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What’s the Most Important Lesson You’ve Learned Along Your Journey?

Every twist in our story, challenge we face, and obstacle we overcome is an important part of our story.  These difficulties make us stronger and wiser and prepare us for what’s ahead.  As we grow and succeed we may imagine that soon the challenges will fade away, but in our conversations with business owners, artists, creatives, academics, and others we have learned that the most common experience is that challenges never go away – instead they get more complex as we grow and succeed.  Our ability to to thrive therefore depends heavily on our ability to learn from our experiences and so we are asking some of the city’s best and brightest: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned along your journey?

Kevin Gonzales | Plant Dad

No green thumb is without a few black spots. Every plant parent I know has experienced trouble with at least one plant and has probably not forgotten which plant that was because, let’s face it, it’s not easy to fail, but the best plant parents are the ones who choose to give it another go, again and again, until they succeed. I’ll admit that one of my first plants was a succulent, and even though I’d been told left and right that they’re foolproof, it didn’t make it under my care. Now, I have several very healthy succulents, but I still won’t say that succulents are foolproof.


DiDonato | Beardsmen Media

Not sure if this a lesson I have learned but more of how I like to live, but I’m sure I did learn this somewhere on the road. I like to be over cautious rather than regretful. I always think of the worst thing that can happen. Especially in decisions having to be made. If it’s something that could be fixed or if I can live with it, then it’s the right decision.


Stella Jean’s

Stella Jean’s

The most important lesson we’ve learned in our journey so far is to never doubt the importance of community. We’ve continued to see great success thanks to the unwavering support from our San Diego family, which includes our regulars, industry friends and neighboring businesses.

Christianne Dowd | Natural Light Photographer

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my career – and in all aspects of life – is the importance of real connections. Clients, vendors, colleagues, they all create the fabric of my business and it is so important that I have have a real connection with them every time we interact. I am pretty easy going and open to begin with, and during every session with my clients I am to be my most authentic self, and in result it makes them feel very comfortable around me. I get to have real emotions in my photos due to this real and intimate approach as well as real relationships with them that many times go beyond the photographer-client relationship.


Amy Ali | Southern California Luxury Realtor®

I’ve learned to trust my instincts and confidently lean into my intuition. I encounter the need to make big decisions and develop strategy for my clients on a daily basis. Real estate is an ever-changing industry and if you’re not operating at the top of your intellect and continuing to grow and learn more, you won’t keep up. However, when your intellect powers your business and is supported by this keen intuition, you’re sure to succeed. 



Jeremy Loomis | Executive Chef | Top of the Market Restaurant

I’ve learned that no matter how stressful things can get, at the end of the day all we’re doing is cooking good food for good people. Tomorrow always brings a new day with the potential to outshine a tough today.



Breea Kelly | Communications Designer & Home Cook

Self-growth is tender. There’s no greater investment.

Find treasure in other people’s trash, sift through the debris of our culture, pay attention to the stuff that everyone else is ignoring, and take inspiration from the stuff that people have tossed aside for whatever reason.

Make moves with passion or not at all.

Amanda Mollerup | Events Coordinator & Tiny Hand Haver

The most important lesson I’ve learned is to just have fun with it! Don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t let your ego become an obstacle to your success. This is something I’m always trying to work on for my future.

Samuel Ivy | Singer | Record Producer

The most important thing I’ve learned throughout my journey is that nobody is going to do you any favors. Free doesn’t exist. All we can do is work hard and expect nothing.

Heather Spaun | Pet Sitter & Animal Enthusiast

At two years old, I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian. Here I am, 21 years old, and applying to vet schools! I’d like to say I knew my path for the entirety of those 19 years, but that wouldn’t be true. I found other passions along the way – music, math, human medicine, travel, and all sorts of other things – that led me on different paths. I didn’t come back to animal welfare until I risked everything to rescue a malnourished, broken and abused puppy from her life on the streets. It was then that I discovered the value of not just following your passion, but following your compassion. Imagine how incredible the world could be if each person were to better the life of just one other!



Katie Koentje | Owner of NEAT Method San Diego a Luxury Professional Organizing Company

The most important lesson I have learned in my journey so far is to always trust your gut. I think we all have a natural intuition and as a business owner and mother I have learned to trust mine. It isn’t always easy to do, but the times I haven’t I have looked back and known better!

Shelby Gayner | Student and Content Creator

The most important lesson I’ve learned in my journey so far as been one of acceptance. I used to be so hard on myself over the smallest things. Now, as time goes on, I’ve grown to love and appreciate every little thing about myself.

