We’re all equipped with a Through Line; something we’re wonderful at and are meant to give to the world. While some people might suggest mantras or affirmations to learn a new internal language, it’s my FIRM belief that you can’t shift your self-talk without finding your Through Line first.
Learn how to define your Through Line: an important building block when it comes to tackling your negative self-talk. Today on the WANTcast, the #1 tool we’ve got on Women Against Negative Talk:
I grew up a sporadic yet impassioned journal writer. Long stretches of months would sometimes go by between entries, yet when they DID happen, the entries would always be pages long – usually smattered with pep-talks, observations, and comprehensive analyses of the world outside and inside of me (surprise, surprise). And although my journals rarely followed any sort of through line or linear story if read cover to cover, my younger self secretly envisioned them being discovered in an archaeological dig years in the future and serving some sort of important purpose. Therefore, I wrote a short bio in the beginning of each and every new book of blank pages.
What can I say? I was a history junkie with an active imagination.
Thinking big has always been in my DNA. My mind has never been able to wrap itself around the seedling of an idea without envisioning the entire oak tree standing tall and proud, providing shade and shelter and maybe even some pretty fall foliage. Even at a young age, my mind couldn’t envision Older Me not creating something bigger than myself and bigger than other usually dreamed. Case in point: my “bio” in my fifth grade journal read that I wanted to be a writer, actress, singer, model, artist, and teacher. I was only nine, but my head couldn’t fathom Older Me being linked to one single career and not using every single part of me to its fullest potential.
It’s normal to want to accomplish big goals – and normal to want them now. They’re just so damn attractive, and most of us (myself included) are so easily romanced that we think we’ve got this, no problem. Just like in any relationship, when you enter into a new idea, new job, or new circumstance, there’s this beautiful stage of initial excitement that you ride right away. But after the initial thrill, new excitement always morphs into one of three things: disinterest/disenchantment (in which case the situation falls away as something that was never meant to be), blind ego (in which case you start to take the thing you once revered for granted, as something you’re entitled to or inherently deserve)… or a grand love, a developed and nuanced deep love you want to keep learning from, one that keeps pushing you and challenging you to be the kind of person you’ve always known you were inside.
Going big right from the get-go rushes the process –
which robs you of the reward.
The ride that really takes you somewhere is more like a slow and steady river flow than a gush of water straight from the geyser…
Fun fact: I’ve been teaching fitness classes for a decade. I’ve taught to one person and I’ve taught to sixty. I’ve had the stereo system die in the middle of my class and lost all of my music (I started rapping. Not my most brilliant idea). I’ve had my bosses audit my classes and have been starstruck when a celeb-to-me walked on in looking to me to lead the way. I’ve, to my horror, slept through my alarm and missed work.
I’ve been reprimanded and I’ve been praised. I’ve been harassed and I’ve been asked for help I could not give. I’ve known everyone in the room and I’ve known no one.
And let me tell you, I am so grateful I didn’t get where I’m at now way too soon. Looking back, everything happened right when it needed to. Starting small and trusting my journey back then, step by step, allowed me to be fully present and soak in each and every lesson – and now enables me to keep my heart open to all the lessons I know are still to come. I am still a beginner. Aren’t we all?
Getting experience is not about a popularity contest, street cred, or gathering up a bunch of LinkedIn referrals. It’s about…well, experience. You won’t know what to do when you fall on your face until you actually do. You won’t know how to manage major transition until you have to.
Experience is less about your resume
and more about your ability to navigate a range of scenarios
with a fine cocktail of confidence, perspective, and humility.
Sometimes timing catches us off-guard, however – and we’re given huge opportunities out of the blue, when we’re just starting out on our journey. We’re thrust into the spotlight, lights glaring in our eyes, making us squint and struggle to see through spotted vision.
And when that happens, we must actively keep searching for chances to learn. We must seek out a strong foundation, even if the external looks big and grand. Because if not, we run the danger of burnout, overwhelm, or even worse – developing a character-damaging ego. We run the risk of being that person who gets pissed off when she makes a mistake instead of searches for a new opportunity from the rubble.
We run the risk of becoming complacent – and complacency is the place where dreams go to die.
III – Step now.
