IF YOU'RE HAPPY WITH WHERE YOU ARE IN LIFE, YOU'LL NEVER FEEL OLD.
That was advice that my ex-boyfriend's mom gave me.
Unfortunately, when she gave it to me, she didn't realize that I was going through a period when I felt like I was way behind where I should have been. I was trying to go from being a lower-middle class musician to a superstar. I was about to turn 26, but I felt like I was turning 100. I lived not under a dark cloud, but a ticking clock counting down to 30—the death knell for a female performer. Every minute that passed brought me closer and closer to failure.
I will be turning 33 next week and when I look back on 25-year-old me, I simultaneously empathize and feel sorry for her. I know why she felt the way she did. But I also wish I could have made her realize that the only reason she felt old was because of the way the music industry warped her perception. By any other standard, 25 is pretty much like being a teenager, except with with full rights and a paycheck.
I'm an ambitious person and to some extent, I'll never really be happy with where I am professionally because one of the hallmarks of my personality is always wanting more. I'm bad at celebrating my own accomplishments. I'm bad at allowing myself to relax. As soon as I achieve something, I don't even catch my breath before looking for the next rung on the ladder and hoisting myself up. It's not really something I want to change about myself, but it is something I need to learn to temper.
So here are three things I'm proud of. They're not impressive to anyone else but me. But I know how much work they took, so I'm going to do something out of character and give myself a pat on the back.
1) I have learned how to have more empathy. This means understanding why a client might reject an idea that I'm absolutely in love with, or being extra-nice to an account person who is going out of their way to help me with a proactive project that will do way more for my career than their own. It also means taking a minute to reflect on other people's personalities—their insecurities, weaknesses, fears—and adjust the way I treat them accordingly. Some people struggle with accepting criticism. It is my job to understand when to keep my thoughts to myself, even if I'm right, or have the best of intentions. Some people need to be the center of attention at all times; the "funny one," the "big personality." It's my job to be mature enough to rein myself in so those people can feel good about themselves. And some people simply don't like themselves, and they project that energy on to other people. It is my job to not take it personally, or change things about myself that I like because I think it'll make them happy. It won't. Nothing will.
2) I am a great teacher. This was confirmed when I taught at Miami Ad School this year, and I saw 20 people go from not understanding what an ad is to making ones that could win awards in just 10 weeks. I wish I had more of an opportunity to incorporate this skill into my...hey! There I go again, looking for that next rung. STOP IT, Stephie, we're making a list of things we're proud of, not things we want to do more of.
3) I have forgiven the assholes. Advertising attracts a lot of kind, smart, wonderful people, but like any industry, it's not immune to the occasional asshole. I used to wish ill upon these people, but I've come to realize that most assholes don't deliberately set out to be assholes. There's usually something sad going on in their lives, or in their brains, behind the scenes that we don't know about. (See point 1, about insecurities, weaknesses, and fears.) Someone may appear to betray you, but really, they're acting out of fear. Or someone may appear to dislike you, but really, they're insecure. I'm not saying that everyone else is always to blame for whatever you're going through. It's not helpful to do mental gymnastics to convince yourself that you're a perfect angel who's tragically drowning in a sea of assholes. We need to take accountability for our own actions and think about the contributions we're making towards other people's opinions of us. But it helps to also humanize the people who appear to imperviously commit acts of assholishness and remember that a lot of that behavior has to do with pain that you'll never understand. This goes for colleagues. This goes for exes. This goes for politicians. This goes for anyone with a heartbeat—because if you have a heart, then you have pain.
So, there you go, Stephie. You're turning 33, and you're doing just fine.
Happy birthday, me.