Autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place.

The juxtaposition of summer and fall in New Jersey is my favorite time of year. I’m a sucker for the transition, because that’s what Fall has always been, right? The subtle transition between piercing heat and long nights spent outside with friends, to crisp air, warm cozy sweaters, and a change in coffee orders from frappucinos to warm maple latte’s. There’s something beautiful about how summer quietly washes away the blues of the sky and greens of the leaves, giving birth to a new, even more vibrant season. The change happens slowly, then all at once. The temperature drops, leaving the air crisper, cooler. Few things are more magical than waking up to a world that seems to explode into an array of colors overnight.

The quiet moments between summer and fall mark the beginning of the season of rebirth. There’s something so motivating about the way the world around us seems to change so drastically, suddenly, and beautifully. Even the world outside our window is inspiring; the leaves change color day after day, and eventually, the trees shed their leaves. I’m a fall baby. Every fall marks another calendar year in my life – another chance to, like the trees who shed their leaves, shed my skin and transition into a new year and new version of myself.

Two weeks ago, I turned 26. I spent my last weekend as a 25-year-old with the most important people in my life. I saw one of the last beach bonfires of the season, enjoyed Oktoberfest on the boardwalk, had beers at local bars, and ended my 26th birthday at a spa with my best friend, followed by dinner with my family. I ended what was one of the most challenging years of my life thus far happy, and full, and whole.

I don’t have the same pearls of wisdom as I did last year, when I boldly compiled a list of 25 things I learned before I hit a quarter of a century. But of all the years of my life, the last has been the most defining. 25 challenged me, 25 pushed me, 25 destroyed me, 25 made me; most importantly, 25 was a year of growth, of learning, always learning. I am who I am today because of the events, the lessons, and the obstacles that were presented to me in my 25th year.

And here I am today, with what 25 taught me.

25 was the year of embracing change.

It was a year of learning not to tip-toe around life and be paralyzed by insidious fear that inevitably comes from sudden change. Familiarity brings a sense of contentment and peace. Walking away from what we know produces fear. And sometimes, it’s gut-wrenching. I walked away from a job that I never knew meant so much to me this year. I watched as all of the people I grew to love as family bravely and gracefully transitioned into new careers and a new life outside of our old job, while I floundered and succumbed, only briefly, to a darkness that nearly swallowed me whole. I never knew how agonizing change can be. Slowly, I learned to embrace it all. I dug myself out, dusted off the dirt, and took a leap head-first into that transition. I learned to let go of the picture-perfect image I had of my life and to be accepting of change. To be open to the idea that change is beautiful. That change is magical. That change is the only constant we will ever have. Things change, people change, circumstances change, life changes. I learned to be okay with that. I learned that in order to ultimately get what you want, you have to change. You have to step out of your comfort zone. You have to do what you’ve never done before. And that’s exactly what I did.

25 was the year of giving myself permission to be me.

I learned that being confident doesn’t mean they’ll like me. Being confident means if they don’t like me, I’ll be okay. It was a year I learned to let my hair down, to knock down my walls, and to be completely myself and be unapologetic about it. It was the year I stopped saying sorry for who I am. Someone I look up to recently told me that it’s endearing how I don’t shy from who I am; that it’s admirable seeing me be myself. That I’m okay with letting others see me for who I am. It took 25 years to get here. It took 25 years for me stop assuming the role that everyone else wants me to fill. It took 25 years for me to own up to the person I am. I learned to stop being timid. I learned to stand up and say so what? So what if I snort when I laugh a little too hard? So what if my attention span is short-lived, my stories are fragmented, and I jump from one thought to the next without so much as a transition or warning? So what if I am quirky and weird? I learned that people only know who you let them know. And how the hell can anyone ever know me if I don’t show the world who I really am?

25 was the year of friendships.

I realized this year that not all friendships are meant to be saved. That some people are only meant to be a part of your life for a certain period of time, and that it’s okay to let them go when their presence no longer serves you. It was the year of cutting out the extra fat in my life and really focusing on what was important. Who was important. I took a step back and looked at my life and at the people I call my friends. I realized this year how much time has changed us. How much life has changed us. We’ve all grown up, grown wiser, grown stronger. We’ve all evolved into better versions of who we used to be. Somewhere along the way, we said goodbye to late nights spent gossiping under the stars about our latest guy conquests, to crying on each others’ shoulders about our parents who just didn’t get us, to lying on each others’ floors trying to make sense of our lives. We traded all those memories in for girls nights filled with too much sushi, wine, and laughter. To sharing in each others’ successes and learning how to be friends as adults – learning what being a friend really means. It means showing up. The most important part of friendship as an adult is simply showing up. We’re no longer the people who hang out every day, who call or text 24/7, who go shopping on a whim or get half-price appetizers late on a Tuesday night. We have to make an effort. We have to show up. Jobs and school and internships and family commitments change us. We’re all busy doing what we need to do to continue to advance in life. But we still show up. We show up for the big things – for graduations, new job opportunities, engagements, pregnancies, birthdays, house-warmings. But we also show up for the not-so-big things. We show up when it matters. When the tears won’t stop falling because of a ridiculous fight with a parent. When boyfriends or fiances or husbands threaten to break up over something minor. When a job abandons you. When life seems to kick your ass. When you feel stuck. No matter how busy we find ourselves, we still show up.

25 was one hell of a fight.

It was the year of digging out and dusting off an old pair of red boxing gloves, only to realize they were there all along. They fit all along. I came in swinging this year. Always swinging. It was the year of fighting for balance, fighting for structure, fighting for peace of mind. It was the year of fighting the isolation that comes with being in graduate school. With being in your 20s. With being at an in-between stage of adulthood. No longer a college student looking for the next Thursday night out, but not yet quite settled into adulthood. And no one tells you that. There’s no one standing at the entrance of your 20s with neon lights and blow up signs that scream, ‘slow down, take it easy, enjoy the ride, enjoy the company, because it gets lonely.’ It gets lonely as hell. And it happens in a heartbeat. Suddenly, and all at once, you go from being seemingly on the same path as everyone around you. Young, naive, and floundering in an unforgiving world, to the girl surrounded by friends who somehow figured it out. Somehow became real adults, with real jobs, with fiances and husbands and wives and children. And somewhere in the midst of all the real adult stuff, there you are. Lost in the middle, immersed in the isolation, and learning to fight through it. To be comfortable in it. To embrace it. But the fight was over when I realized that despite the isolation, despite the loneliness, I was, never have been, and never will be, alone. And I am so thankful for that.

26 will be one hell of a year.

The next year will be one to relish in the strength that 25 gifted me – to live with the lessons that 25 taught me. It will be the year I graduate with my masters, get licensed as Mental Health professional, and work towards employment in the field. Each birthday brings with it endless possibilities. Maybe 26 is the year I witness a miracle. Maybe 26 is the year I realize that maybe I wasn’t so sure of myself as a 25 year old. Maybe it’s the year I settle down, or maybe it’s the year I don’t. All I know is I’ve lived a lot of life in the last year, but I’ve got plenty more in front of me. So here’s to me walking away from 25 and embracing all that the next year has to offer. I intend on making 26 one hell of a year. Just you wait.

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘All Too Well‘ by Taylor Swift