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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When I was little, there was a woman who would come over and help take care of me. Her name was Yvette.
Yvette was short in comparison to my mother, but to me, she was just the perfect height for my death-grip hugs. Her short brown hair fell in soft waves that skimmed her kind, present face and almond eyes that sparkled with mischief. Her skin was flawless, her makeup enhancing everything about her feisty, fun-loving, soft yet unmistakably pronounced features. She smelled like florals and Calvin Klein Obsession and adventure. Her chin was clefted just like mine.
As the story would go, Yvette would take me out to run errands with her and people would think I was hers. We shared the same high cheekbones, the same almond eyes, the same clefted chin and curious nature. Even as a small child, I could tell Yvette and I were so much alike. She’d babysit my brother and I but was never a “babysitter” – she was more like extended family coming over to hang. At night, she’d change into “fancy” clothes and I’d watch her do her makeup in the vanity’s mirror. “Are you going on a hot date?” I used to tease. “You’re such a party animal.” We’d laugh and I’d watch her curl her eyelashes and spray her hair into a defined shape on top of her head. My parents would get home, I’d hug her goodbye, and she was off to her mystery evening out in the world way beyond my little West Valley cul-de-sac. She smelled like florals and Calvin Klein Obsession and adventure. If I hugged her long enough, sometimes it would linger on my nightgown. We were so much alike. I never knew where she really went.
When I was twelve years old, I got my period for the first time. It was the day of the seventh grade Disneyland trip, a once-a-year opportunity they gave to the kids at school who had been accepted into the honors program. I learned how to use a pad on the spot (no pun intended) and had a blast at Disneyland with the added bonus of knowing I was 2% more mature and “adult” than I had been the night before. This period thing is no big deal, I thought. Why do people make such a big deal of it?
Well, I found out the next day why people made such a big deal of it. On the bus ride home, I was doubled over in pain from the debilitating cramps I was experiencing for the very first time ever. I slouched down and buried myself in fetal position between my seat and the seat in front of me, the girls around me rubbing my back and looking on in concern. None of us knew what was going on. None of us had dealt with this before.
A friend of mine, bless her soul, walked me home through the rain, except I needed to tie my rain coat over my waist as I’d made the rookie mistake of not accounting for “second day flow.” As I turned my key into the door, drenched in rain and my own tears, I prayed someone would be home…
The door opened before I could get the key through. It was Yvette. Mortified, I showed her my jeans. She looked at me with the kind of empathy that only older, wiser women who have “been there” possess, and she hugged me tight as I replayed my quintessential seventh-grade-female horror story over and over in my brain. She smelled of flowers and Calvin Klein and adventure, and somehow her hugs made my foreign cramps begin to ease. Nothing could hurt that much for that long while she was around.
She was at my sixth grade graduation. She was at my first theatre performance. I remember the exact moment of Princess Diana’s car crash and how traumatic it was to the world, and it’s all because Yvette turned on the TV and let me watch with her, like two sisters sitting side by side watching history happen. When I came home from college one winter, after not seeing her for quite some time, she was lounging on the couch laughing and drinking wine with my mom just like they’d always done. It was close to Christmas. She gave me a necklace. She was dressed up to go somewhere, except that “somewhere” was here and the adventure was now. Yvette was there for everything.
Until one day, she wasn’t. We know she’d moved to live near her sister, and we know at some point she was out of the country to help a sick family member. But that’s all we know. Or what we think we know. It all blurs together now. We used to talk on the phone every few months, then every few months became holidays and birthdays, then holidays and birthdays became every year at some point in time.
And then one day, the calls stopped. The phone number we’d been using had been disconnected. That’s it. One day, just gone.
I never knew where she really went.
Loss is a funny thing. Not funny ha-ha, but funny as in it gives you that sour feeling in your stomach and aching feeling in your heart that you hate you can place.
With death, it’s finite. It’s devastating and in some of the worst cases unexpected. It leaves you with dark blank space and a piece of the puzzle that is your heart ripped out and gone forever. Death is obvious and brutal.
But what about the kind of loss that isn’t so finite? What about the characters that come into our lives, making a profound impact, then vanish without so much as a heads up or warning sign?
I think about loss every day. I’ve come to learn this a blessing and a curse when you’re a highly sensitive and self-aware soul. On one hand, I’m constantly reminding myself of the fleeting nature of things. This couch. This room. This kiss. This look. This street. This weather. This moment. On the other hand, I’m filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the littlest and biggest and even the most mediocre middlest-of-the-road things.
