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How many of you have ever ignored your gut instinct? Letting your head convince you of something, although your gut was telling you something different? You were both your own judge and jury. I am guilty as well and as I look back on my life, can see with clarity the times in which I have done this, both in my personal and professional life. And now, navigating through this next season of life, one of the things I hold as a priority is identifying my non-negotiables and allowing them to be just that, non-negotiable.

Over the weekend, I was talking with a girlfriend about life and lessons we have learned along the way that changed our perception and helped us grow into the people we are today. We talked about the value of friendships, particularly as we get older and how having a group of people around who both lift you up and accept you without judgment is essential. We even took it a step further to agree that what someone says about you when you aren’t around is just as important as how they treat you when you are.

If someone is talking to you about someone else behind their back, they are likely talking about you behind yours.

We were on our way to support one of our friends as she launched her new business and as we sat there talking about growth and the beauty of aging, I found myself grateful to be in this place in my life.

As women, particularly as we age, we arrive at this moment of simple acceptance. We own the choices we make in our lives –  our careers, friendships, relationships, our sexuality – with pride and confidence as opposed to the bend and shift we sometimes did in our 20’s trying to appease another person or situation. Our capacity to navigate through bullshit becomes smaller and smaller and we eventually reach a point where we simply have no tolerance for it whatsoever – and this is a good thing! It allows for your relationships and friendships, your entire life, to be more authentic.

Years ago, after the birth of my son, I was struggling in a new city, trying to figure out the balance between motherhood and climbing the professional ladder. Women who chose to focus solely on motherhood questioned why I would work. Women without children, able to focus solely on their careers, didn’t understand the balancing act that came with trying to do both. It was through no fault of anyone, it was simply each of their own experiences. Mine was that I wanted to be a mother and have a career, navigating my way through both. The constant juggling act left very little room for a social life. It was simply the season I was in at that stage in life, but it was a tough one. And I know a lot of people can relate, whether you work outside the home or not. The early days of motherhood can be lonely. Everything is new and like everyone else, you are simply doing the best you can on very little sleep.

I remember crying one night because I needed an outlet that allowed me to feel like me. And because I am wired to get back up when life delivers a hard kick, the next day, I marched into the office of one of my co-workers – someone I respected and adored – who was also navigating her way through both motherhood and her career. We sat there talking and cut through the facade. We put down our superhero capes and were honest about the struggles of trying to balance it all.

In that moment, a lifelong friendship was birthed. And not because either of us were trying to be something we weren’t but because we were real.

There was something in that conversation that reminded me of my best friend from college. The two of us could get to the heart of any issue within moments of talking with one another, never sugar-coating anything or worrying about choosing the right words. We were just honest, sometimes brutally.

The common thread between both friendships was understanding and acceptance, a realness that not everyone appreciates.

Acceptance is one of my non-negotiables. And not because I think we need to seek it out, but because the people who truly care about you will do just that without even trying. There is simply no space or time for judgment.

In my experience, when your life is weighted in acceptance, it allows you to no longer worry about what others think or to feel the need to live up to some unrealistic expectation of who others want you to be. You own every piece of who you are. You realize that your life and the mistakes you have made along the way were all part of your journey. You realize that being real is much more important than being perfect.

When things happen in life, particularly the end of a friendship or relationship, I am one of those people that tends to do a deep dive inward to identify not only my role in the situation, but to also find the bigger lesson that needs to be learned.

And while I am certainly no expert, experience has taught me that this awareness and acceptance allows you to live life from a place of freedom. Your life may not look the way you thought it would, but that doesn’t make it wrong. And if someone wants to judge you because of the choices you have made, let them. It says a lot more about them than it does you.

How you navigate through life, or any given situation, needs to be what is best for you. If your decisions are weighted in strength and self-awareness, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Own those choices and allow yourself to grow and evolve because of them. The people who are meant to walk through life with you will show up.

Recently, as life handed me some low points, I found myself turning to my friends and family. Some encouraged me, while others simply listened. And the common thread was that they all had my back. I can honestly say, it was one of the first times in my life I have willingly admitted that I couldn’t do this alone. I needed my friends and family to walk alongside me through a difficult time. And as you can imagine, admitting that wasn’t easy.

I still have good days and bad days. In fact, I think I ugly cried in my car between school drop off and starting work a few times last week. And even more important than not buying into the judgment of others, is not judging yourself in those moments.

You are human.

You are allowed to feel, to fall, to celebrate, to reflect, to change your mind.

I can say with 100% certainty that I would not be where I am today had it not been for the continued love, support, and encouragement of my friends and family through the years, and particularly in recent months.

Sometimes that love comes in the form of honesty and other times it comes in the form of simply being there to walk through the messy moments of life. And in a world often driven by surface-level ideals, it seems even more important to find the people who will love and support you, who challenge you to dig a little deeper and push you towards growth and who accept you, unconditionally.

Life is messy. Surround yourself with people who aren’t afraid to walk through the mess with you, without judgment.

Cheers to a new week and identifying the non-negotiables in your own life.

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