Fireworks and Feelings: A Note on Celebrating

birthday party sponsored by Kmart

I used to believe that I wasn’t worth celebrating.

As time creeps closer to my birthday, I inevitably feel Slumpy. I’m coining this term as the 8th dwarf in my emotional repertoire. He is the illegitimate love child of Grumpy and Sleepy who is perpetually anxious and likes to sit in the corner leaking tears over his abandonment issues. As the calendar flips closer to December, you can be sure he’ll rock up to the doorstep, dump his baggage in the room and overstay his visit.

Birthdays are synonymous with celebration and nobody ever dreams of giving Slumpy an invitation to the party. But sometimes, despite the best of our abilities, he gate crashes the event. He frets over planning a party because mixing friendship groups from all different walks of life is too stressful. He sows seeds of doubts that make you wonder if anyone will show up and whether they’ll enjoy themselves. Most of all, he makes you question if you’re even worthy of a celebration. 

To his credit, I don’t think Slumpy intends to be such a killjoy. Perhaps he’s even trying to protect us. “Expectation Management,” he’ll probably moan in his defense. When I look back over the years, birthdays always felt like such a disappointment. I wrote last week that a lot of weight tends to get placed on this day. We pile on the expectations for a better year. We wait for it to change us. We set deadlines and declare that this will be the year all our fantasies come true. We hope for the people we love to rally around us.

Most often, my day would end up feeling lackluster. Events would be planned and people wouldn’t make the effort to show up. If they did, the day revolved around them. Irreparable mistakes would happen- the type that hits you when you wake up the next morning and make you feel like although you’re a year older, you’re definitely not wiser. The day would end and something would feel off.  A culmination of disappointing birthdays later,and you can’t blame Slumpy for believing that you aren’t worth showing up for and don’t deserve to be celebrated.

A year ago, he showed up again in the weeks before my 21st birthday. I was studying in England at the time and given free reign to jump from country to country. This sounds like a perfect combination for a birthday,except for the fact that my flatmates and I were slammed with last minute assignments and no one felt up to planning a party. Like a long-awaited heir to the throne,society places 21 on a pedestal and heralds it as the year of adulthood. I had hoped to usher in the year with a bang and alongside the people I loved. Yet, being isolated from my community back home and a frantic rush to finish essays meant nothing special was going to happen this year either.

This sentiment was echoed back to me later that week when my friend’s workmate from Melbourne decided to visit our flat before his travels. Incidentally, it was his birthday the day we met and we were plus ones to a party hosted by the Surf Society. Amongst the cheers and loud music in the background, and drawn together by the fact we didn’t know anyone else, I asked him how his birthday was going.

“It’s…not exactly what I thought it’d be,” he said hesitantly. “I keep waiting to feel different. Like, I know I should be happy to be here and I’m waiting for it to hit me. But it doesn’t feel like a big deal.” The crestfallen expression on his face said it all. Silence hung in the air between us and all I could say was, “I know.”

If you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably spent most of your life waiting on the big things. I used to be all over the idea of grand gestures, like surprise parties or fireworks that light up the sky or intense feelings that slam into you to let you know this person’s ‘the one.’ I’m so expectant of the big things that anything smaller makes me question whether it’s right and I wonder why it always feels like there’s something missing. 

 The problem with always looking up at the sky and waiting for the fireworks is that you miss out on what’s right in front of you. While your head is craned up towards the sky, you miss out on the people that are trying to celebrate you in their own way. You miss out on the magic of a slow burn that promises to keep flickering in the long run. Fireworks and grand gestures are an impressive spectacle, but once they fizz out you’re left with nothing but a dark sky. At the end of the day, I know I’d rather something meaningful that lasts for years to come, than something that only looks glamorous in the moment. The intimate memories created between close friends and the small, but intentional, actions are what imprints itself on your heart in the long run. That’s the golden stuff of life.

For my 21st, there was no huge party, no bar tab and no speeches that dragged on forever. Instead, my flat pulled together to rally around me at the last minute. The guys made an emergency trip to Tesco to buy a decadent cake topped with Maltesers. We laughed over the fact that cigarette lighters had to be held up instead of candles, and a single balloon found at the bottom of a show bag was inflated to celebrate me making it through the first year of my 20’s. Afterwards,we made our way into the city where I learnt how to (unsuccessfully) balance on my first mechanic bull and we danced the night away as fake snow rained down on our heads. It was the night my flatmate met his now girlfriend, and the night I got to see how time is a flimsy measure for the amount of impact we can make on others. It was a rushed, last minute affair, but it was enough. It wasn’t the big party I always imagined. But it ended up being more fulfilling than I ever thought possible.

As much as Slumpy and the rest of the dwarfs want to assert themselves and protect us, we can’t hand over the reigns to them. The story of Snow White is notable for the damsel in distress that has to rely on men and her feelings to save her from the Evil Queen. But sometimes we forget that we are the heroes of our own life and we get to choose what gets the most weight. Truth or Feelings. Fact or fiction.  

Someone once told me that I’ll be celebrated when I no longer feel that desire anymore. I don’t think that’s true. I think you should absolutely desire to be celebrated. You deserve the reminder that it’s not an accident you’re here today. You’re allowed to feel sentimental and all up in your feelings like a Drake song. There are years where it’ll feel eventful and everyone is gathered round for the glitz, glam and sparkle. And there’ll be years where you’ll have to be your own sparkle. The smaller, quieter, years allow you to be your own cheerleader and learn to celebrate yourself. You’re going to have to figure out how to love on and bust out the confetti for yourself before you can ever invite anyone else to do it for you.

Learn to celebrate the small sparks on the ground instead of worshiping the fireworks. Celebrate the grueling but golden process it took for you to get here. Celebrate the fact that despite all the hardships that came your way, you made it through. One day soon, someone’s going to love every bit of the mud that transformed you into who you are today.

All this to say that if a single shred of you has ever wondered whether you are worthy of being celebrated, hear me when I say you are, you are, you are.

Irrespective of who does or doesn’t show up for you, you’re worth celebrating.  Every inch of you is worth breaking out the confetti and silly string for.

