25 Lessons in 25 Years

Posted:  February 6, 2022
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Chris and I were both born in February, his birthday falling on the 10th and mine the 14th making me none other than a Valentine’s baby. For years we have combined our birthday celebrations since the days are so close together, despite the difference in our age. Between us, there is a whopping one-year age difference, and even though people think Chris is older than me I am proud to say that I am the elder in this relationship, even though this year I am celebrating my 25th birthday.

I know what you are thinking, “Marissa, you are making 25 seem ancient with the way you are writing!” and maybe you are right, but turning 25 is a pretty significant milestone in life which comes with its own set of emotions. It’s often marked by cards that say, “Congrats! You’re quarter-of-a-century years old,” and parties with cocktails and your dearest friends. Rarely do people tell you that it also comes with a bit of nerves. As I near my inevitable quarter-life crisis I have been reflecting on the changes and lessons I have experienced over the years and decided to put them down on a page. My notes are not chronological, rather a collective consensus of what I think are important lessons that I have learned in my quarter of life. Oh, and this doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Avocet or sailing in general, so if you are only here for that content I advise you to take a look at one of our other blog posts or publications. So, without further adieu, I present to you:

25 Lessons I Have Learned in 25 Years


1. It’s Okay to Change your Mind

Toddler Marissa with a Lion at the zoo

Little Marissa’s dream was to become a vet. I never did follow that path, but took a detour later on and worked at a humane society

Ever since I was little, I was always a step ahead. I knew what I wanted and I worked hard to get it; from convincing my parents to letting me get an iPhone to graduating high school early – I was determined and stubborn, an absolutely lethal combination to reckon with. Despite my dedication to chasing my dreams, sometimes I would change my mind and all that hard work would be rendered essentially useless, which can be scary but that’s okay! Changing your mind and adjusting your approach isn’t something worthy of shame or remorse, it’s a natural part of growing. It’s completely understandable to find out what you like, what you don’t like, and keep making changes from there. Changing your mind is a sign that you are learning. Imagine what your life would be like if you were stuck with one path without stopping to smell the roses or following a butterfly in a completely different direction. Our experiences shape us and it’s how we react to those experiences that define who we are and who we become.

2. Friends are not always Forever 

Looking back I am absolutely blessed to have had so many incredible friends in my life. Some are still around from the early days (Hey CJ) and some are new to the mix. Although most of my early friendships have drifted apart due to geographical separation and changing interests, there are unfortunately a handful of friendships that have ended on harsh terms. Friendship is part of our lives. It is born, it grows and it ends while we simultaneously grow and change. By learning to accept that our relationships with others go through different stages we can enjoy them more intensely since we know that friendships can end for different reasons. For the friends that are no more (if you are reading this) I remain thankful for the part that you played in my life; just because we didn’t work out as friends doesn’t mean I wish you the worst, in fact, I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes: Just because you are not at my table, doesn’t mean I don’t want to see you eat. 

Marissa's second grade birthday party

You are all lucky that I am sharing this first-round-of braces photo with you. This was my second-grade birthday party. I am still in semi-regular touch with only one of the girls in this picture. However, I hope they are all doing well.

3. Saying No is OK

When I was still seeing my therapist (Anxiety and ADHD is a hell of a combination) she and I had one conversation that led to one of the most valuable things I have ever learned and implemented into my life: learn to disappoint people. As a people pleaser, I often go out of my way to drive results and satisfy those around me despite the strain it puts on me mentally and physically. After discussing how these situations have negatively affected me, my therapist offered a daily challenge: to disappoint one person a day. What the heck does that mean? 

Instead of trying to juggle too many tasks, plan which ball(s) you are going to drop. When you make decisions on the front end about what you will and will not be able to do in a given day, you are able to have conversations with the people who will be affected and help them make arrangements to have their needs met. Practicing disappointing someone every day actually leads to less disappointment in the long run because you are setting realistic expectations for yourself and for everyone around you. If you are used to saying “yes” all day like me, then saying “no” can feel like kicking your shoes off after a long day of work. It does take some practice, but it’s your life! Make choices that are going to be best for you and your well-being. If that means saying no, then say no with conviction. 

4. Social Butterflies Can Be Hatched From Socially Awkward Caterpillars 

In college, my best friend Megan competed in a business plan competition taking me under her wing & along for the ride. We won the governor’s cup in Nevada and flew to Vegas to compete in the Tri-State where we almost took home all the glory. Thank you for believing in me Meg.

