How to Figure Out What You Want to Do with Your Life

Like many other twenty-somethings (and arguably folks of any age), I am on a journey trying to figure out what in the hell I want to do with my life.

It is a universal struggle — I know you have been there (and if not — that’s really great and I’m beyond envious). And in some cases, the struggle may be unending (*dread*) or put more positively, ever-changing.

We can also move in and out of this struggle over time — at one point in our lives we feel we have shit figured out and then at a later moment we are back to square one, wondering how in the hell we got back there. Shit happens. Challenges and change are inevitable, but how we choose to approach them is when the fun really begins.

And so what to do with this dilemma — this “figuring out what to do with your life” thing? Plenty of resources exist that you can consult — books, articles, webinars, courses, entire websites…all good stuff, all helpful in various ways.

But since we live in a world (‘Merica!) where we are always trying to one-up the next person and improve ourselves ad nauseum, I would like to take my place in this world and one-up all of these resources with my own helpful guide to show you how fun this dilemma can be.

And so I give you: “How to Figure Out What You Want to Do with Your Life.”

(Note: Please read on expecting humor and silliness and some nuggets of wisdom — enjoy and cheers!)

Ya ready? 

Let’s go:

  1. Make ten million and one lists of all the things you want to accomplish in your life and then lose them throughout the course of your lifetime to the pages of unfinished books, half-written journals and piles of old mail.
  2. Attempt to find that one list you wrote once upon a time ago that you stuffed into a National Geographic magazine from 2001 because you are sure now that it is the secret to your future all these years and experiences later.
  3. When finding said NatGeo magazine, you gasp in horror! Alas, the list is merely a shopping list from that one time you attempted to make homemade crème brûlée, which, like your life right now, also turned out to be a horrible mess.
  4. Cry.
  5. Cry some more.
  6. And pout and scream and pound your hands against your steering wheel because you are not only frustrated that your life continues to be in shambles because you cannot figure out what to do with said life but also because today’s morning commute is the biggest killer, with a complete stop traffic jam five miles long. The pain, the horror!
  7. Cry even more because all is terrible in the world and life is unfair.  
  8. Read an article about what genocide is going on in the world right now and realize that your life is not terrible nor unfair, sobering yourself up to the reality that surrounds you everyday — that there is more pain in the world than you can comprehend.
  9. Feel bad for thinking your struggles were anything more than trivial.
  10. Continue on with your day, which turns out less desirably than planned — your friend cancelled a long-standing coffee date after work, you catch an error you made on a major project and are repeatedly kicking yourself for it, your mother is nagging you, your father is nagging you, your boss is nagging you, your friends are nagging you. EVERYONE IS ON YOUR CASE AND YOU DON’T KNOW WHY.
  11. Break down. Your head explodes. Not literally, but you feel like it has. You want to cry again, curl up into a fetal position right on your office’s dirty reddish gray yet strangely muti-colored floor caked with months and months of dust you know is there and eye the ever-accumulating dust clusters under your colleague’s desk, collecting in her desktop’s fan, on her lower shelf drawers, on her forgotten pen.
  12. Keep it together because you’re at work and still have some thousand things to get done and your colleagues are counting on you.
  13. Collapse onto your couch at home, face first, like a tipped log, letting out a muffled welp as soon as you get back from work — which is not the work you would describe as your ideal “what I want to do with my life” since you must make this apparent to yourself every chance you get to remind yourself there is some higher goal you are grabbing at which is still unclear to you but you know it’s there.
  14. Know that it is not the worst day in the world. And it is not the worst struggle in the world. But it sure feels like shit nonetheless, all this aimlessness.
  15. Go back to list-making because this restores some sense of control in your life, which you haven’t yet gotten today.
  16. List, list, list, list and realize how brilliant you are or self-critique yourself ad nauseum because you are a self-proclaimed perfectionist and can’t let shit, or yourself, off the hook.
  17. Fall back on the couch, exhausted.
  18. Take a deep breath. And then take another ‘cause you really f’ing need it.
  19. Decide: enough is enough! And that you are enough (cue new age positivity philosophy doves).
  20. Start putting the pieces together to create a more workable vision of your future and realize that your future will not look like your parents’ necessarily or like the person’s next to you or even like your best friend’s.
  21. Ask yourself: What do I like doing? What do I dislike doing? When have I felt most alive, most excited? When I have felt dread? When have I felt most accomplished? Least accomplished? Does money really mean the world to me? What would I do if I lived with less, with more, and what kind of difference does it make in the end? What do I care most about, least? What do I remember doing growing up but have long since put on a dusty shelf thinking it was a silly endeavor but know that my lonely, creative heart hearkens for it day in and day out to take it up once again? And what would you want people to read about you in your obituary — will it be the fame you achieved, the children you helped grow, the world you helped save? What would YOU want someone to write about you after you’re gone?
  22. Answer these and other questions you pose to yourself and analyze the shit outta them. And then over-analyze because you can’t help yourself.
  23. Ground yourself, steady now, and realize that few really have this shit worked out. Realize that you are a part of a community of people trying to figure this all out — you are not alone.
  24. Realize you can find your relatively balanced place in this world once you become at peace with certain aspects of yourself and decide to work toward changing and challenging other aspects.
  25. Realize that you have it in you to take yourself to whatever next level you want to take yourself — whether that is stretching outside your comfort zone or seeing that you have really been happy all along with exactly where you are and with what you’re doing. You are the maker, creator, destroyer of whatever it is you want to make, create or destroy. It sure ain’t easy, but you got this. Because you’re a rock star.