From the outside, to people who don’t really know me, I can see how my ever-present gratitude might come off as overly-consistent enthusiasm or doe-eyed naiveté about how the world really works. But I know better. I know the high highs don’t come without the low lows, and every brightest light has a darkest dark. I walk through life constantly balancing the two; I celebrate and mourn simultaneously.
So how does it work, then? When you want to see someone so badly but don’t even know where to start? When you miss something so fiercely, but can barely describe what you’re missing anymore? It’s not a thing, it’s not an action. I miss the feelings. I miss the presence. I miss her being there.
I found Yvette a while ago on Facebook. At least I think it was her. I recognized her sister’s name on her “Friends” list, and her nephew too. There was no profile picture.
I wrote her a message with shaky hands. I used the nickname I’d made for her as a child.
“Ya-Ya? Is this you?”
I waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, six months later, I saw a notification under my message.
My message had been read…two weeks prior. I hated the thought that entered my mind, and I hated that it could be right.
What if she doesn’t want to be found?
Loss happens in so many ways. In death, in relationships, in friendships, in people disappearing. But we also lose parts of ourselves along our journey. We lose who we were, become who we are.
That kind of loss usually happens in three ways. In Option A, we go through metamorphosis – those old parts informing the new-and-improved version of us we’re presenting to the world. The old parts of us are still there, just in different forms. The butterfly still has the eyes of the caterpillar; the bird still the same beak of the fuzzy chick.
But if we’re not self-aware, Option B comes in. The old us simply…vanishes. In Option B, we wake up one day and have become unrecognizable to ourselves. Option B terrifies me to the core.
And then sometimes, there’s a third option. In Option C, we lose ourselves intentionally in order to create the new someone we know we need to be.
I vote for Option A. I will always be Team Option A. But that doesn’t mean I have the right to force it on others and pretend like I know their story.
Is Option C necessary for some, I wonder? Is my intense self-awareness blinding me to the fact that some people NEED to consciously wipe the slate clean to get a fresh new start? I’d like to think that we are handed our good times AND bad all for a reason, and each moment is a learning opportunity and chance to grow into the person we know we’re meant to be, and that Option A is the rightest option there is, plain and simple…
But some people aren’t there. Some people need to forget to let go. And we cannot fault them for it. We are all on our unique journeys through this lifetime, and learn the same exact lessons, just not at the same exact times. We don’t even learn them in the same exact WAYS. Sometimes we lose people in our lives because they need to go find themselves in theirs.
There’s not a week that goes by I don’t miss Yvette. I wish I could call her, I wish I could tell her about New York. I wish I could joke about us going out and hitting the town, but really just have her visit and come over and drink wine and laugh on my couch. I wish we could reminisce about the time she was there for me when I walked home in the rain, I wish we could remember about when big history-making happenings happened, I wish she could remind me of things I said or did that I’ve long forgotten about now. I wish she could meet my boyfriend, I wish she could learn my life. I wish I could see that she’s happy.
But I can’t. All the above is me thinking of myself, of my own journey and the way I do things. And my journey is my own to be accountable for, just like Yvette’s is all her own. We cannot create opinions about someone else’s story based on how we want them to fit into ours.
Who knows what seeing my Facebook message might have brought up for her, if that was in fact her? I will never know. I never knew where she went after leaving my cul-de-sac, and I never knew where she went after that last voicemail I remember receiving around the time of my 19th birthday over a decade ago. I need to be at peace knowing that the time we spent together was beautiful and funny and warm and it served its purpose to show us off onto our separate ways.
I do know that wherever she is, she is discovering her own journey and learning who she is meant to be, and has been all along. I am able to both mourn the loss of her in my life, but hope that there’s cause to celebrate the presence of her own self in hers. Because she was lightness personified. I always saw it. I’m not sure she did. I can only hope her eyes have been opened to her brilliance. She sparkled with mischief. Her chin was clefted just like mine.
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Something I’m realizing now more than EVER is the power of community. I don’t mean your best-best-best friends. I don’t mean your family. I mean the familiar faces that dapple your life – the friends, acquaintances, business partners, even grocery store clerks you bond with on a weekly, even daily basis.
“Home” and “community” are synonymous to me. When we’re searching for “our peeps,” we’re really searching for a place to call home.
And we can’t find home if we don’t know what we’re worth.
Since community – nay, HOME – is at the top of my mind as of late, it’s only fitting that today’s episode is with community builder extraordinaireAudrey Bellis.
