20 Things I Have Learned

20 Things I Have Learned.

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1. Believe in Yourself

The moment in which I decided to start believing in myself is what drastically changed my life. I have always had very low confidence as to what I thought I was capable of, and what I could accomplish in life. This was all due to my constant comparison to others, which made me feel as if I had to set low standards of myself. After acknowledging the potential that I was capable of,  I changed my mentality. This was the factor that ultimately allowed me to live at peace with myself to start going after my goals. In the book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s All Small Stuff, there is a quote by William James that states, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude.” Acknowledge how much control you have to change, and be confident in everything you do.

2. Stop Apologizing for Everything 

As a woman, I always apologize for everything. Apologies are important in life, especially when we have done something wrong or hurt an individual. In those situations, apologies are vital and show your character. As time went on, I fell in a habit of apologizing for everything, even when it was not necessary.

It began to appear as if I was apologizing for who I was as a person, and as if my existence was a burden. I would apologize for wasting someone’s time with my stories, or apologize because of what I believed in. One should never feel the need to apologize for the morals, beliefs and feelings they have. Those around you should value what you have to say, your thoughts, and who you are – and you should never have to apologize for that. Apologies are good, simply use them at the correct time.

3. Always Say Yes

The summer before I began college, I was blessed to be selected for The Smithsonian Latino Center’s Young Ambassadors Program (YAP) in Washington D.C, which is a nationally recognized program for graduating high school seniors that fosters the next generation of Latino leaders. During my participation of the program, we had the opportunity of listening to successful Latinos share their story. An individual who stood out to me at a panel was Yajaira Sierra-Sastre, Ph.D. who is a materials scientist and participated in a four-month long Mars analog mission funded by NASA. A piece of advice that she shared with the cohort of ambassadors was to always say yes. Yajaira stressed that what has allowed her to be successful was the fact that she always said yes to opportunities that came her way. Rather than being afraid, she knew that it would help her become better.

This piece of advice came to my life at a perfect time. Every opportunity that came into my life, I said yes to. It didn’t matter if I was afraid, or I knew what it even was about. What I did know was that I would learn along the way, and it would help me become well-rounded. Some of the best programs and internships I have had in college thus far was because I said yes. In a context that isn’t school related, the advice Yajaira shared with my YAP cohort, has also made me more adventurous and I thoroughly enjoy trying new things more than I used to. I advise you to say yes, as it opens doors that you didn’t even know existed.

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4. Don’t Take Yourself Out of the Game Before You Play 

While participating in the Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Program at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, I took a Contracts class taught by Professor Felice Batlan. On the first day of class, she expressed her passion towards women in the legal profession and recent work in immigration. Professor Batlan received her J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, and obtained a Ph.D. from New York University. The accomplishments Professor Batlan has are extremely admirable, and I wanted to learn more about her. After class, I decided to approach her and ask a few questions about her experience at Harvard Law School. She began to ask me what my aspirations were and if I ever considered going to an Ivy League Law School. My immediate response was, “I would never get accepted, those schools are for the best type of students and I have no chance.” She proceeded to ask me if I had applied, and I responded no. She instantly said, “Don’t take yourself out of the game before you play.”

In that moment, I realized this was something I constantly did in every area of my life. Though going to an Ivy League Law School is still a minimal possibility for me, I was instantly taking myself out of the game. The worst part about this situation and all the others in my life is that I never try. When I didn’t participate in sports growing up, it was because I made the assumption that I couldn’t. (I recommend reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz) In reality, I never tried to. It is better to leave situations with the satisfaction that you at least tried, rather than questioning what if. Don’t take yourself out of the game before you play.

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5. Be Intentional 

The future depends on what you do today. Everything you do should be with an end goal in mind. Focusing on what is important will allow you to further yourself towards your ultimate goal. Personally, having an end goal in mind allows me to continuously work hard. It is a visual as to what steps along the way need to be accomplished in order to reach that goal. Once I have an idea in my head, it is nearly impossible for me to forget about it due to my persistence and determination. Do not let distractions get in the way of what you truly want in life. Be intentional with your word and actions.

