When I Was Almost the Girl Who Didn’t Go to Paris

Everyone has their guilty pleasure. For me, classic, early 2000’s MTV reality television is my jam. More specifically, Laguna Beach and The Hills have been my go-to’s since my early teens.

What can I say? It’s my “not so guilty” guilty pleasure. I have most of the seasons of The Hills on DVD, and I go through phases where I will randomly watch them. I am a huge Lauren Conrad fan. I still follow her fashion career today. (Girl-next-door types have to stick together.) I’m pretty sure watching The Hills for so long is subconsciously why I decided to move to Los Angeles in my 20s.

If you were ever a fan of the show, then you know there’s a crucial moment at the end of season 1, where our leading lady, Conrad, is offered a summer internship at Paris’ Teen Vogue office. She turns down the offer to instead spend the summer with her then on-again, off-again boyfriend from her home town, Jason Wahler. The two had big plans: a summer of love and a rented condo in Malibu.

In the second season, fans learn that Conrad and Wahler broke up before the summer’s end. When we see Conrad for the first time in the Los Angeles Teen Vogue office, she is with friend and fellow intern, Whitney Port, who ended up going to Paris for the summer instead (gotta love her!), and their boss, editor Lisa Love.

It is this next moment that is frozen in reality TV show history. Love’s words for Lauren echoed across the homes of MTV viewers nationwide. She looked straight at Lauren (who you can tell seems down) and said, “Lauren didn’t go to Paris. She’s going to always be known as the girl who didn’t go to Paris. Do you regret that decision?”

Ouch.

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It literally became one of the most quoted moments in The Hills history. Years later, ET Online released the backstory on Lauren’s decision not to go to Paris.

“We had a big disagreement, [creator] Adam DiVello and I, over Lauren’s decision not to go to Paris,” executive producer Liz Gateley tells ET. “I said, this is the perfect ending, because every girl makes this decision. She thinks she’s in love, and she’s going to spend the rest of her life with this person, and that was the relatable choice, and Adam was so upset!”

“He really wanted to try to convince her to go, and she was adamant that she was not going to pursue an internship in Paris,” Gateley continues.

“We tried to convince her, but at the end of the day, she wasn’t going,” Gateley recalls. “That was an authentic moment to that [theme of] coming of age. It’s like, who doesn’t look back and wish they had gone to Europe for the summer? Or taken that internship in D.C.? Or whatever it was, because they stayed behind for a boy or a girl. I mean, everybody does that. It was perfect.”

When I was 14 or 15 and I first watched this episode, I didn’t quite understand. She picked a guy over Paris? Say whaaat? While I love my girl Lauren, Love’s words hold a lot of truth. “She always going to be known at the girl who didn’t go to Paris.” (It kinda hurts my heart every time I type it.) Although Love was a tough, no-holds-barred type of woman, I really believe she was trying to impart a bit of wisdom in young Conrad’s ears. That is….to never put your dreams on hold for a guy.

Twenty Something Advice (for anyone): “Never put your dreams on hold for that guy, girl or relationship. If it’s meant to be, it’ll be.”

In Lauren’s defense, she was in her early twenties at the time she made this decision. Also, she eventually did get to go to Paris for Teen Vogue. Today, she is kicking butt in her fashion career and married with her first son. Overall, she definitely came out on the other side winning. Perhaps, this was something that she, and all of us, have to go through to learn from.

If we’re being completely honest, we have all had our “the girl who didn’t go to Paris” moments. I know I have. I have made many a dumb decision or two in my early and even mid-twenties for love or what I thought was love.

Recently, I made a huge, life-altering decision. To travel throughout the U.S. for a month before heading to Italy to teach English for three months. Exciting. Life-altering. Exhilarating. Nerve-wracking. Wildly beautiful and gloriously unknown. All of the above. Then, right before I left Los Angeles, I met a guy. Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong. He was great. Smart. Accomplished. Attractive. Funny. Physically fit. Cultured. Kinda dreamy. I was intrigued. My interest was sparked, and I wanted to get to know him more. Rarely does it seem like we find people who are both physically and mentally appealing? (Or maybe that’s just me?)

Any who, in my last day before leaving Los Angeles, I started to have these thoughts. Like why? Why now do I meet a guy I actually like? Will my chance be gone once I’m back? Will he find someone else?

