pink headphones and phone playing music

Podcasts are becoming all the rage. There are so many different podcasts spanning all kinds of topics, making them so incredibly informative, entertaining, or both (which is even better). While I haven't really been very into podcasts in the past, due to my recent blog adventure in which I swapped Netflix for podcasts for a week, I've been listening to quite a few different podcasts.

So since I've been listening to all these podcasts, I figured that I would share what I thought about all these popular podcasts.

Invisibilia from NPR

What it's about
Invisibilia centers around human behavior and a lot of beliefs and ideas that we have. The name of the podcast, Invisibilia, is Latin for "invisible things", capturing the podcast's essence for searching for the invisible forces that shape our lives with a focus on narrative storytelling and psychology.

What I like about it
I really loved the commentary and storytelling style mixed together in this podcast. Invisibilia often creates its points through bringing up some intriguing stories and linking the ideas presented in it to their own ideas. I think that as a result of the stories, the podcast was very engaging. Like watching a television show, I was wondering, "What is going to happen next?"

I also really like that Invisibilia brings up a ton of interesting perspectives to ideas that we often don't think about. One of the episodes I listened to was about solutions and searching for a solution (or a not-solution) to mental health. It brought up a ton of different and unconventional (in my point of view) approaches to mental health that really challenged my prior assumptions and encouraged me to find a new point of view to the subject.

Would I recommend it?
Absolutely! Invisibilia is not only entertaining, but it also so insightful that it feels like you're really expanding your knowledge and becoming a lot more open-minded. Regardless of whether you're interested in psychology, Invisibilia will make you wonder and question simple ideas in the best ways.

Self Service from Girlboss Radio

What it's about
Self Service, hosted by Jerico Mandybur, discusses self care and astrology.

What I like about it
Self Service does a fantastic job at really highlighting what self care is - that it's not just face masks, yoga, and green juice, but rather something a lot simpler. It's really about doing what is best for your own well-being and happiness.

What I was apprehensive towards
Self Service has a section on astrology in every episode. Personally, I am not very engaged in astrology for that reason the whole episode isn't completely engaging to me just based off of my lack of interest in astrology.

Would I recommend it?
Yes. Although it may not be my all time favorite podcast or anything, Self Service is worth a listen. It really does a great job of capturing the concept of self care and if you're interested in astrology, then it'll be a great fit for you.

How I Built This from NPR

What it's about
How I Built This discusses the stories behind some of the most well-known companies. From Ben & Jerry's to Kate Spade to Buzzfeed, the host, Guy Raz, chats with the founders and how they built their companies to be the powerhouses that we know and love today.

What I like about it
When we look at all these successful companies, we often only see what they are today and don't recognize all the work that went into making them possible. How I Built This gives a lot more meaning to the successful brands that we see today. For me, it was really fascinating to hear about the ups and the downs of the process, how each company is a little different, and how for them, progress was not linear. How I Built this is full of all kinds of interesting fun facts (like how the founders of Ben & Jerry's met in middle school - like that's pretty cool!) and incredible stories that prove the difficulties of "making it" but also how it's still possible.

Would I recommend it?
Absolutely! I immediately liked it from the first episode that I listened to and honestly do not have anything but good things to say about it. Would definitely recommend!

Goaldigger by Jenna Kutcher

What it's about
Goaldigger is a workshop style business podcast catered to girlbosses. It provides advice for developing your business as well as achieving your goals.

What I like about it
Jenna Kutcher, the host of Goaldigger, has a lot of really great points and advice surrounding developing a business as well as balancing entrepreneur work with personal life. As a blogger, I found some of her points to be incredibly useful to me and I actually picked up a few social media strategies from the podcast.

What I'm apprehensive towards
The thing that I noticed about Goaldigger that made it different from other podcasts, such as How I Built It, is that it has a very clear target audience. Although every podcast has a target audience, some are more flexible and many people outside of it can still find the information relevant. However, Goaldigger has a very specific niche category. If you fit in it, it's amazingly informative and helpful, but if you don't, it's just not very relevant. For me, I partially feel that I fit in the niche audience but not entirely, causing not all of the episodes to really pertain to me.

Would I recommend it?
If you are an aspiring or current "girlboss" and/or business owner, I would most definitely recommend Goaldigger to you. However, for bloggers (and other similar people) simply looking towards cultivating an online presence as a hobby, I would suggest that you selectively choose the applicable podcasts to you. However, if you are not interested in developing a business/online presence, it probably will not be very relevant to your lifestyle.

Reviews of NPR's How I Built This and Invisibilia podcasts, Self Service from Girlboss, and Jenna Kutcher's Goaldigger.

What podcasts are you listening to?

Invest in Yourself Cinema Lightboard

I've been listening to the Self Service podcast from Girlboss lately and I've been thinking a lot about what self care really means. With the popularization of it, the idea of self care has shifted towards a life of luxury and spending, equating that with self care. However, that's not quite it. In fact, self care can be easier than you think and does not cost anything.

Self care is something that is implemented into your day to day lifestyle, not just something you do on a whim. It's the little things that you do for yourself every day to improve your well-being. Here are 6 ways that I practice self care daily.