I am sure you know people that are just naturally able to work a room. Their personalities are bright, and bubbly, which can make naturally introverted people like me a bit more reserved and hesitant to speak out. Growing up I was always quiet. I stayed in my lane, kept my head down and got what needed to be done, done. When I became serious about snowboarding I found a passion that nurtured the part of me that was longing to be outwardly expressive and because of which I went to college to further my understanding of the ski industry as a whole. I found a voice and learned that I could be argumentative, strong, intentful, and inspiring when speaking about a topic that I knew like the back of my hand. Branching out of the snow and into the sea, the maritime industry has also provided a nurturing environment to learn and exercise my voice and opinions. Confidence was the key, and I had to inspire it within myself. Good luck trying to get me to shut up now about a topic I am really into!

5. Take More Photos

I cannot tell you how many times I flip through old photos to relive a moment in time. My parents did a great job documenting my life since birth (first-born daughter syndrome) and despite my usually-embarrassed-emotions at the time the pictures were taken, I am grateful they exist because how else will I prove to my future kids that I too, was an angsty teen. All jokes aside, photos are tangible memories. Thanks to technology we have pocket-sized cameras with various ways of storing and sharing the pictures we capture – so snap away! Because time is fleeting, and you don’t want to forget what and who makes you smile. 

Me and Sierra after a Jr. High Cross Country comp

6. Running Doesn’t Suck as Much as You Think it Does

I went from being a very active athlete (snowboarding, wakeboarding, skating, biking, walking the beach) to sitting at a desk 5 days a week which started to take a toll on my body physically and mentally. It took some time, but ultimately I was inspired by our good friends Mitch and Quincey to run – even if it was a short distance. Before I knew it, I was running longer, faster, and my body was feeling stronger. Studies have also shown that running can help you feel calmer, happier, and more resistant to stress (and if you know me, this is a big one). Polish researchers found 15-30 minutes of running three times a week reduced anxiety and depression, and improved mood. Although it sucked at first, I am glad I decided to run. Remember, a body in motion stays in motion. 

7. Embrace the Unplanned – Go with the flow (be responsibly spontaneous)

My entire life I have craved structure and like to know what to expect… ex: if we are going to a new restaurant I want to know what the parking situation is like. A little crazy? Maybe, but I generally don’t like to be caught off guard because that is when my anxiety and dissociation start to take over. However, I have been working hard to accept what I can control and “let go” of what I cannot. Chris has been a huge support while I shed my anxious shell, but surprisingly my induction into the world of sailing has also played a big part in my transformation. There is a common saying in the marine world that a “Sailor’s plans are written in the sand at low tide” because just like the ever-changing beach, written plans are more than likely going pivot once or twice due to the numerous variables involved. At first, this concept was hard for me, but as time has progressed I have become comfortable with the fact that things will not always go according to plan, and that’s okay. As I get more comfortable with these plan diversions, I am openly accepting the opportunities to be surprised and follow my heart. Embracing the unplanned has been a major point of growth for me that I am exceptionally proud of. 

8. Take Care of Yourself 

I really like the saying You Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup. It is an easy analogy to envision and remind myself that I need to take care of myself before I can tend to the needs of others. This is huge for me considering I am an avid people pleaser (working on that, see #3) but finding simple ways to self-care were at times a huge task. Fortunately, I am surrounded by so many wonderful friends that are willing to pass along their favorite self-care rituals, routines, and of course things they would have told their younger selves. Over the years I have learned that skincare is very important. Your skin is your largest organ and it is so susceptible to harm! Many of my older friends drilled into me that sunscreen is my friend and I must wear it always – so I make sure to apply my favorite base SPF moisturizer for day-to-day wear and use Channel Islands Native Sunscreen when I am a little more active on or in the water. 

Besides the skincare routines, making sure to drink water and stay properly hydrated is so incredibly important and severely underrated. I recently implemented drinking a warm glass of lemon water as part of my morning routine and it has seriously helped my body and mind. Speaking of my mind, writing has been such a fantastic outlet to express what I have learned, my concerns, and my hopes for the future. It is an easy way to “check-in” with myself and self-regulate. If I am in a real slump, I can count on Chris or my friends to hear me out but if it goes beyond them I know I can get in touch with a therapist who is trained to help me sort through my worries and doubts until I am confident once more. Did the word “therapist” send shivers down your spine? Don’t worry, I will address that next.