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Then, I had to come back to reality. Yea, this guy might actually be great. The jury is out on that one. How much can you know after a few interactions? (He could easily still be a serial killer. It’s LA people.)

Yet, he could be the great guy he seems to be. So what? Does that mean my dreams and plans should be put on hold? Does that mean my life stops? Would it be possible for me to dream big, to dare, to chase after those dreams, to travel, to see the world and not settle? Would it be possible to have career and love? I think so.

I am a big believer in the saying, “If it’s meant to be, it’ll be.” (Gotta love that Bebe Rexha song with Florida Georgia Line….If it’s meant to be, it’ll be, it’ll be. Baby, just let it be.“) While I wasn’t going to cancel my travel plans for a guy, I was definitely bummed. Then, I reminded myself… if it’s meant to be.

If a guy or relationship isn’t there when you return or the person decides not to wait for you, well OK then. It just wasn’t the right one. Have the confidence to be OK with that. (Besides, in the history of our patriarchal culture how often do men leave and go off to war or to pursue a career or a dream only to leave women waiting. I think it’s high time we were OK with doing the same.)

I don’t want to ever not go to Paris, Italy or anywhere else I dream of or put my life on hold for a relationship. I am going to put my metaphorical high heels on, pack my bags, grab my passport and keep living. My wide-eyed, dreamer self believes I can have both love and life of passion and that the right one will compliment and not compromise my dreams.

Keep dreaming readers! And for goodness sake, go to Paris!

-Stephkt

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Living a Life of Purpose Is About Hitting the Right Harmony

Fun fact: When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a singer. A happy mix of Whitney Houston meets Britney Spears. The soultry soul meets catchy pop. That was the dream.

For most of my life, music and the arts has always been there. Whether it was singing in the children’s choir at church, performing in musicals at school, dancing in my high school’s modern dance group or playing in the orchestra. Music is as much a part of me as the curly, kinky hair growing out of my head and the brown eyes staring back at me.

Despite my immense love of music, for me, it has always been a closeted thing. I sing to small children I nanny for to get them to stop crying. (Call me the baby whisper because it actually works.) I sing in the shower and on elevators (of course because those are the places where you get the best acoustics.) I am guilty of being a car performer down the 101 and the 405. (When people see me singing in the car, it’s never a source of embarrassment. It just means it’s time to go all out and give them a good show.) Karaoke? Oh, that’s my jam (no alcohol necessary).

I can count on my hand the number of times that I have sang solo on stage for an audience. It’s just not something I have ever done, sing for people. It’s kind of daunting because I love music so much. There’s almost the fear that doing it for others to see might take away the sweet, simple goodness of it.

That’s all changed since living in Los Angeles. One person, Jackie, who is the worship leader at my church, pointed out that I had a good voice, and she asked me to audition. All of the sudden, it was like a snow ball effect. More and more people started pointing out that I had a good voice. It became something I couldn’t hide nor did I want to. I love music. I love singing. Why shouldn’t I share that? Why am I so afraid?

So I decided to put my life motto to the test: feel the fear and do it anyway. I auditioned for my church’s music team and made it! I was so nervous on my audition. I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to hit a note or I’d miss the downbeat or not hit a harmony.

Jackie gave me the best advice to ease my nerves. She said, “Sing where you are at your strongest.” So simple but so good.

Twenty-Something Advice for Anybody: “Live of a life of passion. Sing from your strongest point, where it fits, where it feels right.”

As a kid, I always sang soprano. I remember my youth choir director telling us that altos were just lazy sopranos. (Truthfully, she just was short on sopranos and was trying to  fill the spots she needed with a little pressure.) Her words kind of stuck with me though. I’ve always thought sopranos sounded better. Stronger. Think Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. Then, there’s today’s pop princesses like Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato and Christina Aguilera. I love a good soprano.

On my recent audition, I discovered the most freeing and revolutionary fact: I am an alto. (To be more exact, I am in the range of a first alto and second soprano.) In layman’s terms, I sound better when I sing the middle range notes, not the high ones.

