Monday, July 28, 2014

7 Lessons I Wish I Had Learned Before My Twenties

I’m turning 24 in 65 days and a few odd hours.

I understand that this still means a great deal of my life is still ahead of me and that I am still a youth in many eyes. This being said, I find something slightly disheartening about the prospect of being in my mid-twenties.

When I was 16, I assumed that by my mid-twenties, I would be saving the world, likely doing the work of Princess Diana. I probably would have deactivated all of the land mines and also, in my free time, cured cancer. While doing so, I would have gotten married, but we wouldn’t have kids yet because solving the world hunger crisis is a full time job and I needed to focus on my career, hellur.

When I was 16, I was not the most realistic of human beings.

When I was 19, I was a bit more enlightened. I had been overseas and lived in South America for a minute and I had entered the world of college education. My mid-twenties were still in sight, but twenty was still a bad word as it symbolized a kind of maturity that I was not ready for. Looking back at 19, I did not have a driver’s license or a steady job, and had plenty of free time for studying Hermeneutics and Apologetics (these things weren’t so much voluntary as curriculum) and also napping. I was a freshman in college and I had dreams of joining the Peace Corps after I graduated and also, I had taken up Swahili, Vietnamese, and Klingon, so I was probably going to be hired by the United Nations right off the bat and they’d probably give me an awesome reference to join Star Fleet.

So maybe at 19, I still did not have the clearest or most realistic view of what it would mean to be a woman in my mid-twenties.
My 20th Birthday. Complete with Blackberry. 

I have about four years of experience in being a twenty-something year old girl, so I guess you could say I ‘m pretty much an expert in the subject. Stand back, Taylor Swift with your poetic (and unrealistic) musings about feeling 22! I am the real!

But in all reality, I have learned a lot in the past few years that I wished I had known before I entered my twenties, and thus, by the power vested in me as a big sister and auntie, I must impart wisdom, however shallow, deep, short, or lengthy, onto you:




1.) You will never, ever go wrong by being too nice to people.

Once upon a time when I was about 17, I went with my dad to New York City to tag along on a business trip. We were in Spanish Harlem in the Social Security office and there were an unnecessarily large population of rude people that were giving the lady working the office there a hard time. My dad, however, got up to the counter, called the lady ma'am, talked to her about her day, and made her smile for the first time that I saw since we had been there. It was at this point that my dad gave me what I now know as the best professional advice I've ever heard, which has honestly probably had the biggest impact on where I am at work today: "You will never, ever go wrong being too nice to people."

I was never really rude to people as a rule in general because I was also raised to have manners, however the gravity of this advice never really sunk in as much as it did when I got my first grown-up job in customer service. Working in a call center is one of the most eye-opening (and sometimes very, very discouraging) things that you can ever do if you want to get a glimpse of humanity. People under stress can be downright mean. Also , creative. I must say that I have never received more nicknames than I did when I worked in the escalations department at work. That being said, it had never really occurred to me that when you press 3 to talk to a human being, you are actually talking to a human being with bills and a life and a mortgage and who has probably been screamed at by 19 people just like you beforehand, simply for doing their job. A simple, genuine “Thank you.” or some understanding can go miles in a person’s day.

And, bonus, if you’re nice when you work in customer service, you’re far more likely to move up. There is absolutely no downside to kindness.

2.) People will hurt you badly. Choose to love them anyway.

As children and as teenagers and even now, in adulthood, there will be people that you look up to as heroes. You will place them on a pedestal and tell your friends that they hung the stars and also placed the pocket in pita. These people will be your friends and your mentors. They will be your family. They will be people in authority. They may be love interests.

They will be people.

People are funny things. The people we look up to remain, much like our aforementioned customer service people, as human as can be and humans have life experiences and baggage and tempers. They have flaws and cracks and they will sometimes hurt you. They will sometimes hurt you because they don’t understand your fragility or your feelings and they may fracture you out of ignorance. We are super breakable and there will never be a time in your life where you are immune to getting hurt.

Do not let the fear of being hurt make you calloused and hard. A soft heart is a rare commodity in the very dark and twisted world that we live in and you should value yours and cling to it with all of your might. Be a light of grace in this world that people desperately need. Never regret loving people. Never regret choosing love, ever. There are so many, many more and worse mistakes that you could make. Let love be one of them.

3. People will sometimes use your love as an excuse to continue hurting you. Cut them loose.

My mom once told me when I was younger that the friends that I had when I was a child would not typically be my, as I assumed, my best friends forever. This is something that I, age 11 and at what is scientifically known as the peak of my wisdom, just knew that she, like, totally didn’t know what she was, like, talking about.

