Did 22 live up to the hype? Was Taylor Swift right? Did I ditch the whole scene?? Did I dream instead of sleep???
Yes. But also no. I was indeed happy, free, confused, and lonely in shockingly high amounts, and it was, in fact, miserable and magical. I am exhausted. I did not, however, fall in love with any strangers or forget about deadlines. That was more of a general self-care thing than it was a conscious choice, though.
That said, here are my lessons and epiphanies (plus a few that barely qualify as either, because who am I if not committed to tomfoolery) from good ole 22.
1. Success is a personal scale
Success looks different for everyone. We have to define it for ourselves. If I compared my career journey to someone focused on sales, the law, or marine science, I’d be failing miserably.
I am where I am because of the choices I made in alignment with the life and career I want to build. For me, that is not the penthouse or being CEO. It’s not a cramped apartment or 80+ hour work weeks. That does not make me any less driven and ambitious. My ambitions simply look different, and as a result, so does my execution.
2. Everything I want to do is possible with three main elements
Almost 100% of my goals are achievable with time, money, and effort. Not always easy, but drastically simple. What I invest in will thrive.
3. Analyzing emotions can be another way of hiding
It’s so tempting to think that connecting emotions to logical thought processes and events is the same as processing emotions. Alas, tis not the case. Understanding why we feel a specific emotion is crucial, yes—I call it tracing—but just as critical is letting yourself feel them, no matter how illogical they are.
4. Healing often means grief first and contentment later
Healing and self-care are not all bubble baths and face masks. Often it seems like healing is a lot like hurting. When we take the time to sit with everything we’re carrying, we’re bound to realize how heavy it’s been. And so comes the grief of the life and childhood we could have had, and from there, building new tracks in our minds to resist old patterns. It’s not always inspirational—sometimes it’s just sad. But it is always worth it.
5. My worth is not determined by others, and I have to choose myself
It seems I learn this lesson every year—I’ve struggled with people pleasing my whole life, making myself big and small and big and small again to earn validation and acceptance. But the thing is, that’s not sustainable. The only way to curate sustainable self-worth is to give it to yourself daily. External validation has its place, yes. But we cannot rely on others to validate our experiences, existence, emotions, or worth.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if no one chooses me or if no one thinks I’m worth it. I do. I choose me. I know I’m worth it. Every closed door is a redirection. Fun? Not especially. Necessary? Yes.
6. Just give up on Bumble already, darling
Bumble, oh Bumble. Speaking of choosing myself: Somewhere between getting ghosted repeatedly, last-minute cancelations, and being taken to see Cocaine Bear on a first date, I gave up. I never pictured myself sitting in a dark theater next to a virtual stranger watching a man get his intestines eaten like spaghetti by a bear on cocaine, but, you know, life’s funny like that.
I have, once again, concluded that online dating is not my cup of tea. Back to the classic, “Look confused in a Home Depot,” I guess. Or maybe I’ll just return to my cave of books and scribblings for a while. I’m tired.
I feel the need to reiterate: Cocaine Bear. On the first date. In a theater. It was not a part of the original plan. That is an at-home-on-the-couch-established-relationship kind of activity, from my perspective, but what do I know?
7. Enhance not complete
I’m a long-time believer in building a life you love independent of a romantic relationship. That belief continues to solidify. A partnership should enhance an already fulfilling and wonderful life, not be an essential component. The idea of not needing a partner—being fully able to live without them—but choosing not to because you don’t want to live without them is pretty swoony if you ask me. Which, of course, no one did. But I digress—love is a daily choice, and that endurance with the right partner is beautiful.
8. Why I call myself an idiot so often
I call myself stupid a lot. Not in a serious way, usually with an endearing eye-roll. But my brain does not know the difference. I realized I call myself an idiot often to beat anyone else to it. If I call myself a dummy first, it won’t sting as much when someone else does, right? Wrong. The only thing that this achieves is beating myself down for no reason. I may not be the smartest monkey in the barrel, but by golly, I’m not the dumbest one, either.
9. I don’t have to apologize for existing
At 22, I tried to stop apologizing for:
– Laughing a bit too loudly sometimes
– Having needs and wants (revolutionary, I know)
– Knowing more about certain things than certain other people
– Not knowing more about certain things than certain other people
– Being rightfully confused sometimes
– Crying over fictional characters
I’m not always successful at not apologizing for these things, but I’m getting better. There is something so freeing about letting myself say, “I don’t know,” with no desperate need to have all the answers or prove my intellect.
10. You really CAN be lonely for specific people
All those songs make a lot more sense now! Thanks, I hate it!
11. Yo, don’t take anything too personally; it most likely has nothing to do with you
People’s actions rarely have anything to do with us. We project our experiences, emotions, and expectations onto others and vice versa, operating from almost entirely self-centered views (self-centered in the sense of our specific view of the world and how we process life) that stem from our formative years, the events that shaped us. This isn’t news.