Jackie told me to sing where I am the strongest and that I am definitely an alto. I cannot tell you how good it felt to be told this simple thing. For years, I’d been straining to hit all these high notes that were not in my range simply because I thought they sounded better, prettier. Trying to sing notes I wasn’t built for left me thinking maybe I wasn’t a great singer. I can sing, but I wasn’t singing in my range, in my sweet spot, in the area where I am most gifted.

This got me thinking about  how “singing from where you are strongest point” applies to adulthood and career. Oftentimes, we take jobs and go down career paths simply because of the paycheck or the impressive title. Like me straining to hit notes simply because I thought they sounded “prettier,” we often pursue jobs simply because they look good on paper. We take jobs for money instead of passion and then wonder why our proverbial vocal chords (our souls) are strained.

“We often pursue jobs simply because they look good on paper.”

Here’s what I am learning: Just because the girl next to be is a bomb soprano, hitting all the runs and the pretty high notes, doesn’t mean I need to be. I am at my best when I am in my sweet spot, when I am in my own lane. Plus, me and the girl next to me probably can bust out a sick harmony if I sing my part and not hers.

It’s the same in adulting. How many people do you know who simply took a career for the money but don’t actually enjoy it? Are you one of them? I have found when I am playing a part that I was never meant to play, it’s draining, but when I am using my skills, my talents, my passions, it flows naturally. It’s easy. It’s simple. It feels right. It’s never forced.

Lessons in adulting: Take the career path, job title, relationship or friendships in life that best suit you. Don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses. I think you will find a life of divine purpose and passion when you learn to run your race and use the gifts you’ve been uniquely given. No one can be a better you than you. Remember: When you are singing from where you are strongest, it’s beautiful. Nobody can sound quite like you.

-Stephkt

Lessons in Adulting: When You Know Better, You Do Better

I sat next to my best friend on her queen sized, pillow top bed, surrounded by a mass of pillows doing what best friends do best, heart to hearts.

Her words stuck.

“As painful as it was, losing that friendship wouldn’t have mattered if you hadn’t learned anything.”

We were rehashing the loss of one of my closest friendships. What had gone wrong. Mistakes made on both sides. The scars it had left. What I learned from it. How I was planning to let go and move on.

I had done the unthinkable. I had written an emotional note ending the friendship. Worse than that, I sent a text. A text saying I couldn’t be friends anymore. The emotional, disgruntled note came later. (A note, might I add, that was written while I was slightly tipsy. Something I highly warn against- drunken notes.)

In 2016, I was a hot mess in more ways than one. 2017 saw a lot of growth, a lot, and boy, was it painful but so good. I grew to be more confident in my talents and gifts. I came to get to know and actually like the woman I saw staring back at me in the mirror. I learned to say no, to set boundaries with other people and to make self-care a priority.

Twenty-Something Advice (for anyone): “When you know better, you do better.”

I am realizing that sometimes, in order to move higher, whether in relationships, friendships, career or love, you have to let go of some things, some bad habits, some old ways of thinking, some hurts, some insecurities. Letting go is the only way to move forward, to improve, to go higher.

My poor decision making has made some of my weaknesses rather apparent. Avoiding confrontation. Check. Writing break-up letters to friends instead of communicating. Check. Holding on to people and things past their expiration dates. Check.

The saying goes, “Old habits die hard,” meaning it is hard to stop doing things that one has been doing for a long time. While this bears much weight, I believe it is possible for old habits to die once you acknowledge that they no longer serve you.

One of my favorite sayings of all time I first heard from Maya Angelou. She said,”When you know better, you do better.”

I know better now. While I’ll never be perfect (and that’s perfectly OK), I know better than I once did. So I am going to do my darndest to apply that knowledge and be a better version of myself. Mark my words- I will never write an angry breakup letter to a friend again. (It kinda sucks for the other person, and it is just really unfair in terms of healthy communication.) I will be more brave in the face of conflict and confrontation and not shy away from it just because it’s hard.

In what ways in your career, relationships or friendships, can you apply the  knowledge you’ve attained through self-awareness? What habits can you let go to move higher? Here’s to moving forward in 2018 to better things!

-Stephkt

Lessons Learned 2 Years in LA: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

I have said it a million times, and I will say it again. Making it in Los Angeles is hard.

There’s the gas prices. The traffic. Rent. And the people, oh the people.

