Occupy new space.

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“Andy Jacobs,” I muttered beneath my breath as my hands curled up into fists at my sides.

I was standing in the center of what was once my living room, surrounded by black trash bags and packed boxes. I was wearing a bright yellow dress that made my mama tell me, “You’ve never looked more beautiful than this moment.” 

It was the only thing I could think to say when my roommate poked her head out from the refrigerator and asked me if I wanted to keep the kettle. Otherwise, she would throw it out. Just a few days earlier, this had been our apartment. It’d been home to us. Memories were taped up on the doors. The ceremony was over. I had ten minutes to gather the rest of my stuff. My mother told me my relatives were waiting to celebrate my graduation nearly 45-minutes away. I told her I needed more time for goodbyes. She told me I had ten minutes. I balled the cap and gown up into a brown Trader Joe’s bag. And all I could think to murmur in that moment was the name of my eighth grade boyfriend: Andy Jacobs.

 

The Great Romance of Andy Jacobs and I ended quickly with a swift and merciless breakup.

It was a sudden sting. I lied about that breakup for several years and told all my friends we both decided it was over. I was just that young and embarrassed by it. In actuality, I was over-the-moon during the days when I had a “someone.” The cool ones had a “someone.” And I was legitimately thrilled to check my AIM profile every hour or so to see my name sitting there in his status box. I checked that thang nearly every day just to see my name. And it was always there. Until one day it wasn’t. He’d made his status “Single and loving it” before he even broke up with me. He was eager to tell the world I was gone. When he called me on the phone to tell me it was over that night, my fingers tangled and shaking in the curly cords of the rotary phone, I whispered back, “I know.” Because I already knew. It was over. I proceeded to write super dramatic poetry in my diary. There would be no Hannah Jacobs. Ever.

But here I was again— surrounded by black trash bags and expired memories and the remnants of my college life packed up into cardboard boxes. College was breaking up with me. We were really over. The letting go was so quick, as if it was ready to release me all along. And I was surrounded by people who I knew probably understood but I still felt like no one understood. That’s what happens when you go through something that thousands upon millions of others have gone through before— you still find a way to convince yourself that you’re the only one.

 

People will tell you the first year after college is the hardest one.

It’s not the case for everyone but I’ve witnessed it to be a true statement for most. Makes sense, though. For the last few years, you’ve built up this solid sense of belonging. You’ve taken classes. You’ve invested in a campus. You’ve had those nights— you know the ones. And then life changes and shifts and the whole thing ends. It feels very unnatural.

And the weirder of the weird things— it goes on without you. Other people enter in as you push out. It’s like watching your ex fall in love with someone new. You knew you couldn’t stay there forever but it still stings to witness all that newness curl in around someone else for the very first time. You still see people enjoying what you once had and you start whispering things you know will never be true, “I could stay. I could really stay. I could live in the past of this thing. I could occupy this space forever.” 

Turns out, you can’t. Your life is not a Throwback Thursday. For lack of a prettier way to say this– It completely nonsensical to live in the space when things were better & brighter & sweeter than this. There is no backspace button. Very little of the time are we granted the redo. It was meant to be this way. We never got promised journeys with no turbulence. We never were told, “Well, you’ll always cry happy tears. And you’ll always feel like you belong. And you’ll always have the answers.” The tears will be ugly. The outcast feelings will be real. You’ll never have the answers. The answers are never the point. 

You’ll have a lot of downs. You’ll feel a bit like the shoes don’t fit on your feet anymore. You’ll ask all the bigger questions you never bothered to mouth when your friends were there, and the fridge was stocked with wine coolers, and the biggest thing on your brain was a term paper. When the moments are good, you never stop and ask: What is the point of my life? Where am I going? Where do I belong? How, oh, how do I do something that matters in this big world?

It’s like any breakup— you either live in the past of old sweaters and best nights and questions you can’t possibly answer or you refuse to be defined by a relationship you outgrew.

 

I met up with a new friend just the other night at a pretty little placed called Dr Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party.

She and I, we’d never met before. I’ve just come to accept that some of the best friendships— the kinds of friend who send you poetry in traffic jams— are usually an instant sort of thing. You both come into it with enough resolution to say, “This is where I’ve been. This is how I’ve felt. This is what I am looking for. I’ve got no interest in friendships that won’t be real to me.”

And we sat among stacks of books in a city I call “new,” pursing cups of tea between our hands and talking about the moment when you know it is time to go and breathe. The moment when you know, it’s time to leave.

“I had to leave,” she told me. “I had to leave and let go because it wasn’t my space anymore. Someone else would come in and they would do an even better job than me. And I would have to go and occupy new space.”

Occupy new space. That’s the sort of thing they should say when a diploma gets passed. When someone leaves a city they’ve loved with their whole body. Instead of good luck. Instead of, “it will never be this way again.” Someone should get up real close to you and say, “You must go out there and occupy new space. Whether you feel it or not, this ending is very much your ready-or-not moment. Choose ready.” 

 

Choose ready.

Occupy new space. Embrace the awkward momentum of something new. Get your feet wet. Don’t worry so much about looking like you have it all together— you’re more put together than you can probably see or notice. Be good to people. The real world is all about those real people. And no, there’s never a reason not to serve. Press into life with gusto and other Italian nouns. Commit to what is around you. Be grateful.

When people try to tell you that college will be the best four years of your life, politely decline that misconception. College should never be the best four years of your life— that’s a disservice to a future you’re called to make bright and purposeful. When people tell you that you can’t make a difference, politely tell them no. They’re wrong. Don’t listen. And here’s the moral behind every one of those conversations you have: not everyone will be your cheerleader. Not everyone will understand. Let people think you are crazy. Crazy is a good thing. Wild hearts are necessary. The world needs wild hearts. Stay thick with wanting to change the world, that will be your golden ticket one day.

Own it. Go all in. Lay it all on the line. In the end, there is no other option than this. You either occupy the space you’re in or you don’t. You either went out there and did it with all you had or you didn’t. Either way, the choice was yours the whole time.

You must go out there and occupy new space.

Whether you feel it or not, this ending is very much your ready-or-not moment.

Choose ready.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rebuilding.

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I have an announcement to make: 

Atlanta does brunch.

I mean, it really does brunch. In a no-mess-around, we-do-this-thang-dirty sort of way. I learned this yesterday. I get to report it as truth, as if I am some “brunch expert” that gets paid to eat eggs and smoked salmon (I wish) on the regular.

“I’m a New Yorker,” I said into the menu when he & I first sat down. “And this is actually terribly intimidating.”

The heavy brick lettering bulged off the page with options of grits and biscuits and french toast. You see– we, New Yorkers, are prideful of our brunches. I can just admit that. Brunch is like a second religion in New York. We’re territorial over our bottomless mimosas and honey-glazed challah bread and I often have to go Hunger Games-style on anyone who tries to tell me they “brunch” in other cities. Call it a character flaw but there was literally this edging sense of competition within me while waiting for the food come out. I was ready to compare. I was ready to slam down over waffles.

