Dear 2015,

You came in quite like a wrecking ball; you were a blizzard that swept in before Autumn was ready to pack her bags and walk out the door. And if I traced your storm all the way back to its’ icy roots, I would’ve known all along. I should’ve known.

I should’ve known that the cold and snowy month of January would be the preamble to my year. That the ship I felt so damn confident I was navigating well would hit some glaciers before making it safely to shore. I should’ve known that there would be some dark nights — nights that I found myself questioning if I had any fight left in me. Nights that brought me to my knees, challenged me, made me question my intentions. I should have known that there would be some nights so turbulent that I would feel so sure I needed to dock the ship, just to see if I could dig out a map that somehow showed me a different route.

I should’ve known early on that I would learn what it really meant to weather the storm. I should’ve known that I would face some of the coldest nights, only to wake up to the warmest mornings. I should’ve known that the sun always, always, always, washes away any trace of snow and ice. 

I should’ve known, but I didn’t. But, 2015, how can you ever know? And I guess that’s the beauty of everything in life, isn’t it? That you can have all these grand expectations for how something will turn out, and it turns out to be something completely different, something even better than what you imagined?

2015, I’ll be honest with you. As icy and cold and turbulent as you were, you were one hell of a perfect storm.

. . .

I was watching an interview Adele recently gave, when she said, “Things get really serious when you become an adult, and you don’t realize you’ve become an adult until randomly one day, when you’re doing something and it comes up and says hello to you, like out of the blue. And it scared the life out of me. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not old at all, but I feel it.”

And ever since hearing those words, I haven’t been able to shake them.

2015 was the first year I really sunk my teeth into adulthood.

I wish I could pinpoint the exact moment it happened. I wish I could tell you that on this day, at this time, I became an adult. But it doesn’t quite work out that way. By legal standards, I’ve been an adult for nine years. But 18 year old me is a far cry from who I am today. Just as Adele says, it all happens randomly. One day, you’ll be doing something — something simple, like grocery shopping, cooking food for the week, planning a vacation with your girlfriends, and it happens. It’s never a big or a grand gesture; it sneaks up behind you and rears its ugly head, and you are never the same.

2015 was the first year I felt the actual shift of growing up. Sometime this year, I took a long and hard look at myself in the mirror and really noticed the difference. It was the first time I saw the way my face has changed over the years — how subtle, soft lines are starting to form around my eyes and mouth. How my eyes tell the truth, right down to my core. It was the first time I noticed that my hair falls a bit differently than it did when I was younger. How I am more prone to letting it fall naturally than to straighten or curl it. How I no longer feel the need to hide behind a smokey eye. It was the first time I realized that I’m not the same as I was at 22. And for some reason, 22 has been the age that I’ve clung onto — the year I graduated college — the year that I felt time stood still. But 2015 was the first year that I realized 22 was five years ago, and I am so much different than I was, even then.

. . .

The thing is, 2015, I’ll be honest. I’ve spent so many December’s wondering what the hell happened — wondering where the hell it all went. I’ve looked back on years that seemed to come and go — years where I felt all I had to do was blink and life shifted. I’ve spent a lot of time lamenting over the years that slipped through my hands. Somehow, I went from being a naive high schooler, so desperate to grow up, to a college student who just wanted time to stand still, to a graduate student, just trying to figure it out. I’ve spent so many New Years Eves’ throwing myself a pity party — stuck in between wanting to hang onto the who I was, and the who I was working on becoming.

You were big in so many ways. I just hope you were there for it all. I hope you caught everything I did, everything I felt, every accomplishment, every short-coming. Did you hear the quiet whispers and the secrets I didn’t share with anyone else? Did you see me struggle through all those difficult goodbyes? And did you see how goodbyes just seemed to follow me throughout the year? Did you see how hard March and April were for me? How I struggled to keep my head above water in those last months of grad school? And did you see how happy I was in May when I walked across that stage and got my diploma? Did you see how fun the summer was, how much I was enjoying the freedom, all the while chanting, ‘no more teachers, no more books…’ And did you see where it all crashed and burned at the end of summer? How isolated I felt, how hard it was for me to pick up the pieces and rebuild? And did you see me do it? Did you see me get back on my feet with such grace that it almost feels as though the end of summer never happened? 

