29 Years, 29 Lessons

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photography // Coco Dandridge

creative direction // Kiah McBride

Twenty-nine is an interesting age. You’re still young enough to make mistakes, yet old enough to do better than you’ve done in the past. When I was younger, I imagined that being shy of thirty would feel a bit different. I imagined I’d be more accomplished, in a thriving relationship, maybe with a baby bouncing on my hip. But as the clock strikes midnight, announcing the grand finale of my 20s, I find that I have none of those things. And yet, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.  

I spent my early 20s trying to love someone when I didn’t even truly know what love was. I spent my mid-20s trying to figure out who I was, and who I desired to be, and I’ve spent the last few years digging deep within myself and discarding the parts of me that don’t align with who I am, and where I’m going.  I’m stronger, more confident, and less willing to put up with bullshit. And yet I’m softer, more patient, and more loving than ever.

I’m not yet at a place to claim to be wise, for wisdom is something gained through repeated experiences, and I’m just really getting started on this journey of life. But I have picked up a few gems thus far, and it would be a disservice to you if I didn’t share them.

So cheers to 29 years, and the lessons that have cultivated me into a woman that I’m proud to say I’ve become. I’m sipping wine, grown woman style. I encourage you to do the same. Enjoy.

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LOVE

1.     Never let another treat you like you’re average: Too many times I traded in self-love for situationships. I lost myself. I allowed things that happened and words that were spoken to define who I was, instead of speaking life into myself. The more that I realized that how people treat you is really a reflection of how they feel about themselves, the more I was able to shift my own narrative, and walk with my head held high.

2.     Get right before you get locked down: If I had known in my younger years what I know now, I would’ve never gotten into relationships without being whole and clear on who I was. It would’ve saved everyone time and heartache. We’re always in such a rush to get into situations in fear of missing out. What’s meant for you will be there when it’s time for you to have it. In the meantime, make sure you’re the best version of you before attempting to give yourself to another.

3.     Love, anyway. The hardest lesson was learning to love even when I was hurting, or didn’t feel like the other person deserved it. I found that true love exists in the unconditional.

4.     God’s love is the only example. The more I dived into the word, the more I learned how selfish my version of love was. In fact, it wasn’t love at all. When you study how God loves us, despite our flaws, our rejection of Him, and our self-centeredness, you find that love isn’t just a four-letter word, it’s a choice—a lifestyle. It’s dying to yourself daily. So whenever I get in my feelings, I re-read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 to remind myself that if I want to receive the love I desire from another, I have to first become it.

5.     Focus on You. Nothing ever gets resolved by pointing fingers. We can blame people for everything under the sun, but at the end of the day your life and your circumstances is a reflection of your daily decisions and how you feel about yourself. If you want things to change, focus on the one thing that you can control—you.  

6.     Stop complaining and love yours. All complaining shows is how much you lack appreciation for what you have. The grass ain’t greener on the other side, you just stopped watering yours.

7.     Learn your roots. The last year or two I’ve focused  a lot on learning about my family. There are things that I didn’t understand about myself because I didn’t know my history. There are things that I held onto because I didn’t know what other’s had been through. When you learn who you are and where you come from, you can unlearn the cycles of dysfunction that may have been passed down to you.

8.     Ignore the comments and the clock. I’m at the age where family members wonder why I’m single and make comments about me never marrying or having children. It can be disheartening, but then I remember that one, they don’t determine the direction of my life, God does and two, that everything I’ve been working on in my 20s will set me up for success in my 30s. Had I rushed into marriage or motherhood, I would’ve just been passing down toxic habits and mindsets to my children. I may not have had the healthiest relationships, and may have chosen something that wasn’t right for me out of fear of being alone. I’m thankful that I didn’t rush, that I didn’t listen to what everyone else was saying or feel the need to do what everyone else is doing. I’m confident that it’s all going to end up better than I can even imagine.

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LIFE

9.    Health is wealth. It’s cliché, but it’s true. These past few years I’ve been sick more times than I care to have been. I’ve pushed myself to limits, binged through my emotions, went through unhealthy cycles, and truth be told, I’m still in recovery. But in the midst of that I’ve also learned how to nourish my body and my soul. My lifestyle in my early 20s is completely opposite of what it is now. I’m more aware of how I treat my mind, body and spirit , and make every effort to only fill them with nourishing things. I’m not perfect, but I am conscious. And that’s the key to change.

 10.    Lose control. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stressed myself out over things that were out of my control. From jobs to relationships, I found myself in constant chaos trying to dictate every aspect of my life. I became the most free when I released expectations.

11.    Release the past. For years I thought about going to therapy, and thanks to good health care I finally was able to go this past year. While I’ve done a lot of work on my own time, having someone who doesn’t know me and can speak from an unbiased place has been very helpful in closing doors and allowing me to get back to the essence of who I am. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, we all have problems that we rather not discuss. But to hold it in and never speak on them is like slowly sipping poison. You’ll die within and forfeit a life of joy and freedom holding onto pain and hurt.

 12.    Celebrate yourself. I’m still learning how to clap for me. I’m so used to doing and moving on to the next, that sometimes I forget to be still long enough to celebrate  my own wins. It’s something that I think is vital, especially in a time where we see everyone else’s wins and question why we’re not winning. We all win at different levels and in different areas of life. What may seem inconsequential to one person, is an accomplishment to another.  

