I am a girl who has only ever known how to want big things.
I used to apologize for that. I remember lying barefoot on the hardwood floor of my childhood bedroom, palms up to the ceiling and whispering, “God, I don’t want to know about your line-up. I know there are a million other people out there who you could use before me. People who haven’t screwed up as much as me. But if you pick me, if you use me, I won’t let you down. I promise.” I didn’t make promises much when I was sixteen but I felt like I could keep that one.
I always felt like it was this unattainable burden sitting heavy on my life that I wanted something more. I wasn’t the girl who saw her wedding dress when she closed her eyes. I never dreamed in fences and babies with my curls. I dreamed of coffee shops and communities and words on the walls. I was the girl who wanted to be in the lives of too many people— not because she wanted to be known, just because she wanted to be wonderful.
I am not alone.
After years and years, I know that now. There is a cafeteria full— a stadium full— of other people who are just like me. People who care too much. And dream too big. And want so much less than what the world can give them— they just want stories. Conversations that leave you sleepy-eyed and wired at 2am. Chances to fill journals. Mornings when the breath falls out of you because the sun is still so pretty when she rises above the hills.
Maybe you’re in that pack. That pile. I don’t really know what to call it. Maybe you have thoughts that keep you up at night. Dreams that beg at the door of your heart. You stare too long at other people because you want to try to pocket their every mannerism and commit them to memory. You resist the urge to clutch the barista and tell her she is beautiful and lovely. You cry during commercials. You don’t want to carry the world on your shoulders but your friends watch you daily, picking that big globe up and hoisting it upon you from 7am to 11pm. You fight too hard. You claw too hard to reach the unreachable. You haven’t been able to think in single digits since the age of ten or twelve because you keep thinking, you keep mouthing, “But this could touch the world. This could change the world.”
That’s all I wanted when I was a senior in college.
It was vague and broad but I was so confident I could do it. Really. I took up a whole column space in my college newspaper where I would write bimonthly like I was going to be some sort-of world shaker. I want to change the world. I want to do something really wonderful. I will find a way to wedge myself into your life and stay there forever. I will. Trust me, I will. I said those things on repeat.
A month before my graduation, before my life stitched a name tag called “adulthood” to its chest, I drove to Target in my CRV— the forest green one with the seats once full of boys and girls too nervous to hold each other’s hands. I stood in the stationery aisle and pulled out 100 letter sheets and 100 envelopes. One hundred thank-you notes I wrote out by hand to mail out across my campus, into the corners of the world. I created a website. I asked people to do something really simple: write a thank-you note after you read this one. Just say thanks today.
Simple. That’s what it is. When it comes down to the things that shift this world and shake up souls, the ideas are simple. They’re basic, not extravagant. And I think that’s just because we crave the basics, even when complexity is all around us— the nights where you can see the fireflies, the days where you got a good sunburn and you didn’t check your phone all day. Simple things— you and someone else having a party the rest of the world didn’t need to know about.
Simple. That’s where it always starts. Like a blog you create when you’re sitting beside your best friend and she says you need to write more. You’ve been holding out. You have so much to say. You promise her you will. You didn’t make promises much when you were 20 but you felt like you could keep this one.
That’s what happened to me, at least— It was just me and my best friend and this blog I desperately wanted to delete because I didn’t see the point. And she kept saying, sitting right beside me, “Just keep writing. Just keep going.”
Just keep going. I’m not a big advice giver but I think, if I was, that would be my first pearl of wisdom: Just keep going. Keep showing up for things if you ever want to see them grow. You have to swallow your pride, and swallow the parts of you that want to see a movement grow in a day, and just get used to tiny movements. Tiny, microscopic shifts that may never matter to anyone but you. But celebrate the little things— I mean, I can’t tell you how big and how hard my best friend and I celebrated on the day we sat around a table in the middle of my campus center and I told her, “The numbers are spiking. I just got a comment from someone in the UK. Someone in the UK knows I am out here!”
That was a big deal— a single person in the UK knowing your name is a big deal. Celebrate that. And all the other little things. And then keep going.
Just keep going and keep your cheerleaders close. The ones who tell you you’re “something” before you ever believe it for yourself. Victories will come. And failures will grow out of you. And the world will do a lot to tell you that long hours and too much work matter more than flesh and bones. But your cheerleaders— the ones who found you first— will keep you going. They’ll pump you full of life. They’ll keep you standing on the ground.
Look for the people who understand you. They are out there. I promise you, they are out there. And when you find them, and you get them in your corner, they make one hell of a difference. Find them. Take care of them. Always keep thanking them. Always keep them close. Let them buy plane tickets. Let them talk crazy. Let them go. When they need to go out there in the world and see what it has for them, let them go. Commit their birthdays to memory. Celebrate them on their biggest and worst days. Spur them on, especially when they come to you and whisper kind of helplessly, “I don’t know what I want.”
This morning was quieter.
I didn’t get much sleep— just kept turning and turning until the sun poked through the blinds and gave me decent permission to get up. I dressed. Drove to get my coffee. Sat at my desk, looked around for a longer minute, and wondered how I got here: from a couple dozen thank-you notes to a life where I can tell complete strangers I write for a living.
I looked around my desk. Laughed because my mother always tells me I decorate my spaces— all the little corners and nooks I’ve ever been given— with too many words. My office, no different. I pulled out my phone and texted my best friend, the one who sat beside me during those first months of starting a blog. To this day, she still sends me a message after every single post. And I just told her, isn’t it wild? Isn’t it wild how things grow?
I watched the sun come through the skylight as I watched the three little dots ricochet across the screen, telling me she was writing back.
“How strange is that,” she said. “I remember talking about this over tea and Christmas lights in your apartment up in North. And now you’ve moved to Atlanta and your book comes out in March. And I live in Boston and I’ll be a lawyer in just a couple months.”
“We knew what we wanted,” I wrote back to her.
“We did. But if you had asked then, we wouldn’t have known.”
That’s the truth— we didn’t know. We didn’t have a clue. We just had full hearts. Looking back, I wish we’d let that comfort us more than how we let it scare us.
The computer started. My email opened. The day began. I whispered thank you. For the prayers. For all the days I didn’t know what I wanted.
For a moment, a quick one, I could hear my best friend whispering, as if she was still right beside me, “You know. Don’t doubt so much; you know and I know. Just keep going. You’re not supposed to know how it’s all going to unravel. Just let the road take you right to where you need to be.”
I make a quick promise to her– to keep letting this wild journey push me and pull me and make me new. I don’t make promises much, even though I am 26. But I feel like I can keep this one.
Since some Mondays are worse than Sallie Mae, I created a little breakfast club/secret society to help kick Mondays off right. You are reading me right. Every Monday. Me. You. We roll out via email and your morning brew. I promise to meet you with only the good stuff. Highly recommended for movers, shakers, and original gangsters. No rules. You feeling me, boo?