ifIknew is a health initiative for young adults that uses a multi media approach, including social media and in person programs, to address the contemporary issues that impact the well-being, self-image, careers, and relationships of people in their 20's and 30's.

If I Knew is a prevention education project that raises awareness about risky behaviors that can profoundly impact lives.

Role Reversal: What I've Learned from Parenting my Father

By ejr

Photo by Margaret Wroblewski

Photo by Margaret Wroblewski

I used to wear my childhood like armor, thick but beautiful; a second skin. I never went anywhere without it. Indestructible, tough. It’s surface defined was who I was in simple terms. I was resilient, conditioned, knowing. I’ve been through a lot, I would tell people throughout my early 20s. A quiet smirk forming underneath my lips. The armour only making the chip on my shoulder more noticeable.

My parents, divorced, both struggle with mental illness. The role of devoted daughter to the ‘crazy’ parents was an identity I felt really comfortable in most of my life. My dad is an addict; his poison is primarily alcohol but he’s dabbled in everything from anti-depressants to sleeping pills. Without any support other than his mother (my grandmother) and his sister (my aunt), I had to step up and be his primary caretaker when I was 16.

Throughout my late teens, he was in and out of rehab, the Twelve Steps not even making a dent in the depths of his pain. When I was in college, he was worse than ever. My junior year, for example, I went home to take him to a 30-day program after he fell and smashed his face during a bender. The fear of losing him made me devote myself to his recovery intensely. I didn’t need to figure out who I was or what I like to do because I was the daughter of an alcoholic; I was a caretaker, a martyr, a good person.  

He got sober after I found him bleeding out on the floor, the cirrhosis finally taking hold. The words from the doctors got through to him: if you drink, you will die. He’s been sober for over 200 days now and he’s enrolled in an intensive mental health program. I have faith that he will maintain his sobriety.

Through hard work, therapy, and deliberate choices about how I want to spend my life, I am untangled from most of the roles I inherited from my childhood: devoted daughter, tortured sister, doting girlfriend. The masks were many and convincing. My dad is sober now; I left my boyfriend of 10 years after we mutually decided that our lives were no longer going in the same direction; my brother and I have settled into a stable but distant relationship. While it was a time of major transition in arguably every arena of my life, I felt truly free for first time.

But, this freedom of responsibility has drenched me in vulnerability. Who am I without those labels? The armour was not only defining, it was protecting. Protecting me from myself. Now that I’m free I’m wading in an ocean, exposed.

Now what’s left? Just me.

As cliche as it sounds, it’s been a scary but emboldening time. Choices can be challenging to make, but I am fortunate that I have the space and time to relearn and redefine who I am -- from what I like to do, to how I see myself, to how I relate to others. I have made new friends and let go of some old habits. I can focus on my career, on having fun, on travel.

For a brief time, I thought that in my dad’s sobriety and by breaking off of an imminent engagement with my boyfriend, I was abandoning some self-assigned post. I felt I was scoffing at my duty and purpose. At some level, it was nice to be needed by these men I cared about in my life. But, soon after I started living by my own rules, I knew I couldn’t go back. I had to move forward and face myself.

I still am a devoted daughter and tortured sister; and I am learning to love another man again. But, I’ve learned to shed the armor and tuck those roles into the quiet folds of my being.

I was at a party a few weeks ago and a man from Chile asked me, quite flippantly, “Who are you?” I started telling him what I did for a living. He talked over me and stopped me mid-sentence. He asked again, “Who are you?” I was stunned, a little embarrassed. “Uhhh,” I said, “I don’t know.” But then the embarrassment faded and I smiled deeply through the soaking wet vulnerability. I felt the sun shining. My identity is still blooming, I thought. It's learning to peek through the hardened ground.

Nanny to Line Cook: How I Unexpectedly Discovered My Dream Job

By Betsy Mullally

October 2013 was one of the worst months of my life. I moved to Russia after college to teach English and the minute I got to Moscow I knew it was a mistake. I did my training month, began working at my school, and started to realize I was depressed. I hated my job – it rained every day in September, and I dreamed about going home constantly. In October I decided to move back home to Baltimore. I was supposed to be abroad for a year.

