Roxane Gay had us hooked with Bad Feminist, her must-read collection of essays in which she explores sexism, pop culture and everything inbetween with candor and humor. Here the professor turned author (and Twitter sensation) opens up about coming into her own. 

I could never have predicted: That my thirties and forties would be so professionally fulfilling. I have achieved more than I thought possible. I feel more competent, more confident and more comfortable with making mistakes. 

The hardest lesson I’ve learned: Part of growing up is realizing that sometimes I am the one who wronged someone else. I’ve had to find ways to recover responsibly from the mistakes I’ve made, to not be the one who plays the victim. 

The key to my happiness: Is being seen and accepted for exactly who I am, as I am. In my past romantic relationships, people have wanted to change me. Their love was conditional. 

You will never regret: Saying no when you really want to say no.
But you might wish you had: Done something that makes you uncomfortable. Some of the best things I’ve ever done are so far out of my controlled idea of what I think I want. 

Never be impressed by: People who are all talk and no action. I find that those are the people who demand the most and produce the least. Look at what they have actually done instead of what they claimed they could do. 

My greatest joy in life right now: Is feeling the depths of friendship and seeing that there is no bottom. It’s exhilarating. 

A mantra I live by: Be relentless. Be excellent. And own your ambition. 

This feature was originally published in the March 2015 issue of ESSENCE Magazine.