Do you have any memories that are so faint you’re unsure whether or not they actually happened? I have a few like this, with the details smudged around the edges. Fuzzy impressions that could easily be lost forever if I let them.
I remember reaching above my head, blindly pulling down glass bottles of nail polish from a too-tall cabinet. Summer was the only time of year I could have my fingernails painted (as my strict Catholic school forbid any kind of self-expression through colored nails). But on those rare occasions, I’d beg my mom to let me paint my nails some shade of red. A bold, beautiful, classic color, with a fantastic name like “Big Apple Red” or “Red My Fortune Cookie.”
But as a little girl, I never wore red nail polish. Red was for big girls, as my mom told me (and her mom probably told her, as these things often go), and I’d settle for a bright pink, a soft purple, something delicate and dainty. I was never too disappointed though; red polish was for big girls, and I wasn’t a big girl yet.
I grew up with an idea of adulthood that was very tangible and rooted in physical things—albeit often shallow and materialistic and 100% unrealistic. But merely observing and imitating was enough to make me feel like I was getting closer. I would steal spritzes of perfume and heels from my older sister. I’d listen to the click of my mom’s fingernails on the steering wheel, dreaming of a day when I was old enough to drive (and learned to stop biting my nails). I’d sit around the table at my parents’ dinner parties, taking notes on how to replicate them.
But growing up isn’t formulaic. You don’t magically pass a threshold and suddenly you’re an adult and it’s glamorous and beautiful and easy. I was disappointed to learn that at 16 I still couldn’t walk in heels, that at 19 my friends didn’t share the same desire to play adult and have “classy” dinner parties, that at 22 I didn’t know how I wanted to spend my life, and at 25 I still haven’t figured out how to quit biting my nails.
My favorite poem by Mary Oliver ends with the line “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life.” I think of this every single day. It’s the essential question for me, one that guides this extended adventure of my life and figuring out how to be an adult in the world, full of doubt and fear and feelings and constant questioning of whether I’m doing the right thing.
With every passing year, I see glimpses of something that looks like the adulthood I imagined, but it isn’t exciting or glamorous or beautiful or easy. But it is joyful—something I felt often and with ease as a kid, but have learned to appreciate so intensely now.
I’m still learning new things every day. I’m learning it’s better and more fulfilling for me to be constantly reaching than to be comfortable. That risk is good, and in the pursuit of consistency, comfort, and change, balance is key. That adults rarely feel like they have everything under control. And that more than anything, right now I want to be an active participant, an adventurer with her heart open to the signs and signals of the universe saying: everything is OK, you are exactly where you need to be. And as I continue reaching forward, aching for progress and growth, I keep my fingernails painted red, “Geranium” red to be exact, and I feel a little bit closer to myself.
Jennifer Lioy is a writer, designer, illustrator, feelings-haver, and all-things-doer at Holstee (technically, the Creative and Communications Lead if anyone important is asking). She lives in Austin, TX and eats breakfast tacos every day. If given the chance, she will corner you in a bar to ask you what you’re afraid of.
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