Back To The Basics

 i.

There were bright flashes of light carrying little reminders of what mattered before, met with staccatoed glimpses into the year that changed everything. Moments of impact. The big, loud, desperate need to grieve, and the hesitation that trailed behind me. The drive home from a sushi restaurant that Friday night in early November filled to the brim with anxiety. The drive home from work that Monday night less than two weeks later that played over like a tape in my head. The tears, followed by guilt, followed by anger, followed by fear. A death and a potential life-threatening illness rattling my bones. Empty promises made to shut everyone out — that it was okay, that was okay. Life became defined by a  timeline: the before it happened and the after it happened, and it was only myself that was let there stuck figuring out which pieces to pick up and which to leave behind.

* * *

December 31st is slowly melting into January 1st. I am sitting in my best friends living room watching Mariah Carey give a performance that is destined for headlines. It’s a quiet New Year’s Eve, a gentle nudge into the next year, and a less-than-subtle confirmation that even the slightest change in tradition seems wrong. It’s the first quiet New Years Eve since before the day stopped meaning watching Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve on the couch with my parents and started meaning big, glittery, liquor-infused ragers. And though much has changed throughout the years — big and loud slowly transformed into more subdued, classy, champagne-infused gatherings, this year’s quiet journey into the New Year marked a tremendous shift in my life.  Sudden illness, an unexpected hospitalization, and other plans got in the way of tradition. The shift in dynamic, the quiet Happy New Year’s that replaced the once rowdy clanking of champagne flutes was symbolic — a reminder, to me, of just how important those moments are. It was a reality that knocked the wind out of me and left me clinging onto nostalgia the way I always do when things start to change.

I ended the night in my own bed. Another first in many years. There might be more of these moments in the future. There might be more moments I find myself sitting in a room a lot thinner than it typically is, whether intentionally or not. And in those times — in those moments where life seems to shift, and change, and twist all the way ’round, I want to hang on tight to the moments that made me feel full, and whole, and happy, and loved. Like masquerade themed New Years Eve’s and the sound of laughter at seeing my friend come out in a Taylor Swift mask. Or a Sunday dinner, sitting around the table, talking about the things we never thought we would. Or throwing hatchets on a Friday night and thinking to myself, this is good. These people are my people. This is the stuff that makes all of the other stuff fall away.

And so, I ended one year and welcomed another a lot different than years of the past, yet still so very much the same. A list of resolutions were written and drawn out: goals for the year, a check list of 30 things to be done by 30 rattling away under a layer of dust. And finally, a promise, like years before, that this would be the year, whatever the year was supposed to mean.

ii.

A hard month; always one of the hardest months. Riding waves of anxiety like a novice surfer, clutching onto the tiniest breath of fresh air, only to come to find the anxiety growing thicker and harder to manage in the month ahead. In between those moments of sheer panic, brief flashes of hope. Repeatedly telling myself to practice what I preach. Trying to get it right, trying to find the motivation, trying to keep the promises that I’d made 8 year ago, and 7 years ago, and 6, and 5, and 4, and 3, and so on and so forth. Promises that don’t seem to matter sometimes because he isn’t here and I still am. And the whole entire world gets to move on even when someones heart stops beating. Even when someone stops living. And doesn’t it seem unfair that the world gets to move on and live when he hardly had a shot?

Treating myself like a human punching bag, beating myself up over the same promises left unfulfilled from all those years ago. He will never have what I have — time. Time to mourn. Time to grow. Time to change, to move mountains, to shake the dust. Time to take chances to grasp and any and all of the strings dangling right in front of me that always seem to slip right past me. Empty, deep, swells of grief. Swallowing the hard truth: I am 8 years older now, and time, for him, has always stayed at 21.

Grief has always come to me, teetering between the first two stages: denial and anger. It starts like a sharp pain in my chest, but quickly gets wrapped up and tucked away before anyone has a second to hear the gasp of air and deep breaths and shattered heart. Time cushions the loss, but regret is a stronger force. Regret that I didn’t have another day. Regret that I am not taking advantage of what I have. Regret that 8 years can pass and though so much has changed, so much also has stayed the same.

February came and went, as it always does: with a long hard look in the mirror, a promise, again, that this has to be important. That if time is all I have, then I ought to use it. That these bones aren’t hollow and my words aren’t empty and maybe, just maybe, I deserve to loosen the grips on the boxing gloves and start treating myself the same way I treat others.

iii.