Always ask yourself:

  • What have I done today to help me get closer to my goals?
  • What have I done today to help me be the best version of myself?

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6. “El Sol Calienta Para Todos” – “The Sun Shines on Everyone” 

There will be individuals in your life who will not be happy for you and will try to make you feel less than who you are. Rather than acting the same way, be happy for others when they do something good. Helps others when you can, show interest and do not be envious of others. The sun shines on everyone, and there is enough opportunity for all.

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7. Have Faith That Everything Happens for a Reason 

Reminder: Man’s Rejection is God’s Protection.

If you were denied to the school of your dreams or a friendship diminishes, just know that everything happens for a reason. God always has a different and better plan for you. Learn from the past.

I was denied to a program once, and was incredibly upset. Instead, I was accepted to a different program that ended up changing my life and answering questions about my future that I previously did not know the answer to. The rejection of that program was because God knew that there was something else I needed to experience instead, and he was right. Have faith.

8. A Boy Should Add to Your Life, Not Be Your Life 

I advise you to build yourself up before you get in a relationship. While in high school, I had a boyfriend all four years. Yes, he was a wonderful person and I do not regret it. What I regret is forgetting about myself. I didn’t focus as much on my goals and what I wanted in life, until I got to college. I often look a the momentum that I have now, and wish that it was something I had at that time as well.

You live and you learn, but I strongly advise you to both build yourselves up instead of trying to become one person. You should not let a boy change your goals, your mentality or who you want to be. At the end of the day, it should be a relationship in which you are both happy and building each other up. We often fall in a trap where your “love” justifies everything. Though it didn’t occur in my situation, do not let a boy treat you bad. Trust me, there will be a boy out there who will move oceans and mountains for you without having to lose yourself and your inner peace. If you know a relationship is not working out and you have tried to fix the situation, I promise you will be okay. You may feel like you will “never get over that person” but you will. He should add to your life, not be your life.

9. Who You Surround Yourself With is Important 

My lovely friend, Jessica Valdes, once said this to me as we were in Washington D.C. together. She shared with me that she stays motivated because she surrounds herself with individuals that are doing better. This will push you to go after more goals, and be a better version of yourself. Overall, you should surround yourself with those who have good intentions and add positively to your life. Remove toxic people from your life, you need people who lift you up rather than bring you down. The family, friends and mentors I have are incredible, and I have learned tremendously from all of them.

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10. Don’t Conform and Be Open to Change

My dad always instilled in me that I should never conform with anything in life and to not be afraid of change. Why would you want less than you deserve? How will you know if there is something more for you if you never give it the opportunity?

As a little girl, my aspiration was to be a teacher. It is astonishing as to how seriously I took my role, as I devoted my life to pretending I was a teacher since the age of six. The way in which I did this was through creating a classroom in my basement, making lesson plans and forcing my younger cousins to be my students. Through this, I never imagined myself to change my mind and not be a teacher anymore. It was when I completed a Legal Interpreting Certification and an internship at a Law Office which changed my perspective about my future aspirations. I realized that being a teacher wasn’t what I wanted anymore, and it was difficult for me to give up this idea since it was what I wanted for as long as I could remember. Due to me being open to change, I was able to find a new passion. Looking back, I could never imagine myself pursuing a career that wasn’t in politics or law. If it wasn’t for my willingness to change, I could of possibly been doing something which didn’t make me happy. There is always more out there, it is okay to change your mind.

11. Everything is Temporary

Everything is temporary, the good and the bad. If you are going through something difficult, just know that it will end soon. All the fun you are having, enjoy it and be present. Life changes quickly, and everything is temporary.

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12. Use the Special China 

At the Community Affairs Department in which I am currently interning at – my boss Lulú, constantly reminds me that life is short (and is the reason as to why I take the time to get my nails done). She once showed me a picture that resonated with me that said:

“Time passes so quickly, you literally do not even notice it begins to show. So, don’t wait to use the good china, go on the trip, eat the cake, watch the late movie, read your favorite book and take a chance in life… the time is now. Tomorrow is promised to no one.”