Friends– it wasn’t until the bacon drizzled in brown sugar was gone off the plate and the cups that once held honey vanilla lattes were sucked dry and lounging empty on the table that I realized you can’t really compare the two cities when it comes to brunches. It’s like trying to compare classical music to jazz. One has a funk. The other has a familiar feel. Each is beautiful unto it’s own style. Sometimes you just have to just bite your bottom lip and admit: I can take both. There is room in my life for both.



All this to say, brunch is just one of the many things that I am finding a hard time drawing a comparison between here and where a map would claim my home was located one week ago.

I’m a week into the south. I am a week in and comparison is really doing me no good. It’s all just different. Really different. It’s different to be surrounded by people you don’t know. It’s different to have to use a GPS for everything and feel helpless at the hands of Siri (she doesn’t even have hands, I don’t think). It’s different to suddenly have all these quiet, hollow moments where nothing can distract you long enough before something inside of you starts panting, “What am I doing? What am I seriously doing here? I know I wanted to be here. I said I wanted to be here. But why? What is really here? There’s no comfort here. There’s no ease here. Why do I have to start over? Why must I rebuild?”

That’s what we never plan for. We plan for growth. We plan (and hope) for acceptance. We plan for abundance. We plan for friends. We plan for adventure. But we don’t sit down and plan to rebuild. There’s that human thing inside of us that shies away from even the existence of the word “rebuilding’ because it’s just a hard thing. Seriously, everything about rebuilding feels hard. And I guess the human thing to do when the topic comes up is just put up our hands and say out loud, “Enough hard things. I don’t need another one.”

But those whispers are creeping in more and more as I get settled into a new home and I start to slowly understand that the suitcases must stay unpacked. Why do I have to rebuild? Why do I have to rebuild? Why do I have to rebuild?

 

I was standing in the middle of a beautiful church just this Sunday.

Like, really beautiful. Like, if you could mash the feelings you get when you hear Mumford & Sons together with the visuals from an Anthropologie catalog and call it “church”– it was that kind of simple-beautiful. And I wanted to take everything in but I kept looking at the stage and wishing I was back in a place where I knew the people with the pretty voices and I could call them “friend.” I kept wishing I was back in a place where you’d naturally feel someone put their arm around you in the middle of the service and it just felt safe– like you were wanted in that place. And the whispers of my heart roared, “I don’t want to start over. Why are you asking me to? I don’t want to rebuild. Why am I back to feeling so small?”

The response to my questions was like a whiplash. I wasn’t even expecting an answer in that moment but it was like something made me snap to attention when out of nowhere I was smashed with an answer in the face. When something whispered back, “It’s because you are small. You’ve always been small. You are a fleck. You are a speck. But this is a different kind of small. The first time you felt small, it was out of the insignificance you used to make yourself wear. You felt small because you told yourself daily that you were small and unworthy and unlovable. This is a different kind of small. This is you, my dear, getting enveloped in something that’s bigger than you.”

I am small. I am a fleck. I am a speck. I kept saying to myself. That’s not to be misunderstood as insignificance. I carried the words out of the church with me: I used to be small because I made myself play small. Now I am small because all the best things are made up of something smaller. And I want to play my part. I came to a new place to play my part.


Speaking of small things, IKEA furniture is of the devil. 

And if you wonder how I made the correlation between small things and demon-fashioned furniture then you’ve clearly never sat at the mercy of 6,349 screws and nails and other small parts that are supposed to all (somehow) get used to make a desk. Or a dresser. Or a table.

This first week in Georgia, I legitimately sat surrounded by a pile of pieces of wood and cried and made offerings to the ceiling and cut my hand open and screamed, “WHERE IS GOD IN ALL OF THIS?!” I was waiting for him to deliver some stupid metaphor to me that life is just about as confusing as IKEA furniture. But he didn’t. And he didn’t assemble the furniture for me (bummer, that would have been a cool miracle to share). He just sort of waited until the moment I humbled myself and I asked other people for help. It was a simple thing to do but the parts inside of me that are a constant feminist-Beyonce anthem on repeat wanted to do it all by myself. And I guess I was afraid no one would help me. But I asked for help. And, surprisingly,  people helped. They helped. They showed up to my home. The girl brought me a bag of coffee beans and held it out to me, saying, “I heard coffee was your love language. Welcome home.”

And her husband rebuilt all the things I tried to build on my own while she and I just sat on the couch, pursing cups of tea, laughing and talking about mysteries like this one. 

And just as they left my little home, and I placed the bag of coffee beans on my newly-assembled desk, the whisper came on back: “You are small. You are a fleck. You are a speck. That doesn’t mean you’re not capable. 

Some things are just bigger than you. That’s why other people exist. It doesn’t matter “why” you have to rebuild. The real point is that you aren’t alone in a bit of it. You are not rebuilding alone.

You are small but you’re surrounded. Don’t worry so much It’s gonna be good.”

The following post was originally a part of the Monday Morning Secret Society Email Club Thang I send out every Monday. You should really get on the list. It received such an overwhelming response and seemed really pertinent to what a lot of people are going through as of lately so I made the decision to publish it here. Enjoy. 

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Meet me at the Yellow Conference (my first blog giveaway… EVER!)

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I was the weird one.

Growing up, I was the weird one. The wild one. The one who wanted too much. The one who cared too much. The one who always felt strange for standing outside the lines. The one who tried, with all her earthly might, to shove herself inside of boxes that were always too small. For years and years, that was the game plan and the goal: play smaller. Don’t try to be different. Want normal things. Stop trying to change the world. Just be normal. Why can’t you just be normal? 

I thought I was too much of a dreamer. I wondered why people didn’t care about following a passion like me. I wanted to do something different but I was oh so fearful— beyond fearful— to do something that wasn’t the same as everyone else.

If you are reading this right now and nodding your head furiously then do me a big, ol’ favor: stop. Right now. Stop being sorry for it. Stop downplaying who you are. Stop thinking you need to be “normal.” The world needs your crazy heart. And guess what I learned when I submitted my own wild heart to the world? I learned that doing something that seems a little crazy can change your whole life. Stepping inside of who you truly are– and not being sorry for it– can change your whole life. Stepping outside of the boxes you built for yourself can change your whole life.

More than anything, I want to give you that same chance to change your life.

So this is my first giveaway in the history of… ever. It’s never happened before and who knows if it will ever happen again. I don’t normally deviate from creative nonfiction but when I had the opportunity to give away a ticket to one of the upcoming conferences I am speaking at in August, my heart was legitimately leaping out of my chest. The reason for that is simple: I’ve been blessed with experiences like the Yellow Conference before. And, if you are open to it, these sorts of things dare to change your entire life.

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So what’s the Yellow Conference, you ask?

The Yellow Conference is a gathering for creative women who desire to ignite passion and bring goodness to the world through everyday living. The Yellow Conference will be in El Segundo, (Los Angeles area) California on August 28 and 29, 2014. 