13.    Building generational wealth begins with the foundation. It’s difficult to build wealth when your foundation isn’t solid. Debt, financial illiteracy, keeping up with the Jones’—they’re all things that prevent us from creating a life for ourselves and our families that will last for generations to come. I’m doing the work now to change habits and undo poor decisions, but I certainly wish I had started sooner, as I’d be much farther ahead.

14.    Cherish those who cherish you. Sometimes we get so caught up on who’s not there, that we lose sight of who is. I’ve gained so many friends and extended family that admittedly I probably overlooked at one time or another. I would sometimes complain about the lack of support and love around me, and had I continued with that mindset, I’d be truly alone.

15.    Find happiness in little things. It amazes me how so many people are depressed or battling with anxiety. I think one of the things that keeps my head above water is the fact that I find happiness in the little things. It can be as simple as having my own place that I can sleep and relax in, to having a job that allows me the freedom to be me.  If you put into practice to find something that brings you joy everyday, you’ll realize that life isn’t as bad and hopeless as the world may want you to believe.

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CAREER

16.     Know Yourself, Know your worth: The bag only multiplies when you’re not afraid to ask for it. Instead of asking yourself are you enough, ask if they can afford you. That shift in mindset puts you on a whole other level.

17.     It’s a marathon, not a race: So many times I chanted “by 25”, thinking that I’d have everything together and that the dreams that I had for myself would all come to fruition in a short amount of time. I’m thankful that they didn’t, because now I can truly say that I’m on the right path and not doing things just for money, clout, or to boost my ego. And I’m much more content with the idea of being memorable instead of a being a memory.

18.     Try. Fail. Try Again. My career journey hasn’t been one straight line, it’s a bunch of crooked paths and detours that I had no intention of going on. But one thing I can say is that I don’t have any regrets. Whatever I had interest in I did, and if it didn’t appeal to my long-term goals, I got rid of it and moved onto the next. I wasn’t always successful. I wasn’t always prepared. I didn’t always know what I was doing.  But I managed to rise every time that I fell, and that process of falling down and getting back up has made me stronger.  

19.     Learn your purpose. This is a little harder because we can easily spend our entire lives doing something that may not align with our purpose, but that fits our level of comfort. Too many of us settle and then wonder why we lack fulfillment. But understanding your gifts and your mission is key to walking in the fullness of life, and impacts everything from the opportunities you partake in to the person you choose to be with for the rest of your life.

20.     Be a servant. While I’m confident in my abilities and my talent,  I can’t pretend that everything that I’ve accomplished or every opportunity that came my way was because of how great I am. One thing I’ve learned is the true value of relationships. I used to battle with taking a backseat, especially as someone with so many creative ideas and talents. But serving others has been extremely rewarding and has open doors that I didn’t even know existed. Long story short, it’s not all about you. And if you think it is, you’ll never truly be successful.

21.     Be valuable. Whenever I left a job, one thing that was often said about me was how much value I brought to the table. Even if it was a job I wasn’t particularly passionate about, I always did my best to leave the position better than when I arrived, and to set the standard for the next person behind me. It’s the reason, I believe, that I’m able to reach out to old bosses and still get positive recommendations. People remember your work and how you made them feel.  

22.     Put action behind your dream. Over the years I’ve run into a lot of people who talked about what they “wanted” to do, but weren’t putting in the work to achieve the dream they talked about. Where they do that at? I’m not quite sure. And there’s a deeper conversation at hand as to why people give up on their goals and dreams, but for now, understand that everything you desire takes work. Sometimes it’s months of work, sometimes it’s decades. But if you don’t give up before the finish line, you’ll still be a winner—even if it’s in a way that you didn’t imagine.  

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TRAVEL

23.     Every place is a destination: As an avid traveler, I always felt the need to go big or go home, sometimes forgetting that some of the best destinations are in my own backyard. Every city has a story—a new place to explore—it doesn’t have to cost thousands to be worth your time.  

24.     Stop waiting on others: Many times I’d plan a trip keeping others in mind, only for them to back out or not pay on time, which often resulted in me not taking a trip at all.  Now I’d gladly take a trip solo if necessary.  Never allow waiting on others to hold you back.

25.     Spend money on experiences. Traveling is the one thing that when you spend money on, you’ll have no regrets about later.

26.     Embrace other cultures. One of my favorite things about traveling is seeing cultures different from my own. There’s something of value to take from people of various backgrounds. Some cultures place emphasis on family, while others are centered around respect. Regardless, just like the places you go, the people you encounter have something worth sharing.

27.     We’re all humans. The beauty of traveling is that you quickly learn that as much as we’re different, we’re all very much alike. It makes you empathetic to people because you learn at our core, we all want love, acceptance and peace.

28.     Pack light. I haven’t mastered this yet. Whenever I travel my bag is stuffed to the brim, and my shoulder aches because I’ve failed to upgrade to a rolling carry on. Only to get somewhere and realize most of the clothes I brought I have no desire to wear. Going forward I want to travel only with necessities so that I can reduce the stress of traveling.  

29.      Go far with friends. While I’m more than willing to travel alone, I have to admit that traveling ain’t the same without my girls. We laugh, we love, and we make the most of every moment. It truly takes the experience to the next level. And maybe my next big trip, I’ll be traveling with bae. ;)