I turned 35 years of age a few weeks ago. For years, this had been “the number;” the age that when I was younger, would be a determinant of the level of success I achieved and accomplished.  I just knew that by age 35, I would be happily married, have my four children and would be at the pinnacle of my career, either as a lawyer or some sort of community activist. I would have a house comparable to the childhood home where I grew up; complete with a family-friendly neighborhood and an ample-sized backyard where my children would be afforded the same simple luxuries I was afforded as a young girl. Swing sets, family BBQs and even a doghouse.

As it turns out, I haven’t actually achieved any of these things. I did have a marriage, but now I’m divorced. I have a son, but he is my only child. I have a mortgage on my own home, but it is currently a one-bedroom condo with a loft that I share with my kid. Co-parenting and condo living is not exactly where I thought I’d be at 35, but strangely enough, I am completely okay with this. Okay…maybe like 90-95% okay, because I still want the house for my kid (and more kids, to boot). Yet for all the fretting I had done about turning 35 and what that would mean for my life, when the moment actually arrived, I embraced it. I stepped into it. I owned it and silently said to myself, “35, I am here.”

I was fortunate to have my big day land on a Saturday, so I spent my birthday weekend with a group of cousins in Texas. This is the state where my mother grew up and where I have traveled to every summer pretty much since I was born. With this birthday, I knew I wanted to do something different. To be some place different. It wasn’t until I was on the plane to Texas when I realized the significance of being connected with my roots on the day of the celebration of my birth.  What better way to step into a space and embrace it while also being embraced by those who have always loved and accepted you? It was definitely a full circle moment. It was like coming home to who I am. It also turned out to be one of the best weekends I have ever had in my life, birthday or otherwise.

About a week prior to turning 35, my therapist asked me to take some time and reflect on what has been defined as a monumental age. She wanted me to think of all the experiences that I’d had up until this point in my life and how I could use those experiences to shape my life from here on out. Again, what stood out to me the most is the ease with which I stepped into the space of turning 35.

I realized this comfort came from surviving all of the experiences, good, bad and ugly. I did not reach 35 unscathed and instead of running from the challenges or allowing the challenges to prevent me from being my best self, I accepted them as life lessons. Building blocks that would only serve to make me stronger. I know that without these challenges, I would not be the woman I continue to become. I’ve earned my stripes and I wear them proudly. I have quickly learned one of the most beautiful things about turning 35 is reaching (if you haven’t already reached) that place where you begin to fully accept yourself for exactly who you are.

If you lined up ten of my closest friends, they would probably all describe me in the same way. Headstrong. Independent. Stubborn. Unnecessary worrier. Determined. Compassionate. Devoted mother. Talkative. Passionate. Intense. Overthinker. Kind. For a long time, I shunned my better qualities while erroneously telling myself doing so was a form of humility. Yet, I’d also be offended by the pointing out of the not so great stuff about me. Now I understand I need to accept all of the things that make me who I am. I can be proud of the person I am and the accomplishments I’ve made, and instead of being offended about the not so great stuff, I can do my part to not let it adversely affect others or myself. This is where my work in therapy comes into play, as well as my desire of continually striving to be the best me I can be.

While reflecting on turning 35, a video poem from Warsan Shire found its way to me. She is a beautiful poet based in London. I’d heard of her through tweets from one of my writing inspirations, dream hampton, but I’d never actually checked out her work for myself.  That is, until the day a friend posted the poem on her Facebook page. I was so moved by it, that I watched it multiple times and immediately shared it with other women friends who I knew would also appreciate the message. Being that ten of my closest friends would probably also describe me as a love junkie, there was something about the poem’s description of the strength of a woman’s love that really spoke to me. Through my work in therapy, I have come to understand how strong my own love is. Though I have had to learn how to be mindful of it in my relationships, it is also something I fully accept about myself. I haven’t reached 35 without experiencing heartbreaks and letdowns, but I am proud of myself for still being strong enough and willing enough to be receptive to love.  It is not always easy, but doing so will bring ease to my life’s journey from here on out.

When the video poem came my way, I knew it would have to be included in my next blog. I hope you enjoy it.

And cheers to turning 35.

Peace and Love.

The Road to Happy

Wayne Dyer

I recently caught up with a friend who I haven’t seen in a long time.  During our conversation, they asked how I’ve been doing. “Good,” I replied, which was followed by “not great?” from my friend. I paused and thought for a moment before I responded, “I guess I could say great, but I don’t because I am still on the road to what I deem my personal greatness.” My friend acknowledged this statement and our conversation carried on after that.