2015 was a year of transition. It was a turning point. Years from now, when I look back on my life, 2015 will be where I stop and think, “my God,  that was one hell of a year. That right there — that’s where it all changed.” That was the year I learned to let people go — to let them move on with their lives, but still be a part of mine. That was the year I left a job that no longer served me. That was the year I spent so many afternoons locked up in Starbucks studying my ass off for my licensing exams. That was the year I passed that exam, made my way through the last few months of grad school with most of my screws in tact; that was the year I landed my first job in the mental health field. It was the year I got a place of my own. It was the year I fought, relentlessly, through some rough weather. And that storm — that perfect storm set me up for the year ahead.

My hope for 2016 is that I add to my life — that I really surround myself with the idea of quality vs quantity. That I immerse myself fully in relationships that make me whole. The people you surround yourself with have such a profound impact on how you feel. I’ve spent so many years desperately clinging onto relationships that did very little for me. I justified these one sided relationships because of history — because they had been in my life for so long and how dare I throw that away. 2015 taught me that not all people are meant to be a part of your life forever — some people come in and only stay for a chapter, or a scene, and others stay for a lifetime. So my hope for 2016 is that I stay towards the people who add to my life — the people who care about me, care about how I am, care about what I’m doing — the people who celebrate with me, who cheer me on, who encourage me, who push me, who challenge me, who sit with me when all I need is a glass of wine and a distraction — not the people who make me feel like I am suffocating. Not the people who make me feel that I am not enough.

My hope for 2016 is that I learn to unplug more and stay present in the moment. How many times have you gone to a restaurant and looked over at the table next to you, only to see that every single person is staring at their phones? Life is not meant to be lived through a four inch screen. My fear is that I am just like these people you see and scoff at, stuck in this generation that doesn’t know how to look up. My fear is that I’ll miss it all, and I don’t want to miss anything. I don’t want to be the girl clinging to her phone, who jumps to conclusions when the person on the other end doesn’t answer immediately. I don’t want to be the girl whose relationships with people lack depth because she’s scrolling through social media when hanging out with friends. I don’t want to be the person who forgets just how much she loves face-to-face conversations and hearing stories from someone sitting in front of them.

My hope for 2016 is that I give up trying to go at this whole life thing alone. That, when needed, I ask for help. My hope is that I stop trying to control everything around me. That I stop being so hard on myself when I don’t get it right. My hope is that I learn to forgive myself — because the tough stuff is not meant to be dug at alone. And I need to forgive myself for thinking it could be. My hope is that I stop breaking promises to myself. That I cross off all the things on my to-do list, and that I stop making poor excuses for why I’m not going after what I want.

My hope for 2016 is that I take a leap outside of the safe little box I live in and do more, see more, experience more. My hope for this year is that I live — that I make plans and follow through with them. That I see places I’ve never seen before. My hope is that I spend less time dumping money into having things and more money into experiencing things. My hope for 2016 is that I start following through with my plans instead of making wishes and hoping that one day, it’ll happen.

Because I want one day to be today. And I don’t want to waste another second waiting for one day to come.

. . .

So, 2015, I’ll leave you with this –

You were good to me, and I am so glad for that. You taught me resilience. You taught me patience. You showed me heartache. You showed me courage and humility. You taught me to be fearless. And above all, you taught me that life is not worth living when you’re stuck inside a box. I waited 21 years to finish school — to close that first big chapter of my life and meet myself — grow into that adult that I worked so hard to be. And now that I’m here, I’m ready to move forward — ready to knock down those walls and take a step into this next chapter of my life: assuming the role of who I am today.

So with that, I’m wrapping up that box and leaving you behind. I’m stepping outside of those walls in 2016 — walking away from that box. I’ve waited long enough.

With love,
Jackie

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I Still Get Jealous

Green has never been my color. In fact, I would go out on a limb and say that green isn’t anyone’s color. I’m willing to be the face of the petition that fights to end the color green. Green is ugly. It’s envy, and jealousy, and bitterness, and resentment.

Green is a monster that lies dormant inside of me. Green is the color that seeps through my veins when that monster is rattled.

I was talking to an old friend the other day — someone who’s known me for the better half of my life. She’s been going through a rough time lately and needed someone to vent to. We’ve known each other a long time and have seen each other through some of the darkest and brightest moments. We were there for each other during the twisted middle school and angst-filled high school years. We were each other’s backbone and support in times of familial discord. We saw each other through heart aches and many of life’s obstacles. We’re adults now — having gone our own way after high school, but we still find our way back to each other. We still keep in touch.

I listened to her vent about how nothing’s going right for her. How it feels that even the smallest inch forward is accompanied by a sudden tug backwards. I felt for her. I’m sure we can all relate to feeling hopeless — to feeling like when one bad thing happens, it’s quickly followed by a snowball effect of bad things. To feeling like nothing good is happening to you, while everyone else seems to be doing well. I understood where she was coming from more than she believed.