A slight reprieve from the bitter cold nights cloaked in anxiety. Just slight. A whisper that reminded me: life is transient, life is transient, life is transient. You know this, you’ve seen it; don’t waste it. And then, a louder reminder of just how fragile time is. A road trip to North Carolina — a heavy heart for an old friend, but a full heart at surprising her under the worst conditions. A genuine reaction of shock. A moment I wish I could have bottled up and kept forever on the days that I feel like time can’t hold onto the people and things and memories that matter. Clarity in the midst of sleepy eyes on a quick 48 road trip. The celebration of a life lost and a life lived over clanking glasses filled with wine. Love being the driving force that week — friendship sitting in the passenger seat. A quiet trip back home — a solemn promise to myself to let the people I love know. And just on this side of agreeing to be better, just a few seconds within walking in my door back from the road trip, another reason to grieve. Again, another loss. Another sting. Another young person’s life gone. A screaming, shouting, reminder that you can blink for one minute, and it can all leave you. Tears. Loss of sleep. Regret, after regret, after regret. An awakening. A promise, again, to be more intentional. And even as I write this, that promise seems to have faded away.

Anxiety and grief took turns steering the wheel in March. Anxiety, being the nagging neighbor tapping on my window just as I would find some sort of stable ground. Grief, the unwanted house guest that plants herself on my couch and refuses to leave no matter how hard I shake her. Even months after, admitting that feels a little more like a sucker punch to the gut than a relief — like the sting after ripping the proverbial band-aid off, like holding your breath for a second too long, like the slight burn on your tongue after the first sip of coffee.

iv.

Hanging tightly onto the mask of perfectionism and wrestling with myself for falling short. Getting slapped with a bitter dose of reality, the white flag barely over my head: maybe it all does hurt. Maybe I am still grieving. Maybe it’s all I’ve ever done. Maybe this does sting. Maybe it all does. Maybe I do have a hole in my chest that can’t ever be filled with multiple jobs, and plans, and things to do. Maybe I need to reach out for the hands held out for me, instead of tiptoeing around all of them.

v.

Remember to breathe.

I wrote the words down for someone I’ve been working with for awhile. I’ve said the words out loud to the same person more times than I can count. A reminder, and sometimes, an urgent request: please, please, remember to breathe.

* * *

The ebb and flow of moods. Seesawing between the need to get up and get out of myself and the need to stay in and hide. Remembering to breathe. Gripping tightly onto that white flag of surrender. I still have this. I still have this. Covered in a cloak of defeat, but desperate to find scraps of motivation, of hope, of persistence. A desperate need to get away. An even more desperate need to be pushed to get away. A weekend trip to Georgia to get away. Remembering to breathe. Moments of frustration. Moments of joy. Moments of reflection. Moments that mattered and moments that never came close. A little boost of hope. A day filled with inspiration — the loudest message: Arrive Already Loved. Remembering to breathe. A low-key holiday weekend with friends. A promise to each other to keep celebrating birthdays together. To keep being there for the big moments. To make them matter. A reminder to myself that I decide what stays and what goes. I decide what hurts and what doesn’t. I decide who hurts and who can’t.

Remembering to breathe.

vi.

I don’t wanna keep on wishing, missing
The still of the morning, the color of the night
I ain’t spending no more time
Wasted

Carrie Underwood blaring through the speakers, unwittingly carrying with her a begging, screaming message.

She kept drivin’ along til the moon and the sun
were floating side-by-side;
he looked in the mirror and his eyes were clear
for the first time in awhile.

I was driving along a beach town road, seemingly straight into the reflection of the full moon when this song came on the radio on my way home from work last week. The melody filled my car — the lyrics wrapping themselves firmly around my heart. My favorite Carrie Underwood song.

I don’t wanna spend my life jaded
Waiting to wake up one day and find
That I let all these years go by
Wasted

We are six months into the year. Six months. I am restless. I am sleepy. But I am more awake than I’ve been in awhile.

* * *

Back when anxiety was the name of the weighted blanket I wore early on in the cold months of this year and panic was the unwanted house guest tapping on my window, I was given simple wisdom that I tucked away. At the time, as badly as I needed it, I couldn’t hear it.

In order to get my tires out of the mud, I needed to figure out the why and turn it all around. She looked to me with hopeful eyes and said, “Go back to the basics. Back to the beginning of everything. That is how you find your way back again. That is how everything becomes okay for you.”