Projection isn’t evil, but it can be hurtful. The best thing I’ve found for catching this in myself and recognizing it from outside sources is to follow the trigger—what is happening right now that reminds me of when I was unsafe? Same question for considering the other person’s point of view. What do I know about this person that would explain this response? And then doing my best to not internalize whatever is thrown my way.
12. Settling (in life, love, etc.) is a form of self-abandonment
When we believe we are not worthy of love and affection, we will accept it from anywhere, even if it’s less than we deserve. Or, contrariwise, we reject healthy love connections because it’s unfamiliar. People will generally choose a familiar hell over an unfamiliar heaven.
When we settle for less than we deserve in relationships and lifestyles, we abandon ourselves by denying our wants and needs due to an incorrect belief that we aren’t worthy of abundant love and fulfillment. This practice can lead to desperate feelings of, “What if I never find anything else like this,” and, “If this doesn’t work, I’m doomed for a life of loneliness/if they leave, no one else could ever care about me.” or, from the lifestyle perspective, “I’ll never achieve all I want, so I might as well grab what I can from here.”
The fear of abandonment runs deep but is (largely) based on lies we tell about ourselves, to ourselves (sometimes perpetuated by verbal abuse from others). While trying to avoid abandonment, we often abandon ourselves instead.
13. I care, and I’m not sorry
I’m a deeply feeling person in a very messy world. This truth has not always served me well. And yet, I would not want to be anything else. I care a lot. I never learned how to care halfway, and I’m not sorry.
14. Hydration actually makes a difference???
I finally started tracking my water intake, and man…y’all been living like this?? I’m significantly more awake and energized when I hydrate as I should. Who would have thought? Damn.
15. You can make edible cookie dough in about 10 minutes
This was a dangerous discovery. Even better, although most recipes call for wheat flour, you can switch that out for oat flour, and it’s still top-tier, no oven required.
I am only exaggerating a little when I tell you this fact changed my life. But tell me, what hits harder than a night in after a hot bath watching a comfort movie with a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough and maybe some wine?? I’ll wait.
If anyone says sex, I’ll hunt you for sport.
16. Reading is truly the MVP
I took to the books significantly at 22 and found some of my new favorite reads. I also sparked my old propensity to devour stories at somewhat unsettling speeds. Whoever thinks books are not companions must be very lonely.
17. I can dance whenever I want to, and it doesn’t have to be pretty
For so long, I let myself believe that since I don’t have natural dance skills, I wasn’t allowed to move my body, as if dancing alone in my house was somehow a performance. But you know what? I can gyrate in any number of very unserious ways, and it does nothing to diminish how much better I feel afterward. Graceful? Probably not. But who’s going to care? My dog? Life is too short to not let yourself wiggle around to a hype playlist like a fool sometimes.
18. I want to be awake
So much of my life has been spent in survival mode, sometimes floating outside of my body like some sort of whacky dream, watching myself go through the motions of staying alive. Like a frantic conductor pushing buttons and pulling strings, out of breath, scrambling to keep up.
But you know, I want to be awake. This is my life. It’s the only one I have. It’s not always easy to retie myself to earth—as is well known, I’m quite the hopeless romantic at heart, and sometimes I forget about the hopeless part—so I have to work at it. More often than not, I choose to stay and deal with myself instead of dissociating, and that’s something to rejoice in.
I want to be awake for every part of my life—the hurt, the joy, the triumphs, and the moronic mistakes. My work. The discoveries. Time with loved ones. The lonely Friday nights. New faces, familiar faces. All of it. It’s my life, after all. Why not be here for it while I can be?
19. Painting clouds feels like capturing sunshine
I painted a fair number of clouds throughout 22. Partly as a mental health exercise but also because if you know me even a little, you’ve probably heard me say, “Wow, look at the clouds!!!” at least once. It’s involuntary. There is nothing quite like a well-formed cloud and I love them.
20. At every age, I reach a new level of “Damn. I don’t know anything.”
As much as I learn, I’m consistently aware of how much I don’t know, how I’ll never really “arrive.” All I can do is recognize how far I’ve come, keep up, and always be open to learning new things. No matter how much it hurts sometimes.
21. My dog really likes bananas
Like, he really, really likes bananas, and he eats them with ferocious energy previously unwitnessed. Partly because he’s never had anything that soft before and partly because he’s a gremlin. It’s truly something to behold. It looks like he’s trying to bite down on sand without dropping any grains.
22. Eye contact matters
I mean…I always knew this, I guess. But until recently, I hadn’t made a conscious effort to apply that to people out in everyday life. The cashier, the post office lady, my neighbors, anyone. I’ve found that taking a second to find someone’s eyes in a greeting or a goodbye changes the entire exchange. It’s like I see them clearer, and there’s a moment where I can tell they see me, too. And it’s nice.
After so long with video calls and Zoom meetings, sometimes I feel like we’re all wild animals, skittish and unsure of one another. But all it takes is a heartbeat to make eye contact, and that much I can give.
Anyway! Thank you to anyone who made it through to the end of this somewhat extensive rundown.
23 is null in terms of energetic bops by lyrical masterminds, but regardless, I will strive to make it as wonderfully wretchedly awful and splendid as 22.