Life Lessons

It’s Monday. And while, in general, I try to keep it light on Mondays because most of us are still easing into the week, today, we’re going to tackle something a bit heavier.

Here it is: I got a new job. (You may already know this if you follow me on Twitter.)

I know. I know what you’re thinking: Good LORD, Justine! Didn’t you just get a new job? Right after you just got another new job? WHEN DOES THE MADNESS END?

And I completely agree with you. I’m ridiculous. And, it would appear, notoriously fickle.

But hear me out. Because I really don’t think this is a symptom of fickleness. I think, in a bizarre, sounds-deeper-than-it-is kind of way, the fact that I’ve changed jobs so many times in the last three years is a symptom of eternal hopefulness.

Did you get a little teary-eyed reading that? Or picture a really sincere orphan staring you down with eyes the size of saucers? Gross, right?

Let’s back it up. Back it up all the way to about a year ago. Back to when I had a bit of a quarter-life crisis.

Can you believe it has been almost a year since I wrote this post? (No? Well, I recently found out the INTERNET is only 21 years old. So…time is a funny, funny thing.)(Sorry if I just made you feel ancient. I feel the same way.)

But anyway. Pretty much since I wrote that post, I’ve had this on-going debate going on in my brain over a single question: Does anyone really love their job?

I mean, we hear about these people, right? We read about them on The Everygirl and follow them on Twitter and see their obnoxiously fabulous pictures from their obnoxiously fabulous work events on Facebook and Instagram. The thing is…have you ever actually met one of them? Or I should say, really gotten to know one of them?

Because, in my experience, even these people who gush about how blessed they are to be doing what they love and having success at it usually come with an asterisk. You know, the kind that are attached to disclaimers like, “I mean, I never see my family, but I love it.” Or, “I can’t afford to eat, but it’s such an incredible opportunity!” Or, you know, “Sure, the rest of my life is in shambles, but other than that things are perfect!!

And then when I see things like this on Pinterest, it’s not exactly encouraging:

The thing is, I’m not ready to give up on the dream. I’m not ready to accept that everyone just hates their jobs secretly and there’s no such thing as the dream job, not really, not 100 percent.

The sincere-orphan-staring-you-down-with-eyes-the-size-of-saucers part of me is still hopeful that the dream job can be real.

I feel like I’ve spent the last three years trying to prove it to myself one way or the other. So far, I’ve had the job I loved doing but that didn’t pay me enough to survive. And I’ve had the job that paid me enough to survive but I hated to do. And I’ve had the job that paid me enough to survive but was so boring I could feel myself coagulating in my chair every day. But now…

Now I’m going to start a job that is going to pay me enough to survive (even, perhaps, a little more than just survive), that I’m pretty sure is going to challenge me regularly, and that I think (*closes eyes and holds breath*) I am going to love.

I just really, really want to love it. I want it to be everything I think it could be. I want it to be hard sometimes, but also really fun. I want it to not make me hate life. I want it to make me a better person because I’m challenged and enjoying what I’m doing.

Is that too much to ask? Maybe. But I’ll never find out for sure staying somewhere where all I know is that I’m not happy. (Although, as you may recall, there’s also a case for the concern that I will never be completely happy.)

I guess I just hope that the unhappiness, wherever it comes from, will feel worth it. That seems reasonable, right?

So. That’s a lot of feelings. But I guess the gist is that I’m still fighting for the dream. I’m still hopeful it can happen.

I start on August 27th. So I’ll let you know.

And just because I’m nosy…what do you think? Do you have your dream job? Does it come with asterisks? Are they worth it?

You guys! I’m 25! WE MADE IT!

And, in case you were tired of this segment, today is the last day. So…yay?

But anyway. Let’s get into our final five Things You Should Know Before 25.

21. You should know how to end a bad relationship.

This tip applies to the romantic and otherwise relationships in your life. The fact is, no matter how much work you put into something, you can’t always make things work. Sometimes, relationships are more of a mental, emotional, and even physical drain than anything, and it’s okay to admit that you would be happier without that person in your life. Break-ups are almost always difficult, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t the right thing to do.

22. You should know you can’t fix people.

Sometimes your friends are just going to keep making bad decisions no matter how much good advice you give them. Sometimes people you love are going to be incredibly self-destructive, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s always good to be there when they want to pick up the pieces, but if their poor decisions are affecting your peace and happiness, see the above point.