And I suppose I’ve been trying to do that all along. Just on my own timeline.

. . .

Tonight as I am writing this, I am frustratingly tired, wondering if I’ll ever remember what it feels like to sleep without waking up in intervals with the voice of anxiety coursing through my veins. I am sitting in a sticky 93 degree apartment too burnt out to get up and prepare myself for the week ahead: my sister’s graduation, my friend’s wedding, another friend spending the night, my cousins coming into town. I am debating turning on the AC, reassuring myself the temperature will drop tomorrow. I get up and turn on the AC. I am groggy. I am sleep deprived. I am pouring from an empty cup, all while knowing that tomorrow, I’ll be back at work. Preaching balance, preaching self-care, preaching wellness. All of the things I’m trying to find a place for in my own life.

The last six months felt a lot like stagnation, but in retrospect, looked a lot like a big, long, lesson in grace. I’m learning to give myself full heaping servings of grace without adding shame and guilt as side dishes. I’m learning how exactly to practice what I preach — how to do hard things and have hard conversations about myself, instead of hiding under a role, a title, and a job that allows me to have hard conversations with other people.

I’ll be honest — I’ve sat at my dining room table almost every other day for the last two weeks trying to conjure the words to write as my big grand re-entrance onto the blogsophere. I’ve typed and erased and typed and cursed and typed and felt solemn and hopeful and pissed and relieved. But the words don’t matter as much as the message behind them do — going back to the basics has been the theme of my life the last few months, coming in waves and intertwining with my persistent need to chain myself to painful things. Going back to the basics tells me that even though there are a million thoughts running rampant in my head, a million pieces of wisdom I want to share with the world, a million things I want to get off my chest, what matters is simple – figuring out who I am and what I want underneath the layers of who the world, more specifically my world, has begged me to be.

One day, I will write all of those things I have swirling inside my head. But, for now, I’m here. And I’m back. I’m learning how to allow myself to be authentic in a world that screams crop, the filter, add a caption that makes it sound better than it already is, make sure it’s worthy of a like.. and when all of that is done, then you can post. I am learning to peel off the extra pieces of myself that don’t add up. I am learning to incorporate the who I believe others around me can be into the who I am and who I want to be. And just like everything else, that’s a process — one that starts right back at the beginning of who I am: the basics. So, for tonight, and for the road that lies ahead, the mask is off. The facade is up. I think it’s better this way. A six month hiatus from dusting off my heart and bleeding through words is long  enough, dontcha think?

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An Ode to 2016

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.

The Church of Brené Brown

“Your soul is as disheveled as your apartment, 
and until you can clean it up a little, you don’t want to invite anyone inside.”

Just as a musician falls in love with a chord, or a photographer falls in love with the way the sun sets, making for perfect lighting for a picture, I have always fallen in love with words. I am deeply enamored by the way some words seem to find each other – how some words can string themselves together and sing a harmony that jumps straight into your soul.

The words above dove their way into my heart about a year ago when I first laid eyes on them. At the time, I just thought it was a beautiful quote. One year later, it seems to me that the words were a bit of foreshadowing into what the year ahead would look like.

I turned 28 on Thursday. And while birthdays, for most people, are usually always a time of reflection and contemplation, this birthday in particular brought me back to this quote and how those words embody almost exactly what 27 was for me.

The months closing in on 26 and leading up to 27 tested my strength, my faith, and my resilience. I was caught in the middle of one of the biggest transitions of my life, going from full-time graduate student and juggling all sorts of odd jobs, to settling into something much more secure and stable — two things I was so unfamiliar with. While that might sound like the ideal situation, somehow having things fall into place in one part of my life almost always means that things are falling apart in another place. At the same time that things were coming together professionally, I was met with some really, really tough stuff personally. I was reacquainted with demons I fought off long before I even hit my 20s. I came face-to-face with skeletons that I thought were buried so far in my closet. And in the last few months from 26 into 27, I learned survival. I learned how to figure things out on my own — how to stand on my own and how to be on my own. Little did I know how what I perceived as a strength would come back to bite me in the ass.

Perhaps 26 into 27 was about claiming my independence, and 27 into 28 is about coming to the realization that independence, for me, has been a lot less romantic than than it has been isolating. Independence has been a lot less about me standing on my own two feet, gracefully tip-toeing through life, than it is about me keeping people at an arms distance and wrapping my heart up in caution tape, careful to make sure there were no holes in the tape — no cracks in my shield. Independence, for me, has taught me less about what it means to be my own person, and more about what it means to keep things hidden, in fear of being seen, known, or exposed.

