Today isn’t just a birthday; it’s a hello to a new decade and a goodbye to my twenties. I will say I never anticipated I’d be living through a global pandemic, particularly at my 30th birthday, but if I’ve learned anything over my 20s, it’s that you should prepare to be surprised by a lot of things.
Thinking back to when I turned 20, I was a sophomore in college who had short curly hair, was experiencing the first acne of my life, and was on Weight Watchers (and hiding it from all of my friends). I didn’t have a smart phone. I was so sure I’d become a lawyer or maybe a librarian, and that I’d definitely leave Michigan. I never thought I’d own a business — I never thought I’d be good at it. There’s no way I’d be a homeowner or married at 30. Maybe a dog, but definitely not pregnant for a fourth time with what I hope is the first baby I’ll be able to hold.
My 20s brought me (in this order): meeting many of my closest friends at college, a BA in literature, a career in marketing, my first big purchase (a new car that I still have), my first romantic relationship, becoming a homeowner, becoming a dog parent, moving in with a partner, getting engaged, starting a business, getting married, leaving my career, fertility struggles, living through a pandemic, and now, finally, a much-wanted baby who will join us in 11 weeks or less. I didn’t include all the traveling I did but I traveled A LOT, including an amazing four month road trip around the country.
When I list it out like that, it feels tiring. And it was tiring, especially the business part. I sacrificed a lot of normal 20-something things for my business back in 2017-18 and though I know I wouldn’t have my business without it, it feels like I went too hard and was too hard on myself at the time. My hope for this decade, and something I’ve learned from this pandemic we’re in, is to slow down. But you bet I want to travel as far away from my house as possible as soon as I’m able (which will probably be in five years since we’re having a baby, let’s be real).
Looking back and remembering the girl I was at 20 and thereafter, I realize how much this decade has shaped me in ways I never imagined. I remember going on internship and job interviews in my early 20s and being asked about a five year plan. After awhile, I started saying that I didn’t have one because I kept ending up in places I never planned for. I learned to say “yes” to opportunities that felt right and worked for me, and none of those opportunities really fit with a five year plan, especially when I decided to leave a really good full time job to pursue my business full time right before my 28th birthday.
Looking into my 30s, I surely don’t have a five year plan. Five years ago, I didn’t think I’d be a full time photographer. I had just started my business and was like well I guess this might work out. I’ve succeeded beyond my wildest dreams (thank you all for your support), but I honestly am trying to keep as open mind as possible as I start this decade with a life changing event – becoming a mother. Will I still be doing this in five years? Maybe. Will I want to do something else? Maybe. If I’ve proven anything to myself in my 20s, it’s that you can indeed forge your own path and change your mind; and that’s okay. Work isn’t everything and there’s more to me than just a career, even if I do find great fulfillment in this work.
In my early 20s, I can remember thinking and caring so much more about other people and what they were doing, specifically right out of college. A lot of my actions and self-worth was driven from what I thought I should be doing. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve stopped caring so much and just did what I wanted. Let me tell you how freeing that was/is. I really came to this realization more after I got married and entered my late 20s.
Something I’ve learned about adulthood is that no one really knows what they’re doing. We’re all just kind of making it up as we go along and learning from our mistakes. There’s not one way to do something or be something. Finding what works for you specifically is key. In my early 20s, I was so SURE of a lot of things but now I look back and know that I truly had no idea! For instance, I thought we could do a bathroom remodel in less than a month. Three months later, we had it mostly done.
At the end of my 20s, I learned a lot about myself and my marriage from my fertility struggles. One of the most difficult parts of my 20s was the last two years, where I spent my time worrying that all of the plans I had for our family might not become reality. The grief I experienced as a result of my three losses really changed me in a way I don’t think I’ve fully processed. It has completely changed this pregnancy experience for me and I’m sure it will continue to shape my experience of motherhood as well.