I look back on all my grand ideas and big dreams scribbled down in journals and I’m a little surprised at how spot on they all were. The only thing I had wrong, really, was the timing. There it is, tangible evidence of my intuition and vision hard at work. It was all meant to be. I just thought I was in control of WHEN it was meant to be. How glad I am I kept putting one foot in front of the other, always anticipating the next-best-thing around the corner and not stopping just because that next-best thing didn’t look exactly what I thought it would look like. Or even like a next-best-thing at all. Life is like one big game of Chutes and Ladders: sometimes we climb and sometimes we slide, but we all get to that finish line, because duh, we keep playing the game.
Starting small and growing from there is one of the biggest gifts you can give to yourself. If you’re doing it right, whatever “it” is, you will mess up or fall short. A lot. But if you are NOT feeling lost sometimes, if you’re NOT learning something new every day, if you’re NOT slightly doubting yourself on and off, if you’re NOT botching things up or falling flat on your face or screwing up unintentionally as you boldly move forward in spite of all that – and on the flipside, if you think you are above missteps or are too good to grow – then it’s not that important to you and your path anyway.
The best ideas and jobs aren’t sustained on an initial, huge gesture –
they’re sustained on the small steps forward you take now and every single day to grow, learn, and be a way that surpasses the day before.
I will always be a goal setter and a big dreamer. It’s in my nature. And I’ve learned, seeing the big picture and the grand oak tree – knowing where you want the journey to take you – is a strength that’s not to be discounted.
But just as important, if not more, are those small steps you take every single minute to help your ultimate dream materialize. Every single millisecond is a lesson in the making, every single mini-step strings together to lead you down the path you’re meant to forge. As a writer, actress, singer, model, artist, teacher, trainer, chemist, entrepreneur, designer, archaeologist, accountant, chef, creative, best friend, parent, sibling, spouse, leader, mentor, muse. Maybe even all the above.
You just have to make the first move – and then the next first move – and then all the next first ones after that.
Hi. It’s me. We haven’t met, but I feel like I know you. Scratch that – I know that I know you. And I don’t mean that in a pushy, I’ve-been-there-before-so-now-I-know-you-and-also-everything way. I mean that in the way that we all come from the same source, the same sisterhood, the same #rigged system that’s made us believe false truths throughout the ages that nothing we do will ever be enough.
I know you are struggling right now. With what, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s the job? The relationship status? The family or kids or lack thereof of both? As someone once said, “Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
But what I do know is this: your struggle is inflammed by the perceived expectations of the world around you.
To be kind, to be humble, to be gracious – to be boistrous, but not too much. To be soft, to be resilient, to be a leader, but not too much. To be heard, but not absorbed; to be wild, but at the same time tamed. This is the dichotomy of being a woman. Just a woman.
And to be a powerful woman – oh jeez! That is a task of itself, a dance more precise and more stress-sweat inducing than walking through eggshells. One misstep and the craaaaaaaaack of everything delicate below you rings loud in your ear. You must be bold. You must be brave. You must be a mind-reader and truth-teller but always know when and where your place is to say such things.
Success, you must learn, is relative. And success, you must say, is nothing but smoke and mirrors. But success, you must learn, is both the pinnacle of acceptance and the beginnings of lifelong critique. You are not kind enough, or humble enough, or gracious enough – or you’re boistrous, but way too much. No softness, too much resilience, too wild, too heard.
Because when you’re a powerful woman, you are a goddess unchained.
And everyone will have something to say.
I believe in you, lady. I believe in your grandness and your solitude, your quietness and your noise. I believe in the way you walk through the world, step by forceful step; the way you trip sometimes but always keep going. There are pebbles lodged in the soles of your shoes and dirt encrusted on the laces, relics from the places you’ve been and the things you have seen. Resist the urge to scrape them off. They belong there, they complete you – shoes were not meant to stay crisp and clean, in my opinion.
You have the answers you’re looking for, deep down. Whether they’ve made their way to the surface yet, TBD. You’re not supposed to wake up one day and know. But anyone who says they do or assumes the opposite is a liar.
Surprise, surprise: the hallmark of being a true adult is knowing that you will never know.
And so you, goddess unchained, you are grappling with the knowing and the not knowing and to that I say you’re doing it right. The world wants you to believe it expects you to know but all that is is a desperate plea to fill in the blanks. Blanks that are not yours to fill, blank spaces that aren’t meant to be filled in the first place.
