29

Am I supposed to feel different? 

This is my last year in my 20s. For awhile,  the thought freaked me out; however, now, I feel indifferent to it. Perhaps it’s that I don’t have the same energy as I used to, that is, to “age” and be excited that I’m becoming the person I’ve always dreamed of becoming. The person I always wanted to be when I grew up. Now I’m simply grown up. It isn’t this distant desire; it’s just my day to day. 

Plus, it’s just a number and I’m still me. Never again will I be a young adult, but I also don’t want to go back to those days. I am much happier and I'm content with who I am, now, at 29 (tomorrow).

But, being the last year of my 20s, how do I make this one count? 

I want to stop caring about what people think about me, or as others might say, I want to not give a ____. Apparently, I do give some _____ to not type the word ____, but it's my own personal preference and not because others expect me to say/not say something.

I’ve always been a worrier, and I spent so much of my 20s worrying. I knew, even at 22, that if I kept on worrying, one day, at 29, I’d regret it. Sure enough, I regret it. I regret how much I worried. A lot of the worry was to do with my future–if I would marry my dream guy, if I’d find a career that made me happy, stuff like that–but a lot of my worry was also about what others thought of me. I’m a people pleaser, perhaps a curse of being an INFJ, but these past few weeks it’s suddenly dawned on me: I don’t have to please people. I don't have to care whether people like me or not. I don’t have to give any _____. I can just be me.

It’s not that I don’t want to care for people or be sensitive to how my actions affect others, that’s not it at all. In fact, I want to continue being vulnerable, with myself and with others . I want to love deeper and have more compassion. What I don't want is people pleasing controlling my life, jeopardizing who I am, what I stand for and how I wish to be. 

I think about all of my years as a ballet dancer, standing in front of a mirror, watching my body move. I realize this discipline made me so aware of how I appear to others that, unbeknownst to me, I became obsessed with it and it ruled my entire life. It has caused me to hold back parts of myself, instead of allowing myself to dance freely as a child, the child I was before I cared about what I looked like in a mirror/to others. 

So, here’s to the art of simply being me and not caring about the judgement of others.

Here's to the art of not giving a ____.

Here’s to not worrying, and letting life happen how it’s going to happen.

Here’s to being  my honest self, my whole self, my flawed self,  my wandering self.

Here’s to being me, and giving me all I’ve got. 

I made it!

I did it; I made it! I made it out of the 27 Club, you know, the infamous age 27 when a lot of people die, and a lot of us superstitious people (read: me) try not to let it consume us.

Twenty-seven, though, has always been one of my favorite numbers, and so I was super excited to turn twenty-seven last year, but today, today on my last day of being twenty-seven, I was afraid I might die. And though I cut someone off pretty badly in traffic tonight (he cut me off first), here I am, 10:44 pm and I'm still alive. I’m not entirely surprised, although as a child I never imagined myself getting to this age (only because it was too far away to comprehend). I didn’t think of myself as dead but rather non-existent, and dead and non-existent are not the same things. I’m glad I’m neither of those, frankly. 

Honestly, I learned a lot this year. Of course, it was also the best year. Ofmyentirelife. Seriously. The most exciting being that I married the man of my dreams, and tonight as I was looking at him in the movie theater, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself how lucky I am. I also graduated from university, a ten-years-in-the-making-degree. It was wonderful and life changing and hard and eye opening and I am so grateful for all of my profs and peers at school (now this sounds like an acceptance speech). I also moved to my dream city, Seattle, and I can truthfully say that this is the first place I have ever lived that instantly feels like home (city number 8).

I always write these super long blog posts whenever I turn a new age, but these past few days have been so busy and tomorrow I’ll be busy, too. Normally I get a bit upset if I don’t have time to write on my actual day of birth, but right now, it doesn’t matter so much because I am just… happy. 

For so long, life was a struggle. I don’t entirely know why. I had a great childhood and my teenage years were, well, typical rebellious teenage years. My early twenties were fun but also very dramatic and suddenly, during this age of twenty-seven, I finally felt like me. It’s like I was dropped into my own skin and had an “ah-hah!” moment, here I am, world!

