MAKING IT UP AS WE GO

Last week, my coworker and I were working from a noisy breakfast shop. It smelled of maple syrup and coffee and forks clanged on ceramic plates as we typed away at our computers. I tapped my foot on the clean, black and white checked floor as Adam Levine sang about having moves like Jagger. 

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There was a group of college girls sitting at the table next to us. They snapped selfies drinking coffee, their faces half covered by the big white mugs. They discussed wedding plans animatedly. Would their weddings be in a church? Yes, unless, of course, they decided to do a destination wedding. If it was in a church, they already knew which one - it was beautiful and just down the road from where we are. But, ah, the allure of the beach.

I smiled as I listened, checking quickly to ensure their were no engagement rings on their hands. You could have dropped my college friends and me right at the table and the conversation wouldn't have missed a beat. 

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Well it has to be in Atlanta, I would have said. Probably the church I grew up in. Though the beach does sound beautiful. But would you want your dress to get sandy? 

As I listened to them, I felt fondly reminiscent. Not for college, but for the naivety of being 20, when the idea of considering anything beyond my small bubble of dreams was foreign.

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They were so far from considering the fact that they might have fiancés who’d have an opinion on their weddings. Or that over the next decade, they might fall in love with a new city, in which they were dying to be wed. Or, even more foreign, that they might be called to something else entirely, deciding not to get married at all.

I thought of myself at 20, so certain of who I was and what I wanted. And although it feels like those days are gone, only a thing of the past, it hit me that I’m sort of in them now, too.

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We all have big plans for the type of people we will be. We talk about how we’ll be once we’re parents. What we’d do once we’re the boss. How our marriage is going to operate.

We're really not all that different than those girls, just trying to make the best plans we can with the little information we have.

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I sipped my coffee as I looked up at them watching videos from the night before, clad with red solo cups. My coworker leaned over to ask if I was ready to interview a potential summer intern and I smiled at the circuitousness of it all.

We don't know what we don't know, do we? But maybe, that naive confidence is just what keeps this kind world spinning.

Loyally,
J

Photos: Garrett Lobaugh Photography

Inspiration: Sometimes Always Never

YOU DON'T HAVE TO MAKE IT LOOK SO EASY

…in fact, it’d be better for all of us if you didn’t.

I’ll never forget the day I failed my learner’s permit test. My Dad let me take the morning off of school, and drilled me with practice questions all the way to the DMV. I’d even spent an extra hour perfecting my hair and make-up for my permit photo that morning, confident I had this thing in the bag.

Now, I knew I hadn't aced the test, but when I refreshed my computer screen and saw bright red, my heart sank. Okay, but seriously… Who knew you shouldn’t put on your high beams to try and see through thick fog?!

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We drove back to school and I immediately headed to Mrs. Bearden’s Algebra 2 class. I slunk into my desk, and with a knot in my throat, tried to focus on how to graph a linear equation. Another thing I could never really seem to understand, but that seems like a story for a different day.

Enter Alex, my classmate, who just so happened to have taken his permit test that morning too. Alex took this moment to share his thoughts on the exam with the class: "That test was sooo easy," he said with a grin as he waved his shiny piece of plastic in the air. Ah, the old humble brag. My face burned as I hid behind my green folder; the color combination lighting up like a Christmas tree

Recently I was thinking about how hard adulthood can be. And while we aren't necessarily being graded on it, there are days it feels like we’re failing. Like if someone were to hand us a paper with our scores, there'd be a whole lot of red.

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Here’s the thing: there will always be the Alex’s of the world. Lurking around, reminding us that, while something may have been hard for you, it was easy for him. Freshman year, he waved around his new permit but these days, he's on Instagram or in the office, implying that he's cruising through life, making everything look natural and easy. 

Something I’m learning lately is how much power there is in admitting when things are difficult. When we're honest enough to let people into the hard spaces in our lives, we give one another permission to be vulnerable. Life can be tough and there's no shame in admitting it. In fact, I think by sharing its challenges with one another, we create room for more growth and connection. We do one another a disservice when we pretend everything is easy. 

Loyally,
J

PICTURE PERFECT

I remember the very first time perfectionism and I met. He found me when I was just a tween with stringy brown hair and hot pink braces. We were at school, and he told me that I was okay as I was, but wouldn't I be better with straight A's?

In middle school he taught me that I'd be more lovable if I joined more clubs; and in high school, he convinced me that I should not only join said clubs but I should run for office. Why just participate, when you can be a leader? Perfectionism would ask me. Leaders are better.

By that time, perfectionism had latched on to my appearance, as well. He made me question my round face, and left me wondering if I'd be more beautiful without chubby cheeks. He asked me questions about why I was so short. The popular girls are tall; he reminded me. Why aren’t you tall like them?

He also noticed that I wasn't going on very many dates. My mom told me I was intimidating because I was so beautiful and smart. (Moms are the best aren't they!?) But he told me it was because I wasn't as pretty as those other girls; that boys would never find someone like me attractive.

Perfectionism began to seep into every aspect of my life, like cream into a cup of coffee. By college, it was no longer me + perfectionism, but, instead, a new version of me, one that was obsessed with becoming perfect. 

I walked around campus day after day, pretending that I had it all together. My life was messy, but perfectionism convinced me that I could balance the darkness that was going on inside with a seemingly bright and perfect outside. Don't let anyone see your faults; became our anthem. 

After college, I packed perfectionism up and brought him back to Atlanta with me. Like a broken captor, I did so willingly, sure that I couldn't live without him. 

It was then that I fell for a guy... hard. But one cool September night he sat me down and told me that it was over. My stomach dropped as he said the words "Listen... you're perfect on paper but it's just not going to work out." I didn't understand. I'd tried to be as agreeable, quiet and likable as possible. But I had been perfect! I cried to perfectionism,

On that day, I learned that as hard as I'd tried to be perfect, it didn't earn me more love. It didn't make me better or more whole. It didn't protect me from pain.

I was living like a mirage; simply admired from afar, but never close enough to really touch. But being admired from afar isn't love. Love is about being up close and messy with someone. It's about letting our guards down and admitting when we're not okay. Love is honest.

So today, I bid you farewell perfectionism. My life is sweeter, fuller and more joyful without you. Does it look as perfect? Definitely not. But I've learned that being perfect wasn't really all you said it would be, anyway.

Loyally,

J

Photography by Garrett Lobaugh
Thank you to Sometimes. Always. Never for the inspiration for this post.