Yardsticks and Mile Markers

There’s a profound shift that takes place immediately after you graduate college.

Life as you knew it suddenly changes drastically. You will choose to take a year off before going to graduate school and spending three years working towards your Master’s. You’ll have friends that never moved back home — friends whose college towns loved them so much, they offered them a job they couldn’t refuse. You’ll have friends that work odd hours and friends that work nine to fives. You’ll have friends that are content with their lot in life and you’ll have friends that go to home at night wearing the weight of depression like a cloak around their neck.

You’ll try to hang onto bits and pieces of your youth, all while feeling the incessant pang of a childhood long gone before you were quite ready to let it go. You’ll start to feel a range of emotions you never knew existed. You’ll be eager to get your hands dirty and be knees-deep in checking things off your bucket list. You’ll be hopeful. You’ll be confident that this life is going to be exactly what you dreamed it would be. You will be faced with rejection. You’ll stay up all night applying for jobs, crossing your fingers that someone out there will just give you a chance. You’ll lower your standards for what you want out of love. You’ll feel a bit like a failure. You’ll spend nights going through old moleskin journals from all the years you spent scribbling down every single one of your plans. You’ll question your intentions. They were real plans, weren’t they? They were honest, hopeful, well-meaning plans. They were true to who you were. They were exactly what you wanted. But here you are, sitting on the edge of your bed, grappling the truth of what your life has become: monotony.

You’ll start to feel like you’ve let yourself down. You let down the teenage girl that used to lay on the beach at night with her closest friends, under a blanket of New Jersey stars, making big, big plans for what life was going to be.

You didn’t write a New York Time Best Selling novel at 18.
You didn’t move into an apartment in the city with your girlfriends at 22.
You never took any time to travel.
You’ve never even seen much more than what the East Coast has to offer.
You don’t know what a healthy relationship is supposed to be like.

The truth is, you thought things would be easier. You thought that being an adult meant that you were always sure of things — that you would know, without a question, if what you were doing was right. But you’ll find that it doesn’t matter how many candles you blow out on your birthday cake each year, because you will always be full of questions. You’ll question your passions. You’ll question your choices. You’ll question if the skin you’re wearing is really fit for the person you are. You’ll question the plans you had for yourself. You’ll question your parents. You’ll question friendships. You’ll question your successes and your failures. And you’ll want to give up and go through the motions when you feel like the seams that keep your life sewn together are starting to come undone.

You’ll feel like you’re being flung across a boxing ring. And you’ll get mad. This is supposed to be what growing up is? This is supposed to be fun? This is supposed to be better than what I’m leaving behind? You’ll go from feeling stagnant to feeling like you’re riding a one-man roller coaster with no handle bars to hold onto. And the truth is, it’s a little bit of both, isn’t it? Sometimes, you’ll feel like you’re at a standstill. Like you’re wearing weights on your feet and you can’t possibly run without falling flat on your face. And other days, you’ll feel a gust of wind pushing you towards the finish line, and you have no choice but to ride that wave out.

You’ll surprise yourself at the first taste of envy.

One day, you’ll get a text from a friend saying they landed their dream job. They’ll tell you that they got offered $10K more than they expected and they already had intentions of moving an hour away from your little hometown.

“I’m happy for her,” you’ll repeat those words out loud three times, as you let it all sink in.
I’m happy for her. I’m happy for her. I’m happy for her, aren’t I?”
You aren’t sure who you’re repeating yourself to. You aren’t sure who is really listening to you.

You’ll go out for a celebratory dinner, followed by celebratory drinks. You’ll count on the bottomless champagne and the glittering lights and the music permeating through the walls to get you through the night. You have no idea what that sinking pit in your stomach is, but you paint a smile on your face and you cheer along when you’re supposed to.

You do it for her. You do it because she’s your friend. And you’re happy for her, aren’t you?

You’ll start expecting it — that feeling, again. The bitter taste of jealousy and confusion. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes, it knocks the wind right out of you, and other times, it makes you grip the chair you’re sitting in. But it’ll always sting.. even just a little bit.