Sometimes I think back and wonder if I made a different choice — where would I be? If I had gone to grad school post undergrad, would I have met Josh and gotten married? What if I hadn’t accepted my first job and lived with my parents for a year? Would I live in Metro Detroit at all? What if I didn’t bother messaging this beer-loving guy on a dating app? Would I be with Josh? It’s strange to realize how so many decisions led me to the place I am now. I hope there are less choices to be made in my 30s but I know that the choices will just be different.
I know I’m on the edge of another season of life and it seems appropriate that it’s all coinciding with this new decade. I know that just when I feel comfortable and like I have life pretty down, a curveball will get thrown my way. That’s just how it works. My hope is to get better at fielding those curveballs, knowing that I’ve fielded a few now and I should be wise enough to know that I will be okay somehow in the end.
Today I celebrate three years of marriage to my husband, Joshua. Three years doesn’t feel like that long when you plot it out on paper, but these three years have taught me a lot about marriage, partnership, and Joshua. So what does three years of marriage look like? Foremost, it looks like learning things about Josh that I didn’t know. It looks like loving deeper than you thought you could. And most importantly, it looks like being thrown into storms you never thought you’d weather together.
Back in April 2017, I really had no idea what type of difficulties we’d face along our journey as a married couple. I was honestly just looking forward to making it all legal, saving money on taxes and insurance, and just continuing life. I knew I wanted to be married and that I wanted to marry Josh. When I woke up on April 23, 2017, life didn’t really feel any different except we finally got to wear wedding rings and we both got longer last names (haha). I was super prepared to be married, had asked all the right questions, had read all the right books, and just was my typical enneagram one self about the whole marriage thing. Basically your average Madalyn: coming at something full-force preparation.
And for the first two years, we experienced normal married couple challenges. Trying to work around one another’s schedules. Working a lot. Home renovations. Cleaning expectations. Money. The normal stuff that you hear about. That stuff can be hard, but overall, not a big deal.
But in the last year, we have weathered some storms that you don’t and can’t plan for. A long job search. Economic insecurity. Business growing pains. Bad insurance. Health issues. A global pandemic. You know, the things you don’t think about as newlyweds. The things that strengthen or break a partnership.
Three years of marriage looks like holding hands into the unknown. I’m not an expert on marriage, and I believe that everyone’s relationship is different but what I can tell you is that having a partner through all of the shitty parts of life has been the best decision I’ve ever made (besides quitting my job for this business).
Three years of marriage looks like being held while sobbing about things that out of your control but terribly disheartening anyways. Despite any fight we’ve ever had about any of the above problems, there has been more grace and love in our relationship than hostility. It’s good I choose a partner who is much more level-headed and positive than I am. Over the past year, I’ve been more thankful than ever for the balance we have in our personalities.
Three years of marriage looks like letting go of independence. If you know me, you know that I’m fiercely independent. I don’t like people to take care of me. We won’t unpack where this came from or why I am the way I am, I’m just that way. But if I’ve learned anything in the last year, it’s that it’s okay to let someone take care of you. It doesn’t make you less tough or less independent. It makes you a human.
When things got really hard in this last year (and it got really hard in the fall), it was Joshua who held my hand and rubbed my back and told me that it would all be okay. Even in the middle of constant fighting over renovation projects and job hunting, Josh was the one who never stopped being encouraging. He is the reason I still have a business, and the reason I still have hope for the future.
Three years of marriage looks like clinging to each other. Over the last year, we have spent more time together than ever. A trip around the country in our travel trailer, renovating our basement, remote jobs, the last year has been a complete 180 from earlier years of our marriage, where Josh was always working and traveling. We genuinely love spending time together and have similar homebody personalities, so this whole COVID lockdown situation doesn’t bother us either really. It’s the same old routine we’ve been living for a year now. In these rough times, we find ourselves clinging to one another, finding joy in the little things we can control (cooking, walks, re-runs of Parts Unknown and Antiques Roadshow).
Look, I really hit the lottery when I found a man who hates sports, loves to read, was willing to change his last name with me, and who has never once told me to quit reaching for my dreams. I don’t know what I did to deserve it, and when he’s not around, I am actually sad. I have no idea what the next year will bring, particularly with the evolving coronavirus situation. But whatever storm we face, at least we have each other.