See yourself in this list? Good — know that you are not alone. You’ll figure something out with whatever you’re struggling with in the “what to do with my life” battle.

And if no one else believes in you then I do even if I’ve never met you or know you that well (or if I know you super well then you know I got your back).

I gotta feeling that everything’s gonna be alright.

(Yes, Black Eyed Peas AND Bob Marley medley in that last line. What?! Mind explosion.)

Thanks for reading. Much appreciated, as always. ❤

Until next time!

Ciao ciao brown cow,

KP

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Feature photo credit: Work Pose / KP

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Remembering Cruelty and Choosing Compassion

“I expect to pass through this world but once; any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” -Stephen Grellet

I remember when I first witnessed cruelty.

Sure, over the course of my young life I had seen various new stories about this person shooting that person or the 48 Hours Mystery episodes that always freaked my younger self and my mother out, making us extra cautious about going to sleep that same night, checking and rechecking the locks on our doors.

But this cruelty I witnessed was different because it happened right before my young eyes rather than passively through a TV screen.

A Memory I Cannot Forget

I was maybe 7 or 8, or perhaps 9. It is hard to remember now. But I was in Croatia, the country of my heritage where I spent most of my childhood summers with my grandparents at our family’s village home in the region of Zagorje.

I was walk-skipping around our small, new rectangular fish pond — a place my grandfather, a recreational fisherman, had always dreamed of having since he was a young boy. The fish — catfish and trout — were still new residents to the pond so the water was murky-clear, unlike how it is today — mudded from age (but still teeming with life).

Zagorje countryside
Zagorje Countryside / KP

The sun was setting against Zagorje’s rolling green hills, the sky turning a hazy mixture of orange, pink and blackish gray. And I was here at the fish pond with my grandfather. We had just finished throwing dried yellow corn and pieces of stale bread to the fish.

This was a favorite part of my days at our family home — watching the fish come to the surface to gobble up the goodies we gave them, their shiny fins and bodies slapping the water’s surface, creating small ripples.

As I walked along, I moved carefully, quietly, almost on my tip toes, not wanting to scare the frogs. But they were easily scared — jumping into the water from a crevice in the stone walkway as soon as they felt a vibration or heard the drop of my foot as it hit the cement.

I watched with awe as these scenes of life unfolded before me — a life I was only observing from the small spot I occupied in their universe.

As my grandfather worked and I walked, we were greeted by a furry black dog visitor who ran through our open fence doorway and up to us with such boundless joy and energy you couldn’t help but smile and feel instantly at peace. He was happy to see us — and I was happy to see him, as if we were old friends reuniting at last.

This dog — who knew nothing of me or my grandfather — showed us such kindness and gentleness that I will never forget him.

