Year 26 began in a crowded hostel in Niamey, Niger. There were some resemblances of a birthday – a pineapple cake, chocolate bar presents and chalk board with my name and a cheery greeting etched in various colors – but my life anniversary was a small piece of day marked by grief. A life cut short too early was more important than the extension of my own.

Three hundred sixty four days later and the year ended sitting in a frumpy chair and watching “Friends” reruns with those that I give the title. Earlier, we had dinner with my family, one person larger after a wedding weekend. We pretended to watch football and shared innocent laughter.

Age 26 was a big year for me. So many unexpected tribulations bringing out a whole set of emotions I didn’t know I had. I cried a lot. I laughed a lot. I lost myself and then rediscovered me. It wasn’t always a delight, but 26 may be my most exciting year to date.

Today, I am 27. It was a quiet birthday, but a wonderful one. I spent the day with those that are dear to me and felt incredibly loved with each “Happy Birthday.” I packed a bit and, of course, ate all that I wanted to.

I am fully aware that I am now in my late 20s and that when I step into the conference room of the historic Holiday Inn in Philadelphia on Wednesday and greet the people I will spend the next two years with I will be one of the oldest in the group. I joke with a friend that now I am 27 my ambitions and dreams will surely die.

Realistically, though, I’ve given my self a pretty amazing birthday gift. How many people in this world stand at the beginning of a new year of life and say they are exactly where they want to be? That they are following their dreams and giving this world everything they got? Yes, there are so many things that I want to do and part of me does feel behind, but I am chasing those aspirations down by following this one goal.

I am 27 and about to embark on a new adventure. This year, no. 27, feels like a clean slate, an opportunity to be the person I know that I can. It feels right.

I am not expecting this year to be easy and I will have testing moments, but, if 26 taught me anything it’s that life is beautiful because it is hard. And, thanks to 26, I am ready for wherever 27 brings me.

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