I joke that living in LA is like being in high school all over again. There are the super popular kids clad in their designer shades with their puppies in tow. (Just to give you a taste of my personality, growing up, I always thought the popular kids were stupid because they didn’t think for themselves. Not cute, boo boo. Not cute.) Short anecdote: Freshman year of high school, a girl who would go on to be the queen bee of the popular girls invited me into the clique, but I avoided them at lunch simply because I knew they disliked one of my middle school friends. (Even at 13, I wasn’t about that “follow the leader” life.)

Then, there’s the ultra artsy Los Angeles people who take weird to a whole new level. I thought I was weird, and then, I met people here. Let’s just say everything goes in the City of Angels. Nothing I see shocks me at this point. There will always be something in 10 minutes that will out-weird what just happened.

If you let it, Los Angeles will eat you up, spit you out and then eat you again. That is…. if you let it. It can also make you a stronger, and, dare I say it, better person. In my second year in my dream city, with every turn, it seems I have faced a new set of obstacles. There were some moments when things were so bad I simply had to laugh to keep from crying. My friend Jade and I became masters at the “laughing at your pain” mantra.

“Los Angeles will eat you up, spit you out and then eat you again. That is…. if you let it.”

There was the job lay-off at 26. The new roommates with the dog they never walked (i.e. a regularly pee- and poop-stained carpet. You’re welcome for that imagery.) There was the vandalized car window. The getting rear-ended by an uninsured driver at a red light that nearly totaled my car. The five hundred plus dollars spent to get my Jeep fixed in order to pass the California smog test, just to spend nearly the same amount to get my California tags and plates. (Yay, me!) Then, there was the hurdle of getting over the three-year friendlationship that I thought just might be “the one.” Oh, and just this week, there was the moment where I nearly flooded my friend’s kitchen (sorry, Jade) and had my things attacked by ants in the bedroom the next day.  (Shower, please?)

Like I said, rough year. But with every rainy cloud, there was a silver lining. There was crossing the finish line of my first half marathon. (I literally could not feel my legs but have never felt more proud in my life.) There was the benefit concert that an old roommate, myself and few loyal friends teamed up to create. I stepped out of my comfort zone and played MC/hostess for the night, and we raised more than $1,000 for Syrian refugees.

There was getting to go back home to Michigan, Oklahoma and Georgia (yes, I have a lot of homes) to see family and friends and get so much quality time, hugs and kisses to fill my heart up. There was the starting my freelance journalism career (more like stumbling into it) that pressed me to be more confident than ever in my writing, editing and negotiating skills. There was stepping out of my comfort zone, auditioning for my church’s music team and making it!

There were also some laughs. (Well, actually lots of those.) There was the time I ran through a fountain on Hollywood Boulevard and ran into a huge sign in front of hundreds of people. There were the awkward dates that made for lots of witty banter with friends later on. (A Mercedes-Benz will not compensate for bad grammar folks.) There was the guy I met at a party who told me I look like someone who has money. (Apparently, I look like I make money moves.) There was reconnecting with my middle school crush and realizing I can do so much better. (His loss.)

With every turn of the page this year, there has seemed to be a hurdle. Clearly, I must be on to something good. As one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist says in her book Cold Tangerines, “Nothing good comes easily. You have to lose things you thought you loved, give up things you thought you needed. You have to get over yourself, beyond your past, out from under the weight of your future. The good stuff never comes when things are easy.”

“The good stuff never comes when things are easy.”

2017 has shown me that I am stronger, tougher and more resilient than I realized. There have been a number of times when I’ve told my friend Sam that I was quitting, packing up and moving back to Oklahoma. I never once meant it. You see, what I have learned through of all this adversity is that I am no quitter.

While I may get knocked down, I always, always get back up. Oftentimes, I have sold myself short, in friendship, in love, in career, but not anymore. If I want the best, if I want more, then I have to ask for it. No one will believe in me unless I do. LA has taught me that people will walk right over me until I say, “Enough.” Living here has taught me that a “no” isn’t a bad thing, but it just leads you to the right “yes.” It has taught me that rejection does not equate to failure but can be information to redirect you where you need to go.

