Tag Archives: life lessons

10 Lessons From Hopscotching Through My Early 20s

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They once were babies.

That thought envelopes me.

They once upon a time were diapers at the foot of their bed, thick hooded sweatshirts and elastic pants and now they’re not.

They’re in high school & college. Some are graduating in May. And since I’ve hopscotched around the East Coast enough to know that growing up is a mess, I have words for them.

  1. Find someone who steadies you when you’re stressed about the rent check, your electric bill, the things you did wrong at work, the credit card payment you swore you scheduled but really, believe me, didn’t.
  2. Hold them close & treat them right & tell them over & over that you are thankful & appreciative & lucky & blessed. You will need them, and you won’t ever know when.
  3. Make decisions to carry you through today & tomorrow & next month, but know that six months from now could look a lot less like you expected. Don’t let your upsets keep you from finding something better.
  4. Work hard. Work when you have to but even when you don’t. Be responsive. Be attentive. Be respectful. Be the kind of employee who does what’s right – not what looks good. Be lazy on Sunday when the football game comes on but on Monday morning, be ready.
  5. Chin up & smile. You are a learner. In everything you do, you’ll learn. Over & over you’ll think that life is about messing up & making the same mistakes but one day you’ll wake up and stop making them. One day you’ll appreciate all the criticism because you grew.
  6. Learn how to dress appropriately. There are outfits for Friday night & outfits for Casual Friday & outfits for important meetings & outfits for every other day. Be conservative. Pay attention. Learn to accessorize.
  7. Stretch yourself. Throw a dart at your target and promise yourself you won’t let fear or anxiety or lack of resources or lack of knowledge stop you. Do things that frighten you because you’ll land somewhere new & better.
  8. When you’re unhappy, change something. Your hair. Your outlook. Your routine. Find a place in your heart for new people. Find a place in your schedule for old friends. Find the root of your unhappiness & crush it.
  9. Be a mentor. Teach people. Help people. Figure out what fulfills you and run like the wind toward it.
  10. Give & give & give. Give your time & your knowledge & your heart & your love & your resources. Give people the kind of friendship that makes them feel grateful. Focus on the relationships & the efforts that make your heart soar. It’s time.

Lessons Learned: 2013 Edition

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This year, I slow danced to the rhythm of two eulogies and shimmied into black lace dresses and bow-topped heels.

I passed easy on the Interstate and headed straight for arduous. I dipped my knees into rough carpet when being new felt like a curse.

It was hard. It was painful. It was unexpected almost every week.

Nobody sashayed up to me with a roadmap and said, “You are here. Where do you want to be?” I had to ask myself that question: Where did I want to be?

Happy. I wanted to be happy.

The weight of loss will drown you if you let it. Sorrow will envelop you. Wonder will destroy you.

He might’ve come storming into my kitchen with a shy apology and laugh thick with missing me, but he never did. She might have learned to smile under dull streetlamps but she hasn’t. They might’ve stopped pushing piles of guilt my way for moving too far from home but they haven’t.

I had to step outside and grab onto my own little slice of happiness. I had to build a life that felt good inside first, then outside.

I lost a lot. I don’t know if we think we’ll win just because we want it badly enough, but we don’t. We were set up to find the things we most fear losing, and then, eventually, setting them free.

Last October, I shared 32 lessons from 2012. And then, as so often happens, my life unraveled dramatically in November and December. I spent Thanksgiving giving thanks to timing. Because if you’re going to lose somebody you once loved like fresh cut grass and mint chocolate chip ice cream, it’s better you’re with family. It’s better to have a warm fleece blanket and pay-per-view and frozen yogurt with rainbow sprinkles.

It doesn’t hurt any less. But the loneliness is not just yours.

In these last months, I’ve learned so much. So in honor of last October’s tradition, here is the 2013 edition:

  1. Surprise yourself every day by taking well-deserved risks. The risk is in doing what frightens you. The reward is in realizing it wasn’t quite so deserving of your fear.
  2. If you want to make a change, make it. Don’t wait for someone else to take your hand and pull you forward. Do it today and commit to it wholly. I spent too many months wavering over major decisions that, once I jumped, didn’t feel so major.
  3. Justify your time only to yourself. If you have to tell your friends and family why you do what you do, either they don’t understand or you need to reevaluate your decisions.
  4. Hold close old friends. You will stretch your heart across this country like a canvas. And it won’t always feel good. But when you find your feet in front of familiar territory, remember how to say hello and embrace the people you’ve always loved. They’re waiting for your hand on their doorknob, even if they haven’t said so.
  5. Balance your life. It’s not easy. There is no guidebook. You’ll wonder if you’re doing it right. But with any luck, you’ll get better at it each year. Find time for work and play and don’t worry about one in the midst of another. Get to that point and treasure it.

