My 27th birthday: on gifts, reciprocity, and a new era

lifestyle, Uncategorized

Last month I turned 27 years old.

In the weeks leading up to my 27th birthday I have to be honest, I felt a little bit of fear. Fear that it would be unremarkable like so many days in 2021 were for me. I had become accustomed to days that felt gloomy with nothing that brought me joy and I just did not feel like my birthday would be any different.

And yet I was pleasantly surprised.

When it was time to open presents my family members presented me with a giant box full of 27 presents. Turns out my mom had taken seriously the random statement I made about a month before my birthday that I would like to receive 27 presents for my birthday that year but then immediately laughed it off because it felt silly. My mom took that to heart and contacted a few of my family members and close friends both local and all over the US and told them of her plan to surprise me with a box full of 27 presents. They all contributed gifts to be part of the surprise.

As I stood in my living room opening up box after box of meaningful gifts from my favorite people I increasingly got emotional. My people had gone out of their way to show me how much I meant to them through gifts that reminded them of me. It felt so nice to unwrap their presents. To read the notes that accompanied presents. To be transported back to memories we had shared together that were reflected back in the gifts.

I must confess that until this year I’ve never quite understood the idea of gifts as a love language. It always came in last on every love language quiz I took. I guess I’ve often been more attracted to the independence and financial stability of being able to get anything I wanted for myself. And in this year when I finally made some big purchases for myself (like the Mercedes Benz, my dream car).. I started to realize how nice it felt to enjoy something that someone you love invested their resources to purchase for you. No matter the price point. As I opened my presents, I unwrapped a candle from one of my besties. I was taken back to the conversation I had with her as we window shopped in my favorite high end luxury stores. I had shown her my favorite candle brand and mentioned how because of the insanely high price point I only bought it once a year. She remembered. And she contributed to my happiness. And because candles are the gift that keep on giving, every time I light them I’ll be reminded of her and her generosity.

Gift after gift felt like a reflection of love from people who know me and love me and are invested in my happiness. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. To have a little part of my loved ones there with me even if they physically could not be present? it felt amazing!

All of 2021 one of my biggest challenges to myself has been to only lean into relationships with reciprocity. To pause and give the people who love me the space to show up for me, and increase my own capacity to not just be a giver in my relationships but to also be a receiver…

The months leading up to 27 have felt like a cocoon. I feel like I’m emerging. Into this new version of self . I feel way more aligned. Like a woman walking boldly into a new chapter of my life with competence and competence. In this next era of my life I see myself building out the kind of work culture that exites me and simultaneously makes an impact in the world. I see myself starting a family. I see myself as an author. I see myself being a woman who mentors and invests in community building. I see myself happily in love with myself, my people, and the way my life feels.

And so it is.

26: A recap. Reflections from the last 30 days of my 26th year

lifestyle

I’ve been building a multinational corporation over the last 14 months and yet have felt so inadequate. Like I’m not accomplishing much. Recently I finally chose to share those sentiments aloud with my mom because there were becoming too overwhelming to hold alone. I told her how I felt like all I was good for professionally was dreaming. She reminded me that even if that was true, there’s something incredibly powerful about being able to have a dream, build it out in the world, and through the process of intentional communication build enough trust and social capital to bring other people into your dream.

All of this to say the biggest battle I’ve had to fight in my 26th year has been with my mind.

This year began in the worst of ways, with me being so physically ill I feared I would never recover. But I did. And then I had a crisis of place. trying to figure out where I wanted to be next in the world. I had a list of beautiful exotic places, places that would offer me escape, ease, and adventure. Yet when I dug deep I knew all I wanted was to be as close to my nuclear family unit as possible…even if it meant going back to the city that had broken my heart. So I moved back home. It was as mentally challenging as it was healing, but I needed the warmth of my mothers love in person. I needed the humor and solidarity of my siblings unclose and personal. I needed to hear my father tell me of his belief in me multiple times so I could re-build the confidence that was shattered by being a young Black girl attempting to do big things in this world. I couldn’t self care my way out of the crisises I was facing – I needed community care.

I lost a best friend early into my 26th year and witnessed the sudden decline of another significant relationship, all the while mourning the loss of my grandfather. The grief was overwhelming and almost made me decide that love was too much of a risk. If everyone you love is capable of leaving, and each loss feels so excruitating, isn’t the pragmatic thing to keep everyone at a healthy distance so you never have to be steamrolled by grief again? I knew that if I moved to a new city with that mindset I would isolate. So I made the decision to give myself enough space and time to heal.

26 taught me many lessons. The most important I think is the magic of time. Giving people time to reveal their truth. Giving my ideas time to become better and seasoned. Giving myself time to sit with my emotions until they transform into useful data. Giving relationships time to evolve into their best dynamic. The importance of keeping in step with my own internal authentic timeline. Not the one society thrusts upon us. Knowing when a season is over. Watching the signs and trusting the power of movements at the right time. There’s always a right time. There’s always just the present.