But the last thing I want you to do, sweet friend, is get defensive and stew. How Dare They! How Dare This! The world is not conniving against you, the world just does not know. The world is a child, curious and stubborn. It’s wary of change. It wants to see what sticks. It wants to know what can be cuddled, and how hard, without being smothered. It wants to know what can be crushed, and how hard, without being broken. You don’t have to be the parent or sitter – but rather, the other curious child on the playground who is building sandcastles in the sand instead of eating it.
Nothing you do will ever be enough?
Everything you do is already enough, by the very nature that you’re doing it.
The world is reactive, so you must be proactive.
The world takes cues, so you must make your own.
I don’t want you to look down at the quicksand and say, How Dare They!
What I do want you to do is stand in the middle of the storm and exclaim with pride, How Dare I!
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I don’t usually write these kinds of things, but I’m staring at my computer screen blankly in the middle of a Maison Kayser with a too-pretty-to-drink splurge coffee in front of me while I wait for my laundry to be done at the local laundromat and this seems like a good place to start. It usually is.
When I started WANT, I made it very clear that this was not my personal blog. WANT isn’t even a blog at all – it’s a brand, a platform, part of which includes my work as a writer and activist when it comes to what it means to be a fully self-actualized woman in this world. I present personal work, I never work through personal work. It’s irresponsible of me to use this space as a venting ground or pretend like I’ve got answers about things that I don’t. It’s not my job to drag you down into the muck of my struggles. It IS my job to be fiercely honest and use my personal experiences to help lift you up into the you you know you’re meant to be.
And yet. And yet. Sometimes something comes along that is so grating, so disrespectful, and so widespread that I can’t just sit here quietly and watch it happen to literally every single woman I know. Because choosing to be a writer, artist, activist, and truth-teller means that you also choose to be someone who stands up.
I turned 30 this year. I’ve been living with my boyfriend for almost three years now. I’ve made my reflex (writing) my career (writer). I’ve moved across the country. I’m closer to 50 than I am to 5. I found six grey hairs this October.
Apparently, when you hit certain milestones in life – whether an age or life stage – it’s deemed acceptable (dare I say obligatory?) for others to grill you about your life choices. You know the questions. So when are you getting married? So do you want to have kids? Where do you see yourself in five years? And then, there are the questions you get as a creative: Have you thought about monetizing your “blog” yet? How do you make a living? Aren’t you worried about financial security? But what else do you do? Isn’t it time you joined the real world already? You know, I know a guy…
It’s not just the questions that start to roll in, it’s the opinions and advice along with them. You’re not getting any younger. You’re going to regret it. You don’t know what you’re saying. You should try this other thing. I’ve got a friend of a friend who does this and says that, so maybe you should make that happen. Have you thought about making that happen?
On behalf of all women everywhere (because it also seems as if women get this wonderful privilege of their lives being publicly owned property to own stock in) I’d like to say:
I’ve had to learn the hard way (is there any easy way?) that knowing thyself doth not make you immune to others assuming that they doth know better. Marriage, kids, career, location, LIFE. When I was in my teens and early twenties, I thought the key to living a life free of worry and judgement was to know myself so well that being anyone else was out of the question. But as I grew older – especially as I started to inch toward the big three-zero – I realized something bizarre: for as much as we tout self-knowledge and fulfillment in theory, our society still views the individual opinion as a threat. After all the books and memes and self-help podcasts, we’re still out there judging our women for not following a path that looks familiar to our own. Just like recognizing one woman’s beauty does not lessen yours, one woman following her own path does not invalidate you following yours.
And yet. And yet. We preach the self-love gospel and urge each other to follow the beat of our own drum while at the same time judging the way we do it. We tell our kids from a very young age to trust their gut and “be themselves,” but with no guidebook to do so, we’re left with the daunting task of becoming human and becoming whole. It’s no wonder the quarter life crisis, mid-life crisis, Saturn Return, et al have become so widely embraced by our culture. We’re trying to teach ourselves to swim, while simultaneously trying to follow the directions of the people who aren’t in the water, yelling at us from the shore. We’re drowning in opinion.
The most baffling thing is how at ease others are at asking the questions or forcing the discussion of topics that are usually saved as “serious conversation” topics between the people they directly affect.
