My 28th Birthday | Four Lessons from the Past Year

I say this every birthday, but I honestly just think life gets a little sweeter with every passing year. Even with a few bumps in the road last year, it was an overall win. So many incredible memories and opportunities. I’m thankful for every single one.

My goal for every birthday is to make the next year better than the last. Not every year feels great (just thinking about being 23 again makes my stomach sink), but it’s a good goal. I’m excited to be 28 and can’t wait to see what this year holds. I have a really good feeling that it’s going to be the best yet.

Carly Heitlinger

I thought I’d share the biggest lessons I learned over the past year. The truth, though, is that these are lessons I’ve always known, it’s just that this year I finally put them into practice. And I firmly believe they’re necessary for a happy and healthy and fulfilled life.

ONE // Invest in friendships

Honestly, this has been something that I struggle with a lot. I try to be the kind of friend that I would want someone else to be for me. With that said, sometimes it can be a waste of energy if it’s not reciprocated. Friendships don’t last forever (and that’s okay!), but it’s hard to know when to move on. I had to make some hard decisions this year when it came to friends because I just didn’t have the time to give energy to everyone. I had to look closely at the friends I had and which relationships were worth the investment. It sounds so clinical, and it seems like it’s a “mean” thing to do. The reality though is that you have to prioritize friendships and relationships. In a perfect world, I wish I could spend equal and amazing time with everyone!

Instead of feeling energized and inspired by particular friendships, I felt drained. Sometimes I’d walk away and realize that I just spent two hours with someone who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) stop complaining. I’d leave feeling so negative myself. Other times, I realized I had been going out of my way to be a supportive friend, only not to have the support when I needed it.

I even realized that could be doing better with certain friendships that I valued highly. My actions pertaining to the friendship didn’t 100% match with how I felt about the friend. That is, I wasn’t giving the energy and attention that it deserved or that I wanted to give fully.

Maybe this really is an age thing, but I’ve just noticed that I can’t be a great friend to everyone and I shouldn’t expect everyone to be a great friend to me. I’d rather have ten solid friendships that I can truly invest my time and energy and love into than feeling stretched thin being friends with 100 people.

TWO // Little changes lead to big changes

This one is always a little hard to wrap my head around. I always want to assume that to enact a significant change in my life, I need to do some big sweeping action. The reality is that making a massive change is more jarring than helpful. It can be disorienting and hard to stick to at the end of the day.

I have been on a serious “self-help” book kick recently, and every book has more or less touched on the same thing that I keep trying to remind myself. Don’t try to change everything at once. Pick one or two things and start by making small incremental changes. (Nudge has been recommended to me by a few people and I can’t wait to read it. It’s pretty much all about making small changes, aka nudges, in the right direction.)

This past year, I have slowly but surely gotten into working out. If you told me in October of last year that I would be doing the exercises with the weights I’m doing now, I wouldn’t believe that it was possible. I didn’t jump in and start doing rows with 30-pound weights, but after months of practice and incrementally building up my strength, here we are.

In a year, I’ve changed my diet, started meditating, began to sleep better, and built my strength. It wasn’t from cutting sugar out cold turkey or becoming a Buddhist overnight or forcing myself in bed at 9 pm or getting into an all-or-nothing workout routine. It was small choices that, over time, led to more decisions which turned into lots of amazing results.

THREE // Vulnerability

Vulnerability has to be one of the top ten scariest feelings. It’s pure discomfort for me. I’m a girl who likes to sit in the safety of the walls I’ve built. I can whip those walls up quickly too! Someone hurts me, or I feel like I’m about to get hurt bam! pre-fab walls instantly appear.

Honestly, this seems like a great idea to me. I’m really not into getting hurt. But then again? Who is?!?! The problem is that those walls do more than just protect me, they keep people/experiences/lessons out. Even though there’s always the potential to be hurt (gulp), it’s better to be open and accepting of whatever comes. It’s like the saying, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

You can’t succeed without the risk of failure. You can’t learn something new without the risk of falling. You can’t fall in love without the risk of a broken heart.