You’ll scroll through Facebook and see that someone you grew up with bought a house. A beautiful little cottage with a white picket fence and wrap-around porch — the house of your dreams. You’ll see a girl you went to high school with posting every moment of her day, working for a well-known, high-end fashion magazine. That was never part of your plan, but you still get green with envy in a way you can’t seem to rationally explain. You’ll see pictures of engagement rings, and sonograms, and nurseries. Your heart will break every single time you scroll through social media and see an ex boyfriend fall in love with someone who is very much the opposite of who you are. You’ll question if you were ever enough, or if it was all a little game. You’ll see posts from a girl you grew up with talking about her plans and intentions to publish a book of essays, and you’ll die a little bit inside at the 100+ likes and comments encouraging her to do so. You’ll get pissed off — wasn’t that what I wanted? Wasn’t all of that what I wanted for myself?

Your friends are getting married. They’re having babies. They’re buying houses. They’re moving into next chapters of their lives at lightning speed, and you’re still trying to catch up on the three years you missed while you were still in grad school. So, you start to create mile markers in your head for where you should be.

You should be in a committed relationship right now. You should be paying a mortgage. You should be making plans for a wedding, and a honeymoon, and a family. You should be settling down. You should be setting up registries and picking out color schemes. You shouldn’t be living in an apartment that hasn’t ever felt like home, you shouldn’t be getting stood up by boys who don’t come close to what your standards used to be, you shouldn’t be working extra hours and extra jobs just so you can afford to be in another string of weddings next year. You shouldn’t be making trips to your parents garden for vegetables because you have to choose what you can afford: your electric bill this month, or food. You shouldn’t be sitting on the edge of your bed, clutching your old moleskin journals, wondering where the hell all this time went and why the hell haven’t you gone after all the other things you wanted for yourself? Things outside of a degree, and a good career, and good, stable ground.

When did we let ourselves become robots? When did we start allowing what we don’t have to dictate how we feel about ourselves? When did we start using other people’s achievements as yardsticks for everything we are not?

It’s cute in the beginning, I suppose, this little act of self-deprecation. It keeps you on your toes when it starts. But it becomes a habit — a dangerous cycle. You become whinier. You start to become empty of all the hope you once had and instead of discussing thoughts and ideas, you discuss your shortcomings and how they compare to others’ achievements. People stop encouraging you; they stop filling you with empathy and compassion. Because the things you swore you’d have done by now are just thoughts you scribbled down in that moleskin journal long before you were faced with the things that somehow matter more now: rent, an electric bill, student loan payments, being a bridesmaid over and over and over again, house warming parties, weddings, baby showers, taxes, health insurance plans, retirement plans. The list goes on.

I’ll be honest. These days, I’m just trying to get by. These days, I’m trying to set up camp in the valley that I’m living in. These days, I’m trying to forgive myself. I’m trying to forgive myself for tiptoeing around that dangerous trap of comparison — a huge pool that I always swore I’d stay away from. I’m trying to forgive myself for expecting more than what is possible of me. I’m trying to forgive myself for holding up a mirror in one hand and a yardstick in the other, measuring who I am against who I wish I was.

These days, self-forgiveness is the theme of my life. You have to forgive yourself for being a little irrational. Your emotions might not always make sense; you’ll find yourself getting angry over something minor. You’ll find yourself seething in jealousy. You’ll sometimes find yourself sad when you see the things someone else has, even if it’s a life you never wanted for yourself. Your feelings may not always make sense, but they’re always valid. You’re allowed to be hurt, and you’re allowed to cry about it. You’re allowed to feel a little stuck every once in awhile. You’re allowed to kick and you’re allowed to scream. But I’ll tell you one thing: you’re also allowed to forgive yourself.

You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not quite being where you thought you’d be. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not being what everyone else wants you to be. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not always remembering the things you have accomplished. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for comparing your life to someone else’s. And most importantly, you’re allowed to forgive yourself for being human.

I’m learning that daily. You’ll have to forgive yourself over and over again until you wear the words on your skin. Say it with me: I’m only human, and that’s my saving grace.

I’m only human,
and that’s my saving grace.

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On Humility

I just want to be real with you today and let you in on a little secret.

The world does not cease to exist if we don’t snap an iPhone photo, crop it, filter it, and decorate it with a clever caption to dangle in front of someone else’s eyes. Life will continue to move forward without logging your daily minutes.

