the “happy” side at the same time. It’s making sure the scale stays even.

That said, I’m not saying that this is what balance looks like for everyone. For some, maybe it’s a daily workout and a strict vegan diet, because that’s what makes them feel their best. Because, really, that’s what it’s all about. Once you figure out what makes you feel happiest, and feel healthiest, then you’ll be able to get into that cadence more easily. If I’ve learned anything as I built my own structure for balance, it’s that there’s no one way to do it.

Balance looks different for everyone, and everyone has their own story for getting there.

PS: If you’re struggling, please don’t be afraid to reach out for help. The National Eating Disorder Awareness Helpline is a wonderful, life saving resource.