Your birthday will undeniably be someone’s favourite day because it’s the day you showed up to the world ready to leave a mark on people’s hearts.

So if no one else has ever made you feel special, know that you are, you are, you are. 


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Thank You, Next: A Letter to My 21st Year

I turned 22 yesterday.

When it comes to birthdays, people will say many things amongst the chimes of well wishes and ‘have a great day.’ Do you feel any different? Do you feel older? Wiser? Did the Universe flood your brain with the answers to your burning questions as soon as the clock struck midnight?

I woke up and I felt the same as I did yesterday and the day before that. Nothing had changed.

If you’re anything like me, you often treat birthdays like a deadline for the all the milestones you were hoping to accomplish. A few years ago, I remember texting a friend in the lead up to my Birthday and telling her that I felt so upset because I hadn’t done anything noteworthy or awesome yet. “This isn’t where I thought I’d be,” I texted her while in the midst of any ugly cry. 

I’m willing to bet that you’ve probably felt this sentiment too. That this isn’t where you thought you’d be at 17, 21, 28 or 30. But that’s what happens when we place a ton of weight on a day that only asks to be celebrated for the glorious fact that you’re alive. When the clock ticks over and things haven’t unfolded the way we wanted them to, we end up feeling crushed by the weight of unmet expectations.

At 22, I woke up and felt like nothing had changed.

Yet everything has.

A whole year has passed since 21. The world has almost made a complete orbit around the sun. And it makes me wonder how many beautiful moments have happened that I’ve discounted because it didn’t happen the way I wanted.

So in honour of the year that’s gone by and the events that have unfolded, I wrote 21 a letter.


Hey you,

21 begins with you huddled under a green quilt in your flat in England wondering how the next year will unfold. Little weeds of discontentment will start to grow rampant in your heart, but you’ll shrug it off as pre-travel jitters and continue to chase after the wrong things.

The next month will be filled with you jumping from country to country, blurred memories, first dates, meeting friends who make you laugh till your stomach hurts, and moments where you wonder if loneliness will always be a companion. Turns out, everything you’ve clenched your eyes shut and wished for at 16 and 18 will be fulfilled by 21.You’ll have run the marathon, be in Law School, lived out a cute-meet and got to travel around with no parental supervision. After the past year of unmet expectations, you finally learn that some things take time to unfold. 

Things crumble as soon as your plane touches down in Melbourne. You spend the first month back home wrestling with the familiar darkness that tries to claw you back down by questioning where exactly you fit in this world. You struggle through all five stages of Grief even though it’s unclear exactly what you’re grieving, and your favourite writer will write to tell you, “You’re in the valley. Welcome to it.” The valley is something we all go through. For so long, you’ve worshipped this idea of jumping from mountaintop to mountaintop and having one victory after another. But no matter what it looks like online, nobody has that. The valley is the rocky, cavernous space in-between each mountain that we have to navigate through before reaching the top again. You might know it as the low point in your life when depression came back or when things felt stagnant, no matter how much you tried to move. It’s that place where you feel like giving up every two steps and you’re unsure if you’re ever going to see sunlight again. Believe it or not, the valley is golden. It’s the sacred space that stretches and refines you so you are ready for the next big thing in your life. When you do find your way to the top again, you’ll be able to take in the breathtaking view and say, ‘It wouldn’t have felt as spectacular if it’d come easy.’

Your valley was necessary for God to break and rebuild your foundation. It shattered the cardboard scaffolding of flimsy lies and false beliefs that you used to stand on. It forced you to decide whether you wanted to continue basing decisions off the lies you tell yourself or on truth. Anything that you seek to build,whether it’s a relationship, a career or a community, will require a foundation that won’t break at the first signs of a storm. Soon you can say with absolute certainty that you’re building your life on solid rock.

The community comes first. You pick up right where you left off with the people who know how to speak life over your wounds, and you begin the hard work to go even deeper with them. You’ll meet people who let you dive into their passenger seat and listen to you patiently while you stumble over the words to ask for help. The same ones will pick up the phone, let you snooze on their couch and will ask if there’s anything they can do to help you with your walk with God. They’ll wander into your life unexpectedly and it’ll feel like they’ve been there all along.

 Find the friends who aren’t afraid to talk about all of the deep and hard things with a side of pancakes and maple syrup. You’ve always had people in your life who know how to stay for the sparkle. It takes a longer, deeper process to find the ones who aren’t afraid to set up a tent with you in the mud and help you unravel your feelings. But take heart- at 17 you never thought you’d find anyone who’d stay during the tough times. Now, your tribe is full of people who are fluent in the art of showing up. Better yet, you’ll have learnt to be the one who shows up for others. 

When the calendar flips over to June, you’ll have coffee with a boy an hour before your exam. He’ll sit next to you while you’re sipping on lattes and speak breathlessly about his new business venture and how taking a risk changed his whole life. As the words rush out of his mouth, you’ll finally realise what true passion looks like. His words and support will push you to start forging your own path and investing in a craft that fulfills you.

You’ll land a job in an office that will make you feel more and more in your spirit that this is not the way you’re going to help other people. While some serve the world best by distance between themselves and others, your sweet spot has always been to sit with people in the thick of their everyday messes and tell them they’re ok. Words have always been the life raft that’s kept you from drowning and stories will keep you paddling even when the waves beat you down. Now it’s become the secret stuff that gets you out of bed – to speak words that will help people through their storm.

Let me say that the words you tell yourself and the words you speak over someone matter. Gosh it matters so much more than you know. The things you tell someone will either empower them to embrace who they are OR it’ll be another strike on the list of why they’re not enough. Be conscious when you tell someone that ‘no one cares.’ Be extra cautious about the lies you’re repeating to yourself about not being good enough.

Every storm you’ve ever weathered, every dark pit you’ve fallen into, the way you feel things so deeply, and how you used to scribble stories in the margins of notebooks, will come together to form the pieces of a bigger picture. Everything will click into place and it’ll make sense what you’re here on this world to do. For anyone that’s currently wandering aimlessly in a fog and confused about the direction their life is going, trust me when I say that the fog is a good thing. It’s the first step to making a breakthrough. The fog forces you to ask if you really like the direction you’re headed or if you’re just following someone else’s journey. Perhaps this is the opportunity you’ve always needed to chart a new course for yourself.

