Lessons on Turning 29: Dealing with inevitable changes, setting my hair on fire, and living like a naked lobster

Before the dawn of poo-pourri, there’s been many clever ways to cover the smells of a freshly used bathroom. My coverup of choice in the past has been candles, because I felt like they killed two birds with one stone: keeping a dim, spa-like environment to help my adjustment to waking up well before I’d like, while also covering up the odors of last night’s take out.

Two years ago, while brushing my teeth, I lit a candle near the bathroom sink in my studio apartment, to set the mood and kill the funk. I bent down into the sink as I ceremoniously do, to rinse my mouth and gulp up some fresh NYC water from the tap (our water is actually mad good). Ironically, I thought to myself, “Let me be careful with this big hair of mine. Wouldn’t it be funny if I set it on fire?”

Upon bending up from the sink, I saw a flash of yellow and a puff of black smoke reflected in the mirror. Before I could register the flames flicking from my top right temple, my ex slapped the fire from my dome with frantic karate chop motions, screaming a guttural “OOOOOOOOHH!!!”

My first reaction was to jump into the shower and frantically comb through my hair to see how close to a Michael Jackson Pepsi commercial reenactment I had truly come. A shampoo later, I realized a short puff was left in place, but the damage overall was minimal. When the scene had settled, I couldn’t stop myself from hysterically laughing, at one point guffawing at how absurd life is -- one moment you’re brushing your teeth and the next second your afro is on fire.

Although I was lucky that fire situation didn’t end more disastrously, if I've learned anything in the past few years is that the only guarantee in life is constant change. Nothing stays permanent, nor stagnant. Every second, our atoms are shifting and evolving. Dying slow deaths and expanding energy into the universe. Even in stillness we’re ever moving, attached to this rock of Earth putzing around the sun. The world around us is never still, we all move, shake, love, die, vibrate, are born -- yet a great fact buried deep within the angst change can bring is evolution and progress.

Lobsters are a great example of this. They are born with a set size of shell. As they continue to grow, the shell becomes too small, confining and pinching their soft (and I’d also add delicious with butter) interior to the point of extreme discomfort. They reach a point where the discomfort is too much, shed the shell, scurry under a rock and begin to develop a new one, where they can finally gain a new exterior that matches the growth of their interior selves. 

I was that naked lobster from my 28th going into 29th year of life, without the butter. I had to let go of numerous things: an ill-fitting relationship, toxic and insincere friendships, career “stability,” unhealthy modes of thinking, unsustainable ways of being. All of this change was uncomfortable, and at times immensely painful, but on the other side of the pain I gained far more in self-worth, experiences, clarity of mind, and love than I could have ever imagined or planned for. I’ve found a partner who’s inspired me in profound and completely life changing ways through his depth of compassion, admiration, and love. I’ve created the burgeoning beginnings of a creative and multi-faceted career/platform aimed at making positive impacts and inspiring others. I’ve deepened friendships I’ve had for years while gaining new friends and colleagues who inspire me to be my best self and do my best work. I’ve stayed connected to my roots and family even with all the distance between us. I’ve gained clarity on my sense of self-worth and my intrinsic values of liberation, enlightenment, connection, playfulness, and creativity that I am continuously molding my life around.

None of that would have been possible if I was wearing the same “shell.” I wouldn’t have gained this knowledge or changed my patterns for the better without the discomfort of casting off old realities that no longer fit and were hindering my growth. In this process, I’ve had many people ask me how I’ve been “so strong” in the face of various adversities or curveballs, or why I have such firm convictions about the things I do, and here’s what I would tell them:

“Listen, life is a wave. There will be times when you’re up and things are copacetic and amazing, and other times when you’ll be so down you can’t see how you can rise again. The length of each up or down may last far longer than planned, or what may seem unfair. To navigate the ups and downs of life with grace is to internally stay present with yourself, your values, and the reality that your down moments don't define you and are impermanent and your high moments, even if fleeting, can and will come again.

When the lows come, you have the right to be in those moments and live with your sadness, and go to the source of it, but you must process and ultimately understand it in a way that you can begin to heal from it. Like Solange said you can’t sex/drink/eat/run away from your problems. You have to deal with them, but you also can’t wallow in them to the point of stagnation, as it doesn’t change the problem and guarantees living a limited life.

Also, there are far more highs than you realize when you take in the day to day ability to just be ok, to be alive, to be of good health, in good company, and to not have complete chaos and destruction 364 of the 365 days a year. We remember the bad times far more than the good, because the bad times hurt and the good times can just feel average or are taken for granted. I still struggle with this fact but strive to be more appreciative and grateful every day.

Our society has also conditioned us to find happiness externally, which is a truly tragic and unhappy place to solely invest freedom and peace. Needing bigger/faster/brighter stuff constantly for self-worth will never feel satisfying or enough. It’s really living intentionally and with consciousness to your personal values that defines real happiness, through the ups and downs guaranteed along our personal journeys. Also, never underestimate the reflective power of personal writing and the mind shifts of therapy. Both have helped me immensely with all this shit.”

Turning 29, feels like I’m in a used convertible, driving down a winding local highway with fields tumbling past, and the lessons and the discomfort of 28 are slowly fading into a grey foggy shadow review mirror of the past.

The new shell I'm donning is shiny as fuck, 29 years old, and probably smells like shea butter. I’m ready for the next leg of the road.