Today I’m turning 26.

26 years of outgrown jeans, misplaced bobby pins and cracked nail polish. 26 years of laughing at [really] lame jokes and tripping over my shoelaces. Old email conversations and closet purging. Forgetting my keys and splurging on party shoes and finding a banana in my closet (for real. So, so nasty).

When I was 8 years old, I pictured my life in the future. Married at 22 (my lucky number). Two kids, 1 horse, 1 dog. I was a veterinarian.

When I was 15, I pictured it again. Still married at 22. Kids optional. No horse. 1 dog. I was a teacher.

I graduated high school and suddenly the future was now and I was not enrolled in veterinary school or teacher’s college and I no longer saw myself getting married at 22 (I mean, that was 4 years away and I couldn’t even find a pair of pants that I liked and that fit properly let alone a man with the same criteria). I had long since gotten over my love of horses and no longer imagined myself cooking lunch in the country. The dog was still there. The dog will always be there.

I went to school. I changed programs and dropped courses and met people who changed my life and opinions and read books about ideas that fascinated me. I drank beer out of red cups and laughed until night turned to morning.

22 came and went. I likely danced right through midnight and hugged my friends and went for a hungover family dinner. It was probably beautiful.

I walked across the stage at my insanely hot convocation in late June. I looked out at the sea of people applauding and smiling and I saw a future of opportunity and success. I would travel. I would write. I would fall crazy in love with a guy in the city. We would buy that dog and have that home. I would be happy and successful and barely taste the feeling of failure.

I jumped on planes and I came back. I met people and lost people. I got a million random jobs and quit them all. I moved to the city and cried myself to sleep because I realized I wasn’t that special. I was broke and scared and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I felt like I was lost and I felt like I was failing. I tried to picture my future and for the first time in my life, I couldn’t.

So, I gave up trying and instead, focused on learning the fine art of curling my hair with a straightener. I volunteered at food banks and wrote letters to my Grandma. I went to concerts and discovered the joy of Sunday afternoon manicures. And life simply happened.

Today I am 26. I live in a tiny apartment with water pressure so bad I occasionally have to rinse my hair by pouring cups of water over my head (and now you know why my hair is always in that bun, people). I forget to pay my credit card bill essentially every single month and have locked myself out of my apartment an alarming number of times. I am an English Major and still can’t figure out the its vs. it’s conundrum.

Today I am 26 and my life is nothing like I pictured at 8 years old. At 15. Even at 23.

Today I am 26 and my life is the fucking best.

I have found love in places I never expected it to matter. In my work. In my colleagues. In the cheese and crackers I eat way too often. In friendships with people I knew in the third grade. In friendships with people I met only months ago.

Today I am 26. I celebrated with my friends and family and a single candle stuck in a cheeseball (cheeseball > cake). I drank a lot of wine and hugged a lot of people and loved my life a lot. And yes, I cried. And I’m not sure if they were tears of joy or a simple fear of growing up or simply because crying seems to be my body’s natural response to essentially everything that happens in my life.

Today I looked back at my 8-year old self. My 18-year old self. I thought about the time we smoked on the dock and lay there talking about our hopes and fears until the sun came up. I thought about lighting sparklers and dancing in the snow. I thought about the time I literally FELL ASLEEP while I was giving someone a weirdly long hug because I guess I was simply that tired. I thought about my cheeseball, obviously.

I thought about every moment that had led up to this one and I felt grateful and happy. I didn’t try to picture my life at 28. At 30 and beyond. I knew it would be full of laughs and tears and misunderstood conversations. I knew it would be full of potato chips. I knew it would be fun, and I knew it would be hard, and I knew the only thing I could do was to let it happen,

So. Here we go. I finally found a pair of jeans that fit just the way they should. I suppose the rest is just the cherry on top.