First and foremost let me say that I can acknowledge I’m writing this whole thing from a place of privilege and humbly ask you to take it for what it’s worth. We’ve all faced adversities and any I’ve been through are not meant to be listed here. In the words of Rachel Cargle, I choose happiness.
When I feel unsure of anything I do, I am empowered in that I actively participated in everything that got me here.
And I’m humbled and emotional to know that I was once some doughy-eyed twelve year old with plans to move to “the big city”. A girl who left the country for the first time and sat in her homestay in the Cotswolds in England and told her homestay mother,
“I don’t know what I’ll be, but I want to see the world”.
That little girl would be proud of me. The abundance of gratitude I have for that is beyond comprehension.
That little girl was in love with love. She would play with her dollhouse alone and like so many other little girls would create happy families and birthday parties. She would pick up a pen and would write down where her characters would go and what they would do. When her imagination grew weary, she turned to a book to read from someone else’s.
And somewhere in there, I begged my mom to let me go for three weeks abroad the summer before 8th grade on a school trip. This is when I stayed with Annette and Hannah and Freya for the first time and decided we were family.
I became insatiable with the education I wanted. I wanted books and universities and experiences. I made these “lists” before every chapter of my life and those themes always remained evident. I wanted to touch every continent and wonder of the world. I wanted to write. I wanted to fall in love with people and places. I wanted to live in New York. Shamelessly, I made a bucket list at age fifteen–a more formal one compared to the scrap pieces of paper I wrote from the moment I could pick up a pen. A series of ripped up notebook pages with scribbles of things I wanted to do before I died. Small check marks with dates written by each. A list that sits now in a travel box on my bookshelf with magazine clippings of places to visit and photos from my trips.
At age twenty, I wrote about this being the time I could do all those things. I was allowed–perhaps obligated–to shamelessly chase my dreams. My friends were in on it too. It was the cool thing to do–to have big dreams. The most tangible experience for us being the moment I helped my best friend Charlie drive from his graduation in Orlando across the country to start his life in LA. Charlie barely let us stop for gas. He pushed us to keep going–scared that at some point we’d turn the car around. The Epilogue? Charlie is going on his 10th year in LA.
I helped Charlie do that drive at age nineteen. In the midst of this, UNC was incredible and was in the process of funding several abroad experiences and I became obsessed with writing. I knew being a “travel writer” would not last, so I did it while I could. It was how I processed any adversities I faced and started the journey of loving myself. It was how I organized my thoughts as my brain never stops. It was a chance to let the quiet voice within me silence the rest and allow myself to go after the life I wanted. It was how 21 & Counting became a project and eventually a book.
And it started with a tumblr blog I recently found where on my twentieth birthday I wrote something like “Hi, I know I’m being cliche but this is what I’ve learned so far in my life and will take with me into this incredible decade!” (Also, I’m proud of you twenty-year-old-Alexii–these cliches you would still agree with).
The list read:
“People Change. They’ll disappoint you”
“There’s not always an answer”
“People Can Surprise you. They don’t always disappoint.”
“It’s Not Stupid to Follow Your Dreams.”
“Your family is always your family”.
So as I sit here with a different audience on my thirtieth birthday, I can’t help it. I am cliche and in love with love but wildly independent. I’m the girl who sat on her father’s lap and begged for fairy tales; and as much as he would indulge me, he took liberties with all those happy endings.
“Cinderella’s glass slipper fit, but she went to college and ran for the US Senate instead”.
The point is, I still don’t know what makes me who I am, but I’ve got to embrace it.
Twenty Lessons to Close out my Twenties (in 2020).
- The universe has three answers to what you ask for: Yes, Not Right Now, Something better awaits
- People change and people don’t: Some will change and it will be disappointing. Some won’t and we can’t force them. Friendships and relationships will change. Embrace it. Send love to them for being part of a season of life when they were needed most.
- It’s still not stupid to follow your dreams.
- Make a home out of anywhere. Family is everything: I try to be a minimalist (read: studio apartment), and some of my happiest homes were when I only had a backpack and a hostel bed. Don’t be shy. Get real with people. Find those sparks with friends and let them run deep. Those people can become your home. Bonus points if you invite them over for dinner most Saturdays and encourage that “Family Dinner Night” in whatever country you’re living in.
- Call your mother. Call your aunts. Call your uncles. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a new country or sitting alone in your apartment with wine and a book. Someone, somewhere, is convinced you’re being murdered.
- Be good to your nieces and nephews and godchildren: One day they will be reading with wine alone at home and you’ll want them to call you.
