To quote myself, quoting someone else, a crisis can be defined as such, “(1) a crucial stage or turning point, and (2) an unstable or precarious situation.”
Yesterday, I had officially lived for a quarter of a century, and although technically, based on Wikipedia’s current life expectancy of 81 for a female living in the United States, this is not the quarter marker of my life, I’m still going to refer to this birthday as my quarter-life crisis. In fact, the knowledge that a quarter of my life had already passed me by a few months after I turned 20 just adds to the state of things.
The last couple of weeks leading up to this day were like a slow motion reel beckoning the actual crash. I kept thinking about all of the places I still want to travel to and live in, all of the goals that are still pending and seem to have miles to go. I contemplated when I should go back to graduate school, realized how old I’ll be when I enter said graduate school, and then calculated how old I’ll be when I exit. I swam in the emotions of being madly in love, and sashayed through everything that could ever possibly mean. I thought about friends and family and being far away from them. Each day was some bizarre existential flurry of which I managed to find a lot of half understandings.
So, somewhere in the midst of asking an unsympathetic Universe countless times, “What’s it all about?” I decided to use my actual turn of the quarter century as a chance to do some good soul-searching. I’d spend the 18th celebrating in D.C. with friends, and then head off the following day to New York City to indulge in everything fabulous, and come out feeling just that. And, although logistically the plans still continued on as scheduled, one humbled broken heart later, my expected lens through which to view this moment in time was that pile of glass shards outside the New Jersey transit station.
Luckily for me, however, New York City keeps moving. There’s not a lot of room to stop. So, when you break your bifocals in New Jersey, you just have to keep going and pick up a new pair in one of the scores of available shops as you exit Penn Station. And so there I was, sitting at a café in New York near Columbia University, and I began thinking of all the possible ways I could transform the pain I was currently feeling in my heart, and the “unstable or precarious situation” that a monumental age change can reveal, in order to connect more deeply to people everywhere. In other words, I didn’t pick up new glasses in Times Square, but rather I just decided to start using my own eyes.
John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” It’s very likely that my feet have been walking a little faster than the rest of me for the past year. But they were going slow enough that I didn’t notice the growing distance until I just fell down. And falling down hurts. But if we can somehow find a way to see that this pain is shared within the grace of human existence, then perhaps we cannot only heal ourselves, but also the wounds of our friends, our family, our enemies, and of perfect strangers. Perhaps we can create a more whole world.
I’ve learned a lot in my first 25 years, and not all of it has come from very peachy situations. But to usher in this “crucial stage or turning point” in my life, I offer to you, in no particular order, 25 of the things I have learned in my 25 years.
- Nothing is more precious than the present. Sure, let your past guide you, and your future drive you, but if ever you find that too much meddling in either is souring your ability to enjoy the now, cut it out before you waste too much time.
- Be fully honest from the beginning.
- Speak up. No one can advocate for you quite like yourself. You don’t have to just let things happen to you or happen around you. If you want to yell, “No!” yell it. If you want to nerd out on some subject that really gets you going, go for it with wild abandon. Just never let anyone make you feel like you can’t.
- Just say no to limbo. As a great friend once said to me, “You’re too fly to be permanent ‘just talkin’.” As another wonderful friend expressed, “Limbo is no place for any sane, happy person to be.” It only leads to problems. Know what you want, and take it, or walk away.
- Above all else to thine own self be true, yes, but also above all else, kindness. Be kind. Be kind. Be kind. Small acts go such far distances for the heart and for humanity as a whole. Also, building off of that—gratitude goes a long way. Be grateful, and express your gratitude to others.
- Stop measuring your success against that of others. There’s no comparison to be had. All this ends up doing is either making you feel inadequate, or diminishing the beauty of your successes by shadowing it in the judgment of others.
- There’s a curious relationship between lows and highs. Just keep this in the back of your mind if ever you find yourself in either extreme. Find peace in knowing that this too shall pass.
- You can’t build on a cracked foundation. Either do the groundwork to give it a solid patch-up, or find a new place to build early on.
