29 Life Truths

  1. No one has the power to hurt you the same way the person staring back at you in the mirror does. Do me a favor: drop the boxing gloves and step away from the ring. Repeat after me: the fight is over. Perhaps this truth is sitting high at number one because it is one that takes up the most space in my soul. And perhaps it’s also number one because it is one that I continue to grapple with, even at 29. Especially at 29. I learned early on that approval was a status symbol – one that could be earned by staying humble, and small, and malleable. I learned that pride was boastful, that confidence was sinful, that self-worth was shameful. And so, I began breathing fire at all of the things that I was, and even more so, all of the things I was not. I adopted the attitude that being humble meant taking a pair of boxing gloves and fighting the girl looking at me in the mirror – swinging and kicking and tearing her apart until she became nothing but a stranger with tired eyes and a tethered soul. This is not humility. This is not modesty. This is not what it takes to earn the most important person’s approval: your own. Please stop bullying yourself. Please stop telling yourself that you are not good enough or brave enough or strong enough or smart enough or capable enough. Please don’t mistaken humility for self-loathing, self-love for self-deprecation, self-acceptance for a pool filled with vitriol and gasoline. Drop the match. You are going to come across a lot of people in your life who will rip you into shreds. Why do you insist on being one of them?

2. Comparison will destroy you if you let it. Social media is, without a doubt, the world’s most successful magician. You might be looking at a beautiful wedding, but what you did not see are the endless nights that the bride and groom spent up late, frantically calculating if they could meet their budget. You might see beautiful babies and wonder when is it going to be your turn, but you won’t see that the baby was born with invisible, life-altering health issues that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. You won’t see parents who feel helpless, as they sit on the sidelines and watch their baby get picked and prodded at for testing, only to come back to inconclusive results. You might see a couple that strategically poses, smiling and laughing at the camera, but you don’t see that deep down, both are unhappy and are together out of comfort. You may see people moving on at a faster speed than humanly possible, and you may see people accomplishing things that you never even dreamed of. And all of this will fill your bones with envy if you let it. Remember that what you see on social media is a cropped, edited, fine-tuned, personally picked out snap shot of what reality looks like for that person. We are all struggling, just as we are all succeeding. Some just choose to share more than others.

3. Balance is a life-long journey. I spend every birthday writing and then looking over what I wrote the year prior, hoping to find some solace and traces of growth in the last 365 days. When looking through the things I wrote this year and the two years prior, there was one common theme: balance. It took me until 29 to realize that balance isn’t an end-goal. You don’t one day wake up juggling everything on your plate seamlessly and call it quits. There is going to be stretches of time when juggling feels easy—when life feels calm. And then there will be times when the things you are juggling suddenly turn into boulders—when life becomes chaotic, and unmanageable, and heavy. This is where you re-adjust, re-align, and re-calibrate.

4. Honesty will get you what you need. If you are not being heard, lean in and speak up. You are doing no justice to yourself by stuffing your feelings for the sake of someone else’s.

5. You must work to live; do not live to work. What you do for a living may have tremendous value. What you do may be important and honorable and difficult, but it is still simply a job. And a job won’t come home with you and keep you warm at night. A job won’t tell you that it loves you. A job won’t make you a good person. You are equally as replaceable as the next person, no matter how dedicated you are to your craft. Please do not make a home out of your vocation. Please do not rely solely on your job for validation. Work plays a big role in our lives, but please do not make it your entire life.

6. Listening is key. So many people listen to respond or react.. and we wonder why people have such difficulty communicating. Practice listening to hear. Practice listening so that you can show up for people in the way that they deserve. I promise you this will make a world of a difference in all of your relationships.

7. Goals keep you moving. Life is a journey. There will never be a goal that you reach that is followed by a dead end sign. We do not reach a certain point in our lives one day and find out that’s it. Life is about constantly working towards more, working towards better, working towards reaching higher. Don’t forget to, every once in awhile, take a step back and make out a list of things you want for yourself and for your life, both in the short term and the long term.

8. You are allowed to say no. To weddings, to showers, to events that you cannot attend, to things that you cannot afford, to things that make you uncomfortable. Practice boundaries. Practice self-preservation. No is a two letter word, say it.

9. You can do hard things. No real need for an in-depth reflection. Just remember that at this very moment, you have survived every single difficult situation in your life and are still alive to tell the tale. You survived that and you will survive this too.

10. Practice gratitude. It’s not enough just to be grateful; you must practice gratitude. Make it a daily practice to write down one thing you are grateful for in that very moment. Practicing gratitude will change your perspective, especially when it comes to hard things. (see #9)

11. Self-care isn’t intended to be empty jargon thrown around by therapists to only fall on deaf ears. Practicing self-care does not need to be a big and bold declaration. It does not need to be a vacation on an island or a weekend at a spa. (Though both sound lovely). Self-care happens in between the moments of utter chaos, when you are in a tailspin and your life feels unmanageable. Self-care is deep breaths. Self-care if meditating, or going to yoga, or the gym, or taking a walk on the beach. Self-care is reading a book, spending time with your friends, having a cup of coffee. Self-care is taking time out of your day, no matter how busy you are, to acknowledge that you are important and that you need to be cared for. Remember, as the cliché goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup. So, take care of yourself.

12. Perfectionism is a kiss of death. You simply cannot control every single thing that happens in your universe. Instead, practice vulnerability. Practice asking for help. Practice throwing your hands in the air and saying, “actually, sometimes life is hard, and sometimes I need a little help.”