Fear will fight hard to pull you back whenever you’re about to be a victor. He’ll wrap his bony fingers around your wrist and whisper things like, ‘Who do you think you are?’ and ‘No one will care.’ He manifests himself in the forms of other people’s opinions, failure and risk of rejection.Sooner or later you have to decide who gets to call the shots in your life. You or Fear? I’ve done the research and spoken to the people who are 5 and 10 steps ahead of me. They all say the same thing: fear doesn’t go away. It’s going to be up to you, brave one, to push through. Fear shrinks every time you step forward so just commit to one step. And then another. And then another. Soon you’ll realise that fear’s got nothing on you.

Take heart though, because our hardest battles really do become the launching pad we need. Every ballad you’ve ever written about overcoming fear becomes the fight song that opens new doors. Every heartbreak, anxious thought and tear you’ve ever shed will form the lines of a map that will help someone else come out of their storm.

On a warm Spring day, you’ll spontaneously accept an invitation to skip Uni and drive to the middle of nowhere. You’ll watch as a group of singers reduce an auditorium full of restless teenagers to tears after telling their story, and it’ll hit you that your experiences are important. The stories that make up your life are sacred and golden, and you need to stop discounting them as too trivial, messy or boring.  Afterwards, you’ll sit on the grey carpet with one of the guys who shared his comeback story. He’ll look you in the eye tell you that he can see joy written all over you. “In fact, Joy will be one of the key pillars of your life,” he says.

You’ll cling so hard to that because there was once such a dark period in your life that you thought you’d never feel happiness again. Now, if there’s anything you want to dedicate your life to fighting for, it’s to help other people feel joy as well.

21, you were a fight song and a love story all wrapped up in one.  Society places you on a pedestal because it’s the year of ‘real adulthood,’ but I say this was the year you could proudly say ‘I’m in my element.’

Love always, 

Ash


Wednesday’s Just Got A Recharge!

When the fresh start to the week has worn off, but the weekend still feels ages away, you end up with humpday. This dreaded, in-between, mess of a day where time slows to a crawl and your weekend is delayed. Let’s be honest- nothing exciting ever happens to anyone on a Wednesday…Except if you’re part of the Wednesday Club!

In just a click, you can look forward to me showing up in your inbox with a sprinkle of confetti* and encouragement to make humpday fly by so you’re closer to dancing on the weekends. I won’t be like your flaky Tinder date. I’ll show up on time, every time, with insightful conversation & a mission to leave you feeling inspired.

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Eyes on your lane

I have this terrible habit of reaching for my phone whenever I hit a rut in the writing process.

Whenever I’m racking my brain for the right words or can’t figure out how to weave my story together, I instinctively turn to Instagram for inspiration within the masses of selfies and motivational quotes. To counter this habit, someone recommended a productivity app that plants a digital tree when I can resist touching my phone for a specific period of time. So far, no trees have been planted.

The best thing about social media is I can watch the lives of people I admire and all the ways they’re making their mark on the world. The worst thing about social media is I can watch the lives of people I admire and all the ways they’re making their mark on the world.

Before I started writing in this space, I would enjoy trawling through the feeds of other writers and swoon over the way they could capture my feelings with their words. Reading their stories was like the first time I wore glasses. When I placed those plastic rimmed frames on my face, all the blobs and blurred lines in the distance sharpened into focus and I could see the all little details I never realised I was missing. Like how the colourful shapes in the storefront were actually teddy bears, and how the letter ‘a’ on the sign was actually a ‘d.’Their words soothed an ache within me that I never knew how to explain or how to fix, like how a toddler might point to his stomach and cry.

Now that I’m aspiring to do the same, I can’t help but feel twinges of envy after reading their beautifully crafted sentences and how their words sparked magic. I longed to be at the level where everyone I admired was.I wanted their perfect prose, their platform and people that support my writing – and I wanted it yesterday. I pretend it’s not there, but left unchecked, the spoonful of self-doubt along with a pinch of self-loathing soon becomes hard to swallow.

Underlying all of this is the desire to just hurry up and be ‘there’ already. Humble beginnings and baby steps are like poison ivy to those of us with big visions on our hearts. We itch and scratch and whine in frustration at the reminder that although we’re not where we want to be -other people are. Suddenly, bitterness and distrust can’t help but creep in when you see someone else living out your vision. 

***

It hit 31-degree’s last week.

It lasted two days and then the thunderstorms began.

While the sun was still out, my friend and I headed to the beach to make the most of the blue sky and our free time. As she got into the car,she began to complain about the fact that her packages hadn’t arrived.

“Aus Post told me it was going to get here by midday, and it’s still not here,” she grumbled. “Now I have to go all the way down to the post office to pick it up since I won’t be here to sign for it. This is so annoying!”

As dramatic as she sounded in the moment, I knew that I harboured the same frustration and discontentment. Although I claim to be competitive, the waiting game is one I would forfeit if it meant that I received my prize instantly.

In a world where express shipping is the default option and food arrives straight to your doorstep, we are conditioned to crave instant gratification. I know I’ve been easily tempted by the siren call of products that claim to give me a flatter stomach in five days and clear skin by two. I’ve stalked the feeds of the people I admire and assumed that so long as I perform X, Y and Z, I should be exactly where they are by next week.

I think many of us wish we could just order up our dream like an online delivery. We’d get a text when our dream has been dispatched from the warehouse and we could track its journey by watching the icon move along the timeline. We’d squeal in anticipation when we finally get an estimated time of delivery, and we’d run to the door as soon as we heard the postman pull up.  

I have a running list of suggestions to tell God on the way Life should work.

But for now, He hasn’t implemented any. We have no way of tracking how long we have to go or how long it’ll take till we attain our goal. The air of uncertainty only fuels our anxious minds, so when things inevitably hit a road block, we lose momentum and get dejected about the delay. 