Before this relationship, I was single for five years. Five years. Contrary to what others might tell you about singledom, they were some of the best five years of my life. I got to know myself in a way I never had before. I honed my passions and found new ones. I became, for the most part, the person I am now. I think everyone should spend a good deal of time single, because it is the very best way to learn who you are at the end of the day. I loved that process.
And yet. And yet. My inbox was flooded with messages from extended-extended-extended family members trying to set me up with their rich friend’s son. While I was finding my way in the editorial world, the number one question I got was whether I was dating or not. And when I began teaching fitness classes and was really, truly figuring out what I was meant to do and give, I will never forget the family friend who instead of asking questions about why I loved it or what I was learning, grilled me about what I wanted to do with my life and made a disapproving comment about how I “wasn’t going to be an ‘exercise girl’ for the rest of” my life. During a time when I was becoming increasingly self-confident and self-expressed, that comment shot through me and sent me sinking back into my own ocean of self-doubt.
Now, the comments and questions look different. Questions about marriage. Questions about kids. Career “advice.”
Oh, the career “advice.”
On one hand, there are people who confuse my professional writing with a personal blog and like to make all kinds of assumptions/ask very intrusive and personal questions because of it. I think this happens across the board on the internet, whether it be a website, blog, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever: whereas the people I’ve met through the internet have become some of my closest, most treasured relationships, there are people who know me in real life who use what I share online to make assumptions about who I am offline.
On the other hand, there are people who think that running my own business and career is “cute.” They see it as an opportunity to crowd source how to run it best, a chance to tell me about their friend who does such-and-such and about how I should really try doing that instead. I guess that, for some people, it’s unthinkable that I’ve actually put deep thought and hard work into this. For some people, it’s laughable that I’m doing something real, that I’m making real change, and most of all – that I am in charge.
Amongst the female freelancers and entrepreneurs I’ve talked to (and I’ve talked to a lot), there is this common thread of not being taken seriously. Our professions are seen as hobbies, our work viewed as wishy-washy. And then, of course, when people don’t understand or exhaust their advice options, they jump straight to the questions that let you know they see your life as partially empty. So when you getting married? So when you having kids? The cycle repeats and repeats. So much energy wasted on convincing others we’re right where we need to be and we’ve got this.
The thing is, most people don’t believe they’re being judgy. They believe they’re sharing their knowledge, they believe they’re being supportive even. They believe they’re offering solutions, and they believe they’re letting you know they want the best for you. They believe they’re making conversation, sometimes. They believe they’re not imposing, and they believe they know where you are and where you’ve been. They believe they know.
But to the people who ask these questions: How much do YOU know? How much do you know, really?
When you ask a woman if she thinks her parter is “The One,” you have no idea if they’re floating on air or if they’re struggling to make each other a priority. When you ask a woman if she’s going to have kids, or worse, ask a married woman if “she’s trying” (which is basically just asking if she and her SO are doing it constantly, or going through the difficult and costly process of IVF or a surrogate – and don’t even get me started on all the questions and judgements that I’ve heard go along with adoption process), you have zero clue as to what kind of emotional baggage that brings up, or if she’s going through a miscarriage, or if she’s feeling distraught because she doesn’t really know if she wants kids yet and that sense of uncertainty scares the crap out of her. When you ask a woman where she wants to be in five years or tell her she should really turn her talent into her profession or comment about how she should be doing things differently, you might not realize she lays awake at night struggling to make ends meet or is busting her ass trying to make money at the thing she loves. You have NO CLUE how much work is or is not going on behind the scenes.
Here’s what I would love to say to these people:
Look. I know you care. I think you care. At least, I’d like to think you care. In an ideal world, we’d all care greatly about one another and support each others’ rise up into our own unquestionably unique life story. But the thing is, I know it’s not really that you care about me. It’s that you care about your relationship to the construct of me. I also know it’s easier to live vicariously through someone else’s experiences than completely own up to and focus on your own. I also know that you not treating these topics with the weight that I do – as in, they’re mine and mine alone – signals you do not respect my answer either way. You do not respect my answer, period. You’re simply hungry for information, hungry for ammo, craving the excitement of being “in the know” or in some cases “knowing better.” You want an in with me that I do not consent to giving to you.
