The temperature is still warm (or finally warm if you live in the Northwest) but the sun is setting earlier every day and you can feel it: summer is ending. It hit me as I was driving back from my outrageously fun Labor Day weekend camping trip that the last summer of my twenties is now over. Something else occurred to me that’s been sneaking up on me for a while, it was one of the best summers of my life. There’s really only one other summer that was anywhere near as good, the very first summer of my twenties that I spent in the Canadian resort town of Whistler. I worked as a hostess in a French restaurant and went out almost every night with the myriad other crazy twenty-somethings who were passing through for an adventure (and the thirty and forty-something’s who’d gotten stuck there). My job was a bit of a joke and I was far away from the pressures of school and tennis team; fun wasn’t the main objective, it was the sole objective. And for once, I didn’t take it for granted.

Just like that nearly decade old summer, this one followed a truly horrible spring. This past spring I lost a former boss who was a friend and mentor to cancer and had a major falling out with a close family member that left us as yet still not on speaking terms. It was one of those times in life when you feel like you can’t even remember what it feels like to be happy, to be anything but sad and angry and hopeless. And then somehow, things begin to turn around.

It’s easy to see having fun as a frivolous pursuit, secondary to whatever litany of accomplishments we put in front of it. But finding something that lifts you out of a crushing sadness is no small thing. For me, it was dancing. Right at my worst point last spring, it seemed to be the only thing that could alleviate my troubles, so I ran with it. I danced more days than I didn’t this summer and made some fabulous new friends within the community who are now some of my closest in Seattle.

It’s true that I didn’t accomplish everything that I wanted to this summer, I didn’t get as much writing done as I’d hoped and I didn’t check as many list items off as I planned to. But the list is already working its magic. Challenging myself to do things that scare me (see here) has made me less afraid; and even when I felt like crawling in a hole a few months ago, it pushed me forward. And after spending a healing summer laughing and dancing and staying out all night every night, I feel ready to get back in the game this fall and move ahead with my major goals.

Back in when I saw a tarot card reader last June, she told me that if I didn’t stop carrying the weight of the world and focus on taking care of my own life for a while, I was going to crash and be no use to anyone. She assured me the people I loved were going to be fine, but I might not be if I didn’t change my ways. Whatever you think of astrology, this turned out to be excellent advice.

Now that Labor Day is past me and fall is approaching, I feel better than I have in a long time. It’s not that all my problems have evaporated, far from it. But I’ve been reminded that it’s on me to have a happy life, to find what brings me joy and keep it close so that when life fells me with tragedy, as it surely will, I can pull myself out of it and carry on. Out of sheer necessity, I relearned something this summer that my twenty-year-old self seemed to know intuitively: when the chips are down and you can’t do a thing to fix it, go have some fun.