Today I am 29 years old. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t even IMAGINE myself this old. Did you feel the same way? Like you couldn’t picture yourself after a certain age?
As a February baby, I always feel like my year truly starts after my birthday. It’s early enough in the year to “count” as the start, only about 40-ish days into the Georgian calendar year. Our year can really start whenever we say it does.
I suppose this is the only perk of having a winter birthday. When I was younger, I was jealous of my friends with spring or summer birthdays. They could have parties outdoors, while I almost always had mine at a bowling alley or roller rink — what else is there to do in the depth of Michigan winter?
Birthdays seem to come around faster as you get older. People always tell you that but I recently read it’s something to do with how long you’ve been living and how a year to a four year old is a quarter of their life so time really does seem longer when you’re younger. Now it all just feels so fleeting and I find myself wondering how it’s all gone so quickly.
In pure INFJ-fashion, here are some highlights from my 28th year and what I’m looking forward to for the end of my 20s, all mashed up into one.
I’m learning you don’t have time for everything and that’s okay.
There’s another thing they tell you before you become an adult: you don’t have time for everything and you’ll eventually have to pick and choose how to use your limited time. I have found that to be entirely true the older I get. I know I just don’t have the time (nor the energy!) to do or be everything anymore. I’m still making peace with the fact that I can’t be super-woman, but with each year, it gets easier to let certain things go or just let certain things be enough.
I had a successful first year as a full time photographer.
The last year was one of the first times in my life that I was able to dictate how I spent much of my time. It was the first year I spent as a full time business owner. Before that, I had spent nearly two years hustling on the side while getting married, renovating our house, etc. I NEVER stopped. I knew when I quit my job that being able to pour my attention and self into my business full time would only help it grow. And it did. I ended the year essentially replacing my full-time job’s income (but not the benefits. I really miss my health insurance at my last job).
Finances aside, flexibility is a major reason why many people gravitate towards the entrepreneur lifestyle and it takes a lot of adjustment to go from working ALL of the waking hours like I was in 2018 to creating work hours, and not working TOO much in 2019. I don’t know if I have hit a balance in the busy season yet, but I’m working towards that this year so that I can give my best self to my clients ALWAYS.
We took a 3+ month road trip around the US and it was the best thing we’ve done in our marriage.
My 28th year started on Padre Island on the Gulf of Mexico in Texas during our 3+ month road trip/sabbatical around the United States. Despite all of the heartache to come after our trip (basement re-finishing hick-ups, a longer then we thought job search for Josh, some major medical issues/bills for me), I would never take back those months of travel and wish we had taken a full year on the road.
I look at our r-pod in our backyard, just waiting for spring, and miss the simplicity of living in 100 square feet. It wasn’t without challenges, but it showed me how little you actually need to survive. I love our home (which is small and cozy too) but man what a gift that trip was to ourselves. I hope we get to do it again someday. Don’t worry, though, we have ZERO plans to sell our home and live on the road full time. Josh’s job is not flexible enough for that and I don’t want to be a destination photographer.
I discovered my enneagram (finally)!
I really like self-reflection and self-awareness. It’s part of what makes me an INFJ. But I know the enneagram is all the rage and I spent most of the year thinking I was a type 3. But then I finally read The Road Back to You and figured out that I was a type 1! This was so helpful in understanding myself, but I’m still working on being a healthy type 1.
Things I’m Looking Forward to: Finishing the Basement Project
After we came back from our trip last May, we started finishing our 900 square foot basement. We had decided to take on the project while Josh was looking for a job so he could devote some major time to it. We are in the very final stages of finishing right now (just some closet doors and finishing baseboard touches), so hopefully soon I will get my office and guest room back. We know it’ll all be worth it when we get to enjoy the space, which doubles our square footage!
Things I’m Looking Forward to: Picking up a New Hobby
One of the things that happens when your hobby becomes your job is that you no longer have a hobby. I think one of the problems millennials have is that we are taught to always be hustling and that everything we do has to be really good or possibly make us money. But hobbies are just supposed to be fun things that maybe we aren’t the best at but we enjoy.