13. Your Parents Have the Best Intentions

The individuals who I love the most on this Earth, and who have made me the person I am. They have done everything in their power to better my future, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. Their wisdom and advice has always been out of their best interest. Spend time with your parents, and listen to them. They love you.

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14. Find Peace with Yourself 

If you know me on a personal level, I never take a moment to breathe. I am always running around and doing millions of things at a time. Though I will probably never change that about myself because I enjoy what I do, I do these things with peace in mind.

It is ironic how we always want what is best for us, but don’t often give that to ourselves. We hurt ourselves the most, stress ourselves out about things that do not have relevance, and we are our toughest critics. We often feel trapped, in our own heads, due to pain that we are causing ourselves. Why do we not let ourselves be in peace? Life is difficult as it is, why are we making it more difficult for ourselves? Yes, there are obstacles that we often can’t avoid. Things that appear to be the end of the world. Trust me, they aren’t. You are going to learn something valuable through the obstacle you are facing, and it will help you be a stronger person. There have been many things in my life in which I never thought I would be able to move on from, or mistakes that I wish had never happened. In reality, those are the things that have made me the woman that I am today. That gives me peace.

The beauty of being at peace with yourself is that YOU control it. It may appear that the stress you have and your problems are controlling you, but really, you are allowing them to. You have the power to be at peace. You simply have to remember that the difficulty in your life is for something. Your WHY. Your Purpose. Why you are doing what you do. This brings me peace.

15. Find Beauty in the Little Things 

My best friend Frida and I have mastered this. We are the type of girls that will create an adventure and have a great time by simply going to buy milk at the grocery store. Get excited about drinking your smoothie in the mornings, the afternoon runs you go on and your favorite show. Those little things make the days better. If you want an example as to how Frida and I find beauty in the little things, we create a bucket list for every season. It is exciting to create a list of things we have never done before, even simple things as trying a new ice cream flavor. For the past 3 years, crossing things off our bucket lists has been one of my favorite things we do to enjoy life.

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16. Always Do Your Best 

Hard work ALWAYS pays off. It is never too late to do better. This will allow you to avoid regret.

17. Learn From Criticism 

Use everything as a learning opportunity and don’t take everything personal. When I worked at Maurices, my boss Tiffany helped me overcome this. Before, I would almost tear up when I did something wrong. Criticism helps you to not make the same mistake again, and others often see things that we don’t.

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18. Enjoy Your Alone Time 

I love spending time alone. It gives you time to think and learn more about what you want out of life. Grab a nice book and sit outside alone, it feels good.

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19. Stop Caring About What Others Think Of You – It’s Liberating 

Only take into consideration the opinion of those that matter, who cares what others think about you. You should be too busy making yourself better and happy to worry about what others think of you.

20. Travel

My favorite memories have come from traveling. The world has a lot to offer and your perspective often changes from the different places that you visit. Though I love to travel abroad, simply going to a different town in your area is still different scenery than what you are used to. I promise you will not regret it.

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XO,

Andrea Vallejo

The Woman’s Voice and Activism; The Importance of Women Getting Involved – Women’s History Month

Women have the power to create a change, which is something that has not always been granted. Due to the courage that women have had in the past, we have the opportunity to freely pursue our dreams, and to not be perceived as any less because of our gender. The contributions of other women who have made a difference inspires me to relentlessly work hard.

Though significant changes have already occurred, it feels as if being a Latina takes away all of the rights that women have fought for. Being a minority somehow excludes me from having my voice heard, which pushes me to not be silenced. As we look at our history, we can see that – activism creates change.

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My future aspiration is to become an immigration attorney, as this will allow me to assist individuals in the pursuit of obtaining their own American Dream. Most individuals come to this country to chase the possibility for a better life, wouldn’t you do the same? Running for political office is also something that interests me – our current underrepresentation pushes me to be one more voice for the Latino community. Becoming the best version of myself and continuously educating will not only bring me personal fulfillment, but will also allow me to use the skills attained to help others in my community.

