Taylor Swift said it best when she said, “Life was never worse, but never better.”
It was the first full year I spent outside the comfortable and safe world of academia. 2015 looked a lot like sprinting towards a finish line, hardly stopping to catch my breath, losing sleep in a bold attempt to be the best student, intern, employee, and person worthy of the things I was working so tirelessly to achieve. 2016, on the other hand, felt a lot like jerking the emergency break after going 80 on the highway, only to find out the speed limit was 40. The year as a whole looked like the steady ebb and flow of settling down. It was living without the pressure of deadlines, learning, and still learning, to simply just be, and grappling with the consequences of perfectionism. It was celebrating milestones– new jobs, and marriages, and housewarmings, and babies on the way. It was getting on a plane for the first time since I was seven, making decisions on a whim, sticking to the same hair color for a whole 365 days. It was moments of immense gratitude, feelings of intense sadness, and days that just were.
It was a bit of me hanging out with the ever present impostor syndrome. I’d spent most of my life running in a straight line, chasing after the next thing. 2016 was about walking, not sprinting, down the road that didn’t have the same destinations it did all the years prior. It was about having to find my groove in a routine that sometimes still feels foreign and wrong to me. It was about telling myself over and over again that I didn’t need to keep looking for the next best thing. It was teaching myself to be exactly where my feet were.
The last couple months of 2016 were spent consumed with anxiety, burnt-out, spreading myself too thin, revisiting heartbreak, filled to the brim with grief, mourning the death of a friend, paralyzed by the fear of change, of illness, and of the possibility of what the future looks like without the people I care about the most. It was a less-than-gentle reminder of the things that matter and the things that don’t.
I didn’t show up for people in the way that I should have. I placed a lot of energy on negativity — on the people who were bad for me, on the people who were bad to me, on the person I had yet to become. I spent so many moments filling my cup, making sure that every second of the day was filled with doing something, seeing someone, being somewhere – unconsciously making sure that I didn’t have a second to be alone. I forgot to live slowly, to enjoy the moments as they come, to enjoy the people I care most about. I lost pieces of myself to the vortex of self-deprecation. I wasted a lot of time, energy, and money doing things that I thought I had to do. Like saying yes when I wanted to say no. Making plans when I wanted to be home. Agreeing when I wanted to disagree.
. . .
There were big moments in the last year, and smaller, quieter moments that I will hold with me as I transition into this next year. There were moments that can only be defined by mini soundtracks, lyrics that embody the lessons that I learned and the memories that I am holding onto tightly. What follows are little glimpses, pieces thrown into a time capsule, of what 2016 was for me–
“When We Were Young” – Adele
We were sad of getting old, it made us restless / oh, I’m so mad I’m getting old, it makes me reckless. / It was just like a movie, it was just like a song, / when we were young.
Adele used to be the soundtrack to my broken heart. Each song she wrote validated the feeling of love lost. In 2016, Adele showed up for me and my heart that was tattered by the reality of growing up– really growing up. This song was gently humming through my speakers one morning during the last week of 2015 the very moment I got a text from a friend telling me she’d landed her dream job and had to move several states away. Much of 2015 into 2016 was about goodbyes. Much of 2016 was about watching how time changes things. It often felt like standing in the eye of the storm and watching as all of the things that were once grounded got tossed along the way.
Nostalgia was a big theme of the year. Change was often met with bitterness, with anger, with sadness. Time was spent looking through old photos, reminiscing on old memories, clinging onto scraps of time. It was also spent accepting that time changes people. That there is no growth without change. And that just as everyone else’s life was moving forward, so was mine. Life changes in different ways for everyone and at different times. And it’s comforting to hang onto the memories, but also know that friendship doesn’t exist only because of proximity.
Friendship still exists when life changes, when people move, when I do’s are said, and babies are born, and mortgages are approved. I get reminders of how lucky I am, how invaluable friendship is, and how real relationships transcend all kinds of change, when I get invitations to bachelorette parties and weddings after friends move across the country, phone calls to catch up, text messages when TV shows remind them of me.
“She Used To Be Mine” – Sara Bareilles
It’s not what I asked for / sometimes life just slips in through a back door / and carves out a person / and makes you believe its all true / and now I’ve got you. / And you’re not what I asked for / if I’m honest I know, I would give it all back / for a chance to start over / and rewrite an ending or two / for the girl that I knew.