In the last week, I held the door for a stranger at Wawa, I let a woman with a crying toddler get in line in front of me at the grocery store, I went to the gym two times, I worked a total of 54 hours, I read an entire novel and am knee-deep in the middle of another one, I meal prepped for the week, I scrubbed my bathroom floor, I got frustrated with my family, I spent time with friends, I barely slept all weekend. You wouldn’t know any of this by scrolling through any of my social media accounts.

– – –

It’s hard to remember a time in my life when moments were nothing more than just that — moments. Sometimes I forget about what it was like to pick up the phone and check in on an old friend, rather than scroll through Facebook to see their latest status. It’s hard to remember a time when Tweets and photos and status updates drenched in the quiet desperation for validation were not the norm.

And please, don’t get me wrong. I love social media for what it’s given me — a platform to share my thoughts. A space to keep in touch with friends who’ve moved away. A world of networking and finding people with words and thoughts that are similar to my own.

But I sometimes find myself nostalgic for the time that came before the days of filters and statuses and Tweets. I often miss the days when love was found, not by swiping right, but by subtle glances from across the room and uninterrupted conversations. There was a time when all of the pieces of life belonged solely to you — when nothing was done just for the purpose of putting it on display for the world in front of you.

The thing is, the whole idea behind social media is to help us stay connected. But it seems like it’s pulling us further away from each other.

I’m afraid that, one day, I’ll only be a name rolling on the credits of a long film that’s missing a plot. I’m afraid I’ll always sit behind the mask of a secondary character in someone else’s life. I’m afraid of living an empty life, governed by a deep-seeded need for approval by means of a few likes, or comments, or followers.

I want to live a life that means more than sharing things for my followers to see me as big and bold.

I don’t want any part in that. I want the things that truly matter: Authenticity. Heart. Integrity. Compassion. Connection. Humility.

Humility. That’s the stuff that matters to me. Humility teaches me that I am human. Humility tells me to take a step back and feel good about the things I’ve done, rather than boast about them. Humility teaches me to embrace all that makes me human. 

I want your humanness. I want you, in all your glory. I want the real stuff — the sticky, the sweet, the messy, the ugly. I want the actual and the real and the every day stuff. And maybe I’m the minority; maybe I’m part of some small statistic and percentage of people that want the truth, no matter how it looks on a plate. But I guess that’s really all I’ve ever wanted — to have a life that is filled with people who will just keep it real with me.

We are not created to be perfect. We are born with this empty slate and the only thing that’s expected of us is to simply be human. We’re meant to experience all of the ups and downs of life, the roller coasters, the twists, and turns. Simply put, we are born to feel — tremendous hurt and loss and happiness and hope. We were born to be real, and to be raw. We were born naked for a reason — to remind us to never hide behind the mask of something we were never meant to be.

It’s harder to drop the facade and simply be human. But, conceding victory and realizing that we don’t always have to put on this show for the people around us is more powerful than any type of mask you paint.

While running a group the other day, I asked everyone to write down one thing they are currently in recovery towards. We were in the middle of a heavy conversation about how there is so much fixation on the things we are running from, and very little dialogue about the things we’re running towards. One particular person shared that they are working towards learning how to be the kind of person that shows up.

It was one of those magical moments where I got to see my own heart beating outside of my chest and it filled me with the kind of hope that electrified my soul.

On that same day, one of the greatest people I know reminded me the other day of how easy it is to just show up. She’s never had any social media account; she’s never felt inclined to do it for the ‘gram or plan a witty Facebook post. She simply exists in this world with a pure and open heart, without ever asking for it in return. She listens to the stories that you don’t ever share with anyone else, and she’d never take credit if you thank her for listening to you rant. She doesn’t have a Facebook to run to and share a story that is not her own. Documenting for the world to see her heart isn’t her priority. Being present is. Loving is. Showing up is. She is a reminder of the person I’m fighting to be.

I’m trying to become the kind of person who doesn’t need the right angle, a ring light, and the combination of VSCO and the Nashville Instagram filter to show you all the parts of me.

The true challenge lies in chiseling away at the person we think we ought to be, and being open to showing the person we genuinely are. It’s in learning how to ground ourselves and be present. It’s staying in the moment and doing what’s in front of us without concocting the perfect caption for it in our heads.

