My Top 6 Lessons Learned in 2015: Love, Loss, and the Liberation of Giving Fewer F***s.

2015 felt like finals week for 362 days. It was an entire year of being tested, being challenged, passing some things with flying colors, failing others miserably, breathing sighs of relief, taking short breaths of anxiety and looking forward to breakthroughs and break-frees that would seem more distant with each passing day. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good year, necessarily. It’s more like this year wasn’t about being good or bad, it was about ebbs and flows. A dance between instances that made me more grounded in who I am and instances that thrust me away from my comfort zone by the roots. I can honestly say that I’ve landed in a place where I feel more secure with every aspect of my life than I ever have thus far. It’s true that you have to break down to see what you’re made of.  

I have a good feeling about 2016. It’s the year I’ll become a quarter of a century (and I’m not even trippin’ off that. I’m actually further along than I thought I’d be at 25). I’ll be stepping into the new year with people by my side I didn’t even know at the beginning of 2015 who I now love like I’ve known them my whole life. And I’ll be entering it without people who I have loved my whole life. And that’s bizarre for me, but a necessary part of the journey. So, without further adieu, I share with you my top 6 lessons learned in 2015.

  1. Being happy at work is worth a pay cut.
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Staff holiday card photo shoot. Photo credit: Jonah Kozlowski

One of the highlights of my year was attaining my dream job for this particular moment in my life as a Marketing & Development Manager for an independent film nonprofit. When I say dream job, I mean that quite literally. Earlier in the year, I had a dream that I was coordinating a movie premiere party for some new Spongebob film. Now, it’s not an exact manifestation but I am currently coordinating marketing and outreach for Children’s Film Festival Seattle. So, same thing, basically. Taking on my new job meant taking on probably five times the workload and a little less pay than I was making in my previous position working in marketing support at a public agency. But it feels right. And maybe I underestimated how important that is before. We spend so much of our lives in the workplace. It isn’t just a site where you do what you have to do to support yourself, it can begin to set the temperature for your daily mood, for your perception of your quality of life. Getting a job that ignited my creativity and aligned with my personality more has helped me preserve my ambition, my sense of purpose and my faith that I can live off what I love. At this stage of my personal and professional development, that’s WAY more important than chasing paper for the sake of chasing paper.

  1. The Internet is bae, but sometimes we need space.

I may have LOL’d (literally) in 2015 more than I ever have in my life. For that I am forever indebted to #BlackTwitter, memes, gifs, and daily inbox conversations with my long-distance BFF. The Internet and its users have taken humor to new levels for me. But the Internet is also a gallery of hatred. It’s also a space where, in the wake of newsworthy tragedies and controversies, people tell you how to grieve, how to rebel, how to feel. The Internet is not a safe space. It is both valuable and dangerous – totally affirmative in some moments, and in others, completely antithetical to having a strong sense of self. So, while I won’t be disabling my Facebook account anytime soon, I know when to walk away.

  1. Black is beautiful everywhere we’re from and everywhere we go.
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On an island off the coast of Phuket after surviving being stranded at sea.

This November, I traveled to Bangkok and Phuket with a group of 32 other young Black happy, successful people. It was lit. I’m talking rooftop pool parties with purple sunsets, orange grey goose flowing and Hotline Bling playing. I don’t know of a scenario that screams “we made it!” more. But the most beautiful part to me wasn’t the beaches in Phuket or the jewel-encrusted palaces. It was bearing witness to all the versatile and gorgeous people of color from as nearby as Oakland to as far away as Venezuela sharing space and experiences on this trip. Certain moments stick out to me, like the bus ride back from the Ayuthaya Ruins when a small group of us conversed about dating, public health rights in Norway and how to negotiate between pursuing your passions versus conventional expectations of success. A new friend of mine – a doctor born in Zimbabwe and living in Australia – showed us photos of a fashion line she had recently launched. On another day, several women on the trip sat at breakfast discussing our favorite books we’d read lately and what they’d taught us about ourselves. In Bangkok, I connected with a friend of my mom’s and we talked for hours about growing up in Black families and how important it is for us to travel outside of the United States. These conversations, these people, were a sort of medicine for me. The trip was a much-needed departure from images of Black death and battles for visibility that seem virtually inescapable in the States. They reminded me that we don’t have to put the word “too” after the statement “We are beautiful.” I know there’s work to do and that the battles are worthy. But sometimes, I need to be somewhere where I don’t have to say I matter, it’s a given.

  1. Liberation doesn’t mean what I thought it did.

In 2015, I started defining some things for myself more concretely. I had to. Social media and media in general were a flurry of opinions, politics, and various hues of activism. I became a lot more discerning as I realized that there are people who might appear to share my politics on the surface but whose ideas and vocabulary are actually laced with some foolishness that totally thwarts my liberation. Shout out to certain hashtags and events in popular culture for yielding polarizing responses and bringing out people’s true colors. Like really, shout out to them. Not just because they show you who you need to “unfriend” and “unfollow” but because they prompted discussions in public forums that helped my own politics evolve, and in turn, my ideas about what liberation looks like. To me, liberation means having the access to knowledge, the resources, support and empowerment to make healthy, informed choices for your life. Liberation is NOT subscribing to another status quo as resistance to a first one. It is NOT tearing down someone else’s journey to amplify your own agenda. For me, healthy and informed decision-making is the basis of it, which holds systems accountable for creating and maintaining equitable circumstances but grants grown individuals the agency and trust to choose what’s best for them. There is no binary of consciousness and ignorance or “woke” and “sleep.” We should all always be learning and teaching.

  1. Love may look nothing like you expect it to, but you know it when you feel it.

This year, I let go of my expectations of what a partner should look like, do for a living, be interested in, etc. I met someone with all of those qualities and very quickly learned how little value that holds when it just isn’t right. I went out on a limb and sent a text message to someone who couldn’t be more wrong for me on paper, and what resulted was a relationship that continually surprised me. There were moments when it was effortless and moments when it rattled my foundation, but all to the end that I learned more about how to love and accept myself. It’s amazing what can happen when you encounter someone who gives you the space to experiment, to play, to be ridiculous and remarkable. I’m more malleable and impressionable than I like to admit to. So, often times, differing opinions and social expectations get to me more than they should. Somehow, this person made me more comfortable with saying “fuck all that.” And that’s what love feels like. In fact, I just saw a quote yesterday by Thich Nhat Hanh that sums it up perfectly to me. “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” That’s not only how I need to be loved but how I intend to love going forward. That translates across any type of relationship, including the one you have with yourself.

  1. Death is not an ending, it’s a transition.
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Grandpa cutting my cake at my 2nd birthday. I’m clearly eager.

On the morning of July 3rd, as I laid in bed, I opened my eyes moments before my phone rang. It was my mom, and she called to tell me my grandpa had passed away peacefully after a hard-fought battle with colon cancer and several strokes. He passed. I never put too much thought into that choice of word before over other alternatives like “died”. But I like it. It feels more like a victory. Like he passed a test or passed a level of a game. This is the first time in my life that someone this constant and this close to me has passed. But the reason I say that death is not an ending is because ever since July 3rd, I have felt my grandpa’s presence even stronger in my life. In dreams, in signs and in events in my life that have his fingerprints all over them. My grandpa loved to take care of me. On a bed with cancer, barely able to move on his own, he’d say to me “You need anything?” Sometimes it feels like being sick in this life prevented him from providing for me like he wanted to, so now in the next life he’s better positioned to influence positive happenings in my life. All I know is that my grandpa would never allow me to feel alone, and his passing doesn’t change that. It’s been a long day without you, my friend. And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.

 

Happy New Year, Y’all!

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