Saturday, 28 May 2016

Advice to my 20-something Self

So often you hear things like, “If I only knew then, what I know now...” Well, I know I would have made some different choices in my 20's if I'd been privy to some of the tidbits of wisdom I've gained over the last 15 years or so, and, as I watch a generation of family entering that phase in their life, I can't help but reflect on what I would tell myself when I was 'in their shoes' so-to-speak. Well, a few things come to mind.

You can do anything! But not everything. That first part they will tell you in high school motivational talks or career education or whatever it is called these days, but that second part I had to learn for myself. You know, being 20 is pretty great. You are grown-up enough to make your own decisions, but, as a generalization, you are not yet responsible for anyone else. Those two things set the stage for the very unique time in life where you can dabble in lots of hobbies, be (personally and professionally) whatever you would like to be, form relationships with all kinds of people, and just generally spend time growing yourself outside of your childhood parameters. From what I remember, that stuff is all pretty damn cool (is that a word anymore?). I just wish I had enjoyed it more and known how quickly it would all pass. I have no idea where I got the notion that I had 'all the time in world' to dabble in all the unique opportunities of 20-somethings whilst simultaneously getting my shit together, that I would eventually get to all those things on my “bucket-list.” But, that is simply not the case. Priorities, responsibility, age, dependents, and love will creep up on you one by one until one day you realize, 'Hey, I don't think I will be backpacking through Europe anytime soon.' or 'I'm not sure what happened to that grand idea of getting my degree in social work. I just don't know how I'll ever find time now that I'm a business-owner.' Having said that...

Invest in what you are doing, and forget about what you're not. I spent a lot of my 20's with the following dialogue running through my head...I need to get a better part-time job. I really want to learn to kayak, but I can't find the time. So-and-so is already making good money at X...I need to get my shit together like her. People say you have to travel, but I can never seem to afford it. Will I ever find the right guy for me? I've always wanted to do a road trip across country, but I really need to save money... And so on. Of course, this dialogue is completely understandable with the world of choices at your fingertips, but, as I've said, you can't do everything so don't beat yourself up for it.  My advice is to put your blinders on as to what everyone else is doing, make good choices for yourself, and enjoy.

Break-ups are the worst. No, seriously, the worst. Just as I've always thought it strange that our society expects life to go on as normal in the first three grueling months of pregnancy so I also feel the same sentiment applies to 20 somethings after a serious break-up. I’m not talking about someone you met at the bar last week, and you will know the feeling if you've been through it—the absolute burning devastation and loss that accompanies the realization that ending your intimate relationship is the best way forward, a way forward that is uncertain and SO difficult to see through the blinding pain of break-up. Truly, there is nothing in this world quite like choosing to end love or having that chosen for you. I don't have much in the way of comforting words, just the hindsight to tell you that it gets better and that I’ve never met a break-up that wasn’t for the best.

Transitions are hard, but worth it. Moving, new schools, new jobs, losing friendships, forging new ones, changing relationships, navigating your changing self through a changing world...All of those things are difficult, and there is some element of loss every time you close a chapter in your life, no doubt. For me, the most bittersweet pill I have had to swallow as a thirty something is this—truly, in life you can never go back, and, what’s more, the reason for that is you. Sure you can go and visit places, you can hold loved ones dears, you can cling to ideals and dreams, but you will never be the same. Luckily, I have found (and hope you will too) that to be a good thing. A good look at who I am now, the places I've been along the way, and the amazing people I have collected over the years are all the proof I need to know that I wouldn't even go back if you let me. So while there is an element of loss in leaving things behind, there is ALWAYS something necessary and wonderful gained moving forward.

There are no happy endings, not because there is no happy, but because there is no ending. There is plenty of 'happy', say, when you meet the love of your life or get the keys for your first new house, or maybe when find yourself in the job of your dreams or summit Everest if that's your cup of tea. There was definitely 'happy' for me when I held a baby in my arms for the first time, but, to date, none of those things have proven to be any kind of 'ending.' I am still growing as a person, I know shockingly little about how to raise little people, I've changed houses a few times and might do again sometime, I'm still searching for that dream career, I have the man of dreams but it is a relationship that requires work every single day. Don't fool yourself into thinking any one relationship or goal or achievement will somehow complete you or 'be your happy ending.' There is no ending, just a journey on which I wish you plenty of 'happy'.

But especially...Don't take advice from 30-somethings. Well, don't NOT take advice, but understand that you are not me. Also, you are not and never will be your mother or your father or your brother or anyone else that you loathe or look up to. Truly, you are own unique person living in your own unique time. And though I have bothered to go on and create this exhaustive list, I am under no delusions that the whole point isn't for you to go figure this stuff all out on your own…As for the whole, 'if I'd only known then what I know now' idea, well, I'm glad I didn't know because I wouldn't change this journey for the world.

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