For the past few weeks, my mental chatter seemed to peak. Blame it on a bad cocktail of many factors: my favorite people were too far away; my budget was taking a hit; my 2 rakets and day job were in frenzy; and of course, my 25th was fast approaching—and I had "nothing to show for it".
Needless to say, I was panicking.
"Chandler was talking about Beyonce in Friends when she was only 22!!!", my mind screamed. "And Malala was 17 when she received her Nobel Peace Prize! Where's yours, huh?!"
Whenever my mind likes to give me these amazing pep talks, I try to talk back to it in a slow, soothing voice.
"Look Erica. I know it's hard that you're not a beautiful African-American woman with the voice of an angel. But that's okay. You're African-American inside, and that's what counts."
I grumble in agreement, reluctantly.
"Oh and y'know, you should really practice what you preach. Take your own advice! You're not them. Focus on yourself! You're getting there!"
I grumble some more, barely convinced. I kept dreading my imminent meltdown on my birthday anyway:
The birthday came and went. And guess what? Unsurprisingly, non-crazy Erica was right. The mythical quarter-life crisis never came.
Once again, I had vastly overestimated the "pain" of growing older—and under-predicted the value of being reminded that I was lucky to be alive.
A Different Kind of Skydiving
My birthdays have always been simple yet meaningful: spent with family, doing what we do best—eating, talking, and laughing (usually at each other's expense).
When 2017 came, I had something different planned: I was gonna go skydiving in Dubai and take a selfie. I even had a caption for my inevitable Facebook cover photo: "Might be a quarter-life crisis... or just a stir within my soul :)".
Then, I would casually upload it right before my 25th birthday, where it would garner a bajillion likes and we would all live happily ever after because I win at birthdays and defied death but thanks everyone for trying the end!!!
Since you're reading this, we both know that didn't happen. (Much to my mother's relief).
But as it turns out, I remembered that, well, I already do win at birthdays—this one included. Why? Let me share 3 reasons:
- I still got to have one.
- I still got to spend it with the people I loved.
- I still got to have one.
...which is much more than what a lot of other people could say.
So for my 25th, I decided to do some emotional skydiving instead. Think of it as a free-fall of feelings: to truly mark this quarter-life milestone, I figured I'd try something just as death-defying—baring my soul for everyone to see.
Here's what I've learned on love, loss and everything in between these past 25 years. And while I write this talking to myself out loud more than anything, if it helps you in any way too, then all the better.
I dedicate this to my family and friends—thanks for making my 25th the best one yet. 😍
My 25 Lessons for 25 Years
- Remember: the only thing that you will truly wish for on your deathbed is more time. And the only thing you'll want to do with that time is to spend it with people you love. So do it now and do it often, while you still can.
- Speaking of time, keep in mind that life's biggest moments—your greatest triumphs and deepest sorrows—are always better spent with people you care about. Successes are sweeter, and sadness is much more bearable. Sometimes, all you need to get by is the knowledge that you're not alone.
- After all, there are people who care about you. Don't be afraid to tell them you need them. Allow yourself to take up space.
- Remember what your first boss taught you? That you can always be replaced in your job, but nobody can replace you as a daughter, sister, or friend? She's right, y'know.
- Like your dad says: it's just work. It will never end, and will be there tomorrow. Go home, rest, and spend time with your loved ones. Being with them makes any day instantly better. Trust me on this.
- And like your mom says: life is a marathon. Once you're ready to work again, give it your all—and then some. (Remember Angela Duckworth's formula for grit: effort counts for twice as much!). 5 & 6 go together. Rinse and repeat.
- Stressed out? A great story always does wonders for the soul. (And when that doesn't work, red wine should. 🍷)
- Once you've relaxed, the only way to permanently solve your stress is action. That's it. So take some–and for the love of Netflix, stop procrastinating!!!!
- Speaking of procrastination, I know you struggle with your perfectionism. Remember: progress trumps perfection. Always.
- If you're cranky, you're probably just sleepy. Just nap it off. Sunshine works well too.
- Start your day with meditation and a happy playlist, and end your day noting what you're grateful for. As John Dryden stated: we first make our habits, and then our habits make us.
- There is actually no rulebook that dictates what your "life script" should be. You are allowed to do whatever you want at any point in your life. Following other people's ideas of what your life should look like is always a recipe for disaster. Just do what you feel and think is right (as long as you're not hurting anyone, including yourself): you're the one who has to live with those decisions anyway. Support and don't judge others for doing the same.
- Making people laugh is one of life's greatest joys. Do it as often as you can. Cooking for people you love is another. Try to limit the butter when you do.
- The pain you choose will determine the quality of your life. So choose wisely.
- Never stop dancing in your bedroom, singing in your car, or talking to yourself out loud when you're alone.
- When people show you who they are, believe them. Take the friends that are there. We accept the love we think we deserve, after all. (On another note: most of the time, it's about them, not you. Let it go.)
- If it's at little cost to you but a great deal to others, then do it. Be kind. Assume that everybody's trying their best in the ways they know how.
- This dating stuff is hard. Just be yourself. The right person will like you exactly as you are, and will act on it. On your end, focus on what you can give, not what you can take; center your energy on loving yourself first; aim to spread this to others; and strive for authentic, healthy and deep connections.
- If you want to help others, you must first help yourself—so never miss meal prep day, or gym time. Also: walk more! Wear sunscreen! Clean your apartment!
- Remember: it is not the critic who counts. The credit always belongs to the person who is actually in the arena. I know you're terrified. Do it anyway—it's good for you.
- Success is forged in failure. You can't have one without the other. There are no mistakes–only lessons. Use your failures to learn and grow. All you can do is aim to fail better.
- There is absolutely nothing wrong with dreaming as high, deep and wide as the mind can imagine. When things are tough, realize that this is your strength—especially when paired with action.
- The only way to produce really great work is to create an insane amount of it. So start already!
- Choose a life of wholeness and meaning—you're better off that way.
- Always say I love you. Because you never know when it will be your last.