23. “You should know how to live alone. When I was 22 and 23, I spent several months living alone. At the time, I hated it. But now, looking back, I realize it gave me the kind of independence and insight into myself that I couldn’t have learned any other way. ” – Susan Elgin

{the first picture Susan and I ever took together}

Susan unofficially guest posts on the blog pretty much anytime I’m having a meltdown about the way my life is going. (Don’t worry; I return the favor when she’s feeling that way about her life.) We’ve always joked that our friendship was our version of the New York love story (two strangers meet under unexpected circumstances, instantly click, and form a life-long relationship…adorable, right?), and honestly, I can’t imagine my life without her. Not only is she super insightful, she’s also one of the few people I feel completely comfortable being 100% honest with. That’s tougher to find than you might think.

But anyway, back to her tip. Not surprisingly, I completely agree with this. I know it’s not possible for everyone to live on their own (financial obligations are real, yo), but if you can, I highly recommend it. Besides teaching you big lessons in the way of being an adult, (“Wait, so you mean if I don’t replace the toilet paper, no one will?”), it also shows you what you’re made of. Your real, inner person comes out in unexpected ways, and you learn that you can be self-reliant. Plus, you know, you can walk around in your underwear.

24. “You should know how to cook. That doesn’t mean you have to be able to put together a five-course meal, but you better be able to follow a recipe.” – Erik Holt

Even though we’ve gone to school together since the fifth grade, Erik and I didn’t really become friends until our junior year of college. I mean, we had always been friends, but a trip to D.C. to visit Annie (and a 2-hour Taylor Swift prom special on MTV) in the summer of 2008 solidified that the three of us would be bonded for life. And it has to be said, I am so glad that is the case. Erik is another one of my basically-my-brother friends that I am crazy proud of for what he has accomplished (including having just accepted a sweet new gig in Chicago!) and for the person he is. Really, I am so blessed to have the best friends.

ALL RIGHT WITH THE MUSHY STUFF, YOU GUYS. Back to his tip. I completely agree with this. I think everyone should have that one dish they can whip up in their sleep, whether it’s Coq au Vin or a killer grilled cheese. At this point in our lives, you should be able to keep yourself nourished with something other than another bowl of cereal. Plus, you need something in your back pocket to impress dates, right?

25. “You should know that you don’t have to have everything figured out yet. You’re still young enough where if you want to make a change and try something new — whether that be a new job, new city, relationship, or whatever — you can. But you have to be willing to take that leap of faith because nobody is going to do it for you.” – Erik, again

A couple of people submitted tips similar to this (either a sign that it’s true or that we all just desperately need to believe it. But when I read this, I couldn’t imagine ending the series on anything else. Because 25 isn’t old. It isn’t an ending of anything. As another submitter said, 25 is the age where we can do things we won’t be able to do 10 years from now and that we couldn’t do 10 years ago. I think that sums the whole series up nicely.

Of course, if you’ve turned 25 and haven’t accomplished something on this list, you know you’re not actually a failure at life, right? As quite a few of these tips have attested, 25 is an age where it’s really OK to still not have everything figured out. I’m not sure there is an age where you’re supposed to have everything figured out.

Really, this segment was just about taking stock of what’s going on. Being mature enough to handle your ish, while realistic enough to know that we are way too young to know everything.

Thank you so much to everyone who submitted not only for sharing your wisdom, but also for being a part of my life. I love you all dearly. And I don’t know about you guys, but I have a feeling 25 is going to be my best year yet.

Well, the big day is tomorrow. Wacky. Hopefully you’ve been enjoying the series thus far.

And NOW. The penultimate post. Enjoy.

16. You should know that you can still get a sunburn even when it’s cloudy and that there is no magical pill that will make you lose weight and that should never, ever comment on a woman’s weight.

Basically, you should have some common sense and general awareness of how the world works. It sort of baffles me that there are still people who seem completely ignorant of these very basic concepts.

17. “You should know how to ask for help…and how to know there are times you need to realize you’re a grown-up and help yourself.” – Tara Powers

Tara and I haven’t really known each other very long (and we’ve only met once in person), but she’s one of those people you meet and instantly feel like you’ve known each other most of your lives. Besides our shared passion for running (and eating), she’s incredibly nice, completely genuine, and super handy if you need a dozen cookies in a pinch.

What I love about her suggestion is that it incorporates humility and maturity — two qualities I think are sorely lacking in the world in general. Learning to ask for help has been a difficult thing for me to learn, but I like to think that being 25 means having learned your limits.