I felt like a failure. I was unemployed for months. I wrote lists of jobs I could get and things I thought I might like to do with my life. I wanted more than anything to begin my adult life and move out of my Mom’s house. Like so many millennials who desperately need to make money, I decided to become a nanny for a few months. It was okay, but I knew it wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I needed something more fulfilling.

Every day after I finished nannying, I immediately thought about dinner. At least a few nights a week, I would kick my Mom out of the kitchen and try a new recipe. I got pretty good with a few things – chocolate chip cookies (a snow day favorite), pulled pork, eggs, and I could always make a mean sandwich. I wrote down recipes to try all the time. I had friends over for dinner and started manning the grill. I realized at some point that I loved food and cooking more than your average nanny.

On June 26th, I decided to apply for a job at Woodberry Kitchen, a very popular farm-to-table New American restaurant in Baltimore. They didn’t hire me right away but asked me to come back the next day to try out. That day was a blurry, thrilling nightmare. I didn’t hold my knife right, I didn’t know what fennel was, and I grabbed the last ice cream out of the freezer without telling the pastry chef – not knowing I screwed her over. I kept my head down and hoped they could see that I was a hard worker and that I was ready to start from the bottom.

Much to my surprise, I was hired on the 27th.

The first months were hard. I wasn’t allowed to work the line at first because I was so slow and knew so little. I got kicked out when the health inspector came because I had no idea what I needed to do. I pissed off most of the other cooks because I couldn’t keep up with them. I didn’t know about any famous chefs. I didn’t know that taking a picture of a fish in the walk-in wasn’t funny because they were in there all the time. My ignorance seemed like it would never end, but slowly, after a few grueling months, the chefs were asking me things like, “Hey, what did you put in that onion dip?” I made shrimp salad and seasoned it perfectly. It wasn’t taking me 45 minutes longer to clean up than everyone else. I made friends and started buying cookbooks like a madwoman. I started training my new coworkers on cold side and it hit me.

Shit! I, this young twenty-something with no previous experience in the restaurant business, am a line cook!

Now I feel like a completely different person than that depressed girl in her apartment in Moscow. I am still learning a great deal about food and the ins and outs of working as a line cook. I still mess up all the time, but I have grown so much in these past three years. I love working with my hands and crushing a busy service. I love watching people smile and enjoy the food that we make. I love to read cookbooks and talk to my coworkers about new recipes. I wake up every day and I do not dread going to work. I LOVE being a line cook.

I won’t be able to be on my feet for 60 hours a week forever, but cooking these three years has taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned. If you’re not happy, do something else. Try anything and everything until you find what makes you the best kind of crazy – that thing that makes perfect sense once you find it. Work your ass off, surround yourself with people who support you, and refuse to give up.

These have been the most insane, burn-inducing, fast-paced, beautiful years of my life, and I could not be more grateful. Thank you to everyone who has helped me and supported me along the way. I can’t wait for what’s to come.

Bring it on, year four –I’ve never been more ready.

10 Tips For Constructive Criticism

I heard the phrase “constructive criticism” again and again in school, usually right before my classmates and I were asked to pass our papers to the left for peer-review. Without clear guidance about how to criticize constructively, our peer-reviews were often brutal and back-handed, instead of being helpful, supportive, encouraging, and focusing. We ended up criticizing our classmates rather than their misplaced commas.

As an adult, I’ve found that the need for constructive criticism is even greater outside of school, whether it’s in the workplace, in a volunteer organization, or in the home. But many people never learn how to criticize constructively. How often have you gotten angry at an insult or cutting remark and been told, “I’m only trying to help”? However well-intentioned, ill-delivered criticism can have the opposite of its intended effect, only making the problem worse or creating new problems, such as causing a fight between friends.

Being able to both give and receive criticism (or better yet, ‘feedback’) is essential to living with and working well with others. So here’s the lowdown on how to be constructive:

1) Remember your purpose. The purpose of your feedback should be to improve the outcome, not to be right, or better than someone else, or hurtful.

2) Don’t give unsolicited advice. If you see someone struggling with something and think you may be able to help, ask if you can offer some advice before doing so. Better yet, state your observation and offer open-ended help: “It sounds like you are stressed about not having enough time to do the things you love. I took a time-management class that I found really helpful. If you ever want any tips, let me know!”