Even though I had my heart broken and easily could have built a fortress to protect myself from experiencing that again, I didn’t. (I wanted to, but I did not.) I decided to ditch the baggage at the door and go on my merry way. It was difficult at the beginning, but I walked away without trust issues, and my heart healed. If I had holed away behind walls, I think I would have wallowed in the problems, and the wounds would only fester until it was a different beast entirely.

Vulnerability kind of sucks, but the alternative is way, way worse.

FOUR // Rewrite the story

Without a doubt, I would say this has been my biggest accomplishment over the past year. And, yes, I would consider it an actual accomplishment. In fact, if (when?) I write a book it’s going to be ALL about this.

It is possible to rewrite your own story.

For me, it’s not only been possible but necessary. I have all these narratives in my head about what I’m capable of and who I am. The stories felt set in stone.

I am not athletic.

I am not the kind of girl guys like.

I am always nervous.

I am not brave.

… and the list goes on. Sometimes the stories we write for ourselves are helpful. Like, I know I’m good at math so send any number related issue my way. For the most part, though, I forget about all the positives I know about myself and focus instead on all the negatives.

I wrote these stories for myself years ago. I assume I’m unathletic because of my lack of coordination as a lanky 10-year-old attempting to play softball. I “know” guys won’t like me because of my experiences in high school. I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember and so I must have to deal with that for the rest of my life. I hated trying new experiences as a kid, so of course, I’m not brave enough to try anything new now.

The fact is that none of this is actually true, it’s just what I believed to be true, and I didn’t even bother to try to bust the myths.

I’m actually not unathletic. Now I ski, I weight lift, I do yoga, I can kick around a soccer ball (not sure about playing a game, but baby steps). I have not had any problems dating as an adult at all (and those guys from high school try to Facebook message me because of my blog 🙄🙅🏻). I have started practicing meditation. While it doesn’t cure anxiety, it’s an incredible way to manage it (which is more than I thought I’d ever be able to do).

And I’m a whole lot braver than I give myself credit for.

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Happy birthday, Carly! What a wonderful post, I’m sure the next year will be fabulous!
My birthday’s coming up in two weeks and I must say, I really like your approach of reflecting the past year, and especially being proud of my accomplishments – this is something I continuously struggle with.
Have a wonderful birthday!


I have always been able to look up to you as someone I can identify with and this post just spoke to me. Thank you for being your authentic self and not changing for trends/followers/etc. I love your blog!


Just lovely. Thank you for sharing your (hard won) wisdom and the associated positive attitude toward growth & change. Have a Happy happy birthday with your family, Carly! From one of your “mature readers” (53…. and a fellow Hoya!)


Happy Birthday! Thank you for being so vulnerable and talking about things that are important to you. I love reading your blog!

Ashley Barker

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CARLY!!! You have been an absolute joy to follow online throughout. I have enjoyed so much seeing your growth, talent, and confidence through your little space on the Internet. I started reading TCP yearsss ago through Pinterest due to a super stylish winter outfit and your blog is something I’ve had so much joy in reading every morning, but I’ve truly stayed with you because of your character. The blog posts themselves are so inspiring and creative, always driving me to try new and better things, but you yourself are so much more.
Happy 28th!!!
PS Vulnerability is something I’ve been trying more and more to embrace too, as it isn’t a sign of weakness but we find strength, power, and confidence through being vulnerable. Admitting to yourself that “you aren’t fine” at any given moment is completely fine too.
Great girlfriends are LIFE CHANGERS! I’ve always stuck by that rule!


What you said about friendships really struck me. I do think that’s a good lesson when getting older and you start to have a more focused social circle as you settle more into adulthood. As a working mom of 2 little kids it forced me to go through this process of really thinking about my friendships because I only had a handful of opportunities a month to see people.

My relationship with working out has always been spotty and I’ve been trying to get back into a habit without much success. Your note of little steps is something I need to remind myself, so thank you!