Olivia Bender | Mother, Campaign Community Liaison  & Photographer

Accept the good the universe sends my way without questioning why I deserve it and having patience with things I can not control (which does not come naturally to me). My children are both teaching me these lessons daily: my greatest gifts, accomplishments and growth stem from them. I strive to be my best self for them.


Eric Almero | Tattoo Artist & Painter

I would say the most important lesson I’ve learned in my journey so far would be  patience. Learning to become a tattoo artist and art in general has taught me that the greatest accomplishments you can achieve never come quickly, and to enjoy the process, even if at times it’s hard and seems pointless. In the end you’ll either reach your goal, or learn valuable lessons along the way.


Nancy De Andrade, PhD | Holistic Coach

The most important lesson I have learned in my life journey was how to set boundaries. Just saying “No” to things I didn’t want was not enough, I needed to learn when I over-extended myself, when I took less than what I deserved, when I didn’t establish my boundaries for fear of rejection or guilt. Learning how to set boundaries is tricky because relationship dynamics vary and are in constant state of change, but once you know where you stand, you love yourself, and you can be compassionate about your boundaries. Then your relationships improve and you feel at peace and free.

Agora Galleries | Fine Jewelry, Original Art, Exceptional Decor, and More

Too many lessons learned and still learning.   In today’s world of retail one must be willing to see outside the box and change it up, make shopping an enjoyable experience, continue to grow, and keep learning.  Our world is fascinating.   When you are doing something you love, with the right people,  whatever the challenge, you can make it work!

Chris McHugh | Chiropractor and Outdoor Enthusiast

The most important lesson I’ve learned is: Face your fears, and go for it! Life goes quickly so jump in and enjoy the ride.

Carlos Henriquez | Engineer & Hiking Enthusiast

I think the most important lesson I’ve learned so far is that when you think you’re done and you’ve got your shot. Take 20 more photos. You can never take too many. Yes it might stink to look through them all but when your favorite photo is one at the very end of the roll. Its all worth it.



The most important lesson I’ve learned in my journey so far is to have empathy and be kind. It’s important to realize that we all have different struggles whether it was growing up or what we’re encountering in our present day. Every day I remind myself how many obstacles I had to overcome to get to where I am today. People often judge without knowing a person’s story. I encourage you to get to know someone before judging them. Take a step into their shoes and see from their perspective.

The next person you talk to could have the biggest smile on their face but internally they could be fighting battles. Take the time to understand how they’re feeling. I encourage the utmost empathy and kindness towards yourself and the people around you. You don’t know what they go through, but they don’t know what you may be going through either. So be kind and practice empathy.

Regina Greig | Realtor specializing in Downtown and Beach Condos

All of us have difficulties or struggles at times and we often don’t understand why that is happening. Especially if we’ve put a lot of time, energy and effort into something. But in my journey I’ve learned that when I look back at those moments it all makes sense. My present self is better off now thanks to the struggles I went through in the past. So I have to constantly remind myself to trust God or whatever higher power you believe in, that what I’m experiencing and learning now will ultimately benefit my future self and those around me if I just embrace both the positive and the negative things going on in my life.

Damon Hudac | Photographer and artist

The most important lesson of my journey would be that even in the face of bad luck, persistence and willfulness will still take you places!

Alexis Jones | Legal Intern | Travel Blogger | Veteran

While I’m still at the beginning of my journey, I’ll share what I’ve learned. Because a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The most important lesson to me is essentially the “single step,” because it seems so simple—yet it’s the only difference between accomplishing all of your wildest dreams and riding the bench while others accomplish theirs.

A few weeks ago I read an article about monks and their vow of silence. I decided to take a “silent vacation” for 24 hours. In that 24 hours, I realized why I had been stagnant for 4 years in my military career, but now all of a sudden have so much success in my career goals.

Here’s my tip to the readers of SDVoyager: Everyone “wants” something. We want to travel full time—quit our job and start fresh—make more money—find love. Rarely, do we manifest these goals, because we never truly believe in our ability to do so. Adam Braun said, “if our dreams aren’t scaring us, I really believe we aren’t dreaming big enough.” It’s okay if you’ve never done it, it’s okay to be afraid, IT’S OKAY if you fail. That’s a part of the process. Believe that after all of the trial and error that you’ll succeed. If you believe in your ability to succeed you’ll gift yourself with a cosmic sense of purpose.