13. Identifying what is on the other side of your pain will help you resolve it. Emotions are a tricky thing. Often, negative emotions lead us to believe an altered version of reality, and as a result, we project negative feelings onto someone else instead of sitting in our own discomfort and trudging through our own struggles. Learning to identify the source of your pain will alleviate the pain. Just trust me on this.

14. Listen closely. There isn’t always confetti or a loud noise or balloons when things change. Sometimes, most times, change happens in increments. And it’s often not until we are far enough in the future to really see the way in which our world has shifted. So, listen closely. You might miss the change if you don’t.

15. Ingenuity is a turn off. If you run into people that you don’t ever have intentions in seeing again, do not ask to keep in touch. Do not pretend to be interested in something when you are not. Do not make up lies for the sake of conversation. Be genuinely, whole-heartedly who you really are.

16. People will show up for you when you start showing up for them. Stop being the person that puts their own stuff in front of everyone else. Show up for the people in your life that you love.

17. Discomfort is where change happens.  Brene Brown she told her students if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable, it’s not doing the job, and I couldn’t agree more.

18. You, more than anyone else, are deserving of big, heaping spoonful’s of grace. This goes back to #1. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. The things that need to get done will get done and the things that won’t will still be there when you revisit. Give yourself grace when it comes to self-deprecation. Give yourself grace when you feel like you aren’t doing enough. Give yourself grace when your best doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Learn to serve grace as a main course and not a side dish that no one ever touches.

19. Fear doesn’t deserve a space in the driver’s seat. Fear will try to steer the wheel of your life. Fear will feed you lies. Fear will paralyze you. Do not let her.

20. Know that your self-worth is not determined by stuff, or social status, or diplomas. It cannot be due in part to having designer handbags and red bottom stilettos. It cannot be because you have two diplomas totaling over $180K hanging up in your office. Your value cannot lie in the things that you can touch. Who you are is not what you have.

21. Truth borrowed from my favorite adolescent drama, One Tree Hill: happiness is a mood, not a destination. I have spent many hours in my office with clients who, when asked what their long-term goal is, will say, “I want to be happy.” And I think this is a goal that many have, even outside of my office. But happiness, much like sadness, or anger, or amused, or apathetic, is a mood, not a destination. Don’t kick yourself for feeling things outside of happiness. You are human and you are made to feel.

22. A busy schedule will never fill you. I know that silence can be deafening, but I also know what it’s like to overload my schedule to avoid that silence. Filling your schedule for the sake of trying to fill some sort of emptiness will be like pouring sand into an hour glass with no bottom.

23. Friendships change all the time. Be open to the idea that not all friendships survive all stages of life. Be open to the idea that the people you thought would be a part of your life story are only meant to be in your life for certain scenes. After the act ends, some people only make guest appearances in your life. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s okay to find new people who fill you, who make you whole, who make you feel seen, and safe, and heard. Maybe it’s okay to hang onto a handful of old friends and a handful of new friends and move on from friendships that shackle you to the ground.

24. Feelings are not facts. Oftentimes, we create an internal dialogue and go straight to panic mode long before we find the truth of things. Remember, just because we feel unworthy does not actually mean that we are unworthy. Just because we feel like we aren’t successful does not make it so.

25. You should not betray who you are for the sake of someone else. When you reach the end of your life, you will not be met with someone who tells you they are so proud you are just like someone else. Own the person that you are and don’t betray her by being someone else.

26. Life is both beautiful and it’s brutal. Or, as Glennon Doyle would say, life is brutaful. And I think once we understand that, once we really accept that not every day is going to be sunshine and rainbows, we’d all stop seeking the eternal glow of happiness and just be present in the moment and in the feeling that we’re in today.

27. Things do not change unless you change. You will not lose the weight if you don’t change your eating and exercise habits. You will not get the guy if you aren’t open to the idea of love. You will not fix your relationship if you are pretending there is nothing to fixPlease do not sit idly and wait for the world to change for you. Get up and get ready to fight for what you want.

28. Life is hard for everyone. I think we get caught up on the notion that it gets better, but I think that’s a lie. I think the feeling of being misunderstood, or unaccepted, or not good enough is universal and doesn’t just go away the second the clock strikes midnight and you turn 18 and suddenly, you are an adult. I think we get tougher, and stronger, and more capable of handling the debris that is left standing when life falls apart.

29. You are never going to be ready. If you wait for the perfect moment to fall in love, love just might pass you by. You will not be ready when love smacks you in the face; you will not be ready for when heartache dances in front of your door. You will not be ready when you get the offer for a dream job and are asked to uproot yourself and move states away in a month. You will not be ready to say goodbye, or walk away from a relationship, or a job, or a family member. You will not be ready to get back into your workout gear and get back into the gym. If you keep waiting for a sign or a feeling that tells you that right now, at this very moment, you are ready, you will be waiting for a long time. Don’t miss out on what’s right in front of you simply because you believe in your core that there will be a ticker tape parade signaling you to go.

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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?

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’s Not Bother With Small Talk

Please, let’s not bother with small talk. Let’s not waste our breath with the mediocrity of empty exchanges and meaningless conversations that end in uncomfortable silence and the awkward shuffling of feet.

Let’s not bother with words that just don’t matter and questions spit out with the force of thunder and the speed of an Aston Martin, only used to fill the silence that barely even touched the space between us.