Happy Birthday! This is such a wonderful post and great lessons to talk about. These are definitely things that I need to focus on and learn myself. Thank you so much for sharing. I hope this is a wonderful year for you, Carly!

Taylor |


Happy birthday, Carly! You deserve the best day!

If you haven’t read “Better then Before” by Gretchen Rubin it’s worth checking out – all about forming healthy habits and how to stick to them.


Happy birthday, Carly! Thanks for sharing these lessons and for sharing your life on the blog. I hope you have the best day ever! You deserve it 🙂

Tori A.

Happy birthday, Carly! That last lesson really hits home for me; the fact that you have been able to “rewrite your story” so successfully gives me a lot of hope about my own future! Here’s to another year!

Tori A. from Prep For A Day


Love love love everything about this post. Thank you for sharing your lessons; I could absolutely relate. And you’re right – even just publishing such an honest and vulnerable post shows that you’re a whole lot braver than you give yourself credit for 🙂 happy early birthday and have fun celebrating! xx


Happy Birthday, Carly!

I am inspired by your ability to identify these negative narratives you’ve carried around and then wholeheartedly dispel them. I think this would be a great exercise to “prove” to myself in writing the negative qualities I assign to myself aren’t true anymore, either.

Cheers to 28!

Gloria P

Wow Carly! What a great read– I love your honesty and clarity in this self-reflection. You do you girl, and keep SHINING bright!


Happy Birthday Carly!!! This post is so inspirational. Perhaps, I will remember to do some reflection when it’s my 26th in a couple of months. It’s pretty powerful to see what we can accomplish when you look at the big picture. We’re all stronger than we think we are and we as women need to give ourselves more credit. HBD!!

Allie N

Happy birthday, Carly!! Thanks for being your authentic self and being vulnerable. It means so much to me to have a role model like you!


Happy birthday! I loved reading this post. As someone who is approaching her 32nd birthday, I read some of your tips thinking “Yes! I remember when I realized this!” and others thinking “Yes, still working on that one.” Definitely shows our evolution as women over time. Have a wonderful day and year!

Alicia Mae

Happy birthday Carly!! 🎁🎂🎈🎉

And as a psychology grad student, being able to rewrite the narratives in your head is a crucial skill! Something I’m still working on, but so important.


I have been reading your blog for years, but this is certainly one of your best, most impactful posts. I absolutely love the idea of rewriting your own story and it honestly is something that I should have (but haven’t) considered earlier.

Thanks for your insight, and happy birthday!

Kaitlin Czurylo

Happy birthday!!! This is such an inspiring post and I’m so glad to see that you’re happy and rockin’ this whole life thing 😉

Alex C.

Happy birthday!! I love your point about re-writing your story and I think all of your readers can agree that we’ve been watching you flourish and re-write your own story in small ways (taking up meditation, working on your posture, etc). As always, you’re an inspiration for all of us 🙂
Alex //

Diane Mark

LOVE all of these! I can’t wait to share this post with my teenage daughter. Such great life advice that she wouldn’t want to hear from her mother. 😉


Happy birthday, dear Carly! May the Lord fill your heart with much love and happiness!
I really can relate to everything you said in this post.


Sarah Gouin

Happy Birthday !! So happy for you that you have made changes and have been rewarded with positive results.


I loved this, Carly. What a great time to reflect on all the amazing things you have accomplished! I know as readers we don’t get to see the whole story, but I do feel like you’ve gotten stronger (at least from our perspective) this year and it’s encouraging to know that things you thought were out of reach, are possible. I hope you have a wonderful birthday! Thank you for doing what you do.

Mariana Arostegui

Happy Birthday! I really appreciated reading this post! I feel like it came to me at the right time. I might have missed this, but do you have a blog post of the list of self help books you’ve been reading? I’ve been going through a list myself and always looking for new ones to add!

Hope it’s a great day!