01 | Set aside time for my day for myself

This is something that I feel like I cannot function without. Although some days I have more time than others, setting aside some time of the day to relax and have some time to myself is vital for my well-being. I often feel drained, whether it's just after or tough day or even after a social event, so having some alone time to do whatever I please is my form of recharging. 

You're always recharging your cell phone to keep it functioning and full of energy, so why wouldn't you do the same for yourself?

02 | I get 8 hours of sleep every night

This is something that seems so simple but it's one of the things that most people neglect. However, it can be SO impactful on not only improving your well-being, but also your focus and your general health.

I have noticed that others as well as myself often make jokes for going to bed early, saying that it makes us "grandmas". When I think about it though, it doesn't make sense for us to do that. It's not a "grandma" thing, it's just a basic self care thing. You don't even need to get 8 hours of sleep every night to practice self care, you just need to invest in a little more sleep than you usually get to immediately feel the benefits.

03 | I engage in my hobbies

With all our responsibilities, it's so important to make time for things that make your soul sing. Because of that, you can practice self care daily by engaging in your hobbies when you have a chance. Hobbies can be a great creative outlet and also a great stress reliever. When you do things that genuinely make you happy, you're more happy with your life overall. For my hobbies, baking is always something that I love doing and I also try to make some time for working on the arts as well.

Related: Why You Need to Indulge in Your Hobbies More Often

04 | I dress in what I feel good in

What you wear can affect your mood and your mentality. Therefore I always choose to wear clothes that I feel confident in. Whenever I wear something that I don't feel good in, my mood is significantly worse. Wearing what I feel good in is a way to nourish my mental state and prepare myself to be more optimistic regarding whatever my day throws at me.

Related: Why Does Fashion Matter?

However, this differs from retail therapy. It doesn't mean that I purchase things all the time, but it means that I only purchase the clothing that I feel amazing in - it's a selective process.

05 | Eat when I need to eat and however much I need to eat

This one seems like a no-brainer, but sadly, it's not that unusual. I have lots of friends that say that they have forgotten to eat and I know many people that often eat much less than they should be eating. Food can dramatically change your mood.

I remember one specific time, before going out for dinner, I had a headache and my sister was in a bad mood. After dinner, my headache disappeared and her mood quickly improved. She said that she had skipped lunch, so when she had finally eaten something, she felt a lot better. If you do not eat when you need to eat or choose to eat less than you should, it affects your mood, focus, and mental abilities. I'm not saying that you should always be eating either, you should listen to your body's needs.

06 | I don't take on more than I can handle

I know what I am capable of achieving and I don't try to stress myself out by incorporating more into the mix if it's too much of a stress. With the emphasis in our culture on productivity, it can be tempting to take on more. However, I know that if I add more into my life, it might force me to neglect time for myself, which is something that I'm just not comfortable with.

These are just a few of the ways that I currently practice self care daily, but there's a lot more that I should add to my daily life. Self care is a process, one that I am still working on. Some of the self care practices that I'm looking to implement into my life include more engagement with others (beyond just my close friends) and regular exercise.

The way that you practice self care daily does not have to follow the way I do and does not have to follow what other people do. Find what works for you. You don't have to bring it all on at once, but instead you can add things to your life as you go. Just like how I have some implemented practices already and am looking to add more, go bit by bit until it becomes routine.

I Swapped Netflix for Podcasts for a Week

According to, on average, each American spends approximately 270 minutes watching television as of 2016 — that's over four hours per day! With the popularity of Netflix binge watching, we're consuming more and more television media daily.

In fact, I find myself watching it as background noise all the time when I do something else. On the weekends, I lie in bed looking for the next show to watch. With all that time spent watching television, instead of aiming to cut it out completely, I decided to try swapping it out for podcasts.

While podcasts, like television shows, can be made for entertainment, they can also be very insightful, thought-provoking, and even educational. Moreover, listening to podcasts requires no screen time, unlike television, so I thought that it could be a refreshing way to fill that time with something similar but with less screen attention needed and adding some interesting insight into my life.

So here's what happened when I made the swap for a week.

Day One

What I Listened to:
Goal Digger by Jenna Kutcher
Self Service from Girlboss Radio

Today, I listened to two different podcasts, one episode from each. With the idea in mind that I would be replacing it with a time when I would usually watch Netflix, I listened to my audiobooks at times in which I would usually be doing something else with Netflix in the background. However, when I watch Netflix in the background, it is always with a show that I had seen before so that I don't feel bad about not giving it my undivided attention.

With podcasts, I felt very conflicted and it was difficult to focus on both the podcast and the thing that I was doing. While they were presenting lots of interesting ideas, I wasn't able to catch them all and/or it limited the productiveness of what I was doing. Therefore I think that it brought up an issue with the way that I often multi-task with Netflix. My attention cannot fully be in either places.

Day Two

What I Listened to: 

On the second day of this lifestyle shift, I actually did not listen to a podcast at all! If that was a normal day, I would not have watched any Netflix due to all the other things on my to-do list. There were quite a few things that I needed to do and it kept me busy to the point that Netflixing (or in this case, podcasting) was the last thing on my mind.

Day Three

What I Listened to:
Self Service from Girlboss Radio

On the third day, I found that one thing that was very different between Netflix and podcasts is that with Netflix, I feel like I can just sit and watch and do nothing else. However, with podcasting, since it's only listening and you're not really doing anything with your eyes, I usually look for other things to do (requiring minimal concentration) to give myself something to do.