We look at our journey and say, ‘Hey. You’re taking way longer than I expected. I asked for my dream to be delivered Amazon Prime style to my doorstep, but instead you’ve decided to get held up at the post office. I’d like my refund now.’

***

The hardest lesson for me to swallow is that the reason I’m ‘here’ and not ‘there’ is simply because I’m not ready yet.

There are skills that have yet to be developed, basics I still need to master, and experiences I have to overcome that will ultimately keep me sustained in the long run.  Above all is a God who keeps me in one spot to ensure that I learn to walk before I even think about running.

As desirable as an online delivery of our dream is, we forget that there’s beauty in the process and a better payoff in the waiting. None of the people I admire are instant successes. When I was scrolling on social media and consuming the posts of the writers I adored,I was looking at the culmination of a decade’s worth of work. A decade of sitting at the table with their butt in the chair, slamming their fingers on the keyboard until they produced stories that flowed.

But I know that as much as the waiting hurts, there’s an even bigger heartache when you watch someone else get their package first. My phone is full of the text messages, emails and phone calls about the heavy hearts and sink in our stomach my friends and I feel when we hear someone else got that job offer, the relationship status or the prestigious award.

The questions start to fire off in our brains:

Are there good things ahead for me?

Is there a purpose for me here?

Is everything that I’ve been working towards going to be worth it? 

My honest answer is that you are special. You do matter. And the thing you’re working for will pay off for you in the end. There’s so much influence and impact running through your veins that everything you touch is going to produce so much good in the world.

But I know this is real hard to believe when we’re consumed by the mentality that we’re in this Ultimate Race. The race where there’s only one prize for all seven billion of us, and we have to strap on our weapons and battle each other Hunger Games Style until we win. We end up tearing our eyes away from our goals and spend all our energy twisting and turning our necks to see who’s gaining momentum on us and wondering why someone else is faster, better or smarter than we are.

Perhaps I’m being too dramatic. All I know is that I can’t be the only one whose heart breaks a little when I see all the ways people are racing past and getting their prize while I’ve barely moved an inch. 

What I will say is that time gets wasted when we worry about who’s ahead of us. Time gets wasted when we are constantly turning our heads to see who our competition is or analyzing all the ways why they have what we want. 

We could either watch other people excel and neglect our own craft. Or we could focus on our own process and fight to believe the truth that while it might be their turn to reap the rewards now, one day it’ll be ours. 

Earlier this year, someone I looked up to purely because of the fact she seemed to have her future figured out, sent me a flurry of messages to vent about how she was doing everything ‘right’ but only getting minimal returns. Other people were coming up from behind and getting the opportunities she’d worked for, and anxiety was whispering that maybe this means she wasn’t cut out for her dream.

For the hearts that wonder why they aren’t ‘there’ yet or discouraged by watching other people ‘ahead,’ this is for you:

 “Take yourself out of the race,” I texted back. “You’re in a league of your own.”

Don’t look side to side for your inspiration. Just look straight ahead because that’s where you’re going.

Ahead.

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Wednesday’s Just Got A Recharge!

When the fresh start to the week has worn off, but the weekend still feels ages away, you end up with humpday. This dreaded, in-between, mess of a day where time slows to a crawl and your weekend is delayed.

 Let’s be honest- nothing exciting ever happens to anyone on a Wednesday…

Except if you’re part of the Wednesday Club!

In just a click, you can look forward to me showing up in your inbox with a sprinkle of confetti* and encouragement to make humpday fly by so you’re closer to dancing on the weekends. 

I won’t be like your flaky Tinder date. I’ll show up on time, every time, with insightful conversation & a mission to leave you feeling inspired.

So what are you waiting for?

Enter your email to receive confetti* and encouragement in your inbox every Humpday!

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Brick by Brick: Thoughts on Building Community

If you’d asked me two years ago about finding community, I wouldn’t have had an answer for you.

To me, ‘community’ was a buzz word you used to tempt people into moving to a retirement home. 

To know my story is to know that I used to be part of friendship groups with girls who didn’t have each other’s best interests at heart. I thought that the type of people who had your back during the highs and lows of life, only existed within the pages of books and on the screens of sitcoms. I remember laying on a friend’s couch one night watching Carrie Bradshaw rotate through men and shoes and handbags. But never her friends.  “Do people really stay so close for that long?” I asked my friend. “Nope,” she said while stuffing more chips in her mouth. “Only in movies.”   

 Worn out by disingenuous motives and people that chipped away at my self-esteem, I clung onto wounds from the past and built walls to barricade others from getting too close to me. At a housewarming, while some were huddled together having intimate conversations, I stuck close to the booming music and ducked out of conversations that threatened to go beyond “how are you?” Although I craved a deeper connection, I didn’t have the energy to open myself up to others only to be disappointed again.  After all, what what the point of meeting him, or her, or anyone, if they were just going to ditch when the going got tough.  

Sometimes, I wish the lessons we needed to learn came in the form of handwritten letters tucked inside envelopes, titled Lesson 0.15: How to Make Friends That Last.  It would come every month alongside our phone bill, and we’d all be inspired to be better humans. I’m still negotiating with God over this. 

My lesson came in the form of a misunderstanding, severe lack of communication, and people who were desperate to avoid discomfort. It came in the form of  hitting rock bottom, a divine intervention, and then, finally, a clean slate. 

Someone I now call a true friend, dragged me through the doors of a place that promised love, welcoming, and belonging. But I still clung onto my old attitude like an old, worn out cardigan with shrunken sleeves that I couldn’t bear to throw away. Week after week, I would sit on the sidelines as a blurred face in the crowd, make brief small talk with the people next to me, and then speed home straight after the event. 

If God were to write me a letter, I imagine mine would read something like this: 

Girl, throw out the damn cardigan. 

It’s easy to wait for people to approach you first and get salty when they fail to notice you. It’s easy to stick to superficial conversations and wonder why nobody knows who you really are. It takes a certain type of boldness to  step out of the boat and go deeper with a few. 

His lesson is clear. If I really wanted something different- if I wanted to feel seen and known and loved by a group of genuine people I could one day call community, I’d have to be the first to suck it up and do the heavy lifting. 

