Yesterday a year ago was the day I officially decided to move to France to work as an Au Pair during my gap year. I thought to celebrate making it through this year in one piece (and tougher than ever), I’d reflect on the 20 Lessons I’ve Learned Living On My Own. Keep in mind, I was only 17 when I left!! Enjoy.
- You grow up, and sometimes grow out of touch. This feeling might so strong for me because I moved to another continent, but it’s true. I think that part of being an adult involves really cherishing the friendships that you realize are important to you, at all stages in your life.
- Budgeting. When I lived at home I babysat, and because my parents paid for all of my necessities I was free to spend this money on whatever. If I wanted something, I bought it. This no longer rings true. Yes I can afford the 30 Euro handbag, but that means no clubbing Friday night or going out to eat with friends. Which is more important?
- There needs to be balance. Adult life is a lot less structured than high school life. I have to make time for my workout, social life, and mental health around school, work, and daily errands.
- How to manage stress. My first Au Pair family ended up not being a good experience, one that caused me a lot of stress and insecurity at times. However, I knew I couldn’t let it ruin my year in France. Moving homes, families, location, etc. in Paris was not easy, but I managed. It was the most stressful experience of my life, but here I am!
- Your body does not take care of itself. This is a lesson I did not learn until about January. Sleep is important, as is healthy eating! I learned that my poor body could not handle going out every night, and needs 9 hours of sleep at least 4 nights a week.
- How to say no. This is one of the most important ones. It really started when I finally said “I quit” to my old boss, and then continued (in much more positive ways) as I started focusing on doing better in my job, French, and personal health. Your friends will understand if you can’t make drinks the night before an 8AM class!
- Do what makes you happy. It’s your life. Frankly, if you do anything or stay in any situation that makes you miserable, it’s not worth it. Oftentimes it’s easy to blame yourself for your sadness, but chances are it’s something or someone around you. Make a change and leave the bad people/situations behind.
- How to be by myself. I thought I knew who I was before going into this year, but boy, was I wrong! I really grew into myself this year, a large part I think due to the other 19 lessons I learned (and the amazing people I have met along the way).
- Focus on the positive, don’t let the little things get you down. I learned this one from spending much of my time with children. You just can’t let the little things get to you. If you let a tardy metro or a temper tantrum about a shower get you down, you’ll forget to appreciate the warm sunshine on your face or the fun you had in the park earlier playing soccer.
- Pick your battles. Another one I learned from kids. Chances are many things will bother you, but if you speak up about everything people will stop listening. When you do have something that you want to talk about, chances are they’ll pay attention.
- How to organize and plan. Hands down credit this one to looking after two boys in each of my families and the insane amount of traveling I have been doing this year. Two balls of energy and 4 countries in one month will do that to a girl! Everything goes smoother and you get more out of your day if you’ve pre-thought some things out.
- Developing a thicker skin. I never had any problem with truly mean and manipulative people until this year. All there is to do though is keep your head high, know it’s their insecurities speaking, and rid your life of the negative influences.
- Patience. Take action towards your dreams and own happiness, but, as a rule of thumb for my life, good things have taken time. From the rock solid friendships I have in Paris today, to finding the family that makes me the happiest Au Pair in the world, patience has been key.
- It’s okay to rely on other people. This one was one of the toughest for me to learn. I’m very headstrong and independent, and love to prove to people that “I can do it all by myself”. But, during the process of changing families, the help of my friends is what got me through. To one friend loaning me money when the paychecks were withheld, to another letting me crash at hers for a week, they are the only way I made it through.
- Don’t regret the past. I can’t even begin to describe to you how many people have told me, “I bet you really regret picking your first host family.” But you know what? I don’t, and quite frankly, I can’t. Nothing is gained by regretting the past, you can only focus on all of the good things you got out of it. For me, it’s two girls who become my best friends. And a lifetime of friendship with someone is worth more than those 4 months, no matter how miserable they were.
- Appreciate being back home. Who thought the day would come when I not only like, but also look forward to returning to Los Angeles? I can’t wait for my two months at home with my family, friends, and a city I still can’t believe I miss.
- To enjoy the little things in life. This is key!! The little things are what ultimately make up the big moments and memories.
- Less is more. Without a doubt living in a 10 square meter apartment has taught me this lesson. Along with traveling maybe. And having no money to fill my life with stuff. But still, there’s nothing nicer than an airy and tidy apartment! Now if only I’d get better at rinsing my dishes. 😉
- Don’t be afraid of the unknown. I think I started learning this one the moment I decided to move to France, while all of my other friends stayed in California to study. But I’m still working on this one each day, pushing myself to do new and crazy things. Julia of two years ago would not be able to wrap her mind around the girl who sits here today.
- Not to be too hard on myself. I’m very self critical in every way, but this year has been a learning process of just letting it go sometimes. I’m not perfect now, nor will I ever be, and as for everything I want to change, it’s a day by day process.
And, a cup of tea and a hot shower makes everything better. Always.
This post was a bit of a more personal reflection for me, but I hope you have enjoyed it anyway. It was a lot easier to write than I thought it would be, the words kind of just poured out onto the page.
I think it’s incredible how different we can be as humans, from just one day onto another.
Which important lessons have you all learned in the past year?