I didn’t care excessively, but it was a thing we did — we got our nails done before a big…well, anything.

During undergrad, we’d hop over to Magic Nails on 20th Street, get our toes buffed, dead skin peeled, nails cut, cuticles clipped and a nice coat of polish to finish it off. If you were feeling fancy, you’d go to the spot with the hot stones or hand massages.

It didn’t matter if it was my last $43.50 until payday.

Granted, this wasn’t the mentality my entire college career. Freshman year, I was getting used to having disposable income so I didn’t spend anything. And sophomore year I was “finding myself.” Junior year was when things went awry.

After I graduated from college, I mindlessly continued the tradition. Every two weeks I’d head to Fancy Nail and I’d get the magic treatment: Buff. Peel. Cut. Clip. Polish.

My tagline after every visit was “…because I deserve it.” After about a month I came to my senses and thought, “What the hell am I doing?”

Getting my nails done twice a month never made it to my life goals, list of priorities or even near any of my 15 vision boards. I wanted to see the world, but each month I LITERALLY chipped half a plane ticket off my nails.

First-gen college student, one of six children to two Haitian immigrants, and I’d seen more opportunity pass me by than my mother’s entire side of the family. I’d worked 35+ hours a week while in school full time or interned full time but had little-to-no passport stamps to show for it.

I got in my car, went to Sally’s Beauty Supply and bought an at-home pedicure kit for ~$14.

That Thanksgiving, I kind of missed the hot stones, but they didn’t compare to the breathtaking view atop Monserrate in Bogotá, Colombia overlooking the entire city or exploring Catedral de Sal, a cathedral built within a salt mine 220 yards below ground.

Around Christmas, I was lowkey ticked that I couldn’t get my nails shaped like my dude at Magic Nails used to do them —square but round, you know what I mean — but that frustration was irrelevant because Panamanians can prep seafood like no other! And my gawd, the limonada was good to the last drop EVERYWHERE.

My unpolished hands were the least of my worries as my sisters and I walked through 500-year-old ruins in Old Panama or watched the locks of the Panama Canal do their thing.

Now about a year later, I’ve seen my first snowfall, Broadway musical, MLB Game, experienced U.S. cities like New York, Pittsburgh, Key West and even though I’m a local, it’s almost like I’ve experienced South Florida for the first time.

In two months, a couple of girlfriends and I are hopping across the Atlantic for my first trip to Europe (Barcelona, Paris and London.)

Now, I obviously can’t credit this all to just giving up pedicures.

The realization I made outside of Fancy Nail drastically changed my outlook on the next year of my life: Even though I’d boasted all throughout undergrad that exploration was my passion, my habits proved otherwise.

Your thing might not be pedicures and your goal might not be travel. The same idea holds true:

It’s okay to have crusty feet if they tell your story.

travel the world
Me and my best friends/travel buds in Panama City, Bogotá and a couple of other cities. Photo: Michelle Albert

Want more personal essays like this? Sign up for our daily newsletter!