Remember when you were a kid and you thought 20 was so grown up? And then in your 20s you were certain that you’d have to have your shit together by the time you reached 30? Maybe you saw friends and family members excel in certain areas while you plodded along at your own pace, or perhaps you went full force in a particular direction only to discover you didn’t really care so much for that career. When you’re younger it’s ok to not have everything together – you’re still figuring it all out, you’ll settle into your skin soon, but the older you get the more pressure you feel to “be” something… or at least, that’s how I’ve felt.
The thing is, I’m coming to appreciate the fact that honestly no one has everything together. Some people are really great at keeping their shortcomings hidden, perhaps they were lucky enough to be directed towards a career and so they’ve kept that up as their identity for ages or they’ve just avoided social media and high school reunions like the plague. There’s those who fell in love young and managed to make it work, but there’s also the failed relationships too. There’s plenty of failed careers, stalled attempts at study, and trying to work out personal values. There’s children, there’s pets, there’s houses, and there’s mortgages. There are plenty of overseas holidays, overseas relocations, and people who moved in to a house just down the road from where they grew up. There’s friendships that have lasted through the decades (because we’re now old enough to tell time in decades) and there’s also new and exciting friendships through genuine connection, not by default because you were in the same classes at school or were the leftovers when everyone else found their friends (helloooo girls, that’s us…and I wouldn’t change it for the world).
It’s been a few months since my birthday, so why am I reflecting on this now? Well, today I caught myself doing something so silly, so simple, and SO IMPORTANT, that I started to reflect on the things we learn as we grow older. The things that people didn’t necessarily teach us, but we had to learn somehow. Lord, sometimes I can’t even work out how I learned these things, they just appeared in my repertoire and now here I am standing in the bathroom at work checking that my dress is not tucked into my stockings (it was) and walking back to my desk, dignity in tact (post dress extraction).
Let’s be honest now, our early 20s are somewhat of a dignity-free zone. Some of us take it further than others, but I’m sure it’s safe to say that there are plenty of moments back there where you’re going to shudder or cringe if you look too hard. Whether it was what we wore, who we were in love with, who we thought we were, what we did, or what we said, there were plenty of lessons learned along the way through the loss of dignity.
So, without further ado, here is a collection of things that I have learned over the decades.
ALWAYS check yourself in the mirror after visiting the bathroom. That breeze means your skirt is tucked into something that it shouldn’t be, or you’ve forgotten to zip your fly. I have no idea when I started doing this out of routine, but I can assure you it has never lead me astray.
Take the time to work out what constitutes as self care for you. There are going to be times in your life when all you can do is get by doing the bare minimum to survive. If you have a tool belt of fail safe people/places/activities/things that will always get you by it’s going to be so much easier. If going for a bushwalk is your thing, go buy yourself the best pair of hiking boots and keep them close by. If all you want is to just. be. alone. for. a. blasted. minute, then stand firm and assert this to the people in your life. What restores you is not going to restore someone else, and importantly if your partner is completely opposite to you make sure they know your solitude is not to isolate them. Encourage others in their pursuits and enjoy your own.
Learn to be ok when you’re alone, even if you’re an extrovert. This one is easy for me being an introvert, but I can also see the value in this for my chatty companions. I’ve seen too many people jump into friendships, relationships, careers, etc that weren’t right for them simply because they were not comfortable being still, and being alone.
Learn to meditate and practice gratitude. This kind of goes with the last one, but honestly meditation is a wonderful thing when you’re just trying to cope with the pressures of life, or seeking to appreciate the glory of your day. It’s ok to have a hunger and desire to be bigger, better, stronger, but it’s also wonderful to be ok with who you are and what you have. I’m learning that you can both be driven and delighted with what you have. I think it allows you to manage your expectations a little better and cope with disappointment in a much more gentle manner. You don’t have to get the Om symbol tattooed on your third eye, but three deep breaths in a stressful moment is seriously going to save you flipping your lid unnecessarily…and people may also learn to fear your calmness. It’s a win win!
GET OFF THE COUCH AND MOVE YOUR BODY! But don’t join the gym if that isn’t your thing. Take the time to try everything that could possibly count as a workout and run with whatever feels good. For me, I’ve learned to love the gym, but I assure you that it has taken DECADES to be that way inclined, and to learn what kind of workout…uh…works out? Cardio can just quietly kiss my ass, but I love to feel strong so anything with a weights component gets my vote. Having said that, I do love to swim… but I haven’t quite worked out how to fit that into my life as it is right now. If you love people then go join a team sport. Take up martial arts. Go rock climbing, ride a bike, run (you crazy human), or take up yoga. Whatever you enjoy, do it. Not only do you get the benefit of your body being stronger and therefore healthier, you’ll also enjoy the satisfaction of a good routine that you can follow even when everything else around you is falling apart.
