Before we get started, a couple things:
- I’ve never openly admitted it, but I like to start these things saying, “Hey babe,” because it’s what I’d want someone to say to me when they’ve got a lot of stuff they’d like to share with me. Also, yeah so I’m becoming more self-aware these days so I also have to admit that I watched Ramona and Beezus one day and the chill aunt with the cool hair followed Ramona out the door when she was upset (the enneagram 4 DREAM) and sat on a limb with her and said, “Hey, babe!” And I thought that was the coolest thing. So picture me like Aunt Bea, here to drop some wisdom and life lessons in 16 minutes or less. (Definitely less, but I’m factoring in bathroom breaks because…you’ve gotta be realistic about these things you know?)
- Today is my 4 year anniversary of graduating with a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications with a *technical* minor in french but…let me tell you, I used to parade my knowledge around Chick-fil-a back when I worked lean by saying, “Do you want some lemonade?” in french and I’m pretty positive I got that wrong so… I will not be frequenting Paris any time soon. Also…actually, maybe I didn’t say that *out loud* in Chick-fil-a…I think I was more in my head like, “YEAH I HAVE A DEGREE AND AM HERE SAYING, ‘DO YOU WANT LEMONADE?’ WITH THE REST OF YOU BUT I CAN SAY IT IN FRENCH SO WHERE’S MY $30,000/YR AND BENEFITS DAN CATHY?” (…final side-note though…Chick-fil-a actually wouldn’t let me interact with customers because they thought I was too awkward. THIS WAS JUST HOW WELL MY POST-GRAD LIFE WAS GOING, FOLKS.)
This graduation anniversary feels monumental, almost like a full-circle moment. So in typical Amanda fashion, I’m here to write to you and tell you the core lessons I’ve pulled from these first few years (ie the lessons that have been birthed through trial and error, tears, and talking my best friends’ ears off), along with the most attractive picture of myself I could *possibly* find from when 22 -year-old me was still going for that I’m-so-chill-and-funny-look-at-me-making-faces vibe. (LORD, INTERVENE.)
In the past four years, I’ve let my hair grow out and cut it again, lost a great-grandmother who was more of a lifeline than anything, gained weight and lost it and gained it again, reached breaking points with mental health battles, learned that sleeping is actually *kind of* important and drinking too much coffee is really bad for you, started drinking water every single day, learned how to operate gym equipment, gone on vacation by myself, driven thirteen hours across the country with a man who was also a stranger, disappointed some people who really cared about me, gotten a tattoo, built and broken and rebuilt my relationship with God, run away from all my problems, come to terms with my past, come to terms with myself, come to terms with my purpose, moved out, written a book, made friends, reconnected with old friends, been fired, worked in leadership, found a job that came with benefits, learned a makeup routine, and mastered a skincare routine, amongst many other things. The past few years have grown me and stretched me in more ways than I can express. I’ve been monstrous; I’ve been naive; I’ve been proud; I’ve been humbled; I’ve been apathetic; I’ve been hurt; I’ve been scared; I’ve been lost; I’ve been grateful; I’ve been joyous.
I mean…thank you, Jesus.
Here are the lessons that have been the hardest for me to learn.
- Stories take time. You’d think as a writer and storyteller, this little fun fact would be like telling a chef how to boil water…but that little lesson has taken years to learn. YEARS. The best stories start with extremely flawed people and work themselves inside-out. I would even say that if your story isn’t turning you inside out and shaking up your world, you might be in someone else’s story. Go find yours.
- Trust your gut. If something seems wrong and you know deep-down it’s wrong, run for the hills. And let me just say this… to my past self and everyone remotely similar to me: REVEREND JOHN IN CALIFORNIA IS ABSOLUTELY NOT GIVING AWAY A DALMATIAN PUPPY FOR FREE SO HE CAN GO EVANGELIZE TO PEOPLE OVERSEAS. REVEREND JOHN IS NOT A THING, AMANDA, BUT SPAM EMAILS ABSOLUTELY ARE.
- Friendship is everything. Nurture those who are in this thing with you for life and don’t let moments of hurt or frustration make you run away. (Note: You’re looking at the QUEEN of running away. My friends have literally had the following conversation within the past 7 business days: Friend 1: Are we letting Mandie isolate right now? Friend 2: Yep. Friend 1: Okay, cool. Let me know when that changes. And then friend 2 pushed a candy bar under the bathroom door for me, I spilled my guts to all involved, and now we’re probably having a birthday party for my cat this weekend.)
- Don’t buy into what shame is selling. I had a trainer for nearly a year back in 2016 and lost 60 pounds in the process. As soon as I couldn’t afford him any longer, I fell off the wagon pretty hard and didn’t get back up because I was so ashamed of myself for letting myself go again. I remember being in the doctor’s office asking, “Why…why did it come back so fast?” From then on out the story I kept repeating to myself was, “Good job, Amanda, you ruined your *one* chance to lose weight and now nobody’s helping you so there’s no way you can POSSIBLY do that without someone telling you what to do.” I’ve lost decades buying what shame is selling. (Seriously. If shame were an MLM I would’ve hit freaking crown diamond by now. FULLY VESTED CUSTOMER HERE.) I’ve let shame paint over my identity until I didn’t even know who I was anymore, let alone that I was loved. So I turned to food for comfort, my imagination for control, and people for affirmation that I wasn’t a screw-up. Co-dependency on ANYONE ( I don’t care if it’s your mama) is unhealthy. Period. And while it might not be that person’s fault or your fault, even, co-dependency is a great cover-up for the deeper issues of shame and self-loathing. Tell shame to take a walk, babe. You’re better than all that mess.