For the most part, this consisted of scrolling on my phone, therefore I wasn't actually really limiting much screen time. On the other hand, it did actually encourage me to look for new activities that I could do while listening. I ended up revisiting an old challenge that I did on the Bloomly and did a 5 minute tidy up (check out the post to see what that means) and it made me feel just a tiny bit more productive.

Read: I Tried Spending 5 Minutes Every Night to Tidy Up for a Week

Day Four

What I Listened to:
How I Built This from NPR

I decided to change things up on the fourth day with a different podcast, listening to How I Built This from NPR (specifically the Kate and Andy Spade and the Ben and Jerry's episodes). I think that I immediately liked the concept of this podcast and it really made me see why people like podcasts. There's a lot of really interesting information to be learned from them.

That day, I also noticed that listening to podcasts, unlike Netflix, made me feel like I needed to be doing something more with my time. Sure, I liked listening to the podcasts, but I didn't feel like I was able to listen to a podcast for hours like I would with Netflix. As a result, I felt that I could potentially dedicate that time to other things. There was a time on day four when I probably would have watched Netflix but I ended up using that time not to listen to a podcast, but rather to get something else done instead. Moreover, I managed to do another 5 minute tidy up while listening to the podcast, encouraging me to make better use of my time.

Day Five

What I Listened to:
How I Built This from NPR

Day five was a Friday and as a result, I was really craving a chance to just sit down and watch something to relax. However, due to this challenge, I had to stop myself from indulging. While podcasts can be enjoyable, due to my mood, they just weren't as satisfying as I had hoped. It really showed that they each have their own purposes as media forms. They can both be enjoyable at times, but they bring different traits to the table.

Therefore I think that it's a matter of finding balance. Podcasts can be great when engaging in simple tasks and looking for some entertainment along the way while television can be more fitting for moments where you just want to lose yourself in some other story.

Day Six

What I Listened to:
Dressed: The History of Fashion from How Stuff Works

I was initially worried about finding things to do over the weekend since I didn't have many plans and my default for when that is generally is Netflix binge watching. However, throughout the day, I found myself preoccupied with other things rather than watching Netflix. While that didn't mean that I was spending less time with a screen, it just meant that I was limiting Netflix. Therefore although I can cut Netflix, I found that it wasn't as effective as I had expected in limiting overall screen time.

Day Seven

What I Listened to:
Self Service from Girlboss

On the seventh day, I found things pretty similar to day six. I did spend quite a bit of time looking at screens, but none of it consisted of Netflix and I found myself occupied with other tasks rather than just kicking back and binge watching.

The Takeaway

Although I had been hoping that podcasts would help me avoid boredom while limiting my screen time, that was not really the case since I would constantly listen to podcasts as background noise while scrolling on my phone. As a result, I think that it would be more effective to swap Netflix for books instead, requiring the same amount of focus as a television show and limiting screen time entirely.

Additionally, once I started doing tasks demanding more focus, I found myself unable to listen to a podcast in the background due to divided attention, which is generally not the case with Netflix. I could immediately tell that the podcasts were straining my focus when I was trying to get tasks done. Therefore I think that Netflix probably would too. From the experience, I think that it has emphasized a bad habit that I really should not do: watching something as background noise.

As for my dip into the podcast world, I think that this week has been great in encouraging me to appreciate different podcasts out there. Throughout the week, I listened to quite a few different podcasts and I feel like I have learned some interesting fun facts from the podcasts.

I Swapped Netflix for Podcasts for a Week

Why Your Age Does Not Limit What You Can Do

There have been so many times that I have thought to myself, "I couldn't do that because I'm too old/young". There are a lot of things that we think of doing, but assume that age is a barrier to them. However, that's not the case at all. Here's why.

I’m a bit of a daydreamer; I like to think about all of the things that I want out of life and what it would be like to “have it all.” However, for the longest time, I didn’t do anything about it. I sat there, dreaming about all the things I wanted to do, but never took action on them, partially because I was scared, but also because I thought that my age limited me. But in reality, I was really just using it as an excuse. It wasn't a physical barrier, but a mental one.

We often use age as an excuse, a mental barrier. 

When I was just thirteen years old, I attended my first cake decorating class. Watching Cupcake Wars for years, cake decorating was something that I always wanted to learn, so I signed up for Wilton cake decorating classes at my local craft store. The minimum age for the class was 13, so I just barely fit the bill, but when I stepped into the class, the only other students were about four times my age, which was pretty daunting. I was a child. I felt so out of place.

However, I stuck with it, and I'm glad that I did. Within that class, although I was very clearly the youngest, everyone in the class was very supportive and I was (thankfully) able to keep up with everyone else. The things that we were learning weren't age specific. Anyone could try out cake decorating as long as they were determined and interested, two things that I was. 

My age didn't have to be a barrier as long as I didn't let it be one. 

Looking back on it, I'm glad that I took those classes at such a young age because they've taught me so many foundational skills that I can use throughout my life. If anything, my age was a strength. It gave me knowledge to apply in other things and also helped foster my passion for it so that I can enjoy it even more.