3) Listen. No matter how aggravating it may be, if they don’t want your advice, don’t give it. There are a number of reasons someone may not want your advice. They may already be aware of their error or want to figure it out on their own. They may be feeling discouraged. They may have a different idea of how to approach the issue and don’t need your help at all. Respect them by respecting their wishes. Once you’ve offered your help, they know they can come to you if they need to.

4) Be mindful of context. Are you the right person to be giving this advice? Let’s say your friend vents to you about his dieting troubles, while you eat whatever you want without gaining an ounce. Your friend may not be receptive to your advice since you haven’t earned that wisdom from your own experience. It’s also important to consider the time and place. Make sure you have enough time to talk the issue through, and that you hold the conversation in a neutral and peaceful space.

5) Start with a positive. Try agreeing, admiring, appreciating, or affirming, rather than demeaning, denouncing, dismissing or discrediting. The message to give is, “This is good, and let’s make it even better.”

6) Criticize the work, never the person. Rather than telling someone, “You’re missing the point,” try saying, “This essay misses the point.” When you distance the recipient of your advice from the work you are criticizing, they are less likely to feel personally attacked.

7) Stick to the facts. Distinguish facts from judgments and opinions. Rather than say “It’s boring,” take responsibility for your opinion and say, “I found myself getting bored as I read it.”

8) Be specific. “It’s boring” doesn’t help me fix what is boring about it. It would be more helpful to say something like: “To me, the first three paragraphs felt a little long and didn’t hold my attention, but the pace picked up on the second page at the part about the rainforest.”

9) No buts: “I love this, but…” “This is wonderful, except…” Don’t dismiss your compliments as soon as you’ve given them. If you love something, say it and end that thought with a period before moving on to your critique. “I love this. What do you think about cutting the first few paragraphs and starting at this part? I think it would draw readers into the heart of the matter quicker.”

10) Ask questions and avoid saying “should.” Instead of saying “You should do it this way,” try asking, “What do you think about doing it this way?” Then listen to and respect the response you receive. Maybe together you will come up with a solution neither of you would have thought of on your own.

Do you have any feedback for me? Is there something I left out? Let me know in the comments!

Atira Zeoli- Contributing writer for IfiKnew

Break Free!

When we are stuck in one area of our life, we may believe there is nothing we can do. We hyper-focus on the issue, fear the issue, and struggle with it. We forget all of the other resources, skills and tools we have.

A few years ago, I took classes on Aikido, a Japanese martial art. In my first class, the teacher had us pair up and simulate the most common form of attack: a wrist grab. When my partner grabbed my wrist, I believed I was stuck: he held my wrist, therefore he held me. My whole attention was drawn to my wrist, to the place where I was stuck, and my futile efforts to get away focused only on trying to pull my wrist away. I forgot that I had another arm and hand, two legs, my head, my feetthe whole rest of my body!that I could use to break free. My attacker only had my wrist; the rest of me was free. Once I realized this, I was able to twist out of his grip.

This kind of awareness can be helpful in our daily lives as well. First, of course, we must recognize what our difficulties are, where we are stuck, what is not working. But once you have acknowledged the issue, dwelling on it stifles your sense of perspective. It limits you. When you look up from the problem in front of you and let your eyes adjust, look to the mountains in the distance or the stars above, you get a sense of limitless possibilities.

I didnt get away from my attacker by focusing on my wrist: I got away by focusing on everything else, on the direction of my weight, on the imbalance of his body, on the direction of my kick, on my best route of escape. I got away by focusing on what was possible and on what I could do right at that moment. No matter what limitations or obstacles you may be facing, focusing on what you can do keeps you moving toward your goal.

Atira Zeoli-Contributing writer for IfiKnew

Morrocan Musings Or How To Not Be A Completely Self Centered Young Person


As a 22 year old only child with a rather large amount of anxiety, I have spent (more than) my fair share of time feeling sorry for myself and/or beating myself up. Why don’t I have a “real, adult” job? How do I motivate myself to try harder? Why do I feel sad and lonely and lost? These are a few of the panic thoughts I have while trying to fall asleep at night (or during one of my many mid-day naps).

