It’s been months since I’ve visited this place, but with my 25th birthday swiftly approaching, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on who I was, who I am and who I’m becoming.
Heavy, I know.
Most of my life I’ve been extremely goal oriented. I was oddly competitive for an only child. I never had to compete with siblings, or anyone else really, except myself. My parents never put any pressure on me to be the “best and the brightest”. But somewhere in my childhood I guess I decided I needed to prove to everyone and myself that I could be the “best”, that I could do anything I put my mind to.
When I think back on it, it might have begun in the 3rd grade. Somehow I was placed in a program for “gifted” children. One day a week me and some other kids in my grade would go to a special classroom and we would do independent research projects, learn SAT words, practice more advanced math. I think that when I was put on that trajectory, that was when I realized I needed to prove to everyone that I belonged there. I never really felt like I was any smarter than my peers, I think I was just born with a hell of a lot of drive.
From then on, I felt this need to succeed. I know a lot of kids feel it these days, but the societal pressures were different back then, it wasn’t about having crazy success at 13- it was about doing your best. But my “best” always needed to be better than 80% of the people I knew.
I didn’t realize it then, but I did a lot growing up, especially in high school. I was in clubs, I did community theater, I was a dancer, I worked my ass off in school. Most days I would go to school until 3PM, having meetings until 4PM, have rehearsals until 6PM, go home and do homework until 7:30PM and then be at the dance studio until 9PM. Almost every day, for four years. Sometimes I would be in shows at school and also be in shows at a community theater. I think once I was in 3 shows at the same time.
And the entire time I was only accepting A’s for myself. I remember getting a B or a B+ felt like failure. I remember in 2003, deciding I would go to NYU and study journalism. In my mind, I had no other choice. Of course I did have other choices, I applied to 9 universities and was accepted to all but one (damn you Northwestern). People admitted later that they never believe I would get into NYU. Or that I would go. Those were the people that fueled me and my ambition.
Then there was the fiasco that was NYU. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have been accepted. The pressure grew to be too much for me. I became depressed. I stopped enjoying my life. I was a full time student and working 30 hours a week at Fred Flare. I remember getting a 70 on a paper for my journalism class, a paper where the class of over 100 students had averaged a 55 and feeling like I failed. The highest grade on that paper was an 80. I should have been thrilled and all I can remember is thinking to myself, “this is it, I’m not cut out for this, I can’t do it”. I ended that class, by far the hardest class I have ever taken, a class that was “meant to weed out the weaklings”, with an A-. I aced my final. I worked my ass off to do it, but somehow I did it, when I was so sure I would fail.
And yet that class broke me. I weeded myself out of that pool of journalism students. I said to myself, “I’m not cut out for this, it’s making me unhappy to fail all the time.” I was never failing, of course, but somehow I had become delusional when it came to school. At the time school was success for me. And I wanted to succeed. So I quit.
I don’t consider myself a quitter. I think NYU was the only thing in my life I have truly given up and quit. Of course I didn’t really “quit”. I still graduated with an associates degree. I had an incredible last semester actually. I let go of what I was trying to accomplish, I let the pressure of journalism and my “dream” just float away and I flourished. I took classes I wanted to take- I studied art history and existentialism and it was amazing.
I have always been afraid of admitting this, but I regret leaving NYU. I ruined that experience for myself. I know that because I look back on that last semester and I see all of my successes once I let go of my obsession with success. I was creative and happy, I was having intelligent conversations, I was making new friends. NYU suddenly became everything I had wanted it to be.
But it was too late by the time I realized it. And so I graduated and transferred to LIM. It was such a transitional time for me. Kyle broke up with me, I left NYU, I spent my last summer at home, I left all my old friends from college in hopes of finding new ones.
And the truth is, I was much happier at LIM. There were small parts of me that were disappointed- I felt I wasn’t being challenged, I wasn’t sure if I was learning anything, the part of me that was obsessed with school and success felt like I was copping out- taking it easy on myself. In some ways I was. But my quality of life really flourished. I made so many friends, I started interning and learning “real life” lessons.
I had to teach myself how to be happy again. And oddly enough, it wasn’t easy. For many years of my life it was hard for me to be happy. I often felt like I didn’t deserve my happiness. My life had spiraled in a way I had never imagined and so I tried to regain control and order in my life. My eating disorder got out of control again. I had learned to accept that I wouldn’t be perfect in school, and so I decided I should be perfect in my “health”. Food has always been the easiest way for me get the control I feel like I need.
I don’t know that I’ve ever really come out about it here, but I think most of you who know me, or have been around for a while, sort of knew anyway. It started when I was in middle school and waxed and wained when I was in high school. When I began college I gained weight and I felt okay with it. I didn’t have time to worry about counting calories because I was too busy worrying about school and work. And then I got quite thin again when I began to lose control of my relationship with Kyle. It’s funny, I always tell the story of our breakup with the idea that I never saw it coming, but I began obsessing over food again around the time that our relationship started unraveling.
