Photo by Michelle Tiffany
Life & Lessons

25 Lessons @ 25

Today, I am 25.

On the edge of 24, I actually tried to write a list much like the one you’re about to read. It started out as things I’d learned over the last year, but I couldn’t bring myself to finish it because I didn’t know if I believed all of it anymore. I was living at a fork in the road, experiencing contradicting wants for my life. I erased them all and wrote this (so goth):

This is the most uncertain I’ve ever been in my life. Every reality seems like there’s another reality to contradict it. A lot of the things I found to be true just five years ago have changed. I don’t think I have the hindsight or authority to KNOW right now. There’s kind of something sweet about that. But I’m just going to ask questions right now. Maybe at 25 I’ll be able to answer them.

The divinity of reading this note the night before my 25th birthday sent chills down my spine. Here I am, 25, in a better headspace with the ability to confidently confirm some of my own questions I had written down just a year ago. I didn’t even realize I wished the answers into existence.

Rules and resolutions are made to be broken, and goals are fleeting. This is why I’ve always had an affinity for lessons. Lessons stick. They teach you about the past in an honorable way, while still pointing like an arrow towards the future. Lessons remind you of how strong you are and how much you’ve overcome. They humble you and gently ask you to do better and be better. I’ve found that many things in this life aren’t yours for keeping, but no lesson can be taken from you. And this year, as I blow out the candles, I’m remembering what I’ve learned over the course of my short lifetime.

These are the lessons that ring clear over and over again. These are the answers I have right now. Hold on tight. It’s detailed, it’s long, and it’s raw as shit.

1. Keep some things for yourself. There’s something to be said about keeping something — one thing, anything — for yourself. Whether that be a memory, a moment, a hope, a secret, an idea, a dream; it’s more meaningful, more beautiful, more intimate. I believe that we’re meant to share with one another. But not everything needs to be shared with the world. Some things remain sweeter left unsaid.

2. Revel in every stage. I remember being a child, playing in our wooden treehouse with the infamous big yellow tube slide alongside my neighborhood friends, looking around, and thinking, “Wow. I am never going to get this time back.” That moment, so specific yet so ephemeral, changed my life. Throughout middle school, high school, college, even now — I’ve done my best to stick with this mindset. It’s gotten harder, especially when that quarter life crisis hits and you’re questioning everything. But despite the frustrations, the obstacles, the “scaries” — live this stage in your life like you’ll never get it back. Because you won’t.

3. Don’t rush anything. Regrets are unavoidable. But I’ve found the best way to decrease the chances is to do everything on your own timeline. I can’t stress this enough. From a very young age, I never understood why everyone wanted to grow up so fast. I played with my Barbies as long as I could. I delayed wearing makeup and shaving my legs until I felt the desire to. I didn’t have sex until 22, when I was ready. Now I can’t speak for anyone else — this is just my story. No one age is right, so do you. But make sure you’re doing it because you want to. Not because it makes you cool or because everyone else is doing it. Enjoy your time until you feel it’s time.

4. Be yourself. I have to be completely and bluntly honest. In a world where it’s apparently hard to do, I’ve never really understood this, because to me it’s the most simple thing in the world. If I tallied up the #1 question I received over my lifetime, it would be, “How are you so happy all time?” It’s because I’ve never pretended to be anything but myself. People teased me for acting “too white” (not a thing, btw?) since middle school. People have called me too ambitious, too loud, too excited, too bubbly, too EVERYTHING. It’s not always easy. But changing myself sounds too exhausting. I’m lazy.

5. Don’t hold yourself to one dream. When I moved to Los Angeles, I remember stepping out of the car and feeling my heart sink to my stomach. “This is it,” I thought. My whole life I dreamed of this and here it was, at my toes. I was scared, because I did it. Now what? When I moved two years later, I was terrified I’d be viewed as someone who “settled” because I didn’t stay. Don’t listen to the voices in your head trying to box you into one idea or one vision you’ve had for yourself. You are allowed to grow. You are allowed to change. You are allowed to have more dreams.

6. You don’t have to make bad decisions just because you’re young. You’re allowed to make bad decisions. But don’t intentionally make destructive decisions just because you’re young. I’ve accomplished a lot of what I’ve set out to do, and honestly, I credit it to a few things: 1) Amazing parents 2) Always having my eyes on the prize, and 3) Valuing doing the right thing.

7. You don’t have to be hasty in making decisions, especially emotional ones. I’ve messed up a lot over the last year by making small decisions too quickly (Overbooking? So guilty). Give your brain the time it needs to process. As far as emotional decisions, I think I’ve hurt a lot of people — and myself —by deciding how I feel too late. I realize now that “deciding how I feel too late” isn’t the issue. It’s the ability to communicate how I feel once I do. Ownership of that is important. I’m trying to get better.