* * *

I’ll be honest; this post has been sitting idly in my drafts for a little bit over a month. The idea behind what I wanted to write about came to mind after having a conversation with one of my coworkers — someone who quickly went from an acquaintance to a friend. The thing about being friends with my coworkers is that they see me, even when I don’t let the light out. They hear me, even when I’m not speaking. They know me, even when I give little to work with.

Somehow, we got onto the topic of my apartment. Without so much as a second thought, I blurted out the same sentiment that I tell anyone when they ask about it: I hate my apartment. No reason why. No words followed. No further desire to discuss it. Conversation then shifted into a talk about vulnerability — how there’s obviously more to my story, how evident it is that there are some things I keep guarded, and how helpful it would be for both my personal life and my professional life if I just raised the white flag and opened myself up to the possibility of maybe letting someone else into my fenced in yard.

I am the kind of person who has only ever known how to see other people. I am best when I am serving someone else, but put the spotlight on me, and I run. I am no fan of vulnerability when I am the one that needs to reach for it. I am horrible when it comes to being seen.

After the conversation I had with my friend, she sent me a Brené Brown video about perfectionism and told me to watch, to listen, to pay attention, and to start attacking that fear of vulnerability in the face.

I went home and spent the weekend watching a bunch of feel-good TED talks, bought tickets to see a TEDx event live (crossing things off my 30 before 30 bucket list one at a time!!!), did a lot of reading about perfectionism, and got to work on writing this.

And here comes the irony – I’ve spent the last month writing and erasing things that I wanted to say. I’ve written paragraphs with intensity and passion, and with barely a second thought, deleted them. I spit out sentences that I thought were appropriate, and meaningful, and important, and shortly thereafter got rid of them. The words coming out of me weren’t good enough for what I wanted to say. They weren’t strong enough to convey the depths of what I felt. They weren’t profound enough to describe that light-bulb moment that happened when I realized just how big the role of perfectionism is in my life, how hard it is to allow myself to be vulnerable, and how much of myself I keep closed off. I struggled with putting something out there that wasn’t perfect enough, while trying to lay out a map of what it means to struggle with perfectionism. Irony.

The second irony is my career. In my career as a counselor, I am fortunate enough to get the chance to sit right in the crux of someone else’s pain, and watch as they allow themselves to break down the walls they’ve built to protect themselves. I sit with clients who are so, so afraid to share things, because once they put out the secrets they’ve hidden from the world, they’re losing an old friend — the one thing they’ve kept for themselves. And the beautiful irony is seeing clients who have the insight to know that without cutting themselves open, without allowing someone else into their world, there is no growth and there is no change. In my work, I’ve found that a measure of good work is when you are sitting with someone and they offer their truth — when they trust you with their own reality. When it’s just you and them and nothing but a room full of hard truths and vulnerabilities. And yet somehow, here I was, doing that exact work with a caseload of clients, struggling tremendously with it myself.

And who would have thought it all started with a quote and ended with a metaphor.

* * *

Before watching the video, I saw perfectionism as a part of my life that I left behind. I thought of who I used to be: an academic at heart. I looked at perfectionism as getting straight A’s in school, and beating myself up over an A- or B+. I looked at perfectionism as making sure I won all the spelling bee’s in elementary school, at making sure I was in the National Honor Society, and being a part of all of the extracurricular activities that I could fit into my life in high school — even if they didn’t fit my hobbies, interests, or who I envisioned becoming. Perfectionism meant being what was expected of me for my parents: going to school, getting a job at 15, getting the grades, being quiet, being small, being good enough. Perfectionism meant going to college and having a job to come home to on top of a job by my college. Perfectionism meant that schooling didn’t stop at at Bachelor’s degree. Perfectionism meant painting a scene for what my life is now that I have all of the things I’ve worked for: a Master’s degree, a career, an apartment of my own — all without ever stopping once to admit that maybe my shelves are a little dusty, maybe I’m missing some things, maybe life isn’t just solely about the stuff that I’ve accumulated, or the person that I appear to be. Maybe there is more.

Brené Brown says, “Perfectionism is not about striving for excellence, or healthy striving… it’s a cognitive behavioral process, a way of thinking and feeling that says this: if I look perfect do it perfect, live perfect, or work perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame, and judgment.”