Being at home and having my parents monitoring me, I recovered a little. But as anyone who has an issue with eating, or really any obsessive issue, can tell you- it’s a constant battle. One you fight the rest of your life. I felt okay when I left home for LIM, but by the spring semester I was in full on obsessive mode. Not only was I counting every calorie I put in my body, I was also actively trying to count every calorie I burned off. I would have a smoothie for breakfast and be on the treadmill until I burned it off. I wrote down everything I ate and how many calories it had and how many calories I burned and if the number at the end of the day wasn’t below 100, I would feel like I failed. I wasn’t even thinking about all the calories you burn just by existing.
In 40 days I lost 10 pounds. Which isn’t insane, but I went from weighing 118 to 107.5 I remember feeling so proud when I went below 110. Something about 110 just seemed bad to me, I decided I needed to be under 110. Before I lost the weight, I had bought a new dress that I felt amazing in and after I lost the weight, I remember wearing it and E saying to me, “You look really skinny. Have you lost weight?” I was so proud to tell her, “10 pounds!” and she looked at me and said, “I liked the dress better before.” I think that was the moment I realized what I had done.
I began obsessively trying to monitor my obsessiveness. Instead of calories to count, I became obsessed with nutrients and vitamins and protein. I tried not to count the calories. I stopped writing everything down. I still knew the nutritional information of almost everything I ate, but I tried to ignore the numbers doing caloric intake math in my head.
Finally, my senior year of school I found a new goal to obsess over. Instead of school and food, I became obsessed with my future. Where would I find a job? What did I want to do? Where would I live? Would I make enough money? Would I find a boyfriend? Would I be happy again?
It was a healthy goal for me. I found the right balance of working hard at school and treating my body better. I lived with two very free spirited girls. Free spirited in completely different, and sometimes reckless, ways but I think they helped me let go a little. Many nights were spent staying out until 3AM, eating onion rings and skipping class. I finally felt like I was a college student in my 20s, not some drained, half dead unhappy person.
In my heart I knew I wanted to be in styling, but I was afraid to dream too big again. I took my job at Anthro and was happy with it, I excelled at it, I supported myself with it. I threw myself into my work. I stopped worrying about everything else and it all just sort of fell into place. I became happy, I felt successful for the first time in years. I started running and I felt the power that comes with being healthy.
I continued to freelance, and as you know, that grew and grew until I had to leave Anthro. It’s been almost exactly a year to the day that I quit Anthropologie. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I literally let go of all control. I didn’t know when I would work, how much I would make, if I would be okay- I did a 180 and you know what, I was okay.
I still am okay. It’s up and down, but I’m still out here, a year later, supporting myself doing something I enjoy. I’ve lost control of my life and it has grown into this beautiful, unexpected, blissful existence.
So here I am. Almost 25. And I don’t know that I have any goals right now. I’m not really working towards anything, except being a better version of myself. I feel up in the air about almost all aspects of my life. I can feel that there will be a big shift for me in 2014. I love styling, but I can see myself doing other things. I love New York, but I can see my life moving somewhere else. I’m only 25. For a minute I think I had almost fooled myself into thinking I was settling down, but now I see that I’ve just been settling into my life to rest, getting ready for something bigger.
I’m not at a crossroads in my life yet, but I can see it in the distance. Slowly, but surely approaching. I’m happy in the fashion industry, but I think that I’m ready to admit to myself that it’s not what I want to do forever. I don’t know what I’ll do next. I have ideas, but nothing concrete. Nothing to work towards quite yet.
I’ve become completely un-goal oriented. That’s where I’m at, at (almost) 25. I’ve learned to lose control of my life and love every minute of it. I’ve learned that I can still be challenged without structure or goals. I see what has come out of the last 2 years of my life, when I have felt the most out of control of my life, but in the best way possible. I took a leap of faith. Actually I took a couple leaps of faith. I took big risks and got the biggest, greatest rewards.
I feel empowered on a daily basis. I feel strong, physically, mentally and spiritually. I am proud of what I can do. I am proud of myself for ditching every goal I had planned out 11 years ago, throwing it all to wind and saying, “What now?”. My joy doesn’t come from numbers or obsessions. It comes from coffee dates, sleepovers, dance classes, laughing to tears, re-runs of Say Yes to the Dress, Emojis in my text messages, getting mail, being in love.
Who am I becoming? I don’t know, because I don’t have it all planned out. And that’s okay with me. I know I will have big decisions to make in my 25th year and that’s going to require some goals and some planning and some control. But I’ve got time for all that.
Alright, I need a glass of wine.