There is a particular sort of pause — a small, electric interval — that comes immediately before you make a choice. This strange split-second where you freeze, reflect, take stock, and move forward.
These instances are important: it's in these seconds that we exercise our greatest form of agency. We take responsibility for the shape of our own narratives. We remind ourselves of the massive scope of our power. Whether we’re embarking on our first solo trip or coming out to a loved one, these are the moments that often become turning points in our lives.
For that reason, we asked real people to reflect on the pivotal moments in their own lives — and how they found the fortitude to approach them. Here’s what they had to say.
“The first time I ever said ‘I love you’ was a huge moment for me. First of all, it was my first BIG relationship, so everything was new to me — everything was a first. But the reason it has always been so especially memorable is because I was the first person to say it.
“I grew up watching fairy tales and rom-coms that led me to believe I wasn't supposed to be the first to say it to a man — that saying it myself would be far less romantic. So when I finally did (and heard it back!), I felt this crazy sense of relief and empowerment all at the same time.” —Jen A.
“I got through my first year of college without telling anyone about my sexuality — and I planned on keeping quiet for the foreseeable future. While I was driving one night, I was listening to music, feeling all of the things. This one song came on, and in spite of the fact that I’d heard it more times than I could count, for some reason, this particular listen hit differently. I had to pull over for a good ‘closeted-life-is-hard’ bawl.
“I grabbed my phone and did one of those psychology exercises where you pretend to type a coming out message to a friend in order to get your feelings down into words. But then I got too eager and hit send before I could stop myself. My heart was racing. The text was so dramatic. I told her not to call me because I was too nervous to talk and instead spent the night unraveling my gayness to her via text. I wish I’d done it in person, but at the time it was as much courage as I could muster, so I’ll cut myself some slack.” —Kyler A.
“A few summers ago, I embarked on a two-month road trip. At the time, I had a boyfriend of two years and had stopped taking birth control (the pill) as I was planning on getting an IUD when I got home. Not only did I break up with said boyfriend while on this trip, but afterwards, I reconnected with an old friend en route — and we fell into a sort of whirlwind romance.
“We used condoms — but one did break. So it goes. Together, we went to the drugstore and purchased Plan B. It was a very casual experience — noon on a weekend — and his composure eased some of my stress. I remember sitting in the car, right after we left the pharmacy. I remember holding the bottle of water and feeling the pill slide down my throat. The part I remember most, though, was realizing, as I swallowed it, that I didn’t actually need this boy here at all. I would have been completely fine doing this on my own.
“I felt like I did a lot of growing up on that trip, and this moment was a big part of that. It was an adult hurdle that I had all the strength and courage to tackle, even for all the ways it intimidated me.” —Emily D.
“The summer after I graduated from college, a family friend asked me to apartment-sit at her place in Madrid for the month of July. I was thoroughly intimidated by the idea of traveling alone, but it was an offer too good to refuse.
“In spite of my best efforts to tackle the city on my own, my motivation to explore dried up quickly. I was on a budget of about 10 to 15 euros a day, so I would order sangria at local bars and sustain myself on the free tapas that came with it. Without company, I often found myself chatting with the bartenders in my broken Spanish while I ate. On one of these occasions, while eating from a plate of olives, the bartender and I began to talk about books. We spoke about writers we loved from both of our respective countries and how much we both loved writing and reading in Madrid’s open-air cafés.
“I felt my complete lack of confidence in my Spanish-speaking abilities melt away. I started to enjoy it, rather than let it intimidate me. I wrote down all of his recommendations for places to go and things to do. It was the first time I’d felt entirely grateful to be alone — like I was getting to experience a piece of Madrid that I never could have had access to if I’d had company.
“After that, the panic and loneliness started to wear off as a whole. I came to feel invigorated and capable. Now, I prefer to travel by myself.” —Sophie D.
“When I accepted my first job out of college, I tried to negotiate my salary a bit, but it was a pretty feeble attempt. Once a year had passed, however, I started to talk with my CEO about a raise. I wasn’t rejected, but I definitely wasn’t compensated either.
“Several frustrating months later, after receiving an offer from a different company, I mustered up all my courage and walked to my CEO's office, feeling a strange combination of energy and complete panic. I told him he was going to have to pay me better to keep me here. I’m pretty sure my voice was shaking while I spoke. For a split second, I wondered if I even deserved to be making demands like this in the first place. But as I continued, it became clear to me that I had earned this — that I’d worked incredibly hard for this. And I got a $15K raise to prove it.” —Tavo D.