How do you think asking about marriage makes us feel about this very personal, very private decision that WE have only discussed in a series of “serious conversations”? How do you think your attempts to get me paired off with your coworker’s nephew makes me feel about my ability to find love on my own? Do you know how much pressure I feel when you ask if I’m going to have kids, and when I say I’m unsure and you immediately try and “sway” my uterus and I into impending childbirth? Do you have any idea how many nos or non-responses I’ve received during the course of my career, or the late nights I’ve worked to push something out because I’m running a business, not a hobby?
Moreover, do you realize what a slight this is to me? Prying into how I live my life tells me you do not care about the decades I’ve spent getting to know myself and the person I strive to be. Prying into how I live my life tells me my self-knowledge does not matter. Imagine how it feels, after years and years of learning how to “be myself” and “trust my gut,” to be the subject of your prying questions, your assumptions, your unsolicited advice, and the subtext of it all telling me that I can be myself as long as I okay it with you first.
If you’re one of those people who cannot stop speculating or has this great idea or has “just got to ask” – DON’T.And no, “not asking” is not tiptoeing around anything or walking on eggshells. Just. Don’t.
Here’s what you can do: Ask other questions. Ask someone how they are in their head and heart. How are they physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
I promise you, if there’s information they want you to know, they’ll offer it up. But if they don’t, you’ve got to be comfortable with not knowing. And if you’re not comfortable NOT being what you consider to be in-the-know? You might do better by asking yourself why you DO need to be.
As a writer, I make my living (or at least a portion of it, for now) by sitting still and letting the entirety of me hit me like a tidal wave. I love nothing more than to sit alone, still and quiet, on a cloudy afternoon or late at night and use my HSPness to its fullest capacity. I’ve come to be such close sisterfriends with vulnerability that I simply call her Sheer Honest Living. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating. It’s me.
I will never stop exposing myself, my truths, and the truths of the world around me I so painstakingly explore and tune into. And yet…and yet. I will always share what is personal and never what is intimate. I will fiercely live my life the way I know how, because I’ve spent a lifetime learning how I function, and my public Sheer Honest Living in the personal realm gives no one permission to use my openness as their “in” to the intimate realm. I allow myself to be hit with the tidal wave because I know how to swim.
And to you reading this? You know how to, too. I know you do. You are a badass. You are a superstar. Whatever you are doing with your life, wherever you are in life, whoever you’re doing it with. I support you a zillion percent.
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This weekend, I went home to Los Angeles for the very first time since I’d moved to New York. Driving through the city in the daylight, I was immediately reminded of how MASSIVE Los Angeles is – not massive like New York is, in stature and borderline-overwhelming energy, but spread out and spread thin like a sheet of sprinkle-cookie dough rolled out a little bit too many times. Smoothed over, thinned out, and just the right amount of variety to make it interesting. It all seems familiar and slightly askew at the same time. I open Waze for the first time since leaving, because if you don’t own a car in NYC this app is useless. An hour and a half from LAX to the Valley. There it is. I remember now.
I feel older in LA than when I left, and it’s not just because I celebrated my 30th birthday one month ago. I have this feeling in my gut that something is off, something has changed…something isn’t what it used to be. Are the buildings a fresh color? Is that construction on the ever-elusive cross-city Metro line finally completed? Has the drought gotten better, or worse? In no part of my mind do I think I am the thing that’s changed. I try and remember what the billboards looked like the day I left.
I surprise one of my best friends on the way home and she cries a little. I almost fall asleep in the car (don’t worry, I’m not driving). I reach my parents’ house, the house I grew up in, and I try to remember if there were always that many cars and if there was always that much road separating me from them. It seems like so much now.
I notice things I didn’t before while I’m home. The way the streets curve. The smell of the backyard in the morning. The distance. Oh my goodness, the distance. Has LA always been this spread out and spread thin? Walking from the gym’s parking garage into the doors even seems extraneous, like, why is it all that far apart? Why do I see less people in a mile here than I do in a block in the West Village? It’s so sparse. They must all be on the freeway.
I have a strange urge to stay put while I’m in town. Which, for me, isn’t normal. I remember wanting to get away, get away, get away when I was here before. Or rather, explore explore explore. Hiking the canyons. Driving to the beach. Organizing my day so it flowed seamlessly, like a roadmap, from my bed to the street and back to my bed again by the end of the night. Fitting as much in as you can at once. Out all day then back. Because anyone in LA knows that if you come home in the middle of the day, there’s very little chance you’ll be going back out again. It’s one or the other. I feel inclined this time to stay close to home.