If there’s any words of wisdom I can share to you as you wrap up your 2017 and start your 2018, I’d say this: Sometimes, you have to be your own best friend, your own cheerleader, your own advocate, your own defense, your own believer. If you’re going to bet on anyone, bet on yourself.

I’ve been backed in a corner a number of times this year, but I haven’t given up. And I’ll keep not giving up, dusting myself off, holding fast to hope while encouraging yours. Yet and still, I am hopeful, yet and still.

Happy New Years friends! And thank you to all my beautiful family and friends who made 2017 sweet.

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This post later appeared on Hello Giggles.

I’ve Been Social Media Free for 6 Months and Couldn’t Be Happier

This afternoon, I went for a walk with my roommate’s dog. It was nothing extraordinary. I just wanted to take in the fresh fall air. While, it’s almost winter and snowy in most of the country, in L.A., it’s crisp air, 50-degree weather and golden leaves.

On my walk, I took time to look at the imprint the tree limbs made as they swayed against the wind. I looked at the tops of the trees, observing the changing colors, the lively leaves up top and the dying leaves hanging below. I listened to the wind whistle around me, the car horns honking, the music blaring from the speakers. I smiled at passersby and let one pet the dog’s belly. (Boy, was she happy- the puppy I mean.)

Moments like these, when ordinary, everyday sights and sounds can be appreciated and soaked in used to be rare for me. These days, I am more present. I am more aware of life around me, of other people, of the frailty of time and how quickly it comes and goes.

Maybe this change of mindset is a testament to getting older, growing up and becoming wiser, but it would be narrow-sighted of me not to connect the dots between being more present and disconnecting from social media. In June of this year, I decided to go completely dark online. I deleted my accounts for Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. All that I have left are my LinkedIn page and a professional Facebook I use for work purposes (on which I have a whopping seven “friends”.)

Let me tell you, I have not once regretted my decision. I couldn’t be happier. I sometimes forget I am not on social media until someone asks me about it or talks about something they saw on Facebook or Twitter that day. For me, it feels like a breath of fresh air. It feels like freedom to just be myself without performing for anyone else. It feels like freedom from running a race I could never win. It’s sweet. It’s quiet. It’s simple. It’s real.

“It feels like freedom to just be myself.”

When I first went social media free, my roommate at the time asked me, “But how will people know you?”

To give you a little background about my old roomie, she is the type of person who shares pretty much everything, everything, on social media, car troubles, work troubles, the dress she bought today or the celebrity she meant at Target. Everything from the extraordinary to the mundane, she crafts and cultivates into an exciting post for eyes to see and join in on a conversation about her life in Los Angeles.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that- if that is what brings her joy. For me, social media is burdensome. It is draining. For me, it became a rat race to keep up with the Joneses. It was a false sense of community and relationship.

It seemed as I was growing, maturing, making mistakes and learning from those mistakes, I was taking people from my past with me into my present, and it didn’t feel good. It seemed unnatural. It was an open door to pry into the lives of people from different chapters of my life while giving them permission to do the same to me.

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I am not sure what I said to my old roommate when she asked how people would know me once I was offline. Now, if I could answer, I would tell her that they’d know me how they always have, through phone calls, through cards and kind notes sent, through quality time spent, through wine nights with friends, through happy hours and bible studies, through community, real, authentic community.

In my time off social media, I honestly can say I haven’t lost one friend. If anything, my friendships have been strengthened. I talk to people on the phone regularly. I remember birthdays more. I check in to ask about hospital visits and sick family members. I am more present, not perfect, just present.

I am more present, not perfect, just present.

Don’t get me wrong. Social media isn’t bad, but the simple fact that millions of people around the world use it daily, multiple times a day should be a cautionary sign. There is no one equation to life that works best for any two people. It makes perfect since that social media won’t work for everyone. I am one of those people. So please, don’t judge me for not being a fan of social media, and I won’t judge you for being attached to your phone and taking photos everywhere you go.

Recently, on a visit to Georgia, my godsister told me that I seem happier. This brought me so much joy. It was better than being told I looked pretty or in shape, that my outfit was nice or that I was successful in my career. She said I seemed happy. And I am. I truly am.