For the month of May, I spent nearly every car ride with this song blaring through my speakers, tears streaming down my face. I met my insecurities in the beginning of May. Without much of a warning, every single one of them came up and tapped me on the shoulder and shouted You’re Not Good Enough, You’re Not What I Asked For, You Need To Be Better. I danced with my insecurities. I kept running in the fire, a masochist preventing myself from just being okay. For a brief moment of time, I believed those lies. I believed that someone else’s vitriol towards me carried more weight than my own truth. And I was desperate in my life-long attempt at being enough for someone who made it so evident that I never would be.
It was in May that I admitted I needed people– that there were things I could not get through alone. May taught me that someone else’s unrealistic expectations of me says more about them and their own insecurities than it does my own shortcomings. And that my self-worth is so much more than someone else’s regrets. And though I don’t think anyone ever becomes fully comfortable with vulnerability, May was the beginning of the lessons that came with allowing myself to be more open.
May taught me that there are people who will try to invalidate your pain by telling you that it will get better and that there are worse things in the world. And while those are all well and true, the people that you need are the ones who say it hurts because it matters. It hurts because you want it to be different. There are people who will just get it. Who will, quite literally, welcome you with open arms and a shoulder to cry on, and words that don’t make it okay– but make it more bearable. There is incredible strength that comes from friends that validate your experience.There is hope, and there is solace, and there is the feeling that someone genuinely understands. And though it didn’t change anything about what I was going through, having someone to share the tough stuff with that night made all the difference.
May happened, but in the months that followed, I’ve learned to stop being the girl in the sad song. I learned that making your entire life’s existence surrounded by the need to envelope the world around you in compassion can destroy you. Looking at behaviors that hurt you through a compassionate lens is only helpful in understanding why someone is the way they are– not in forgiving them for hurting you. You can’t forgive someone for spitting venom at you and expecting you to stand right back up. You can’t out-love a shitty person, no matter who they are to you.
“Roses” – Kelsea Ballerini
And I thought I needed you like air.
This song was a reminder to stop being so dependent on the people you can’t depend on. Nearly a decade ago, I read a quote that encapsulated a lot of what I expected to always feel: “I learned very early in life that I was always going to need people more than they needed me.”
I’ve made it my life mission to overcompensate, to over-extend myself, spread myself thin, be everything to everyone. But in doing this, I’ve lost so much of myself to people who expect it. To people who don’t value me unless I’m doing for them. This specific line in this song is a reminder that I don’t need people– especially the ones who only want me when they want something– to breathe. I don’t need the people who only appear in my inbox when their hearts are broken, or they need a ride, or they don’t know which way to turn next.
It turns out that quote doesn’t need to be the mantra to my life. I don’t need people in the same way they need me, and that’s okay. Because the people I need in my life, the people who get me, they show up without asking for anything in return. And I can’t, in the next year, neglect those people.
“Better Man” -Little Big Town
I wish it wasn’t four am, standing in the mirror / saying to myself, ‘you know you had to do it,’ I know / the bravest thing I ever did was run.
I used to be haunted by the memory of the March night and the way he looked in my rear view mirror as I drove away. We were hopeful that we would keep the promise of staying friends and keeping in touch, but I think deep down we knew it would never work. Once the evolution from friendship to love happens, it’s rare that it can ever find its way back. Not in the same way. There are some things that I will always remember– like his small room, his old cologne, the way the sunlight used to creep in my blinds, reminding me to wake him up. His pile of books on the corner of his dresser, in an effort to be as well-read as me. The way he took his coffee. The way it felt every time he ignored me. And the way my heart beamed when he came back around.
But part of loving people right and being brave with your own heart sometimes means giving them up. Bravery is surrendering the belief that people are boomerangs. People are not things. They can’t be tossed away with the expectation that they’ll always come back. Being brave sometimes means being grateful for closure, being happy for the time spent, keeping the memories and the love that once was in your heart, and allowing yourself to finally be free.
“My Church” – Maren Morris
When this wonderful world gets heavy / and I need to find my escape / I just keep the wheels rolling, radio scrolling / til my sins wash away.
This song reminds me of feeling weightless, and how rare those moments can be. It reminds me of being surrounded by friends and knowing that I am known, and seen, and understood. It’s throwing your head back laughing, forgetting about everything that hurts just for a moment. It’s rolling down the windows, blasting the radio at an obnoxious volume, and having a singalong with a car full of people. It’s making last minute plans that you don’t expect to happen, but that end up working out seamlessly. I am grateful for all of the times this song and this feeling showed up for me in 2016. Like on Valentine’s Day, when I spent it with a group of friends that I never knew I needed so badly. Or on the occasional Sunday afternoon spur of the moment trips to Chipotle for dinner. I felt it every time I made last minute plans with friends– whether it be for half-price Appetizers reminiscent of high school glory days, or it ended up in the middle of a dance floor wondering if we were too old to be doing this, but laughing because if we were, at least we had each other. I felt it every time I celebrated taco Tuesday, and treating it as if it were, indeed, a holiday. I felt it every Wednesday night I stayed a little too late at work, laughing my ass off with my coworker about everything and nothing and being so grateful for those moments that make what we do a little less heavy. I felt it on a cold night on the boardwalk after getting my palm read for the first time. I felt it on my birthday, when my old friends and new friends came together. I felt it on Friendsgiving, surrounded by good food, and good company, and good wine. I felt it as I closed out the year with the same people I’d welcomed the New Year with for many years prior.