The rest of the world can go ahead and carry on about the little things. They can talk about the weather and how remnants of Winter still linger in the April air — how frost-tipped grass is still what we wake up to. The rest of the world can go and ask us, “What’s up,” but I hope they don’t laugh when I answer, “the sky,” because that’s what I really mean. And when they ask me, “how are you,” I hope they don’t expect me to submit myself to the most common lie told, encapsulated within the words, “I’m fine.”

Please hear me when I say I don’t want any part in the mundane.

So, if weather’s what you want to talk about, I want to hear about all the ways you change with the seasons. I want to know what you’re thinking when you’re alone at three AM in the middle of the Winter, when all of the chaos of the holiday season has simmered down, and you’re left with nothing but an empty apartment and an emptier Christmas tree and nothing, but the sound of your own thoughts. If you want to talk about the sky, tell me about all the things you see for yourself when you look up. Tell me about the hopes you have and the crippling fears and the obstacles you see in front of you. Tell me about all the ways you plan on changing the world, and I will let you in on all the ways I want my small hands to move mountains.

And if you must tell me about your favorite food, please give me more than just that. I want to know about how many times you sat with your ailing grandmother, trying to master her favorite recipe. I want to know how many times your kitchen has had the lingering scent of that meal since she’s been gone. If you’re able to give me all of that, if you’re able to find it in you to tell me how you stayed up all night every Thanksgiving eve, standing on a stool, helping your mom prepare for the family meal the next day, I’ll tell you about my incessant fear that one day, I won’t be able to get down all the family recipes I was raised on. That one day, the recipes my mom keeps in a tattered notebook will die right in my lap if I don’t hurry up and get them all down.

And if how are you is the question you are dying to answer, tell me about the heartache. Tell me about how they broke your heart and what you’ve done to try and heal it since that door slammed, closing the chapter of your life without a tidy ending. Do you still wear the same cologne that she picked out, with the hope that she’ll somehow get a waft of it in the air and remember that your arms were once her home and that she’ll find the star that leads her back to you? Do you sink into your bed at night after busying up your schedule just to forget how her eyes were the only ones that knew you? Do you let the weight of heartache and cans of beer pull you down until you can’t remember how final that slamming door sounded? And if you let me in and tell me how many pieces your heart broke into, I’ll show you all the shards of glass I’ve been carrying around since the day he and I let our love die. I’ll tell you about all the months I spent looking into his green eyes and begging them to know me. I’ll tell you about all the time I spent searching those pools of green, desperate for them to make me feel seen like they did all the time before. I’ll talk about all the jagged pieces, the epic love stories that were born from my finger tips, and the nights I spent playing the songs that were the soundtrack to our love, with the hopes that he’d hear them all through the radio airwaves. And that he’d come back to me. And if you really listen, I’ll tell you about the way his face sunk in my rear view mirror while his arm waved goodbye, and he whispered, “keep in touch, okay?” for the last time on that cold March night.

Tell me about your friends. Tell me about the ways they stitched you back up after that broken heart. Tell me about the pit in your stomach you feel at the thought of losing any of them. Tell me what they mean to you, what you mean to them. Tell me what your life has been like with them in it and the emptiness it would be without the security of having them be only a phone call away.

Tell me about your parents. Tell me about how you carry your head up like your father always taught you and how your eyes are as piercing in color as your mother’s. Tell me about the way it felt hearing your mom say she is proud of you for the very first time. Talk about the way your fathers pain cut you in the core the time he couldn’t look you in the eyes when you disappointed him. Tell me about all the ways your parents unintentionally broke you, because they all do, without even trying to. Tell me how they molded you, how they shaped you into the person that stands before me. And if you do, I’ll decorate a picture of what it was like being the first born child to immigrant parents, and how my childhood was more about darkness than there was light, but how I never let that define me. Tell me about how you got by, how you survived, and I’ll tell you the same.

I want to know about the wars you fought and all the armor around your heart. I want to know the bruises that you wear on your soul and all the beatings you took that made such a permanent mark. I want to know about why you jump two feet in the air at the sound of a slamming door. I want to get a phone call in the middle of the night, frantic, unable to sleep, because you were too busy coming up with a plan to save this universe that’s drowning under the weight of vanity.

I want to know what makes you feel seen. I want to know what gets you up in the morning and moves you to get through this big ol’ life thing. I want to know the things that awaken your soul and all the things you are passionate about.  Tell me what keeps you going in a world that is constantly pushing you to feel small. Tell me who you’ve fought to become. Tell me about the demons you keep hidden in the crevices of who you are. What are your greatest regrets? What are your biggest accomplishments?

For as long as I live, for as many sunrises as I am able to wake up to, and as long as this beautiful earth makes its way circling around the sun, I want to make this time count. And I just don’t think empty conversations filled with how are you’s can ever give you that.

So please, let’s not bother with small talk.

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.

It Starts With Heart

My pediatrician told me I would grow up to be 5’5”.

At seven years old, how could I argue that? Despite knowing that neither of my parents stood taller than 5’3″, I had a woman who’d known me since I was a toddler, who had spent more than my lifetime within the four walls of medical school, standing in front of me telling me that I would one day see the world from the vantage point of 5’5″.

I remember when I gave up hope that my eyes would ever get that chance. At 12 years old, I stood at only 4’11”. And when 13 came, and I saw no more growth, I became resentful of my pediatrician’s promise. I started obsessing over being short. I was wearing heels to school every day, I stepped out from underneath the cloak of the shy girl I was; I was loud, and I was bold. I was overcompensating, in part, for the pieces of me I felt were missing. But somewhere along the line, I realized that it never really was about how tall I stood.

