Next in a series about the changes people often face in their late twenties.
I met Jamia years ago when I interned at a major reproductive justice organization. We didn’t work together directly, but I remember getting the impression that everyone respected her work and thought she was a totally smart, vibrant, and cool colleague. Since then, we’ve connected a few times in person (thanks to the lovely Emily and some events around New York), and I always enjoy the resources and reflections she posts online. You can find her on Twitter or learn more at her website.
Julia: Does the term “Saturn returns” mean anything to you?
Jamia: Absolutely! I grew up in a household where astrology was embraced and celebrated. My father did my chart for me when I was born and it has been really fun and kind of eerie to see how accurate it turned out to be.
Learning about astrology as a kid didn’t prepare me for my Saturn Return. Even though I’d heard about it, I had no idea that it was really about a cosmic energetic shift that was going to rock me off my foundation to help me return to my truth. The last few years have included some of my highest highs and lowest lows – and most of my biggest lessons. I’m beyond excited that Saturn ends three years of visiting Libras a week before my birthday in October.
Once my friend Allison explained the concept of Saturn Return to me as the time when the universe sets things right by teaching you, forcing you, and guiding you towards being exactly who you are meant to be. I remember being about 27 years old and hearing her explain how during the time between her late twenties and early thirties her relationships and professional path turned upside down to make things come out right in the end.
When we spoke about this, I had no idea what was coming. A few months later, I began to feel some pretty seismic shifts happen in my life and I thought: Wow, this is the Saturn Return, it is here and I have to just ride this wave until it crashes.
JS: Where were you when you turned 28?
JW: When I was 28, I was working at New York University as an Assistant Director of a residence hall at NYU. I was finishing up my Master’s degree and living and working on campus while enjoying the sweet fruits of my job perks—the comfort and convenience of campus life, a “free” East Village apartment, a decent salary, health care and retirement benefits, and 10 free meals a week.
While I loved working with students and enjoyed serving and supporting the residents in my community, my inner activist and writer yearned to be released and unleashed. For quite some time before I took the leap into my feminist media activist work, I wanted to return to my passion for feminist organizing. I knew I had skills, values, and ideas that I needed to explore, embrace, and voice in a new space and it took a while for me to conjure up the courage to leave the safety and security of campus life to take on the uncertainty of a new adventure with less tangible security attached to it.
JS: What are some things you remember from the year or so surrounding that birthday?
JW: I remember feeling this sense of dread about being closer to being “thirty.” I felt like there was some sort of cultural narrative about expected achievements that one must cross off their list by 30 and I spent my 28th year whirling around with worry that my time was running out. I have since rejected the mindset that trapped me into having these damaging and unrealistic expectations for myself, but I remember being 28 and thinking, wow, I only have a few years to “figure everything out” or “get my #$$% together.” I now realize the absolute impossibility and ridiculousness of buying into that frame of thinking.
On my 29th birthday, my partner Travis threw a surprise party for me at Twenty Six Seats, a lovely French bistro where we had one of our first dates. I am the hardest person in the world to surprise because I’m always curious, and constantly connected to social media, my phone, and just asking questions in general.
On the night of my birthday, we walked to the restaurant after I almost sabotoged his surprise by strongly arguing that we should stay home and watch some Netflix because turning 29 made me feel “old.” After my boyfriend insisted that we go out to dinner to celebrate, we arrived at the restaurant where I found a table full of our friends and family greeting us with gifts and loving smiles.
I’ll never forget that moment because it was my first recognition that New York was officially my home even though I had been living in Manhattan for over two years. I realized that I’d made a real life here, built a strong sense of community, survived switching jobs twice, transcended two painful breakups, met my soul mate, and found a wonderful, quirky, smart, and hilarious tribe of friends in a city that had once seemed so frightening and lonely.
JS: What was happening in the world that year? Do you remember newsworthy events, books you read, movies or shows or art you experienced?
JW: When I was 28, Barack Obama ran for president and changed my vision and faith in what is possible for people of color and all Americans. As an African American who grew up as an expatriate in an Islamic country, I felt very drawn to Barack Obama’s global and multicultural story and his representation of an experience of being that I’ve known about and lived through, but rarely seen acknowledged or honored in the media and the public discourse.
I remember dancing in the street, hugging strangers in Union Square, and feeling a new sort of patriotic pride that had evaded me beforehand. For the first time, I felt that “the dream” could possibly include me.
JS: Do you feel close to those memories, or far from them?
JW: Even though I am almost 32 and feel like I’ve been through so much since my 28th birthday, I feel close to those memories as we get closer to Election Day. The last three years have been like A Tale of Two Cities for me – the best of times, and the worst of times. I’ve experienced some of my darkest experiences while also learning so much about my resilience, strength, and endurance of spirit. When I think of the election and all of the odds that President Obama faced in his lifetime and what his ascension to power represents, I recognize that the possibilities for my life are limitless.
JS: Do you have any advice for someone going through this (supposedly) astrologically tumultuous time?
JW: This will sound wacky, so brace yourself. My Saturn Return has taught me that while there are forces in the world we live in that attempt to block or discourage us from realizing our truest calling, our light, and our truth – there is nothing more damaging we can do to ourselves than stifling who we truly are.
I’ve learned that following Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler as my guide to Saturn Return survival has been key to riding this wave and coming out of the storm (semi)-intact:
Know when to hold em’
Know when to fold em’
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
Thank you so much, Jamia! May your birthday this year be just as sweet as your 29th.
Photo courtesy of Jamia Wilson.