Happy birthday! I cannot believe you’re 28. I’m turning 24 this year and it seems like just recently that I was reading your blog post about moving to NYC. Time really does fly by as an adult!!!

Abby Sanders

Happy birthday gorgeous! I have been following along since *I* was in college, and I was so happy to read this post. Can’t wait to see what your next year brings!


Happy Birthday! If you haven’t already heard of her, I feel like you would really like Brené Brown. Her TED talks on vulnerability are phenomenal, and she has filmed some recent videos for FB about owning our story so that we can rewrite the narrative. Have a great weekend!


Happy Birthday!!!! These reflections are the best gift you could have given yourself!!! Bravo and cheers to the future!!!🎉 The BEST is yet to come❤️


Happy birthday! I hope 28 is a banner year!
Also, these are great lessons to take as we all get older. Friendships – real, meaningful friendships – are so crucial for a fulfilling life, so definitely nurture the worthwhile ones! And I love the idea that we can write (and re-write, and edit, and re-work) our own story. If something isn’t working? Drop it. If something is working, do it more! Feeling self-conscious? Do something about it!
Thanks for the wonderful reminders, and as always, looking forward to reading on in the year to come!


I love, love, love this! Everyone of these really speaks to me and I know I’ll be turning back to it on occasion. Happy Birthday hope you have the best day!

Olivia Crotts


I don’t know about everyone else, but I needed this so badly today. Today is the beginning of my birthday month, turning that scary 23 in 6 days! Everything is changing and your message about rewriting your story really resonated with me! Thank you!


Wow, what a fantastic blog post. You’ve not only actually inspired me to leave a comment (which I don’t normally do), but also inspired me to be more open in my own writing. And also look inward more. Thanks lady, and wishing you the happiest of birthdays.

Carly T Young

This is perfection, and there are even things I needed to hear! Thank you for your transparency and resiliency, and for letting us share another year with you. Happy birthday, Carly!!!


Happy Birthday Carly! Such a lovely, honest post; it’s so nice to read your blog because of how genuine you always are! Hope you have a wonderful day.


Happy Birthday Carly! I loved this post, especially the part about rewriting your story. There is no reason why we can’t be all of the things we want to be.

Also, rows with 30 lb weights is impressive! Rows are hard!

Thanks for sharing!
Emily // Third & Girl

Starr @

Happy birthday Carly!! These are some really great lessons, thanks so much for sharing. They’re hard to learn (especially if you’re learning the extra hard way) but having learned them really sets you up for so much success as more birthdays come and go.

Hope you have a great birthday and Labor Day weekend!


Happy Birthday! A note on friendships: i’ve always told my husband it’s better to have 4 quarters than 100 pennies! I completely agree with you that it’s an ‘age’ thing. I think when we’re younger we spend our time with quantity over quality – in friendships, work life, ANYTHING! It’s a wonderful thing to become a bit wiser every year!


Happy Birthday Carly! This is such an inspiring list, especially about rewriting the stories we tell ourselves. I’ve always thought of myself as “the fat girl”, even after losing a lot of weight. I’m still working through dispelling that narrative, but it’s so inspiring and encouraging to know that others go through the same thing.

Thank you so much for your thoughts, and have a great day!! ♥♥

Jess Zimlich

Carly, this is my favorite posts of yours EVER. I love when you said, “Vulnerability kind of sucks, but the alternative is way, way worse.” I needed to hear that today. Happiest of birthdays to you! 🙂

Shannon L Mahaney

Happy Birthday, Carly! I turned 28 in January and so far it’s been an amazing year.

I love the things you’ve learned. I struggle with maintaining my few good friendships because I moved away from everyone this year for a job. It’s tough but we try to catch up when our schedules allow it.

Something I’ve been working on in the last month is patience. I have a hard time with it but I’m working on it.


Happy birthday, Carly! This is one of your best posts yet. I needed to read this today. I’m proud of you for allowing yourself to grow and change. You are definitely an inspiration and role model!