I know nothing about building houses, carpentry or cementing. I once convinced myself I could build a life with a tradie, only to quickly realise that was not my destiny. But I imagine any type of building starts off small, with the repetitive laying down of one brick after another until you’ve constructed yourself a solid, sturdy house. 

Building a community from the ground up is the same. You roll up your sleeves and lay out the groundwork by asking people out with the intention of doing life with them. Most people will eagerly accept. Others just happen to lead busier lives. There are no guarantees the work will be easy. Not everyone will be as welcoming as you hope. But often, difficult people are placed in our lives to help us appreciate the ones who are warm and make you feel included. 

If a deeper connection is what you’re craving, then you’re going to have to be the first to show some skin. When the obligatory small talk is over, dive for the deeper stuff. Ask “how are you” and then say “No, really. How are you?” when they give you a vague, generic answer. Be open and honest about the fact that you don’t have your life together, and provide a no-judgement zone when others tell you the same. In a world where everyone is desperate to show off the highlights, your vulnerability is refreshing and invites the other person to open up about their secret struggle too. Someone once told me they felt safe confiding in me about their burdens and I nearly cried. In its simplest form, I think that’s what community is: a group of imperfect humans providing a safe space to share about their imperfect lives. 

Done well, your tribe will be made up of cheerleaders, world-shakers and shoulders to cry on. It’ll involve people who let you share difficult truths over pancakes and maple syrup, and friends who write you love letters when you’re feeling unlovable. It’s 2 am calls when anxiety is keeping one of you awake and driving for 50 minutes to their home because somebody has to put in the effort. Your community will be made up of people who bake the cakes and buy the flowers. Some will cook you dinners after you give them lifts, and others will open up their couch to you after a hard day. Ever brick you’ve ever stacked in love will come together to build you up. They’ll show up for you, and you’ll show up for them. 

I thought about all this recently when a friend told me about life at her new church. “I’m pretty sure only about two people like me there,” she said in a passing comment. 

After I got in my car, I wish I’d told her that it takes time. That nothing worthwhile was ever created by just showing up once. Whatever you seek to build will require commitment and a promise that you’ll keep working at it. To neglect this process would lead to a flimsy shelter that would barely survive a drizzle of rain, let alone the storms of life. 

Community isn’t built in a day. It’s showing up when things are messy. It’s the first to be vulnerable and the extending of an invitation. It’s shaking off your perfect facade and getting knee deep in the muddy trenches with one another. It’s tears, being honest, having fights and making up. It’s a combination of hello’s, goodbye’s and I’ll see you soon’s.

Community is not sitting on the sidelines with a wish to be picked. It’s stepping up to the plate, putting skin in the game and saying, ‘hey you, there’s no guarantee this will work, but I want to try this friendship thing  anyway.’  Its picking up and laying down one brick after the other in the form of coffee dates, house visits, and showing up for people till you’ve built a solid fortress that will be there to pick you up when life gets heavy. 

I don’t know where you are today. Maybe you’ve finally found yourself a solid tribe or maybe you’re picking up the pieces of a broken one and wondering if you have the energy to start all over again. If you’ve ever needed a letter to show up for you, let this be it:

Life isn’t meant to be done alone.

You’ll find your people.

Commit to the long haul.

Show up for one another.

Stack the bricks. 

 

When the fresh start to the week has worn off, but the weekend still feels ages away, you end up with humpday. This dreaded, in-between, mess of a day where time slows to a crawl and your weekend is delayed.

 Let’s be honest- nothing exciting ever happens to anyone on a Wednesday…

Except if you’re part of the Wednesday Club!

In just a click, you can look forward to me showing up in your inbox with a sprinkle of confetti* and encouragement to make humpday fly by so you’re closer to dancing on the weekends. 

I won’t be like your flaky Tinder date. I’ll show up on time, every time, with insightful conversation & a mission to leave you feeling inspired.

So what are you waiting for?

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What No One Tells You About Closure

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“I don’t know how I’m going to get past this,”

she told me as we sat in the car waiting at the traffic lights. I kept my eyes on the road, but I could hear her voice quivering. “I don’t know how I’m gonna get closure.”

I cringe a lot over this word.

The earliest memory I have of ‘Closure’ is when Rachel drunk dialled Ross in ‘Friends’ to tell him she was ‘oovvveeer’ him. I used to think all you needed to do to get over someone was to get ‘under’ someone else. Figuratively speaking of course. But now I’m realising it’s not that simple.

Several years ago, I was stuck in relationship limbo with someone who really wasn’t good for me. Calling it a ‘relationship’ is a bit of a stretch considering all we had was multiple encounters on dance floors, infrequent 3 AM texting sessions and empty promises, on and off over the course of two years. But after a disastrous official first date and a rollercoaster of emotions later, I was finally ready to call it quits.

The choice to end any sort of relationship is definitely not an easy one. You hold out hope that something will change. Maybe they’ll come to their senses and learn to treat you better. You somehow convince yourself that if anyone is ever worthy of a fifth chance, it’s this person- the one who consistently flakes out on you. You start bargaining with the universe: If they do this by this time, then I’ll know it’s right. Until finally, you resign yourself to the fact that whatever ‘thing’ you had is well and truly over.

After days of ranting, ugly crying and feeling sorry for myself, I realised it was up to me to make the tough call to tell him that I was done once and for all. There would be no more limbo. No more vigorously avoiding the topic of ‘what is this’ and ‘what are we.’ No more ‘heyyyyyy’ texts when we felt lonely, or using each other as a distraction from our problems.

I procrastinated hard though. If avoiding all my problems was an Olympic sport, I’d win Gold for sure. I put it off for so long that I was left with only two options: call him that night while he was in the middle of a drink up with his mates or call him the next morning before my flight overseas and risk bawling my eyes out on the plane. Neither were ideal.

In the end, I chose to immediately get it over and done with. I had to eventually make the decision to stop dragging out the drama under the false hope that things might get better.

