People always ask what it took for me to make “the jump”. I’ve had many friends express their admiration for some of the decisions I’ve made over the past year, and in these interactions, intrinsically always attest that they could not do the same in their own life.
I feel a lot that in these moments, there is an innate recognition of my happiness that has caused others to project an idea of what their happiness should look like.
I did not know before what my happiness looked like. Sometime again the future, I know I will lose sight of it, until I go out and search for it once more.
Life paths are not a one-size fits all. I’ve spent a lot of time chasing things that I thought would make me happy because it worked for someone else. And I’ve spent a lot of time mourning the person I didn’t turn out to be, because I was not taking enough time to focus on the person that only I could be.
If we are privileged enough to attempt to do so, we owe it to ourselves to live as authentically as possible.
As anyone knows without me having to say, fulfillment can be found in anything and everything — in being passionate about your job, especially if you’re talented at it, found in a loving relationship, where your companionship encourages the personal growth of your soul, and in crafts and interests — like music, writing, dance, art — hell, even in roasting and brewing your own coffee.
A connecting theme I find in many of my encounters with friends is a hesitation to pursue what they want out of fear. And I’ve been there.
Fuck, I’m still there. More often than I’d like to admit.
I struggled for a very long time thinking the life paths I wanted for myself were out of reach because I didn’t spend enough time laying the foundations early enough, didn’t take the right job, didn’t discipline myself enough to be as talented at the art forms I’d always wanted to pursue.
But that’s the thing. It feels like many of us have allowed mainstream culture to define what it means to be good at what we love. The truth is, doing something you love doesn’t mean you have to be “the best” at it. The idea that the outcome has to be momentous and grand stops people from even trying. And yet, the beginnings of these journeys never are. Sometimes it’s just about giving yourself the space to try, and to discover whether or not you are capable of carving a path that is all your own, or realizing that there’s another one out there that’s even better.
More importantly, many of us struggle with knowing what exactly even makes us happy. That requires asking yourself the hard questions.
Who are you? Separate from the identities constantly thrust upon you in daily life — as a daughter or son, sister or brother, lover or friend. Because in the end, you are all, and none of these things.
Are you comfortable in your solitude? In the silence of just yourself?
It’s not about what makes you happy. When you cut out the noise from external variables attached to status or convenience or expectations from yourself and other people — do you know what lights your soul on fire?
What makes you feel like you’re really living?
Especially in this world where our sense of time and communication is warped by the internet, we’ve become conditioned to look for external validation and affirmation of our actions. That to be good at something, or to be anything at all, it has to have been recognized and documented for someone else, quantified in physically nonexistent computer code. You’re scared no one will hear the tree fall. That you are fully capable of doing or creating or being an amazing, gut-wrenchingly wonderful thing, but no one will ever know.
But I think that the most beautiful, strange, and awe-inspiring things about us, are the things other people may never truly know. The act of being human and having consciousness is a universal, yet deeply isolating experience. The only reality that is real is your own. So don’t wait for anything outside of yourself determine who you are, what makes you happy, and what makes you feel alive.
We compartmentalize each others’ happiness, thinking that we can originate it to one action or one thing that catalyzed it coming to fruition. We attach a sense of identity to singular things, like our titles or salaries or relationships or passions, not recognizing how intensely multi-faceted and complex we are. We don’t give ourselves the space to discover fulfillment and happiness in different places, or once we do, we struggle to peacefully let them go when they no longer serve us.
Living your life to the fullest is not easy,
We are always going to be, at the end of the day, instinctively resistant or fearful of change. I don’t think getting older means becoming an adult, I think it is just the process of becoming more and more yourself. And there is always mourning in this growth, in letting go of childhood, in letting go of previous versions of yourself as you constantly change, in realizing how different and the same you are from the people and places that have shaped you throughout your life.
Growing more into yourself means knowing yourself, means being alone with yourself, means realizing you are not like anyone else. And not letting that knowledge scare you, or make you feel lonely — but enrich you, enliven you, excite you.
“There has never been anything like you, there is nothing else like you, and nothing else will ever be like you.”
I had to learn what it meant to write for no one but myself. I agonized when I was young, to know what I could write to make me successful. I would write white lead female lead characters, would write story lines that I thought would be popular. Eventually I stopped writing altogether, only to rediscover it the way I do now. As a way to breath, rather than to be recognized.
Being your authentic self means being okay with being vulnerable. Open and honest with yourself about the things you want or don’t want, the things that don’t serve you, how you feel about the people in your life, and most importantly, how you feel about yourself.
None of this is simple. I speak from personal experience. People have often asked me for advice, as if I have the key to my own eternal happiness. But I am just as confused and lost as the best of us. I am still up to my ears in debt in student loans, I rely on my parents for support and barely afford the lifestyle I have now. I worry a lot about amounting up to the type of person I’ve set myself up to be in my head, getting easily stuck in vicious cycles I thought I’d grown out of.
But I stop and perceive the beauty in the lessons learned from these experiences. During my time at home, I took a part-time job working at a restaurant. Though I found myself on the end of questioning and wise cracks about working near minimum wage after spending $80,000 on a degree, I found myself unexpectedly happy with the nature of my job, not confined to a desk, and getting to have authentic interactions with my co-workers and customers daily. Being humble enough to accept and receive the support I do from my parents has brought a new depth of appreciation to what it meant for them to bring me into this world, for them to wholeheartedly support the pursuit of my happiness. And while being forced to confront things about myself I thought I’d overcome is not comfortable, going into that space has led to discoveries I did not ever expect. That deep down, there are things I never gave myself the space to want, because I was always too scared to try. Even now, I have yet to know what to do with these discoveries. But this is my gold, my greatest treasure.
The anxiety over not knowing whether you can trust your own decisions is always the hardest part. But it’s not about making “the jump”. It always starts small. And this decision, the act of taking a small step in an intentional direction — one that you know feels right to you — will be the easiest thing you ever do. You are not the person other people think you are, and you never have to be.
And bringing this all back to how the story started — the universal and intrinsic and very privileged desire to know who we are and what drives us — if you ever thought that buying a plane ticket or writing a book or being alone could help you learn about yourself — then you should probably do it.
In the case of traveling, it is all hilariously easier than you’d imagine. It’s not easily attainable, as anything that requires financial stability never is — but if you have the resources, all you have to do is as follows: 1) buy a ticket 2) find a bed to sleep in 3) let the universe take care of the rest.
You won’t regret it. And even if you do, at least then you know you had the courage to try.
Which is all any of us can do, and owe to ourselves, for the short time we get to exist on this earth.