9. Needing a Therapist Does Not Mean You Are Broken

Even though we are in 2022, there is still a weird stigma that surrounds therapy as if it is a taboo or something that should only be spoken about behind closed doors. Although my openness with my ADHD, anxiety and depression may make some people uncomfortable, I am not responsible for their emotions regarding my life’s experience. In my perspective, not talking about it is part of the problem. I am actively deconstructing the stigma by talking about my experiences so that maybe someone else who is struggling can see that it’s “okay” to not have all the answers. Seeing a therapist is easier than ever now with great Apps like BetterHelp which I used in 2021 to help reorganize my outlook on life and identify my weaknesses to nurture them into something at least moderate and tolerable. My therapist was a wonderful woman that allowed me to vent for 45 minutes and offered unbiased perspectives on my so-called problems, presenting new ideas and concepts to implement into my everyday life. Working with a therapist doesn’t make you weak, weird, wrong or broken. Tackling problems head-on, admitting you need help, learning effective coping skills and practicing those skills and building a healthier life are all signs of strength.

marissa at the helm, Chris on the bow under sail

absolute zen

10. Social Media Isn’t Real (it’s a highlight reel, and that’s okay)

As someone who works with social media for a living I am well versed in the effects it has on mental health and self-image. It is so easy to get addicted to the “likes” and allow social media to feed the side of your brain craving praise. There are numerous studies on this, and they pretty much all hold up. Essentially, what every publication has in common is stressing that social media is not real life. Of course, there are real-life aspects to it, but it’s basically a highlight reel – why else would you post about “it”? Considering I spend so much of my time posting for my clients’ specific audiences trying to maximize their engagement, it was natural that I got into the habit of posting to my personal account in a similar way. Because of this, I noticed that I was heavily analyzing everything under a microscopic lens which, as you can imagine, did not bode well for my self-image. One day I decided I was done posting for others, and I was going to post for myself, disregarding the number of likes, comments or shares my personal content generated. I started posting more sunset photos, sailing, and scenery in a random, less frequent manner rather than the perfectly curated photos – and guess what? It felt good. You don’t have to denounce social media entirely, I think it is fun to be able to share a part of ourselves with the world… just remember you don’t have to. It all comes down to doing what is best for yourself. 

11. School is over, but don’t stop learning

I graduated from Sierra Nevada College in 2018 with my B.S.B.A’s in Ski Business, Resort Management, and Global Business Management. Although I graduated nearly 4 years ago (Woah!) with no intent to continue my studies I have never stopped learning. Today, my lessons take place outside of a classroom and are usually very hands-on in the form of boat projects. Owning a boat has taught me more about chemical bonds, math measurements, and weather science than traditional school ever could. Recently I put my student cap back on and studied my heart out to become a USCG Licensed Captain. It was honestly the most amount of studying I have ever done and something totally different for me considering I am still relatively new to the maritime realm despite the amount of credibility I have built up. 

12. Hard Work Really Does Pay Off

Remember when I said I was stubborn and determined? If I get the inspiration to do something, I am going to chase it until it’s mine and that goes for pretty much anyone who has accomplished anything; like Thomas Edison who made 10,000 attempts to perfect the light bulb, but we don’t really hear about those attempts like we do his single success. However, I think working smart is just as important as working hard. Watch what works for others and adjust until you get the desired result. While it is still valuable to learn from our own mistakes, why not save a bit of time and frustration by implementing tried and true methods, routines, and ideas? Regardless if you subscribe to working hard or smart I like to keep this quote by Colin Powell in my back pocket: “A dream doesn’t become a reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.” 

13. Authenticity isn’t One Size Fits All

“She’s not very authentic” is something you may hear thrown around, especially on the internet, but what does it mean? Well that’s the thing: authenticity is different for everyone. As long as you are living 100% unapologetically true to your ethics, values and beliefs you are “authentic” so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. People may question you on your level of authenticity as if it is some sort of badge you must present to them to prove you are, in fact, authentic but don’t worry about what others think – we are all walking to the beats of our own drums, and mine is pretty damn loud. This is also a reminder to not judge others, they are just living their own lives, and as long as they aren’t harming themselves or others who cares?

14. Ask Questions

I don’t know everything, and it is statistically proven that I never will. However, that doesn’t mean that I am not willing to challenge that and answer every question that comes to mind. When we are watching movies or TV shows I am usually simultaneously googling what else an actor has played in or if the events unfolding were based on a true story. My inquisitions lead me down a rabit hole, discovering the answers I sought out and more which I will undoubtedly use as future conversation pieces. Questions are important, we are all born scientists as we learn about the world around us – keep the momentum going and stay inspired! 