I have mentioned before that I am a clingy person. A needy person. I am sentimental to a fault and while I tend to be closed off to most, once you are in my life, you are in forever until the roll is called up yonder.

This is not, as I mentioned in bullet point two, a bad thing. This the way that Jesus made me and considering that I hope to be a humanitarian and a missionary one day, a disposition of love and trust and the necessity of friendship and bonding is one that will (ideally) be super useful when that day comes.

Perhaps you too are this person. The person who bakes your friends cookies and edits (or writes) their papers for school. Maybe you are the person who seeks to serve. You are the soft hearted commodity that the world needs.

And as I have been you, I must implore you, open your heart, but guard it. Do not allow the users of the world to use you as a doormat. Do not put up with abusive or addictive personalities. Do not let the selfish take your joy from you. There are people in this world who also need people, but do not know how to appropriately give and take. Do not allow yourself to feel bad or guilty for freeing these people from your life. Be a little bit selfish, or they will destroy you. These people are not necessarily overtly bad, but they are no good for you. Have enough self respect and love for yourself to cut them loose.

4.) Good credit is priceless.

Things were getting deep there for a minute, so let’s talk about financial wisdom. [pause for laughter for those who know me and how I manage money]

I’m bad at money. I don’t like to save. I do save. But I loathe saving. What I like are vintage dresses at ModCloth. And new boots. And headbands. And things that make me smell good and fedoras and books and records.

I was fortunate to have a credit card safety net for a good part of my first couple of twenty-something years and his name was Dad. This is not a strategy I would recommend because it gets you into some super bad habits that you have to break cold turkey once you decide that you’re going debit card only (which, for the record, I do).

This was fortunate, because it allowed me to establish good enough credit to get a car loan, which I paid religiously every month and then paid off and while I may not have a Miss America personality, I have fantastic credit going for me that I established predominantly on my own.

And so I leave you with this. Good shoes are great, but good credit is priceless. Don’t spend more than you make. Have a credit card for emergencies, but hide it in a mountain and guard it with a friendly dragon named Smaug. And if you parents are awesome and decide to help you out, you will never be able to thank them enough, but go ahead and try.

5.) Loneliness does not = aloneness.

Boys have cooties and they are gross. And sometimes, despite their disgustingness, they are able to fool us girls with their eyes and their teeth and their accents. And sometimes, these boys will decide that they’re stupid and are not into you. This is one of the saddest feels to ever feel and if you’re currently feeling that feel, I would like to extend you the biggest of cyber hugs and also a bowl of oatmeal-chocolate-chip-walnut cookie dough, as well as your choice of chick flick because I UNDERSTAND SO MUCH.
Loneliness is the worst and it’s a battle that I still have to bear arms and smite with The Force on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. I am at the lovely age where some of my friends are starting to get married, others are starting to birth children, and the whole thing is just terrifying, but intriguing. I do not currently see myself arranging play dates, however, I feel some envy because those play dates depict a part of life that I have yet to experience.

But the lesson that I am beginning to learn is that loneliness does not mean aloneness. While I sometimes feel all by myself, I have the pleasure of having amazing friends in all kinds of cool places. My lack of attachments frees me to do whatever I want. I get to plan an upcoming move completely selfishly and with no regards to the needs of another person. I get to decide on a Tuesday that maybe I’ll road trip across the border, and then leave and do it that weekend. I just discovered a website that offers last minute international flights leaving that night for dirt cheap and my heart sang for the idea of what could be.

Someday, your loneliness will subside and you will have adventures with an aesthetically pleasing sidekick if you so choose and hopefully, he’ll want to do cool things with you like build Vietnamese orphanages and hike to Machu Picchu and order Dominos through an app with no social interaction before letting you choose what you’ll binge watch on Netflix that night. But you will do those things together and this will require discussion and compromise and maybe life will happen and you won’t get to do some of the things that you had planned. Therefore, you should savor your aloneness and be your own boss for a minute, because a day may come that you’ll never get to do that again.

6.) Your dreams, plans, and bucket list are probably going to change. And that’s totally okay.

This is the part where I own up to my special brand of neurotic. I’ve been having an existential crisis for a few weeks.

Because of moving or a large life change, you might ask? Have you changed spiritual ideology? Have you decided to denounce your vegetarian ways? These are all perfectly good reasons to have existential crises, you may reassure me. And I would never judge you.