The whole conversation was tense and filled with long pauses as we both tried to avoid being the first to be vulnerable. Awkward was an understatement. I finally ended it with a resound ‘I think it’s best if we don’t see each other ever again,’ and secretly hoped he’d give me an explanation for why things happened the way it did. Instead, I only got a ‘yeah cool. See you round.’ Basically the phone call equivalent of a shrug. I would never get the answers I wanted or needed. But maybe that was never the point.

I still cried on the plane.

The Chinese businessman who had the unfortunate luck of sitting next to me, had no idea how to help the girl that sobbed the entire 8-hour flight.

We aren’t promised relief and satisfaction immediately after we cut off the things that aren’t good for us. You’ll still doubt whether you did the right thing. You’ll wonder if things could have worked out if you’d tried harder, were prettier or been ‘enough.’ You’ll most likely romanticise what you used to have, even if it left you feeling empty at the time. But the next day, I woke up and felt a little lighter. And the day after that, even lighter still. Now, I get to tell this story over brunch and make other people laugh.

I don’t have a formula for how to get closure, and ‘letting go’ is something I’ll always struggle to do. Not everything can be resolved with an awkward phone call. Sometimes people leave you hanging. They might choose someone else and you’ll have to somehow make peace with that. People can ghost you or leave you on ‘seen,’ and you’ll wonder what about you turns people off.

The truth is that sometimes two people, even with the best of intentions, just don’t fit. People carry around all sorts of baggage that burden their decisions. You might be on a different track for your life that not everyone can accompany you on. The colour of his eyes and a crooked smile isn’t going to cover up the indisputable fact that your values Just. Don’t. Match. Some are only looking to distract themselves from the problems in their own world. I vowed never to play games with other people’s hearts just to cover up my own loneliness.

Someone once told me the only closure you really need is knowing you both deserve better. They’ll sort their stuff out and find the one who makes them want to get serious. And you’ll meet the person who is intentional about the way he pursues you.

“Stay hopeful,” I told my friend that night. “You deserve better, but you have to start acting like it. Closure begins once you know your worth and make the choice to stop entertaining fantasies about people who treat you anything less than.”

Eyes forward my love. There’s nothing back there for you anymore.

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Girl, Speak Up!

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This was originally published in The Dejure Club newsletter a couple of months ago, but it’s an issue that still continues to hit close to home. Maybe you’ve never struggled with speaking up or people pleasing. But if you have, this letter is for you. 

Confrontation makes me upset.

This isn’t something you want to figure out near the end of your Law degree. But it’s true. I hate making others feel uncomfortable, and I’m prepared to let a lot of things slide. It’s to the point where if a waiter brought me the wrong order, I would take it just to avoid making a fuss.

It wasn’t until I was sitting across from a friend that I realised how toxic this pattern of behaviour was. With latte’s clasped in our hands, he blamed me for everything that went wrong. Even though he’d misinterpreted my actions, I found myself shouldering the whole blame and apologising for everything even though he’d also played a significant part in hurting me.

Why did I do that? Why did I completely invalidate my own hurt and excuse his actions just so he could feel ‘right’? As I reflected on this, I realised I was almost always playing down my own needs and diminishing my feelings to make others feel comfortable. If someone was rude to me, I’d laugh it off. If someone disrespected me or spoke down to me, I’d bite my tongue and bury the hurt.

I don’t know how or why, but somewhere along the way I learnt to be submissive and a pushover. I don’t advocate my own needs because I’m afraid to hurt others or rock the boat. But where does that leave me?

Another friend was constantly cancelling on me at the last minute. I’d always make excuses for them like ‘they’re busy, so it’s understandable’ or ‘they have a lot on their plate, it’s fine.’ But with every ‘It’s fine’ or ‘No worries!’ text, I realised I was validating their behaviour. I was implicitly saying that it was ok for them to disrespect my time and keep flaking out on me because I’d never get mad.

Here’s the thing: if you don’t tell people their actions bother you, they’ll never figure it out. If you don’t assert your boundaries and your needs, people will continue to repeat their ways and you’ll continue to be walked over. If you don’t respect your own feelings, how can you expect others to?

I think a lot of this stems from fear. Fear that people will leave us if we come off as too difficult or not eager to please. Fear that we aren’t as ‘important’ as others. So we undermine our position, compromise on our priorities and play off our pain.

But girl, can I tell you something?

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are worthy of being heard. You are allowed to assert your needs. You are allowed to say no.

Someone else’s age, race or position of authority does not make them ‘better’ than you. It does not give them licence to devalue you or make you feel ‘less than.’ It is one thing to give grace. It’s another thing entirely to let others take advantage of your selflessness. If you are constantly being walked over or looked down on. If someone makes you feel like your feelings are invalid or you’re unworthy – then girl, you have got to speak up!

And so, for anyone who has ever felt misunderstood, unheard, or unseen. For the ones who have been too scared to speak up. I see you. I am with you. I am for you. So now I’m standing up for myself. Yes, give more grace than you get. Yes, give others the benefit of the doubt. But stop invalidating your needs or feelings for others. Girl, speak up!


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Mind Your Business Pt II

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“Too many people know about my writing so now I can’t write anymore!!” I texted him.

I was sitting at a café staring at the ominous blank page, racking my brain for absolutely anything to fill up the white space. The barista placed my latte next to me and promptly left my side. He’d learned the hard way never to talk to me when I was hunched over my laptop with my hands in my hair and a manic look on my face. Every time I tried typing, I would cringe at the idea of certain people reading and immediately delete all my words.

“Brahhh stop.” was my friend’s eloquent reply. I could feel the eyeroll he was giving me from halfway around the world. “You gotta stop caring.”

As much as I hated to admit it, he- and the five other people- I’d texted in a blind panic- were right. We have to stop worrying about what people think.

 ***

When the seed to start writing and use my words as a vessel for the broken-hearted was first planted, I was adamant to see it through. But as the seed burst open and my platform started growing, so did fear. Fear was this weed that kept wrapping itself around my dreams and desires to slowly choke the life out of them. One scrawny plant after another cropped up in multiple ways intending to stunt my growth. I was too scared to pitch publications. I was afraid of letting people know I wanted to write. I feared not being an original or not having a voice. I struggled hard with letting the public read my words.

