Photo: Allef Vinicius/Unsplash
Now, this is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down, and I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, I’ll tell you all about how I became — Nah, just kidding. Sadly, I’m no Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But my life did get flipped-turned upside down.
My First Grey Stray
It happened one night as I was getting into the shower. I caught a glimpse of it in the bathroom mirror. An unequivocally, undeniably, piercingly white hair on my head.
In shock, I plucked it out from the root, and incredulously watched as it swirled down the sink.
That was it…my first grey hair…at 27.
Now, there’s no shame in grey hair. I applaud every person who chooses not to dye their hair and rock the silver fox look like a boss.
That said, I feel closer to being a child than I do to having one; I’ve spent the last few years since I graduated pivoting from one job to another, trying to launch my career, and I feel like a total infant a lot of the time.
Well, I guess, an infant I am no more. It’s official; I am a bad-ass woman capable of sprouting the shiniest of grey hairs on my head.
The initial state of shock was followed by bemusement. I wanted to understand — why? My parents PROMISED me they didn’t get any grey hairs until their 30s. Could it be that I couldn’t blame this on them? What a bummer…
Well, if this did have something to do with me, then, as the newly officiated adult woman that I am, I had to understand what could have welcomed that grey stray onto my otherwise perfectly Pantene head.
I Demand An Explanation
It turns out, lifestyle factors can affect the growth of grey hairs. I identified two of these as particularly probable causes in my instance:
(i) stress, and
It was early February 2020, and I had been working for a month as a Paralegal in a top international law firm in Geneva. I had spent the entire month of January working an average of 12-hour days, often staying in the office late into the night, and working on weekends.
I was sleeping around 4–5 hours a night, doing no exercise, and sustaining my body on a diet of hummus, bread, dark chocolate, and red wine. Yes, safe to say, I put on some kilitos.
I was running on overdrive — every cell in my body was under stress.
“Do I want this to be my lifestyle?” — I thought. How am I supposed to age gracefully if I’m setting myself up to look like Moana’s grandma by the time I’m 40?
I Deserve It!
Something had to change.
I had to assume responsibility. I had done this to myself; I couldn’t ignore that fact. I also couldn’t ignore that this wasn’t just about the grey hair. This shiny white strand was a warning sign; my body was sending me a white flag of surrender — it had had enough; it wanted peace.
I was exerting enough pressure on my body that it was starting to show visible signs of stress; imagine what my insides must look like…
Did I think I was being strong for withstanding the stress and putting work first? Partly, yes, definitely. And, I should clarify that, in hindsight, I do feel stronger after that experience. But, it’s not because I powered through; it’s because I powered through on my own terms.
I decided to adopt a new outlook on life…an “I deserve it” mentality. I don’t mean “I deserve” to stay in bed until noon every day, or “I deserve to eat chocolate and drink wine for dinner every evening” (see above for the consequences).
I mean “I’m going home at 6 pm, actually”, because “I deserve it”; I’m going to make time to exercise, because “I deserve it”; “I’m not going to reply to your email at 2 am, I’m going to sleep instead”, because “I deserve it”; “I’m going to subscribe to a bunch of things that interest me” and “go on a trip I’ve been dying to go on”…because “I bloody deserve it”.
It’s not about giving myself everything I want (remember: an infant I am no more). It’s about doing what’s best for me. It’s about not letting my circumstances and my environment dictate the effect they have on me. I decide. I’m taking responsibility for my actions and I’m going to own where my journey will go.
I want to be someone loving and loved, I want to be fun, I want to be fit and agile, I want to be healthy, successful, I want to bring joy to those around me and help others be successful, healthy, happy… But I need to invest in myself if I want to be helpful to others.
“I consider it a compliment that I am full of myself…I’m full, I’m overflowing. I have so much to offer, and so much to give.” — Oprah
Look Up Now
We often get so swept away in our day-to-day, doing the things that are expected from us, that we forget to pause and reflect on whether we’re living our present in such a way that we’re building the foundations to live the future we envisioned. It’s analogous to looking down at our phones whilst we’re walking, not even sure if we’re headed in the right direction.
Well, I hit my head on a lampost when I found my grey hair; it forced me to look up and re-route. So, thanks for the epiphany shiny grey stray. I hope you’ve found a loving home in the ocean. Or wherever it is that drain water goes.
I advise that you look up now before you hit your head. Are you going the right way?
Everyone has their own ways, preferences, and moments to self-reflect. But here are a few tips if you’re looking for guidance:
1. Practice Mindfulness DAILY— Yes, I know, everyone’s minds are full of mindfulness to the point where one more app might crash the ‘world wide web’. But if you’re going to force-feed yourself anything, let it be this. Carve time out every day (even if it's just 5 minutes) to truly be present. Feel where you are in that moment; listen to your body and your mind. I personally try to do this three times a day; once when I wake up, once for dessert after my lunch, and once when I lie in bed at night.
2. Make A VERY-Long Term Plan — Literally, grab a piece of paper and write down who you want to be in 10 years time, then in 20 years time, then in 30…The future is unpredictable, so I’m not talking about a step-by-step actionable plan; that could take a while, and lead to nothing but frustration and unwarranted disappointment. I mean simple things, even just words like I described above. Define your priorities and the values you want to uphold throughout your life. What do you want to stand for?
3. Adopt An ‘I Deserve It Mentality’ — This life is yours and yours alone to live. Don’t walk through life without looking up, only to realize you’ve gone too far down the wrong path and forgotten your priorities and your values. Put yourself first; you won’t regret a decision you made, knowing it was the right one for you at that time. Invest in yourself; you deserve it.