15. Be Intentional

The world is a fast-paced place and it’s only getting quicker. Between social media apps and group chats, it can be easy to get wrapped up in quick conversations, actions, and experiences which can lead to world-renowned phenomena such as the “okay” and “k” dilemma that is arguably destroying the English language; but that is beside the point. With these quick interactions, it can be so easy to go into autopilot mode and send out responses, while dissociating from conversations and experiences. Working in the digital marketing world, this happens to me from time to time and I constantly have to reground myself to remember that I need to take the time to be intentional. Rather than sending a friend a quick “happy bday!” I should take the extra minute to write thoughtful and loving messages- I’m sure you know how good it feels to receive such billet doux’s from the ones you love most. Think about how your actions might affect the planet or other people, and what your future self would want. Slow down, think, and respond with intent. 

16. Lists are Helpful, but Not Binding

To-do’s, groceries, projects… time is precious, and with so many things going on how the heck are we supposed to prioritize it? As a kid, I never fully utilized the planners our school would hand out for us to keep track of our assignments, but now I am shaking my head at younger Marissa because I have lists for everything. When I was 22 I used to write my daily to-do’s and stay up until 1:00 am to ensure every box was neatly ticked off so I could sleep soundly, but over the years I have had to realize that leaving some things for “tomorrow” is not the end of the world. It has taken some time to learn how to disappoint myself (again referring back to #3) but I am proud to say that by 25 years of age I am ultimately the master of my schedule, and as long as I prioritize tasks correctly the only person that will potentially be let down by my inability to complete “all of the things” is myself. And I’m okay with that. 

17. Invest in Quality

Here aboard Avocet we believe in quality over quantity, which is why we only produce one video for YouTube per month. In addition to our creative efforts, we like to invest our time and money into things that will last and fare well in the rough environment we dwell in. A good pair of shoes, eco-friendly cleaning materials, and even nice towels are just a few things that can make all the difference in life, but material things aren’t the only things worth splurging a little extra on. As Chris and I have “matured” we have learned that investing in food is investing in our future, specifically our health and wellness. Getting creative in the galley with organics and seasonal produce that plays to our bodies’ needs has been incredibly fun for me, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the inspiration from our friend and local nutritionist Quincey. By investing in quality, we are investing in our future and I sincerely hope that future Marissa appreciates it. 

Boat made focaccia that I made, using the recipe that I shared with the Wholesome Sailors blog site.

18. Not Everything you Lose is a Loss

I am not unique in saying that change is hard. As humans we like consistency, and find comfort in it. Change disrupts our system and can leave voids behind, like a ghost of something that once was but is no longer. These losses of consistency can be difficult to reason with, but what I have come to understand is that not everything, or everyone, we lose is a loss. More times than not we grow from the losses we face in life. It leads us to become stronger people and opens doors to opportunities that are better than we ever could have imagined. A great example is when one of my favorite clients inexplicably canceled our contract. I was destroyed emotionally and my ego was bruised, but I used that hurt to go after a whole new clientele that made up for that single client’s income threefold. I was too comfortable with my “favorite” client and did not push myself to expand my business until they were gone, and now I have a list of wonderful clients because of that single loss. This is just one example, of course, and it may take some time to find the silver lining but we will touch on that in a bit. 

The day we became Avocet’s new crew, 2018

19. Luck Does Not Exist. 

In high school, a teacher told me that luck doesn’t exist. Instead, it is the result of when hard work and preparation meets opportunity. That simple concept has stuck with me ever since, and it is absolutely true. People often say “you are so lucky to live on a boat!” but if you know us, you have likely seen or heard how much work has gone into our life afloat, even before we lived aboard. Chris and I prepared for an entire year to purchase a boat and went through the motions of trial, error, and heartbreak trying to find the “perfect” boat. Avocet found us by chance, and we leaped at the opportunity to be her next caretakers. Don’t sit around waiting for luck, make it happen.

20. Never Stop Playing

Did you know that As adults, when you play together, you are engaging in exactly the same patterns of behavior that positively shape the brains of children? These same playful behaviors that predict emotional health in children can also lead to positive changes in adults. There is a serious amount of research that supports adults “playing” in ways similar to how children do whether it be playing catch or my personal favorite: challenging my honey to a lightsaber duel even though he is quite frankly no match for me. So next time you pass a tree that you think would be really fun to climb “if you were younger”… do it. Just do it. The view from the top is much better than from the ground. 

