A photo of Eric Michael underneath a fiddle leaf fig, indoor plant

Thirty.

"What's it like to be turning thirty?"

I should preface this with the clarification that today I am turning thirty. And, for the sake of context and tone, I’m not running away from it any more than I am towards it. But…

Sometime last month I found myself on a date with someone a decade younger than myself who seemed more daunted by the “dawn of a new decade” than I was. (He seemed more mature when we met and I never thought to ask his age.) And, he asked me, holding his breath, “Does it feel weird, knowing you’re in these final days of your twenties than it did in your final days of your teens?” (I knew immediately it wasn’t going to work out.) Then a friend, a colleague, a family member, and a bartender asked me the same thing—all within the month.

The funny thing is: No, it doesn’t. But, it should.

Twenty isn’t really ushered in the same way that thirty is. Twenty is this confusing crossroads; somewhere between being free to do as you please, and not. You can pump your lungs full of tar and nicotine and even buy it over-the-counter, but you can’t (legally) smoke cannabis. (Which, for the sake of clarity, I’m not arguing that the age of cannabis consumption come down but the restrictive age of nicotine products go up.) You can shake, stir, and serve alcohol but you can’t taste or consume it yourself. You can give your body to whomever you want but you’ve got to have a new-found awareness for who is giving you theirs.

Thirty comes in with a more reconciling undertone. It feels like, if I’m being honest, the off-beat coming-of-age checkpoints that mark your earlies adolescent years (16-29) are all being stuffed into a mental shoebox and stored away on the shelf; only to be welcomed back during the fun and friendly conversations when you need to “remember when.” The “dawn” of thirty itself feels like all of the cliché quotes, printed and framed at Homegoods, are on a crawl in your head. You’ve “been there” and “done that,” it’s “good vibes only” and “onward and upward” from here. In other words, thirty seems to be the moment when the body and mind come to the synchronized realization: We’ve grown up.

I had been feeling this way, subconsciously, all year. I had hit a [seemingly reinforced] wall with all of the dead-end, unfulfilling, and meaningless relationships in my life—and I put an end to all of them, either directly or indirectly. Suddenly the decision-making period between noticing something and taking action on it gets more and more narrow. You don’t even contemplate the set or announcement of boundaries; they just happen. Those that deserve closure get it and everyone else can just be trusted to figure it out on their own.

I also, even more recently, stopped leaning into nostalgia. Constantly looking back doesn’t serve the future any good. In fact, it clearly keeps you there; rumbling in a toxic history of setbacks, letdowns, and abuse. In the same way the body revolts after a day of drinking, searching for water and protein, the mind and spirit will always seek out nourishment elsewhere too. My focus, today, is on the foreseeable future and not forsaken past; I’m looking forward to maintaining the steady growth and progress of my personal and professional commitments. The necessary ones. And, the one’s that serve my soul; igniting passion and delivering pleasure.

That doesn’t mean your twenties are a wash or that those milestone years should be taken for granted. They’re not. They shouldn’t. You should be committed and fully invested in the pursuit of your inherent (and even sometimes freakish) creative urges and curiosities. You should keep a firm but friendly grip on the navigation and controls of your life; always knowing where you’re at and where you’re going. You should check-in with yourself as much and as often as possible, feeling the present moment—not comparing it to or pondering the past; figure out your wants and needs and pursue them while your energy and innocence are at their peak. And, always move with and for the best of intentions.

Twenty things I learned in my twenties:

Disappointment is what happens when your dreams for success don’t directly correlate with those of the other person. It is not evidenced that you’ve done anything particularly wrong, perse. Instead, it could be all the proof you need to rest assured that you’ve done something right.

Grief brings to head a lot of things: Tears and memories and people—rushing to your side in support. Grief also brings with it empowerment. It may take a little while to find it but you will most definitely find it and—when you do—it’s your choice what to do with it. You can choose to fall from it or you can choose to rise; leveraging its impact for a more positive and productive future.

Everyone is always in a state of creation—of themselves, their work, their future. But, at some point, when you’re creating yourself—for success—you’re going to have to rumble with a hard choice: You’re either going to have to let go of the manufactured version of yourself and take a chance on being loved or hated for who you really are. Or, you’re going to have to kill who you really are—falling into your grave, holding tight onto a character that you never were.

People need to be held just as responsible for energetic ramifications as they are for physical, emotional, and psychological consequences. Off-loaded energy is carried in a fierce momentum and carries unparalleled influence. If someone pisses you off and you churn that [negative] energy, redirecting it to another—they to another and another and another—it’s magnified each time. Imagine what that does to the people around us, to the world. We need to live above the influence.