- Breathe. There is no such thing as coincidences: Out of traits that I’m proudest of, my patience is at the top of the list. I worked for this. I am still working on this. Take a breath. Be empathetic.
- Learn Your Friends’ Love Languages: This is something I’ll never stop doing. The moment I dedicated myself to learning what success and love mean to the closest people in my life, my joy escalated (and I think their joy went up too).
- Self-care is not being selfish: I tell my students this all the time. As I love to travel, I love the “oxygen mask” analogy. If you don’t put your mask on first and try to help someone else, you might pass out and everyone loses.
- Focus on preventative health-care: After a load of experiences with my single mama and my own with the onset of ulcers-post-my-divorce–please keep up on doctor’s appointments and always get a second or third opinion. Also find a work-out routine that you don’t dread (might I recommend @chaktiyoga. She completely changed my 2020).
- Go to therapy. Everyone can go. Mental and emotional health are just as important as physical.
- Invest in your financial future: The first day of quarantine, I was on the phone with a lender for two hours trying to figure out how to pre-qualify for a mortgage. Take me to coffee if you ever want to hear the details of this experience (snippets of blatant sexism, the amount of phone calls I fought for myself, and slight homelessness for two months during a pandemic while helping scrambling seniors finish classes online).
My point is, the photos I have of closing day mean so much to me because I fought hard. You never know the backstory with the “highlight reel’ of social media. I spent probably 60 hours on the phone to get pre-qualified in the first place and then about 15-20 hours a week on the phone during the two months I was under contract. My point is, investing in your financial future (whether it be setting up a retirement account, trying to purchase a home–whatever makes sense to you as we navigate the system we’re dealt with) takes money and so much time. I know it’ll be worth it.
- Invest in something less responsible: Remember the anecdote about my dad changing the endings of fairy tales? I bought these shoes after getting refunded for a flight and after Lauren and I had talked about getting a pair for years. I always wanted them and wanted to symbolize that I didn’t need the man to get the glass slipper.
- Find credit cards that benefit you (but budget and don’t overspend): Me becoming obsessed with my credit has had a number of benefits. But I did it in a sort of fun way by having all airline credit cards that I pay off [usually] immediately.
CANNOT WAIT to go to South Africa with the 160k miles I somehow have after this pandemic.
- Travel alone: Be safe and do your research. But my confidence went to the highest level when I realized I don’t care if I eat alone at a restaurant or traverse the globe with only a backpack.
- Learn to Cook: Cooking has completely shaped my whole life and embraces my core values. An entire essay on that here.
- Romance exists. It’s okay to be in love with love: That same doughy-eyed kid still wanted the prince in addition to her fierce independence. I still embrace cliches. I still am in love with love. The Marty to my Ruth is out there and I know it.
And this combination of qualities–this allowing myself to be both–brought me the greatest love story that encompassed a large part of the last decade of my life. I was in love three times in my life, and all in my twenties. I’m starting to try to view relationships as art work. Perhaps sometimes you collaborate on a piece and then decide that the collaboration will no longer work. Perhaps that collaboration was meant for a specific season and a specific piece. If those artists part, it does not make the artwork any less beautiful.
- Don’t fall in love with potential: My biggest personal challenge. I love seeing the best in friends and potential matches. I think people are all on their own paths and are doing their best. But me falling for someone’s potential at any capacity will not benefit me and diminishes who and where they are at right now. It can go as far as falling in love with an idea and not the person who is standing right there in front of me.
I believe in listing the priority qualities of a partner I want and waiting for someone who checks all the boxes. If we are only granted this moment, I’m trying to no longer dedicate myself to any sort of relationship that is based on what could be.
- There is a difference between Pride and Vanity: My favorite book! But honestly, I tell my kids this all the time too. We live in a culture where societally we look down at bragging. I can be very proud of myself and hold myself to a high standard without being vain. I can be proud and only surround myself with people who celebrate my success and happiness.
- Love yourself. Of course, I had to end with the greatest cliche of all. Whereas I don’t think I ever didn’t love myself, I have made great strides. I view that love now as a sense of peace. One where I actively choose to only allow friendships and relationships into this space if they are additive. All relationships take compromise, yes, but if at the end of the day it is not raising my level of joy that I can grasp when I sit home, alone, isolated during April in New York City during a pandemic, on a yoga mat–there is no need. This realization was the most empowering of them all. It was a dedication to saying, “I am alone and I have never been happier”. It is the faith that no matter the path, with both the adversities I’ve faced and those still to come, it will be more than okay. There will be joy.
Let’s do it, 30.