I imparted my own wisdom. I shared with her my own opinion and take on it. I told her how I fight the monster that is envy all the time. But, she didn’t believe me. In our conversation, she told me that from the outside looking in, it seems like I have it all together. She said, with absolute confidence, that I handle things better than her. That I somehow made it past all the heavy crap and somehow landed here — whole, full, happy.

There’s a lot of truth to what she had to say. In comparison to the nightmare of a child that I was in middle school, or the angsty high schooler I was, I am a much different person. Those years are hard for everyone. But in retrospect, those years straightened me out and taught me about quiet strength in the face of difficulties, and persistence when the odds are stacked against you. Time brings us back to the present. Brings us back to what’s important — not high school dances, or crushes who choose your friend over you, or arguments with your parents. I went on to college, and then graduate school. And every day, I hear stories that humble me. That make me step back and look around at what I have, and who I am, and how I live. And all of that leads me here — whole, full. happy. But there seems to be a misconception about people who offer advice — people who are the ears for those who desperately need to speak, people who want to mend the broken hearts of the world.

For one reason or another, we’re placed on this pedestal. Another wall that symbolizes a stereotype that I desperately want to break down; and it’s hard to shake that persona. How does offering my ears and pieces of my heart make my life perfect? How does helping someone else mean that I sometimes don’t need it myself? I wanted to jump out of my skin. I wanted to yell I struggle too. I get frustrated too. I get jealous too. But it wasn’t about me.

The truth is, I’ve been struggling to tame that monster inside of me lately.

She taunts me. Overwhelms me. Laughs in my face when I unknowingly set her free. Jealousy turns me into the ugliest version of myself. Sometimes, even when I try to fight it, I am overcome with the near fatal sensation. No matter how you shake it — envy, bitterness, resentment — it’s all the same. The feeling seeps into our pores and controls us. And we’re left the shake it off. We’re left to put on our boxing gloves and fight our way out. We’re left to stand tall in the face of jealousy.

And I will be the first to say that it’s hard. It’s hard to not look on at others doing well, accomplishing incredible things, making dreams come true, and not feel a twinge of envy. I think part of this is my feeling stuck in the middle of what I thought was going to be the most exciting and accomplished years of my life. But being in this transitional stage — still working towards a degree, while people around me have been settled in their career since we graduated from college in 2011, is isolating. But the other part of me believes that this jealousy is fueled by getting older and questioning whether or not I did all that I intended to. Whether or not it’s too late to chase after some of the goals I had for myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am blessed to have some incredible people in my life — all successful in their own right, who make me proud to be a part of their lives. Any and every good thing that’s happened in any of my friends lives have been about hard work, never luck. They deserve all the good things that have come their way. So today, this isn’t about them.

This message today is for myself.

But it’s also for anyone who feels like my friend that I mentioned earlier. Anyone who feels like me. Feels stuck in a strange period of transition — not quite settled into a career, but very close to it. Anyone who has a job that just pays the bills, but doesn’t make their heart burst at the seams. Anyone who struggles when they scroll through Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram and see friends and acquaintances seemingly doing better than you.

Sometimes, words fail. I can tell you to look Jealousy and Envy and Bitterness and Resentment in the eyes and tell them to take a hike. I can tell you that comparison is the thief of all joy. I can tell you to stop comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle, or your middle to someone else’s end. And if I did tell you all of that, it would still hold so much truth. But sometimes we need more than the truth. Sometimes, we need permission to let our heart feel what it needs to feel.

If you want to have a cup of coffee with Jealousy, go ahead and do it. If Envy wants to have a seat at the dinner table, set her a plate. If Resentment comes knocking on your door in the middle of the night, let her in. Not many people will tell you this, but just for today, I will. It’s okay to feel like you’re at the end of your rope, swallowed up by the incessant sting of jealousy. It’s okay to raise the white flag. It’s okay to want more.

It’s okay to let them visit, but please don’t ever make a home for them.

I think when it comes down to it, it’s important to remember that in this life, you are always going to be behind someone and ahead of someone else. You are always going to look towards someone and see them doing better than you. But, you’re also going to be that person to someone else. I don’t have it all together. I don’t even feel remotely close to being there, but the fact that someone thinks I do reminds me that perhaps the people I look to with green-tinted-lenses are doing their best, just as I am, to truck through this life.

Remember, life is not a scale. It’s not a boxing ring. It’s not a fight with others to get to the top.