Our power is in our presence. How we handle the present totally dictates what comes to us in the future. Leaning into struggle—and “unpacking it”—will revolutionize the way we live and love, ourselves and others. It puts authenticity at the forefront.

Betrayal always lands on the karmic plate of the wrong-doer—and they’ll always share an opposing viewpoint. None of this is your problem. To accept blame and responsibility for another’s abhorrent action only confuses the universal impact and imposes a betrayal of one’s self. They’ll still get what’s coming to them (bad) and you’ll still get what’s coming to you (good)—but neither will feel worthy.

Embedded deep into the process of forgiveness is grief. In other words, in order to forgive we need to mourn the loss of something else. Sometimes we’re forced to grieve the idea of what we’ve had in order to forgive ourselves and create “the new normal,” stepping into a new reality.

Creativity isn’t an optional exercise, it’s necessary. To create is to move innovation from the head to the heart to the hand; to disrupt this pattern is to destroy one’s life. Untapped creativity is not benign. Untapped creativity is toxic—festering and painful—it turns into grief and judgment and rage.

More often than not, the stories we make up about ourselves are crafted with limited data points. When was the last time you really “checked yourself,” weighing the successes against the failures; your weaknesses against your outnumbering strengths? And, what do you call a story that has limited data points that are filled in with your own values, beliefs, and ideas? (A conspiracy against ourselves.)

If you’re ever posed with the question of where to start in the search of love and belonging: You’ll be shocked by how much life can change when you distance yourself from the people you genuinely do not want to be around. Or, how much diet and exercise can play a role in your day-to-day life—especially in terms of your mood, energy levels, and priorities.

“Peace over resentment,” has been my Decision-Making mantra these last two years—and it’s made all the difference. If I’m asked to engage in something—an event, a discussion, etc.,—I try to remember how quickly a reluctant yes can turn into a resentful yes. I turn to the mantra for three seconds before I respond.

You deserve a minute. Whether the distraction is internal or external, you deserve a moment to reclaim your balance and re-center your focus and priorities. The moment you feel the metaphorical gun to your head, anxiousness, nervousness, or uncertainty—freeze and wait for the Universe to deliver direction.

Being low maintenance offers a perfect breeding ground for resentfulness. Having been raised by mostly women I was well-versed in the need to be easy, fun, and flexible. Putting someone else’s inherent wants and needs before your own means we end up hiding; that’s never worth the inconvenience.

People who love you do not repeatedly and unabashedly hurt you. And, people who repeatedly and unabashedly hurt you don’t deserve your forgiveness, sympathy, or support. Period.

Forgiveness isn’t an act. Instead, forgiveness is a series of acts and a deep and powerful rumble with one’s self. Forgiving someone else is to free yourself from the constant churning of unnecessary hate and grudge. Tell the story, name the hurt, feel the pain, grant the forgiveness and, finally, renew or release the relationship. Those are the only two options in moving forward.

Pleasure is the energy you put out, reciprocated. Our baselines of pleasure are totally constituted by how we view our lives, the things we’ve done, the people we’ve loved and the people that loved us back. Pleasure is reaping the satisfaction of the true intent behind all of it.

Enlightenment brings with it an odd balance in that, the more you know, the more passionate you feel about life and the more joy you feel in life. Enlightenment delivers an eternal source of inspiration. But, it can also leave you feeling more disgusted with humanity. That is the humanitarian paradox.

We’re not worthy of knowing for sure where the soul goes at the end of our lives. I’ve learned that death can oftentimes feel unjust. When we find ourselves asking, “why this one” and “why now,” it’s meant to serve as proof and a reminder of the love that was there. It’s that love that lifts the spirit—their spirit—up to its highest state and leaves us with the loudest cheerleader and the strongest ambassador on the other side. That’s how you get an angel you can call by name.

The most common unspoken denominator in the spiritually conscious, enlightened and overall “successful” people is not their early-morning wake-up time or some other listicle content but rather: Boundaries of steel. Respect and trust are most given to those that fearlessly, firmly, yet kindly and even indirectly say, “No, we’re not going there.”

It is actually possible to have boundaries and express compassion without compromising oneself. The inner monologue goes, “Yes, I’m compassionate—because I won’t subject myself to the abuse of other people.”

You have to believe, for your own sanity, that people really are doing the best they can. Even when you know otherwise. We need to stop being mad and start grieving, immediately, the loss of [whatever role that person was “supposed to” fill], that we never had. The only thing left, after that gut-wrenching process, is to love them for who they are, establish the necessary boundaries, and proceed on with our individual lives.

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