Another example of moments where I have used my age as an excuse has been through blogging. I always used to think that blogging was an impossible dream. I imagined what it would be like to be a blogger, but one thing that constantly held me back was my age. I felt like I was too young to have a blog, and I told myself that I would make one later, when I was older.

Eventually, I realized that there was no point in waiting. Yes, I may have had my whole life ahead of me, but what’s life without following your dreams? The only thing that was holding me back was myself. When I started my blog, I decided to start living the life that I had imagined.

[psst! I discussed a similar topic in creating the life you imagined in a guest post for Blogger Babes: check it out!]

And thankfully, like the cake decorating classes, making that decision to start blogging was one of the best ones that I had made. If I kept on waiting, letting time dictate what I could do, then I wouldn't have been able to enjoy this experience as long as I have. In fact, I might not have even been writing this blog post today.

If you let age limit what you do, it will only hold you back from success and happiness. 

It's crazy to think about all the opportunities that I almost missed because I was using my age as an excuse. The opportunities are there. Even if it doesn't seem like it's an opportunity, it doesn't mean that it isn't one. Instead of searching for excuses like using your age to justify a lack of action, search for reasons why you should go for it, why you should step out of your comfort zone and do it anyways.

I believe that you can do what you put your mind to, regardless of your age. We hear stories of these child prodigies and these people that are reaching huge successes in what seems like "beyond their prime" and always praise them. So why wouldn't you want to go after your dreams, even if it seems like your age is a problem?

You should know that you are always at your prime. Whether you're ten, twenty, fifty, or even seventy, you can still do amazing things. 

You are capable of magnificent, incredible, gorgeous, and awesome things, so don't let those opportunities slip you by. 

Why Your Age Does Not Limit What You Can Do

When you try and describe yourself, what is the first word that you think of? Mine is creative. But is that my identity? I think that identity is a tricky concept. We expect that it can be simplified in just a few words, but in reality, I think that there is so much more to it that we often ignore.

No matter what word you use to describe yourself, it never quite seems to capture you perfectly. Sure, there are lots of words that might fit your personality, but it only seems to capture one part of you. Sure, I may be creative, but that's only one aspect of me. Maybe one word seems to fit your personality most of the time, but another seems to be a stronger trait than the other. The thing about words is that they fail to describe something as complex as an identity.

How can you be sure of your own identity if you don't even have the words to dictate it? Words fail to describe something as complex as an identity.

An example of using words to describe identity is present in fashion and capturing personal style. People might describe their fashion style as "trendy" or "hipster" or "preppy". But what happens when you shift styles or you deviate from that trend? Does that make you any less "trendy" or "hipster" or "preppy"? Using just a few words to describe your identity tends to put you in a box, describing that this is who you are and nothing else. It's like a limit on who you can be. 

So if using words to describe yourself limits who you can be, then why are we rushing to try and define ourselves?  

Whether it's the Myers Briggs personality test or a Buzzfeed "Everyone Has A Type Of Pizza That Suits Their Personality – What's Yours?" quiz, there's something about an answer regarding who you are that is so compelling. We do it on a daily basis, trying to look for the right words to capture ourselves. Maybe the answer is that you're "pepperoni pizza" because you're well-liked and classic. The fact is that there are so many people that are drawn to these types of quizzes.

The popularity of these quizzes suggest that it's perfectly normal to be searching for your identity and not to quite have one. You're not alone in that.

Although these methods of forming an answer (personality quizzes, etc.) to sum up your personality don't really offer any tangible benefit, whenever the result seems to ring true, I always have a sense of satisfaction with it, like I feel understood. It's like the quiz writes out an identity for you, one that you're content with having since it seems to be truth.

I think that the reason that we are trying so hard to define ourselves is because it feels nice to be understood. According to Psychology Today, "'feeling understood activate[s] neural regions previously associated with reward and social connection'", therefore making "individuals feel valued, respected and validated.

Read more: Psychology Today - Feeling Understood: Even More Important than Feeling Loved?

Being unsure of your identity is natural, suggested by the complexity of putting an identity into words and the overwhelming number of people also searching for answers. However, the importance of being understood can be a way that you can come to terms with your identity without knowing exactly what it is.

While you may not have the validation of being able to translate who you are into words, you can successfully translate it to other people in many different ways. Whether it's through finding common passions, sharing experiences and stories, or telling people that you're like Blair from Gossip Girl because of you share determination and a love for fashion, being able to express the kind of person you are to other people can allow you to feel understood.

If you're not sure of your identity, you can still translate it to other people without ever having to explicitly define it. 

Although in job interviews and Tinder bios you might be asked to sum up who you are in just a few sentences, the only true way to find your identity just might be through communicating your own personality to others and having them understand who you are. While they may not be able to do the same and put your identity into a few words, there's an internal feeling of "I know who _____ is" that you can have when you connect with someone which is as close as I think we can get to really understanding an identity.

So why is it okay to not be sure of your identity? Your identity is always changing and it's much too complex to express in just a few words. While you may be striving to define it, the best way that you can come to terms with the certainty of an identity might just be through sharing moments with others and working on your own passions and goals in order for you to really get a gut feeling of who you are.

You might never know how to explicitly express that in words, but you can always express it to others in moments when you need to. And that just might have to be enough.