If I had listened to people and not innately believed in my ability to succeed, I would’ve never gotten a legal internship, without any experience in the field. I would’ve never packed up everything and planned a 4 month trip around the world. I would’ve never made it through an active duty contract being as “girly” as I am. It’s your job to believe in you. Believe. Dream. Manifest. Everything you want is on the other side of fear.

Tossama Chiwarak | photographer & ICU nurse

I started my photography business less than a year ago as a way to find a creative outlet and as a way to distress from the role of an intensive care unit nurse. The most important lesson that I’ve learned with photography so far is that the best photographs are ones that capture people’s connections and the way they are feeling in that moment. I try to have my clients interact more with each other than with myself and giving them prompts really helps show that. If it’s a couples session I would prompt the guy to “kiss her shoulder” or “whisper into her ear the thing you most love about her”. This usually leads to a lot of smiles and laughter.

Rayna Dominguez | Health/Beauty expert

My experience would be a quote “Faith of a mustard seed will move mountains.


Maria K | Life & Performance Coach Corporate trainer & consultant  Author of I AM UpGrading Facilitating UpGrades for the mind, body and soul

I have learned that as human beings we are hardwired to seek out improvement and desire better situations – it’s in our blood! We are evolutionary beings, so we should expect to evolve in our lifetimes. If we block our deepest desires and dreams, if we turn our backs on change, life will let us know that we are playing small by dishing out harsh reminders.

I have learned that when we allow ourselves to want what we want, truly, and from an internally inspired place, we never fall far from our uniquely assigned life path and we will constantly be able to rise up and grow into the next awesome version of ourselves – and live the best possible version of our lives.

Any form of change, transformation, or self improvement is likely to bring up our shadow though which can be painful and damaging if left unattended. We must learn that fear doesn’t mean we are weak, it just means we are human and that we still have a way to go!

By accepting and acknowledging your darkness as well as your light, you will set yourself free to heal, strengthen and thrive. You’re not broken – you are UpGrading! It won’t always be easy, be honest with yourself and develop resilience, but be gentle, patient and kind at the same time.

Transformation is a delicate process and the journey is long – so pace yourself and accept help and support often. Self awareness will be your biggest power tool.

If we can courageously and willingly keep digging around our inner selves, being mindful of our thoughts and emotions and by being present to our tendencies, fears, pain points and life themes, we can take back our power and keep a good hold of it at all times.

I have learned that we must wait for no one and stop seeking permission from the outside, our life has been gifted to us and we each have a great purpose to fulfill in our lifetime.

Discover what that is for you and dedicate yourself to actualizing it! I have learned that when you assign meaning to your life, every day is an adventure, a blessing and a miracle.

Your UpGrade is my passion.

Marilyn Parker and Rebecca Feasel | mother/daughter bloggers, teaching women to persevere and live above their circumstances

The most important lesson we’ve learned so far is to go into everything with a we-won’t-quit mindset.

Giving up is easy.

Staying married is hard! Raising kids is hard! Doing the right thing is hard!

If we entertain the thought of giving up when things get hard, finishing well is an unlikely outcome. We all want perfect lives—but who has that? Would that even be good for us?

Learning to persevere and rise above our circumstances through hard work and the grace of God produces character. And character produces hope. And hope helps us to expect the best out of the worst—and  because of that we can have true peace. So, no quitting here! Hoping the same for you!


Kasey Knose | Food and Wine Blogger of Disholicious

The most important thing I’ve learned in my journey so far is to be 100% true to yourself. Don’t mind what other people are doing or where they’re at in their journey. Stop caring what other’s might think of you and live your life for you.

Maani Safa | CEO | Quite Remarkable, award winning global Digital Creative Agency

Success does not equate to wealth, it equates to happiness. Too many times people mistake the two. Learn to LOVE what it is you do as 99.9% of your time will be spent on the journey not the outcome. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Entrepreneur, a doctor or an athlete…anyone who reaches a point of great success does so by being present in the process NOT just the results.

Success is the end goal and a byproduct of the journey, in retrospect, all the moments you thought were bad have caused the greatest growth you’ve ever had. Next time you’re embarking on a tough period you must learn to trust that there is a future waiting for you beyond what you might be able grasp at that present moment in time.