The winner of this giveaway will get a free ticket to attend the Yellow Conference. I’ll be waiting for you at the Yellow Conference, ready to swallow you up with open arms and get the chance to sit down and get to know you better! I’ll be ready to meet you for an in-person Brew Session during the conference. That’s mentorship + fear smashing + a coffee date all wrapped into one.

I’ll also be speaking during the two-day experience, along with several other MAJOR movers and shakers in the creative industry. We’re talking Sevenly, Darling Magazine, and other TED speakers. My talk will focus on igniting uncommon passion inside of you, learning to live a life of service towards others, and getting relentless for the dreams you’ve always wanted to after.

YOUR TICKET INCLUDES: 

+ Admittance to the 2-day conference filled with 10 world-changing speakers

+ Coffee, light breakfast and refreshments throughout both days.

+ Dinner, drinks and restaurant admittance at the Thursday night after party.

+ Goodie bags filled with awesomeness

+ A network of over 150 creative Yellow attendees.

+ Photo Booth and other fun interactive activities throughout both days

+ An inspired spirit and a wealth of knowledge on how to live our your dreams and make the world a better place!

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(( see the full list of speakers here ))

HOW TO ENTER

• Follow the Yellow Conference  on Instagram, ​Twitter or Facebook.
• Leave a comment here telling me why you would like to attend Yellow (be creative as you can be!).
• I’ll be reading throughout the week and choosing my favorite answer as the winner next Friday (May 23, 2014)!

This giveaway will expire on Friday, May 23, 2014.

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How to say goodbye.

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Sometimes I write things with the clearest picture in my mind of who I am writing them for. It’s like I can see you. You, with the red lipstick that you just got confident enough to start wearing. You, the one who doesn’t really understand the unique thing that people see you to be. I can see you sitting there. Reading me. And I search the ground, sort of like an Easter egg hunt, for the things I think you’d want to read.

And then sometimes I write something just so that I can go back and read it. Maybe once. Maybe twice. I write the words for myself, pretending that someone else is writing them for me. I do this strategically. I do this so that I don’t have to feel like the one who is alone– her hands full of unanswered questions– in the middle of something I don’t fully understand.

 

Goodbye is one of those things.

One of those things I don’t fully understand yet. I’m no good at it. I’d rather not go there. I’d find it better to beeline the whole entire thing. I don’t want to miss people. I don’t want to know they are growing in my absence.

That’s the secret pain of goodbye: people still have the permission to grow into their own skin without you. And that feels very strange. And I’m tempted to just say, “No, you can’t. Please. Just don’t. Just stay as you are.” But that’s selfish. You don’t get to keep people, selfishly, just so you don’t have to be so fearful they’ll find a way to live without you.

The only thing I know for certain about this whole “goodbye” thing? You have to say it sometimes. You have to get real brave, and bite your bottom lip, and let people go sometimes. Fully, fully. Even when you don’t feel ready.

 

They always make the point of goodbye seem so romantic on the television.

Someone is always waiting by the terminal. Someone is always asking you to stay, hurdling suitcases so that they can clutch your face. I used watch Dawson’s Creek and imagine I’d get to have all the long, grueling departures one day, just like Joey Potter. I thought that would be the real golden duck of adulthood– when people found it terribly hard to release me.

It isn’t. And Joey Potter should have just been honest and told us all the truth, “Goodbyes suck. And there’s no eloquent way to say that. There is no poetic way to talk about ugly crying on someone’s nice shirt. There is nothing in the moment that makes walking away seem reasonable. It’s just hard.” And you awkwardly just sort of hope that someone will tell you not to go. Because maybe you would listen to them. Maybe a big white poster board with the letters “STAY” written in black Sharpie would convince you to do just that. Just stay. For little while longer.

Because goodbye is hard. Goodbye is the starting point you don’t see because the finish line is so piled high with tears and last words and fears that this– this thing you have right here– will never be the same. Don’t fear that. Don’t fear that because it’s already true. It won’t ever be the same. It could be over. It could be final. But it could be better than the two of you could ever predict. That could happen too.

And yes, it feels like something in the room is dead or dying or about to die. And the scary thing about that? That’s already true too.

Something is dying. We can’t even ignore it. It sounds so morbid but goodbye is really just admitting that something is dying. You two came together– for a month or for a year or for five of those years– and you built something. You breathed your whole little life into that thing. Your secrets. Your fears. Your laughter. All into that thing. That friendship thing, that “I’ve never really met someone like you” sort of thing. And then, out of nowhere, it feels like something comes along and lobs the whole thing into pieces. That’s what a goodbye will do.

Goodbye is the fear– temporary and real– that we’ve carried for years up until that one word– short & stout– made it all tip over and all pour out: I am afraid to leave. I am afraid to change. Can you just keep me here? Can we never move? I’m afraid you will forget me. I’m afraid I’ll be forgotten in a room full of people who always seem to be remembered.

When I stood at the door to say goodbye, I muddied up the whole thing.

I let the fear speak louder than the genuine thing inside of me that knew goodbye was the only road to take.

“I hate goodbyes,” I told her. “I’m sorry. I’m just so bad at them. I wish they didn’t exist. I want to be like an octupus who has 8 arms and can just hold onto everything always. I wish I could just go in the night.” It was all my fears and insecurities that I would never have it this good again, all mounted and stored up inside of that word.

She stopped me. “It’s goodbye,” she said. “And then you get over it.”

That’s all she said before she pulled me in for a hug. And then she let me go. And everything about her gesture of letting me go so quickly– nearly like a band-aid you rip off and pretend there is no sting– seemed to hum the truth:

You, I believe in you. That is why I am so quick to let you go. Trust me, trust me, the human thing inside of me wants to keep you right here. Right where I can see your eyes and I can hold your hand. But even if you can’t see it, I can see it and I can ignore it no longer: you are ready. It is time. If I held you back, I’d be the one doing a disservice to the parts of this world that so deserve the blessing of “you” for a little while.

So cry your tears. And say your last words. And when you are emptied out, let me go. Please let me go. Don’t live in your memories, making tents and tiny houses out of the way we used to be. Something really wonderful awaits you. I need you to step inside of it.  Say goodbye because something new is about to start right here.

And me? Well I’ll carry the thought of you doing just fine. I’ll carry the thought of you meeting new people, and holding new pairs of hands, and clutching people closer than you ever clutched me. I’ll remember that when you came to me it was a blessing. A temporary blessing that we’ll one day see if we can make permanent. But for now, it’s you and all the little lives you’ve got to go out there and touch.

You’re ready. That’s why I’m letting you go. And everyone else? Everyone else who gets you for this next little “I’ll see you everyday” sort of while? They win. I don’t feel like much of a winner in this moment, but them? They absolutely win.

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The truth about lemonade and fitted jeans.

With permission, I have posted parts of this email from a reader.

This email, I believe, is the real gold of this post. And this girl is one hell of a writer.

Hey,

That 25 things list that went viral? I just read it. Again. I’m pretty sure it’s the first post I read by you, and I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon it. But I did. And I did again, today. At the end you say to come find you, if I need a listener. So here I’ve come.

