08/20/2013 05:16 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2014

What I Learned On My 26th Birthday

I recently celebrated my 26th birthday. It started with an 8a.m. phone call in tears with Mom. I was crying because I was feeling kind of lonely. The night before, I had a tough conversation on a city park bench with a close friend who going in a new direction.

On the eve of my birthday, I read an excellent article on the science of loneliness in The New Republic. I learned that in 1959, psychoanalyst Frieda Fromm-Reichmann defined loneliness as not the absence of relationships or reoccurring solitude but the want of intimacy.

This definition intrigued me. The fact that the feeling could actually be measuring the distance between my desire for closeness and the actual depth of my relationships relieved me from the guilt of feeling lonely when my life is full of lovely people I am grateful for. After reflection, I realized that my tears were evidence of not a loss of intimacy with others but a loss of intimacy with myself. I know now that the two go hand in hand. Yes, I crave depth with others but closeness with others starts with closeness with myself.

For the record, my birthday turned out to be a blessing. There were brownies at work, flowers on my desk and friends in the park. The day ended on a city park bench with the same close friend from the night before. This time our conversation was soul bearing. It was personal and hopeful and left me with tears of being truly known and loved.

Intimacy is often thought of as a term to describe romance. It is still that. However, I'm learning to think of it in a new way. It can mean being close to the dreams we value most. It can mean being emotionally connected to those we share our lives with. Intimacy can be closeness to who we really are. I don't want to lose touch with myself again so I made a list of what I have learned in my life over the past 26 years. Here they are:

Investigate your emotions. Go undercover on your heart. Research what you're thinking and feeling so you can understand it. Find verses, quotes, and poems that speak to you. When you are touched by words, keep them close.

Being who you are is not an empty statement. It's a concrete call for action. To be means to act. I am a writer. I have to write even if it's just in my journal. I love it. I must be who I am by writing. If you feel like an outsider, it might be because you're daily life isn't showing who you are on the inside.

You can't find an external cure for an internal issue. Before I turned 25, I had lost 50 pounds, quit smoking and left a lifestyle of partying. I no longer turn to substances to numb emotions. There are days when I stop for fro-yo for a pick-me-up but there is noting more satisfying than truly getting at the real issues of life through spirituality, genuine self- expression and healthy relationships.

Make a move. Before I worked in the media, I was a freelance writer, magazine intern, ads salesperson, summer camp instructor, beauty store consultant, after-school program leader and waitress at more restaurants than I can count. None of this changed until I saved up money and moved from Philadelphia to New York. Stillness is sacred but so is motion. Move in the direction you want to go and keep moving.

Popularity is a bad barometer. Just because something is mainstream doesn't mean it's for me. Even though I work in an office that has weekly happy hours, I choose not to drink because it's not my idea of fun. Even though I live in a city where the phrase "Let's get coffee" is as common as "How's it going?", I throw people for a loop by asking if they want to go out for for fruit smoothies instead because (for health reasons) I can't have caffeine and "let's meet for a decaf" results in a blank stare. The point is is this. You don't have to like or do what the majority does.

Speak your truth with friends. Do not go all public relations on your pain, glossing over how you really feel. Honesty is the relieving icebreaker to intimacy. You don't need to impress your friends with perfection. You need to bond with them over imperfection. Be there for them and let them be there for you.

Enjoy your beauty. I've learned to linger a little longer doing my makeup or take my time applying lotion. There is pleasure in style. True beauty goes beyond these activities but embracing self-care through beautification over the years has helped me get in touch with my femininity.

Real faith is not religion media. After working in religious media, I've learned that we do need to know about the injustice in the world but only if we use that information as fuel for being light in dark places. Keep in mind that atrocities in the news do not reveal the heart of God. Corrupt communities reported by the media do not reflect all churches. I'm blessed to belong to a loving church and am so glad my community is the positive antithesis to the headlines.

Know the difference between fear and love. My favorite verse over the past year is 2 Timothy 1:7. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." I use this verse to figure out what is from God and what isn't. I ask if something feels scary? Then I know it's not God. I ask myself if something is love without question. Then I know it's Him.

Creation is better than consumption. Soaking in the he-said-she-said cycle of celebrity updates makes me feel empty. Writing my experiences in my journal makes me feel full.

Endorphins are a gift. Dancing takes me from 0 to 60 emotionally. Zumba just does it for me. I'm beaming before Shakira even gets to the chorus of "Waka Waka." Getting high from movement feels like this gratuitous treasure that we can tap into at any time.

Kids are the best. Videos of my toddler niece are better than There is so much to be learned from children. Besides being enamored with her cuteness on a daily basis, her unabashed dependence inspires me to trust God, to laugh and be unafraid to be curious and sweet.

Rejection helps you become who you are. I once interviewed for a job at a national interior-decorating magazine. I'm creative and like décor so I was so set on getting the gig. However, decorating isn't my passion. Writing is. In the interview, the editor opened my portfolio of freelance articles and reminded me that this was an art position not an editorial role. I ended up being rejected for the job but a moment in the interview changed me forever. Paging through my portfolio, the editor asked me why I wasn't pursuing my writing. Instead of giving a professional, cool answer like "Writers like photographing candles too," I started to silently tear up. In that chapter of life, I wasn't pursuing writing at all. At the time, her question seemed rude and intrusive but ultimately it was a wake up call for me to do more of what I love.

Waiting and working are sometimes the only way. The really big dreams we want in life are a mix of work and waiting. Desiring to fall in love with the right partner? Takes time and patience. Interested in a graduate degree? Better get down to business. I've learned that endurance in personal and professional life is a tug of war between working and waiting. And being. Being in close contact with others, God and our selves.