Leslie North, NTP | Nutritional Therapy Practitioner

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to wellness and living your best quality of life. The human body is extremely complex. Every body tells a unique story of where its been and how its adapted to its specific environment, which is a true display of bio-individuality. In a world where Western medicine practices symptom suppression (rather than addressing the root cause of illness), we must do our own research on ourselves and what makes us feel the best. Intuitive eating, honoring ancestral wisdom, and a respect for bio-individuality has been key to discovering ultimate health for myself and others.

Patrick Mahaney | veterinarian (VMD), certified veterinary acupuncturist (CVA), certified veterinary journalist (CVJ)

The most important lesson I’ve learned in my journey thus far is to follow your instincts in both personal and professional matters.  I always knew that I wanted to live in and practice veterinary medicine in southern California, due to the climate and lifestyle, and when the right opportunity emerged I was able to make the move in 2006.
Ten years later I started my own concierge-style, holistic, house-call veterinary practice which has organically grown over the years to become more than I ever would have imagined.  I frequently find myself in the homes of the most-important and famous people in the world, become part of their care taking team, and sometimes develop personal friendships with them to which I otherwise would not have access if I was not hired to be their service provider.
Although every day is a workday, I’m in control of my schedule and focus on work-life balance so I can spend time engaging in self-care endeavors in California’s many desirable locations.

Joarid “Jo” Manzanet | Full-time Student

I’m still young, and I still have so much to learn and experience, but so far, I’ve learned to love myself to the fullest, no matter what size I may be. In high school I wasn’t super skinny, but I was fit and had an athletic body, and I still didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I would compare myself to my classmates who were skinnier than me, wanting my body to be like their body all the time, but as I graduated from high school and really started to have more of an appreciation for myself, I learned that it doesn’t matter whether you’re skinny or not, if the confidence isn’t there you will never love and appreciate yourself in the body and mindset that you’re in. I’ve also learned that if you love makeup, don’t stop using it because someone tells you that it’s too much or you look fake. Makeup for me is my outlet to relax and relieve stress, not because I think I look ugly. So just remember, never stop being the best and confident you that you can be.


Sarah Murphree | Writer | Host | Stand Up Comedian in LA

The most important lesson I’ve learned in my journey so far is…Life never turns out how we plan, but when we accept where it leads us it becomes the life we were always meant to live.

I moved to Los Angeles from my hometown in Tennessee five years ago to be an actor. I had one goal: book acting roles. I worked very hard to attain this goal and quickly realized the life of an actor is perhaps one of the loneliest occupations in the world. That’s the part the media failed to tell me, the part I would have to figure out on my own. If you would have told me that when I packed up and moved to one of the biggest cities in the United States, I would struggle with loneliness, I would probably have laughed, very hard. I am an extrovert at heart, and I certainly did not foresee loneliness in my future. Yet the more I pursued my acting career, the less I felt like myself. Everyday was a battle between my desire to succeed in Hollywood and my morals. Thankfully, I always choose my morals, but at a cost. Acting opportunities decreased, and I sunk deeper into isolation and feelings of failure.

Yet, during these dark days, when all the acting doors seemed to be closing on me,
something beautiful happened. I found stand up comedy. I went to a comedy show in hopes to brighten my spirits, and instantly fell in love with this unique art form. Not only were half the comedians depressed, but they were talking about? To strangers! It was incredible. Alas, I didn’t feel so alone in this big city anymore. I signed up for a stand up comedy class shortly after, and have been a comedian ever sense.

I never planned to be a comedian. I didn’t even know what stand up comedy was when I lived in Tennessee. Yet, when I finally accepted this is where life was directing me, I felt an overwhelming peace in my heart. I believe stand up comedy was exactly where God wanted me to be all along. For he knew on that stage, vulnerable and broken, I would learn how to be me again. Accepting my plan for life did not turn out how I intended is the most important thing I’ve learned on my journey so far. When doors close, embrace it! It’s God’s way of aligning you with the path you were always meant to be on. 

Joanne Barratt | photographer & dog lover

One of the things I have learned is that life is constantly changing and evolving and  that nothing ever stays the same. When life is good or even just mellow -enjoy all the goodness of each and every day. If life is hard and you are dealing with something tough, know that time will pass and soon it won’t seem so hard. Make your plans but be flexible when things don’t go according to your expectations and keep an open mind. Most important of all is to always be grateful for not only what you have but also what you don’t have because that too will soon change. 

Julian Monarrez (J Mona) | Photographer

The hardest part really is getting started. One of the most important lessons I have learned was to not hesitate in asking other professionals advice about photography and their experiences. Most are more than willing to help and give moral support.


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