What I Learned From Having 8 Roommates in 2 Years

I know what you’re thinking, “Eight roommates in two years? This girl must be a terrible roommate!” Whether due to a change in marital status, job location or just irreconcilable differences, changing roommates has become a part of my vernacular in my first few years in Los Angeles. After the dust has settled and each roommate has come and gone, I am left standing with lessons learned, an ample amount of room to grow and an untarnished, much-needed sense of humor.

To give you a little more context, I moved from Oklahoma to California two years ago to pursue my passion for journalism and a writing career. As I hunted to secure a job and an apartment, I reached out to a few friends I knew in Los Angeles. After months of digging, one of them connected me with a girl she loosely knew through her church. This girl found two other young women from the same church who were looking for an apartment, and the rest was history. We were moving in, signing the dotted line and making deposits within days.

While being in your mid-twenties and living with three other women is not ideal, it is often the name of the game in the City of Angels. The housing market in big cities like L.A. isn’t cheap and it takes time, effort, connections and a little bit of luck to find a good spot. When I first moved here, I had that hunger in my eyes and the willingness to do whatever was necessary in order to make it on my own. This attitude would come in handy in the months and years to come with a number of outlandish and absurd roommate situations to come.

When I look back at my roommate experiences in L.A., it is one of those “it’ll be funny once it’s over” type of scenarios. I tell roommate stories to friends all the time for a good cathartic laugh. I swear if I had a stand-up show, this would regularly be a part of my act.

I have names for each of my roommates to help me keep the stories in order. (It also adds a little bit of comedic flair I think.) There was the roommate who took a job cross-country. There was the unhygienic, emotionally unstable roommate who we had to ask to leave.There were two roommates who got married. There was the prideful roommate who never paid bills on time and, whether she was right or wrong, always had to have things her way. There was the sheepishly shy and socially awkward roommate. There was the dramatic roommate who only talked about her problems. There were the BFF roommates who couldn’t afford toilet tissue (they used our kitchen paper towel instead) but somehow managed to buy alcohol. There was the roommate who had a dog she walked about once a day and left her to pee in the apartment. (This is just the quick synopsis. I could give stories for days.)

Needless to say, my search for a solid, stable roommate has been an uphill battle. There have been moments of stress, frustration, tears, laughter and a lot of lessons learned. Each of these people have probably given me a gray hair or two, but with each of them, they have brought their own strengths and weaknesses, both good and bad. They have brought their own unique perspectives and stories. They have brought differences, similarities and learning opportunities.

Prior to moving to L.A., I was a passive aggressive, ambivert, who only spoke up when she had to. Living with so many different people in such a short period of time has taught me how to set boundaries with people. It has taught me to care less about being liked and getting along with everyone all the time (which is not even realistic) and to speak up for myself.

For example, say something when someone makes an entire meal with your food (which has happened), but maybe let it go when you know your roommate tells white lies that don’t affect you. Moreover, speak up when someone is parking behind you and making you late for work or not paying bills on time. However, let it go when a roommate thinks she bought an inexpensive kitchen item (that you know is yours).

I have learned that sometimes it is worth standing your ground and speaking up. I should never choose to not use my voice for fear of not being liked. Yet, every battle isn’t worth going to war over. I have learned to choose carefully.

Of all the lessons the revolving door of L.A. roommates has taught me, the most important lesson is to show people grace. I can speak up and set boundaries with people, and then, choose to let it go. I have learned the importance of forgiving often and quickly. Otherwise, it’ll eat you up inside, and you will walk around cold and bitter. You’ll live in an apartment with closed bedroom doors, little conversation and no laughter, which is no place to call home.

I have reflected on my own behavior, and the ways in which I can improve. I am definitely not perfect. (It wouldn’t be fair to out my former roommates without sharing some of my flaws too.) I struggle with perfectionism and communication in conflict. I stifle my emotions. I have passive aggressive tendencies.

I am definitely not perfect, and living with other people has shown me, everyone, myself included, has room to grow. In the end, it hasn’t been perfect, but with laughter, forgiveness, grace, communication and a good drink from time to time, I have learned to cope with crazy and found the laughter in it all.

This post originally appeared on Hello Giggles.

How a Blast From the Past Taught Me About Self-Love

I nervously packed my bags for my Portland weekend trip. Should I pack heels? What about a dress? I need a hot dress. Maybe I should straighten my hair? My mom always said I looked better with straight hair. If I keep it curly, maybe I should wash my hair tonight so my curls look extra nice for the trip.