The truth is, I spent a lot of my childhood feeling small, and I never actually wanted to be small. Not reaching a predicted height only further sealed what I thought was my overall fate — both physically and emotionally.

I decided then, in middle school, to change who I was. I put on the facade of a girl who was big and was bold, and I hoped that one day, it would catch up. I hoped that one day, I would feel as big as I pretended to be.

– – –

I showed a Ted Talk in a group that I run the other day. The speaker, Glennon Doyle, called her story Lessons from the Mental Hospital, and in it, she talked about her struggle with depression and self-worth, bulimia, and addiction. I didn’t have an agenda or a direction that I wanted to take after watching the video. I wanted the group to take in all the themes that jumped out within those 18 minutes — the importance of vulnerability as a catalyst for change, finding bold courage, taking off the masks that we hide behind, crashing into rock bottom, and coming back up for air. When I asked the group what stood out the most to them, the general consensus was these words:

“We feel so much pain and so much love and we sense that the world doesn’t want us to feel that much, and doesn’t want to need as much comfort as we need. So we start pretending. We try to pretend like we’re the people that we think we’re supposed to be. We numb, and we hide, and we pretend. And that pretending does eventually turn into a life of lies. But to be fair, we thought we were supposed to be lying. They tell us since we’re little that when someone asks us how we’re doing, the only appropriate answer is: ‘Fine. And you?'”

The common theme in the room was that, as children, we were told that our voices didn’t matter. We were taught that no amount of wanting to be big would ever make it true: we were children, and that instantly made us small.

When we cried, we were handed tissues — the message essentially screaming that your tears don’t matter. Wipe them up, sweep whatever hurt you are feeling under the rug and carry on. We’re told, at the sight of one tear rolling down our cheeks to stop crying. And often, when we were sad, it came out as defiance. We were never asked, “what’s going on? What are you feeling upset about?” We’re asked, “what’s wrong with you? Why are you being so bad?” We were taught that the only thing we could feel was fine. We were taught to quiet the sound of our voices, and to forget the feelings that were rattling our bones. And so as time passed, we assumed the role of the person who was never heard. And that’s how we grow up.

– – –

I made a career out of the deep rooted desire to never let the people around me ever feel small. But all the schooling and internship hours and the textbooks and the professors and the mentoring could never set you up to tell you what it’s like.

I remember the first time I realized how big my job is, and just how small that epiphany made me feel.

I was sitting with someone who could only be described as a warrior. Her story is not mine to share, but I need you to know this. I need you to know that when she showed up at my door, she was hiding behind a hard shell. As time went on, I had the honor of watching her take her chisel and pick away at the pieces that she so intricately built around herself.

On this particular day, she was talking about where she thought the onset of her problem lied. She was fed, as a kid, the age-old adage: be seen, but don’t you dare be heard. Just like Glennon Doyle spoke about in her Ted Talk, this person was always told to hold her head up, to puff her chest out, to paint a smile on her face, and to always respond with, “I’m fine,” when asked how she was doing. I listened to her deconstruct all the lies she had ever been told, and I watched as she started to believe them.

You’re worthless. You’re a mistake. You’re a piece of shit. 

And as she rattled them off — all the lies she’d ever been told, I noticed she was looking down, fidgeting with her hands: a clear sign of nervousness that comes from being vulnerable. It was in that moment that I realized how much I really connected with this person. I remember all the times I hid behind the small things out of feeling insignificant and small myself. And I remember how nearly impossible it’s always been for me to look someone in the eye and speak my truth.

Silence filled the room, and I knew she was waiting on me to change the topic, for me to ask another question, for me to divert my attention elsewhere.

I didn’t have any words to offer that would make an earth-shattering difference. She needed my silence. She needed to believe, in that silence, that her voice mattered.

The drive home that night was brutal. I regressed back to the adolescent version of myself. My mind was spitting back all the insecurities I thought I once weed wacked my way through. Who had the audacity to choose you to be the one who gets the hear their story? How could you be enough for them? How could I cower down to this small version of myself and have this job that I had to show up at and be big and bold and somehow make it work?

But something really important happened. That person kept coming back. She started to identify feelings that were suppressed by the liars and the voices that told her she was never enough. She started exploring more and with each passing week, that wall kept coming down. There was a pivotal moment, when I checked in to ask how she felt things were going. She told me that the moments that were most important to her were all the ones when I allowed her to just be there, with all of her heavy stuff. It was the moments I didn’t try to redirect, or to change, or to dig. It was in the moments she felt heard, and she felt seen, and she felt important.

That was my tent pole moment.

Hannah Brencher talked about tent pole moments in her November Writing Intensive. She describes these moments as the ones that plant themselves in the ground and mark a very obvious shift in your life. They’re the poignant moments that knock you off your path a little bit, and make you believe that you’re on your way to being different. This conversation changed it for me, and I’ve never been the same.

– – –

It is such a privilege to be the one invited to sit right in the crux of someone else’s pain.

I don’t make many promises, but I do promise that if you ever get the chance to sit with someone while they tell you the whole story, it’ll be intense and it’ll be overwhelming, and it’ll hurt like hell. It will feel like a series of sucker punches to the gut. You’ll question why you were the chosen one. And when they keep coming back, and when they allow themselves to slowly take off their masks, you’ll ask yourself a million times how you were enough for that very important role.