The thing is, I hate the way victim looks on me. That ratty, stained, torn sweatshirt, it washes me out. And these days, I find myself pulling it on, morning after morning. It’s ugly. But it’s comfortable, and I don’t quite know how to shake the habit of grabbing it off the heaping pile of dirty laundry and slipping in one arm after the other.

My life doesn’t suck. Really, my life doesn’t suck. But I zip up that nasty, dull, grey hoodie each morning like it does. I hate the unflattering cut of that sweatshirt, how it hides and distorts what’s underneath, but I choose to put it on, to let it tell the world what I think I’m worth. Day. After. Day. I know the things. I know. The having to choose. To finally part ways with the dang thing and throw it out because it doesn’t tell the world who I really am. Doesn’t tell me who I am. Sells me short. This I know. So, Hannah, so, listening ear, how do I find the want-to? How do I shirk the sweatshirt for good?

I.want.to.take.the.sweatshirt.off. I do. I just need the courage. I need to want it bad enough. Want it bad enough to stop doing the things that scream, “This is all I’m worth,” the things that make that tattered, sorry excuse of a garment hiss, “See? This is who you are. This is all you’ll ever be. You’ll never change, you’ll never change. You haven’t got it in you. You’ll always come back to this. This is home.” I need that courage.

I don’t expect you to tell me how to find the courage. I know it’s choice. I know I need to open my eyes to the beauty all around that makes the choice worth it. I know I need to unclench the fists and the teeth and open this soul to all that heals, even hurt.

I just needed to get it out, Hannah. So, if you get to read this and you have a sec, say a prayer? Shoot me an, “I’m in your corner”?  That’s all. I want this, I do. It’s just hard to go it alone and sometimes it helps to have someone remind you that you can do it. That it’s worth it.

Thanks, Hannah.

T

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Dearest T,

I want to tell you a secret. And it’s a secret I never told anyone up until yesterday over rib eye tacos and chopped plantains at a restaurant where the food arrives to the table in adorable, little bowls. I guess I don’t know what makes a secret no longer a secret. I want to say the limit is 5 people or something. So it looks like this won’t be a secret anymore after tonight.

I used to hate pants. I used to hate wearing pants for the past three years. No one really knows that. I had a few pairs of them. I’d wear them occasionally but I always opted for dresses and skirts and tights. If I did wear a pair of pants, they were always looser. Sort of baggy. It’s strange to admit that here, that I hated the tightness of jeans. I hated feeling a waistband against my skin. I hated sitting down in a chair and being able to sense that I might have love handles. It was the leftover side effects of a body disorder. Every waistband was a reminder to me that I needed to be shrinking, not growing.

It wasn’t until a month ago that I walked into the GAP on Lexington Avenue and saw a pair of bright-blue jeans that I loved. Even just on the hanger, we were having a love affair. I took them with me into the fitting room. I geared up for the equivalent of the Hunger Games in my mind– a competition between all the districts of small voices in my head that told me how small I should be. How very little space I should try to take up.

I put the pants on. Slowly. Hesitantly. And I stared at myself in the mirror for what felt like a long time. And I didn’t forge a peace pact with my body or anything but I realized I was okay with it. I was okay with it.

I walked out of the GAP that day with two pairs of jeans and a body. Yes, it turns out that I have a body. And I have curves. And I have a shape. And I have all these things I never really took the time to see before. I’d been too busy hiding from it.

And surprisingly, there’s nothing destructive about my body. And nothing crumbles when I zipper jeans and feel the waistband against my skin. And if I just decide for myself that I’ve had enough of that, I can put it behind me. I actually have the power to put it behind me. And it’s enough for me to know, or at least predict, that when I am 76, I will have wished I loved my body a little more and went for the fitted pants. That’s enough for me to put them on.

T, I don’t want to be the person who lugs regrets like carry-on luggage into older age. I don’t want to have to say, looking back, that I was very fluent with breaking my own heart when it came to self-worth.

 

When I read your email– the beauty of all your syllables– I thought about those pants.

I thought about one of my girlfriend’s demanding I walk around to her side of the table in the middle of a lunch date and do a spin, right after I bought them.

“You have a body,” she said. “I didn’t even see it before. I didn’t know you had a shape.”

She didn’t know it because I covered it up. And I chose oversized layers. And I spent a long time wearing things that didn’t really fit me or flatter me simply because I wanted to be smaller than what I really was.

And I wonder if it might be the same for you and that word of yours– victim. I wonder what it would be like if you just decided today that you were done with that word. Done with that name. If it was being discontinued. Retired. Thrown away. I wonder if maybe all of us are a single internal shopping trip away from picking out better names to go by from the inventory of ourselves.

I wonder if you sat down for five minutes and you envisioned someone giving you the permission to cut that word out of every single dictionary and burn all the little shreds of paper that read the word “victim” on them, what that might feel like. I wonder if you would realize you’re okay without the word. You’re not destructive. You’re not a wrecking ball. You’re not someone who needs the word “victim” to keep her muzzled, and safe, and tame. You’re okay. You might even be better than okay.

I wonder if you will find that you have a contagious laugh. That you like mornings instead of nights. That you like your coffee black when you have the courage to try sipping it without spoonfuls of sugar mixed in. I wonder if you will see a lot more of this lifetime– all the curves of it– when you stop using a word that so quickly dismembers you and belittles you and tries to make you smaller than you really are. When you stop using the word “victim” as a comfort zone and you just learn the truth about comfort zones: comfort zones are a myth. They’re like reindeer with red lightbulbs attached to their noises to the people who live braves lives.

I wonder if you’ll wake up wide-eyed tomorrow and see the truth: we’re all looking for names and hurdles and things to be chains that keep us from fully living. We’re drawn to poems and stories where the limitations are lifted. And yet, some of us never move. We blast songs about learning to let it go. And yet, some of us will never stop holding onto the chains. It’s like we’re all just a single step away from realizing that the chains might be real but they’re paper. We could break them. We could really break them if we wanted to.

 

You’re ready.

It’s like you’re ready but you have just one more step in front of you. That’s all I really hear in your letter, T. I hear the voice that is sitting in between every line, saying, “I’m not this small. I’m just afraid of bigness. I am afraid that small is comfortable and small is safe and small is where I belong.”

Darling, small isn’t real. If your mind is already tumbling wildly over bigness than thinking you’ll be just fine playing a small life is a heartbreaking myth, as well. You’re denying yourself of the goodness you want. You’re mixing lemonade, pouring the sugar in, adding the ice and then saying to that heart of yours, “No, no, watch it from the counter but don’t you sip. That lemonade is for other people. Not you. Not you.”

T, you made the lemonade. You made it. And you have one more step. So say it with me, “And now, I’ll take a sip.”

 

I have a digital assistant.

Her name is Bethany. She is a bit of a powerhouse and I love her more fiercely than I get to tell her sometimes. She’s sort of like glue to the parts of me that don’t know how to keep an inbox organized. She wrote this article recently. And she wrote this one line. If I believed in face tattoos, this would probably be the line I choose to get needled across my nose and freckled cheeks:

“–what I’ve learned is that removing a label doesn’t change you—it frees you.”