If I never talk about the things that I don’t like about myself, maybe someone else won’t see the cracks in the foundation. If I never address the things that I am afraid of, people on the outside will look to me as strong and courageous. If I never come face to face with the reality of why I keep certain things hidden, I will never be seen. And how authentic can I be if all that you get is a snapshot of who I am?

The thing is, I crave it. I think we all do. I think it’s human, and it’s innate to want people to see us for who we are. I want to be able to talk to a good friend and tell them what my fears are — how sometimes, I am fearful that I gave all I had at love in the past, and not one person has measured up, and how it’s likely that I won’t find someone who can be that guy again for me. How I fear that maybe, I won’t have kids. How I say that this is okay for me, but really, it might not be. I think we all want to be able to look at our parents and tell them what it was they did that hurt us so badly, all while knowing that sometimes, parents mess us up without even trying. And it’s not always their fault, but that’s just what happens. We are all human. I think we all want to avoid it. We want to avoid letting people in too far, so we can avoid the uncomfortable feeling of being judged, or looked down upon, or seen. Because if we are seen for who we are, they will know. They will know that we are imperfect. They will know that we are scared. They will know that the picture they have of us in their minds is cropped, and airbrushed, and placed under a filter.

So, I don’t invite people into my apartment because there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to clean it up a little bit. There’s a part of me that thrives in the chaos and wishes someone were strong enough to crack that wall down and come dance in the mess.

* * *

Years ago, when I started this blog, a mentor of mine told me to write my truth. She told me that the most important part of writing was honesty, and that if I could be honest — if I could write my truth, no one could take that away from me. I’ve referenced that profound piece of advice over and over again, and I sometimes forget the importance of speaking my truth and owning my truth and being the kind of person willing to tell a story based on what I know very well to be true.

So today, five days into closing the chapter on 27, and dancing into 28, here is my truth:

I am in a good place career-wise. I am in a good place with the majority of the people in my life. I am grateful, and I am happy. But, there are days when I want to pack my stuff up and run back to my parents house, all while knowing exactly what kind of chaos I would be running back into. There are days I wake up in the morning, take a good look at myself in the mirror, and ask myself how on earth can be the person that people trust enough to be vulnerable with and disclose the dark parts of them. There are days I don’t feel good enough. Not a good enough daughter, or friend, or sister, or therapist. There are days I don’t think I am where I am supposed to be — days when I feel despite all that I’ve accomplished, I’m still five miles behind. There are days that I am so fearful I somehow did something wrong, that I somehow made a mistake and I’ll regret my life in the long-term. There are days I have to sit and calculate if I have enough money to buy groceries and afford my electric bill, all while scrolling through social media in envy over new cars, and jewelry, and houses. There are corners of my apartment that are still not furnished; there are things that I still haven’t hung up on my walls. There are days I open my planner and wonder how the hell am I going to squeeze in all that I have. There are days when I can’t make commitments with my friends, because I would rather lay on my couch and watch Netflix than listen to everyone talk about buying houses, and having babies, and how much money they have saved for the this next big thing. There are days I am fearful that I am not doing enough. There are days that I really, really hope that I am.

* * *

Apparently I’ve become somewhat a victim of growing up. I’ve somehow slid my way, not so gracefully, through my early and my mid twenties, and landed face-first in my late twenties.

I guess this is 28. I guess this is another trip around the sun for me.

There are things I want out of 28 — like health, happiness, abundance, adventure, experience. And then there are the things that I know I need to work on — like practicing what I preach, allowing myself to be open to the possibility that maybe I don’t need to go at this alone.

I think we sometimes hesitate to invite people into our lives for whatever reason. Our space is hardly occupied. Our shelves still have dust on them. There’s still boxes where there should be furniture, and a coffee table where there should be a TV stand. If only we could sweep up the rubble, or get rid of the dirt or put together a piece of furniture, we would be ready. If things looked better, it would feel better to let people in. Today, things still don’t quite match. There are dishes piled in the sink, piles of laundry that has yet to be washed, picture frames leaning against the wall that have yet to be hung, garbage overflowing the can. Our situation isn’t quite what we want it to be. We aren’t where we want to be. My hope for 28 for both myself and for anyone who feels the tremendous weight of perfectionism and the difficulty with vulnerability is this: start going to church. Start attending the Church of Brené Brown. Start looking at all the walls you’ve built around yourself, and fight back all those fears you have. Let yourself be seen. Let yourself be known. Don’t let the dust on your shelves or the rubble all around you stop you. Invite people in anyway. 