- “There must be something I don’t know.” I’ve recently learned to repeat this phrase to myself because I’m the sort of person who thrives on having the answers to everything. If I’m hurt I want to know specifically why so I can change or adjust course, but you know…sometimes something just isn’t for you. You will go through hard times that aren’t necessarily your fault. People will not like you for reasons you can’t understand. You will get fired. You will get rejected. You will lose friendships. You will bubble up and overthink all of it until all of the people around you are like, “I DON’T KNOW WHY LET’S JUST GO WATCH TITANIC IN PEACE, AMANDA.”
- Fear is a liar. Everyone and your mother will tell you this, but it’s true. Fear is a necessary evil in some ways in that it is your brain’s way of keeping you safe and aware, but if fear is keeping you from doing the things you love it is way out of bounds. If you are going to step forward into what God has called you to do, prepare to play defense against fear on a daily basis. Fear doesn’t fight fair either; it will show up wherever it needs to show up to keep you away from purpose. You’ve got to recognize it for what it is (an emotion and a narrative, not necessarily truth) and fight back, hard.
- Ask for what you want and ask for what you need. Just ask. I worked at Chick-fil-a the summer after I graduated for $8.50/hr and…my shoes were too small. Like a full size too small. My feet were fully swollen at the end of every shift and I was in pain all the time. I was so scared to ask for new shoes, that I allowed myself to suffer for 8 hours a day just so I wouldn’t be an inconvenience. If I could go back to that kid, I’d slap her with a bag of romaine and say, “MA’AM YOU ARE A COLLEGE GRADUATE BACK HERE MAKING CHICKEN SALAD AND ASSEMBLING FRUIT CUPS ALL DANG DAY ASK FOR NEW SHOES PLEASE.” Along those same lines, if there is something you want, ask for it. The answer might suck, but at least you’ll know. If it’s worth it to you, that’s all that matters, kid, and you won’t know until you ask. If you’re the one with the vision, it’s up to you to share it with those who can help make that vision a reality *or* you run the risk of it never coming to fruition because you were scared or didn’t think it mattered enough. Just ask. You’re worth that dream, that need, that conversation.
- There’s a reason. When I first graduated, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted. (Hint: That’s actually…*pretty* typical of me. I’ve screamed and cried in God’s presence enough times to be able to admit that I really love getting my own way. My prayers tend to look a little like, “God, I know you think you’re all big and bad out there controlling the universe but this is kind of my turf. Why don’t you go part a sea or something and I’ll man the fort? No, really. I’ve GOT THIS.”) I figured I’d graduate and move to a small town 45 minutes away to be a journalist and find someone to fall in love with and have it all figured out by now, but um. Let’s just say if that’s the plan, it’s not looking great for the home team over here. Since 2015, my plans have adjusted as I’ve learned more about myself. I’ve realized that I love creating worlds more than anything else and I love telling the stories of real people who are honest and beautiful in all their own ways. I love encouraging those around me. I love building community and inviting people over for food and drinks. I love writing notes. I’ve learned these things about myself in the past four years and even though I’m not where I thought I’d be, I also wouldn’t trade where I am because this space is making me better.
- God loves you. Speaking of God…let me tell you, when I graduated I was still pretty lost. In fact, I’ve been pretty lost recently. And about two months ago, at 2 am, God really spoke to me through a friend who finally laid out to me that I hadn’t really ever given God a chance to work. My friendship with God is a work in progress, man. It’s hard for me to trust, plain and simple. It’s hard for me to just trust and be still. But he is with me, he never gives up on me, and he’s always there to listen to my constant broken record of whining, lamenting, and arguing. He’s not surprised by my emotions and he’s not angry at me. He loves me. He has a purpose for me. And he’s constantly clearing pathways for me, constantly freeing me. I’ve seen it in my mental health battles, my disappointments, and even my dreams: he’s got me.
- The jobs that don’t seem to fit may be the jobs that fit the best. Just because you’re not in a job that lines up with your field or your area of expertise doesn’t make it a waste of time. In my time at Chick-fil-a, I learned I *really* hated working in a corner all by myself. I learned how I wanted to be treated and six months later I landed a manager’s job where I got to use those lessons because I could empathize with my team. Between those roles, I worked as a videographer for a company that forced me to compromise my values and my boundaries, but I did it because I was so desperate for adventure I was willing to do anything. In that role, I learned that I’m allowed to say no. After that, I landed the role of manager and hated the work because all of the tasks seemed menial and thankless, but that manager role taught me confidence and some hard-earned lessons along the way. In my most-recent role, I’ve been on the front lines in customer service and behind the scenes. I’ve learned about teamwork, communication, technology, and rolling with the punches. I’ve learned from my supervisors what true leadership looks like and I’ve learned to lean on the people around me for support. That’s just what a team does, but I might not have known that were it not for my job right now. And most importantly, I’ve learned over the past 18 months about people. I can’t even properly put that into words, but God’s taught me a lot about people and I’m grateful for that.
There’s currently a prayer written on a sticky note on my computer that says, “God, I trust you to help me let go carefully and graciously if I need to or to give me the faith to give it time.” My hope for you–whether you’re a post-grad or a college student or someone who’s been adulting a hot minute–is to keep dreaming, keep asking, and keep refining those beautiful goals of yours. Whether it takes a year or ten and no matter how much this road changes you, I hope you learn to be kind to yourself and to let go of the things that aren’t meant for you. I hope you don’t settle for less-than. I hope you don’t let the opinions of others shake you up, especially if it’s coming from a source who doesn’t really know you as a person.
Wherever you’re at, I hope you know how loved you are and how much purpose is packed into your very being. You’re so loved, so needed, so beautiful in all the ways.
Aunt Bea out.