Why It's Okay to Not Be Sure of Your Identity

salted caramel chocolate eclairs

One thing about me is that I love to bake. For me, it's so rewarding to make new sweet treats and even better considering that at the end of a long day of baking, I get to eat something incredibly delicious. However, like all the things that we do, there's a lot to learn from baking and the experiences that I've had with it. Here are 5 life lessons that I've learned from baking that can be applied anywhere.

01 | Some things will turn out to be amazing, but others might not. And that's okay.

Whenever I bake, I always have the expectation that everything will turn out perfect, but that's not always the case. You will make mistakes and you will have to scrap some of the work that you've done. However, that doesn't mean that it wasn't worth it. You either get the satisfaction of a job well done or the satisfaction that you did what you could do and the ability to learn from it, which to me is enough.

02 | Apply trial and error and things will work out.

When things go wrong, it's so easy to get devastated. However, the great thing is that you always have another chance. In baking, if my eclairs turn out flat and don't puff up, no big deal, there's always a next time to change things and get it right. In my daily life, I have the same opportunity. Sure, things might be a mess today, but tomorrow I can try again with a new approach. Things will work out if you just get up and tackle it again.

03 | Don't only focus on the visual appeal, focus on what's inside as well. 

Angel food cake cupcake with whipped mascarpone cream and berriesOne of the things that I get so caught up on is how things look on the outside. Whether I'm decorating a cake or making brownies, I often find myself compromising taste for visual appeal. Sure, I don't love the taste of frosting and I know that it will wash out the flavor of the cake, but it would make it look so much neater and professional. In baking and in reality, I've learned that you shouldn't just focus on the visual aspect of things, but also what's inside. Instead of compromising one for the other, try and find balance. Like a cake, don't solely focus on making yourself viewed well in the eyes of others, turn your attention to how you feel on the inside as well. It's nice to be liked, but you need a balance in your life.

04 | Simple doesn't mean bad. 

As I've grown up, I've moved away from the basic chocolate chip cookies and have begun to make my own creations. For example, with a cake, I'll sit there trying to plan out the layers, the flavors, and the textures. However, sometimes I get carried away and end up over-complicating things by adding too many layers and too many things to make to create a final product. In the end, just because it's simple doesn't make it less delicious or less interesting, simple just means that it has everything you need, which is just as good.

05 | Perfectionism can cloud your success. 

When you have this perfect image in your head of what you want whatever you're making to look and taste a certain way, it can often cloud your level of satisfaction with your creation. I am a perfectionist. And I know that. In fact, it can be a strength by ensuring high quality in whatever I do, but it can also be a weakness by stopping me from seeing all my successes and only seeing where I went wrong. At the end of the day, you are your biggest supporter but you can also be your biggest critic. Don't let your inner critic stop you from patting yourself on the back and congratulating yourself.

5 Life Lessons I've Learned From Baking

Why I Choose to Not Measure My Life By Numbers

With all the numbers in our lives — GPA, salary, social media followers, weight — we often find ourselves using these numbers to quantify the amount of personal satisfaction and success that we have in our lives. However, although it's an easy trap to fall into, using numbers to measure your life, it can do more harm than good.

Here's Tracy's story about her time in high school obsessing over her GPA, how it affected her, and what she learned from the experience.

This series is a part of the Hindsight series. If you don't know what that is, here's a brief summary:

The Hindsight series consists of guest posts from various bloggers sharing their stories on Bloomly about any personal experience that they might have encountered that reflects personal growth, self-improvement, and/or struggles with mental health. The Hindsight series is about looking back on experiences that shaped who we are and have helped us grow, which we only see now with hindsight.

Learn more: About the Hindsight Series 
More Hindsight posts: Read the Series

When I say the words “high school,” what do you think of? Was it a proud time in your life, when you felt balanced and full of energy, or was it like mine, full of strife, anxiety, and exhaustion? When I think back to those four years of my life, I see a time filled with more destruction than learning, more loathing than love, and more survival than thriving. It’s taken me a long time to get to where I am, and I’m still unlearning the conditioning I had from years of competing for my self-worth.

Texas is big. And Plano, the district where I went to high school, was no exception. In 2007, the year I graduated, the Plano Independent School District’s student enrollment numbers topped 53,000 students. About 10 years later, in 2016, these enrollment numbers hover around the same massive figure, with over 54,000 students.

But numbers are like glaze to eye-doughnuts if I don’t attach a personal meaning to them. So here is how those big numbers trickled down to me.

I remember Plano Senior High School, a two-year public high school, to be a behemoth of a school. Our graduating class topped 1,200 students, a figure I only remember all these years from memorizing my class rank at the time. I recall trying to shuffle around the halls and squeezing past people on my way to class shoulder-to-shoulder, barely moving an inch, and then sprinting from one end of the campus to the other, frightening the ducks on our artificial pond, to make it in time for class. Classes were always overcrowded even in the limited enrollment Advanced Placement courses.

Being around so many people at a time in my life when I was supposed to be becoming an adult and discovering who I was became an overwhelming task. So instead of taking a step back and asking myself what I was doing with my life, and what passions I wanted to discover about myself, I stuffed those aspirations deep down, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work trying to succeed by the numbers.

So succeed by the numbers I did. I soared to the top parts of the class rankings. The fact that GPA was calculated to decimal points meant another thing to obsess over. The trend of complaining about who got the least amount of sleep only intensified from middle school (start ’em young, as they say); people would talk about how they were up all night studying for a test.