My stomach fluttered with butterflies, the kind you only get when feelings are involved. I was headed to Portland for the first time ever, for both business and pleasure. For business, I was covering a women’s soccer game for a news outlet. For pleasure, I was taking a weekend girls’ trip with a friend from L.A.

Then, in a momentous, destiny-calling kind of way, an opportunity presented itself to connect with an old friend who lived in Portland. This old friend, to be exact, was my 8th grade crush who saw me in glasses, pigtails and all the awkward phases that a kindergarten through 8th grade school entails.

We’ll call him Austin. Rumor had it, Austin had a crush on me too. (His best friend told my best friend. You know? The usual means of communication in middle school.) Austin also happened to be one of my cousin’s best friends, and his dad lived in the same suburban neighborhood as my cousin’s family throughout our entire childhood. While I hadn’t seen Austin in 10 years, I occasionally would hear tales about his adult life from my cousin or my aunt whenever I came home.

A few days before my trip, my cousin text me his number. I sent a nervous yet bold text asking Austin for the best places to go to and sights to see in Portland, and the deed was done. Austin was gracious and agreed to meet my friend and I for lunch and show us around. I ended up spending every day of my trip with Austin, every single day. I was enamored with the idea of him yet and still, and I spent the weekend hoping for something more than friendship.

To my inner child’s dismay, I realized Austin had not really changed, for both the good and the bad. Between the long talks, laughter, jokes and insults we exchanged, I realized it wasn’t so much him who I had admired all these years but the idea of him. I romanticized who I thought he was or who I wanted him to be. I made the middle school crush who I cried over at the end of 8th grade (yes, I was an emotional kid) out to be more than he actually was.

He was still the good-looking, funny and sweet guy I remember. Unfortunately, he was aware of all these things, his good looks, his charm, his confidence with the ladies. The same guy who every girl liked in middle school was now sitting across from me at a restaurant over drinks checking out women and asking me to be his wing-woman to pick up ladies. Some habits die hard, and I think being the popular, athlete who all the ladies want is one of them. He was still the same person, not ready to grow up or settle down.

The real struggle from that weekend wasn’t about Austin at all though. It was an internal battle within myself. A battle of whether or not I would allow the popular guy in school to unearth me the way he did when I was a kid. The nervousness. The shaky hands. The fast heart beat. It all came back to me.

As Austin scanned the bar for women, I began to look at myself and question if I was enough. What about me? I wondered. Am I not good enough? Why don’t you see me? Why not me? I stopped, gathered my thoughts and began to counteract the insecurities trying to surface.

You see, I am not the little, straight- A, shy girl from middle school anymore. That girl has transformed into a twenty-someting woman who has scars from heartbreak that have healed with time. She has wisdom lines on her brow from the mistakes she has made and the lessons she has learned. She has miles under her belt from the states she has lived and the countries she has visited. She has laugh lines on her face from times spent with friends who have become more like family. She has muscle from the hours she has spent serving others and learning to enjoy the moment.

Eighth grade me is gone. Although parts of her make up the mosaic of the woman I am now, that little girl grew up and is now a woman who knows she is. She is confident, strong and knows her value, and no guy, not even the hot middle school jock, gets to challenge that knowledge.

Everyone gets older but not everyone grows up. Growing up requires doing the work to learn, to change, to better yourself. Austin hasn’t grown up and reconnecting with him taught me that trying to force someone from your past into your present doesn’t work. The pieces won’t fit.

Sometimes, oftentimes, you can’t go back to the past. You might be able to revisit it momentarily or for a weekend trip to Portland, but you can’t stay there. You aren’t meant to. Life is about moving forward, letting go and accepting the now. Austin and I got older and went our separate ways, and I really believe it was for the best.

My blast from the past brought laughter, moments of self-doubt and most importantly a revelation that I am good enough, who I am now, present day me. Our last day in Portland, Austin dropped my friend and I off at the airport, and I haven’t heard from him since. I walked away from the experience knowing it’s OK to grow up and not look back. You simply have to trust the process and let go of what you thought life would look like and accept it for what it is.

This post originally appeared on Hello Giggles.