And by best I mean…
The things I still remember as I trot into a new decade.
The things that changed my course, altered my speed, rearranged my anxiety, love-life or business strategy.
The things that really touched me.
May they be good to you at every age.
Here we goooo!
ON AGE & GROWING PAINS/PLEASURES ::
I was sitting on Jen’s couch, existential about my poverty and my purposelessness, like most early 20-something-year-olds, when she told me these nine words that loosened my over-achiever anxiety and made room for what I’m so grateful my twenties were full of… adventure:
“Your twenties are for having experiences and gathering skills.”
It became the line I had her repeat back to me over and over again when I was worried about… everything. Not having a stable job, or income, or relationship, or life. Not having a stable anything.
“What are my twenties about again!?” I’d ask full of fret.
“Skills and experiences,” she’d say all singsong and certain I’d be just fine.
“Don’t worry about putting all the pieces together, because one day, you’ll be further along, and look back and think, Oh, that’s why I needed to spend those 12 months watching five year olds or washing dishes at the cafe or writing songs and busking for dinner cash in the city square or running my life on the gift economy. Do all the things you’re curious about. Every last one. If nothing else, you’ll have good stories. And good stories will get you through so much when you’re older.”
Along the same lines, Jen also told me this:
“Run hard and fast—as far and long as you can—because eventually, at some point, life will stop you, slow you, make you pause. And you won’t regret having lived wildly.”
Wildly. Yes. No regrets about the wild.
As long as we’re on the Jen train (which… really, I coulda written a post called the 20 best things Jen told me in my 20’s. But ya know. Diversity.)
What makes a good mentor?
Someone who tells you over and over again, after your toughest breakthroughs or amidst your most tender breakdowns:
“You’re growing up so nicely.”
Like a stanza to our most popular poem, Jen told me this line at least 500 times in my twenties. And every time, it mattered. Because encouragement matters. At every age. But especially when you just don’t know—am I on track? Am I growing up so nicely, or about to fall flat on my face into a bajillion dollars of credit card debt and endless despair? The power of positivity… It helps!
Contrary to the fast and wild train…
I was twenty-five and recently divorced, sitting outside a cafe on a humid night in DC, smoking cigarettes, drinking a glass of wine, waiting for a lesbian club around the corner to open, desperate for something to fill the lonely void of being single for the first time since I was 18 years old.
An older African American symphony conductor sat across the ways on the patio with a purple fanny pack and magic in his eyes. We were slow together, chit chatting about small beautiful things, and by the end of our conversation, as he was leaving to go, he walked over to me and said real gently, “I got one other thing I wanna tell you.” His eyes widened. “Life is long. Take it slow. Take. It. Slow.”
We breathed real slow together right then, right there, like there was nowhere else to get, like nothing mattered more.
Here’s the whole slow story told in detail.
We ran into each other at the airport. Maya was in flowy black drab dressed like an oracle, and I was fretting about enrolling in an expensive leadership training or quitting my job and running away to New Mexico for Circus Camp. #whitepeopleproblems
“What’s your intuition say?” she asked. “I don’t know… all I know is if I enroll in that leadership training, I’ll be in a room full of people operating from their heads, wishing I was doing cartwheels somewhere else.”
“Just go to fucking circus camp,” she said. “The adult stuff never goes anywhere.”
Guess who stilt walked at Monsanto protests and swung from the areal silks?
ON LOVE & LAND & HONOR & LOSS ::
Our eyes met on a school bus on the rez in South Dakota. He was driving. I was getting a tour. At each stop we’d meet in the space between words, until finally he sang a song at the top of a hill where his great grandfather was buried, and I could not stop sobbing, and he understood without me saying anything, and so he pulled me aside and told me the truth:
“You need to come back here, Rachael. There are stories for you in this land, and blessings for you in this way of life.”
And I knew for the first time in my mind what my soul could never forget: that bodies could carry lineages as old as time, that land could transmit wordless love, and that everything could be made right by ancient song and mahogany eyes.
Speaking of eyes, years later that same man and I stood at the top of a hill on that land that spoke in poetry as the sun was setting and the cows were grazing below. We were saying our ceremonial and final goodbye, his round beautiful body facing mine, eyes piercing into my flood of grateful tears.
“Listen, Rachael. You’ve got gifts that people are gonna wanna take. Look ‘em in the eyes and you’ll know why they’re really there. Look ‘em in the eyes. Really look, and you’ll see. The eyes don’t lie.”
And I saw the roots of time reflected in his. The truth of nature. That everything’s just trying to survive. But this man—he didn’t equate his survival with my gifts. He was sovereign. I could see it in his eyes.
Speaking of sovereign…
“You don’t owe me anything. You don’t owe anyone anything. You are free. Just because you’ve got things I want, doesn’t mean I get to take them.”
File this under: that time a really good guy said all the things I believed but rarely heard, and it imprinted a new level of honor into my time bank of experience where so many violations and breached boundaries once lived.
Also, he had kind eyes.
I dated a guy who was 30 years older than me for six months. #faveboyfriendevah. I loved him to the moon and back. We met on the dance floor, and adored each other so easily. This was my favorite line he told me (besides the sweet nothings he’d whisper in my ear while making love):
“Women are really simple. They just want three things: to be listened to deeply, fucked really well, and given rides to the airport whenever they need ‘em.”
What can I say? We spoke the same love language.
Rewind to when Brian* and I were breaking up our near-eight year relationship and nothing made any sense and everything felt like a knotted yarn ball that would never really loosen.
My mom, quiet and loving and supportive and just there in that perfect mom way, told me this:
“Break ups take a long time sometimes.”