Thank you, I’d reply. You’re totes sweet. But no. Unfortunately none of those are correct. It’s nothing nearly as life-altering as that. It’s just that I’ve decided that my favorite color may not be green after years and years and years and that it may actually be yellow. I don’t know how to handle this. I can’t deal. This is a big part of me, green is. How do I deal with that?

You too may have a change of mind or of heart. You may experience life changes out of trauma or simple changes of taste. Your belief systems may tweak slightly and your understanding of the world and of God and of humanity will widen and deepen and it will turn your whole world upside down and you will be super confused sometimes.

You may get scared because you’ve always wanted to be a doctor and you decide that you want to be a teacher or a firefighter or a plumber and God bless you for that. That is a terrifying realization, but it’s completely normal. There are so many people that wanted to be something else when they grew up and then there are people like me that don’t quite know what they want to be when they grow up. Once upon a time, I decided that because I was on the debate team in high school in the Student Congress event, that I should run for the House of Representatives someday. In my Comp I class, it’s on my bucket list that I made for an assignment. I also wanted five kids at one time. There were about five seconds where I was certain I wanted to live in San Francisco. I decided to be a YouTube sensation last year as a New Year’s Resolution (and never made a video). But then I discovered I lack the money to live in San Francisco and I hate politics and that health stuff will likely not allow me to have five kids and even if I did, I really don’t think I could stand to have five kids running around. These have all at one time been very real hopes and dreams and bucket list check marks that I absolutely needed to be happy and now they’re nothing more than reminiscent anecdotes on a page and I’m at peace with that.

If you change your mind, don’t panic. Change is natural. As you grow and develop and move on through life, you will undoubtedly change your mind on at least one thing. That’s just the way things are. Rocks don’t get swept through a river without changing shape and you, my dear, will not escape this life in the same condition as you entered, as you shouldn’t, for infant contribute very little to functional society except for being completely adorable.

7.) Don’t believe the myth of, “These are the best days of your life.”

I have been told this over and over again. I was told this in high school and remember being so terrified and unenthused because when I was in high school, I wore giant glasses with thick rims and layered sweater vests with horizontal pink stripes over baggy white shirts and thought that mid-calf was an excellent length for a jean skirt with my penny loafers. I was also bullied a lot in high school and suffered from horrible depression and when I graduated, I glared at the people singing about how we’d all be friends forever and resisted rolling my eyes because my parents were taking pictures. I was so excited to get out of there.

Then I went to college and my dad told me before he dropped me off that these were going to be the best days of my life. And college was fantastic and I made fantastic friends and ate microwave pizzas and may or may not have once watched Rocky Horror Picture Show under a jungle gym after curfew while tornado sirens went off. College was fantastic, but it was also filled with heartache and confusion and a lot of self discovery and when I left college too early because of finances, I felt cheated because those were supposed to be the best days of my life, and I was doomed to live the rest of my days in a rocker discussing the olden days and what used to be.

I’m now back at home and I live in my parents’ house and I’m looking excitedly at apartment furnishings as I prepare to move out again. I get to do fancy things like go to poetry readings and work Christmas parties and I get to be an aunt to three fantastic babies and while there is confusion and uncertainty, there are days where I feel so contented and happy that I think that these are the happiest days of my life.
But I know that in the future there will be adventures and humanitarian work and kids of my own and ministries and probably Comic-Con someday and whatever else God has planned for me on this crazy, psychotic roller coaster that we call life and that every once and a while, in the middle of all of my emotions, I’ll be sure that those are the happiest days of my life.

I’m not so sure anymore that there is just one period of time that’s your happiest and I feel like going into any chapter with such an expectation sets yourself up for more failure and sorrow than necessary. You can’t really determine what is best, after all, unless you have completed the race, which none of us have (no offense to my ghost homies). Maybe there isn’t one set period that is the “best time of your life” and maybe we should just sit back and enjoy the journey without the pressure of judging who or what has been or will come next.

What about you all? Is there anything you wish you had known before you reached a certain age or phase of life?
The Cake From My Actual 20th Birthday #TwoDecadesOfAwesome

2 comments:

bookmarkedpage said...

Agreed, ma'am.

Hannah said...

Happy Belated Birthday! I came here because I googled What the Muffin, which used to be a dolling community.

But anyway, I totally agree with all these points that you've made. I didn't learn many of them until about the age of 22, which was earlier this year.

But the last one especially! Everyone keeps telling me high school will be the best, college will be the best, the twenties will be the best! But I'm ready to be over these "best" times.