Life moves seemingly in a linear fashion. Time ticks day by day until our last breath. When we take a moment to reflect from the day we were born to this very moment, we may categorize different periods in our lives based on important or traumatic events that shaped us and put us in the places we are currently.
I like to call these points of time in our lives “markers”. Similar to markers on a hiking trail, we may mentally put thumbtacks into specific moments on our life paths that made us who we are. When I look back to some markers in my life, I think about my third grade creative writing special that sparked the joy of writing in me, or my first concert which ignited my love for live art. While these are significantly positive experiences, not all markers are. I also think about the time I was bullied by kids I thought were my friends, or when I got into my first car accident a few years ago. Whether they are negative or positive, there are moments that we never forget.
The last thing I expected on that chilly day in March 2017 was a car accident. I had just been freed from my ten-hour shift and was on my way to meet a friend for dinner when suddenly a car hit me, driver's side, and I spun around, facing the opposite direction. At that moment I was frozen in shock. I sat in my car for a moment, processing that this actually happened and that I was alive, until someone knocked on my window to ensure that I was safe. I thought: who do I call? My instinct was to call my parents, because I didn’t know what to do. They guided me through my next steps, but after that whole ordeal on the phone with the insurance and waiting for a tow truck to arrive, I realized that I was now out of a car with a full-time job that needed me at 7am sharp the next day.
During this time, I was working two jobs and going to school. Losing my mode of transportation was not something that I could handle at the time, and yet, I had to. I spent a lot of time wishing that I had slowed down, or that I had taken a different route to the restaurant, but no amount of wishing was going to undo the accident. I had to sit in those moments of anger, of sadness, and eventually accept that it happened and that I was going to be okay.
Luckily, the family I was living with at the time had a spare car that they let me borrow until I could afford my own. My mother assured me that I was going to be sore the next day, and possibly feel some pain that didn’t show up initially. However, I was completely fine. I felt no pain or soreness. As things started to solve themselves, I realized how immensely lucky I was and how it could have been so much worse.
Similar to markers, milestones are more significant points in our lifetimes. Common, expected milestones include graduation, marriage, and having children. However, I think of them as anything that marks a dramatic turning point in our lives, where our path is guaranteed to shift after the experience. These are subject to change based on each person. While milestones may seem more like positive experiences, I don’t believe that is always the case, and I kind of hate that achievement is associated with the word.
Imagine graduating college and struggling to find a job that can sustain you while paying off your student debt. Imagine spending nine months loving and nurturing a child growing inside you, only to lose them days after their birth. These examples show ways that these expected achievements can steer us down a path that we didn’t expect, and leave us very vulnerable.
A dramatic shift in our lives can cause us fear and anxiety if we are not prepared for the transition.
I grew up in Las Vegas. When I was in high school, my father was offered a job in Washington state. I was ecstatic, to say the least. I thought I was so ready to get out of this dry desert and experience four seasons with rainy days galore! So, I decided to move up there with him and finish my last year of high school there.
Everything was going fine until I made best friends the summer before I left who made sure I had the best summer ever before leaving them. They waved goodbye as we drove away, shrinking in the distance until they became the size of ants and then nothing. I was sad, but I kept convincing myself that this is what I wanted to experience.
I enjoyed the beauty of the green state and spent the rest of the summer trying to prepare myself for the transition until I started high school. This was where I believed that I had made a mistake. The place, the people, and everything else were not what I expected. Hell, even the clothes I wore made me stand out as everyone wore weather-protected boots and jackets, things I never even thought I needed. While this is not what really hurt me, it was one of many things that added to the list of what I wasn’t prepared for.
I spent this year struggling internally but I never opened up about it, telling my parents that everything was great, or not even talking to them at all. When the year finished, instead of choosing to stay in Washington for college, I decided to return to Las Vegas and try to forget about my horrible experiences out there. But things weren’t the same, and the struggles didn’t go away.
I won’t go into too much detail here, but if you would like to read more about how this change affected me and the challenges I faced, I recommend reading my post Opening Up.
This momentous milestone in my life is something I always think about when I look back, because that’s where my path changed direction, separating my childhood in Las Vegas to my future as an anxious adult trying to finish college.
At this very moment, I am sitting in my kitchen, writing, with a fresh cup of french pressed Italian roast that I ground myself…
I find it interesting how we can time travel so easily in our minds. While it can be fun to reminisce, it can also be dangerous if we haven’t fully healed. If we let old thoughts and feelings control how we feel right now, then we are no longer embracing the present moment. Losing ourselves in the past causes us to miss opportunities standing right in front of us.
The point is we never truly have a grasp on time. I can separate the two, past and present, letting the five years in between the accident and now become a black void in my mind, or I can acknowledge how much I’ve grown since the incident. It’s easy to look back two, three years and think: How did I get here so fast?
The reality is that by the time you read this post I am no longer sipping on that hot coffee and days or even weeks have passed. But there is always the present moment in which you are reading this, right now. Acknowledge that. The more we stay grounded in the present, the easier it is to control our reactions to unexpected moments.
Life-changing moments can happen at any time, and that’s why it’s important to be prepared for the unexpected. We can do this by transitioning our minds to the present. While we may only remember the really good and the really bad in our lives, there are hundreds of days between these markers that we no longer remember or think about. This mundane time, I would argue, is the most important in our lives. It's our day-to-day habits that shape who we are and how we handle change.
When life isn’t giving us lemons, it’s important that we nurture ourselves so that we are better prepared to handle life’s uncertainty.
After seven long years, I graduated from college this past December. For so long, I believed that graduation was going to mark the beginning of a new chapter. I would get a better-paying job, and I could move anywhere I wanted, but I am still here, broke, working the same job I had during my college career. I can let all of this bother me, or I can shift my perspective and acknowledge how much I have overcome since.
I have a job. I have a degree. I have a home to live in.
It can be tough to shift our perspective, and it takes time, but I can go back and put myself in the shoes that I was once in, or I can look back as the person I am now and be grateful for who I’ve become with the experience.
“Change is nature... the part that we can influence. And it starts when we decide.”
Remy, from Ratatouille
(Shout out to Charlize for reminding me of this great cinematic moment, and to my sister, Lauren, who quotes this movie daily and showed me exactly where it was in the movie)
About the Author
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Alex graduated from UNLV in 2021 with a BA in English and a concentration in creative writing. When she isn’t reading, she enjoys music, concerts, traveling, vegan/vegetarian food, and spending time with her rottweiler, Roxy. She is passionate about mental health and hopes to spread awareness through her writing.