This year I’d like to try some new things that aren’t photography. I already like to cook and do that a lot. So far I have been reading a lot which I think helps manage my anxiety and makes me think about storytelling differently. I’m planning on trying painting and maybe calligraphy as a hobby. I’m going to keep reading and try hard to make time for it even during my busy season because it’s good for me. If you know some good books, send your recommendations my way! I’m always taking them.
Things I’m Looking Forward to: Ending my 20s in a Place I Never Thought I’d Be
Okay, I might be slightly stretching the truth here because if you know me personally, you know that I don’t like getting older and that I have a hard time with birthdays. As I end my 20s this year (unbelievable really) and I look back on this decade, I really can’t believe that this is where I’m ending it: working for myself, doing something creative, something I never thought was even POSSIBLE for me.
If you’d have asked me at 22 when I was graduating college and having panic attacks about my future where I’d be at 29, I would have told you the following: (1) anywhere but Detroit; (2) not married; (3) not a homeowner; (4) probably climbing the corporate ladder somewhere; (4) possibly a graduate degree holder.
I am NONE of those things at 29. I’m the OPPOSITE of those things.
I think this just goes to show how different our lives can turn out even if we plan otherwise. When asked at job interviews about my “five year plan,” I always HATED that question because my “five year plan” never came to fruition. I always hit a fork in the road or swerve. Five years ago, I never planned to start a business. If I had stuck to my plan, you see where I’d be above: not with Josh, not in my home, not living here, and probably in mountains of student loan debt. And I probably wouldn’t have Nora as my dog, which is the saddest part of all.
I officially became a wedding photographer in the middle of planning my own wedding. This was not planned. In fact, I would NEVER EVER suggest it to anyone. Just like how I would NEVER EVER suggest DIY renovating a bathroom three short months into marriage and while building a NEW business. Nope, never.
I think many people get into the whole wedding planning thing and decide they could do it for cash. That wasn’t me and if my coworker/work bestie Sarah hadn’t been getting married and had had the cash to hire one of the amazing individuals I have followed for several years now on Instagram, then I probably wouldn’t be on this journey at all.
But that’s a story for another day. Because today we’re putting down all things wedding and talking about marriage preparation.
photo by najdukphoto.com
I really do love weddings. There’s something really beautiful about people in love and people surrounding themselves with people who love them (or not, that’s cool too). But I love marriage so much more because marriage lasts longer than just a very short, very expensive day.
Planning an event, no matter how large or small, is difficult, albeit one with many cultural and familial expectations attached to it. There are people who literally plan events for a living because they really often require a lot of attention to detail and experience to ensure that everything runs smoothly. And I think with weddings so many people get really hung up in that planning process. It’s overwhelming, there’s so many choices to make, and Pinterest has literally ruined everything for all of us (love the platform but MY GOODNESS EXPECTATIONS).
Marriage preparation is so important, y’all
Underneath all of that, there’s something bigger. There’s a marriage coming. And my goodness, y’all got to be ready for it.
This weekend, Josh and I are celebrating our first wedding anniversary. Yes, ONE YEAR! It seems like just yesterday we were dating, but also it feels like we’ve known each other forever. I share a lot about wedding preparation because I spend a lot of time helping couples prepare for weddings. But I wanted to celebrate our anniversary by sharing some thoughts on marriage preparation.
Marriage Preparation Tip 1: Communicate.
If it was up to me, couples would cover a whole lot more BEFORE the engagement than some do. Because before the engagement, there’s a lot more time to focus on the relationship at hand. Relationships always take work, no matter how long you’ve been together or how in love you are. But as referenced by lots of conversations I have with friends, people on the Internet, and some pre-marriage books I read, many couples just don’t talk about the tough stuff like finances, cleaning, deep dark secret insecurities, etc.