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.

Let Love Win

Words fail me today.

Words fail me because I shudder to think what will become of the world that we live in when hate and pain and senseless violence flooding our news outlets are becoming the norm. I can’t fathom living the rest of my life in a world where people make decisions out of fear, without truly grasping the permanency of one impulsive choice. I don’t want to believe that we live in a world where love doesn’t win, because to me, it’s the only thing we have.

It’s hard to stomach living in a world where I’ve woken up every day this weekend to another tragedy — another brutal attack. A preventable crime. Parents are now left to explain to their children that their favorite singer — a talented, beautiful, young woman, was ruthlessly killed when all she was doing was what she loved — meeting fans and signing autographs. Concerts are supposed to be fun. Music is supposed to be healing. I don’t want to believe we live in a world where kids have to fear going to concerts, where artists who dedicate their lives to sharing their craft with us, have to live in fear that if they so much as snub a fan, that suddenly, their lives at at risk. I don’t want to believe we live in a world where people are threatened, harmed, hated, killed, every single day because someone else has a problem with who they love. I don’t want to believe that I live in a world where we have to fear going to Church, or going to a bar, or going to a movie theater, or going to a concert.

I don’t want to live in a world where fear wins. Before you cast your vote, please cross fear right off your ballot. Love wins this election. Love has to win.

Tragedy strikes for all kinds of unexpected, incomprehensible reasons, and I’m not so sure it’s our job to figure out why. Maybe these things happen to remind us just how precious and fragile life is. Maybe it’s to remind us to never go to bed mad at someone else, to always say sorry, to always make amends. Or maybe tragedy happens to remind us to keep believing that magic is still real and that love trumps all, but to not let our own naivety keep us from looking out from under our rose-tinted glasses. There are monsters in this world — real monsters that ruthlessly and mercilessly take lives over petty things.

Maybe these things happen to remind us to keep searching for peace, and to give out our love to everyone in our lives before our time here is up.

Life is so unpredictable; these things happen and they rattle us, they remind us of our transience here on this earth. They shake us up, whisper in our ear to never let a moment pass us by. And then we suddenly forget. Life for us seems to continue to move on after tragedy strikes. I hope that you don’t let that happen this time, because for the people affected by the violence and the hate and the pain, they don’t just get to walk away. They don’t just get to keep on living their lives. Normal is no longer their normal. We have to keep searching for peace.

I think we often forget how lucky we really are — myself included. It’s so easy to get caught up in the drama of our own lives that we forget just how lucky we are to have this life and to have the privilege to live it — to love and be loved in return. We can walk, we can talk, we have an abundance of opportunities waiting for us if we only just take them. We have the free range to meet new people daily, to get to know them, to share their hearts and share our own. We only get this one chance. That’s it. We get one chance to do this damn thing. We get one shot at putting ourselves out there, at making a difference, at changing our little part of the world. We get one chance at loving right. At spreading love. At showing the people in our lives what they mean to us. At working towards finding peace.

These are the things I need from you:

I need you to go ahead and wear that dress that you think is a little too bright. I need you to eat the cake. Order the Venti Frappucino. Go out for ice cream with an old friend at 2 am and sit on the beach talking about the ways you want to change the world. Encourage each other. Believe that maybe you can be the one who can do it, maybe you can be the one that sparks a little change. Send the text you’ve been waiting a month to send. Screw fear. Punch fear right in the face and don’t worry about what is waiting on the other end of that text. You did your part, the rest is on them. Learn the importance of humility and go out there and be humble. Take accountability for all your wrong-doings. Say sorry. Say sorry and mean it. In fact, when you say anything, please mean it. Say yes to adventures and stepping out of your comfort zone. Anyone that knows me can attest to this: there is nothing I love more than canceled plans, but there is also nothing I regret more than watching as I cross off days on my calendar and seeing that we are already halfway through the year and I spent so much of my weekends off sitting on my couch watching Netflix.

Don’t stay with someone just because you are afraid of what the world would be like from the vantage point of being alone. There is so much bravery in coming to terms with your own independence. You can do it. You can be brave, too.

Say yes to weddings, and showers, and bachelorette parties. Say yes to driving around with your best friend with no end point in mind, reminiscing on the good ol’ days. Say yes to paint and sip nights when you don’t have one artistic bone in your body. Say yes to doing something new — to having wine and cheese with old girlfriends or trying to new Vegan restaurant a few towns over.