That’s what I struggle with the most. The truth is, I don’t know how to be enough. I don’t know how to love hard enough, or listen intently enough, or be good enough. And to be the person who gets to collect all these heartbreaking stories and crack open a shell full of pain and build on the bits and pieces of hope and help stitch together recovery — well that’s the the stuff that makes what I do golden. That’s what makes it all enough.

I’m starting to learn that enough isn’t pretty sentences with words intricately stitched together that sound bigger than they really are. People don’t need that.

Amongst all the misconceptions about the field of counseling is the one where people think we, as therapists, have all the answers. People believe there is an answer key in a book somewhere, and that we can open that book and direct you towards the road you need to take. And my God, if that were the truth, I would give this all up. I would ask for a refund and throw in the towel and say that this isn’t what I want to do. Because if it were that easy, I’m not sure it would be worth it.

As much as we believe it to be true, people don’t need another map with a red X marking the destination.

More than answers, we just need each other. We need each other to show up to remind us that we are not alone. We need to be validated. We need to know that our thoughts matter and that our feelings matter. We need someone to ask, “how are you,” and stay with us long enough to hear the answer when it’s not just, “fine, and you?”

I guess I’ve been wrong all along. It’s not about constructing a life so big that you forget to be small. It has nothing to do with being bold and being loud and forgetting the person you are underneath your own shadow. It’s about heart. That’s the stuff that matters. It’s about having the heart that is willing to sit with someone when they need it the most. It’s about hearing other people and letting them feel known — letting them be seen, and letting them find it within themselves to believe that they are more than just that small child who was taught that their feelings didn’t matter.

It starts when you drop the facade; it starts when you stop trying to be bigger than you are. It starts when you stop letting the fear of being too small be the barrier the stands in your way. It starts with heart — because that’s all we ever really need.

The Battle Between Quality & Quantity

If I close my eyes tight enough, I can see back to that August night nearly nine years ago, when I sat with a group of my closest friends, hoping that the silence and our tear-filled eyes would keep us there in that very moment.

We found out then that heavy hearts just don’t beat quietly, and when the silence broke, we did everything we could to bottle up all the last words that we said. Carrie Underwood was playing on repeat in the background, drowned out by the sound of desperate voices clinging onto our youth.

And she says, ‘I don’t want this night to end, why does it have to end?’

We talked about all the ways we would keep in touch. We would write letters, send cards, mail each other care packages. We would have our own version of what the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants had. We calculated the miles between all of our colleges and mapped out the road trips we’d take. We made plans for all the weekends we’d see each other, and all the holiday’s we’d come back to this spot. Our plan was fool proof. Nothing would change.

They’ve been dreading this moment all summer long; the night before, life goes on.

We made promises and plans for the future. After college, we’d get apartments together. We would travel together. We were going to take on the world together. We promised that no one would ever love as deeply or laugh as fiercely or feel as close. We promised that despite the miles, and schools, and states, and new friends — nothing would change the fact that we had history on our side.

They take one last drive around town and man, it already looks different. He bangs the wheel and says, ‘life ain’t fair. And this growing up stuff, man I don’t know; I just don’t want to let you go.”

At 18 years old, the promise of forever felt real.

The best way to describe where I am today is somewhere stuck in the space between moving on and nostalgia.

The years following college graduation and really settling into adulthood are strange in a number of ways. You suddenly get sucked into the vortex of what real life is about. You went from being on the very same page as all of the people in your life, to occupying the same space, yet somehow living in different time zones.

You realize that living out your dreams of squeezing 6 friends into a studio apartment in Manhattan sounded so much more romantic when you were 18. Truth be told, when you’re 18 years old and looking towards the future, it’s so hard to see beyond those four years of college. It’s hard to imagine life when your friends – especially the ones who were so much a part of your existence, are not your priority.

The truth is, we blindly made those promises to each other nine years ago.

We never could have anticipated what was to come. We didn’t have a crystal ball that told us what it was like to turn 22, and then 25, and then 27, and how things would evolve during that time. We somehow had blinders on to the real world. We thought that growing old together would be the same as growing up together, but with more freedom than our parents granted us as kids.

The reality is this: you look around and you’re suddenly real adults, and you’re not sure when that happened. You scroll through your Facebook feed past several engagement photoshoots. People your age are announcing pregnancies — planned pregnancies. They’re buying houses and learning how to garden and choosing curtain patterns. You start really understanding the importance of a 401K, healthcare plans, and the seriousness of keeping a good credit score.

Your life becomes a routine. You wake up, go to work, make a living, go home, sleep, wake up, and do it all over again. If you’re lucky, after rent and utilities, student loan payments, and credit card bills, you’ll have enough money at the end of the week to get together with your friends. And if you’re really lucky, getting together with your friends can be more than just half price appetizers at Applebees. But if you’re anything like me, you’re tired (because my God, adulting is exhausting). Canceled plans are like Christmas morning, and days spent sitting on your friends couches are the only kind of hanging out you have the energy for.

Life is no longer solely about socializing. It’s about savings accounts and deadlines and job interviews and trying to figure it all out. It’s about toying with the idea of marriage, or maybe putting yourself out there and finding a boyfriend, or maybe trying to make this whole thing work alone. It’s saying yes to being in (A LOT of) weddings, and deciding if you’re going stag, or bringing a plus one. It’s going to showers – both baby and bridal, and trying to muster up the energy to cook healthy meals, do your laundry, and stay up late enough to watch prime time television.

You suddenly become the center of your life, while your friendships are soft-focused in the background.