That’s what will happen when you dismember that word “victim.” When you throw it away. You’ll be the same, sweet person. You’ll have the same heart. You’ll just be free. Imagine that. You’ll be free.

Don’t be afraid of being free. Don’t be afraid of the slow, long sips of sweet elixirs this life is going to give you on the day you choose big over small. Don’t be afraid of the fitted pants.

It starts by putting on the pants, one leg at a time. It starts with one slow slip.

tying you closer than most,

hb.

 

As always with these sort of things, post a note in the comments below for T. She’ll be reading.

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Filed under Beauty, brave

You were known. You were seen. You were here.

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“I think I’ve lost my life again,” I told her, twirling the stem of my wine glass as I talked. “That, or I don’t know how to be alone anymore. I used to actually be good at that.”

There it was, my chunk of honesty sitting square on the table between two heaping bowls of clams and pasta. I had to say it out loud. It was the kind of thing you say out loud or else you risk exploding from the inside out.

She just smiled. And said amen.

I wish we all had this kind of friend. The kind of friend where you can just word vomit everything you’ve been feeling and they don’t say much or tell you that you’re wrong to feel that way. They just show up with a mop. And they nod their head a lot. And you feel less alone, but like you’ve gotten something off your chest. You’ve finally told it to someone who holds these fragile secrets inside of you like fine china.

That might have been the only thing I needed to say all dinner. But I needed to say it out loud: I’m afraid of losing my life to things that don’t actually matter.

My best friend and I went on a short vacation this past week. We took two days to enjoy the sights of Raleigh, North Carolina, and then we attended a conference that serves as both a refresher and a restart button for small business owners.

Our trip had all the stitchings of the kind of things you know you’ll remember for years to come. A beautiful hotel right in the heart of Chapel Hill. Cookies when you check in. Long coffee dates with no email. Sitting on the hotel beds, surrounded by more pillows than what is really necessary for a single person, talking for hours about life. And dreams. And goals. And hopes. The chance to finally look around and notice things that seem too insignificant to really see when you’re slung in the muds of everyday life– the colors of mailboxes. The way the rain smells and steams off the pavement in Raleigh. The crooked grins of beautiful boys in blue polo shirts who park your car in straight lines.

The both of us wondered why it took so long. At that table with the clams, we wondered that. Why it always seems to take so long for us to just unplug and unclutter and look up to see that life wasn’t happening on a screen anyway. We get real good at convincing ourselves that life is everything that is happening in those screenshots and those retweets. But if you just look up for 5 minutes– if you catch the shade of blue in someone else’s eyes today– you’ll see that you were wrong to think that.

It’s hard to even imagine it but there used to be a time when moments were just moments. When you saw him from across a crowded room and he gave you a glance that only you could pocket and that one shot of a smile was yours, all yours. It wasn’t publlic. It wasn’t filtered. It was sacred. A connection.

I guess I don’t know what happened. I guess I don’t know how I lost my life to this– and how everything came undone and unbalanced. But I know it happened once before. Years ago, there was a time in the earlier stages of More Love Letters when I treated that company like she was everything. I was always connected. I was always scaling to-do lists. I was barely sleeping. I was living each day with a slew of wrecking ball habits and I was the one who crawled to the finish line of each midnight hour and wondered why I felt so empty. So drained. Unhappy.

And I wondered why– when it should have been so easy to just roll over and fall asleep– I’d keep the phone clutched in my hand and I would scroll and scroll and scroll through the thoughts and images of other people, absorbing their fragmented glimpses of daily life, like old hymns you read with the hope you’ll find yourself known inside of them.

I’d wake up and I wouldn’t even push the yellow, quilted blanket from around my legs before I was checking in and seeing where I’d been missed or mentioned the night before. Honestly, I don’t know how it happened but I guess that doesn’t matter if you know why it did. It isn’t that I wanted followers. It isn’t that I wanted numbers or another mention. I just didn’t want to have to be alone. I just didn’t want to have to sit by myself.

It’s like this vacant warehouse inside of me. I used to think it was a tiny hole and now I see that it is a warehouse. So much square footage. A hollow space inside of me that wants to be known. And seen. And valued. And I hate standing in the center of it alone.

So I look for things to fill that space. I look for the wrong things. Like social media. I let social media try to sooth the parts of me that whisper, “I want to be seen. I want to be known. I want to be more than just a face in the crowd. I want to be stunning. And lovely. I want to be validated for who I choose to be.” I try to let social media do that filling job for me. And then I wonder why I am surprised to find that warehouse inside of me feels more empty instead of full.

Because nothing about the life that gets lived on the screen is really real. Sure, from time to time it can be a blessing but it isn’t really quality. It’s just a lot of quantity. It’s just a lot of trying to fill the hunger on the inside with followers and emails that say, “please respond by tomorrow because we need this.” And so we do, because it’s nice to be needed. But it’s just a lot of empty measurements– a lot of empty measuring cups of false self-worth– that keep me spinning on my toes. And keep me singing out loud to the world, “This whole life revolves around me. It revolves around me. My life matters. Me, me, me.”

I think that’s what social media really does these days. More than it connects us. It claims to bring us together but I think we’re too distracted to see that it’s ripping us away from the one thing that really matters: each other. And how much we desperately need to show up for one another.

In the middle of the conference they had us all get up from our seats and find a space on the floor to lie down. Spread out our legs. Close our eyes. Don’t move. Don’t flinch. Don’t let our heads get cluttered with the “must-do”s for the evening. And they told us to imagine– to build a picture in our mind– of what we wanted life to be like in 5 years from now.

And normally I find these kinds of exercises to be cheesy. But I was exhausted. And laying on the floor of the hotel ballroom in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I started to weep. And my chest was heaving. And they just kept telling us to dig deeper and see more details. What do you see? What do you see? Like a trigger pulled, I came undone.

Because I saw him. I saw us. Sitting side by side on a countertop, bare feet and legs swinging. There was no urgency in the moment. There was no other place to be. My head was on his shoulder. The only light in the room was the white lights of Christmas that we never bothered to take down off the windows. And my favorite song was floating all around us, it had come up randomly on a Pandora station. And I realized in that moment, he was exactly the kind of guy I always hoped I would fall in love with: the kind of guy who doesn’t say a word when your favorite song is on because he knows how much you like to try and live inside of every word.

It was just us. No phones. No notifications. No need to document that we were here because you’d only ever have to ask the other person in the room– ask them if it was real– for them to answer you with all the confidence in the world, “Yes, it was real.” You were known. You were seen. “You were definitely, definitely here.”

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How I show her how to love.

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In the middle of a crowded airport food court in Kentucky, I thought about my daughter. The one who doesn’t exist yet. The one who might never exist though I’ve already written her countless letters and etched her little notes on the edges of my diary pages.

In the middle of a crowded airport food court in Kentucky, I thought about my daughter and I thought about shoes. How one day, I might use the topic of shoes to inch my way into a conversation with her about great love stories.

