Like most young women, by the age of 19, I thought I knew everything. I knew ― without any doubt ― that I should probably be in a super-serious, monogamous relationship as soon as possible. I only had to meet the right man to love with all my heart and soul, right?
I mean, I’d already amassed all of the requisite knowledge and experience required to be a “good girlfriend” and future wife through watching old Hollywood films, ‘90s rom coms, and internalizing all of the saccharine lyrics to my favorite jazz standards. I was deep. What else did I possibly have to learn about being a woman? (Spoiler alert: I was in for quite the surprise.)
A considerable portion of my personal love story can be heard on my debut album, Gorgeous Chaos, released last March. During a period of highs and lows, delight and disappointment, I learned indispensable lessons about being a woman, and I’m still discovering more as I approach my mid-thirties. There are literally too many stories and scenarios to even attempt to share in one sitting, so instead, I’m listing my top seven.
1) Womanhood Is Not Defined By The Status Of Your Love Life
This sounds rudimentary, but social media and society will have you believing that your #1 mission in life is to get cute by any means necessary, garner the attention of some perceived dreamboat, work as hard as you can to keep their attention and maybe, just maybe, if you’re lucky enough ― get that ring. No. Being someone’s romantic partner or wife does not define your womanhood. It is a wonderful supplement to your scholastic achievements, professional accomplishments, and overall personal development. Romance is glorious. True love is transformative. Marriage is certainly a milestone worth celebrating and a partnership worth nurturing when the time is right… but you have some important work to do between then and now.
2) Practice Your Craft Obsessively
I don’t have many regrets, but if there’s one thing I could go back and impress upon my 18 year-old self, it would be: “Forget about that boy! Get out of that fog and go study!” Ha! That sounds so old school, but it’s real! The more time passes, the more responsibilities you collect. For most of us, there’s only a small window of time to completely shut out the world and devote ourselves solely to passionate pursuits. After that, you’re trying to squeeze in “me time” between your career or job, errands, husband, children, mentee ― everything and everyone else worthy and deserving of your attention. So, if you are reading this from the comfort of your parent’s home, college dorm, or bachelorette pad and you aren’t yet constrained by a 9-to-5 schedule ― drop your phone right now and go research, write, and/or practice for as many hours as possible. You may never have this pure and unadulterated time to focus on YOU again.
3) Be Intentional
With whom do you spend your leisure time? Who are your friends? What do you do together? What do you discuss?
My friends are my trusted advisors. While I’ve made a few new friends in recent years, my closest confidants have been around for decades. We bounce ideas off of each other, and encourage one another. And sure…a little tea is always spilled over brunch. There’s room for levity, but for the most part we want to see each other win in our respective arenas. We tell each other the truth - even if it stings. We speak life into each other. Only in the last couple of years have I begun to realize how powerful words and clear intentions can be. Believe it or not, stillness and quiet is exponentially valuable to the achievement of my goals. This is something I took for granted in my late teens and twenties.
...more than you watch TV. (Or at least try to.)
I’ve always loved to read. Biographies, sci-fi, romance, slave narratives…it’s just always been my thing. This is due in large part to the fact that growing up in the midwest - in late ‘80s and ‘90s, I just didn’t have much else to do! Netflix, Youtube, reality TV, social media, the internet, and smartphones literally did not exist! Sigh…things were so simple then. Still, I believe that reading inspires ― among many other things ― dreaming, which brings about fresh and original streams of thought, and ideas. Without ever traveling outside of my city, reading allowed me to gain perspective and formed opinions about places I never knew.
5) Learn A Foreign Language
This will make your world even bigger. One of the most important ways that culture is exchanged is through language. Even in the limited amount of time that I’ve been able to spend on becoming fluent in a few languages, one of the most valuable things that I’ve gained from any cultural exchange is an new outlook on life. I’ve discovered new ways of approaching both abstract and practical matters. Not to mention, it widens the road leading to a ton of opportunities and unique career paths.
6) Observe The Men In Your Life
Brothers, cousins, friends, uncles, fathers and father figures. Watch them, pass no judgement and take notes. You’ll be surprised what you can learn through pure observation. Some things you’ll understand immediately and others much later in life.
“Pass no judgement and take notes.”
7) Don’t Seek Love. Be Love
Finally, while you’re working on strengthening your character, sense of integrity, career, and other things of great benefit to you, remember to cherish your loved ones and mainstays. Our first experience of love is with our given families. Then while applying the knowledge amassed through that experience, we cultivate our understanding of love with our chosen families. We glean from each other. Simply put, the best way to receive love is to love.
Love honestly, truly, and completely. Be that person that your friends and family can count on to follow through. Be the solution sometimes, and a shoulder other times. Be present and listen to understand. Get things done, and be a woman of your word. Endeavor to be all of the things that you’d want your very best friend to be. While you’ll definitely fall short sometimes (I know I do), you’ll have lots of experience with inspiring respect and admiration in your career, teaching, creating, innovating ― basically making a positive impact on the world, all while maintaining healthy relationships with yourself and those you hold dear. That is what womanhood is to me.