Happy Birthday, Carly! I relate so much to “the stories we write for ourselves” mainly – not thinking I’m sporty and having anxiety. I’m so glad to hear you say that these can be overcome!

Gillian Redstone

Happy birthday Carly! This was such an awesome post to read having just finished my first week of college. It’s refreshing to understand that I can rewrite my story anytime — not just around a new group of people. Thanks for all you do! You’re an amazing role model!


I LOVE what you wrote about rewriting the story, Carly! So very true and a great reminder. Happy Birthday!! 🙂


Happy Birthday, Carly! My daughter, who is your age, introduced me to your blog about 5 years ago. We’ve admired your style and have enjoyed discussing your insights on life. I always thought you were a lovely girl, but, like my own daughter, it has been a joy watching you grow into such a beautiful, classy, amazing young woman. I hope and pray this will be your best year yet, and, I’m confident that you will make sure that it is, come what may!! You have discovered the secret of a happy life-
a positive attitude!! Please continue being a wonderful role model for all of us, old and young!!


Love this list and find many true myself at 30.

Would love a list of the top 5 self help books you’ve read.


Carly – what great timing! I’m turning 27 in a few short months and have loved following you after “discovering” you in my dorm room 🙂

Anyway – agreed on the friendships front. Sometimes, some friendships are just not worth the energy you invest. It’s hard to keep up when either that friend doesn’t reciprocate (something I’m dealing with now) or that friend is almost a constant negative energy.

It’s draining and you (and I!) deserve so much more.

Happy birthday, Carly!

Erin K

Carly – what great timing! I’m turning 27 in a few short months and have loved following you after “discovering” you in my dorm room 🙂

Anyway – agreed on the friendships front. Sometimes, some friendships are just not worth the energy you invest. It’s hard to keep up when either that friend doesn’t reciprocate (something I’m dealing with now) or that friend is almost a constant negative energy.

It’s draining and you (and I!) deserve so much more.

Happy birthday, Carly!


Happy belated birthday! Thank you for all these life lessons. They are coming at such a needed time in my own life so I am going to also commit on working on the same things. I hope this year brings you everything you want and more!

Stephanie Grace

What an amazing post! It’s hard to believe that you’re more than a decade older than me! (I just turned 16🎉) If I’m being honest, as an only child, so many of your blog posts have totally acted as a guide in me becoming the person I am today. As crazy as it sounds, you’re like a big sister to me and I’m so happy to know that you’re making the most of your anxiety, “unathleticness”, and other problems and turning them into something so positive! I only wish you the best Carly, I hope you had an amazing 28th birthday!🎂


Dear Carly, I give you the best wishes in your birthday! I’d love to say how beautiful you are, you have the most big heart in the world. Your great posts helped my daughter to understand many things and learned to be brave and strong. Thanks God we know English enough to read your wonderful blog) thank you so much dear! Xoxo from Moscow with love😍😘💞


Love this post, Carly. I am turning 27 in a week or two and it’s so nice to see I’m going through similar learnings and challenges and be optimistic! Regarding your last point, it reminded me about learning of Carol Dweck’s reasearch about a fixed vs. growth mindset. If you have a 10 minutes check-out her Ted Talk ( full disclosure- I didnt actually see that Ted Talk (I learned about her research in my MBA program) but it was the quickest link I could find before heading to a different class, haha


Hi Carly! After this post I began to wonder if you’ve ever read The Four Agreements. It’s a beautiful self-help book and the author, Don Miguel Ruiz, talks about rewriting your story. He explains everything so simply and beautifully. If you haven’t read it yet I would definitely recommend it.

Sarah L.

First time commenting, but wow these lessons resonated with me so much! I’m seriously bookmarking this post for future reference. You’re such a great role model for ambitious girls everywhere!
xoxo Sarah


I bookmarked this post about a year ago and I’m still reading this in 2020. I’ll be 29 in a few months and I can relate to almost everything you wrote. Thank you for doing this. This Nigerian loves your work.
Love and Light