I begged my grandfather, “Can we keep him? Can we keep him?”

My grandfather, a man of few words, replied with a jolly smile and a hearty chuckle, nodding his head.

“Can we keep him?” I asked again.

“Yes, if no one comes for him,” my grandfather said.

I jumped up and down, ecstatic — I had never had a dog before, but I was no stranger to having animal companions. Nearly every summer I spent in Croatia, I had the honor of being surrounded by barn cats and sweet hens and protective roosters from our relatives’ farm next door.

Abi Playing
Abi Playing / KP

Over the years, I also had the pleasure of caring for (with my grandmother’s ample help) many non-human members to our village family — a pair of ducks named Peep Peep and Splash, a rabbit named Curiosity and her many babies ranging in name from Brownie to Bunnicula, a pair of chickens named Blizzard and Blondie, and an amazingly fearless cat named Junior.

To have a dog was the icing on the cake! But alas, his owner, our neighbor, came back for him.

The man stood there speaking with my grandfather, the dog hanging out nearby. I was walking toward them, leaving the fish pond behind, when the man called his dog. He trotted over, tail wagging.

Then the man kicked him, kicked him hard in the ribs. And he kicked him again, harder still.

The dog whimpered and immediately collapsed into himself, skidding away from his owner’s foot. He was no longer the happy-go-lucky dog that greeted us just 15 minutes ago — he became an abuse victim right before our eyes.

It terrified me, having never witnessed something like this before. I froze.

A few moments later I slowly inched closer, but still wanted to keep my distance from this man. I wanted so badly to punch him in the face — I day-dreamed about it right then, hitting him square in the jaw, watching him recoil in pain and surprise.

But of course I didn’t — I was too small and too afraid. I said nothing. And my grandfather said nothing. I don’t blame him for his silence because you didn’t tell people what they do with their business. And perhaps my grandfather was in shock too, and also a little afraid — I will never know (RIP Deda <3).

The scene replayed in my head as I stood there silent: the man kicking his dog, once, twice, and the dog recoiling from his touch with his tail between his legs, his body hunched.

I can’t help but forget this, this moment of cruelty, because it was so senseless and unnecessary. I didn’t know this man very well. All I knew was that he was our neighbor, although I had heard rumblings that perhaps he wasn’t the greatest human being in the world.

But that shouldn’t have mattered.

It shouldn’t matter if you’re a good person or if you’re a little morally off. It shouldn’t matter because we should treat others with respect and compassion.

But we don’t.

Duck walk
Duck Walk / KP

We know all too well the lack of compassion that permeates through our society and the ways in which we treat each other as well as the ways in which we treat our fellow beings on this Earth.

However, this moment painted a very clear picture for me of how random and sudden cruelty can be. This man just reacted and likely didn’t think, “Oh yes, the dog ran away from our house and to our neighbor’s; I am going to kick him.”

Or perhaps he did because he was angry.

But he didn’t seem very angry while talking with my grandfather. He kicked the dog anyway despite his calm demeanor. It was like he wanted to make a spectacle of it, to show us that he could rule, that this was his property, this dog — this kind, loving dog.

Choosing Compassion Over Cruelty

I thought about this memory today as I read an article exposing common cruelties on a mink fur farm in Russia.

I won’t go into any gory details (you can find those through Google) but these are some of many cruelties that people inflict on other beings of this Earth simply because they feel superior to them and because they want what they want and they don’t give a damn what is done to get it.

But this is wrong — is it not?

Buzet
Waiting Dog / KP

I understand that we all come from different backgrounds and upbringings and that we all don’t live in the same mode of thinking that I live in. I am aware of this and I can appreciate our differences. But it is difficult for me to grasp why we choose cruelty and why we choose to support cruelty though our buying choices when we can make a difference. We can make a change.

We do not have to choose cruelty, we can choose respect and compassion.

I try to have compassion for all living beings. You will never hear me say “I hate that ugly snake,” “I hate that disgusting spider,” or “I hate that pesky groundhog.”

You will not hear me say these things, not because I feel morally superior to my peers, but because I truly believe that hatred and fear can breed untold cruelties in us and acceptance of cruelty if push comes to shove.