18. “How to use a plunger (no, really).” – Tara, again.

‘Nuff said.

19. “You should know that nothing you plan will turn out like you imagine it will. It may not be better or worse, but it will always be different.” – Becca Paszkiewicz

It would be impossible to make a list of my favorite people on Earth without including Becca. I mean…she’s obviously adorable. But she’s also brilliant (what UP getting into grad school!), incredibly kind, and hilarious. As you can tell from this photo, affectionately titled “THE GREATEST PHOTO OF MY BFFs EVER” :

Yes, this is from freshmen year of college. Yes, it was taken during a sleepover in my basement when we snuck out of the house because we really wanted cake. And yes, it looks like we’re stealing a birthday cake. (FULL CIRCLE BECAUSE WE’RE TALKING ABOUT A BIRTHDAY.)

But anyway. Back to her tip. See what I mean about her being brilliant? I read once that expectation is the thief of happiness (or something like that…I think it was Shakespeare…anyway), and really, how true is that? The fact is, nothing is ever going to turn out exactly the way you think it will. So why bother getting so caught up in the details that you can’t deal if things aren’t how you picture them? At this point, we should all remember to check ourselves with this fact.

20. “You should also know that you will make mistakes and make bad choices, but the real crime is not learning from them. (Unless you murder someone, then it’s actually a crime).” – Becca, again.

See what I mean about her being hilarious? But in all seriousness, don’t waste the mistakes. We should know by now that they will happen, and the best thing that can come from it is that we don’t make them again. (Or at least that we get a great story out of it.)

Eeeeeeeee tomorrow is the last installment, dudes. See you on the flip side.

Welcome to Part 2 of the list! If you missed yesterday’s post, get caught up here quickly. Don’t worry; I’ll wait.

Okay, ready? Let’s get to it.

6. You should know how to travel alone.

I vividly remember the first time I took a plane trip without my family. In a way, it was kind of scary because you’re entirely on your own to get through security, get to your gate on time, find your luggage, etc., but similar to moving, being utterly on your own is incredibly empowering. Now I kind of relish when I can travel by myself, if only for how efficiently I can get from place to place.

7. “You should know your de-stressers and then use them whether — its yoga, Call of Duty, running, Ben and Jerry’s fro yo, or cleaning.” –Annie Schunicht/soon-to-be Breitinger

Annie has been my BFF for most of my life, so it shouldn’t be any surprise I would turn to her when compiling this list. I mean, she has graduated law school, moved to Florida, and she’s marrying the love of her life this September. Plus, she did this with me:

She’s kind of awesome. And one thing we both have in common (besides the ability to take an amazing photo) is that we can turn into crazy people when under a lot of stress. Fortunately, as Annie points out, part of being an adult is learning to deal with that tendency in a healthy way. The point is, we’re getting too old for temper tantrums and utter meltdowns. When things seem to be falling apart, go for a jog, stuff your face, make a list, and then get on with it.

8. You should know how to send a proper thank-you note. (And actually doing it every time you receive a gift or go on an interview.)

I mean, I don’t really need to get into this again, do I? If you’re 25, you’re officially too old to get off the hook for this.

9. “You should own least 3 professional outfits (read: no hooker heels with suits).” -Annie, again.

10. “You should know that what you may have thought of as failing or giving up might just mean making a necessary change. Be prepared for life to fall apart and come back together many times. Even many times in one day!” – Michelle Rose Abraham

Michelle often tells me she wants to be me when she grows up. Which, to me, is so funny because a.) I feel like I’m still figuring so much out and b.) there are so many things I admire about her. She’s super talented, smart, funny, and incredibly nice. She’s truly brave (yet another of my friends who moved across the country from everything she knew to strike out on her own), and I’m so happy to have her in my life.

I also love that she can speak so candidly about realizing something isn’t the right choice for you. That cross-country move I mentioned? It didn’t work out exactly as she had hoped. But rather than simply flailing and giving up, Michelle was able to pick herself back up and start out on a new journey. At this point in our lives, I think it’s crucial to know how to deal when something doesn’t work out — and how to figure out what to do next.

Hooray for Annie and Michelle! We’re almost halfway through the list folks. See you tomorrow!

My 25th birthday is five days away.

I don’t celebrate birthdays (so this isn’t me fishing for cards and gifts), but I wanted to talk about this particular milestone because, well, it is a milestone.

When I was a wee little Justine, I used to have this mental plan that went something like this: I’m going to get married at 20 and have kids at 25.