And when you look into that lens, you see the few people who stand out. These people are your soulmates. These are the elastic friendships that make their way around all the growing up stuff. These are the people you carry with you above the rest into adulthood. They’re the ones who bend with you, who stretch with you — the ones whose lives still flow with your own. And there’s nothing wrong with the rest of the people who sat in that same circle nine years ago — nothing either of you did to cause a rift. But there is a tangible difference between your friends and your soulmates — and the difference lies in the elasticity of their friendships. There is a deep-rooted and profound appreciation for these people.

There is more planning that goes into seeing your friends. Hanging out with them is no longer natural. We don’t just pick up our phones, send a text, and meet at the swings on the beach. It takes an invitation sent out a month in advance. It takes planning, and effort, and the hope that when that plan comes up, you’re not exhausted from the week before. It takes, ‘okay, you bring the veggie platter, you bring the salad, you bring the cheese and crackers, and I’ll bring the dessert.’

Your soulmates are the ones you can talk to all day or not at all. They’re the ones who require no real plans when you get together. They can come home once every other month and you see them for a half hour for coffee or Chic Fil A, and conversation is effortless. They’re the ones whose house you run to after work each Thursday to watch your favorite Shonda Rhimes shows. They’re the ones who you can call up and say, “hey, I’m going to Target, wanna come?” and they’d be on their way within seconds.

Your relationship with your soulmates are effortless.

Their couch is your couch. They are the family that takes you in when there’s a pending snow storm, so you don’t get snowed in alone. They’re the ones who never have to ask what’s new, because their daily phone calls to and from work are exactly how they know what’s new. They’re the ones who know how you feel at any given point. They’re the ones that really get you through this whole life thing.

And don’t get me wrong, accepting this is much harder than it sounds. It’s hard to fully accept that life can’t be like what it was like when we were 18 and full of wonder. Life just can’t be about funneling beers and shaking off our hangovers the next morning with pork roll egg and cheeses on the beach. Life can’t be about the big and bold plans to live together and take over the world.

I’m inching closer to accepting that this is the way it is — that this whole growing up thing is about relinquishing the preconceived notions I had when I was younger. All of those promises and wishes that we made nine years ago were genuine and real then, but they aren’t timeless. They can’t stay true.

The truth is I can’t be all the things.

That’s the part I’m struggling with the most. I want to believe that I can close my eyes and go back to that night in 2007 when we promised that nothing would change. That, no matter what, we would still be everything to each other.

It’s hard to admit that I can’t be everything to everyone, though I desperately wish I could. I want to be your friend, but I want to be the best friend. I want to be the person that shows up at your door step with a tub of ice cream, 90s romcoms, and a box of tissues when you’ve had your heart broken. I want to be the one who shows up, unannounced, with a car full of girlfriends, a bottle of champagne, and reservations for a girls night out when there’s something to celebrate. I want to be your girlfriend, but I want to be the best girlfriend. I want to find your favorite childhood memories, and spend a weekend recreating all of them for you. I want to be the one who shows up with all of the things you need. I want to be the best sister, best daughter, best writer, best counselor, best employee, best person.

I want to be all the things to everyone, but I just can’t be.

So, I guess that’s where I’m at these days — still stuck somewhere in between growing up and nostalgia. I’m learning to slowly loosen the grip on the idea that I can be everything to everyone.

And maybe this is a harsh lesson that we all need to learn. That we don’t need to apologize to our younger selves for making promises that we didn’t all keep. We were so, so young. We had no idea how life would unravel. All we saw was the immediate future. We saw the freedom of life outside of our hometown. We could have never anticipated that the future was more than just having fun with your friends.

On any given day, after shedding the excess layers of fat, I’m realizing that this is perhaps what we all need: people who show up, people who sit with us, head on our shoulders, and hear the noise in our silence. We need people who make life effortless — who make friendship effortless. We need people who see through us, who gets us, who grows with us.

Maybe all we need is someone who shows up and says, “I will be here on the days that you need me and the days that you don’t. I’ll sit with you through the tough stuff and dance with you through the fun stuff. We can stay in on a Saturday with too much sushi in front of us, or we can book a road trip to the Poconos for a weekend. We can talk all day, or we can say nothing at all. But I promise you’ll never doubt this. You don’t have to be all the things to everyone; you just have to be all the things to some and that will be enough.”

Today, this is all I need. Quality over quantity. People who make this growing up thing easy– because as we all know, going at this life thing is hard enough as it is without the people who make the ride effortless.

I Never Wanted To Be A Cliche

Someone once told me to write my truth.

“Be honest. Write your truth; no one can take that from you.”

Those words came to me nearly four years ago when I was gearing up to take on this little project. I was apprehensive. For most of my life, I’d scribbled in journals, jotted down daydreams, and made private blogs that never met the eyes of anyone I knew. Publicly opening my heart was new.

At the time, I was doing something so dangerously outside of my comfort zone, I almost felt like I needed a life jacket just to step into it. But those words of wisdom were so important to me. They are the words that remind me today that I shouldn’t worry about sugar coating it. Writing shouldn’t be about waiting for inspiration to strike, or when the positive, uplifting, and motivational messages seem to be pouring from my fingertips. Life just isn’t like that– it doesn’t come at you cropped or filtered. Life is real and raw. And writing should be real and raw. It should always be about writing what you know — it should be about your own truth.