8. Sunlight is restorative. It’s best remedy in the universe. Close your eyes and soak in it for a minute. It’s yours. It’s mine. It’s ours.

9. Real friends don’t just cheer you on from the sidelines. They play the game. The people that hold you close… hold them even closer. They aren’t just in your corner. They are in the trenches when you have to go to war. And you do the same for them.

10. Pit bull on the outside, Golden Retriever on the inside. In 2017, I did an entertainment program where I had to rotate departments. One of them was the most fake, non-inclusive and unpleasant work environments I had ever experienced to date (to put it in perspective, think Mean Girls x5). But I had a supervisor who told me this and it helped me get through it. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this one.

11. A good movie or a good book is hot soup for the soul. It warms you from the inside out. Seek out amazing stories, and seek them out often. Most of them will be lukewarm. But every once in a while, you’ll experience one that makes you remember why humanity is so beautiful.

12. Flower and plants make everything a little better. Real ones. Fake ones. I put them everywhere and it’s honestly made me a happier person in general.

13. It’s okay to shut off for a little while. I don’t trust anyone who says you should know what’s going on in the world at all times. That thinking is what led the 24 hours news cycle driving our society insane. WE DON’T NEED IT. Turn off the news. Shut down your laptop. Let your phone die and leave it like that for an hour or two or ten. Don’t answer your texts. You have the right to be in your own head, and your head only. With that being said…

14. Take yourself on dates. I had a social-psych professor in college named Eric Pappas. At the beginning of the semester he told us to hold one Saturday for a full day field trip. We trekked to campus the morning of and when we got there, he told us there was never a field trip planned. Now we had a whole day to do nothing. We were allowed to do anything, but we a) couldn’t do anything productive, b) couldn’t use technology, and c) had to do it alone. So I took myself to the Harrisonburg International Festival I saw flyers for, and it was the best day of my life. I danced with strangers, learned about different cultures, was on my own time, and made all the choices myself. Some of my favorite memories since are the things I’ve been brave enough to do alone. Concerts. Comedy Shows. Brunch. Walks. Beaches. When you let go of how weird you might look, you can pretty much never have a bad time with yourself. The best thing I’ve ever done (and have to constantly do over and over) is train myself to hear my own voice again.

15. Make a three month plan. When I was in a really bad spot last year, my mom gave me really great advice. She told me I had three months. In that time I could mope and dwell, or I could make a plan that would get out the hole I was in — whatever that looked like. When I get to the end of those three months, I could start over in a different direction or keep building momentum on the same track. These boundaries gave me motivation. In turn, the universe started sending blessings my way. Three months is the perfect amount of time. It’s also my favorite number, just saying.

16. You can always make a u-turn. My family-friend Cherese once imparted this wisdom on me. So many people don’t leap at all because they’re afraid they will be wrong. But they forget they one thing about our friend called life: you’re not ever really stuck.

17. Work ethic gets you far, kindness gets your further. I work like a mad woman. But I also try my hardest to be kind while doing it. Selfishly, I want to have good vibes where I spend most of my time, but it naturally makes an impression on others, too. My favorite boss ever told me that “I’m a breath of fresh air.” I don’t know why, but this stuck with me. Be the kind of person others want to be around… it just… helps.

18. Sometimes you have to put certain dreams on hold. A coach named Kim once told me: Just because you have an idea doesn’t mean you need to do it. Some of the best concepts need to marinate.

19. Do! More! Yoga! Breathing more deeply, stretching my body, and quieting my mind has done wonders. I’m not good at it? But it makes me feel good.

20. Stand up for yourself. Know your value. Fight for it. I can think of a number of times I have felt taken advantage of or talked down to or walked on or even underestimated. A lot of my life I feared fitting the “angry black woman” stereotype if I was upset, so I bottled my frustrations up. But one day, I stopped letting people step all over me. I started commanding respect. I’ve had people get really mad at me for this. Confrontation is not easy. But at the end of the day, you deserve to be treated how you want to be treated. You deserve to feel comfortable. You deserve to take up space. Period.

21. Close your eyes and make wishes. It doesn’t just have to be on candles. Don’t be afraid to ask the universe for the things you want. It’s uncanny, but everything I’ve written down over the past three years has come true. And things that haven’t, they’re coming.