“You Should Be Here” – Cole Swindell
This is one of those moments, that’s got your name written all over it / and you know that if I had just one wish, it’d be that you didn’t have to miss this. / You should be here.
November taught me that pain doesn’t get vacation time during the holidays. While the world is cloaked in glitter and the gentle hum of Silver Bells, people are hurting. People still get sick. People die. Parents have to bury children. Families wake up on Christmas morning without anyone to cook for. Relationships fail. Regret is ever-present. Loneliness is an old friend that sticks around without an invitation.
I spent a lot of November questioning my own mortality — because that’s what happens when someone dies, you question everything. You wonder if it were you, would you have done enough? Said enough? Loved enough? Who would miss you? Who would be sitting on the very same chair you were sitting on, tears in their eyes, the stages of grief swirling in their heads?
There’s this thing about loss– you expect for it to hurt, you expect to feel immeasurable pain, you expect to cry, and sometimes, you expect it to come and go like the passing of seasons. But grief doesn’t end with a magic wand waving in the air, sprinkling some magic dust that sometime makes it hurt any less. Death is painful, and it produces this feeling of regret and this feeling of resentment towards the clock, as if somehow, things would be different if we had another second.
I could sit in regret, wishing I had more time, and trust me, I have. I could close my eyes at night and wish that our last words exchanged weren’t about making plans in the future. I could wish that we did, in fact, make plans. I could wish that our last interactions weren’t Facebook or Instagram likes. I could wish for more pictures, more memories, more time. More time to rewrite old endings, or to laugh about a few more things, or to remember the good ol’ days. The truth of the matter is, when you are faced with the end of things, whether it be because of death, or a breakup, or changes far beyond our control, there never really is enough time. We could have spent every waking second together and it would not be enough.
I think we often hang onto the notion that we could’ve done more. If we had more time with the person, maybe we wouldn’t miss them as much. Maybe it wouldn’t sting as much. Maybe we wouldn’t have cried as much. It would be easier to grieve, wouldn’t it? Nowadays, I’m not so sure.
I’m grateful for the time spent. I’m grateful for the memories. In fact, I’ll take them with me wherever I go. I’ll hold onto them. I’ll carry them with me and learn to recognize how important it is to just be present with the people in my life. Instead of wishing for more time, I want to remember the time that was spent. Though pain and grief and loss is valid, so are those memories. So is the joy. So is friendship, and love, and the moments that were a part of our story.
I don’t need time to hold onto memories and I don’t need time to let go of grief. I’m not even sure if that is what I even need. What I need to do is put one foot in front of the other to honor a friend that only got to see 27 years of life. I need to survive. I need to live.
. . .
The days leading up to the New Year are much like the days surrounding birthdays, full of introspection, reflection, yearning, acceptance. 2016 was a good year in that it leveled me out. I shared many beautiful moments with important people. I learned its senseless to guard my heart with such force. I learned that perfectionism ruins the natural course of what should come and that vulnerability is scary, but there is no growth without it. I’ve learned that robbing yourself of authenticity does you no justice when you’re already living in a world that is begging you to be everything that you are not– to be cold when you are soft, to be tall when you are small, to be loud when you want to be quiet. I’ve learned that even when faced with the most difficult things like illness and hospitals and death and grief, there is hope, a fond understanding of all of the memories you share with the people you love most, and a gentle reminder that this life is all we’ve got and if that’s the case — if time is a fickle friend that hardly ever makes promises, I’d better make some changes with the way I live my life.
My word for 2017 is intention.
I want to start approaching my life with more intention. I want to be intentional with how I invest my time. I want to be intentional with how I spend my money. I want to be intentional with the relationships I nurture.
And so, I am welcoming this new year with an open heart, and I hope you do the same. I hope you learn to live slowly, love boldly, and be okay with the sound of your feet walking away from the things and people not meant for you.
I can’t wait to see what a year of intention brings to me.