It’s not that I don’t want to see people. It’s just that I am slowly trying to navigate myself here again. People told me before I left that I wouldn’t be able to come back unchanged and I start to believe them for the first time. How is it I can feel like the same person but so different all at once? Why is it that I can’t pinpoint what’s changed? I scan the buildings and the billboards and look for a sign they’ve shifted since I was last there.
I drive through The Valley and give J a tour of my childhood (for those not familiar with LA: the San Fernando Valley, aka the place Cher goes to that house party in Clueless, aka “over the hill,” aka the region where Encino Man takes place). That’s where I took art classes, that’s where my elementary school was. I drive from one end of the Valley to the other and for a good few blocks in Tarzana and Reseda I try and remember if it always looked this way. More of it looks like a relic of the past than I remember. I try and decide if was built that way and I’m just noticing now or what. I settle on believing that that’s it. I can’t really start to grasp the difference and so I try to ignore it…
And then I put on my dress I brought for my cousin’s wedding and I feel really, truly beautiful. But it’s not an external type of beauty, even though the dress is killer and my date’s a knockout. It’s a confidence I haven’t registered till now, and a change in posture I haven’t thought about. Maybe it’s because I’m not in a car all of the time anymore? Maybe it’s because I’m not constantly going somewhere – because I can go home any time I want? I exclaim to J on the way to the venue “I feel GREAT!” and I struggle to verbalize why so I say maybe it’s the dress and maybe it’s the confidence.
But I know it’s not the dress. As I hug-attack my aunts and uncles and cousins, and tell people I haven’t seen in years that I’ve moved to New York, and I watch their expressions tell me that that was not the answer they were expecting when asking What’s New With You, I know there is now a Thing that separates me from them. My entire life up until now has felt like such a shared experience. We’re all from the same place, we all know the same parts, we’re all up to date with the same people. Even the old friends, they’re in on it too. And talking to them I realize I feel as if I’m back from a secret journey only I know about. Trying to explain it is both weird and comforting at the same time. Like, I still don’t quite feel like an adult and that’s okay because I truly believe that’s the hallmark of a true adult, but I feel like a grown-up for the first time ever. And I realize they’ve been on their own journey too, and even though I know the places and parts and people, I am NOT here and the space HAS changed and the buildings HAVE been painted and old things HAVE closed and new things HAVE opened and I can’t go share in someone else’s life’s setting by just driving a few freeway exits away any time I choose. Theirs is theirs and mine is mine, we’re separate but equal. I finally feel what’s shifted, and it’s the complete ownership of my own story.
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I didn’t know what I would do. I didn’t know where I would be. But I knew, in my heart, I was here to make a difference. And to me, there was no better indication that you’d “made it” than seeing your name beside 29 other change-makers who were yet to hit the 1/3rd of life mark.
If I’m being honest, I really wanted to be a 25 under 25. THIS would have really been making it, I thought. Some people have quarter-life crises. I’ll have a quarter-life celebration instead!
But really…if I’m being TRULY honest…I was really hoping that by some miraculous turn of events…I’d beat ’em all to the punch and score a 20 under 20 spot. THESE were the “fresh-faced youth” that were “changing the world;” the ones I knew would be leaders that lasted my lifetime. I remember being at sleep-away camp when I was 11 years old, and literally tripping over a copy of my bunkmate’s Teen Magazine. I looked down and locked eyes with the cover stars, the “Teens To Watch.” I’ll be like them one day, I told myself…
I think all ambitious kids do it. Probably moreso if they’re a creative of some sort. I was an early bloomer in a lot of ways. I was drawing faces and shapes before most of my friends could hold a crayon. I devoured books and educational cassette/video tapes, which got me enunciating eloquently before I even knew what either of those words meant. I instinctively looked inward instead of facing outward, and I had a habit of self-examining even when it was scary to do so.
But when it came to stereotypical “success”…I don’t know. Most of my life, success had always been defined as being “the best” fill-in-the-blank. The best artist, the best singer, the best actress, the best daughter, the best partner, the best friend, the best at life. There were only two kinds of people – the prodigies and then everyone else. If you’re not striving to be a wunderkind, the world asked me, then what was the hell are you even doing?
And so being successful, for me, became more about being liked than being myself. I tied my worth to my praise, and my praise to my victories, and my victories to my worth, and back around again. If I could only make one of those Under lists, I thought, I would have concrete proof I’d “made it.”
