24, and I'm not afraid anymore.
Updated: Nov 1, 2022
It's my birthday!
This time last year, on my 23rd , I wrote a piece reflecting on how far I'd come over the past few years and the hopes I had for the year ahead.
In many ways, 23 seemed like a looming spectre at the time. I was "no longer feeling 22" as the Taylor Swift song goes. I was processing the impact the last two years had on my perceptions of life, the people around me, and more importantly, myself.
23 was the year I'd sworn to create life on my own terms. To reflect and rebuild anew.
So now as I usher in my 24th year of life, it's natural to ask, was I successful?
The answer is a resounding yes. It turns out that moving to a new city, getting into a top journalism school, making new friendships and defining my goals, was not only easier than I thought it would be, but it also gave me a renewed sense of happiness.
My life went through constant change this year. I traveled a lot, I went to conferences, spoke at panels, made new friends, laughed, cried, felt uncertain, and yet, also felt the most confident I had felt in a long time.
But that confidence came with its own share of lessons.
So here's the lessons I've learned so far that have served me well this past year:
1) Remind yourself of the magic in your life.
The older you get, the more disillusioned you start becoming. There's a lot of reasons for this: people around you tend to be more cynical, things in your life haven't worked out as you planned, you start settling for less than you deserve or give up on your dreams for fear of failure.
It was insane to me how many people began telling me "this is just what life is," or "this is just how people are." How many people were willing to be caught in this self-pitying spiral of life never works out, so let's just settle.
Because the truth is you can't just live your life going through the motions. We might just get one life, and there's so many things all around us that need to be acknowledged, however trite that sounds.
From the chance encounter that ends up being a friend you can't imagine life without, to a random quote that ends up on your "For You" page that really does end up being for you, to walking around your favorite city, taking pictures of sights you'd only ever seen in movies. And my FAVORITE magical moment from this year was learning to cook full course meals and realizing I was pretty good at it!
The higher you aim, the harder you may fall, but the higher you may also fly. So screw the cynics. And AIM HIGH. (And higher after that.)
2) You are as good as the people you surround yourself with.
People in your life come for a reason, a season or forever. And the older you grow, you realize that you will keep evolving, as will the people you know.
For the most part, I think I was lucky to be surrounded by good company. And when I wasn't, at least I was able to meet people I could learn from, which is often more important.
It has become increasingly easier to tell apart the reasons, the seasons, and the forever people. I'm grateful for them all and also wiser to tell the difference, in ways I wouldn't have, few years ago.
My favorite thing about 23 was how I was able to meet new people who were smart, brave and understanding, while my forever people stuck by me.
From what I can tell, if you surround yourself with people who stand up for what they believe in, value and respect who you are as a person, and are able to stand up for you and believe in you, it's hard to go wrong.
Sometimes you make mistakes ,but as long as you know what you're worth and are able to eventually walk away and start discerning people better, the connections you end up making are very worth it.
3) Trust your intuition
In an increasingly interconnected world, where we are subject to so many influences, both online and offline, it's often hard to draw boundaries and trust your own intuition. But you absolutely need to.
Not only does your gut know things you don't, but in the rare event that you do get it wrong, you will have no one or nothing to blame but yourself. So it's a safe bet to trust that inner voice.
Getting outside perspective and advice is important and can teach you a lot, but no one will ever know you, your life or your emotions the way you do.
So trust yourself to make the right decisions.
One thing I stopped doing this year, was doubting myself or feeling the need to minimize my own experiences and expertise for fear of being misunderstood.
The advantage of this, is I now take other people's opinions and actions with a grain of salt. Life's easy when you learn the things people say or do is very rarely about you, and almost always to do with their own way of seeing the world.
I've been able to pass on that wisdom to other people in my life, and it always makes me very happy to hear when someone tell me that they learned how to draw healthier boundaries and value themselves more, or become more assertive and stand up for themselves, from me.
4) Life isn't fair
Yes, I see you rolling your eyes. What a groundbreaking revelation, right? But it's true, and as life goes on, the more you start seeing how unfair it can be.
How transactional the world is, and that people are far more likely to be nice to you if they want something from you, and then have the ability to completely switch up once they've gotten what they've wanted.
How so many leaders talk about all the changes they want to bring in, but are less likely to actually do anything.
How an outspoken woman is seen as aggressive and too much, but a man speaking in the same tone is seen as assertive, confident and straight up "The Man," or the way so many men are far less likely to question their male peers for the most heinous things, but are happy to crucify women for the smallest of mistakes.
How during the pandemic, my international friends and I spent a whole year away from families, terrified we may be asked to leave at anytime, but other than the kindness extended by an American friend and his family, the world kept moving and we had to keep most of those worries buried deep down, knowing it would be hard for most people to understand.
Being a journalist, and interviewing sources, from Native American communities who've had their homes blown away and are still waiting for the help they deserve to rebuild their lives, to school nurses grappling with the conversations they'll need to have with teenage students facing unplanned pregnancy after the Roe v Wade overturn, just continues to show me how heartbreaking life can be.
And it's easy to want to give up. I know I have, at multiple points this year, just wanted to curl up under a blanket and cry. (And I have).
But referring to my first point, I'm not going to give up. I will fight. I will make an impact, however miniscule it might be. Because if I won't, who will?
Will I get hurt? Sure. But if I've come this far, then who is going to stop me?
5) Look to the new year with renewed hope
And finally, the lesson I've learned is to continue to look forward to what each year will bring, and plan new goals for yourself.
For my 24th year, I hope to:
Continue to travel and expand my horizons.
Find a job I love that allows me to be creative but also make a difference
Become more comfortable with vulnerability
Cultivate an even healthier sense of self and meaningful connections
Not dwell on negative experiences for too long, but learn from them.
Always, always, always, put my ideals first but be open to learning.
Value being respected over being liked.
And more importantly, not be too hard on myself if I do fail at some of these goals. Because I might, and if this year has taught me anything, it is that I will get over it and become an even more awesome version of myself.
Here's some things I look forward to in the next few years:
As much of this year involved relocation and adventure, first to Chicago, then to DC, I'm excited to finally set down roots and find some stability in whatever city I do get a job in.
I've LOVED my independence, but now that I'm more sure of who I am and what I want, it would be fun to fall in love for the first time, and form even more new friendships wherever I begin work, so I will be more open to new connections and see what the next few years bring into my life, without stressing too much about the unknown.
I'm excited to see new blessings in the lives of the people I love, and hope that my friends, family, colleagues and everyone who has touched my life positively, continue to get the happiness and success they deserve.
I end my post, remembering the advice, the deputy chief of Pointe-au-Chien tribe gave me and my peers, while sitting in the RV that she was living in temporarily after her home was destroyed in the hurricane, as her children played joyfully around her (Side note: Here's the story I was honored to write, covering her and the state of Native American schools post-Hurricane Ida.)
"Don't take life too seriously."
Despite the ups and downs life will bring your way, in the larger scheme of things, it's not that serious. Your story isn't set in stone. And neither is mine (however terrifying that sounds to my existential crisis self!).
I can't wait to see what 24 will bring.