You’re in love, YASS. I love it. I truly enjoy working with in-love people. Being around them is a literal joy and treat. But friends, you got to communicate as much as possible. Do the counseling and take it seriously. Spend time together reading marriage books (highly recommend The 5 Love Languages…changed our whole relationship). Most importantly, spend time TALKING. A lot.
Things to talk about:
Share what you want life to look like in 5, 10, 15 years and compare notes.
Share the deepest fears and insecurities you have
How you will handle finances — who’s a spender, who’s a saver, etc.
Children. Seriously please cover this.
Cleaning and your ideas about cleaning roles. Maybe this is my own cleaning needs coming through but observe habits and discuss them.
Emotional labor. Ladies, you know what I’m saying. Start that discussion now.
photo by Jenelle Ranville
Marriage Preparation Tip 2: Practice Patience.
I did not jump head first into marriage. And what I mean by that is I felt like Joshua and I slowly fused our lives together over the course of a year, making the actual getting married part feel less substantial. We got a dog, he moved in with me, we opened a joint bank account, we fought about cleanliness expectations, we started sharing financial information, we completed many house projects, we got engaged, we met families, we fought about cleanliness expectations (again), we got married. It just seemed like less of a shock because I didn’t suddenly find myself with a new roommate, new last name, new societal identity, etc. etc. etc.
Not everyone will do what we did. That’s okay, you don’t have to. I’m an advocate for it, but your life is yours. But even though we did all that, I still needed to practice patience, which was a major goal for me during the first year. I think it’s an ongoing selfish human thing that you do get better at but you’ll never be fully perfect at (unless you are super gracious perfect).
After nearly two years of cohabitation, I still have to stop and take a breath when I discover a poorly cleaned pot (Josh is responsible for dishes in our household), or when Josh forgets to handle something (are we sensing a pattern that I may run my household like a company…entrepreneur at heart!). I’ve gotten better at just trying to show love instead of losing my shit when my expectations are shattered.
I think even if your new spouse is perfectly paired for you and you literally know everything about each other, you still need the patience. We promised to love these people and sometimes showing love means extending grace.
Marriage Preparation Tip 3: Shifting from me to us
I might take some flack for this one, mostly because there are many people out there who’ll say, hey we are two separate identities and two separate people who happen to be doing life together.
Yes, totally. Agreed. I am of that camp. Despite sharing MANY personality traits with my husband, we come from very different places and have different strengths. Great!
But I think humans have this big issue with selfishness. But marriage, in my eyes, is about the complete opposite of selfishness. It’s about being stronger together than you would be apart. I do not mean throw out what makes you awesome and just become a complete different person in marriage. You’ll change, sure. But I think the most important thing is to remember it’s not just about you anymore. It’s about both of you.
The decisions you make impact two people now. When your husband comes home with a speeding ticket, your bank account is impacted too (remember to show patience, guys. PATIENCE). When you get a new job across the country, your spouse has to move too. It’s a life of give and take because sometimes there really is no perfect way to please two people. So we give out of love to our spouses. And then they give back.
This is probably the biggest transition you’ll make in life (unless you have a dog which obviously you already know how to give, give, give) before you have kids. Shifting from “me” to “us” really changes your perspective and when you’re an incredibly independent person like me who has trouble accepting help and support from others, it will take some time to realize what this truly means for you as a couple.
Conclusion: the marriage is better than the wedding
I had a really great time at my wedding. It was a really great day. But that’s really all it was: one day. One day out of so many that I’m blessed to share with someone who is possibly the best person I know (not the best dishwasher by far). And one year in, I’m just really glad I picked him and he picked me. The marriage part is hard work but really, nothing worthwhile is easy. We all know that.
So in the midst of all the floral arrangement picking, guest list trimming, centerpiece dreaming, make sure you’re preparing for this big thing you’re about to do. I think it probably goes without saying, but too many marriages end poorly, and let’s be real, it’s a serious legal drama mamma if it doesn’t work out. Put in the work now, have a blissful first year and every year after that.
That’s my two cents. We’re going to read the notes for our first anniversary that people wrote us at our wedding on Sunday. I’ll let you know if there are any tidbits of advice in there.