Largely, I think getting married help. Marriage is not the answer to your life’s problems, but as a complete introvert, and someone who has dreamed of getting married my entire life, I had learned to be a chameleon. In my awkward and shy and quiet self, the best way I have found to relate to people is to be a mirror of them. If they are quiet, I am quiet. If they are loud and outgoing, I will be loud(er) and (more) outgoing. I find it’s the best way to get them to feel comfortable, thus making me feel comfortable, too. My theory is that if they see the parts they like of themselves reflected back to them through me, they’ll find familiarity and comfort and then we’ll get along with little confrontation. I suppose I have always been a people pleaser, and good lord, this was always the case when I was dating. I was a chameleon with all of my exes, being who they wanted me to be, and it was beyond exhausting, even when I didn’t realize I was doing it. I suppressed myself for so long to try and make them happy that it quite literally made me sick and sent me to the hospital. But none of that matters anymore because now I just feel like me. I’ve found my human, the one who makes me the best version of myself. The one who I don’t have to be a chameleon with, but the one who is also similar to me. Ying and yang. Peanut butter and jelly, you know. That’s who we are.

But mostly, not having to be a chameleon to anyone anymore has allowed me to focus on me again. I know that sounds selfish, but helping me has helped me help others. By figuring out myself and who my core identity is, it has allowed me to be a full version of myself, and when I’m full, I am more open and available to others, to those who need me the most. It’s a win-win, for everyone.

And so while there are most definitely twenty-seven things I learned about myself this past year (and usually this is the format of my “birthday posts”), I guess the only real important one to discuss is that I simply learned how to be me, and be okay with me. 

I have so many thoughts on aging, so many thoughts I want to write about more. Tomorrow I will be twenty-eight, and I know that is still young, but it is not young-young, ya know. For so long I thought I was going to be this prodigy child that forever changed the world, and I couldn’t imagine myself ever getting old, no. I was going to remain this child superstar, but I don’t suppose I did anything monumental. I mean yes, I think I did a lot of amazing small things, and small things add to big things. I am beyond grateful for every opportunity I’ve had and where my life has brought me, but I think as a prodigy child I also thought I could somehow skip getting old and simply be a child forever. So it’s weird to me, that I am as old as I am now. And it’s weird to me, that I still exist in my own skin and I’m still the same me as I was when I was only ten. It’s weird to me that eventually, I’ll be in my thirties, forties, fifties and gosh, sixties, and I'll be laughing at my twenty-seven/eight-year-old self. Eventually, I’ll be 101 because I am determined to live to be at least 101. 

The past few months I’ve been doing a lot of self-help identity work, and it is this next birthday approaching (uh oh, only 59 minutes left) where I’ve realized that a lot of my identity went into being young. Once again, the child prodigy. You can do anything you put your heart to! You can change the world! It is YOU and YOUR generation that will do xyz! And I hope it’s still true, but I am learning that I defined myself by that, by being young. And so I’ve had to do a lot of “de-younging” my identity to realize that I am still a valuable and worthy human being just because I’m not as young as I use to be. And I can turn thirty and have a new career if I want. I can turn forty and have a new hobby. I can turn fifty and climb a mountain for the first time. And so on and so on and so on. My age, and aging, will not define who I am.

I have no idea what this next year will bring, but I’m relieved I don’t have to think about the 27 Club anymore. I spend a lot of time thinking, so maybe for year 28, I’ll spend more time doing. Yes, that is precisely what I will do. 

Twenty-eight, here’s to doing you.

Just a little snap so I always remember what I looked like at 27 and what my writing setup was like, and proof I made it past the 27 Club. It's July 30th, 2016 at 11:31pm, so only 29 minutes left now.

Just a little snap so I always remember what I looked like at 27 and what my writing setup was like, and proof I made it past the 27 Club. It's July 30th, 2016 at 11:31pm, so only 29 minutes left now.