Okay, so…we’ve learned that wee little Justine was kind of a psycho. Or at least vastly overestimating how quickly she would get her life together. I mean, seriously, you’re still very much in college at 20. This is why we don’t take life advice from 6-year-olds.

But the point is, from the start, 25 has always signified something big for me. Twenty-five is the age (in my brain) that I was supposed to be completely and utterly grown up. Settled. Life was supposed to be figured out.

Needless to say, that isn’t exactly what happened.

I mean, to my own credit, I have some things figured out. The marriage thing? I’ve figured the crap out of that one. The job thing? The where we want to live thing? The money thing? Eh…that’s what the second-half of your twenties is for, right?

But for this commemorative post (available for two easy payments of $39.95!!)(I’m the only one that thinks of infomercials when I hear the word “commemorative”? Okay, moving on.), I wanted to focus on the stuff I can check off. More than that, I wanted to get input from some people who I really trust and admire on what they think is important to check off before you hit 25. So I sent out a Facebook message to a few people who fit that description and compiled their thoughts with my own. Some of these are silly things. Some of them a bit weightier. But they’re all 100 percent true.

And just in case you’re already overwhelmed at the thought of reading all 25 in one sitting, I’m splitting this post into five parts. Check back over the next five days for the rest!

So without further ado, here is the first half of our list of the 25 things you should know by the time you turn 25:

1. “You should know how to host a dinner party without completely freaking out.” – Madison Mayberry Hofmeyer

This is probably kind of a weird thing to say about someone who I’ve only met once before, but Madison is kind of one of my favorite people in the world. (Yup, I’m putting it all out there, Madison.) Not only is she insanely nice and smart and funny, she’s also a pretty fabulous cook. (You might recognize her from when she won Rachel Ray’s “Hey, Can You Cook?!” competition in 2008.)

And while you might think, “Sure, a girl like that could easily throw a dinner party,” I think Madison’s thought is incredibly valid. Because a dinner party doesn’t have to be a fancy sit-down event for 20. I think what she means is that you should be able to entertain guests for dinner without losing your mind, and I can completely get behind that.

2. You should know how to use a public restroom.

Okay, this one is from me. And what I mean is, you should know to check if there’s toilet paper before you’ve disrobed and sat down. And you should know to make sure you flush the toilet properly. And you should know to put some paper towels in the stall if you’ve used the last of the toilet paper. And you should know how to wash your hands without leaving soggy paper towels clogging the drain in sink. And for the ladies, it should go without saying, but for the love of all that is holy, you should know not to leave used tampons in the toilet. It’s disturbing to discover.

It never fails to shock me how many grown-ups still have not learned how to do this properly.

3. “You should know how to write a grammatically correct cover letter. That’s inspired by a resume I just read that included, among other hilarious things, ‘An understanding of chivalry’ listed under ‘Honors and Awards’. –Joe Thuente

Joe and I have been friends since the seventh grade when we rode the bus together twice a day every day. I don’t tell him this enough, but he’s someone I’m insanely proud of in terms of what he has accomplished in the time I’ve known him. He has checked off making a major move, getting a graduate degree, and getting his dream job from his life’s to-do list, and I consider it an honor that he’s kept me as a friend this long.

But enough mushy stuff. The dude also knows a thing or two about applying for and getting a job. (Plus, his anecdote is hilarious.) The fact is, it’s never going to be cool to sound uneducated. Learn yourself some basic grammar, folks. And, seriously, have a trusted adult friend read over your cover letter before you turn it in. We don’t need any more of these guys.

4. How to survive away from your family.

5. “You should know how to give a good handshake. And, for God’s sake, if you are male, you should know how to tie a God damn tie by this point.” -Joe T., again.

There’s nothing to really add to that, except I would say that ladies of the world should know how to tie a GD tie at this point too. You never know when you’ll be called on to save a male friend/boyfriend/husband from embarrassment.

Thank you to Madison and Joe from your contributions! See everyone tomorrow for the second installment!

I consider myself a fairly decent cook. I mean, I’m not getting super fancy on anything. But Joey and I are always fed and almost always happy with what I make.

More importantly (in my opinion), I’m pretty capable at taking a bunch of random ingredients and throwing together an entree and a few side dishes on the fly.

I’m not kidding. The recipes I “invent” are literally discovered through the thought process of, “Well, I like {insert food} and I like {insert other food}…so I would probably like them together? Maybe?”

