On my 21st birthday, I ran a 5k with one of my best friends, wore inappropriate paper hats with my nearest and dearest at Dick’s Last Resort, danced to Cobra Starship on a double decker bus, and then rinsed and repeated the shenanigans with brunch and more adventures the next day.
I started my first blog earlier that year on the heels of a breakup with a guy I’d been dating on the baseball team. We met at a Dirty Disney party right around Valentine’s Day. I’d gone as Meg from Hercules. I had a paper sign with Hercules’ face and the words “have you seen this guy” scrawled on it. He went as Woody from Toy Story and had a sharpied badge on his chest and some cowboy boots.
A few months later, outside of a Chipotle, he told me that he just wanted to be friends. That was the first time I thought it might be possible for someone to die from a broken heart. Over the years, there’ve been other heartbreaks, like the guy who ended things because I didn’t give him butterflies (this one), or the guy who told me his parents thought it’d be a good idea if we broke up after five years (this one). Forget about love making you blind; I think it gives you amnesia, because every time I swore I wouldn’t survive the tsunami of heartache, I always did.
The year I turned 21, shortly after that curveball breakup, I started to take radical responsibility for my own happiness. I went to the gym every single day. I started volunteering and getting more involved in my community. I spent more time with people who felt like sunshine and less with those who didn’t. I remember being so fiercely independent and genuinely happy.
Then, somewhere along the line, I fell off the wagon and bought into the narrative “life happens to me, not for me.” I found myself assigning responsibility to everything and everyone else, except myself, for my happiness (or lack thereof) and to no surprise, I think that’s when I started to attract people and opportunities that reflected that delightfully abysmal way of living.
I stopped taking ownership for how I showed up in my life, and it showed. It’s shitty to admit it took a few more scuffs on my heart to get me back to a new and improved version of my twenty-one year old self . . . but it did.
As I reread some of those early blog posts, I started to think about the last ten years and how it’s been a decade’s worth of twenty-first birthdays. Some birthdays have come and gone without much pause for celebration. I genuinely couldn’t scrape together any slivers of reasons to be happy. All I could see was how far my life had detoured from where I thought it would be. Other birthdays have been wrapped in tremendous goodness and I wish I could press play and rewatch those moments with more gratitude, because even though they were fleeting instances of happiness, they’re core reminders that life isn’t always hard or painful.
Looking back, I see this stark contrast between being the captain of my own destiny and letting others take the helm. When I leaned into the former, so much light and goodness entered my life. Unsurprisingly, when I retreated to the latter, I wrote some of the darkest and most painful chapters of my life thus far.
There’s an Oprah quote that goes, “Be grateful for what you have. You’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never have enough.”
Ten years ago, I felt this tremendous lack mindset going into what I felt was a coming of age birthday. That despite everything good in my life, all I could see was what I didn’t have yet. I desperately wanted to fast-forward to the following spring when I’d graduate early from college and finally start my life. I was ready to move into my London apartment and to start an internship at a beautiful gallery or to work at some prestigious business along the Thames. I wanted to meet that dream guy and live happily ever after. I was the antithesis of present in my daily life because I wanted to get to that nonexistent place of “making it.”
That next summer was life-changing, but not in the way I thought it would be (read more about that here). Much like a breakup, it was a starting over of sorts that left me feeling tremendously lost and uncertain about what my future would look like. I was so angry and felt so alone as my list of “safe foods” shrank and the list of inconclusive biopsies and other invasive procedures grew. It wasn’t until I, wait for it, took radical responsibility for my health and started to get second and third opinions and insisted on trying new treatment protocols, that I was able to reclaim a semblance of health, and by extension, happiness (because let’s be real, when your body craps out on you, it’s pretty damn near impossible to feel good about much else in life).
I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that it would all work out – dare I say, even better than she could’ve planned for. I wish I could tell her that good things take time and trying to zoom through it will make you miss where the juice is worth the squeeze. But for those really tough years, I wouldn’t have started this blog. I wouldn’t have met so many incredible souls who’ve gone through, or are currently going through, things that feel like those tsunami heartbreaks – at their jobs, with their health, in love, in loss, or anywhere else in life. I wouldn’t be half the person I am today but for every moment of contrast that has brought me deeper clarity.
Over the years, but especially recently, I’ve been trying to focus less on the woulda coulda shoulda’s and more on how I can be more present with what’s right in front of me. Instead of wishing I could fast-forward through whatever feels difficult or impossible in the moment, I’ve been trying to step back and see things with a more neutral perspective. How would the version of me ten years from now look at what’s happening? How would the version of me ten years ago have approached this?
Sure, there are still things I wish I had more clarity or certainty about, but at the same time, I’m learning to embrace a level of playfulness as it all continues to unfold. Life doesn’t have to be all figured out. If these last ten years have taught me anything, it’s that some of the best adventures, the “can’t catch your breath” moments of laughter and profound joy . . . those happen when and where you least expect to find them.
So cheers to a decade of learning, and unlearning, and relearning. To the broken hearts that, with each crack and tear, have made room for light that wouldn’t have found its way in otherwise. To the friendships that’ve carried over the years, as well as the ones that’ve only made brief appearances. To all of the detours and seemingly impossible roadblocks I wouldn’t have chosen myself, but am eternally grateful I encountered and navigated through.
Another birthday down, hopefully many more to go.