If you would have told me that I would be celebrating my 26th birthday in Shanghai, I would have said no way... China? I've actually really been looking forward to this birthday, even though it means that my early twenties are officially over. Maybe some sort of transformation happened in the move across the world, but I feel so much wiser and so much more confident. As I was telling Dave, I finally feel like I can go to a nice restaurant and feel like I'm finally grown-up enough to belong there.

Some thoughts on things that I have learned in my early twenties:
Seek out help. If there's one thing I would tell my younger self, it would be to seek out help, often. I've spent way too much time trying to figure things out on my own when I could have just asked a professor or a friend. I think that a significant part of this is the willingness to be vulnerable and to put yourself out there and admit that you don't have it all figured out. I would tell my younger self to find a mentor (or a few) and learn all I could from that person.
Practice gratitude. There's a quote by Melody Beattie (found via Lululemon) that says, "Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow." I love this quote. Practicing gratitude every day by writing down and thanking God for what I'm thankful for has absolutely changed my attitude and perspective on money, work, and family life.
Pursue excellence, not perfection. I tend to make myself a victim of the 'All or Nothing' mindset -- that if I can't do it perfectly, I shouldn't bother. That mindset has gotten in the way of producing good work because what this mindset is really about is laziness. I guess you could say that one of my goals is 'Be less lazy.' Doing excellent work lets you stand out, brings glory to God, and opens opportunities for the future. Which brings me to my next lesson.
Good enough is good enough. This isn't about not striving. This is about being ok with not always hitting the target. It's the striving that counts. I don't need to check off every item on my to-do list at the end of the day either. I'm thankful for what I've accomplished.
Stay nimble. I'm so thankful that we have had the freedom to pick up and move to China for a year (maybe more). I definitely have specific aspirations, but I have to remind myself that flexibility is the key to going where you are needed (and called). Who knows where we'll be living and what we'll be doing in five years? I just know that I've had great learning experiences and that every experience is bringing me that much closer to who God wants me to be.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. I love this quote from Colin Powell: "Throughout my career, I've always tried to do my best today, think about tomorrow, and maybe dream a bit about the future. But doing your best in the present has to be the rule." I truly believe that wherever we are, we're here for a reason. We have unique talents, resources, and opportunities, and I think the key to making these work is stewardship -- taking what you have and making the most of it.
Lean in. I'm not worried about what kind of work I'll be doing when I have a larger family. I used to think that I should go into certain fields because it would offer me "flexibility." But that's living for a life that I don't have yet. So I'm going to keep working towards big goals, and if I need a break when the time comes, I'll take it.
Strive to thrive joyfully. This is my dad's catch phrase and my new mantra in life. It's about balance and prosperity. I've incorporated reading and reflection time into my daily routine, which has made loads of difference for my quality of life. Working too much and playing too much are both just too much. I've found that finding joy in my work is so much easier when I've eaten well, exercised and rested.
Stay curious. On my list of things to learn: watercolor painting, finance, coding, and poker. Some of these are things that are a big part of Dave's life, and I'm looking forward to being able to share in them.
Make your goals known. I tend to keep my goals a secret because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn't accomplish them. Embarrassment, maybe. Or feelings of failure. But sharing goals is actually really validating. You're opening yourself up to criticism (constructive or otherwise), but also encouragement.
Invest in rest. Prayer, reflection, quiet time -- these things are so necessary to my daily functioning. Time spent resting is time well spent.
Build a community. Family and friends are such big parts of our lives. I have my hermit ways, but taking the time to have people over for dinner or meet for lunch is about investing in people and relationships. I haven't always been the best at building community, but it is something that I'm continually striving for.
Dream in color. Another one of my dad's catch phrases that I love. This is about making your dreams bigger and dreaming more vividly. I was so good at this at a child. I really thought that I would be Secretary of State of head of a publishing company by the time I was 35.
Just do it. Whenever I start thinking that I really should do something, but I'm not sure if I have time to finish it and I'm kind of tired, I just start. I've found that just the act of starting sets the process of working in motion. Even if I don't end up finishing, I've usually accomplished a big bulk of the work.
Comparison is a dangerous game to play. Comparing myself to other people has gotten me into a lot of trouble spiritually. I've been jealous, I've spent money on myself that I should have given to the church, and I've lost confidence and feelings of self-worth. Absolutely, at all costs, avoid comparison. Reminding myself of what I have to be thankful for and also focusing on my strengths has been my antidote to this.
Play on your strengths. Instead of just focusing on "improving" myself in certain areas, I want to play more on my strengths, making them qualities that make me invaluable (and unique).
Work smarter. I work way more efficiently early in the morning. While sipping on a cup of coffee, between 8-11 a.m., I find that I can get three times as much done than I can once 4 p.m. rolls around. I've learned to prioritize (most of) my tasks, so that I can focus on the more important things earlier on in the day, and leave easier tasks for the less energetic times in my day.
Live simply so that others can simply live. My parents are an awe-inspiring example of generosity in action. No fancy cars, houses, vacations, dinners out. No big purchases, new clothing, or expensive hobbies. Yet they paid for college, fully fund scholarships and financially support their church and countless people both here and abroad. I aspire to live like them. I'm thankful for the opportunity to live more simply here in China with fewer expenses and fewer belongings.

In her book, Happier at Home, Gretchen Rubin writes, "I wanted to experiment with an additional strategy: to choose a single word or phrase as an overarching theme for the entire year."
With bigger goals and more opportunities and choices, this year, more than ever, it seems like I need a theme for the year to keep my focus narrowed. my one word: intentional.
intentional about pursuing friendships.
intentional about how I choose to spend my time.
intentional about my goals and the actions I take to pursue those goals.
I've made the mistake before of spreading myself too thin -- trying to take on too much and then burning out too early. If there's one thing I would tell my younger self, it would be, choose to do just a few things, but do them well.
I've set clear, but limited, objectives for myself this year. In order to reach those objectives, there are things that I won't be able to do. Trade-offs. This year, I will make deliberate choices -- about time, work, and relationships.

Along with my theme for the year, I want to add a verse -- my own personal verse for my 26th year:
"And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns."
-Philippians 1:6