I decided to do something different for my blog as a precursor to turning the big 3 0. I’ve learned so many lessons, especially in the past two years, and I am happy to pass along some of my knowledge as well as the knowledge of a couple of well-known experts. Below are some of the most challenging and common questions that we face in life — male and female — that plaque us all. Buckle up, this blog isn’t like one’s I’ve written before, there is no whimsy here, only tried and true life lessons and advice. Five things life has taught me before 30, in no specific order. . .

#1- How to make the best decision

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When you get right down to it, life is a string of choices: City or suburbs? Debit or credit? John or Chris? Lisa or Amy? Chicken or fish? It’s tantalizing to think that there is just one, and only one, correct branch of every decision tree and that it’s just waiting to be uncovered by a sufficient amount of rational analysis. “We feel an obligation to use all our intellectual tools to find the absolute ideal option,” says Berry Schwartz, a professor of psychology and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. “But that’s a fool’s errand.”

This year I turned down a well-paying government job {twice} to follow my passion as a makeup artist for M.A.C and continue working on the success of my own business {Couture Makeup.} My gut told me on two different occasions that my happiness and passion were more important than the stability, prestige, or money that came with that specific position. I’ve done my best not to look back and wonder if it was a huge mistake, but deep down, I know that I made the right decision. To speak candidly, I was also in a unique position this year of choosing between two different men, men that I cared for and loved who loved me in return, and in the end I chose me. I knew that I wanted and needed time to be single and find myself. By no means was it the easy way out, it was actually quite painful, but when your heart is leading you to a conclusion that is so blatantly clear, you must follow it.

The more we agonized over a decision, the more paralyzed we become, Schwartz explains, and the greater our potential for unhappiness later. Pros and cons are not always of equal weight, so instead of making a 10-foot, two-column list, he advises, sit down and ask your gut first. There may be 244 reasons not to do something, but how do they stack up against one pro like “If I don’t, I’ll always regret it?” After you’ve discovered what’s really in your heart of hearts, take the pressure off by lowering your expectations, then do your best not to look back. “Revisiting decisions after you’ve made them is not a good idea,” says Schwartz. “If you do, you’ll find a lot to be dissatisfied with.” There’s no blueprint for infallibility. Success is getting it wrong as infrequently as possible.

#2- How to spot a narcissist

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The “narcissistic personality”– a legend-in-their-own-mind type who assumes that other people exist merely to admire them — is notoriously difficult to tag in the wild. That’s because at first you’re having so much fun with them, romantic or friendly, to notice the signs. Only later will you register the considerable emotional drain of being in their company.

Here are some indicators that you may have a narcissist on your hands. Are they social, charming and, well, kinda materialistic? Are they rude to waiters? Do they have grandiose plans? Do their eyes glaze over when you try to talk about yourself and steer the conversation back to their favorite topic or general self? Do they blame others when things go wrong?

“A narcissistic person can be really likable and exciting at the beginning,” says Keith Campbell, coauthor of The Narcissistic Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. “The problem is that they lack empathy.” So rather than considering your needs — ever — the narcissist believes that their time and energy are best spent on activities benefiting the worlds most exceptional person, themself. This selfishness is wearing, and you are soon tapped dry from constantly reinforcing the charmer’s high opinion of themself.

If your narcissist is a potential romantic partner, you should probably run, says Campbell, no matter how thrilling the ride. “It’s like eating a bunch of chocolate cake,” he says. “It feels really good at first, but later you’re sick.”

If your narcissist is a friend and you want to maintain the relationship, it’s up to you to understand their limitations. “Accept that he or she is a lot of fun to have a drink with, and enjoy them on that level, but don’t hope for anything further.”

This year, I had to let go of a 12 year friendship. I don’t know if it will be forever, but I do know that it needed to happen. The friendship never made me feel good about myself, it was always about the person and their needs. When I was finally able to label the person as a narcissist, it felt like I had finally found the missing piece to the puzzle. I could stand back and say, “wow, ok so this is why the relationship never worked!” My newfound awareness of how important my metal health was, and how this person seemed to cause constant conflict, made the dissolution of the friendship a very freeing move. A part of me loves this person and always will. I pray that she grows and perhaps we can be friends again down the road. You might be thinking “Wow, not after said person reads this post!!” I can assure you, this person has never read a blog I’ve written in the 5 years I’ve been writing, even though I had asked her to on numerous occasions. My blog has always been a huge part of me and it thrills me when friends and family take the time to view my work. It simply proves my point, it is the narcissistic personality that drives such self-focused behavior and therefore, most of the details of my life have rarely ever been important.

#3- How to walk away

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We hate to quit. Not just because supposedly quitters never win, but because of a cognitive distortion that psychologist and economists’ call the “sunk cost fallacy.” Say you’re sitting on the couch watching a show that sucks, you’ll probably change the channel. Now say you’re at a movie that’s bad, because you paid $10 for the ticket, will you walk out? It’s less likely, because you have spent $10 into the experience and will never get that money back. “But which future life will be better?” asks Schwartz. “The one in which you sit through the awful movie or the one in which you leave?” And yet you have that nagging feeling that you must somehow recoup your investment, however meager.

Schwarts evokes the wisdom of Kenny Rodgers: “You gotta know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em.” Think of quitting as an investment in your future, happier self — that is, the you who is free of the frustrating job, the lousy relationship, or whatever it is that is draining your will to go on.