Welp, I’m one day away from 30, and I’m not on any under-30 list. I’ve passed through 25, 20, and teendom, and in no age range or scenario have I ever been touted by anyone as someone “To Watch.” I’m yet to know the feeling of a global pedestal, and if Oprah or Forbes hasn’t called by now, there’s not a good chance they’re gonna show up in the next 24 hours.
What I’ve gotten in the last thirty years, though, is way better than my name on some list of people roughly around my own age (and the subsequent pressure you inevitably feel to maintain that “buzz” as you move from Person To Watch to actually being watched). I’ve built a person. A living, breathing, beautiful, flawed, brilliant, WHOLE person. Instead of being caught up in accomplishments, I’ve built a solid base of fulfillment. My refusal to conform to what might be normal – everything from career plans to dating – has brought me the kind of success you can’t see. The kind of success that stops me in my tracks and makes me think, “Holy crap, how did I even get here?” That sort of success isn’t tied to a paycheck, a person, or a nod of approval. It’s the kind of success that only I really truly know, because it’s the feeling of knowing myself on such a deep level that I know I can weather both the highest highs and the lowest lows.
That’s not to say entering my Third Decade comes without butterflies, though. I remember when I was ending my freshman year of high school, I feared entering into my sophomore year and blending into the crowd. I was known as one of the “cool” freshmen (read: not-actually-stereotypically-cool-in-the-way-freshmen-think-they’re-cool) in the theatre clique, and feared that my unexpectedness was what made me exciting. Without being known for being way more “mature” than a normal ninth grader, what was I?
Now, the same types of fears bubble up – I’m just more mindful about how I approach them. My ties to the idea of “youth” are not so much linked to the aging process as to whether or not I’m still…cringe…special. Almost all my close friends are a good five to fifteen years older than I am. I’ve been told my entire life that I’m an old soul and so much more mature “for my age.” So what happens now? What if I blend in? What am I if I’m no longer an exception to the rule?
I’ll tell you what I am. I am not held back, that’s what I am. I am not using my age as a crutch or as a reason someone else should like me. I know now I can fill that head-and-heart space with something much more productive to love about myself. I am not my age, I am my soul. I am not an exception, I am my own rule.
I might not be leaving my twenties on any fancy-schmancy list, but honestly, I don’t care anymore. I don’t need a list to approve of my trajectory, and I don’t need to feed into the idea that in order to be Great, I need to be The Best. Because really, there is no “Best.” And as Sarah Robb O’Hagan brilliantly states in this video, this sort of “Participation Award” culture of awarding greatness by decade creates a false notion that there IS actually a Best and that Best is on a timeline, one that’s becoming increasingly shorter.
I want to live on my own timeline. And I want to live the life that’s the Best for me. End of story.
In the meantime, I have learned a few things to get me started…
30 Lessons In 30 Years: A Non-Exhaustive List
1) ASK FOR HELP, and take people up on their offers when they offer to help. I’ve learned that if I don’t know how to do something…it’s not that I WON’T do it, but I get tripped up over not knowing HOW to execute, it’s that I move SO slow. There’s a difference between moving slow and being cautious, and moving slow out of fear. I move slow out of fear. I finally came to terms with my natural way of being, but instead of sulking about it, I now immediately do something to counteract it. Now I know that just because my default is to act one way (slow, fearful, solo), doesn’t mean I need to make a drastic change to move forward in work or life…I just need to ask for help when I’m feeling on shaky ground.
2) In the words of the musical Rent, FORGET REGRET. Regret is a useless – and fabricated – emotion. How absolutely freeing it feels to live without regrets. Regret, to me, is a byproduct of a forgiveness and empathy deficit. When you’re able to forgive and have empathy for others, you’re able to learn forgiveness and empathy for yourself (and vice versa). You realize you were making the best choice you could in the circumstance you were in. LISTEN: On Listening As Service With Ben Mathes
3) If you own or lease a car, know the dates and costs to anticipate. Smog checks (your DMV renewal will have a notification on it – all you need to do is find a gas station or service outpost that says “Smog Check” and they’ll know what to do), drivers license renewal, car payments, and if you’re leasing, disposition fee. Knowing these won’t make the costs go away, but they WILL make you a lot less surprised when they pop up (and provide a little more impetus to keep some “shit happens” money lying around).