21. Don’t overthink it.

CALLING ALL BUSY BRAINS! This lesson is for you! When faced with making an important decision, I tend to replay the options in my head over and over again in addition to all of the consequences; which is very similar to how Dr. Strange looks at all of the possible realities. I learned that there is one question that puts most of the overthinking to bed (which subsequently allows me to also go to bed): Does it feel right? The decision might take me to unexpected places where I do not control all the variables but if it feels right, that’s all I need. Oh, and if you replay awkward moments in your head from 10+ years ago like a marathon of America’s Funniest Home Videos then I would recommend training your brain to put those thoughts in a box and do something else immediately. Singing your favorite catchy pop song from the 80’s does the trick for me. 

22. I am not the Hero in Every Story

One of the hardest things I have had to learn is the fact that sometimes people just aren’t going to like me. The thought of me may make them physically ill, and I may very well be the world’s best villain in their story despite not even warranting such a title… but guess what? That’s fine. We are all on this planet with our own unique experiences, defining what makes us authentically who we are. We aren’t all going to get along or be friends, because this is not a utopia. However, I am not going to let someone’s pure, uninspired distaste for me to define who I am or persuade me to change because my cloth was already cut, and I am the only one who can continue to choose what pattern is sewn into the tapestry that is “me”.

23. Find Beauty In Everything

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which means everyone has the ability to see beauty in everything. Now this concept is pretty synonymous with finding the silver lining, but hear me out: If you can find the beauty, silver lining, or bright side of every situation you are conditioning your brain to be more positive. Back in 2020 when the world was basically an uncontrollable dumpster fire, I relied on finding the beauty in the chaos to keep mentally sane. Look for beauty wherever you can in life, and enjoy it!

24. Tell Your Friends You Love Them.

This is a hard one to talk about, but I have lost more friends than I can count on one hand to suicide, car accidents, and even snowboarding. Because of these instances, I am brutally reminded of my mortality and that it is so important to tell your friends you love them, even if it’s weird. I have been known to go out of my way to reach out to friends whom I haven’t spoken with in years just to tell them that I am thinking of them because no matter how much time has passed they are still important to me. You never know who needs to hear some kindness, so if they cross your mind tell them. And never stop telling them.

No matter how long I am apart from the people pictured above, I will always be in their corner. I am incredibly thankful High Cascade Snowboard Camp brought us all together, so many years ago. 

Sierra and I at my wedding 2018; she passed away 2 years later.

25. Life is short.

This speaks for itself, but turning 25 is like a freaking megaphone directly to the ear. Time is short, just yesterday I was 5, playing outside with my brother in the backyard of my childhood home and then I blinked and aged. I think as we grow up, we often forget that the ones around us are growing too – parents, grandparents, friends, pets… cherish your time with all of them because tomorrow is not promised. So to summarize this entire human experience: make the most of what time you have, live a life worth writing about, and don’t settle. Chase your dreams so you won’t be 90 thinking “what if.”

Although I often joke about it, I know that turning 25 won’t be “that bad” … I have spent 25 years building a solid foundation, and now I am painting the walls with my favorite colors (which are still black and blue, like a bruise)  Turning 25 means I am essentially 25 years wiser, but the learning and experiences will not stop here. 

So maybe my “quarter-life crisis” isn’t so much of a crisis but rather a reminder to keep being inspired by the world around me and allow myself the opportunity to grow. I already know 25 is going to be a pivotal point in my life where Chris and I embark on our cruising journey and I will be forced to trust my instincts and knowledge in addition to relying on no one but myself to see my business through to success. I will continue to appreciate what I have, make memories, live in the moment, and not sweat the small stuff. We only are given one life, and I am intending to live mine to the absolute fullest. I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and I am excited to see what this chapter has to offer. 

Thank you all for the birthday wishes, love, and support. As always, I wish you fair winds!

Marissa Neely




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1 Comment

  1. UnibrowCow

    Great post! Discovered you in TikTok and been reading you blog and watching your videos.
    Quite a bit older than you, but your hit the target with these. Thank you for sharing about your experiences with mental health.

    BTW Quite impressed with your communication skills. You’re articulate and think quickly.

    Wish you and your husband all the best!


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