I got my degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology. I worked in one of the top labs in the country, but I hated going to work {almost} everyday. Here, I had poured thousands of dollars into a college education, to find myself 6 years later owning my own business doing makeup. Walking away was beyond difficult, but in the end, I had to because my happiness was more important than the paycheck or prestigious job title. In fact, as Couture Makeup was getting started, I began working at the mall for M.A.C (Makeup Artist Cosmetics) to help build my knowledge, skill, and kit. I went from working at Sea World and the Department of Defense to a makeup counter in the mall. Funny thing was, working at M.A.C was one of the happiest times I had experienced post college.

There’s a good chance that someone will be unhappy with your decision, so get comfortable with being uncomfortable– for a while, anyway. My friends and family had a very hard time understanding my choice to start this company. The reality is that in walking away we may have to sit with a range on unpleasant feelings, including anxiety and guilt. So when you make an important decision like leaving, take time to think it through, then be prepared for the difficult emotions that invariably come with change.

#4- How to take criticism

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Criticism can hit like a punch, and you may experience a physical reaction. Is your chest tight? Is there a lump in your throat? Experts say to note where you are feeling the stress, awareness helps you relax these spots, which in turn calms your mind. Anytime we locate an emotional state in our body it becomes more manageable than when it’s in our heads– where we wind up having a five-hour conversation with ourselves about the criticism.

When we hear criticism our sense of self can get hijacked. Let yourself say, “Ouch! that hurt!” and resist the urge to rush into rationalizations {“It’s not my fault! You hate me!} or self recrimination {“It’s all my fault, I hate me!.”} If you need some time to get your head together, ask for it. Say, “I’m caught off guard a little, but I want to take this in, so let me think a minute before we keep talking.” That obviously requires a great deal of maturity, but it actually is quite simple. A fiery personality will have difficulties exercising that method, but much is to be gained from taking a minute to review the criticism.

The next step, when you’re somewhat calmer, is to honestly consider what is being said. Often, it’s something that you need to hear. Be nice to yourself, but take it in, if you don’t that cheats you out of the chance to learn something. Real self-compassion is acknowledging that you can be less than perfect sometimes without being a total failure. Then you can take in what the other person is saying and also have the internal support to carry on.

Criticism will come from time to time, it’s a fact of life, and it could come by way of anyone, ranging from family to friends, lovers, bosses, even strangers. This year, I was criticized by a wedding planner who barely knew me. And it hit hard, like a punch in the gut. It made me so angry {I rarely get angry, and it takes a lot to get me there} and I had to confront her about it because I felt that it was unjust and well, mean. Looking back, there are points that she made that I accepted and used to become a better business woman. But, there were also a lot of things said that were not accurate about me and my business, and that made me boil with rage. When we are caught in a tight spot like that, it is hard to take the good criticism and leave the bad behind. It takes a great deal of maturity and probably a little bit of time, to just sit with whatever was said and figure out what’s productive and what’s not. Take the good and leave the rest behind.

#5- How to fight right

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The way a conflict discussion begins determines how it’s going to end 96 percent of the time, according to John Gottman Ph.D., who studies marriage and relationships. He can speak with such mathematical accuracy, because for 30 years he has observed more than 3000 couples in a laboratory setting while monitoring their hearts rates and other physical signs of stress.

Two people can fight fairly often and have a healthy relationship. It’s not about the number of spouts, it is about the techniques used in the ring. He claims that contempt is the best precursor of divorce, so take note if your signature move is dismissive eye-rolling. Other below-the-belt strategies include personal attacks and the silent treatment. Starting a conversation gently is the key to ending it well. Remind yourself to stop talking. If only people could listen with the same sense of passion they feel about being heard.

Finally, if you find yourself in the physiological frenzy that Gottman calls “flooding”– racing heart, sweaty palms– stop the argument, even when every cell screams “annihilate!” Stress hormones inhibit higher cognitive functions, like impulse control and attention. When we feel threatened, we can’t take in new information. According to Gottman, in the lab and in therapy sessions, when people take a break, go back to their baseline heart rate, and start the conversation again, it’s like they’ve had a brain transplant.

I’ve dealt with a lot of passive aggressive fighters in my years. They stuff and stuff until one day everything explodes. Usually, these fights start off quite heated and very passionate. I tend to be a straight shooter, when something bothers me, I bring it up right away so that it doesn’t fester and cause even worse problems down the road. It is very freeing to not constantly be mad at someone, unlike the stuffer, who holds resentment towards others and can become tremendously weighted down by those burdens.

One of the men I dated this year fought dirty, very explosive, always without all the facts and based entirely upon assumptions. It ruined the relationship. I soon realized that he had no ability to keep a cool, calm head in the heat of any difficult situation and it quickly became wearing and tiresome. If there is one thing I’ve mastered, it is the art of confrontation. That is, a clean fight. The ability to go to another person who has wronged you and gently, kindly, speak my peace and clear up whatever the situation involves. I’m not perfect and never will be, but I’m happy to say that I get an A+ in this area. I hope by sharing this advice you might learn how better solve issues. That is, to fight right.

{Berry Schwartz, Amy Mclin, pintrest couture makeup}

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