In the last quarter of my 26th year I chose to go spend some time with my best friends in California. It was a magical time. It confirmed so much of what I had been reassuring myself of this year: that just because i’m not present does not mean I’m disposable. My absence had not made my friends forget about me, rather it made us cherish our time together even more. And our seemless integration back into each others lives felt very comforting to me. No matter where I am in the world, my people are my people. I’m grateful for bonds that are not easily shaken. The truth is that so much of my teenage years were spent with relational anxiety – my intimate spaces at that time was full of one sided relationships that I had to work extra hard to sustain. When one experiences enough of those types of connections, you begin to feel like you are the problem. You gaslight yourself. You bend over backwards so people can choose you. Chose to see you and stay connected with you. And even though I’ve worked through much of this in therapy sometimes the anxiety still comes up. Do my closest friends actually enjoy me? Do they want to keep doing life with me? Will they see a part of me that makes them no longer want to be in community with me? It was nice to feel reassured in California in a way that completely obliterated those anxieties.

So I guess all of this is to say that 26 put me through so much. And yet it was also healing. Not the kind of healing that feels glamorous and gives you soundbites to share on social media. The kind of healing that feels deep and maybe you will never fully have language for, but you know your entire life trajectory has been transformed because of it. I’m a lot softer now. I don’t think any of this made me stronger. I think it revealed more of my own humanity and fragility to me. Showed me the importance of protecting myself and praying for protection. Gave me more empathy for shared human experiences. Maybe what doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily have to make you stronger, maybe it makes you more human, and maybe that’s ok.

So here I am standing on the cusp of 27 wishing it to be just a little kinder to me.

A poem for my body & my sisters

lifestyle

Gather round

Let me tell how my soft layers

taught me warmth.

How I learnt gentleness from:

Fat rolls protecting delicate bones.

Rounded bellies drooping down

like cascading vines

leading to the warmest place.

Fleshy thighs a headrest.

Come let me tell you

How I softened

because I witnessed my

body softening.

Why I wrote this poem:

This started out as a celebration of my belly fat. Specifically. Look up belly fat on google and the first few pages all talk about “how to get rid of it.” I’ve never been without a rounded belly. I’ve never lived in a world without women with rounded bellies so it occurred to me a few years ago that rather than keep obsessing over flattening mine, I could just learn how to peacefully co-exist with it. It’s a wonderful thing how mindset can be half the battle because once I made up my mind to be okay with the fat on my belly, I was able to take a honest look at how much I did enjoy the roundness of that part of my body.

However I did not see much about this sentiment mirrored back to me online.

So I chose to write a poem. One that took apart the things I saw and loved about the way my belly and thighs curve.

Enjoy!

If you like this, listen to a podcast episode where i also spoke about round bellies and soft thighs.

In the summers we lay fallow

lifestyle

I was the student who never took summers off.. actually let’s back it up to being the child who was always given the next years curriculum to start working through during the summer months from the moment I started school. And because I’m a person who loves being good at stuff, I naturally enjoyed the head start I had on my peers by the time the school year came around.

This was actually one of the reasons I was able to go from Primary 2 (2nd grade) to Jss 1 (7th grade) when I was only 7 years old.

The more I pushed myself to my own limits during times that were allocated as rest times, the more quantifiable successful I was which internalized for me a narrative that I had found the cheat code for life: hustle while others are resting. My cycle of go hard during the school year, rest a little but go even harder during the summer was born. And with that I finished uni at 17. Took unpaid internships every summer during law school. Finished law school at 20. And the ultimate test of my mental fortitude? Even after I knew I was experiencing burnout studied for the Bar Exam the summer I graduated from law school for 6 hours every day from May till July. Thankfully I passed that exam on the first try which again was a success but also created a narrative of superhuman invincibility for me.

But then my absolute burnout set in. I’ve written about that a few times. The year where I absolutely could do nothing. I taught me new habits and new ways of being in a body that centered rest, rejuvenation, and the importance of empty time. But I still never quite had the opportunity to take summers off again.

Until last year.

Last summer after I quit a job that was bringing me to the edge of burnout, I lost my grandfather somewhat unexpectedly, and my best friend had Covid. All around the same time. The compounded stress and exhaustion of it all forced me into a summer of absolute stillness. I remember sharing on my podcast that it was going to be a “sad girl summer.” And I truly leaned into sadness and nothing-ness for months. Until I was no longer sad.

We are not yet in a post Covid world but this year as I have attempted to figure out how I want to re-organize my life moving forward I knew this commitment to non production as a radical way of being had to be a part of how I spent my summer.

My father loves to farm as a hobby and he’s taught me about this idea of a fallow: leaving land uncultivated and empty for a certain cycle so it can recover and restore its depleted nutrients. This practice, any good farmer will tell you, is necessary for long term success with land that is being cultivated. It has always intrigued me how much nature can teach us ways of being that are sustainable. For me this summer I intentionally penciled in some fallow time into my calendar. A month to slow down (June). A month of non-productivity (July). My intention is to disconnect myself from a desire to produce anything beyond what is absolutely necessary to my daily well-being in real time. I am not working. All my clients and team mates are aware of this time I’m taking off. And this isn’t necessarily vacation because we all know how vacation expectations can lead to adventures that are tiring and taxing on the nervous system.

The goal is to be with myself.

Totally present.

No preset expectations or deliverables.

I’ll report back from the other side but I bet this time of rest will be exactly what I need.

I no longer identify with the story I once told myself that the cheat code for life was to hustle while others are resting. I have a new cheat code for life but I’ll hold that close to my chest for now.

Thank you for reading. I hope you take as much time to fallow as is accessible to you. Let me know on Instagram if you do and what your results have been.

Love,

Salem