The competition was not always an open dialogue, but due to the overcrowded atmosphere and the desire to stand out, competition became so ingrained in each of us that it became a conditioned impulse and a way of existing that simply became accepted.

Competition became a conditioned impulse and a way of existing that simply became accepted.

Cliques in my physics class formed based on what grades you got. For example, if you had a potential to break the curve (a point of pride and bragging rights), you would be invited into one study group. Those who didn’t have that potential worked in other study groups, or even worse, with no one at all.

Academic success became a way to judge a person’s worth; it was a currency that bought membership into an exclusive club.

Striving to be the best on every standard — tangible or not — quickly became tied to my identity and sense of self-worth. If I didn’t get the highest grade, I was worthless. If I didn’t study right up to the minute of every test, I was complacent. If I didn’t get a student leadership position, I was unpopular. If I didn’t sleep the least, I was lazy.

Related: I Failed a Semester of College But Wasn't a Failure

There was no single event that caused me to look up and realize that I had been profoundly affected by years of constant struggle. Instead, it was a slow awakening of over a decade now, to realize how crazy and insane life was back then.

It took the healing presence of nature at Amherst College for me to realize that there was more to life. The feel of Adirondack chairs on a dewy spring. The smell of steaks permeating the thick summer air. The sound of birdsong in an autumn canopy. The sight of sunset falling over a snow-covered hill.

It took years of therapy and more tears than I could ever fathom to process all that had happened. It took years of meditation and prayer. For me, I embraced nature, meditation, and prayer because these activities allowed me to gain perspective on what truly mattered in life.

Nature was bigger and broader than I could fathom; it calmed me and reminded me that my problems were much smaller than the majestic world in which I lived. 

I felt attracted to meditation after learning the scientific benefits and capacity for mindfulness to calm the fear centers in my brain. And prayer allowed me to return to what I had always felt as a child—a faith, very much unseen, that everything would eventually turn out to be alright.

To some degree, I feel like only recently I’ve been on the cusp of real change, as I’ve started to do what I want and to ignore all of the “should”s that plague my mind — those familiar refrains which want me to succeed to reach a certain number or a certain bar.

In those years of healing, I’ve learned that love was more important than anything else. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how much I competed against my friends, what mattered to me more was camaraderie and community. That a greater joy came from helping others and from lifting them up: from celebrating their strengths rather than despising them. That everyone faced the same struggles, and that it was important to ask for help. That studying was important, but maybe for a limited purpose like graduate school, and that everything outside of the classroom walls contained better lessons than those within it. 

Everything outside of the classroom walls contained better lessons than those within it. 

Most importantly, I learned that the numbers didn’t matter, and couldn’t matter for my own happiness. And if numbers did matter, they were ones that I had been taught for my whole life to ignore: minutes spent in checking in with someone to make sure they were okay, hours spent in deep conversations with my friends, and days spent working on my own creative projects that let my imagination run wild.

Related: Why You Need to Indulge in Your Hobbies More Often

I’ve been able to start my own podcast, write a great newsletter to my friends and family, practice my photography in sport and animal rescue events, help an organization write a grant application, and become an ambassador for a social media movement.

When I stop worrying about the numbers, I carry with me a powerful self worth and intrinsic motivation to accomplish projects because I want to, not because I have to. 

If there is one message I want to impart on the readers, and in particular the high school students at my school, it is this: You are so much more. You are so much more than your GPA. You are so much more than the last test grade you received. You are so much more than the number of leadership positions that you hold.

Related: Why Your Position Doesn't Define You

And to the readers who have long passed their high school years, recognize where numbers still have a control of you. The fixation on numbers extends to every facet of adult life. 

Ranking is easily the next salary figure, the next grades, the next job rating. Minutes spent studying are no different from minutes billed. Leadership positions will translate to other measures of prestige, like your house’s square footage or where you send your children to school. The siren call of numbers extends beyond high school; if anything, they can be more insidious because they don’t come in obvious forms.

Your confidence and sense of self worth should not be tied down to numbers if you want to live your fullest life.

Numbers are cruel.

Numbers are the easy way out when people don’t want to truly confront who they are and their sense of self.

Numbers will never make you feel enough.

I’m reminded of T.S. Eliot’s famous poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". When I feel sentimental, I pull it out from time to time. There’s this stanza that I always return to for times like these:

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

So how should I presume that your life can be lived? Measure life not by coffee spoons. In fact, don’t measure by any metric at all. Too precious are those evenings, mornings and afternoons lost to a struggle for wondering if you are enough. I know that all too soon, I may be a voice dying. And what music do I want to hear at that time? The silence of cold and unfeeling numbers from a farther room? Or the laughter of my friends and family, the sound of a voice saying “thank you,” and the bright melody of a singing soul?

If you want to know you’re enough, if you want to know you truly matter, if you want to know these all —then focus on life beyond grades: in school and at work. Go outside. Take a break. Sleep as much as you want to because that’s how your brain can operate the best. If you don’t, you’ll live a life where you are constantly grading yourself and feeling like you don’t quite measure up. Forget about getting the perfect grade and instead live each moment absorbing the world around you. Meditate. Get off social media and start interacting with your friends face to face.