Cricket
Friendly Cricket Neighbor / KP

And so I am always careful because I believe in making the world better. And one way to do that is to show compassion for all — all our fellow humans and all our fellow animals.

I look forward to a day, if it ever does come, when kindness and compassion outweigh the cruelty. I look forward to continuing to fight for these better days, this better model. We can do better, and I expect us to do better.

On Writing This Post

When I was thinking about this post, I didn’t want to hit the wrong notes. I didn’t want to it to sound like a diatribe from the animal protection movement, although I am a part of this movement as well as other social movements.

I wanted the post to be relatable to readers so that you would be open to what I’m saying and not shut me off because you aren’t in the same mental space as I am — which is totally fine.

But I knew I needed to write this and I know I will continue to write about this topic and related issues throughout the course of my life.

While we live sometimes in a cruel world and live surrounded by some people who choose to commit cruel acts, we also live in a world where people are fighters, where people get up in the morning with a fervor in their blood and choose to do the right thing — they choose to be kind and they choose to be compassionate and they choose to think before they act and not react.

Sleepy kitties
Sleepy Neighborhood Cats / KP

They choose love, not hate. They choose to be open rather than afraid. And this is the type of world I hope we are moving closer to.

So much has changed over the past two decades — I am so incredibly impressed — but I also tremble with some fear. There are people trying to push us forward and people trying to push us backward — but that is always the fight, isn’t it?

We must climb a huge hill or a mountain the size of Mount Kilimanjaro to get to the other side. And we may then still need to swim across a dangerous lake the size of Lake Victoria and as choppy and unpredictable as Lake Superior. But we can persevere in the face of these obstacles, especially if we are willing to put our pettiness and egos aside and band together.

And so this is why I wrote this post — it needed to be written because we need to do more and we need to do better.

I sincerely feel in my bones that we all have the capacity for compassion — no matter how much cruelty or unkindness one may inflict on another human or non-human — I know there is more to you than that.

We can all be more and we already are more — if we make the choice to wake up with compassion in our hearts.

With love,

KP

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“I raise up my voice–not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard.” -Malala Yousafzai

“I know you can’t live on hope alone; but without hope, life is not worth living. So you, and you and you: you got to give them hope; you got to give them hope.” -Harvey Milk

Feature photo credit: Brijuni National Park Donkey / KP

Reinventing My Story of Grief

Dear Readers: Please welcome guest writer, Alexis Croswell (AC) to Inspiration for Good today! AC is a dear friend of mine and a fantastic writer — I hope you will enjoy and be inspired by her personal story as much as I am! xoxo -KP


Today marks the eleventh year since my mom passed away.

When I think about this fact, these are my thoughts:

  • FUCK. This still really sucks. I miss her
  • I wonder if I’d be the same person today if she were still alive  
  • The smell of lavender is her scent
  • Whimsical art reminds me of her (especially if there is purple)
  • Mothers who love their children remind me of her
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Photo credit: Mark Croswell

This last bullet point struck me recently. Living in a big city I don’t see a lot of mothers and children in my day-to-day life. However, a few weeks ago while riding the bus I sat across from a mother and her daughter. The daughter was about 13, the age I was when my mom died.

They were having a discussion about texting in class, and the mom said with authority, “If everyone was doing something really stupid, everyone was doing it, and you knew it was wrong, you shouldn’t do it.” The girl persisted saying it wasn’t a big deal, then ignored her mom for a few minutes in the “MOM! I-am-not-having-this-right-now” kind of way. After a period of self-reflective silence they resumed idle conversation.

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Photo credit: Mark Croswell

I had forgotten what those moments between a mother and daughter can feel like. It was benign and it was beautiful.

When I was younger, everyone in my community knew about my mom’s death. We had all grown up together and many people knew her personally. After I left my hometown, I was a blank slate to new people. Once we passed the point of casual acquaintance I had to shape the story of who I was. My grief became part of this story.

In the minds of people who had never met her, my mom was only the memory of a woman with cancer who died too young. People would associate her with sadness, my sadness. I was too close to the tragedy to speak much more of her than what had most recently happened. I had blocked out so much of my life because it was too painful to recall.

