Like most of the other girls on the third floor of Treudley Hall, I plastered the walls of my freshman-year dorm room with prints of famous works of art, pictures from home and quotations, lots of quotations.
Song lyrics, tidbits from favorite books and words of wisdom gleaned from movies, my roommate and I wrote in flowery script on colored notecards with a rainbow of markers. Stuck to the wall with blue bits of sticky tack, those notecards were like stars in the sky for me. I'd lie in my top bunk, gaze at them and think about those words.
The overwhelming theme: Unrequited love and its accompanying desolation, concepts that at 18, we felt we knew well. It was, after all, the era of Jane Austen movies, Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo and Juliet" and "Titanic."
As the years passed by, quotations took on a different meaning. As a journalism major, I relied on quotes from sources to make a story. And as a French major, I peppered my papers with them, analyzing them until their meaning had been sucked dry.
Once upon a time, I had a romance in France. His name was Francois, and it was a lovely chapter in my life, one I can look back upon with great joy. During a long walk through the Jardin des Tuileries on an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon in March, we flitted between French and English as we talked about the future.
We started discussing our philosophies in life.
Then 21, my affinity for depressing, romantic quotes hadn’t waned:
"Un seul être vous manque et tout est dépeuplé," from the poem "L'Isolement" by Alphonse de Lamartine.
"Only one person is missing, and the entire world can seem depopulated."
His: "The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware," by Henry Miller.
Today, his quotation speaks more to me than mine. An empty world seemed romantic then. Awareness seemed to be redundant.
A couple of years later, I went through a quarter-life crisis, brought on by situational depression. After picking myself up and putting myself back together after what felt like another rock-bottom moment, I looked myself in the mirror and told the swollen, tear-stained face in the mirror: "You're better than this." I repeated those words again and again as a reminder that who I was then was not who I would be forever. It was time I chose my own words, carved out my own niche, expressed my own emotions in exactly the words I needed.
Eventually, the window shade that had been drawn across my life lifted. I outgrew my personal watchword. I was better than that. A replacement, I knew, would take an organic route and arrive in my life.
The words and themes that guide my life today are more deeply rooted, and I've learned from experience that words can inflict pain and ease a soul that's been stung. I choose my words more carefully.
In the last year, I've kept returning to a singular theme: making kindness, love and compassion the utmost priority in my life.
My new mantra came to me, and like the yoga practice that inspired it, it evolved and became more fine-tuned in time.
Today, this rules my life. The words are mine, though the idea is not.
It's on a post-it note on my dashboard, to remind me to breathe when I'm in traffic and not let rush hour and tailgaters upset me.
It's a phrase I utter in yoga class, to encourage my students to both physically and spiritually let their hearts lead them.
And it's a thought I return to when I need a moment to think before speaking, to tell myself I don't always need the final word.
This all-important phrase isn't plastered on the walls of my office or home, but it's engrained in my mind. And there it will stick, until the next chapter of my life begins.
Do you have a motto, slogan, mantra, or watchword? How did it evolve? When do you evoke it?
More From SparkPeople