And so, the driving force behind this little machine has been about owning up to and writing my own truth. It’s been about confessions — about getting down to the heart of the matter — the things that hurt, the things that heal, the truth.. my truth. It’s been a nearly four-year-long honesty hour.

So, I’ll be honest. I’ve been avoiding. I’ve been avoiding a lot of things – this blog, friends, acquaintances, commitments, plans. Nearly everything aside from my two closest friends, my coworkers that I see daily, and my every day responsibilities. I’ll admit that I’ve fallen a bit down the rabbit hole, but not quite all the way; I’m still hanging on.

I’ve spent the last year of my life running on a hamster wheel, desperate to get to a finish line that just wasn’t quite there. I spent hours huddled up in Starbucks studying for (and later passing) two really important exams that led to graduation, certification, and licensure. I graduated with my Master’s in Mental Health Counseling. I landed a job in the field and even progressed into a position that I thought was years away, only three months into my career. I packed up what little belongings I had and moved. I watched friends get engaged, I watched friends get married, I watched as friends pack up their things and move states away. I fought with my family, I fought with myself; I fought through some of the most challenge seasons of my adult life.

The truth is, I selfishly didn’t expect life to just keep on moving.

Being a college student was about how many nights I could spend at the local pub and still maintain a 4.0 Being a graduate student in my mid-20s was about trying to keep myself afloat– how to keep myself from falling asleep at the wheel, or from forgetting what day of the week it was, or trying to keep up with friends who seemed light years away. I was doing fine if I kept my head just a little bit above water. I was forced to follow a strict schedule — I was a student, working two jobs, interning, and trying to maintain relationships and some semblance of sanity. I had blinders on to the world outside of my own.

I almost naively expected time to stand still. I expected to cross that stage to get my diploma and be greeted on the other end by this world that waited three years for me to catch up. 

Moving forward has been difficult for me. I could sit here and tell you how grossly ungraceful I am at transitions, or exits, or new beginnings. I could tell you that I hate change. I could tell you that surviving the shifting of orbits doesn’t really fall onto my resume as one of my strengths. But please, name someone who is graceful at change. Name someone who is actually good at it. Tell them to come find me. Tell them to teach me how it works, cause I haven’t got a clue.

I wish I could look back on the last nine months of my life and pinpoint the exact moment when the path I was flying down started to get a little turbulent. I don’t remember when, but I do remember a coworker, who I’d interned with prior to both of us working together looked at me in the months following graduation and asked me, “What happened? You had it all together when we were in school, and now you’re literally falling apart. You’re crumbling right in front of me.”

It’s just as dramatic and funny as it sounds, but when someone you’ve worked side by side with nearly every day for the last year says something like that to you, it sticks. What the hell did happen to me?

I was struggling. I started to become a pressure cooker. I was filling myself daily because that’s what I thought I needed to do. I was making plans with people and listening to them talk about their lives and finding myself barely listening on. I was detached. I didn’t care about the matching his and her towels, or the future vacation plans, or the joint bank accounts, or the new jobs. I didn’t care about the baby planning or the wedding planning or the flavor of the week they were dating. I wanted to be present; I wanted to be supportive and attentive, but it was hard. So I rationalized by making all these plans in the hopes that one day, some of the circuits would align and it would make sense and I would somehow find myself enjoying the conversation in front of me. I was filling myself with people, and plans, and things, and going home every night and hating myself for it. I kept filling and filling, and despite overflowing, despite coming to a head and essentially bursting, I was never full.

I found that I stopped caring about things that I used to care so fiercely about before. I was losing enthusiasm for people I cared about. And it wasn’t fair to them. It wasn’t fair that I was struggling with my own stuff and to take it out on my relationships with other people, but that’s how the tape played out. I was struggling with closing the chapter of my life as a student and entering this new phase of my life: the one where I struggle to live on my own, to make it in this field, to bare the burden of some of the most beautifully broken souls I’ve ever met, and to still have to face my own realities at night.

And so, I started to avoid things.

I started protecting my heart. I stopped filling myself with things that made me heavy — the things that made me go home at night and tip over to pour right out of me. I stopped answering texts and disconnected myself from my phone. I started detaching myself from things that seemed to be just filler. Because I’m going to be honest with you: I’m just tired of it. I’m tired of things that lack substance. I’m tired of relationships built on small talk. I’m tired of friendships that aren’t meant to span a lifetime. I’m tired of feeling like I have to force a conversation– like if I don’t have something witty to say back to a random text message that doesn’t interest me in the least, I become fearful that the person on the other end is mad at me. I’m tired of feeling a little behind, like I can’t contribute to a conversation because I don’t have a mortgage, and those matching his and her towels, or plans for a baby. I stopped writing because I didn’t have anything good to write. I didn’t have anything positive. I didn’t want to be the person who whined and moaned and waited for some miracle that never came.

But I guess that’s what it’s all about, right? The truth. The not-so-pretty reality: that life isn’t perfect. That you can get everything you worked so hard for and still feel like something is missing. That you can get to a certain point in your life where some relationships aren’t serving you and you have to let them go. That you feel like an elephant is sitting on your shoulders every day, but you don’t dare tell your friends just why you don’t want to get together. Because the truth is, there isn’t a reason. You just physically can’t do it.

The truth is I always swore I would never look back.

A lot of the last nine months have been spent staring into a rear view mirror, wondering if there was anything I could have done differently — what I could have done to just hang onto the things I never wanted then, but strangely want back now. I’ve been decorating my walls in memories and moments I never thought I’d miss. I somehow planted my home right in the heart of Nostalgia Lane. I’ve been stuck here ever since.