Book a road trip to visit a friend who moved states away. Pick up the phone and call your best friend. Talk about real things — the things that hurt you, the things that you are hopeful for, the things that you want. Put your phone down and look up. Life is much better experienced through your own set of eyes than that of an iPhone screen. Do the things that make you feel alive. Do them over and over and over again.

And above all, be kind. Be loving. Kindness trumps all. We have to believe that. We have to believe that at the end of the day, kindness matters. Kindness still wins. Even when the world around us is scary. Even when it’s dark. Even when it’s violent.

Today, please remember to just love each other — love each other well. Make sure they know it. Make sure everyone that you love knows how special they are to you and how important they are to you. And decide. Decide today if you want to live from a place of love, or from a place of fear. Decide if you want to live with hate in your heart or with love bursting from it.

I hope you choose love, because at the end of the day, after the sun sets, after all the bodies are laid to rest, after the world goes back to work tomorrow and starts to slowly forget, after the politicians rattle off their own reasons as to why our world is like this, I just need to know that there is still good to be found — that there are still things that matter.

And though I don’t have all the answers, I know this much is true: kindness is so, so important. Love is so, so important. Without kindness, there is no hope. Without love, there is no peace. Hate is a real thing, but so is peace. So is love. I need to know that love wins. It just has to. Please, let love win.

Confession: I am not a gymnast.

Gymnastics has always been one of my favorite sports to watch, and I’m not sure many people know this about me. As a kid, I idolized the Olympic gymnasts. There was always something incredibly mesmerizing about watching kids my age fly fluidly across bars, decorated in twists and turns, and somersault their way into a backwards bend on a beam with precision and grace. I always dreamt of becoming one of them. I always wanted to be the girl in the black leotard, hair pulled back tightly in a neat bun, gliding across a beam. I wanted to be the girl who tackled life the same way a gymnast tackled a floor routine: with precision and grace and above all, balance.

Today is my 27th birthday, and all I’ve got is this vague confession about everything I never became: I am not a gymnast.

– –

It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to convince myself to meet you here in the very same place I swore over and over again I would never leave. This whole thing somehow changed for me in the years since I started it. My thoughts on your screen are symbolic, really. Like that local coffee shop you won’t dare walk past in fear that just the smell of their dark roast will bring you to your knees and back to the time when you almost made him stay. Or the dimly lit ocean side road where you sat with him outside on that cold March night and realized that this would never work out. That that road and that street light and his sullen wave in your rear view mirror were the last you’d see of him. Or the gas station that you conveniently skip past, even when you’re chugging along the highway, running on E, because it’s a reminder of a night you want so badly to forget. When his smile lit up the crisp summer night and his hand was on your knee, and you knew that you were falling — that somehow, this would be good, until suddenly, it wasn’t.

It’s been awhile. It’s been awhile since I gathered up the courage to will myself to come face to face with the thoughts in my head and put them down onto this screen. Because once they’re out, once they escape that secret spot in my head and flow through my hands and onto your screens, they’re concrete. And what else do I have to keep for myself if everything that’s spanning the universe in my mind is written out for you to read?

But today, on my 27th birthday, I gathered the energy and the courage and the will to stand up and raise my little white flag and tell you that I never became that girl. I never became the gymnast. I never became the girl who tackled life with precision, grace, and balance, and I’m okay with that.

– –

Here’s what 26 was like for me:

26 was me, standing in that black leotard, hair pulled back in a bun, walking on a balance beam, gleaming with pride as I tip-toed across, collecting medal after medal. 26 was me, gliding through my routine, but feeling a little off kilter. 26 was me, trying my hardest against the wind — trying my hardest to learn balance. I spent most of the year walking that beam with the same determination of a toddler taking her first steps.

No one ever warns you. No one ever gives you a heads up and fills you in on this whole growing up thing. And it’s funny isn’t it? You get a book detailing What to Expect When You’re Expecting. You get inundated with syllabi at the beginning of the semester outlining what is to come in the upcoming 15 weeks. You are given pages of instructions describing specifically how to piece together Ikea furniture, and yet we are all faced with one universal truth: we eventually all will have to grow up, and there is no book, syllabus, or list of instructions that tell you what to expect, what to anticipate, or which turn to take.

