Late Bloomer

I’ve always felt behind–in work, in school, in relationships…my life seemed to move in slow motion while everyone around me moved at a breakneck speed. I was that kid who finished the mandatory school mile last (ironically I just finished my first half-marathon in pretty good timing, if I do say so myself.) I hit puberty when most of my peers were already halfway through that hormonal rollercoaster of acne and braces –I grew an inch in college and didn’t lose my baby fat until a year ago, although I was recently told by a bartender that he thought I was sixteen (I’m twenty-three.) While my friends were entering relationships with soon to be ex-boyfriends, I was still collecting American Girl Dolls and pretending to be a Revolutionary War hero with my gal pal Felicity. I remember lying about having my first kiss during a round of truth or dare when I was fifteen because admitting I was a kissing virigin would be social suicide. I might as well become a nun, I told myself. Time was running out. 

The older I get, the more I worry about being “behind.” Looking around and seeing my friends or other people my age get engaged or land their dream job set off some internal timer that led me to fast-forward certain parts of my life so I could feel “caught up.” How can she already have all that while I have nothing? I found myself asking after stalking some Instagram influencer who just bought a house after travelling the world. Rather than letting her achievement inspire me, I succumbed to a discouraging spell of internal doom. It’s too late for me, I sighed in my millennial melodramatic fashion. The distance from where I am to where I want to be seems terrifyingly long and the time to get there feels impossibly short. All the could’ves and should’ves and maybes and what if’s hounded me like the Grecian furies as I lie awake at night asking the same questions:

  1. “Why is everyone else so far ahead of me?”
  2. “Is it too late to completely start over?”
  3. “How can I get to where I want to be as quickly as possible?”

Eventually I started looking for shortcuts. I did things carelessly and apathetically because I was in a rush, only to find that it set me back to the starting line. Ever head the saying “there are no shortcuts to any place worth going?” Wise words. The older I get, the more I actually start to believe them. We want everything fast and we want it instantly–dating apps promise us quick relationships, detox teas magically give us flat stomachs, same-day delivery gives us everything we want at the press of a button. Much to my surprise, life isn’t like Amazon Prime and I do not get what I want in guaranteed two-day delivery. Bummer.

I’m still learning to accept that time is not the enemy, that there are no expiration dates on my dreams, that half the fun of the destination is in the journey. But that’s really hard when you compare your story to everyone else’s. One of my favorite quotes from Steve Furtick is “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” We see the beautiful mansion but we don’t see the work that went into laying every brick. Maybe some people can lay bricks faster than me, and that’s ok–it doesn’t make me any less valid or successful. I remember the first time I drove up a steep mountain in Wilma. Wilma is my little Acura TSX and let’s just say that, with almost 300,000 miles on her, she’s not as fast as she once was and I certainly don’t feel comfortable slamming the gas while making sharp turns on the edge of a mountain. While I was moving at a pace that I felt was safe and normal, a truck ran up on me and started tailing me. I grew anxious and even embarrassed–I sped up dramatically to keep him off my ass, but knew I would be reckless to keep going that speed. I slowed down and reminded myself that there’s no need to rush, we’re both going to get where we’re headed, and better yet, we’ll get there alive. Eventually I found an overlook to pull over at and let the truck pass. All my insecurities and fears about time feel like that truck pushing me into things that I know aren’t good for me–decisions that may be reckless or sloppy, things that I may not be ready for yet but will be eventually. 

My mother used to call me a late bloomer, a label I scorned for most of my life because it only inflamed my insecurity. Now I wear that label proudly and playfully as I laugh while finishing last place. I’m learning to appreciate my own journey, the ebb and flow of it in all its setbacks and victories, the slow momentum of change from baby steps to miles. A song called “Late Bloomer” by the Secret Sisters came on my Spotify shuffle the other day and it’s become an anthem of mine. The ending line of the chorus goes, “It doesn’t matter when you bloom, it matters that you do.” I know I will, someday. 

Keeping track and counting down again, I’m overdue

Watching everyone around get there before I do

Looking in the mirror at this body that we trace

But looking out the window, late bloomers on parade

-Secret Sisters

What Are Your Bumper Stickers?