The world is already full of people who want to evaluate you and put you in a box. The sooner you can tell yourself that you are worthy of love and belonging no matter what, the sooner you’ll be able to live a life where the numbers don’t matter, but you still do.
Tracy Huang
About the Author: Tracy Huang
Tracy is the creator of the podcast, The Mental Arts. She doesn’t answer the question “How are you?” anymore, but any surefire conversation starters include photography, jiu jitsu/karate, cats, and food. She also supports two organizations encouraging frank conversations about life: #HalfTheStory and #SubmitTheStigma (they’re looking for contributors!). 
I Tried 4 New Things in a Month and This is What I Learned From Them

If you're a frequent Bloomly reader, you would know that I try quite a few new things and document them through blog posts to sum up my experiences with them. This process is great to push myself to try new things and really stick with them and also helps others see whether or not these activities might benefit them.

However, last month, despite having any kind of push or ulterior motive (ex: blog posts) I ended up trying 4 new things. Here's what I learned from them.

new thing no. 1 | Meditation

If you're a devoted Bloomly reader, you might know that I actually tried meditation for a week and documented it in a blog post. I decided to try out meditation to reap the positive mental health benefits.

Read more: I Tried Meditation for a Week and This is What Happened

The nitty gritty details are in the post, but a quick summary was that although I learned to have a greater appreciation for it, the stillness of it all just didn't really feel like it fit my personality and lifestyle.

Although it wasn't a perfect fit and I don't plan to adopt it into my everyday lifestyle, I think that trying meditation was still worthwhile, considering that it opened me up to a greater understanding of meditation as a whole and taught me some great tips for using to calm myself down. I have found that I can apply aspects of meditation to other things: such as when I can't fall asleep due to restless thoughts, when I need to calm myself down, or even different forms of meditation like yoga, which happens to be the next new thing that I tried.

new thing no. 2 | Yoga

Going into yoga, I was definitely a little nervous. After chatting with a friend about my adventures into trying meditation, she invited me to go to a yoga class with her, since it was something that she found to be excellent for her mental health.

However, I had never tried yoga before. I had already been trying meditation and I wasn't quite sure that I liked it, but I think that as a result, I was open to yoga as a different type of meditation: one that was a bit more active.

Related: 5 Forms of Meditation to Try

Before ever beginning, my biggest initial concern was not being able to keep up. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. I was, of course, nervous at the beginning of the class. The instructor was saying all these pose names that I had never heard before and the people around me all seemed to be doing their own variations. However, throughout the class I began to understand that yoga was more about doing what you could do, rather than pushing yourself to keep up, explaining those variations. Following along the people around me, I began to get more comfortable in the class as I slowly caught on to the pose names.

From that one class, I think that it did convince me to be more open to doing so again in the future. For me, it was a lot more engaging and interesting than meditation due to the movement. Although in the class I wasn't focusing much on my mind (since it was my first class and I was feeling a little too nervous to do so), I think that with time, it could be a great mental health outlet and also a great physical health one as well.

The takeaway: Be open to different variations of similar things. Similar things aren't the same, so don't treat them like they are. 

new thing no. 3 | Dance

I had always been hesitant to try dance. While I did ballet ages ago (it seems like a rite of passage for small five year old girls), it had been forever since I really tried learning dance. I have a few friends that love it and had always been trying to get me to try it, but I always said no, insisting that I didn't like it.

However, I finally came around and decided to try it. And honestly, it was a lot of fun. It was fascinating to learn all these interesting new dance moves. In fact, after experiencing it, I wished that I had done it earlier. While dancing wasn't my passion, it was something that I enjoyed doing and I feel like I missed out on those enjoyable experiences, triggering those regrets.

The takeaway: I should have been more open to trying out dance and other new things. If I was, maybe I would have been able to enjoy them sooner. 

new thing no. 4 | Zumba

After trying dance, I felt a lot more open to anything dance related, so much that I decided to go to zumba with a friend. I had known a little about what zumba was before entering the class, but I had never actually tried it out for myself. I knew that it was dance mixed with exercise, but that was about it.

In the class, I was definitely a little overwhelmed at first with the pace of everything. The music was fast, everyone seemed like they knew what they were doing, and they all had so much energy that it felt a little difficult to keep up. However, as the class went on, like yoga, I got the hang of it. What I really liked about it was how the moves repeated, so if you didn't get it the first time, you could get it the next time, making it a lot easier to get in the groove of it.

The next day, I was surprised at how sore and tired my body was. During zumba, I did feel like I was getting a workout, but I didn't expect that my muscles would be so sore based off of the intensity of the workout. I think that one of the interesting things about zumba is that it's like a disguise for a workout. It doesn't seem like one, but it is one, which I really liked.

The takeaway: You don't have to try new things all the time, but sometimes it's good to change things up a bit. 

In fact, I ended up watching a zumba video at home and following along with it a few weeks later. While I don't intend to do zumba all the time, I think that it's a great way to change things up so that you're not falling into a routine workout of the boring stuff. For me, zumba was something that was different and refreshing, which is just what you need in your life every now and then.