- Have compassion, but don’t be trapped by what you have compassion for. Going with that, don’t be held hostage by your fears.
- Trust people until you can’t.
- Forgiveness is arguably the most powerful tool we hold in possession. It’s also sometimes the hardest to use.
- Treat those beneath you with the same respect as you treat those above you.
- You can’t change people if they don’t want to or are not ready to change. You can, however, shower them with loving-kindness and send them hopes for wellness.
- When it’s all over, all that’s really left are the stories we can tell.
- Do good, it’s all that matters.
- Decisions are always so easy to make for others until you realize that they have a heart, a soul, and a mind. It’s easy to say what people should do in a situation until you realize that good people stand on both sides of the abyss. That’s why decisions are often not so cut and dry, and there can be many answers. Basically, take it easy on each other.
- Aligning the heart, mind, and gut is key. It’s also an ongoing work in progress.
- The clichés are all correct:
- Live, love, laugh
- Follow your heart
- There is sun after the storm
- When life hands you lemons, make lemonade
- Hindsight is twenty-twenty
- It’s a blessing in disguise
- That which doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger
- Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned
- Laughter is the best medicine
- Don’t be afraid to run away. And don’t be afraid to stop running.
- Learn how to redefine your “weaknesses” and exploit them to their greatest potential.
- Listen to Willow Smith—“When I’m down and I feel like giving up, I whip my hair back and forth.” Solo dance parties can be a real win.
- Practice radical self-acceptance. If you’re going to do something, be someone, believe something, as they say, go big or go home. Some nights I eat a bag of chocolates for dinner. Other weeks I hit the gym like a champ. Sometimes I embrace my Pacific Northwest mellow-dom and other times I like to be some stuffy D.C.-ite angry at the system. Wherever you are with yourself, just make sure you own it fully.
- Mirrors are important. And I don’t mean the ones on your wall. I used to have an art project where I’d write all sorts of snippets of my thoughts on my refrigerator. Several months back, I switched to writing the thoughts of my friends and family on my mirror. I always support my friends when they come to me looking to talk out everything going on in their life because if you don’t say it aloud to someone else and have them reflect it back at you, sometimes you miss a really important lesson and prolong your own suffering. Use the people in your life as mirrors, and try not to ignore what you see.
- Being a woman in the 21st century is really confusing and it can be a bit angering at times. It’s also really great, and very exciting. I’m still working on drafting my manifesto on 21st century feminism. Stay tuned.
- Friends are the greatest, and on my birthday, especially, I was so very, very thankful for those I have in my life. You all heal me and make every day a gift.
Maybe this birthday trip to New York City didn’t end up the glitter-coated, hedonistic outing that I had originally planned, but I was in an amazing city, filled with struggle and pain, joy and delight. I was surrounded by people who move me, whose own journeys bandage my wounds. They are me, and I am them. And we all just keep moving. The crisis is just a bigger step
within the city’s hustle and bustle. And, boy, there’s nothing quite like landing back home and feeling like you own it again. (Especially when you’re flying into Reagan National at nighttime—gorgeous views!)
May this list of lessons learned continue to grow with age. May the human experience always be shared. May the pain drive the work to further pandemic loving-kindness. And may the list also be a nice reminder for me today of, “Hey there, baby, we’ve sure come a long way.”
And, lastly, because I wouldn’t be worth my own salt if I couldn’t find an applicable scene from a Rom Com to close this out with, here ya go. Courtesy of Brittany Murphy in Little Black Book.
“Question: How does a girl who falls, no actually jumps, eyes wide open, down a rabbit hole, plummeting into chaos, come out the other end unchanged? The answer, she doesn’t.
By the fall, I was ready to try again. A little bruised. A little humbled. And, hopefully, a little smarter. I believe we write our own stories. And each time we think we know the end—we don’t.
Perhaps luck exists somewhere between the world of planning, the world of chance, and the peace that comes from knowing that you just can’t know it all. You know, life’s funny that way. Once you let go of the wheel, you might end up—right where you belong.”