Audrey is a FORCE OF NATURE (as we learned last month!). A first-generation Latina, she’s is shaping the future of Los Angeles, and specifically, Downtown LA by fostering the startup and tech communities as a founder of StartupDTLA and as a cofounder ofGRID110. Not only that, she’s linking creative female entrepreneurs as the founder of Worthy Women. Mayor Garcetti’s office honored her as 1 of 5 “Inspiring Latinas of LA” and TechOutLA named her “a key player in the Eastside/DTLA tech movement.” If there’s anyone who knows how to create community and make a collective impact as visionary women in the world, it’s this stunner.
In this episode, we dive deep into knowing your body and healing past trauma, why owning your worth is so important in everything from business to friendships, Audrey’s crazy medical complications that gave her a huge wake up call (and her sort of Eat Pray Love experience that helped facilitate that), and why it’s so important that we’re never, ever, ever done with the work, even if we think we’ve reached success or that we know it all.
We also talk building community, making new friends as an adult, finding the people who we connect with on the deepest levels (which can be hard!), and so much more.
HEADS UP: this episode contains graphic descriptions of Audrey’s health scare. So if you’re squeamish, you might want to skip over the part about 15 or so mins in where she’s talking about the bathtub. We don’t shy away from anything here on WANT – it’s so important to me that these podcasts tell unedited, unglossy stories (because life is unedited and unglossy).
Like this episode? Shoot me a comment below,leave a review on iTunes (the more reviews, the more Audrey’s message is spread), share it onFacebook, tweet it out on Twitter, or post it onInstagram. Be sure to use the hashtags #WANTcast, #womenagainstnegativetalk, and/or #WANTyourself!
I stared at him from across the table, oh-so-movie-perfectly as our apathetic diner waitress doled out our 6pm omelette and breakfast burrito. Two days and fourteen apartments later, round one of our search for the “perfect” NYC pad was closing out with a lackluster finish. As life-long West Coasters, my boyfriend and I knew looking for a home in New York would be different…we just didn’t realize how different.
How many times throughout the week do we play the “If Only” game? If only I had a higher budget, I could afford that apartment. If only I had a tech team, I could crush the online game. If only I looked like that, I could avoid feeling like this. If Onlys (which I’ll refer to as IOs from here on out) hold us in a loop of constant longing, constantly believing that our happiness is way far out of reach.
It doesn’t help that we live in a consumer culture that’s basically alive and thriving because of IOs. If only you were richer? Welp, if you pay your dues to our organization, we’ll help you make millions in a month! If only you were thinner? Here, try this branded diet and you’ll drop down to your slimmest size ever.
I know that positive affirmations alone – think looking at yourself in the mirror and saying I Am Abundant! I Am Beautiful! – work fab for some people. But me? I’m not one of them. I can definitely fake the “fake it ’till you make it,” but I’ve found that even if I do start to believe I Am Abundant or I Am Beautiful, then a crappy day hits and I’m right back where I started. Because for me, positive affirmations don’t cut it without a solid base to make them work. And for most of us, it’s Ironman-level difficult to “affirmation” our way out of a feeling like worthlessness, shame, or lack that cuts super deep.
And so when our fourteen-apartment blitz ended forty-eight hours after landing at JFK with maybe one or two “ok options” to speak for the experience, all the “Our place is out there!”s we’d both been spouting off to one another (coupled with our morning obsession with ritual of checking StreetEasy over jazz music and a cup of coffee) didn’t feel so affirmative whilst sitting at that diner emotionally depleted and physically exhausted.
I realized that I had been completely ignoring a concept I implement in the rest of my life, that I somehow thought I could cast aside in this “dream experience”: Circumstantial Happiness.
Circumstantial happiness is recognizing your situational limits and then asking yourself how you can be as happy, content, fulfilled, or successful with the cards you’ve been dealt.
To be clear: circumstantial happiness is NOT settling, and it’s not NOT striving. It’s believing and knowing that there *is* another step out there on the grand staircase of life, but right now you’re just learning how to climb this one. You’re working within a very specific circumstance (hence the name), and that circumstance is not going to change any time soon. How can you not only make the very best of it, but more importantly, how can you reach the very top of that stair step so that when the next one comes about, you will be ready?
Creating WANT, and constantly working on ways to make it bolder, braver, and better has been a huge practice in aiming for circumstantial happiness. I’ve got my long-term goals for WANT, sure – but currently, the work is pretty much on me. I have no tech team, I have no PR rep. I’ve got consultants who’ve answered (or asked) the hard questions, sound engineer friends (holla, Roger and Chris!) who’ve helped with the pod, and bawse like-minded women who have been more than generous with their advice and support (three cheers for women uplifting other women; we’re all in this together). But when it comes down to implementing the code, making the page, writing the post, all that jazz? It’s on me. And I am so glad it is.