 

When I lived in New York City, I remember calling my friend up one night on the commute home from work. I’d been struck on the subway by (what I thought) was a really amazing plan.

“So I could go to Good Will or some place like that and buy a bunch of shoes. I could get a bunch of high heels.”

“You’re going to spend your stipend on shoes?” (I was living on a $25 weekly stipend at the time. Yes, I was going to spend that stipend on shoes.)

“Well, it’s an experiment. It’s worth it.” I rambled into the phone as I passed bodegas and dollar stores on the way back to my apartment in the Bronx. “I could get a bunch of shoes and then write my number or an email address and leave them all over Manhattan.”

“Sounds very Cinderella-esque,” she said over the phone. “You actually think someone would pick up a shoe in New York City?”

 

The girl who lived in New York City her first year after college was evidently a different girl than the one who writes here today. I was obsessed with good love stories. I thought– with every shred of my being– that I was destined to fall in love in a coffee shop. I wanted to be Joey Potter or something. It sounds so lame to admit that. But I guess I have no shame. At one point or another, I think we’ve all wanted to feel like we could be the center of something– whether that’s a good love story or someone else’s universe.

But it was more than just falling into a good love story at that time in my life: I wanted to crafted one. I wanted to create one. I had so much control stuck in my bones that I wanted to manage the elements and I wanted to devise my own love story. It doesn’t really work that way. I’ve learned that over time.

I guess I’ll want my daughter to know that– just like shoes– you have to eventually stop being so hellbent on finding the “right one.” Some things are meant to be more seamless than we think. The girl in New York City didn’t yet know that it is easy to commit yourself to hunting for a great love story. It so much harder to make a commitment to yourself. But that might be the game changer, the thing that makes you ready, when you step up to commit to someone else.

 

Commitment. There’s that sticky word again. The one that makes my left eye twitch because big, red, blaring exit signs have always done me good. I want her to know that even if commitment looks like a scary word, she should see her way around it. Commitment is a constant word. It’s more than just love and fairy tale guts, it’s getting to say out loud, to someone else, “Even if right here feels like the very last place in the world that I want to be standing– because it’s just so hard right now– I am showing up to win your heart and prove to you that love grows and expands and evolves in time. I am making a commitment to you not to shrink out of this.”

But the shrinking will come. As it always does, the shrinking will show up and I hope she will know that just because a person falls apart from time to time does not mean they are disposable or not loveable. Just because a person falls apart does not mean that the white flags should get raised, or the scores should be cleared, or we’re supposed to walk away when someone hits the floor. I hope she knows that though the stars are charged with showing up in the sky, we are the ones charged with showing up for people when they hit the floor.

Because, just like everyone, she will know the floor. It’s a common place that we all can relate to– the tears, the fetal position, the cold hard wood against your face. It’s like a second language we’ve all learned on our own. She will know the feeling of her hands and knees sunk deep into the carpet and the kind of weeping that makes you feel like your heart might just explode out of your chest.

And I’m only ever going to be able to tell her that love is a rollercoaster that sometimes leaves us on the floor. You will be up. You will down. You will break someone at some point. Someone might leave you in pieces on the floor. But here is the hope (the hope, the hope): that whoever becomes her constant one will show up with glue and a hope to bind, not a hammer with a hope she can be fixed.

 

It will be a rush and a ramble to meet someone. Someone decent. Someone kind. Someone good. That’s how the culture will make her feel.

At points, the world will come at her from every angle and try to shake her shoulders like she is standing in the middle of a desperate post-apocalyptic war zone where she must get out there and find one of the last decent human beings alive. And fill out dating profiles. And go out to bars. And put herself out there. And. Just. Find. That. One. I hope I will be able to tell her that the world will make it feel like the search is endless but forced treasure hunts might only ever lead her to spots with no gold. Sometimes gold is the kind of thing that tumbles into a room unexpectedly.

“Don’t fear so much. Don’t worry so much, girl. Put down the map. Put down the compass. Get yourself a backpack and take yourself on a journey and make constant kinds of vows to your own self first. One day, someday, a person will arrive and they will quickly become your favorite novel. You’ll want to write your notes into all their pages. But for now, you have yourself an encyclopedia. Others might call that massive thing “your heart” but I’m just gonna call it an encyclopedia because it is miles and miles of things you don’t know yet. You don’t need to search. Stop looking around wildly. Just start reading. Knowing yourself will be the biggest gift you ever give to your own great love story.”

 

I like to imagine I’ll get to say these things to her and then I am forced realize that I probably won’t ever get to speak much at all. If her pretty head is anything like mine then she always, always be consumed with the anthems and the love songs and the poems that are writing themselves in her head. It’ll be me to face the mirror at the end of a longer day and ask myself the harder questions: “Did you show her love today? It doesn’t matter if you talked to her about love, did you show her love? More than that, did you show her how to love?” Was it evident in your moves? In your actions? In the way you made eye contact with the man on the other side of the counter?”

Because that’s what love comes down to. Not words, but actions. Not a constant debate of who to love and where to love and when to love. I don’t want to waste my time on things I already know the answers to: everyone. everywhere. always.

It will all come down to how. How I show up for her. How I show up for her and show her how to love.

So, for now, I just whisper things that sound poetic like prayers to me. Things like this: May love teach me everything it needs to be teach me so that I can show up and show her how.

May love be evident in all the things that I do. In the way I say hello to you. In the time and attention I give to you. In the things I push aside on my calendar because this… this… well, nothing beats this. And we will never have “this” back so I want to make sure we just stay soaking in it a little while longer.

May I know how to treat myself and others with respect. Because that is the core. That is the secret. That is the golden nugget.May love be evident in the friendships I make. And the apologies I make. And the time I make. And the messes I make.

May the love in my own story never be tame, but wild and fierce. May it sometimes be unexplainable beyond just these words: This is my heart. And it wants certain things. And I’ve wasted too long of a time saying sorry for that.

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Filed under Love Is...

Sevenly + Not for Sale + why the small stuff matters.

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If you’d asked me several years ago– right when I was getting out of college– I probably would have told you what I thought was the truth at that time: small things don’t make a difference.

Small things. Tiny acts. Glances in the right direction. Little things we carry on throughout a day, some on the to-do list and some not.

I would have told you that the things that actually made a difference were Big. They were Loud. They were Titanical. And they were Movements. I didn’t know back then that movements are stitched and made when many small things + small groups of people band together to shake stuff up.

In the last few years, my boat has been rocked by the little things. By the small things. By short emails. By quick phone calls. By brief exchanges that end up extending themselves into so much more. And by the power of something as small as a tweet or a website link, and how these small things ultimately stack up into movements that change the world we’re living in today.

Today I want you to introduce you to one of those movements that is near and dear to my heart.