Now, when I talk about my mom, I want to feel and acknowledge the grief, but then allow those memories of joy, happiness, and love to help shape my story.  

Her soul lives on today in me and my sister, and everyone who was witness to her kindness. She is a beautiful woman.

She gave the best hugs. You know the kind – mom hugs – where you fit just right and you know that everything will be okay, someday. Her laughter was beautiful–it added positive energy to the world.

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Photo credit: Mark Croswell

Growing up in our house there was magic, and I could let my creativity run wild (as long as I dusted on Sundays).

She tolerated the summer month I kept pet worms in my bedroom. She laughed in a knowing way when I showed off my hairless legs the first time I shaved. She gave me an appreciation for the act of making art. She painted and created because it made her soul come alive. She taught me how to cook, and how to organize and let go of what I no longer needed. We made the best Christmas cookies.

She was kind and she loved.

I wish I had more solid memories of her during these happier times. What I remember most was the year I watched her die.

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Photo credit: Mark Croswell

It was a slow progression: losing her hair, losing her breast, losing her grip on the physical world. I remember the day she told me she could sense that the end was near. When she said this, she didn’t cry; I didn’t either. I climbed onto her hospice bed and laid with her, our bodies and souls doing the work that our words could not.

I miss her fiercely and love her dearly. It’s never easy to write about her (I had a break for crying around paragraph three) but it is important to me. Grief is a weighty and complex emotion, so when I can break it into pieces and turn those into words on a page that I can confront it gives me clarity.

There will always be grief. Some days I will let it envelop me. Other days I can acknowledge it and let it pass by me so I can find the joyful, happy, and loving memories of my mom. I hope that you can find acceptance and love for your story, whatever it may be.

In the words of my mom, and one of her greatest pieces of advice, I hope that you too can “enjoy life.”

-AC

Lexi head shot

About the Author: Alexis Croswell has a passion for story telling and an innate desire to learn. She enjoys deep thoughts and emotionally stimulating conversation. She will also be the first to laugh at herself and doesn’t take life too seriously. In her day job she works in content marketing at a people analytics company.

Discover more about Alexis here.

P.S. Sign up for Weekly InspirationInspiration for Good’s newsletter! Find guest posts like AC’s and more from KP in your inbox every week!

Feature photo credit: Mark Croswell

How I Found Compassion for Myself

Compassion. Merriam-Webster defines compassion as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”

I want to talk about compassion today and compassion toward ourselves.

I can (and likely will) talk at some other point about compassion toward other animals too. This is another facet of compassion I enjoy discussing at length and hope to do so with you, dear reader, in another post.

But for today, I am inspired to talk about compassion toward ourselves. And I want to talk about it from a painful place, a vulnerable place.

I’ll tell you a story…

A Story for You

Once upon a time ago (have you noticed that this is a favorite phrase of mine?), I had very little compassion for myself, and did not receive much from anyone else (likely because I am a private person who chooses not to reveal too much to most people — not my style; don’t take it personally).

I call this “once upon a time ago” my “dark ages” because it was a long stretch of my younger life that I struggled through, never really knowing how to navigate, always stumbling along, failing frequently.

I was sad and unable to cope. Lonely. Exhausted. Anxious. Stressed. Depressed.

That’s a whole lotta bad vibes for a young person (and really, any person) to feel.

As you can see….I’m still not telling you the whole story. I don’t plan on divulging the intimate details of my life…as I’ve said: that’s not my style (and please know that I did not go through some highly traumatic event but I did, like so many of us, go through some damn shit).

Maybe I will express the parts I am leaving out here some other day, some other place, but not now.

And so, please bear with me.

Even just writing about these “dark ages” in this generic, overview fashion is difficult for me — because I know exactly what remembering them brings up emotionally, even if I am not taking you through my life story as the files pop out and into my mind’s projector, the slides replaying over and over again.

Writing even so vaguely about it all brings up times of sadness, and I am getting teary-eyed. I am not afraid to say that — that I may cry, that I am starting to cry. I am not embarrassed to be emotional, nor am I some sappy heart (although sometimes I am — aren’t we all?).