Society and Culture will tell us something different. They’ll scream at us to be good people. They’ll say if you are privileged, you must help those that are less privileged. Feed them. Guide them. Give them your heart. Make them feel seen. But don’t forget to leave a paper trail. Don’t forget to let the world around you know that on this date, at this time, you did something good. Post it for the world to see. Let everyone know that you are a good person.

I think we need to try harder to fight against that. I think we need to dig within ourselves and think about the people who lived before us and what it was like for them. I think it’s time we peel off the mask and drop the facade. I think it’s time we allow ourselves to be fully human, in all of its sticky and messy glory. And I think it’s time we let that be enough.

This is your Sunday evening reminder to go out into this world and do good. Show up when you’re needed. Lift people up. Give people the pieces of your heart that they need, but please, please, please, do it because you feel it in your bones. Do it because your bleeding heart is telling you that there are people who need you. Take a step back and ask yourself, “am I doing this because my heart is in it, or am I doing it because my head needs a reminder of who I want to be?”

And if it’s the latter, I genuinely encourage you to shift your focus and to take off that mask and simply just be human.

Everything You Say Is Gonna Matter, Everything You Do Is Gonna Add Up

I used to envy my friends who grew up with brothers and sisters close in age. I used to go on and on about how lonely it was to be seemingly sibling-less growing up, despite having both a younger brother and sister. My brother is six years younger than me and my sister is 15 years younger than me — both age differences were a bit too much as a kid to ever fully appreciate having what could have been a built-in best friend from the start.

The thing is, even at a young age, I always felt compelled to grab onto the people around me and keep them in my company. I craved conversation. I craved connection. I suppose I realized then how fleeting moments are. How quickly people come and go. Truth be told, I never wanted to be alone.

I say that loosely today because I’ve never really ever been alone. 

My mom was a stay-at-home mom who, for lack of a better word, babysat a few of the neighborhood girls after school. My fondest childhood memories involved those girls and the time we spent together every day after school.

Over time, the girls became the sisters I never had (until, of course, my sister came boppin’ along when I was a freshman in high school). Long before cell phones and social media and the need to measure our own worth by the number of likes or favorites or retweets came crashing into our lives, it was always just me and these girls. Playing and fighting and laughing and dreaming. Face-to-face. We spent hours riding bikes around our neighborhood, taunting the boys that lived houses away from me. We’d set up neighborhood-wide games of manhunt. We laid outside and counted stars. We knew nothing of the future, but we hung onto each other. When we laughed, it was never without tears. When we fought, we kicked and we screamed and we yelled. And when we loved, when we were there for each other in the midst of divorces, threats of divorce, familial discord, and broken homes, we loved hard. We were always present. Always right there with each other.

That was my childhood. In all its glory. It was beautiful and full and connected. It’s hard to believe how long it’s been since I’ve tasted the innocence of what a childhood was. Of the simplest form of fun and happiness. Of face-to-face interactions, getting dirty and muddy and being fully present because we had no other choice but to be.

– – –

I remember the 3rd of July the summer before I turned 21 vividly. The air was hot and sticky, but typical for that time of year on the Jersey Shore. I went with three of my girlfriends to the annual fireworks held a few towns over — a tradition we claimed as our own since we were in high school. Following the fireworks, we packed ourselves up and headed back to one of my friends dads houses. We had a girls night planned: pool, hot tub, and beer.

At 20, we were in the beginning stages of transition. We saw how quickly the world turns. How fast we went from high school seniors to college juniors. We spent that summer, and the summers following, trying to latch onto scraps of our childhood while still trudging through murky water trying to get to that light at the end of the tunnel that was college. While it seemed that summer break for most college students was defined by long days spent at the beach and nights spent funneling beers, ours were never like that. We all took summer classes, interned, worked full-time. We learned early on how difficult it would be to keep up with each other as adults.

But we tried. And we appreciated those fragments where the real world just stops and time seems to be standing still and we get these good, long, full moments with our friends.

It was the summer I realized how small I really was against the tide of love. I was in the crux of loving and hating that green eyed boy whose shallow love was enough to turn me into the boy-obsessed-girl I swore I’d never be. It was his eyes that reeled me in — I melted into those emerald greens every time he looked my way. I was infatuated and consumed and I swore he saw me.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized those eyes never saw me the way I thought they did. At least not in the way I needed them to.

But I swore he was it. He was the one that would save me from every monster masked as a hero. 

