‘Who is that girl I see’ and other reflections on the past decade

I wanted to start this blog post off with something profound, but all I want to talk about right now is Hem sitting with her paws extended towards the radiator, snoozing away on her scratching post. She only wakes up when fat squirrel runs past on the fire escape and after the excitement has died down, she puts herself right back to sleep, content with the warmth and the music and the constant snuggles from her over-loving mother. It’s so adorably cute, how am I expected to focus on anything else?

If you had told me ten years ago this would be my daily view from New York, I would have been both a little bit skeptical and anxious with anticipation because it’s where I hoped to end up. And yet, the journey to get here has been so different than I ever could have imagined.

This week I found myself intimidated by all the new years posts people were uploading to social media. It felt like everyone had the exact right words to wrap up their decade — the lessons they’ve learned, precise memories of who they were 10 years ago and who they are now, and most importantly, a clear idea of where they’re headed. I feel like I lack the words that give it justice.

As you’ve probably gleaned if you happened to accidentally bring up the topic of “passion planner” to me (that’s 20 minutes of your life you’re never getting back), I love making goals. I love self-reflection. I love turning off the brain and just feeling around in the heart to see what’s boiling up inside  — something 20-year-old Carly never thought she’d ever say. But looking back on this year and more broadly, this past decade, it’s all kind of overwhelmed me.

This decade was immense. When I look back on my life ten years ago, it’s almost a challenge to find similarities to where I am at now. This seems natural, your 20s are a time of growing — sometimes not gracefully, I might add. And while figuring out the normal questions that plague any 20-year-old was a huge part of my life the last ten years, this past decade was more prominently one, for me, of confronting trauma and finding healing.

At 20-years-old, I had taken up the stance that my close family member’s murder two years prior was a horrible, sad event but one that didn’t affect my everyday. I covered up my grief with habits of self-criticism, perfectionism, and over involvement. This worked until it didn’t work and the dam came crumbling down, at first slowly and then all at once.

This decade has been one in which I’ve given space to my grief. Not only does it affect my everyday, it affects how I view the world, form relationships, handle stress, what passions I gravitate towards, and my anxiety. This decade, I learned the necessity of letting go and allowing myself room to feel in the dark, to cry a lot, and laugh a lot. I learned that grief and trauma are not things you are ever fully “over,” but they’re not solely limitations either. It’s taken a lot of vulnerability and patience to start honestly showing up and taking care of myself, and it’s a daily process still.

Popping into 2020, I feel a new sense of peace that I worked so hard for in my 20s. Being home in myself, being able to be present and celebrate the moments of sweetness in my life, and learning to hold two emotions in the same space have been crucial in me learning to quiet my tendency to overthink and spiral. This is thanks to a loving support system, therapy, yoga, and putting in the hard work of confronting my own experiences and habits.

That’s another thing I learned this decade, you don’t find balance once and then you’re good to go forever. Taking care of yourself is a lifelong process and it’s really really important.

I don’t want to make this decade sound like it was an absolute slogging challenge.

It was also so glorious (Holding two emotions at once, right?). I graduated from college in front of all my family with two degrees that I worked so hard to complete in four years. I worked three jobs to support myself as a writer, which was a leap of faith that lead to an entire career within the world of YouTube. I moved to the city I had dreamed about since I was 12 and now live in a yellow apartment covered in art with two cats and 400 books. I learned that working out isn’t about having a certain body type, but about making me strong and centered. This decade I wrote more than I could have ever dreamed and I was published as a feature story in a real-life print magazine (remember those?). I wrote things I believed in and I used writing to help myself and others find healing — and when it was necessary for my mental health, I took a step back. And finally after a good year away, I feel ready and motivated to take that step forward again.

This decade was one of travel to places I always dreamed of — London, Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea, China (!!), New Orleans, upstate New York — and places that hold all of my dreams — June Lake. It was the decade in which I deepened friendships and had romantic relationships that made me better. It saw me ask people I love and respect to be my life mentors. This decade saw me learn to be more vulnerable with myself and other people, as well as let go of the notion that I needed everybody to like me. I learned the importance of flying home to see family, of being present in the daily lives of my loved ones.

This decade I learned the power of my own voice. The power of words and stories and listening. I read amazing literature and met some of those people behind those fantastic words. This decade saw me start a career I didn’t even know was available to me, saw me collide activism within this role and support causes around mental health, women in STEM, and diversity. It also tested me in my ability to adapt to fast-paced work environments that required constant self-motivation. It saw me found my new role and two years later, travel across the pond to train someone else to take it on in EMEA.

But perhaps one of the best things from this decade — as cheesy as this sounds — is that this decade I rescued my cats. Above everything else, even moving to New York, adopting the cats is the best thing I’ve ever done. I look back on that 23-year-old with such awe and gratitude because being a pet parent isn’t always easy. My 23-year-old self was prepared in the best way I could be at the time, but I still wasn’t perfectly ready. But I dove in anyways, something I normally struggle with, and I just learned on the fly. And you know what? It worked.

It takes patience, and budgeting for their needs and cat sitters, and knowing I am responsible for their care for the rest of their lives. Cats live a long time! But it’s so beyond worth it. The cats have helped me grow in every possible way. They made the transition from LA to NYC possible because even in those hardest moments, I would wake up to two little fur balls cuddled up beside me. Their unconditional love I would be lost without and every single time I open the door, I am so excited to see them.

There are so many pets out there that need good homes, and so many humans that need the love of a pet. If I did nothing else this decade, I consider it a success as I learned how to become a cat mum to these two literary legends.

Perhaps most appropriately, my cats are reminding me, quite audibly, that it’s dinner time so I’m signing off. But should you not have exactly the right words for this decade, if you also don’t have it tied up in a silver bow, I am right there with you. To all the highs and lows of my 20s, I feel grateful to the girl I was at every stage — each year trying to do better, a girl with a lot of heart of her sleeve and cat hair on her clothes. Without all the versions of myself over the past ten years, I’d never be at the point where I am now, able to say every day, “Man, I really like being me.”

Happy 2020 all, cheers to another year of big dreams, little daily joys, and cat cuddles.

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