There are moments in every 20-something’s life where you the world you’ve created doesn’t seem at all like you thought it would. There are these days where you feel out-of-place in your own skin, where your thoughts don’t seem to be your own and where doubts are far more common than reassuring sentiments. There are these ideas that pop into your head that you can’t shake and these desires that strike your soul that seem so positively unsettling, it’s inspiring.
One of those thoughts hit me the morning after I returned to New York after Christmas.
I opened my eyes, irritated that I woke up nearly two hours before I should have, and after twenty minutes of tossing and turning, I gave into my internal alarm clock and sat up in bed. There in the uncanny silence that this city only offers before the coffee is brewed or the street vendors set up shop, I really looked around my room — for probably the first time since I moved to this apartment in May.
I saw the pale-green walls that I didn’t paint. The mismatched frames that dusted my IKEA bookshelf and the dirty laundry piled in the corner. The lack of a bed frame. The desk that I never use, but has rings from beer glasses I actually filled with orange juice, not booze. My closet that’s practically begging to be cleaned out, sprouting shoes from the right, growing scarves from the left. The suitcase that won’t fit in said-closet, so it’s wedged under the window, with a wooden box covering it.
What does this space say about me? I wondered. Does it say a successful editor lives here? Someone who is full of optimism and lives a full life? I questioned, pulling the covers to my chin and turning off the fan I use to fall asleep with. No, it doesn’t. This space says nothing about me other than I have stuff.
But those weren’t the thoughts that struck me — it was this one: You’ll enter your mid-twenties this year, what have you actually done with your life? Does this room show that you’re still figuring that out?
This isn’t the first time I’ve analyzed my personal aspirations or intentions. Actually, I’d say I’m in a constant state of personal wonder as an explorer of my own self, constantly prying into the places I let no one else go, trying to make sense of the person I am and the woman I hope to be. But this very, very Virgo-ness comes with its downfalls — some would say that I can’t get no satisfaction, others would say my hopes for something more are selfish. I’d say it’s a little bit of both — sometimes I only want what I can’t have, but most of the time, I figure out ways to make the things that are the most important to me less like dreams and more like reality.
But I haven’t really traveled. My “studying abroad” experience was interning in New York — a destination that in comparison to North Carolina, is quite foreign. All of my savings, all of my efforts went into making the big move, so thousands of dollars to visit Spain or Greece fell low on the travel priorities. But now I’m here, so why not see the world outside of the island of Manhattan? I gave up on a second language in college, but I constantly find myself tuning into conversations in dialects I can’t understand, endlessly entertained by the jokes I don’t catch or the romance I can only see through body language, not speech. So why not learn? I’ve been running for years — off and on, mind you — but I’ve never ran more than a 5K. So why not try more? And though I have an entire Pinterest board of apartment decor I love, I never invest in anything other than brunches and lunches, clothes and books, wine and cheap accessories I find in the Village. So why not push some money toward making my place, look like me?
But what is me? I considered, standing up to put on my robe and flipping on a hand-me-down lamp. Who am I, now that I have the big girl job, the big girl location and the big girl life? Am I big girl now? What does she look like?
And so, I entertained my overly-structured, thoughtful-self and wrote down the things I knew about myself. My strengths, like being brave when I’m afraid, and afraid when I fear losing something that’s special. My ability to balance the best while handling the worst. My unyielding, everlasting, overly positive perception of love — between lovers, between friends, between families, between strangers. My courage to share with the world the things that most people never address privately. How I can see the good in the gullible soul, the great in the gray hair.
And I listed my weaknesses.
Like being far harder on myself than even the most dedicated hater of this blog. Or for putting the needs of unavailable men before the basic needs that keep me humming a little happy tune just for me. Or the way I can be oversensitive about things that are merely opinion, and saddened by the coolness of facts I wish weren’t so. How I snap at those who care when they see me clearer than I see myself. When I’m boastful in times when I should be humble, how I can be quick to judge and slow to forgive. Or worse, when I’m forgiving of those who don’t deserve it and resentful of those who do.
Or how, like in this moment, I’m overly critical of everything in my life, including the place I lay my head.
But I have my heart, I thought. It’s a bright shining center in the middle of a me that’s oftentimes, very messy. It’s the most brilliant part of me, that those I love see all the time, and strangers comment about on the street. It’s the part of me that feels warmed by the wide-eyed faces of babies on the train, and the me that waits until a kitten finds its way back into an apartment before I stop watching it. It’s what makes me give up my seat for those who need it, pause on the busy streets to let someone else pass and always offer to help, no matter how busy I am. It’s what makes me a dedicated friend and a loving partner. It’s what allows me to be walked all over and bruised, but still get up and do it all over again. It’s what allows me to choose the happiness of others over the satisfaction I’d maybe prefer.
So no, maybe I’m not where I thought I’d be. Or maybe I’ve come a lot further than I believed I ever would. Perhaps my passport is blank, along with the pale-green walls that I really don’t care for. Maybe I’m approaching the middle point of my second decade on this planet and I haven’t scratched the surface of what I hope to do in this lifetime.
But I have time to see places I want to see. Time to find the parts of me I’ve yet to discover. Time to paint my room before the Spring arrives. Time to learn how to say “love” in every language I find intriguing. Time to put that word to use with men who are worthy of all it entails.
And time to let my heart design my space, my intentions and my life. After all, without it, nothing I see around me (or inside of me) would be possible.
PS: I was amazed with how many Valentine’s were sent last year from all over the world. Your touching words, your kind sentiments and the way you expressed all the things you hope for, as well as all the things that make you so beautiful – were incredible. I hope you will take a moment to write a Valentine about all the things you love about yourself, all the things in the future you can’t wait to experience and what self-love means to you. I’ll publish your words – along with a link to your blog, if you blog – on Valentine’s Day. Or if you’d rather be anonymous, that’s fine too.
Go here to submit your Valentine. You deserve it. Tell me how sweet it is to be loved by you.