So much of my life was about moving forward and looking towards the future. I spent years investing significant time into chipping away at what I thought was the grander picture. I spent my entire childhood desperately craving adulthood. I never planned on being the girl that missed all the things she was running from.

I’ve suddenly become that 20-something cliche.

When I was in middle school, I wanted to be in high school. I wanted a hipper hair cut, I wanted my license, better clothes, a car that I could drive with the top down. I wanted freedom. When I was in high school, all I wanted was college. That would be freedom. I wanted to live away from my family, and the house that built me. I wanted adventure and new beginnings. When I was in college, all I ever wanted was a career. I wanted a place of my own. I wanted a life I could say I proudly built with my own hands. And when I was in graduate school, I wanted to go back and have fun. I wanted time to slow down. I wanted life to stand still. I wanted the chance to have a couple do-overs.

The saddest part of growing up is this: time doesn’t stand still, no matter how hard you fight for it to. Second chances are few and far in between. You just don’t get do-overs. 

Just like grains of sand along the shoreline, you can try to gather it all in your hands, but it somehow still just slips right through your fingers. And what I would do to go back and apologize to all those all-knowing adults that stood right here, where I am today, and told me to slow down, to take it all in, to stop worrying so much, to write it all down, to remember these moments, these feelings, this laughter. To enjoy it all. I swear if I had a chance to do it over, I would take back all the times I rolled my eyes at them.

Because life comes without warning. One day, you’ll turn 18 and you’ll feel invincible — like nothing on the planet could touch you. And then you’ll turn 20; you’ll find yourself stuck between saying goodbye to being a teenager, and being so unsure of what being in your 20s even means. You’ll taste heartache and you’ll know that even though you are young, with the world right in front of you, you aren’t invincible. You’ll look back to mornings where you packed eye liner and mascara in your backpack, and ran straight to the bathroom at school to put it all on before anyone could see you. You’ll look back on the nights you spent fighting with your parents about the length of your shorts, or the cut of your shirt, or the inappropriate writing across the butt of your sweats, or the skin tight dress you absolutely had to wear to Homecoming. You’ll smile at the memories and feel a knot of pain at how far away they’ll seem. You’ll turn 22. You’ll graduate from college and you’ll look back at middle school graduation and think to yourself, “how the hell could I think that this would be better?” How did I think that facing the unknown was a hell of a lot better than being 14, and hanging out in the mall, gossiping about boys, and buying new hand sanitizers from Bath and Body Works. And one day, you’ll be 26, inching closer to 27. You’ll feel a surging rush of emotions as you walk across the stage to get your Master’s. You start a new job, you’ll struggle despite essentially having it all.

And then you’ll be 27. My God, 27 sounds a bit old, doesn’t it? Like you’re meant to have some sort of grip on who you are. But, you’ll slip down the rabbit hole just a little, and you’ll try to climb your way out of it.

Some days, I feel so incredibly guilty for looking back and pining over memories when I have wonderful things in front of me. But what I’m finding is that growing older is equal parts living and equal parts being nostalgic. It’s about small glimpses into the past and remembering what it was like being 18 and carefree and driving to the beach at night with our heads halfway out the window. It was feeling weightless. It’s about what life was like, what it’s like now, and what it could have been. It’s about looking through a lens into your past and cursing yourself for not holding onto those fleeting moments that we never knew were so important. Like sneaking out for the first time, blowing cigarette smoke off rooftops, making wishes into the starry night sky. It’s about not realizing that these small moments were actually big moments. It’s about missing moments that you had no idea would mean so much.

I think a lot of my struggles the last few months have something to do with how fiercely I cling to nostalgia like my favorite childhood blanket, in the hopes that it’ll all come back to me.

The thing is though, those memories do come back. Just not in the way I necessarily want them to.

They’ll come back to me when I am standing at the end of the aisle watching as one of my longest friends walks towards her husband-to-be and memories come flashing back about the first time we slept in tents outside, huddled around a bottle of vodka, telling stories of what we wanted for our lives. The moments will come back when you are sitting side by side an old friend and really see them for the first time. When you see how much of you is in them and vice versa. And how different would your life be had they not been there for all of the big things: for high school, college, and graduate school graduation. For all the times your family broke your heart and the times that the boy who they never approved of, came back and drove right over it, as if almost knowing you needed your heart to survive. Moments of the past will come back when you look at your beautiful baby sister and realize she is not a baby anymore. Not even close. It’ll be in saying goodbye to friends you grew up with and hoping and praying that living states apart won’t change a thing, but all the while knowing that it changes everything. And when these moments do come back, I’m learning that it’s all okay.

What I’ve found in my little hiatus from the world is this: maybe it’s okay to be a cliche. Maybe it’s okay to be just like any other 20 something millennial struggling to get by. Maybe it’s okay to say yes to guacamole on your burrito, even if you can barely afford your student loans. Maybe it’s okay to say no to plans because you need time to yourself to decompress. Maybe it’s okay to distance yourself from people. Maybe it’s okay to feel like you’re missing something. Maybe it’s okay to still not know what you want, to still not be engaged, or married, or have a kid on the way. Maybe it’s okay to be 27 and still renting, without having even let the thought of a mortgage cross your mind. It’s okay to be a 20 something cliche. In the end, it’s all okay. It will all be okay.

Dear 2015,

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

So, 2015, I’ll leave you with this –

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

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

With love,
Jackie