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"Are you happy?"

It took being at an empty, quiet airport at 4 a.m. waiting for a flight home to be finally be alone with my thoughts.

It took not being able to sleep at 2 a.m. and going to my rooftop with a cold cup of coffee to think about who I am now and who I want to become.

It took writing an obituary tribute for an alumna who took her life at the age of 25 and hearing the heartbreak in the mother’s words and the shortness of her breath from crying to make me take a second to think about my own life.

Each time, I’ve asked myself the simple, yet so complicated question— “Are you happy?”

I guess it never really crossed my mind until my parents visited me one weekend and my mom noticed the exhaustion on my face. She asked, “Is this still what you want to do? Are you happy?” and it caught me off guard. I haven’t had someone ask me that since I was in high school and talked to by counselor. I have become so distracted by the overwhelming amount of projects and trying to find my niche in the world, that I overlooked my own happiness.

When I used to let my imagination run wild as a kid, I dreamed of what I thought happiness would look like. My little mind assumed I would be living in a penthouse with Aaron Carter who would sing an acoustic version of “Aaron’s Party (come get it)” to me every night. I would be a singer/journalist/cellist/lawyer driving a pale blue ‘68 Mustang living the glamorous life Fergie sang about. In reality, the closest I have to being serenaded by a boy is falling asleep to Sam Smith’s “Latch” on Spotify, and my penthouse is a tiny studio apartment and the ‘68 pale blue Mustang is the smelly, crowded subway I commute to and from work every day. I guess my imagination was only a little off.

So I took some time to think because lately, my life feels like it is just one small push away from completely falling apart. This is mostly because I stress too much about everything. I stress about the future, my friends, about work, about the guys I can’t stop thinking about, my assignments that are due tomorrow, my fluctuating bank account balance, missing my dogs, the lack of cookie dough ice cream in my freezer and the number of Scandal episodes I’m behind on. I stress about all of these things, but somehow I forgot to worry about my happiness (even though Scandal and cookie dough ice cream are basically happiness).

So I made a list of things I need to focus on—yeah, I know, I make lists for everything. It’s my only solution.

1. Myself

Someone once told me to always do the things that scare you the most, because those are the things that are going to help you grow. Your choices may rough you up a bit, but in the end you’ll discover more about yourself then you ever thought you could. So let yourself fall deeply into something. It is a beautiful thing. Just let your passion grow inside you until it becomes you, and then let it keep growing some more. Once it becomes familiar, just keep going, keep searching, keep digging. Don’t ever stop. Keep pushing yourself, keep experimenting. You owe it to yourself to become everything you possibly can.

2. The Present

I feel like I don’t appreciate living in Chicago as much as I should. At times this city has made me extremely broke and tired. It has taught me how to be comfortable with being alone and showed me a unique side of society—aka the “poop” train (PSA: don’t get on this one). The city has taken everything I have, but has given it back to me in so many priceless ways. From the donut food truck on Wabash to the awesome jazz band that plays every night in the Jackson redline station, you make my commute a little more bearable. Since living in the city, I have become more independent and comfortable in my skin. I’ve learned to have my own dance parties to Kendrick’s vinyl while cooking pasta and almost burning down the kitchen (‘Poetic Justice’ had me too hyped). Most importantly, Chicago has made me more brave, confident and all around better. It is time I start going for more morning strolls with my camera and go for more jogs on the lakefront to start appreciating the beauty that is right in front of me.

3. Success

Be your own motivation, be your own biggest fan—because you will always feel like you need to prove it, and that will just make you become even better. I’ve met some incredibly talented people since moving to Chicago. I’ve watched them grow and become even more talented and their passion inspires me to be more and to do more. When you surround yourself with people who motivate and inspire you, you can create something great. That is why I’ll never get sick of collaborating with other people—it’s one of the most beautiful things to me.

4. Love

There will always be times when you try genuinely for something and you end up feeling disappointed. You tried, and that means you were willing to take a risk. It shows you care. It shows all the love you have inside of you. There has been too many times I’ve fallen victim of my own optimism. I wear my heart on my sleeve more than I should, but to me, love is like the smell of sunscreen or warm cement under my feet on a summer day or the feeling of dancing to old records or midnight snacking on the kitchen floor or the smell of the sea on a cold day. It is realizing I don’t know everything, but I know what I want. It’s something I can’t stop craving and there is nothing wrong with that—but there is also nothing wrong with being alone and being happy. I found that when it is meant to happen, it will happen. (I really need to start listening to my own advice more)

The truth is, I try to act like I have my whole life together with every little detail planned perfectly, but in reality it’s a mess. Because inside we still carry the dreams of what could've been, of what should've been, of what we wish still could be—this doesn't mean we aren't content, we just need to let somethings go. In situations I’ve stopped letting my emotions overpower my own intelligence. I’ve stopped apologizing for who I am—(a weird girl who randomly sings to herself at her desk). So even though I may not feel “happy” all the time, I still love what I get to do every day. Some days are a lot harder than others, but it’s that hope and promise that it will one day all pay off (if it doesn’t I’ll be pissed).

“The birth of a flower is one to remember, the moment we all pay attention to her bloom” – R.M. Drake

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