I became the person who, wherever she went, had her phone perched right next to her. Keep in mind this was before I got caught in the vortex of smart phones. At the time, I had the Verizon TV phone, and to me, it was the coolest thing next to the T-Mobile sidekick that I never got to claim as my own.

On that 3rd of July night in the middle of the summer of 2009, I sat in the hot tub with three of my childhood friends, beer in hand, eyes glued to my phone sitting on the ledge. Two of my other friends were on their phones as well. Somewhere in the middle of perhaps one too many beers, and I suppose an awkward silence that filled the air, but went by unnoticed at least by me, my friend who didn’t have her phone on her yelled at us. And I know she’s probably reading this right now laughing or rolling her eyes or swearing up and down that it didn’t play out that way. But I swear it did. “Can you guys get off of your phones? I just wanted to spend a night with my friends and you’re glued to the screens. We never get to spend much time together, and now that we’re here, you’re not really even here.”

And maybe those weren’t her exact words. But they were close. And she was mad. And for a long time we looked back on that night and teased her for it. We teased her for being bossy and overbearing and getting mad when all we wanted to do was stay connected with the boys on the other ends of our phone.

Little did I know then what all of that would really mean. Little did I know that trying so hard to connect really disconnected us from what was literally sitting right in front of us.

Oh, and by the way, my little Verizon TV phone fell in the hot tub that night. It took a plunge right into the warm water and sunk to its death. And I guess that’s why karma is a thing, right?

– – –

It saddens and scares me that my sister will never have what I had. At 11 years old, her idea of spending a Friday night with her friends is sitting in front of her computer and having a group video chat with them. She’ll never know communication beyond the three inches of her iPhone. She’ll never know the excitement of coming home to a letter from a pen pal — a friend who moved away but still kept in touch via letter writing. I’m afraid she’ll never have the same affinity for deep, intellectually stimulating conversations as I do. I’m afraid that an argument between she and one of her friends will always be as a result of words that didn’t go over well in text. I’m afraid she’ll never be able to look someone square in the face and tell them what she feels.

Part of me wants to raise up the white flag, throw in the towel, and accept that this is it. We are a social-media-technologically-driven-world. You are never really ever running errands alone, because your head is in your phone having a conversation with someone about last nights date. When you’re riding the train to work, the person next to you is scrolling through his Facebook feed. Awkward silences in elevators often result in everyone pulling out their phones and pretending to be in the midst of a juicy conversation with someone.

But I just can’t bring myself to give up just yet. I want more than that. I want more than text messages and Facebook wall posts and favorites on a picture. I want to be present. Real conversations. Real Kodak moments that aren’t up for others to judge whether or not they like them. I want to be connected — really connected.

When I’m sitting in the middle of a coffee shop catching up with a friend, I am already planning the rest of the day out in my head. Did I submit that paper on time yet? Did I apply for graduation? Did I make sure I turned my hair straightener off before I left my house? When does my car need to go to the shop? And if I’m not going a mile a minute in my head, I’m scrolling through my phone. Answering people I left hanging. Sifting through e-mails making sure I didn’t miss anything. Casually checking my Instagram feed that’s usually inundated with engagement rings and feeble attempts at “Food Porn.”

I don’t want it to be like that. I don’t ever want to be sitting face-to-face with someone and miss the point.

There is still something so romantic, so beautiful, almost sacred, about real conversations. And I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to ever get so caught up in my life that I forget how much more to life there is beyond a text conversation. Because the truth is: life exists in the details. Love exists in the details. Connection exists in the details.  

It’s in the smile that lights up the restaurant the second you walk in and meet up with a friend whom you haven’t seen in months. In the face-to-face conversations about the tough stuff — heartache and loss and love and careers and life-altering decisions. It’s in being there. Being present. Eyes up, ears open. It’s in falling in love with the sound of his voice, or his crooked smile, or the way he can’t keep from grinning when he sees you. It’s waiting by the phone for his call because even though you just left his house, you need to hear his voice. And that voice is what matters. Not a text. Not lifeless words through a screen. But tone and warmth and I’m falling in love with yous whispered in the middle of the night.

And you just can’t get that through a screen.

“Conversation is so much more than words: a conversation is eyes, the smile, the silences between words.” -Annika Thor

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘I Had A Dream’ by Kelly Clarkson.