Somehow, between the anxious thoughts and half-baked plans for the future, I have found time and money to travel. I’m currently writing from a shaky bus driving through the mountains of Morocco (who knew Morocco has mountains?!). Here, it is easy to be positive—I have no real responsibilities besides remembering not to drink the tap water and capturing mental pictures of all the amazing sights to constantly remind myself how lucky I am to be able to travel. Here I am making grand, sweeping plans to be a better human: practice French every day, volunteer instead of nap in my free time, wake up early to exercise, etc. Here it all seems easy and practical.

Realistically, though, I know that if I let myself I’ll just go back to my normal, anxiety ridden life after a week of being home. This leads me to attempt to make a list of pragmatic and gradual ways to remain grateful and positive upon my return to regular life in the states.


1)            Go outside. It’s easy to be anxious and lonely when you spend several hours at a desk only to go home and Netflix for the rest of the night. Going outside gives you (even just a small bit of) exercise and reminds you that there is more than just the world in your head. Do the squirrels worry about if they are living up to their full potential? No. They just live and scurry and eat nuts.

2)            Do at least one thing a day for someone else. This seems like a given. One might think “I do stuff for others all day! I do favors for my boss and clean up after my roommate constantly!” But doing one purposeful thing for someone else that will not affect you in any way (like getting brownie points from your boss or living in a cleaner apartment) takes forethought and planning. It means that during that time planning you don’t think about yourself, which is something that I do an alarming amount without realizing it. All that thinking about yourself is what leads to the anxiety, self-pity, and self-bashing. Plus, we all know that making others happy makes us feel better. There is no down side here.

3)            Stop hate stalking/reading. I don’t know if this is a universal thing but sometimes I’ll look up something like #Meninism and read things that I KNOW will make me angry and/or sad. This hate reading (or stalking of ex’s, or the like) creates a vicious circle of anger--sadness --anxiety –apathy--anger. It’s a form of wallowing that allows for both self-pity and self-righteousness. Rather than hate reading (and the time spent dealing with the range of emotions that follows, generally ending in an anxiety nap) you could read a book, bake some cookies, work on #1 or #2 from this list, etc. Limiting (hopefully eliminating) hate reading not only curbs self-pity/righteousness but it also adds time to the day! Who needs to think about all those #meninists that think equality is being allowed to punch women in the face when you could be eating freshly baked cookies?!

This is a short list. I could do with some more solutions. Please, leave ideas and tips in the comments and we can all work together to be less anxious, self-indulgent creatures. I’m definitely in the market for an accountabili-buddy (someone who helps make me feel accountable)!

Also: Google Morocco. If you have the chance, go visit. It changes you for the better. I promise.

Nikki Hurley-Contributing writer for ifiknew

An open letter to my teenage self

Dear 17 year-old Annie,

I hate to ruin the ending for you, but everything works out fine. Seriously, every crisis or concern you are worried about now will be resolved. So much so that I cannot remember for the life of me what I used to worry about in high school.

The funny thing is that I still get myself worked up over situations that are probably going resolve themselves with a little time. I think this anxiety tags along with the fear of the unknown.

It’s tricky to plan things out when the world is founded on changes. Every day is saturated with breaking news and plot twists that remind us of how unpredictable life is.

Now, I’m not encouraging you to give up the plan, just don’t panic if it changes. The only thing you can do to ensure a happy ending is to live by your gut. Remember that time at the party when everyone piled in a car to go egging and you didn’t go because you had a bad feeling? Your gut knew that something was wrong because they ended up getting busted by the police that night. Your intuition is your strongest superpower and it only works if you listen to it.

Don’t freak out about the plan because the story is so much better than the plan. Your greatest moments happen when you say yes to the opportunities that feel right to you, not when you follow what others say is right.

Things get VERY cool because you made them this way. I’m eternally grateful for all of the good and bad choices you made that got you here. You’re a good person and you know what you want, now go get it without a single hesitation.

Also, always remember: it’s much better to have a few real friends who you can rely on and trust rather than to have a big group of friends whose friendships are only surface-deep.

Keep going, it’s just the beginning,

21 year-old Annie

Annie Stragner-Contributing writer for ifiknew