27.

I seriously don’t know where time goes. I don’t know why it won’t slow down and I don’t know what it means for me when I will still feel like I’m 27 but suddenly in an aging body of 72. I’ll be wrinkly, who knows if I’ll have any eyebrows left and I highly doubt I’ll be able to touch my toes (I can barely touch them now). I do know, that I’m determined to live past 100. 

I’ve always been into numbers, to the point where it drives me crazy. I’m not superstitious and yet I find symbolism in everything. I’m certainly not into numerology and yet, I have to force myself to believe that I’m not being haunted by some number, a memory of the past. I can probably tell you the calendar date that we met and when we had our first kiss and how old I was when I moved there and the date I left and the date I came back and the date I left again and the date you first emailed me and the date I had this feeling and the date I told you I loved you and the date of when my grandfather died. I’m surrounded by dates, memories of the past, markers of something that happened at this time or that time.

My favorite two numbers in the whole entire world are 3 and 27. Three has significant reasonings behind it, 27, I just like how it looks. I like how it sounds. I asked Eric today, what his favorite number was. 17, he said. When I asked him why, he said because it’s the number of kids he wants. I laughed. I love his playful sense of humor, a reminder for me to snap out of it and stop obsessing about numbers (though, I don’t think he realized I was obsessing about numbers). 

But here I am, obsessing about numbers, because in a few days I turn 27. My number. During my number I will get my degree (only took me 10 years) and marry my best friend. And I am so excited for these things. I’m so excited because one means freedom and the other means permanency. School is such a drag. I love learning, but I’m a terrible student, and I can’t wait to feel free again. Free to do my own thing and have time back in my hands. Free to create and focus my brain power on the things that inspire me. Marriage is my permanency, my stability. Not that I’m relying on marriage for my stability (for I think stability comes from within oneself), but stability in falling asleep and waking up with the same person each day, no matter where on this planet we are. It’s a little twosome bubble that gets to float around the earth and find inspiration together and create together and hurt together and laugh together, freely.

I don’t know how this life of mine will end, I just hope I get many more shots at all the different numbers I still have yet to reach. There are so many things I still want to do with my life, and for the first time in my life, I’m less concerned with how they look or how they line up on the conventional time line of when you’re supposed to do this or that. I have no desire to settle down. I’m determined to not let marriage or having kids or buying a home stop me from doing the things that make me me (maybe this is naive of me). Each day I still want to wake up and realize there is whole world of things to accomplish, and that I want to work as hard as I can at each of these items and keep growing and stretching myself. I want to continue gaining perspective and discovering new parts of the world and realizing that maybe the things I do or you do are actually backwards, but that it doesn’t even matter. 

In all honesty, as I get older, the numbers start to blur altogether. I think that’s why I continue to write. Because as the numbers blur together and the memories become more distant, and new ones are mixed with old ones, I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to forget how I feel right now. Right now, I feel happier than I have in my entire life. Right now, I want nothing more than to continue taking photos. Right now, all of my loved ones are healthy and happy. Right now, I am so excited to get married. Right now, I am so excited to be done school. Right now, I am kicking myself for not studying harder for that midterm. Right now, I feel at complete peace with myself. Right now, I know that a good night’s sleep really does wonders. Right now, I know that things generally do feel better in the morning. Right now, I have faith. Right now, I am not afraid. Right now, I want to play music. 

Last year I wrote about all of the things I had learned. This year, there are countless more lessons I’ve learned, but I feel less concerned with how they fit into making it to another numerical age. It’s strange, this in between age, of being not quite as successful as I’d like to be (due to the fact that I'm still young) but somehow still successful (due to the fact that I’m still young). 

All I know is that during this next year, I want to wake up every morning, and not waste a single second of my time. I’m tired of playing catch up with myself. I’m tired of making excuses. I’m tired of being too afraid or uncertain to do something. This next year, I want to push harder than I’ve ever pushed before. I want to continue finding inspiration, and turning that into something that makes me whole. Whether it’s through photography or writing or love or travel or cooking or hiking or reading or whatever it is, whoever it is, I become.