What has 2013 taught you?

Burned Out Stars & The Hardest Parts Of Growing Up

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I’ve been spending time with hollowed out souls lately. Each of them is falling apart in different ways, twisting happiness into a pretty bow that sits in shop windows on the streets of Manhattan, as if it is a thing to be ogled but never touched.

What a terrible lie. What a sad way to go traipsing through today, sure that tomorrow isn’t getting no better. Tomorrow isn’t shining no brighter. Tomorrow isn’t singing no sweeter.

They deserve a fire in their stomach, firmness in their step, a flush in their skin, a flicker in their smile.

They deserve to feel alive.

They deserve a ‘just because’ postcard from a forever friend. Footsteps before the knock on the door. Kisses on the forehead. Thinking-of-you text messages and thought-you-might-enjoy-this emails.

They deserve warm tea and diner booth conversations and hopeful mornings after train wreck nights. The payoff of an old, patient family recipe. Melty chocolate chip cookies. Days without alarm clocks and breakfast after noon.

I want so much for them.

I’ll tell anyone who asks and even the ones who don’t: I want so much for them. But nobody gave me a guidebook for how to tread lightly on the subject of self-worth, when your hands are empty and your bank account is dwindling and your days are looking like a remake of Groundhog Day because nothing ever changes. Those are the hardest parts of growing up.

I want them to see hope in new places and faces. I want them to brush the tears from their eyelids and promise they’ll never let adulthood weigh them down.

They are stars in my life, so bright for so long, burned out before I had a chance to realize. It took me too long to realize.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It took me too long to realize.

And so I can only hope they find happiness in moments instead of years, in hours and minutes instead of months, in the kindness of strangers who hold doors and wave you to make that left turn when you can’t quite see whether it’s safe. The crossed-off to-do list. The clean house. The freshly laundered sheets. The shoveled sidewalk.

It’s hard to fall in love with the way this world takes and takes. Harder still to find happy in the chaos. This life can feel like whack-a-mole, but I hope their moments are bright and their eyes are wide and their hands are ready to catch some magic in the mundane.

I want to tuck a story of hope inside their frayed shirt pockets. Let them feel it beating against their heart.

We're Just Plain Lucky

I remember how she smiled. It never quite reached her eyes. She’d stand back, arms folded across her crew neck sweatshirt. She’d watch the joy escaping through a little girl’s butterfly knees as they bounced up and down on Christmas morning.

And we couldn’t be mad at her for dying. We couldn’t be mad at her for dying.

Those moments when she held us close without ever holding us at all, those were the ones we had to keep. Most of our lives will be built not on holding her tight but dwelling on the faith she had in us.

It’s what happens when you lose someone young.

It’s what happens when you sit in the hearse and explain the folds and the sequins of the turquoise dress they buried her in. And why the flashers are on. And why the kids standing outside for a fire drill are staring and pointing at the limo passing by.

It’s what happens when you’ve got to be the biggest kid in a silent black car.

And you’ve got to stand in front of a couple hundred strangers, tell ‘em all that, “you never met that woman, but darling didn’t she already love you like that girl on Christmas morning? Darling, wouldn’t she have squeezed you in your candy cane pajamas?”

She would have.

I can’t be sure what happens when people pass away too soon. I can’t be confident whether we would’ve met this other side of them where they weren’t so caring, but I’d like to pretend that wasn’t true. I’d like to pretend, because the truth is, we get to imagine it.

We get to carry their words, their lessons, their photographs, in our pockets.

We get to hold onto them when we need strength. When getting up in the morning feels heavier. When pushing through the day seems unbearable. We get to hold onto those words and those lessons when we’re lost and we’re just plain lucky.

That’s what I wanted those strangers to know. They were just plain lucky to have her words in their back pockets.