5) Keep a journal. A written, pen-to-paper journal. Write notes back and forth with your friends, and save them when you can. They’re like relics of who you once were and how you came to be.
6) Friendships are born EVERYWHERE. Don’t worry about so much about making your closest friends in your age group, career field, school, what-have-you. Community can come from ANYWHERE. And also, It’s okay not to have a stereotypical “best” friend – or a lot of friends. You will find your people, but only if you’re committed to being your own “person” above all else (instead of trying to fit in with someone else). READ: Being Afraid Of The Friends That You Need
7) Be kind to people – all people. Or at the very least, empathize, because we’re all human. Cynicism, backstabbing, manipulating, and just plain making fun of others are all things that get under my skin. I’ve been on the receiving end of all four, and more. It was hard to be kind sometimes. But kindness has always gotten me farther – and doesn’t leave me with that sick feeling in my stomach that I’m sending out negative energy to someone else in this world. Pettiness and negativity fester in the body, and letting them live out in the world is very different than letting them GO. You can be kind to people while still being firm, direct, and self-protective. Kindness is only a liability when it’s an excuse to not stand up for yourself. Saying no and being kind are not mutually exclusive. Speaking up and being kind are not mutually exclusive.
8) You can appreciate the advice of those you love without feeling like you should (or NEED to) take it. The people you love want what’s best for you. And what’s best for you is usually the least risk-averse option. Or maybe it’s not the least risky, but it’s the option they’d do in your position. Or maybe they wouldn’t do it per se, but it will lead you to be the person THEY want you to be. It could be a parent or a romantic partner. What is right for someone else isn’t always right for you, and vice versa. That doesn’t mean either option is “wrong.”
9) “Vulnerability” is your greatest asset. Show your entire self to the world.
10) The reality of the situation at hand is different than the emotions you associate with it. Feel it all, but learn to separate the two.
11) Learn to listen to your body, even when it would be easier to listen to a friend, or magazine article, or even a doctor. Tapping into how my body feels has been one of my biggest successes of my life so far. Your body never lies.
13) Read things that make your brain flex, listen to music that makes your heart hurt, watch films that make you think deeply. It’s exercise for your soul.
14) Love is so much more complicated than it seems. Surface level compatibility is awesome, calling you out on your shit should be a given. You want someone who is in the ring with you no matter what – sans jealousy, codependency, or worst of all, conditions.
15) In the words of Michael Pollan, “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” The only modification I have to this is…don’t let society tell you what is too little or too much. Our bodies are ALL different – different activity levels, physiological make-up, etc. – so we all need different amounts of energy to live our lives. READ: Defining Diet On Your Own Terms
17) It’s okay to not want to let go, or be scared to let go – but don’t be so scared of the unknown and the other side of letting go that you DON’T let go. Just because you’ve invested in something for a really long time doesn’t mean you’re indebted to it.
18) Be proactive, not reactive.
19) We all learn the same lessons, just not at the same times.
20) Family, blood AND chosen, are the most important. What constitutes family? They’ve got your back no matter what (and you’ve got theirs).
21) The hardest (and scariest) things to do are usually the right ones.
26) When it comes to your career, do you. If you want to switch jobs, cool. If you like working in an office, cool. If you work better from home, cool. If you’re someone who thrives off of multiple odd jobs for maximum happiness, amazing. There is no one archetype for professional (or personal) success.
27) You don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. Do what’s right for you. And just because someone else is doing it (and you’re not) is not a reflection on your worth as a human being.
28) Don’t drastically change something about yourself to follow a trend. Physical or otherwise. Very thankful for my thick eyebrows now, but I wasn’t in 1998.
30) Your life is not a clock to beat. Remember those game shows where participants would have to rush through a maze while there was a clock counting down the seconds in the background? Way too many of us live our lives that way. Everyone is on their own unique path. Just because your friends are getting married or having babies or are CEOs of their businesses DOESN’T mean you have to “keep up” by checking off those boxes yourself. When you honor your own timeline and move forward fearlessly on that path, your life opens up in ways you’d never ever expect.
WANT Yourself: Which one of these lessons resonated with you the most?
If you’re over 30, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
And under-30s…what’s the ONE thing you want to work on the most in this decade you’re in?
Shoot me a comment below – I’ll consider it my birthday present :) I love you all.
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