Most of my favorite recipes since I started cooking for myself have been happy accidents, where certain foods that I knew would taste okay together have wound up tasting AMAZING. ON ACCIDENT. I love that. I very rarely follow recipes (unless they’re from my momma) beyond glancing at the ingredients to get a general idea of other combinations of food that work for other people.

I guess that’s the difference. I just look at all meals as a combination of food instead of a recipe. Maybe that’s what makes it less intimidating?

The point is, while there are definitely MUCH better chefs and bakers out there (this girl, this girl, and this girl, to name a few), I think I have a couple of super basic tips that any just-starting-to-cook person can appreciate.

1. The only spices you really need in your cabinet are cinnamon, garlic powder, cumin, and paprika.
Are salt and pepper considered spices? (I told you, I’m not an expert.) I don’t think they are. You should have those too.

But in terms of straight up comes-in-the-spice-rack spices, the four aforementioned spices will be enough for just about anything you’re going to make regularly. Especially the last three. You can add them to veggies, meat, rice — really any savory food — for flavor you didn’t even know you were capable of. (You can also use them to replace taco seasoning packets, which are made up of basically the same mixture plus tons of sodium. You’re welcome.)

And cinnamon is just good on almost everything. Fact.

Occasionally you’ll probably run into a specific recipe that requires something else, but for the day-to-day-I’m-just-going-to-whip-something-up-out-of-whatever-is-in-the-fridge cooking, these four will do ya.

2. The easiest way to cook vegetables.
I have a friend, who is married to my other friend. He love vegetables, but she does virtually all of the cooking and, for whatever reason, is intimidated by cooking vegetables. I’m intimidated by making meatloaf and potatoes (AFTER THE WORST KITCHEN DISASTER IN MY HISTORY OF COOKING), so I don’t judge. We all have our things.

But the thing is, vegetables are quite possibly the easiest thing in the world to cook. Especially if you know how to roast them. Want to know how? Okay, pay CAREFUL attention.

First, set your over to about 375 degrees. Wash your veggies and either cut or slice them into whatever shape seems normal (for example, cut broccoli into chunks, cut tomatoes into slices…but honestly, you can’t mess this up). Toss the cut-up veggies with a bit of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (or garlic salt). Spread on a baking sheet and bake. THAT’S IT.

For most veggies, you only need to roast them about 15 minutes. Denser vegetables, like beets or potatoes, can take up to an hour. Check on them a few times to determine the best length of time for your oven.

3. The easiest meal to cook ever.
Are you ready for this? Grab 2-3 vegetables out of your fridge. (Almost anything will work…broccoli, asparagus, bell peppers, onions, green beans, spinach, kale, swiss chard, WHATEVER.)(Ok, just not potatoes or beets…as I said, they need special treatment.) Wash and chop them.

While they’re draining, prepare a pot of quinoa or rice or pasta on the stove. Let boil/simmer.

Back to the veggies. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan. Add the veggies and saute for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with garlic powder, cumin, and paprika (told you they’re helpful!) — however much you want, but a couple of shakes of each should do the trick. Or you can get really fancy and throw a few chopped garlic cloves into the mix.

When quinoa/rice/pasta is done, and the veggies are fragrant and soft (but not mushy), combine everything. Add hot sauce or lite soy sauce (for quinoa and rice) or a bit more olive oil (for pasta) if you like. If you want protein, throw in a scrambled egg, pre-cooked chicken or shrimp, or even a tuna from a can. EAT IT.

Speaking of hot sauce…

4. When in doubt, add hot sauce or cheese.
You guys. How did I not know about the wonders of hot sauce until, like, three weeks ago? YOU GUYS. It’s really, really good, in case you didn’t know. And better than that, it covers a multitude of sins.

If you’ve whipped up virtually anything, and the flavor just isn’t doing it for you, add a few drops of hot sauce or a couple tablespoons of feta or parmesan cheese. I don’t know why this works, but it has never failed me. One of those three ingredients has saved many a bland dish in my house. Make sure you always have them on-hand.

In general, the best way to get comfortable cooking is by, well, cooking. Once you’ve cooked a fillet of fish, you know how to cook almost every fillet of fish. Once you’ve learned how to cook vegetables, you know how to cook almost every vegetable.

Remember, you’re just combining foods. Don’t be intimidated!

Okay, opening the floor to people who actually know what they’re talking about. What are your super basic, super general cooking tips that you didn’t really learn until you had been cooking for a while? I wanna hear ’em.