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PS: Oh yeah, and here's a photo series of my past year. I haven't talked about it much, but it basically documents the very end of 25 and half of 26 where I had that terrible haircut and decided to take secret self portraits while working for Airbnb as an interior photographer. Locations are primarily in New York and San Francisco, with a few from Seattle and Vancouver.

Right between 25 and 26.

Twenty-five was a really amazing year for me.  I have a lot of dreams I still want to accomplish, but when it comes to a bucket list, there have only ever been three items I’ve actually written down. In no particular order, they are:

  • Live in New York
  • Travel to Africa and take photos there for a cause
  • Complete my bachelor's degree (the one I dropped out of to pursue photography).

Twenty-five was good to me but to be totally honest, it was also really hard. It's the year I hit my quarter life crisis. I never believed in quarter life crisis', and then I had one. In short, everything in my life fell apart.  And no, this wasn’t just a break-up, it was so many things beyond that. It was everything else, and the combination of everything all at once that caused me to crack.  It was the best crack that could have ever happened to me. Plus, a quarter life crisis at 25 really just means living to be 100, something I am now determined to achieve.

Myself with two Congolese boys, in Bandundu, DRC, Africa.

Myself with two Congolese boys, in Bandundu, DRC, Africa.

Twenty-five was the year that I moved to New York (with no job, place to live or money) and had one of the greatest times of my life. Twenty-five was the year that I, by chance, met a lady who asked me to join UNICEF on a trip to Africa to take photos for them. Twenty-five is also the year that I got accepted back into my degree program (after many previous failed attempts). There are so many other wonderful things that happened to me this year, so many other wonderful people I met, but here are some of the things I learned, and the advice I would give to anyone else who is about to turn 25:

(And for all those people who are annoyed with lists, this is another list for you, because that is how my brain works, in lists.)

  1. You are stronger than you think.
  2. Don’t doubt yourself. The intuition inside of you is correct.
  3. Allow yourself to change. Allow yourself to be challenged so that you can learn and grow.
  4. Getting the worst hair cut of your life isn’t as bad as it seems.  It will grow out, and you will even still get to go on dates.
  5. But bangs are never a good idea.
  6. Older people (who are hardly older than you) will still refer to you as a baby in your 20s.
  7. You need to hang out by yourself.  You, as an individual, are going to be in a relationship with yourself for the rest of your life.  Get comfortable with yourself and in your own skin.
  8. Stop wasting time. Get off the Internet and go create something.  
  9. Stop making excuses. All those things you want to go do, go do them already.
  10. Life is going to really hurt sometimes but it is not the end of the world.
  11. You are responsible for your decisions. Embrace them, live with them, make them. 
  12. You do not need to prove yourself to anyone. Who care what everyone else thinks. 
  13. Worrying is the most pointless thing you will do each day, so don’t.
  14. Let go of control. Life is so much better that way.
  15. Sometimes the best food will be three dollar falafel wraps right off the L stop on Bedford Avenue.
  16. Be confident in who you are, but also listen to others when they call you out on stuff. Your friends know you well, too. Take their advice. Don’t be prideful. Listen to them and improve yourself. 
  17. Forgive everyone, including yourself. Forgive others even if they aren’t sorry.
  18. Laugh and smile more. They really do cure anything. Don’t take yourself so seriously. 
  19. Put your relationships first. 
  20. Find something to believe in. Faith can get you through anything.
  21. Own less stuff. It’s incredibly freeing. This means clothing, furniture, gadgets, anything. Just own less of it. 
  22. Life/feelings come in waves, none of which are permanent. Ride them out, don’t be afraid of them. Sad feelings aren’t bad, they are just feelings and they will pass.
  23. Put more effort into the things that you do.
  24. Overcoming your fears is an incredibly rewarding thing. So overcome them.
  25. Go outside as much as you can. Life is better when you experience it.

Tomorrow I turn 26. Here's to you, 26.