Keep your eye on the ball. Don’t quit your day job. Eat dessert first (a personal favorite). You can’t take it with you. Never bite off more than you can chew. The best things happen when you stop waiting for them to happen.

Over the course of 25 years, I’ve heard plenty of advice. My mom taught me to try each food once before you decide you hate it, which is how I learned to love escargot and Brussels sprouts. My middle school field hockey coach taught me that if you cut corners on the field, you’d cut corners in life. My dad taught me that boys are evil, and repeated that advice every time I dealt with heartbreak. My dear friend Ben taught me to live a little, and he’d be happy to know I’ve done exactly that. But there’s one piece of advice that stood out to me, and it didn’t come from anyone I know.

During finals week of my freshman year of college, I made my way over to a friend’s dorm room to study art history. On my way up the stairs I climbed every day, I noticed a piece of paper that had been taped to the stairwell. Although I was normally distracted by something on my phone, the note caught my eye. Along with being in the midst of my first run of college finals – which were more challenging than I could have expected – I was dealing with being away from my family, my friends and my long-distance high school boyfriend. Momentarily putting this aside, I read, “It’s a bad day, not a bad life.”

Suddenly, all of my worries disappeared – even art history couldn’t bring me down. I did my best to remember those words for the next three years of college. Sometimes it was really hard. I went through a tough breakup; I lost friends, endured bad grades, dealt with the occasional unsupportive professor, homesickness and the death of a best friend. On harder days, it felt like a bad life, but I tried to remind myself that it was just a bad day.

So although I’ve heard incredible advice from family, friends, mentors, teachers and other influential people in my life, the best advice I’ve ever received was from a stranger who took time during finals week to share some encouraging words with a college freshman. Now, seven years later, I cope with life much easier by remembering those words. Each day is a fresh start, and I do my best to start with a smile – and a homemade breakfast burrito, you can’t have a bad day when you start with a breakfast burrito.

Everything in life is temporary unless you make a conscious choice to hold on to it. It’s important to remember to step back, take a deep breath and try to turn the situation around. It’s hard to make the best of a bad day, but you’re always in charge. Just remind yourself it’s a bad day, not a bad life.

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