I Tried 4 New Things in a Month and This is What I Learned From Them

5 Activities You Can Do With Friends to Change Things Up

We constantly fall into the same patterns. Whether it's just with our morning routines that we fall into on a daily basis or going to the same few restaurants over and over again, we seem to find what we like and settle into it. This might be true with friends as well. You and your friends find a few things that you all like to do: go get coffee together, eat brunch, go to movies, etc. While I think that's great, I think that it's also nice to try and get creative and do some activities that are a bit out of the norm.

If you're sick of the same old activities that you always do with your friends, here are some ideas for how to shake things up.

one. | take a cooking or baking class.

I love baking, so I'm a bit partial towards this one. Cooking and baking classes are really fun and engaging, allow you to eat (what a win!), and take home some experience and skill.

It's pretty easy to find cooking or baking classes near you, a lot of bakeries and restaurants in your area might offer some (just look around). I know that Sur La Table has lots of super interesting classes from basic knife skills to French macarons to Israeli cuisine, so you're sure to find some that you're interested in. If you love baking and sweet treats, Wilton has lots of classes nationwide.

two. | try an escape room.

I've only done one before, but it's definitely a great activity that will keep you on your feet. If you don't know what an escape room is, it's literally just what it's called. It's a simulated experience where you are trapped in a room (and/or dealing with a bomb) and must solve all kinds of puzzles in order to escape. It's great for team bonding, but note that the more people you have, the most complicated it'll get. But hey, that's part of the fun, right?

three. | go geocaching

Geocaching is essentially a scavenger hunt using technology. Using GPS devices, you and your friends can try to find the geocache (container). Geocaching can be done almost anywhere, it's crazy how many caches might be in places that you pass every day. However, it can also be a great way to explore places that you haven't been to before. While out hunting for caches, you can explore your surroundings.

Read more: Geocaching 101

four. | take a workout class together for something you've never tried before.

I recently went to yoga (for the first time!) with a friend and it was a really exciting experience. For her, she was excited because not a lot of people want to go with her and she was interested in seeing what people thought about it. For me, it was exciting to try something new and it was nice to have her there to support me and show me something that she is really interested in.

If you want to change things up, try a workout class for something that you (or a friend) haven't tried before. Not only is it a great way to stay healthy and get that workout in, it can also be a great social activity.

five. | go for afternoon tea.

One of my favorites, having a tea party is an experience in itself. With all kinds of food, although afternoon tea has its structure, there's lots of room for some creativity in culinary creations. You get to try out a little of lots of different foods - from minty cucumber sandwiches to a delicious Battenberg cake.
Bonus: it's super cute and very Instagrammable.

What activity will you try?

5 Activities You Can Do With Friends to Change Things Up

5 Forms of Meditation to Try

I recently tried meditation for a week for a blog post and have felt that I've found more insight into the world of meditation that I was originally lacking.

Meditation has lots of great benefits for your well-being. It can reduce stress hormone levels, reduce blood pressure, improve psychological well-being (regarding depression, anxiety, addiction, etc.), and much more.

Read more: Huffington Post - What Meditation Does to Your Body

Although I only tried guided meditation through the Headspace app, I became more aware of meditation overall and have been beginning to look into other forms of meditation.

According to Psychology Today, "Meditation is the practice of turning your attention to a single point of reference. It can involve focusing on the breath, on bodily sensations, or on a word or phrase known as a mantra. In other words, meditation means turning your attention away from distracting thoughts and focusing on the present moment."

From that definition, the idea of meditation, despite our connotations and assumptions regarding it, can be very broad. Because of that, I'm beginning to look into new forms of meditation that might better fit my lifestyle and personality. Here are some different ways that you can meditate.

01 | Guided meditation

This is the type of meditation that I tried in the blog post where I meditated for a week. Guided meditation can be found through many apps and is essentially an audio recording directing you to focus on different things such as the sounds around you and the way that your body is moving.

02 | Art meditation

Ever heard of art therapy? Making art can be healing, helping to increase awareness of self, reduce anxiety, provide a vehicle for self-expression, center ourselves, and more. While making art, you can completely focus your mind on that process. When I'm making art, I find myself getting lost in the moment and I completely forget about all my worries.

Read more: Washington Post - Why Making Art is the New Meditation

03 | Zen coloring

Even if you're no Picasso, art therapy can still be beneficial to you. With the rise in popularity for adult coloring books, pick up one that you like and start coloring in it while putting on some calming music. Coloring books can be like art meditation in the sense that you're focusing on that singular task.

04 | Yoga

This one is a pretty well known form of meditation and I'd say that it's definitely one worth trying out if you feel like sitting down for meditation is too boring for you or you struggle with a short attention span. Depending on the type of yoga that you do, it can consist more of meditation and more of movement. However, regardless of what type, yoga will always encourage you to focus on your breath and the movement of the body: meditation. It's a great way to refresh the mind and the body.

05 | Meditation while cooking

Did you know that you can meditate in your own kitchen? Dana Velden from The Kitchn suggests that meditation can be done while cooking by really focusing on what you're doing and the relationships between the ingredients. Cooking really enhances the focus on the senses: the texture of the food, the scents, the balance of tastes and flavors, the sound of the ingredients cooking, and the look of what you're serving, raising awareness.

Read more: The Kitchn - Weekend Meditation: The Quiet Joy of Cooking

Which one will you try?

5 Forms of Meditation to Try