Whenever good things happen to other people, it doesn’t take away from me. In fact, it has little to do with me at all. And I think that’s the takeaway message here. When we are in the throes of envy, when we wear resentment and bitterness like a cloak on our shoulders, remember that what someone else has, does, or achieves, can’t take away from what we have. Even in the moments when we are desperately fighting off our demons, trying to pry our eyes away from yet another accomplish that someone got to before us, remember that.

You’re doing all you can with what you have right now. Stop beating yourself up over it.

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” -Steve Furtick

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘Jealous‘ by Nick Jonas.

I’m over starting over, riding on a broken down roller coaster.

I want to tell you the story of the best year of my life. I want to find a corner in a cozy little cafe overlooking the beach and sit down with you and talk over soy lattes. I want to reminisce over the last year — over all the memories and moments that brought me eternal joy. I want to talk about the people I met; I want to share their stories and tell you what I learned from them. I want to tell you that this was the happiest year of my life. That I finally kept all of my resolutions and crossed everything off my list of goals. That I was successful. I desperately want to tell you that 2014 was that year.

But that’s not the story I have for you today.

I want to talk about heaviness. When we take ourselves apart and dissect every minute detail of our existence, we find that even the tiniest pieces have weight. Each page of our story, even the least threatening, can get heavy. 2014 was heavy. I found myself standing on a thin rope, putting my arms out for balance, and hoping I wouldn’t fall over. Hoping I wouldn’t succumb to the weight. Hoping I wouldn’t break. That tight rope never changed in width or length, but the weight did. With each step, bits and pieces piled on top of me. Every day, the load grew heavier until I found myself struggling desperately with balance. That’s the thing about weight: when the load gets heavy, something has to break. Eventually, your legs will give out. Eventually, your lungs will be desperate for breath. Eventually, the weight will come crashing down. You will come crashing down. And you’ll be faced with a choice: give in or get strong. I chose the latter. 

I want to tell you about the heartache. About the demons. About the mountains and rivers and valleys that defined 2014 for me.

In 2014, I felt life break my heart over and over again in unimagineable ways. I felt my heart break for others. For myself. For friends and family and acquaintances and strangers. I felt pieces of my heart shatter over stories of illness, stories of loss, stories of life, stories of grief, stories of love. I had so many moments fighting through the chaos under the pressure of weight where I wanted to stop dead in my tracks and scream, “what’s the point in all of this? Why does everything break me like this? What’s the bigger purpose?” I don’t mean that in the morbid way that it sounds. But if you’re the kind of person with the propensity to feel just a little too much, then you’ll understand exactly where I’m coming from.

There is so much tragedy in this world — as a whole, and in our own little universes. So many broken pieces. So much pain. 2014 taught me how easily it is for someone’s life to break. To shatter. To end. Just as quickly as you figure out the proper footing to walk across that tight rope, something can end. Your heart can break. The weight can get heavier. I learned that no matter how much weight is on your back, the world still moves on. It’s like when you’re sick and are forced to be surrounded by people who are well. You curse them for being able to get a sentence out without coughing. You want everyone around you to suffer in the same way you are. You want them to have a scratchy throat, or feel like they have an 8 ton elephant sitting on their heads. But it never happens that way.

When someone you love walks away from you, your world stops. Your heart can get ripped out of your chest, stomped on, and dragged across town. You can look to the people passing you by at the mall, or sitting next to you in class, or working in the office across the hall from you, but their lives don’t stop because yours did. Their weight isn’t your weight. 

And that’s what broke my heart the most in 2014.

While I was incapacitated in bed over closing one chapter of my life and struggling to find the strength to pick up the pen and start writing the next page, the world outside my window kept on spinning. The sun still rose, the birds still sang their songs, and my neighborhood didn’t crumble the way I did. When I watched a family member slowly deteriorate in a hospital bed, crippled with fear over impending heart surgery, the world outside his hospital window didn’t stop. They continued with their Memorial Day Weekend plans, and their barbecues, and their start to the summer season, all while he laid weak in bed, hoping for the chance to see another Memorial Day. When a friend of the family got diagnosed with cancer and slipped away in such a short amount of time, I looked for people around me to just get it. To somehow even feel an ounce of what I was feeling. But everyone kept living. They went about their Christmas shopping, they continued to bake their cookies, they continued to enjoy their holidays with their family. No one got it.

Our weight may never be the same, but the load is still equally as heavy.