Meet Sevenly

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I was approached by the company Sevenly several months ago after partnering up with Save the Children to raise awareness for the children of Syria. Basically, I fell in love. I was practically doodling Sevenly’s name and little hearts all around it in my notebooks (well, not really… but you get the point). Sevenly teams with up a charity every week, helping to raise both funds and awareness for a solid 7 days. Sevenly takes $7 from every purchase and gives it directly to the charity. At over 3 million dollars raised, Sevenly is leading the way for crowd-funding for causes while raising massive amounts of awareness through trendy apparel. You can get all the deets here.

In a nutshell: Sevenly gives generously. They love intentionally. And they produce swag that stands for something. Best of all—every purchase– big & small–  stacks up to make a difference for people. I’ll be teaming up with Sevenly on occasion to highlight some of the causes that resonate with me but there are noble causes every single week. It’s a company I recommend bookmarking so you can devour all their goodness on a weekly basis.

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This week, I’m partnering with Not for Sale + Sevenly to rescue children at risk of being trafficked.  Not For Sale works to fight modern-day slavery. They provide direct services to victims of human trafficking and people vulnerable to exploitation, and attack the root causes through education, skill development and job creation.

I’ve worked with several organizations in the past few years that are tirelessly giving their time and their energy to end human trafficking for good. I admire them with all my heart. It’s gutsy companies like Not for Sale– and the people behind them– that inspire me to advocate and raise awareness. They inspire me to keep in check these feelings that a small thing or a small group can’t actually make a difference. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” When I saw Not for Sale as one of the upcoming causes for Sevenly, I couldn’t not get on board.

The small stuff matters, it matters. I hope you’ll support.

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There are several clothing options on the site. Here is the link to the flowy tee pictured above.

I’m always in the mood to learn about cool causes + companies that are out there so please share in the comments below if you’ve been impacted by a brand or a cause.

DISCLAIMER: I am not making any kind of affiliate sales from Sevenly. This post is strictly to raise awareness for the cause at hand. I so appreciate your support of the brand!

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Filed under Moving & Shaking

The Anatomy of Brave.

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The core of her email– summed up into a pretty, little nutshell– was simple: You’re not brave. You might be this or you might be that, but you’re not brave. And you shouldn’t bother telling people that you’re brave because you’re too young to be brave, and life hasn’t hit you fully enough for you to be brave, and your life is too pretty to be brave. You need to do x, y, & z before you think you’re brave. Basically, you need to “LIVE A LITTLE” before you get to call yourself brave.

That’s the more eloquent version of the email that greeted me first in my inbox this morning. It was in response to a status I put up yesterday about handing in my first round of book rewrites and feeling in all of it, for the first time in my life, that I was brave. And I’d be all sorts of lying to you if I said I didn’t read the email, digest it, get a little sad, and call my best friend to ask her for a vent session so that I could keep this email from ruining my morning.

I know these kinds of words from a stranger aren’t supposed to matter to me. I’ve read all the advice from other writers who suggest you just tack on the line “Hi, I am a complete stranger dropping into your inbox to give you some advice on your own life…” before you read a single sentence and it will somehow soften the blow. But it doesn’t take away from the truth: words sting. Words cut. As one of my readers once told me, “Words can be weapons or balms, depending on how we use them.” And it hurts to read what people actually think about you– whether their addressing you out of truth, anger, jealousy, or genuine concern.

 

 

I get these emails. It’s not the first time. They can be a lot harsher than this. They can be a lot quicker. They can simply say, “I think you should die and I am going to go on wearing my leggings as pants.” Right on, you should. These emails arrive. And I still read most of them. And I brush it off after a few moments. And I have to make a real effort not to carry these negative words around with me for the rest of the day.

And I was never actually going to give this message from a girl who doesn’t know me a second thought until I realized that this email really bothered me. And it wasn’t her anger that bothered me, it wasn’t her mean words, it was just this: You don’t actually get to stand beside someone and tell them whether or not they’ve reached a level of bravery. You don’t actually get to determine what does or does not make a person brave, or lovely, or worthy, or good. That’s not your right. That’s not your calling. That’s just a tactic to try to keep someone else from reaching their full potential. If you ask me, the world already has enough of that floating around.

 

 

We’re surrounded by it. The negativity. It brews. And it’s thick. And it’s real. And this email didn’t make me bitter, it made me very genuinely worried. Because, you see, I have thick skin. And I can take criticism. But I remember a time when that wasn’t the case. And I remember that I was just waiting for someone to come and shut me up so I could use it as an excuse to never move and never try and never push and never break the box I kept putting myself in. I was hungry for someone to tell me I couldn’t do something because, as strange as it seems, I wanted to use that as an escape route for never stepping out there and daring to get my heart a little mangled by the chase of it all. And so truthfully, this email made me really worried for the person who can’t easily say that they’re strong when it comes to these kinds of things. It makes me really worried because we are surrounded by people who want to tell us what we can or cannot be and I guess I’m just really worried that you might be listening to them.

 

 

The things I face on my own journey call me to approach new levels of bravery that are relative for me on a daily basis. Bravery might look different to you. We all have different experiences with bravery, we all different ideas of it. To some, bravery is chemotherapy treatments that they endure week after week after week just to survive and keep scribbling in a leather-bound journal about the sunsets. To others, bravery is finding a way to feed 5 hungry mouths at the end of each day. To some, bravery is just being able to get out to bed and try. That, to some, takes a mammoth amount of bravery– to just stomach themselves in a mirror or stand in the middle of a relationship though they haven’t been honestly able to say since last September, “I love him. And I want to be faithful to him. And even when he hurts me, I stay.”

Here is the truth about bravery. Here is her essence– she can’t defined by a measuring cup or a yardstick or a square foot. Bravery isn’t the kind of thing you measure, it is the kind of thing you activate. It’s pretty obvious to everyone– we walked into a life that isn’t always kind or bearable or comfortable or good and it takes a real chunk of bravery to just get through a day sometimes.

Bravery– if you ask me– is the day my best friend told me that she was getting sober and I watched her hands tremble over the hurdles of what would come next. Bravery– if you ask me– is watching a dear friend of mine raise four beautiful children with all the grit she’s got, and showing up for those children even when she is tired & broken & worn. That, my friends, is titanical bravery to me. Bravery– if you ask me– is the day he was diagnosed with cancer and the only response on his lips was this, “I will fight this thing. I will be relentless and I will fight this thing.” Bravery– if you ask me– is just her showing up at my door, the one with the big red handle, and speaking the truth out loud, “I want more. I have been afraid to say it for a really long while but I want more for this life of mine.”

So no, you don’t get to stand here and tell someone that a hurdle that has taken them years to finally get over is something they should have learned to limbo under several yesterdays ago. That’s not kind. That’s not true. That’s just small.

 

 

And that is exactly the problem with the culture we are standing inside of today: we are constantly dictated by people that tell us that bravery is Elsewhere. And beauty is Elsewhere. And life, or a life you can actually be proud of, is Elsewhere. And Elsewhere is just a flimsy little measure we never plan to reach but it does its justice in keeping us from showing up to the life we’ve been given for this moment. Elsewhere is just a defense mechanism that allows you to keep your fists clenched and your heart not open to what life could look like when you grant it the permission to take your heart and run with it.

