twenty six

Tomorrow, I turn 26. (I know, Mom, - I don't know how it happened, either.)

Sometimes, people do grand, sweeping lists as they hit a new year. X amount of things I learned by year X. But I'm not sure I learned 25 new things at age 25. But the year was good to me. A hell of a lot better than 24. And somehow, though I secretly had high hopes for the year, it met all of my expectations. Bumps in the road notwithstanding, I started to feel like myself again this year, a welcome feeling after spending the second half of 24 watching myself go through the motions of my life.

I credit a lot of that to sticking to the four lessons I uncovered during my period of turmoil. Some I figured out quickly. Others took a year and change to stick. But as I head into year 26, hopes high once again, I'm taking just a few things from 25 (and 24.75) with me...

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sweat the small stuff that makes you happy

Recently, I was (lovingly) teased about my pillow shams. Twin squares of white that perfectly match my duvet, the person holding them asked why I needed a second cover over my pillows when I already had pillowcases, too. Why? Because when I walk into my small bedroom, bright with sunlight, and see the neatly matched duvet set, the rug on the ground I picked to accent it and the white skull planter with a farmer's market succulent, I'm instantly happy. Every time. Every entrance. 

It's like this: finally light the expensive candle. Book the trip to Paris after thinking about it for two hours. Buy the bag in Paris that is bright, sunny yellow, and cheers you up even during a night class that stretches until its pitch black outside. Print your photos at CVS. Print so many photos at CVS that the photo guy knows your name - "not many people still do this!" Hang them all over your new apartment. But also hang the print that's been in your bedroom since you were three.

Sweat the small stuff that makes you happy. Make a house a home. It's always, always worth it.

which leads me to:

 

follow your heart

truly, passionately, all-encompassing(ly?). If writing myriad blog posts about grief and loss and injury and fear and courage is what your heart wants, do it. If baking for the people you love is what your heart wants, do it. If running in the early morning sunlight is what your heart wants, do it. Life is too fleeting not to listen to yourself. It's too tenuous not to trust yourself.

In year 25, my heart told me there was more out there. A different opportunity. A new challenge. And I wanted it, even though I didn't trust that I wanted it right away. So I took baby steps. I took a GRE course. Then I took the GRE. Then I submitted applications. "Just to see." And then, suddenly, I was moving.

which leads me to:

 

be brave enough to break your own heart

Leaving D.C. was one of the hardest things I've done in my adult life. It meant saying goodbye to everything I had held dear for the past eight years. I left behind loved ones, favorite restaurants, running routes I knew with my eyes shut, memories, ghosts. I traded in having a story for every street corner to getting hopelessly, embarrassingly lost without Google Maps.

At first, I thought I'd made a mistake. I cried a lot. I missed my friends deeply. I didn't trust that I'd chosen correctly. I was only 25! I'd think to myself. Who let me make a major life choice entirely alone?

And then, I stumbled upon a small, hidden restaurant to call my own in a new city. I found friends that, though no one can replace the gems of humans I left behind, have done wonders to fill the hole in my heart. I got writer's block - and then, quickly, got unblocked again. I found new fitness studios to obsess over.

In sum, I learned that my heart was right all along, even if following it meant breaking it. But it also meant learning to make more of an effort to stay connected to my old life, even as I forged a new one.

which leads me to:

 

tell the people you love that you love them

This one is easy. It's a no-brainer. But we forget. Days go by, and we haven't texted a friend that we last physically saw three months ago. A weekend passes, and we forgot to ask our dad if he tasted any good new recipes lately. You hear of an acquaintance passing and you remember, with a pang, the first awful few days where you wake up into a new reality without a loved one - having to remind yourself all over again each morning - and you realize it's been far too long since you forced a hug on the people that mean the most to you.

Last weekend, I went to New York, and saw many of my friends from DC for the first time since I left. My heart was happy. I was happy. And I left knowing that no matter how far we spread, there will be ties that unite us. But equally important will be reminding them how important they are to me, even on a random Wednesday. Especially then.

So text your friend. Send the birthday card, snail mail style. Pop into your mom's office just to say hello. (Plus, she may buy you coffee.) Play embarrassingly bad cornhole with your little brother. Email your dad a favorite new recipe. It's never time wasted.

 

I don't know it all. I don't know half of half of everything. But I do know that 24 was really pretty awful, 25 was really pretty good, and so 26 must be trending up.

....but does this make me in my late 20s? (Don't answer that.)