I wrote the piece below for my weekly newsletter last week, the day before my 29th birthday. Even though it feels incredibly vulnerable, I wanted to share it here, too. In case you needed some inspiration for joy :)
I've come to realize recently that I was the happiest I've ever been in my whole entire life when I was backpacking through Southeast Asia.
I was 28 and I was solo, buying toasties and beers from 7-Eleven, never staying in one place for more than a few nights, not knowing anyone for more than a couple of weeks, wearing bikinis and tie dye dresses and not a stitch of makeup and letting my roots grow in gray. I smoked more cigarettes than I ever have and drank more alcohol than I ever have and probably cut a few years off my life, but I didn't even care. I lived wildly and vicariously and truthfully for those three months. I've never been happier.
And at the beginning, I questioned it.
Where had my anxiety gone? Didn't I need that? Surely life couldn't be this good. Where was the catch? When would it end abruptly? Shouldn't something have gone wrong by now? Surely life couldn't be this easy.
The whole notion of being this happy was foreign to me. I didn't understand it.
And yet it went on for three solid months. Ease. Joy. Everything just.....worked. People were kind. I made friends. I had enough money. I planned it all on a whim. It all fell into place.
As I head into my last birthday of my 20s, I'm letting this idea mull in my heart.
This idea that joy can be easy. That you can meet it and welcome it without fanfare and turmoil, that it can stick around without you trying too hard, that it can be simple.
Lately I've been letting go of any big expectations of myself. My course ended and design work has slowed, and I'm giving myself a breather and letting my business decide what it'd be like to be next. I'm not spending every free minute trying to figure out what's next, how I can better myself, where can be improved, what big project I could start.
Instead I'm letting myself be. Just exist. I haven't been working outside of my hours as an au pair. I haven't been feeling guilty when I fall into bed at night and watch yet another episode of Gilmore Girls or How I Met Your Mother. I haven't been putting the pressure on.
I'm simply living life.
I'm just going with it. I'm appreciating any tiny morsel of joy for exactly what it is. I'm living in the moment, being as present as I can. I'm letting time go by freely, without clenching down on it. I'm wondering how it is I've reached my 29th birthday and have never done this before, felt this before, embodied this before.
And so I begin to head out of my 20s. (I feel like I was just turning 26 though.) No longer backpacking solo through Southeast Asia, but carrying with me the spirit of it all. Striving to bring those qualities into my everyday life. (Minus the cigarettes and toasties.)
As Mary Oliver wrote:
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
All right, I'm off to turn 29, here on the other side of the world.
And remember, if you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,