This week, outside a café near Lincoln Center, my girls and I reflected on what this summer had been:
Waterproof mascara, naps in terminal gates, and bringing Gangstarr back via mix CDs. Watching the World Cup at work so we could inappropriately scream out ‘Goallll!’ Restaurant names we couldn’t remember after the good goodnight date kisses. Being ok with losing our keys as long as we could find an establishment to provide us with salt and limes to pass the time.
But most of all, I will remember that this was the summer of waiting. For interviews, test results, phone calls, answers, love for admissions decisions. Whatever it was, at some point or another, life felt like the inside of a hospital waiting room. It wasn’t nearly John Q bad; it was much more pimped out—you know, flat screens, hotel linens, all that. And though being stuck in this rut has felt more like a stay at the Delano, diddy-bopping in the waiting room of my twenties isn’t how I planned to spend my summer.
So far, waiting for the right thing seems to be the theme for this decade. And it’s not just Black women, it’s everyone around us too. When the New York Times asked “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” everyone wanted to weigh in. The article was one of the most commented-on and emailed piece on the Times’ website that week, despite a busy news week filled with big stories. The questions it raised seemed to be ones we are all wondering: as we enter this phase of emerging adulthood, are life’s “in-betweens” bringing us closer to happiness? For all our anxiety and troubles, is our waiting room status a good thing?
The ironic truth about this waiting is that we probably already have everything we need. A new study in the Daily Mail found that women in their 50s are happier than women decades younger. And it’s not because of their added years, it’s all because of what they’ve learned to take away. The happy women surveyed said they had chosen to make several key life changes: choosing a career that reflected their purpose, eliminating poisonous friendships, ending unhappy relationships, and paring down their materialistic lifestyle.
Yup, that’s right. After endless debates about what brings happiness, turns out the secret to contentment is (dramatic pause) letting go of the things that don’t make us happy.
For all our planning and all our waiting, women like me have deluded ourselves into thinking that our sleepless nights bring on epiphanies and that our struggles make for sweeter rewards. We’ve spent nights stressing about all the things that we think are missing and days chasing them down to high hell. And it’s why we think that a job would say something about our worth or that a man’s love might help the way we feel. We’ve come to believe that the problem is what we’re lacking—instead of looking at the harmful habits and thoughts we need to strip away.
This mantra, “Patience is a virtue”? Well, for many of us, it’s proving to be our biggest curse. So to hell with waiting for breakthroughs, with waiting for someone, something, some line to redeem you from yourself. Who you are is not the problem, it’s the answer. You are, and always will be, what’s right with you.
The tragedy for many women, especially women of color, will not be how opportunities passed us by. It will be that we were women, beautiful and whole—but waiting for something, or someone, to unleash us. We were women and there we sat, waiting for that something else to make what we have, finally, be enough.
As summer fades, choose to believe that what the world is telling you is true. Believe that you already have all you need. Because I think, when it’s all said and done, happiness will only come out when we stop waiting for it to appear.
This life we’re all waiting for? It starts to shows itself when we decide that we are fully worth the investment. When we decide that we are worth every last bit of energy and passion we have. When we choose to believe that being powerful is how we are made to be. So live in your life fully. Live—and stop waiting for your story to unfold. Live in it till it’s worn and broken in. Live in it till it hurts like hell. And then go live in it some more.
As fall settles over the memories of heat waves, platform wedges, and broken ACs, decide that every day of your life is worth really living. With the change in the seasons, promise your soul that you’ll let it roam free. Wake up every morning and believe you are enough—that you deserve nothing less than to set your whole soul on fire.
Maybe happiness is not as elusive as it seems, maybe it’s we who have been hiding.