Left unchecked, fear- like weeds — will steal all the energy you could be using to grow your vision and leave you depleted. When you could be out there spreading your message, you instead stay stuck in one spot consumed with lie after lie. When I could have been boldly declaring my mission and pushing forward, I remained fixated on other people’s opinions and only limited my corner of the internet to my closest friends.

But then doors started opening. Companies asked to hear my stories and write for them. My words were chosen to launch the new season of a newsletter that landed in the inbox of 500 women worldwide. More and more emails were flying into my inbox asking to publish my articles. I knew sooner or later the world was going to know I was claiming the title ‘Writer.’

I’m guilty of killing off secret dreams because of one negative remark. I’ve spent hours texting friends, asking them to over-analyse every backhand comment that’s been sent my way. I’ve wasted legitimate amounts of time fretting over whether or not to promote my work or start a website or be honest about depression and all his friends, because I’ve been worried about the things people may say or think.

But as Girlboss Rachel Hollis says: “It’s none of your business what other people think about you.” 

***

We’re taught from young to always seek out guidance and an objective opinion. We schedule coffee dates with mentors, counsellors and working professionals, to ask their advice on our growth and what our next steps should be. I was once hellbent on packing up my life and moving to Budapest to be a party host. Many people had to gently advise me that that wasn’t the best career option for me.

But there’s a vast difference between seeking wise counsel and letting just any random person speak into your life. There’s a difference between asking for genuine feedback and letting someone’s snarky comments change your trajectory.

Someone will always have something to say about what you’re doing- and they’re absolutely allowed to have their opinions. But that doesn’t mean you have to know what it is. You don’t have to poke and pry or ask your friends to be your spy network to find out exactly what it is people are saying about you. Whatever their opinion is, you most certainly don’t have to let it influence your life.

You could lie in bed for hours consumed with thoughts over the people who will scoff at your mission or the friends who used to show up for you but fell off the grid at the first sign of your success. You could keep fixating on who isn’t there anymore and what they might be saying. You could be so focused on the gaps in the bleachers that you completely miss out on the fact you have die-hard fans waving celebratory banners in the front row.

***

“I’ve been thinking about you lately,” my friend turned to me as I nestled in the seat next to her. “I’ve been thinking about what you told me the other night. About how you’d been too scared to post this and publish that. It saddens me, Ash.”

“You have your own unique way of speaking, of writing and the way you tell stories. And you shouldn’t hide any of that because you’re scared of what other people will think. So long as you have good intentions, that’s all that matters. If other people have a problem with you, that’s their problem.”

She’s right.

There are jokes, stories and ideas only you can come up with. No one can captivate a room or hold someone’s attention the way you do. Someone somewhere is hoping you’ll show up tonight . People need you to bring the ideas buzzing around your head to life. The stories you’re keeping close to your chest because it’s too shameful or embarrassing, could be someone else’s lifeline. What you think are all the crazy messy parts of you, somebody else finds endearing.

The you that you are now is someone’s first choice.

We shouldn’t be chopping off parts of ourselves or changing our dreams based off other people’s expectations. People walk in and out of our lives all the time. At the end of the day you’re the one who will have to sit with the person you’ve become. I pray that person will be the one that stays true to your uninhibited self.

It would be a great disservice to the world and to the God who created you if you hid parts of yourself away because you were scared of what people think.

 Don’t speculate over what people may or may not be thinking about you or your craft. Don’t ask for the ‘reviews.’ Don’t worry about what they’ll write or say about you. Unless they’re good and wise counsel, just take whatever ‘advice’ they try to give you with a smile, a thank you and a wave goodbye.

Mind your business.


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Mind Your Business

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Yeet Pray Love @goonellie

“You need to mind your own business,” she told me.

Not the words you want to hear while in the throes of another heartache, but necessary words nonetheless.

It’s 2018 and everything you ever need to know is accessible in the palm of your hand. You can track in real time exactly what your friends are getting up to tonight. You can instantly look up the fact that there are more stars in the skies than particles of sand, just to win an argument. You can even get Pad Thai and a date to share it with, delivered to your doorstep in just two swipes.

I’m guilty of spending hours lying in bed, scrolling on my phone and checking out the highlights of other people’s lives. I justify it by saying I just want to see how the other half live. The ones who are inspiring me to chase my dreams. To watch the friends I’ve made on the other side of the world, kick ass.

But what happens when I scroll pass something I don’t want to know about?

A change in relationship status

A new job update

A tagged meme I wasn’t included in

A party I’ve missed out on

I can get very easily bogged down after an intense scrolling session or when I’ve lurked on a profile for too long. Especially when FOMO hits and I find out news that rubs me the wrong way or leaves a sick feeling in my stomach.

And so, on this particular Friday night when I should have been capitalising on my 20s and making questionable decisions, I found myself curled up in the foetus position on her bed having yet another existential crisis. Friends who let you rock up at their house at odd hours of the night, and open up their bed or couch to you, are solid gold. I have spent many evenings diving into people’s passenger seats, knocking on doors, and camping out on kitchen floors, all so they can give me the tough but necessary advice. These are the people to hold close and do life with.

As I lay sulking under the dim glow of her fairy lights, she schooled me in the art of minding my own business.

What other people are doing should be of no concern to you. What he is doing with her is not a story-line you need to care about unless you’re invited to play a part in their drama.

“Stop jumping to conclusions,” she stated bluntly. “What you see and hear online is only half the story.”

I pulled her blankets over my head and sulked even more.

“Every time you start to get upset, remind yourself it’s none of your business,” she nudged me. “This is not burying your head in the sand. It’s an intentional redirection of where you focus your energy and thoughts.”

The truth is, she’s right. I’m guilty of investing in the lives of others more than I invest in my own. It’s easier to show off my life on a screen than show up and do the messy but necessary work in reality. We watch and scroll and care so much about what other people are doing, we miss out on the magic that’s happening right in front of us. And of course, we want others to see the highlights in our life as well. So we play the game. We snap, we caption, we vlog. This is not a social media bash – and you should definitely instastory any moment where you’re feeling and looking great. But some moments just shouldn’t be for the public.