And so I had these “dark ages” in my life — times when I had such great difficulty giving myself the benefit of the doubt, giving myself love and compassion.

I did not love myself. I disliked myself, sometimes hated myself.

This is a horrible place to be — and I do not wish this type of struggle on anyone.

I know many reading this have been in such a place at some point in their lives. It is a very unhappy, difficult place, and I am sorry if you have had to go through it, and if you had to go through it alone. I would hug you now if I could.

Changing Tides

What I now realize is that during these times, since I couldn’t give myself the love I needed, that no one else could give it to me either. Sure, those around me could have helped me (some tried, some stuck around, others looked on, not wanting to dirty their hands — I get it).

I wanted compassion from others, naturally, but I know now that I couldn’t really expect this from people if (1) I didn’t tell them what was going on and (2) I couldn’t find a way to show even an ounce of compassion to my own self.

But I persevered (I am a killer whale, after all) because I knew — I knew, I knew, I knew — that these “dark ages” were not me — they would not define me forever, and they really weren’t the representation of who I truly, deeply was.

Even through these darkest of times, I felt the constant pull of my real self. I always knew who I was in many ways (and less so in other ways), and I always knew who I wanted to be — not some role model or idol — but my real, true self — because that’s the best it’s gonna get.

Eat, Pray, Love Moment

Reading Eat, Pray, Love finally (I’m a little slow getting to the game sometimes…), Elizabeth Gilbert expresses this pull of self in a way that made me say out loud in my head and heart, “Girl, you get me! THIS is it right here! THANK YOUUUUU.”

And so, please welcome Ms. Elizabeth Gilbert once again (and not the last time, folks):

“I was not rescued by a prince; I was the administrator of my own rescue . . . I read once, something the Zen Buddhists believe. They say that an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. Obviously, there is the acorn from which it all begins, the seed which holds all the promise and potential, which grows into the tree. Everybody can see that. But only a few can recognize that there is another force operating here as well–the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity. In this respect, say the Zens, it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which it was born.

I think about the woman I have become lately, about the life I am now living, and about how much I always wanted to be this person and live this life, liberated from the farce of pretending to be anyone other than myself. I think of everything I endured before getting here and wonder if it was me–I mean, this happy and balanced me . . . who pulled the other, younger, more confused and more struggling me forward during all those hard years.”

This is so beautiful to me — this pull of self. I like to think about it also as compassion toward oneself. Without having the ability to show yourself compassion, you cannot answer this call, this pull to be who you have been all along, or who you will become.

Becoming Whole Again

It took me seemingly endless trial and error (and I’m still learning, never stop!) until I was finally able to show myself the compassion I deserved all along.

I have worked tirelessly (read: worked — this is an effort one must exert over and over again until the pieces of the puzzle start snapping together — and it ain’t f’ing easy, no cutting corners) in my mind and in my heart to say f off to the negative self-talk, to the damaging societal influences that ceaselessly linger in this day and age, to the constant comparisons to others, and to the general lack of respect and admiration I refused (for whatever reasons, for all the reasons…) to give myself.

I have battled and I have won (and you can, too!).

I am now at a point in my life where my good days far outnumber my bad days.

Although of course, since I am only human, I still have days or weeks where things just feel like shit and I need to take a little break (and that’s fine — it’s okay to break, America — calm the f up and sit the f down, RELAXXXXX).

I am at a point in my life where I feel my most alive and most like myself than I have ever felt before. And this to me is beautiful. It is beauty manifesting itself in my being.

(Thanks, universe! And thanks me! And special thanks to those around me who have helped me along the way! Big hug and kiss!)

This brings to mind the famous, cryptic lines from “Ode to a Grecian Urn” by John Keats: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

These lines resonate with me differently now, and perhaps incorrectly by a literary standpoint (but I don’t really care — literary argument be damned).

What these stunning lines of Keats’ reveal to me is this: that what I have found is both truth and beauty and that they are indeed one of the same because I have found my own truth and my own beauty — I have found myself fully.

And this, to me, is the ultimate compassion.

XO,

KP

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Feature photo credit: KP and Fuzz / KP