Sometimes it’s easy to feed the IO beast – usually when I think about all I could do with a semblance of a budget. What if I could afford a WANT team – even an assistant? What if I was a master photographer or expert coder and could bang out work in half the time? What if I had PR help or knew blah blah blah blah blah? Ooof, just typing it all out feels toxic. BECAUSE IT IS. Living in the IOs doesn’t just stunt our growth, it acts to reinforce the heinously poisonous notion that we’re always being left behind.
Because this is my now – being scrappy, bootstrapping, relying on the kindness of community and the power of perseverance – I am learning important lessons about what I will and will not tolerate. I am learning about how many or few fcks I give about any given moment, and how each move can either be a choice to wait and stay complacent or move and be proactive. And by aiming for circumstantial happiness over and over – gaining the fullest amount of joy possible in the now – eventually it just becomes regular old happiness.
When you find yourself tempted by the IOs of your situation, ask yourself:
• HOW CAN I MAXIMIZE MY HAPPINESS WITHIN THIS CIRCUMSTANCE?
• WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES I’M WILLING TO TACKLE IN ORDER TO MAXIMIZE MY HAPPINESS WITHIN THIS CIRCUMSTANCE?
• IF BIG-PICTURE GOALS WERE NOT IN THE PICTURE AND ALL I HAD WAS THE NOW – WHAT ARE THE CHOICES THAT WOULD MAKE ME PROUD OF MYSELF AND/OR THE WORK I AM DOING?
“I definitely want to move to New York. And I definitely want to move with you – right now. I think we just need to make a shift in our thinking.”
And so we pivoted. Instead of dwelling on the IOs of what we were wishing for, we started to brainstorm about our circumstantial happiness: the reality we can work within. So we’ve got a set budget. How can we maximize our happiness within that budget? (Top priorities: space feels cozy, neighborhood feels vibrant) What will be a fun challenge to work with in order to maximize that happiness? (Small square footage, certain appliances AWOL) If we ended up staying in this space for a while, what would make us proud to call it home? (Snazzy location, super-personal decor, a nook to sit and stare out the window whilst listening to jazz music and drinking our coffee…sans StreetEasy)
Now? We’re psyched. We’ve shifted the area in which we’re looking, and we’ve shifted our mindset about what it means to find a home. Yes, home is wherever we are together – but realistically, home is a space that feels cozy, in a neighborhood that feels vibrant, with personal touches that make it a place we want to come back to at the end of the day. It makes me laugh that I even got so extreme as to make it an all-or-nothing situation – I wasn’t even seeing that we already had it all, we were just looking in a different direction.
Eventually, circumstantial happiness becomes regular happiness. And it happens way sooner than you’d think – until you realize that you’re now on the next step of the staircase, and there’s a whole new set of circumstances to offer you more happiness than you thought possible.
manhattan, i’m prepared for you.
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She stared at me with an ice sheet over her eyes, a look that darted back and forth and when it hit me it seared right through and past me. If you do yoga every day, or every week, how is this kind of glare even possible? I thought. I always think this, because honestly, I see it a lot.
I lay on my mat today with my hair pulled up in a tight bun, a hairdo I hadn’t visited in years. I used to pull it up with my bobby pins and my baby hands, freakishly long locks still wet from my quick hop into the shower after my early morning workout before 8am ballet class.
Those tight buns and suffocating leotards killed me. They hugged everything.
We were forced to scrutinizingly stare in the mirror at not only ourselves but others, we were forced to do the same poses over and over and over and over until the combo was second nature.
I could not do most of them.
My legs were too muscular, my arches too low, and my knees ever so slightly bow-legged which is apparently something that could have been fixed when I was a baby but thankfully my parents opted to keep me just the way I uniquely was (I love you, mom and dad!). My lower back hyperextended naturally, which no one told me and no one thought to work with me on, so I was just ordered to tuck my pelvis more and more and more and my insides cried as everything just felt completely stiff and I looked at myself in the mirror next to the flat-chested straight-waisted kid bodies and my overdeveloped womanly self felt even less like a dancer.
And then I got skinnier. And my hair pulled back tighter. And I at least had that, I thought, at least I look the part.
And I felt so alone.
Everyone was extreme and extroverted and childlike in the way an undergrad should be, honestly, and I was so sad I did not fit in. I kept doing the battement tendus to the front, side, and back, over and over and over again.