Simple. Accurate. And loosening of the confusion. Talk about breathing room and a big blessing in a hard spot. Thanks, Mom.
*Speaking of Brian, I’m sure he told my early-twenties self a bajillion things I needed to hear, but the only thing that’s replaying through my mind this night as I write this post are these four words of deep sweet devotion: “I’m your biggest fan.” Developmental rock solid love. So needed. So unforgettable. So the best.
The end of our marriage was not easy though. We were stuck in achey patterns that were angsty beyond belief. Something needed to change.
Jen, who’d been recently divorced, had this to offer:
“Do nothing. Everything changes. The fastest way to let it is by taking you’re normal nonsense out of the equation.”
As in, where you’ve been pleasing or assuaging, say nothing or do nothing.
Where you’ve been making all the decisions, defer the decision-making.
Where you’ve been chronically fixing, STOP.
Do. Nothing. Everything changes. Way faster when you… let it.
ON WORK THAT WORKS FOR YOU ::
For a lot of my twenties, I was on the gathering skills and experiences train, and I had a really hard time stabilizing in my work and the way I made cash in the world.
My good friend Kate, who for many years gave me lots of excellent business advice, told me this line that stuck the most:
“Just keep doing what you love, consistently.”
So simple. So powerful. A mantra I could return to when I wasn’t sure what the hell I was doing or what to anchor all my passion or capacity into.
I’d been admiring these two guys on the internet, so when I saw their Kickstarter for their forthcoming doc called The Healing of Love, I jumped on the chance to get them both on Skype.
They had me write a list of all the things I wanted mentorship around, and the biggest thing that kept nagging at me was my feeling of being in it all alone—specifically my work.
So hungry for connection in my day-to-day operations, I couldn’t shake the curiosity around how to find collaborators.
I can’t remember if it was Ian or John who said it, but this was the line that got stuck in my mind:
“You find collaborators by doing what you love—obsessively. Your people find you in the throes of your passion.”
“Your privilege is rearing its ugly head.”
She said it to me at one of the highest and hardest points of my career when I flaunted that devotion was the thing that got me there.
“Girl. Not just devotion. Devotion and privilege.”
It was a hard pill to swallow in a hard moment to swallow it, but the cognitive dissonance was something I sat with for a long, long time — for the better. Because checking privilege is always a good thing.
I was a huge Danielle LaPorte fangirl way back in the day before she published the Fire Starter Sessions, before I had a .com website, before… instagram existed. So I wrote her a love letter email with a list of all the things I could possibly do if ever she needed them, in exchange for a session with her (re: I was far too broke to buy). We made a trade, and along came the day. The thing that stood out the most:
“Excellent sales are 90% tangible, 10% poetry. Not the other way around. Tell people what they’ll actually get, what you’ll actually give, when, where and why… just sprinkle in the self-help words.”
It changed the way I wrote my offers.
And I made a lot more sales.
You know when you’re that weird free-spirited person in a family full of kind and liberal but more traditional peeps, and they’ve all got money and security, but you’ve got adventures and stories, and you’re always kinda paranoid that they think you’re insane, but then one birthday your older brother buys you a card and the note he leaves inside feels so reassuring that you remember it forever and ever as a signal of belonging, even if you are… a bit different?
This is what he told me that gave me so much comfort and reassurance:
“I’m proud of you for not getting a boring 9-5.”
One small sentence can make someone feel all the way at home.
ON SELF-EXPRESSION & SHADOW-RECLAMATION ::
he told me
when i told him
that i can’t bare
to make any more
when i told him
that my heart
couldn’t handle it
he told me
to stay longer
nothing only gets
darker and darker
to the light
that pile of grief
where you are–
it’s your art
We were having another kitchen-stool chat, and I was talking real uptight with Jen about the double bind of wanting to share more but wanting to be further along, when she stopped and called me out:
“You’re afraid to be foolish. To look uncool, Rach. It’s a problem.”
Then she grabbed her belly fat, stuck her tongue out, tossed her head back and made a strange hissing sound. “Like this, Rach! It’s WAY MORE FUN LIKE THIS.”
She was right. Embodied play is way more fun than playing it perfect. It just takes some warming up.
ON THE MIRRORS I NEEDED THE MOST ::
She was the first person to say these six words that made all my endless unsettled mega feelings feel way more… valid. She was talking about the statutory rape. She said it with a pure love transmission and the most unforced knowing:
“That should’ve never happened to you.”
And I cried in her arms for a long long time.
And nothing stayed the same.
I probably moved twenty times in my twenties. Some of those times were home to my parents house, deflated for one reason or another—illness, heartbreak, broken bones, empty bank account—you name it. Other times were to foreign countries or magical lands.
I really can’t remember when exactly my dad said this to me… leaving home, coming home, going across the country on a bicycle, but he said it, and I remembered it, because it was sweet (and I really love sweet), and because it reminded me of that Ralph Waldo Emerson quote for some reason… that one that goes: “You can travel the world over to find the beautiful, but carry it with you, or you have found it not.”
He told me:
“Wherever you go, people don’t want you to leave.”
And I knew, that no matter where I went, as long as I went with love to give and receive, I’d be home. In the together. In the want. In that sentiment of “stay longer”. Home in that human kinship kinda way.
And that felt like a really good thing.
In case you’ve been wondering, Jen and I talked today and she told me my new guidance for this decade:
“Your thirties are for growing deep roots and reaching far & wide with your gifts. But only in ways that feel natural. No force.”
There you have it folks. ‘Til next decade. Goddess willing.
Ever grateful to be alive. And for those one-liners in unforgettable moments that made all the difference. For real.