Happy Birthday to Me: 8 Lessons from a Quean

I turned 28 this month.

Truth is, I tend not to think much about age. I feel young in my bones, and that is more a determinant than the amount of time I’ve spent on this planet. I get it though. I am still young; however, I truly feel I lived a tremendous amount. I’ve experienced heart break at its finest, love at its deepest, and continue to explore aspects of my life most people refuse to open their door to. This isn’t me boasting – although, as a belated bday gift to myself, why not? I’m fucken proud of me, and that isn’t something I’ve always been able to say honestly. But here I am, 28 years old, with so much life ahead of me, a myriad of experience behind me, and endless lessons held within me…

I’ve recently turned the page to a new chapter of my life. For this reason, and the resonating warmth of the passing of another year, I wanted to share 8 of my cruelest, most beautiful lessons. The wisdom that follows came at a range of costs, be it to my health, my heart, my relationships, my beliefs, my ego…

Yet, because of my unbreakable understanding that life has my back, I’ve been paid back tenfold.

LESSON 1: Learn to love yourself first.

I mean this with every morsel of my being. Regardless of what hardships you’ve faced in your life, what stories others have been telling you about yourself or the world, understand that you are the only living version of yourself. You are literally a winning genetic lottery ticket! Think of the person you wish you could be, and understand this: the only thing keeping you from that identity is the story you’re telling yourself. Love. Who. You. Are. Relentlessly. Even if you have to fake it at first.

This also includes sexuality! If you’ve been around, you know it’s masturbation month. Sex experts will tell you that, in order to create a fulfilling sexual relationship, it begins with the one you have with yourself. You can’t expect your partner(s) to magically find your pleasure points, when you haven’t explored them yourself. Start. Today. It’s one of the most beautiful gifts you can gives .

LESSON 2: Don’t take things personally.

This is kind of a spin off of lesson one, because once you learn to love yourself, this will become easier. It takes time, but I’ve spent the last five years recognizing that we are each our own little universe, regarding the world through a different lens; confronting it with separate filters, and that makes it our personal duty to confront any blind spots or remnants of our own damaging past. Once you release your prejudices, and take control of your triggers, no one – and I genuinely mean no one – will ever have power over you or your story again. You can encourage people to do the same, but no one else is your responsibility.

LESSON 3: Don’t settle.

Apply this to every part of your life: love, friendship, career, sex. I can’t say this enough, but love should be EASY. There’s this quote that says if you meet someone and your heart pounds, hands shake, knees go weak, they aren’t the one. When you meet the right person (or people, depending on your preferences), you’ll be overcome with calm. Do I completely agree with this? No; however, it makes an interesting point. For me it extends into the relationship. Obviously we all have our own baggage – anxiety, trust issues, past trauma, etc. – but that’s personal. If the person you’re with makes living with these things more difficult (or causes new issues), it’s a sign that something isn’t right.

When Master J and I first got together, I was in an outpatient program for bulimia recovery, was dealing with severe anxiety and restlessness. Being around him, although nerve-racking at first (due to fear left over from past relationships), reinforced the path I was on. There was support and encouragement; I was never met with shame or dismissive behaviours.

In short: the person, the career, the friendships – LIFE – should bring out the best in you, or at least encourage you to put your best self forward.

LESSON 4: Compromise and sacrifice are two VERY different things.

For a long time I believed that putting my own dreams and desires on the back burner was necessary if I wanted a relationship to work. I also believed that being a martyr in a draining friendship would make me a better person overall.

Truth is, love (from platonic to intimate) sees all parties and thrives off balance. Of course, there will be moments where practical choices based on life circumstances (career, parenting, health, etc.) need to be made; however, during these moments, all parties will come together to find the best solution for everyone involved. Sacrifice, on the other hand, is disproportionate, and ignores needs, feelings, ideas and opinions of others who are impacted.

LESSON 5: Know your talents, and stop hiding them.

I’m a writer, it’s what I do. I’ve been told my entire life I’m pretty damn good at it. I hid it for a long time. That isn’t the only thing I hid. I played small, tried to hide in the background in classes, in social gatherings, and events. You name it, I did what I could to blend in. Turns out, no matter how hard I try, I’m not someone who is very good at blending in. I make people feel comfortable, I can very easily walk into a room and light it up, if I give myself permission. Those are my strengths. For a while there, I was terrified of these things – I thought they’d make me look pretentious, or arrogant. I’m in the early stages of honing this part of my personality, but the more I tap into it, the more alive I feel.