And as long as someone is telling us that we still need to do this and that and the other thing before we finally arrive into a space of worth, we get content with wasting space. And we don’t show up. And we stay on the insides of ourselves, just trying to fix every little thing that other people have told us is wrong, hoping we will eventually fix enough that we become adequate to help someone else. And darling, that’s not gonna amount to bravery, it’s only going to look cowardly of us in the end.

The criticism won’t stop coming. Really, it won’t. It will show up in big boxes and tiny vessels. At your front door and at your back window. And it will invite in the doubt & the fear & the worries. You make the action plan that gets you out of the grips of these things but it will surely keep coming. I can’t make many promises but I can promise you that.

No matter how far you go, or whatever kind of success or failure meets you, or whatever you do that seems noble or good or quite the opposite, people will continue to try to kick you down. They will try to tell you you’re not good enough. They will try to convince you that you’re not brave. That is the way of life. You can call it insecurity. You can call it anger. You know what, don’t even waste your time trying to give it a name. Just please don’t let it be the thing that keeps you from starting. You’re not supposed to stay standing in that one spot for too long.

 

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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?

click here to join the wait list for the Monday Morning Breakfast Club Email

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facebook. twitter. instagram. email.

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A call on 20-somethings.

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My words are not a parachute.

They won’t soften the landing when that moment buckles your knees and breaks you down to the floor. My words, they’re not no cold bucket of water. They won’t extinguish the doubt that blazes heavy, heavy, like a fire catching to all the pretty things you touch. Nothing I write can prepare you for that moment.. maybe you already know the one.

It’s going to hit you at some point. It might meet you randomly. 2am. 4am. When you’re standing in the middle of a crowded campus or alone in your cubicle beside a cactus you keep forgetting to water. No matter where you are, it’ll hit you. And you’ll look up suddenly. And you’ll look around. And you’ll let these words slip out from your lips, “Why am I here?”

Why am I here? And what am I doing? And this? Well, this doesn’t look like anything I thought it would be. Why does my life matter? Why does my life matter? Why does my life matter?

The moment, it’ll feel hollow.

Like all the insides of you have been scraped out. And suddenly the followers won’t matter. And the filters won’t matter. And all the digital things we share and tweet won’t hold much value at all. Something inside of you will be hungry for more.

You might cry. There may be many a’ ugly tears on your horizon. You might clench your fists. You might bite down hard on your bottom lip. You might pour a glass of wine and vow to forget it all by morning. But no matter what you choose to do, beware. That moment is gonna tidal wave you with all sorts of unanswerable questions and there’s only one thing I can promise you when it comes to that moment: you don’t need to have all the answers. They’re never going to arrive in one bundle like the back pages of a SAT prep book. You’ll never get all the answers so you can’t let that be the thing that keeps you from pushing forward into what’s next.

Someone got it into our brains that we needed to have every little thing figured out.

That some fairytale was going to greet us at the gates of adulthood. That life would look just like a movie. It’s simply not true. And if this is what it looks like to have it “all figured out” then we are living in some sort of coloring book where only half the pictures ever got Tickle Me Pink scribbled within their lines. We’ve got loans up to our elbows. We’re messy when we fall in love. We’re still trekking for the dream job or learning how to create it from scratch. We’re doing the best we possibly can within a world that started saying, right after two planes crashed into two towers, that we needed to make the most of this life thing. It was too short. It was too quick. It was unexpected at best. We needed to make the most of it.

We still want to be something really special and that’s not because the newspapers say our generation is the type that needs trophies for everything. We still want to be something really special for the same reasons that anyone, at any age, wants to be something really special: because it’s nice to be noticed every once in a while, even if it’s just by someone who has always taken you as you are. And in a world where it’s nearly impossible to get someone to look you in the eye instead of at the screen, it’s nice to be someone’s kind of Special at the end of a long day.

And we walked into the world and we were loud when we said we wanted to do something. I’d argue that we still do. We want to help people. We want to make some sort of impact. And that goodness inside of us, it never went away. It might have been covered. It might have been dimmed a bit. But if you’re anything like me then you still wake up hoping that this will be the day you will be brave and you’ll do something that matters. That’s all I really want if I am being truthful: To be brave and to do something that truly matters.

But the scary truth in all of it is that nothing in this world– not the magazines, not the networks, not the hyperlinks– will get us there. We have to be the ones to push aside the small talk and just resolve to be present, and connected, and intentional with one another. We have to be the ones to show up to this life if we ever want to do something that matters.

I didn’t want to turn this thing into a list.

Because the answer isn’t sitting in a list on the internet that someone wrote to tell you all the things you should and should not do with this 20-something life. And I know all too well that a list of things you “should” and “should not” do is never going to help you. Not in your 20’s. Not your 30’s. Not your 50’s.

So this isn’t much of a list. Maybe just call it the evidence I’ve gathered so far: I, personally, need to breathe more. Just because I want to have things figured out doesn’t mean I always will, so I really just need to learn to let that one go. Sallie Mae is an awful home wrecker but there is a way to live peacefully with her (after all, I’m the one who decided to stack these loans upon my shoulders). People will always have a lot to say about what you “should” do. Don’t entertain them if their aim is to belittle you. “Should” is a word that should be abolished from the dictionary.

You have to get out there. You have to feel life on your own skin. On your own terms. By your own rules. And maybe that’s the very first thing you need to learn to do– burn the rulebook and screw the boxes that other people want to put you inside of. Your life has nothing to do with tiny, little boxes that help you play smaller than you truly are. The point is to grow, not to shrink. But if you’re any ounce of human then you’ll always try to shrink before you grow.

Adulthood is a real thing but it doesn’t make much noise when it arrives. Heartbreak hurts but it makes you more resilient. Commitment sounds like an old-fashioned word but it will never go out of style. And it will always be a slow thing– a slow, slow thing– no matter how fast the world moves all around us. So commit to things. And get your heart involved. Take that risk, even if it means that something could break along the way.

If you are any bit like me then it doesn’t matter how much older you get, you still want to keep every person you encounter safe in your possession. But no, it doesn’t work that way. And you have to learn how to not be bitter when it comes to letting people go. I have to learn to loosen the grip a bit.

It’s beautiful to be young and innovative in the world today. And I will always fight you if you try to tell me that I am too old for Ringpops and sitting on counter tops while Jason Mraz trickles through the kitchen and the kettle hisses from the stove.

Life slips away quickly and unexpectedly– and time is the one, rare thing we always wish we had more of– so there’s really no time to sit here and write anything further when it turns out that life is actually everything that happens off the screen- unedited, unfiltered, and shared with others. It all comes down to other people. Other people are the lottery tickets of this lifetime that win every single time.

You get choices.

Every single day. You don’t get all the answers. But you will get those choices. Some mammoth and massive. Others tiny and seemingly minute. Each one matters though. Every single choice– every task that does or does not meet the to-do list– will ultimately stack up and answer one big question: whether you standing here– with gifted oxygen in your lungs– actually meant something.

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