I was having dinner with friends when the conversation quickly turned to politics. As a motley crew of differing experiences and opinions, it didn’t take long for a passionate argument to break out (especially after a few drinks had given some of us false courage). I sat back and listened to my friends loudly exchange views, observing how the energy of the entire table shifted from jovial to defensive. Every disagreement was taken as a personal attack. Feelings got hurt and the somber silence that pierced the room after the last shots were fired sobered us all up. 

As I drove home that night, I wondered why we were all unable to talk about important things without becoming angry. Our egos were so attached to certain labels and ideas that we couldn’t separate our identities from it.  Deeply wounded, our egos tried to protect and defend themselves through negative reactions like yelling, crying, or retreating. As I passed a car completely covered with bumper stickers like “My cat is a Democrat!” and “Yale Dad,” I couldn’t help but wonder if all these labels we stick on ourselves are really just cover-ups for who we actually are. 

Political labels are just one of the many bumper stickers we plaster on ourselves, but it got me thinking about what other things I falsely identify with. When I got home that night, I made a list of all the words I use to define myself. I didn’t realize that I had spent nearly an hour coming up with over a hundred words scribbled frantically across multiple pages of my notebook–words like “ Environmentalist, Runner, Writer, Vegetarian, Feminist, American.” Then there were names and places and past experiences that I still heavily identified with, some positive and some extremely negative. I realized I was still carrying the weight of past relationships, mistakes, and pain that I had subconsciously attached myself to. The list went on and on until I felt like there was nothing more to write about myself. At the same time, I knew something huge was missing. These words didn’t seem to accurately capture who I was. As I read them out loud, they sounded empty and superficial. I felt like that minivan covered with bumper stickers and wondered if that’s how other people saw me–as someone hiding under an ambush of labels. 

We live in a society that constantly tries to label and compartmentalize everything. That isn’t to say that all labels are inherently bad–being able to name certain things can be very empowering and help us realize we are not alone. Words can be powerful tools for understanding our personality and behavioral patterns, but they are in no way representative of our inner being. The problem now is that we’re more concerned with defining than being. As a writer, my initial instinct is to give a name to everything–every thought, emotion, experience, I want to describe through words. When I can’t find the right ones, I grow frustrated and disappointed. As I tried to capture my true essence, I couldn’t think of a single noun or adjective that accurately described me because there isn’t one. I am not a noun or an adjective. I’m not an -ist. I can’t fit into an Instagram bio or dating profile. My inner state cannot be defined, it is only something that can be felt.  Every now and then I get brief, beautiful glimpses of that perfect state through meditation. Sometimes when I’m in nature I feel it; sometimes it comes just from listening to a certain song. We’ve all had those encounters where we meet ourselves and experience the joy of simply existing, but worldly distractions pull us away from that state. Leaning to disassociate from these distractions is challenging, especially in today’s world of social media, political upheaval, and consumerism. If we stopped buying into these distractions, society as we know it could not exist.

Whenever I grow defensive, I ask myself why I am reacting that way. It’s usually because my ego feels threatened and desperately needs to prove that it’s right. I’ve damaged many relationships this way and I’m guessing some of you also have. Telling my ego to take a backseat has not been easy, but it has made my life a lot less stressful. Our minds have tricked us into believing that we are our ego, which is why we feel the constant need to identify with the outside world. The more we remind ourselves that we are not bumper stickers, the more we can connect with our true and eternal Self. 

What labels do you falsely identify with? What do you look like when you take them away? How do you untangle yourself from the ego’s webs?

Atlantis

A permanent hangnail,

a loose tooth my tongue can’t stop poking—

the question tickles the back of my brain until I scratch so hard it bleeds.

I laugh at myself for trying to measure infinity in teaspoons,

for enslaving myself to words like 

“daughter” or “American” or “Pisces.” 

I became my own shadow,

a shape-shifting silhouette in a hurry to read the last page of an unwritten book. 

In drunkenness I find clarity

that is perhaps too obvious to see—

a child’s laughter as ice cream drips down his chin,

dewdrops on the baseball field before sunrise,

the homeless man who feeds pigeons in the park…

Scientists don’t know why Venus spins backwards 

(does she even know?) 

I remind myself to stop searching for Atlantis.