What I've Learned at 27
I started 26 with a concussion. You can read more about that here. Thinking back to that now, it was a fitting metaphor for the year. Month after month I spent in a haze, not quite thinking clearly, stumbling, and definitively confused. My autoimmune disease was flaring almost constantly and depression and anxiety were keeping guard over me like their lives depended on it. 26 was a reality check, just like the concussion that kicked it off.
At 26, I questioned a lot. Am I smart enough to get where i want to go? Will my body let me if I am? What does it mean to live a fulfilled life? Should I take a leap or stay in the safety of my bubble?
My body couldn't handle all the unknowns and the year was plagued with a near constant barrage of symptoms-- horrible nerve pain, nausea that permeated every inch of my body, migraines that stayed for days, three seizure-like episodes, two month and a half long chest infections, and one constant flare that took hold over my body and mind. Everything felt not quite right. I felt like a stranger in a body that wouldn't cooperate and a mind that seemed to downward spiral at the slightest gust of negative wind. Some days, it felt like I'd never be able to shake the dark cloud that had overtaken me.
But while 26 was hard, I'm proud that I never stopped pushing through. I kept looking for solutions, discovering that B12 and Vitamin D deficiencies were making my depression worse. I moved towards my goal relentlessly, never quitting no matter how impossible the task seemed. I found a great therapist and worked through a lot of pain and scars from growing up with an autoimmune disorder (trying to prove myself? yes. fear of abandonment? that too. Need for external validation? hello, there.). I focused on trying to find the good and it was immensely difficult work.
I sometimes get frustrated when I read these posts by bloggers that say "I had a bad day/month" and then "I had a positive attitude and everything is now wonderful!" So to be clear, getting to the place I am right now was not quick or easy or simple. I couldn't see the light to get out of my depression. I took benadryl almost nightly to bring my racing heart away from the anxiety that was chasing it. I stumbled, and I cried, and I shook with frustration and anger and sadness.
But, I did get better. Body and mind. Around March, the cloud started to dissipate. In April, I moved forward with making a major life change (more on that soon), something I couldn't imagine undertaking a few months prior without immense anxiety and body pain. In May, as I celebrated my 27th birthday, I finally felt like myself again.
So what have I learned at 27?
Here's my top few:
Embrace The Unknown
The best laid plans will always be disrupted. I have been so rigid in my thinking of exactly what I want to do and by when, but I realized I'm beholden to no one else's timeline except my own unrealistic one. So, I let it go.
Letting anything "go" is nearly impossible for a Type A daughter of two lawyers so this was a huge accomplishment. At my sister's graduation, her student speaker said "We're always taught to fear the unknown, but I think the unknown should fear us, we went to Bucknell." He was right. Trust in your education. Trust in your strength. Embrace the big question mark as an opportunity vs. a dark cloud.
Life Is What Happens Between The Big Moments
A lot of this past year was spent working towards the big moments; the pivotal ones that change your trajectory. Well, the pivotal goal I was working towards actually didn't come to fruition this year for me and I'll have to try again next year. I let working towards the pivotal moment totally overtake my life to the point where I missed so many of those small moments that make life meaningful.
I'm glad I'll have a chance to work toward my goal this year while focusing on appreciating those small moments and not making everything feel so weighty.
Resilience Is Sometimes Quiet & Quite Small
Resilience is often portrayed as taking huge steps after something negative occurs. However, this year, I learned that resilience is simply pushing through. It's not necessarily getting up after a crying session and conquering the world.
It's balling your eyes out and wiping your tears and watching comedy to coax out happiness. It's acknowledging progress, even if your goal feels far off, and treating yourself with a full gluten, full dairy, chocolate chip cookie. It's quiet, but it's important.
It's Always H2H
The older I get, the more my tolerance for drama grows thin. It's just silly. At work, with my friends, and at home, petty fights cause stress, anxiety, and sadness. At work, I have a saying taped to my monitor that says "It's Always H2H" meaning human to human.
Remember the human no matter what situation you're in. Put yourself in their shoes and find common ground. This is an overlooked skill and one that's essential to not just be a good worker or a good friend or a good family member, but a good human.
Listen. Learn. Repeat.
At work this year, I got in trouble for getting quite upset and vocal over a disagreement a senior leader had with my team. Instead of being defensive when I was scolded, I decided I needed to better understand the different types of leaders I could become so I could be conscientious of the type of leader I wanted to develop into. I put together 15 questions that ranged from "How do you manage a team?" to "What are you proudest of in life?" and received such profound answers that I kept going, totaling 15 leaders interviewed in a few short months.
I learned that sometimes, shutting up and listening is when you learn the most and better yourself.
There's No Better Time Than Now
A lot of 26 I spent feeling like I was waiting for the next step. I pushed off plans with "when I'm done studying" and tried my best not to think about a dream I was afraid would never be realized. And I missed out on a lot. Milestones for friends and time I could have spent with Nick and family conversations I could have been more focused on.
There's no better time than now to take advantage of the life around you. Your friends, events you want to go to, love, and your passions. I'm not saying to ditch your responsibilities or your goals; those are important too. But, remember that you are multidimensional and each of those dimensions needs care to fulfill you and for you to fulfill them. A goal or fear of not reaching it shouldn't be detrimental to the rest of your life.
Name your fears. Get comfortable with them. But don't let them rule your life.
Intrinsic Motivation Is Essential
Write down your goal. Now write down your extrinsic motivation for that goal (i.e. more money, recognition, to have something to talk about). Now, write down your intrinsic motivation (i.e. passion for a project, wish to do good for the world, love of boyfriend/girlfriend). Write down the emotions associated with each of these. You'll likely find that the intrinsic motivation is many more healthy emotions than the extrinsic.
Find the intrinsic fire and use it as your motivator instead of looking outward. Another way of saying this that resonated with me is to shut out the noise, focus on the signal.
Don't Be Afraid To Be Yourself, Even If It's Not All Wonderful
This year I launched Lemon Tribe (thanks for reading!) and decided to be scarily and transparently myself here. When I officially announced it, I was met with so many other people who said they were afraid to share the struggles of their invisible illnesses...afraid to be themselves because they'd be perceived as a downer.
I feel like often when people say "be yourself!" they are talking about people letting their personality shine through and that's great and necessary advice. But, I'd recommend taking it one step further and letting people in to see the hard times too when life isn't perfect and you're not pulled together ready for an Instagram Story.
I've been so pleasantly surprised by how wonderful the right people are when you are transparently you.
Find time to be silly and ridiculous and totally insane. I'm in my late 20's. For awhile, I thought that meant I needed to grow up and not laugh at poop jokes anymore. Poop is still funny at 27.
It's Always Your Narrative
You have the power to change your life. It sounds pedantic but it's true. There are are myriad of paths you can choose, and if one doesn't work, simply choose another that sets your soul on fire. Okay, I may be simplifying it a bit but take ownership over your choices and be open to changing your story.