Sometimes, we’re lucky and are able to dust the rubble off our shoulders. Other times, the pieces keep adding up. But we keep going. We have to keep moving. We have to find the fight within us to dig ourselves out from that valley. To fight the demons. To swim those rivers. To climb those mountains. To transition the weight so we don’t fall over.  

2014 was about transition. It was about learning to transition my life after every tragedy. After every change. After every heart ache.

2015 will be about movement, and progression, and being present. This year will be about steady and graceful balance. Taking both baby steps and giant leaps into the blind unknown. It will be about showing up. It will be about building relationships, maintaining old ones, and being present with the people in my life. It will be about continuing to balance on that tight rope, rolling with the punches, and expressing gratitude. 2015 will be about transitioning into this next phase of my life. It will be about unrelenting strength in the face of the unknown. In the face of all odds — and isn’t that what life should always be about? 

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015.

“Be kind to yourself in the year ahead. Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It’s too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand. Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin. Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them. Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.”
-Neil Gaiman’s 2014 New Years Eve wish

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘Just Watch Me‘ by Kate Voegele

I’m running down the road, trying to loosen my load.

If you had a magical power, what would it be?

If you asked me when I was younger, when I was tangled up in a love that swallowed me up like quicksand, I would’ve answered differently. When I was wrapped up in a boy who was never good for me, a boy who kept his heart buried under layers of cement, a boy who let me in only far enough to kick me back out, a boy whose cold, hard love left me frigid, and broken, and alone, I would’ve asked for the ability to read minds. If it were a different time, I would wish to have the ability to jump off a diving board head-first into his head and crawl into his thoughts and light them up in the night sky. If you asked me on the days when I misjudge just how many times I can hit the snooze button, on the days I’m running late for work and hit every single red light, or in the beginning of May when summer starts making her sweet way onto the Jersey shore and I’m stuck in unforgiving traffic miles away from where I’m supposed to be, I would ask for the ability to teleport. I would ask to close my eyes, choose my destination, and be there immediately. But today, I want neither. Today, I’m untangled from that messy love and today, I wasn’t running late; today, I wasn’t stuck in traffic.

Today, I would ask for the ability to cut myself into pieces and be present, truly present, in every part of my life. I wish I could be here, a writer’s cliche, in the corner of my local Starbucks looking out at the busy highway and cars passing by, getting my words out. I wish I could be at the library, pounding out a paper I waited a little too long to get started on. I wish I could be at school, at work, at the gym, catching up with my friends; I wish I could do it all, and do it well.

But, I’m no magician. I’m only one girl, wearing eight different hats, and somehow, that has to be enough.

Shonda Rhimes said something in her commencement speech to the Dartmouth College graduating class of 2014 that’s been rattling my bones for months. She said, “Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life. If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I’m probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my baby’s first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter’s debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh’s last scene ever being filmed at Grey’s Anatomy. If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the trade-off.”

I’ve spent the last nine months struggling with balance. I’ve struggled with putting all of my energy into certain parts of my life, but not in others. I’ve struggled with the realization that even though I made time for everything, I couldn’t make time to do everything well. The perfectionist in me was pissed off. The perfectionist in me shut down. The perfectionist in me has always prided on the fact that I could juggle so much – that all eight of my legs were always working. When I realized that I couldn’t put my heart and soul into all of my responsibilities, I walked away from the weight that I couldn’t carry. I walked away from responsibilities that I thought I had to cut – little things that made the weight too difficult to juggle. I made room for the heavier things. I made more room for work and for school, but left little room for myself.

What I’ve found in the absence of the extra weight was how much Shonda’s words resonated with me. Just like Shonda, if I am succeeding at one aspect of my life, I am failing at another. But, in spite of that, that’s why I’m back. I’m still learning how to be a student, an employee, an intern, a daughter, a friend – and do it all well, but I’m learning also that it’s okay to fall short sometimes. It’s okay to fail, so long as you try. I’m learning how to make time for myself, for the things that fill my heart – for the things that make me whole. And I’m learning how to do the best I can at everything without driving myself crazy when it doesn’t turn out perfect. I’m learning to relinquish the perfectionist in me and accept that I can only do so much – to accept that, like John Green said in The Fault in Our Stars, “the world is not a wish-granting factory.” I’m learning that I don’t get wishes. I don’t get magical powers. I am one person, wearing eight different hats, and I will make sure that’s enough. I will make sure that I am enough.

So, with that, I’m back. Thanks for stickin’ around.

“Balance is not better time management, but better boundary management. Balance means making choices, and enjoying those choices.” -Anonymous

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘Take it Easy‘ by The Eagles