22. Love is more important than anything in the world. When I moved to Washington D.C. right after college, I remember telling my mom, “I’m not looking for a relationship. I’m going to LA in a year, it’s pointless.” And then the most wonderful man walked into my life. We knew it was different, that it was special, so we stayed together for two more years — even across the country. I can’t tell you the amount of times I questioned if I should “break it off” just… because. I should be out hooking up and staying out all night, right? But every night I missed him. Every day, I wanted to come home to him. And it scared me. Then one day I realized: INDEPENDENT WOMEN CAN BE IN LOVE. I had my dream job but I was still so sad because something huge was missing. My friends. My family. My love. At the end of the day, people are what you will remember at the end of your life. Love on yours well.

23. You can have your cake and eat it, too. You’re not a bad person for wanting more; for wanting the best. Yes, it will come at a small price. But in the grand scheme of things, the big outweighs the small. Don’t listen to what anyone says: design the life you want. I personally think you can have all the things that mean the most to you. It’s the people that are too scared to that don’t.

24. Trust your instincts. This one is really hard for me. I struggle with the idea that I don’t know enough. I doubt myself often. Yes, yes, take advice. But I’m learning that only you know what’s best for you in any given moment.

25. Follow your heart. If you follow your gut, you might be listening to fear. If you follow your heart, you will never regret your deepest desires. To this day, it’s never led me astray.

Hello, 25. This is our year. I’m claiming you.

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Life & Lessons, Open Letters

On Heartbreak | Open Letter Series

Dear Broken Friend:

I remember the day I found out. The exact moment, actually. As fuzzy as it all was — I still can recall it as clear as day. Walking to work, breaking down on the crosswalk. The gray brick building with tall white columns crumbling in front of me, the sky falling. When a heart breaks, there’s no way for it to not sound dramatic. Because it is. When you give someone a part of you and they hand it back mangled and unrecognizable, it’s hard for the world not to turn on its head.

I wanted to drown in the pain. I know we’re different and you like to move on by keeping yourself busy, but I wanted to sink in it. I wanted to devour it and savor it and have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I wanted to wrap myself up in it like a blanket; I wanted it to protect me and keep me warm. I wanted to feel and feel and feel because it’s all I knew for months and months — feelings. It was then I discovered the opposite of loving someone isn’t heartbreak — it’s feeling nothing. In him breaking my heart, I was still connected to him. It was his last gift to me. If I let it go, that meant that I was letting him go, too. Everything about him.

Do whatever you need to do to get through it. Some days I imagined us together again in two years just to make it until the end of the day without breaking down. Some days I forced myself to recall his lips on hers just to remember how much I hated him. Some days I reconjured the hopeful memory of his hand on my lower back under the soft neon glow of the rooftop bar, repeating the things he said to me over and over in my head. Some days I couldn’t listen to certain songs without crying for an hour. Some days those songs were all I wanted to hear — and I still cried. Some days I needed to see him, so I did, and then regretted it. Other days I wanted to kiss someone else to forget, so I did. I didn’t regret that. It doesn’t matter what you do — as long as you don’t do anything destructive and stay true to you. But do whatever the fuck you have to do. Heartbreak is a war.

But each day it becomes more bearable. The little things he said, you won’t be able to remember. They turn to dust; a speck in your universe. Then one day, while you’re busy minding your business and picking up the pieces, someone else will come along when you least expect it and make you feel loved. Truly, deeply loved. Don’t wait around for it. But look forward to it.

I say all of this because I’ve found that sometimes someone else’s story is exactly what we need. We don’t need serious advice or someone telling us they know exactly how we feel. We just need to escape. Not into something annoyingly happy, or even more depressing. We just want the opportunity to feel something outside of our own pain and still relate to it. To be alone, but not feel alone.

I know he was supposed to be the one. But none of that matters right now. Now. Now. Now. Be here with me now. Hold my hand. I got you, babe. You can make it through this.

As you know, there’s no step by step guide to healing and putting yourself back together. You will wonder how you could have been so dumb; you’re not. You will try to get him back; don’t. You are allowed to be angry. You are allowed to be furiously sad. You are allowed to be — at last — relieved. You will feel it all. And as one of my favorite books Tuesdays With Morrie says, don’t stop yourself from feeling any of it. Let the pain flow through you and out of you; let it run its course like a cold. Emotions are thin and fleeting. The bad ones will go. The good ones will come. And soon, you’ll feel like you all over again. And a new adventure will begin.

That day, I dried my eyes before stepping into work. I forgot they were still red and my face, puffy. My boss took one look at me and it was like she knew. “The reality of it now is not the reality of it forever — I promise.” She was right. It gets better. Great, even.

In this Open Letter series, I tackle various life topics by writing a letter to an anonymous and real friend who is going through it firsthand. My hope in writing to one is that it resonates with and helps all. This letter is for you, too. If you would like a letter, please email bymiabrabham@gmail.com.  Thank you for reading, sweet friend!

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