I had the privilege of hanging out with someone especially great the other week. It went the way you’d want any night with a ‘potential’ to go- pizza, ice cream, and your Pastor dining at the table next to yours. Afterwards, we sat in the car with music blaring, city lights sparkling, and basked in a reassuring silence that could only accompany two people who were absolutely comfortable with one another. In that moment, I didn’t care what anyone else was doing. All I wanted was to savour the moment and never have it end. It was such a rare and sweet occasion that my fingers itched to capture it and have something tangible to remember it by. But as I reached for my phone, I felt a nudge telling me ‘Don’t document this. This moment is yours and his. No one else’s. Some things just need to stay sacred.’

***

Like I said, this isn’t a social media bash. The Internet has brought some beautiful things and people into my life and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it. But if we’re always basing our feelings and jumping to conclusions based off the highlight reel and 10 second stories people put up, we run the risk of neglecting all the amazing things we’ve achieved in our own lives.

So for anyone who has ever felt crap because the rest of the world is ahead, let me pass on this pep talk to you.

It’s none of your business how far ahead other people are

None of your business that they’re now asking someone else out instead of you

None of your business they’re in a top-tier company and you’re not

None of your business that they’re further along in their career than you are

Quit watching and just do you.

Anxiety loves taking any tidbit of information you feed it and running with it until it’s crafted a story where you’re the victim.

So stop feeding it. Realise that life online is curated and only two dimensional. It’s rarely the full story, and it’s none of your business. Learn from people, yes. Be inspired by them for sure. But don’t lurk on profiles if you’re just going to beat yourself up for all the ways you’re not like them.

You could spend hours swiping through other people’s stories instead of putting the work into building your own. You could spend your whole life following other people’s lives. Or you could just devote your energy to living your own life- unafraid and uninhibited.

Mind your business


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Why I’m ditching the life plan

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I hate uncertainty.

I hate it so much that I Wikipedia the ending of TV shows halfway through to find out who is going to die. I don’t like not knowing the fate of the characters before I invest in their life. Honestly, I just don’t see the point if they’re just going to get killed off in the end (RIP Derek Shepherd).

Unfortunately, I can’t do the same thing for the plot of my life. There isn’t a Wiki Page that will tell me what job I’ll get, who I’ll marry or if I ever win the lottery.

So I chose the most predictable path and did everything right. I finished High School, picked a versatile degree, and got myself into Law school. Next up is to get a grad job, marry a hunk, and achieve world domination by the time I’m 25. Not a bad plan hey?

But turns out, plot twists do exist in real life. Depression sneaks up on you. The people you thought would be by your side forever, leave. You spend sleepless night staring at the ceiling wondering if this is all there is. Suddenly the career you’ve spent a decade working towards no longer drives you. So you decide maybe you want to explore something new.

Turns out, there is this whole other creative side of myself that I’d spent a lifetime neglecting. An idea knocked on my door and asked me to embark on an adventure to bring it to life. I could either close the door in its face, pretend we’d never met, and continue on my predictable, safe plan. Or, I could rip up the map I had for my life and follow the idea onto a new path.

My fear of uncertainty taunted me with visions of failure and told me to stay insignificant. I nearly gave in. I think we expect the massive turning points in our life to come with a flashing sign saying: ‘This is It- Everything changes after this!’ I’ve learnt it’s the small choices you make in the face of anxiety that shape the rest of your life.

People would have been understanding if I didn’t follow through. They would have pat me on the back and told me my current trajectory was good enough. The thing is, no one will ever care as much about your calling as you do. Other people won’t have to live with the consequences if you smother your dream out of fear. You’ll be the one with the broken heart if you never even try.

                                                                         ****

I spent my Winter break investing in writing courses and digital marketing workshops that were full of people double my age and experience. I sat in rooms full of movers and shakers who already owned their own creative enterprises, while I only owned pink stationary and half a degree. The first time I had to introduce myself, I mustered up my confidence to explain that I was a law student who loved stories and just wanted to do something different.

One guy gave me a pity smile.

I felt completely out of my depth but I loved rubbing shoulders with the people who were going to create the next big thing. Our teacher worked in one of the top marketing companies and was a wild spirit who used words like ‘shit,’ and ‘f*%k yea’ as she taught us how to be masters in copywriting. She wore a black sweatshirt with the words ‘NINETEEN’ emblazoned on the sleeves in white, and had a chain with her name in plastic letters dangling around her neck. She was confident in all her kookiness, was clearly an expert in her craft, and I was drawn to her eccentricity.

I approached her at the end to ask her advice on what a 20 something-year-old who wanted to break into the creative industry should do.

“No one is going to take a chance on someone with no experience,’ I declared to her.

“That’s not true,” she scoffed, “I had drawn a picture of a bong on my website, right, and my now-boss approached me and was like ‘Whoa that’s so cool, do you want to work for me?’ And I was like Sick yea! So that’s how I got my job.”

She paused to adjust her clear-framed, hipster glasses. “If you want writing to be your thing, you need to start showcasing your work. Start writing and put it up somewhere.”

“But who would read it?”

She scoffed again. “Forget the numbers. I moved to another country, right, and started making the most random YouTube videos and my first one only had like 4 views or something. Now- it’s completely blown up! Just go. Make the website. Set up your brand. Go home and do it right now.”

                                                                        ****

In line with my endless self-doubt, it’s taken me weeks-no, months- to implement her advice. But now here we are. This is it. Welcome.

I’m slowly getting better with uncertainty. I don’t reach out to Wikipedia as much at the start of a Netflix series, and I try to enjoy the highs and lows with the characters- even if they do end up dying in random car crashes.

Because honestly, the best moments of my life have been the unplanned ones. The people who have rocked up unannounced have turned out to be the greatest friends. The times when I have chosen to turn off my GPS and just drive, have led me to the most exciting destinations.

Don’t get me wrong, if you have a carefully curated life plan that is working completely for you, then you’re kinda my hero. But for now, I think I’m going to try letting spontaneity take the wheel and see where it takes me.

Oh, and by the way, I’m still fully set on achieving world domination.


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