I became so used to a heavy bias towards routine, no balance. I fell in and out of love with my body by the day, I would eat the same things over and over and do the same workouts over and over and wear the same clothes over and over, and when I fell out of order I would fall into such deep depressions I would close myself off from any sort of interaction with the world and I would just snap.
I know exactly when the turning point happened: it’s after I started doing yoga with mirrors in front of me. These mirrors, they weren’t like the ballet mirrors, forced upon me and picking apart my every move. These mirrors stood there with a smile, completely optionally allowing me to face myself and only myself with no outside dialogue to distinguish right from wrong.
I know exactly when the turning point happened: It’s when I started doing yoga that was different each time. It’s when the cueing that was funny and personal if flubbed, sequencing that fit the mood and themes of the day, classes in which I was guided on how to work with my body to find my individuality, not against my body to conform to a molded chorus line of asana.
I know exactly when the turning point happened: It’s when my eyes were opened to the fact that everyone’s hip joint moves differently, so not everything is one-alignment-fits all. It’s when teachers were allowed to ramble and quote and use phrasing unique to what resonated with their classes, use sanskrit if they liked (or not), use music if they liked (or not), sing if they liked (or not).
I know exactly when the turning point happened: It’s after I was given guidance in kind words, in helping hands, in hundreds and thousands of poses and variations and modifications so I could be okay with both my strengths AND my weaknesses. Because how do we HONESTLY know that feeling of true triumph we can count on if we just homogeneously flow through it all; if we don’t know what it is to have those poses that are unfamiliar or change shape (literally and figuratively) day by day?
I know exactly when the turning point happened: It’s after I realized that a lot of the trendy classes being offered were actually an exclusive “in-crowd” who constantly tried to top one another with their impressive balances and their superhuman-like physical practice, a crowd that talked at and not to you, a crowd that left anyone below them in the dust.
It’s after I realized that absolutely NO yoga class is “too slow” if you are not afraid to sit with yourself.
I know exactly when the turning point happened: It’s after I quit going to places that forced the same sequences over and over and over again, the places I did the same set of poses over and over and over and over again in class. They argued it was a way to build confidence by developing expertise. I will always argue it was a way of developing and breeding addiction in addictive personalities.
And so of course I understood the ice-sheet eyes. Of course those who are used to the same set of fast-paced frenetic sameness or competition based cliques “don’t like” other kinds of yoga. It’s addiction and fear talking. You genuinely cannot hold onto grudges or contempt when you have chosen to meet yourself.
Even the people who have hurt me, cheated me, taken advantage of me, situations that continue to cause me more stress than I feel I can sometimes deal with…I hold no lasting grudges, because I know that the only one who can keep me in that sameness is myself. I cannot control my circumstances but I sure as hell can control my level of awareness and my actions. Some people and occurrences drive me insane, sure, but I choose to see those instances as small dust speck under the blanket of a good heart or necessary hurdle or underlying loneliness and desperation.
I’ll shoot you straight: If you are resentful and do nothing to change either your exterior or interior, you have not met yourself. If you go back to the same coping mechanisms over and over again with the same results over and over again, you have not met yourself. If you keep opening the same doors over and over and OVER again, there’s a whole untouched hallway ahead of you – and you have not met yourself.
I sat cross-legged at the end of class, my elbows grazing the curves in my torso and my thumbs finding their way to my heart through the sweat and muscle and DD-heaviness of what my sports bra was trying with all its might to hold in place. I felt my arms at my sides, three times the size of my once wispy limbs; my legs muscular and probably even less ballet-friendly than almost a decade prior. I hadn’t felt so hot about myself all week, but I had reminded myself that being highly sensitive and proprioceptive is a good thing; I had not freaked out because I knew this too would pass.
I had trusted myself to not know everything that was coming.
I had trusted myself to learn, to listen, to be affected, I had trusted myself to cry and release when needed. I sat with my legs crossed in my skin-clinging workout clothes, ones that show every curve and every protrusion and every little dimple, I sat there with my hair tied tightly in that little tiny updo, and I trusted with all my might then let it go.
And I sit here now typing with my leggings still on and that bun still sitting atop my head, because I haven’t pulled it out, because it was never too tight in the first place. I sit here knowing my body will go through so many incarnations and I’m going to treat it like it’s royalty no matter what. I sit here thinking about the new quotes that were read, the jokes that were made, the funny analogies and the personalities in the room that were all of different levels and at times all did slightly different things.
I smile because I have not only a yoga practice on the mat but off the mat as well (life, yo) that strives to be authentic, layer-peeling, free of addiction and crutches and sameness, and I feel as if I am gliding down the hallway, door by door.