Figure out what kind of personality you have, what traits serve the world and how. Then, do what you can to make those parts of yourself grow. We tend to focus so much on what’s “wrong” with us, that the shadow overpowers the light. Well, what you feed will flourish. Find the area your gifts reside in, and turn the lights up. Become the fucken sun.

“Your playing small doesn’t serve the world…” – Marianne Williamson, Our Deepest Fear (poem)

LESSON 6: You have no right defining other people’s mistakes.

Human beings are infamous for judging each other. Problem is, we have an easier time looking outward and laying blame, than taking a peek inside ourselves and finding the source of our negativity.

My older sister has a large family – she’s pregnant with her fifth child. She’s been judged hard for this for a very long time. She was a single mom for her first two. She was terrified during her second pregnancy, uncertain if she could do it on her own. She did the best she could, and now, she owns a house with her husband, Great Dane, her four biological children, and her step-son. This was the life she wanted. She could have very easily settled with one of the fathers of her first two children, living an unfulfilling existence, yet lift the ridicule of the outside world – the people that would never be directly impacted by her choices.

I will always admire my sister for her courage and self-efficacy. What people define as her “mistakes,” ended up being her greatest blessings. She saw this when no one else would.

Moral: you don’t need the world’s permission to walk the path your on, or to change gears when you see fit. It is not the critic who counts… the credit belongs to the person actually in the arena (quote by Theodore Roosevelt) .

LESSON 7: Be kind. You never know what someone is going through (Plato).

I was lucky to grow up with parents who instilled in me two very important traits: kindness and compassion. I learned at a very early age that trying to understand a person’s situation was more telling of my character (and theirs) than making assumptions, and basing my opinion of them off of that. This was deeply reinforced during my last relationship.

My ex-boyfriend was infamous for judging a book by its cover. I remember numerous times, him taking one peek at a person and believing he knew their entire life story. And you can be sure that 10 times out of 10 the story he wrote for them was not flattering for those people. Not only did this breed arrogance and toxicity, but it made it difficult for people to be themselves around him; something I don’t believe he was conscious of. I remember some of his closest friends waiting for him to leave the room so we could have a real, emotional conversation. One male friend of his actually broke down in front of me, crying, over a lost relationship. When my ex returned to the room, he immediately pulled himself together.

When you don’t give people the room to be what they are, to express themselves, and feel their feelings…you reinforce the struggle they may already be swimming in; only, you’re adding depth to their despair. To know someone – like really know someone – you have to let them breathe, but also, try to make that air as light as possible. If there world is clouded, don’t add the wind or rain, instead, offer them shelter.

Lesson 8: Choose the way of the philosopher.

We are all products of our upbringing, our environments, the culture we live in. The problem is, most of us stay in that place, without ever questioning the lessons we’ve received, or looking for our own voice within the many we’ve listened to throughout our lives.

We rarely ask ourselves: Who are you? What do you enjoy? What desires do you have? Dreams? Are there any lessons you’ve been taught that maybe, just maybe, contradict the feelings you have inside of you? What are they? What truth do they hold in your life?

My mother-in-law was raised in a staunch Catholic household. When she became a mother, she began exploring her faith further. She always felt that there was something greater out there, but couldn’t connect with the idea that Catholicism – especially in a world where multiple Gods are worshipped – was the answer to everything. She bought several books explaining specific religions. She read the Bible and the Koran, studied Buddhism, all to discover that her beliefs lie somewhere between Protestant and Buddhism.

My mother-in-law gave herself the time, space and permission to analyze the teachings she acquired as a child and young adult, and then found her own system of faith.

Whether it be about religion, sexuality, human rights, or another topic that pulls at you, asking the right questions and determining your own path based on who you are as an individual is one of the most authentic and liberating journeys you’ll ever take. Moving through your life, blindly accepting and reiterating information that has been handed to you is removing critical parts of your humanity: curiosity, individualism, passion and openness. When we take what our parents, friends, teachers, governments, tell us as hard truth, we become rigid and isolated. Our communities become uniform, monotone, homogenous…dangerous for “outsiders.”

Belief systems are like language. Where we are born, where we are raised, determines what we will learn. Just remember, you don’t know everything. You never will. But don’t stop asking questions, and let those answers lead you down your own path.

So, tell me, what lessons have you learned during your years on this planet?

Until next time,

Fuck well, friends!