Thinking about this the next day, I realized a more appropriate response would have been “I’m happy,” because I am. I still have much I am striving for and working towards, but overall, I am actually okay with the space I am in now. I am sure to remind myself to embrace and appreciate this feeling, because it took a long time and a lot of work to get here.

My life since turning 30 has been interesting, to say the least. I’ve been married, divorced, became a single mother (I try to use “co-parent” more often), was laid off due to downsizing, then re-hired in a new position a few weeks later, survived a house fire, laid both of my grandmothers and two dear cousins to rest, had love, lost love and most recently was in a car accident that kept me out of work for two months. There’s more, but I think you get the idea. I don’t list these things to complain or compare my life challenges to anyone else’s. It’s more about reflecting on the valleys I’ve endured and how I’ve managed, and continue to manage, to stay positive and not lose sight of finding what I call “my free.”

This is not to say that every day has been a good one. I’ve definitely had my moments of staying in the bed all day with the covers over my head, or having to work through anger while simultaneously making more of an effort to focus on forgiveness. I have also had some help along the way. About a year after my divorce, I started meeting with a therapist in order to better understand my self, my choices and what some of the root causes of my personal struggles were.  I always say my therapist is the best relationship I’ve ever had. I’ve been working with her for two and a half years now, and unless she kicks me out of the nest, I don’t have any intention of discontinuing my future appointments. I have friends who wonder how I can be so transparent with something that most people are very private about. It’s not that privacy necessarily equals shame, but for me, I have never been ashamed of the fact that I do see a therapist. In fact, those who are closest to me even know her by name. The reality, though, is that there is a stigma associated with therapy and other methods for supporting mental health. This is where my transparency comes in. My hope is that others, especially those who may be struggling with something internally, will see that therapy is actually pretty harmless and quite helpful. I’ve always said it’s like my personal GPS. When I feel I’m getting off course, I take 45 minutes out of my week to solely focus on redirecting myself in a positive way.

Looking back on some of my first appointments with my therapist, I remember telling her that I wanted to find peace within myself and be happy. Over the course of these 2.5 years with her, I’ve had walls broken down, plenty of “aha” moments and learned to understand the power of my love. I’ve expressed to her my desire to remarry and hopefully have more children by time I reach my “scary age,” if not before. When I started seeing my therapist, I was 32 and the scary age was 35. Well, as it turns out, I will be 35 in less than two short weeks and I am nowhere near being remarried or having another child.  I’ve already gone ahead and pushed the scary age back, but what is important about this, is that I am okay with it. When I got married the first time, I can admit there was self-imposed pressure of turning 30 and wanting to be sure “marriage” was something I checked off my to-do list. I don’t regret it, for without the marriage I wouldn’t have my son, but I did learn the most valuable lesson of patience. So while there is still a desire for companionship in my life, I am able to keep it in check and focus on the other areas of my life that are also in need of nurturing; mainly, my continuous work towards my free.

When I recognized my response to the question of how I’m doing should have been “I’m happy,” I knew this was another big “aha” moment for me.  I realize I am finding the peace within myself I have been searching for. There is still much more I want to attain, but personally, it is a major accomplishment for me to be happy in a space that is not exactly the space I thought I’d be in at this stage in my life.  In his book, “The Alchemist,” Paulo Coelho says that when you set your heart on something, all the Universe conspires to help you receive it.  I knew I’d want to write a blog about the experience of finding my happy and sure enough, as I was checking my Twitter feed the other day, did I see another quote from Coelho that said: “The path to wisdom is to be yourself. Stop ‘seeking.’” I was immediately able to wrap my arms around this and felt it tied in perfectly with what I wanted to write. I know I am on the road to happy because I am learning to look within myself more. I am learning to trust myself more. Everything I need, every answer to the questions I have, every desire I seek, is rooted within me. As Coelho implies, for each of us, the answers to what we are looking for are within our individual selves.

A few nights ago, I was talking with my mother and she expressed her desire to see me have the relationship and family I’ve always said I wanted. Normally, I would have had a defensive response to this, not because of what she said, but because deep down, it would kick up a feeling of frustration over something I have no control over. Now I am learning to understand how to coexist with the unknown. So I was able to calmly say, “I know Mommy, but I’m really okay with where I am now.  I’ve got a lot on my plate to focus on and I think the Universe wants to see me accomplish those things before I get into another serious relationship.” Not that I am being unreceptive to love; I am just okay with letting it find me in its own way. In the meantime, it’s like the song says, if you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with. Right now, I’m pretty happy loving and being with me.

I wish you peace and happiness on your journey. And may you never stop searching for your free.