There was always a perception in my head that made me believe the only way I would be able to create change was until I graduated from law school. A few months ago I thought to myself, “How can I possibly help create a positive change at only 19 years old?” Until the 2016 Presidential Election happened, it was no longer about me questioning whether I could make a difference, I knew that it was now my responsibility to do so.

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This is when HOPE (Helping Others Prepare and Excel) was created. During my first semester of college, a friend and I made the decision to create an organization to help undocumented students. There were many students at our university who were living in fear, and there wasn’t a resource that they could turn to for support. Our mission is to address the inequalities and obstacles faced by immigrant youth through inclusion and access. We believe that by empowering immigrant youth through our stories, we can advance their academic success. We strive to maintain a positive perception of students regardless of their legal status, therefore providing resources. This can be accomplished through personal guidance, awareness and support throughout our community.

As our organization was slowly growing, suddenly a lot of changes began to occur. My friend and co-founder was a senior, and after a semester of continuously working with her, I was left to act as President of HOPE. As a freshman at the time, I felt incapable of fulfilling this role. Though I am a founder and I had been there from the beginning, I was not confident in my abilities. Then, September 5th happened – the day that everything changed. President Trump made an announcement that he would be ending the DACA program by March 5th, and gave Congress a few months to make a new proposal that he would agree upon.

That was one of the lowest moments of my entire life. Students began telling me that they were thinking of dropping out of school or moving back to their home country, as they felt there wasn’t a greater purpose of staying in the United States anymore. These are right individuals who work harder than any other students because they are not treated the same as others. They are some of the most passionate and determined students, who excel academically and often work two jobs to pay for their tuition, due to there not being any financial assistance they can apply to because of their status. These are students who could be the ones that find a cure to cancer, or help create something innovative and new. It hurt me to see that students were beginning to let go of their dreams because many ignorant individuals in this country cannot see their worth. Though I am not a DACA recipient and I am not directly impacted, I know that their dreams and sacrifices are worth the same as mine.

Trump’s decision ate me alive. I left my hobbies, lost a significant amount of weight and never slept. I began to feel helpless, as my thoughts and worries took over my life. How was I going to be President of this organization if I didn’t know how to offer support to students? After carefully analyzing the situation, I knew that activism was the best way by which I could support DACA students.

That was exactly what we did. The Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Rights Movement and United Farm Workers inspired me to not give up. It made me realize that if individuals could do it and have a great outcome, so could we. Our priority this semester has been to advocate for the undocumented youth, and to fight for the DREAM Act. Through participating in various rallies, writing over 150 letters to Congressman Roskam, creating a video to advocate for what we believe in, and being featured on Univision Chicago twice, we are getting the word out about how important passing this legislation is. We have spoken to students and parents about our stories, to allow these to serve as inspiration as well. We have also collaborated with other organizations in Aurora to present an Ordinance to City Hall, which will protect undocumented individuals in our community. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit DC and attend the LULAC Emerge Conference, which allowed me to visit Capitol Hill and speak with members of Congress about the importance of protecting Dreamers. Our wish is that individuals will change their perspective about DACA recipients, and will pass legislation that will allow them to feel included

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Fighting for this cause warms my heart and makes me feel alive. It is surreal that I almost gave up because of my own fears. Though I am aware that there is a lot to get done, my community is aware of the issue. We are not silenced anymore, we are fighting for what we believe in. Last month, I attended the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute Conference in Chicago. An individual who is a member of HOPE came to me and said, “Thank you for everything you are doing, it means a lot to DACA students.” My eyes watered hearing those words. Knowing that I am a 19 year old Latina, and I am somehow impacting someone’s life in a positive manner, reminded me as to why I am devoting my life to this. The beauty of this is that you can also make a difference.

I encourage you to let your voice be heard, and contextualize that the small things you are doing everyday will lead to a greater purpose. Listen to the stories that individuals have, I assure you that it will push you to fight for what is deserved. Let my story be an example as to why you shouldn’t give up, because your actions could change someone’s life. The power to change the world is in your hands.

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Though my organization has accomplished a lot so far, we are not done. This is just the beginning – HOPE gives students hope.

Don’t give up,

Andrea Vallejo