You don’t know how badly I wish someone could have grabbed me by the shoulders and looked at me in the eyes and just told me that 26 sometimes feels a little like being 16 all over again. That you’ll sometimes feel incredibly small and unimportant, despite being surrounded by so many people who love you. That you’ll often feel misunderstood, no matter how many ways you put it or how many words you use to describe it. That you’ll go toe-to-toe with your parents and just like that, they somehow forget that their child is an adult. Because no matter how old you are, you will always be their baby. That you’ll still struggle with relationships. both romantic and not, and showing up, and deciding between how tightly you should hang on and when it’s time to let go.

26 genuinely felt a little bit like 16 did. And I’m sure if I went around the room and asked how many of you are dying to take a time machine all the way back to the age of 16, I would see idle hands stirring in your laps.

The last year of my life was as much about advancement and progression as it was about stagnation and loneliness and feeling a little bit of loss of control. It was as much about success and accomplishment and getting what I worked so very hard for, as much as it was about feeling run down and broken and tired.

26 was supposed to be it for me, though I’m not quite sure what it really means. Did it mean transition after transition, the closing of an era, and the birth of new chapters? Did it mean saying bye to people, letting go of familiarity, closing the door on the past, finishing my Master’s, diving headfirst into my career, and the continual shift in my orbit?

I’ll be honest: 26 was all of those things.

I’m not sure really what I expected. Nothing changed. There was no loud crash. No confetti. No marching band parading around me. Nothing that marked the end of an era and the beginning of the next chapter. There was dinner and margaritas and waking up the next morning to go to work. Business as usual. 

Nothing changed, and yet everything did.

And I was waiting for it. I was waiting for the bright lights and loud noises. I was waiting for something I could touch or taste or see. The change was there — it was almost tangible. I was sucker punched by it, but I didn’t see it. I couldn’t touch it. Believe me though, when I tell you, I felt it. And it swallowed me whole.

I wish someone could have told me that the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel isn’t actually as bright as it seems. I wish someone told me that you can reach all the destinations you pinned on your road trip map, and sometimes, it’s still not enough. Sometimes, you throw your hands out in front of you to steady yourself, but you still lose balance. You still get tossed along the shore.

I wish someone could have told me that the grass is always greener no matter where you water it.

I’ll be honest. I have nearly everything I worked so hard for in the last three years. And my God, if life was only about the accumulation of things, I would be on top of the world. Everyone thinks it’s about the stuff. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s never about the stuff. I can fill a little glass home with all of the things that I’ve earned: a degree, a certification, a license, a diploma, a job. And trust me when I say: all the stuff is not enough.

– –

The last couple months of 26 were about giving myself permission to be human.

There were so many nights I wanted to kick myself for going home and crashing. For sitting in the eye of a storm that shouldn’t have existed. For getting defensive when people told me how lucky I was to even land a job before graduation, how they would switch spots with me in a heartbeat. For feeling selfish and ungrateful because on paper, I got what I wanted. I got what I worked hard for.

But I’m only human. I’m allowed to go home and let the night swallow me up. I’m allowed to struggle with both success and failure. I’m allowed to feel hurt. I’m allowed to be frustrated. I’m allowed to want more. I’m allowed to be human. And this is a reminder that you are too.

– –

There’s going to be a day when I forget about all of this. There’s going to come a point in my life, maybe many years down the road, when I look back on this last year and all of the mountains I climbed, and valleys I lived in, and laugh at myself for ever being so dramatic. There’s going to be a point when I look back and remind myself that despite the ever-present feeling of losing balance, it wasn’t all that bad. I knew next to nothing about anything in life, but I still did it, and survived it all in the end.

26 taught me there is so much more to this here life thing than adding a bullet point to your resume, or a comma to your salary, or a new mailing address, or an extra diploma to hang up. 26 taught me that life is less about the precision it takes to become a gymnast, and more about balance and grace and determination. It’s not about hitting that routine perfectly; it’s about getting up and doing the damn walk, no matter how strong those gusts of wind are.

I can’t predict what 27 will be about.

And maybe that’s the beauty of life. Maybe 27 will be the start of something new as I really assimilate, for the first time, into this new role in this big ol’ world we live in. Maybe I’ll spend the next year figuring out what the hell any of that even means. Maybe 27 will be scary and magical and exciting and difficult and fun and surprising.

And maybe, if I’m lucky, with a little faith in my own balance, 27 will be all of those things and so much more.

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.