Find a handful of the easiest healthy recipes in the world that you can cook even when you’d rather do your best impression of a corpse. There are going to be those nights where you just can’t, but if you can at least manage to pull something relatively healthy together without much effort you’re going to feel better physically and financially. Often you’ll find the recipes change depending on the season, so make sure you’ve got a few favourites up your sleeve.
Learn to meal prep. Sure, it might take a bit of PREParation and time on the weekend but it is going to keep you in good habits for the week. Again, it’s going to keep you financially and physically fit. You’re also going to learn to not be so DAMN picky with food. It is fuel, and it’s going to get you through your afternoon at work.
Try every way of eating under the sun until you find what suits you and your body. Want to try vegetarian? Go for it! Do your research and do it properly. Give it a month and see how you feel. Didn’t work? Ok, move on. Paleo? Sure, why not! Keto? You bet! Only you know your body the way you do. Sure, we have dietary guidelines that are given to us by the government… but let’s just take a moment to think about how we’re all so different and yet are instructed to follow one set of rules for eating… Life is not a one size fits all situation. I studied nutrition, and what I learned is that it takes a hell of a lot of trial and error. Be brave and give it a go.
Love your body in all its dysfunctional glory. Some of us managed to turn into supermodels, but most of us didn’t. We’ve all got bits we struggle to reconcile but at some point we have to understand that our worth is not the size of our body, and anyone who believes that is not worth having in our lives. If you want to change how you look, then put in the effort, but do it for the right reasons. If you want to do it to punish yourself please STOP and reevaluate. You deserve to eat delicious food no matter what you look like. You deserve to wear the clothes that make you feel good. You were not born to fit in.
Let’s take a moment to talk about your mental health. By now you’ve had your fair share of failed relationships, disastrous friendships, and family baggage. Perhaps you’ve been blessed by the trauma fairy too, or your brain just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. Serotonin isn’t working in your favour and you’re considering a frontal lobotomy. If your baggage is big, find a psychologist. Find a good one who isn’t going to make your life worse (been there, done that). Find one who shows you what it’s like to live. I did that, and I am a new woman because of it. If you’ve just got carry on sized luggage, at least take stock of the relationships you have and form a pact with your closest friends to check in with each other and just listen. DO NOT LET ANYONE TRY AND “FIX” YOU! You are not broken. You’ve just got a few cracks. Look up the Japanese art of Kintsugi. This is you. Don’t settle for people who make the cracks, but find the ones who help you as you repair yourself.
Managed to collect a chronic illness along the way? That’s ok. You’re not alone. You’ve got a choice to let it become you, or let it be a part of your story. It will take you time to reach that point, and that’s ok. The first few years of seeking and receiving diagnosis are the hardest. You will deal with sadness, anger, and frustration. You’ll fear for the future, and then suddenly you’ll look back and realise how strong you are. Do your research, find your own answers, and give anything a shot. Find a doctor who doesn’t just shrug their shoulders at you and follows your crazy ideas. Sometimes traditional medicine just isn’t the answer.
If you’ve found your significant other my biggest gold nugget here is that the only people who have a right to say how your relationship should run is the two of you. Throw out the old businessman and housewife rule book if it doesn’t suit you. Take inventory of your skills together and use it to your advantage as the most wonderful power couple that you are destined to be. Also get rid of the “who wears the pants” concept. Just throw out the pants. It’s more comfortable that way. Repeat after me, “I can, therefore I do”. In my marriage I cook, he cleans. I manage the finer details, and he’s my hulk smash heavy lifter. I’ll build the furniture, and he’ll follow my instructions when I need his strength. He plays the video games, and I point out where all the hidden treasures are. And one day, when we have a little one, he’ll take the morning shift and I’ll take the night because that’s already how we sleep. It’s a waste of energy following rules that don’t apply to your individual strengths. Just be ok with getting married when it’s right for you, having babies if and when it’s right for you, and filling your home with pets instead if that’s what works for you.
Friendships. These are your glue. Hold on to the good ones, and let go of the bad ones. Reconnect when you’re in a better place, but don’t settle with being a doormat. It’s ok to move on from people who don’t see this as a two-way street kind of thing. It’s also totally ok to not talk to someone for months, or even years. The important thing is how it feels when you do talk again. Are you heard? Are you laughing, crying, snorting, and wishing you had more time all at once? Are you quietly sending quick messages of acknowledgement, in your own secret code? That’s what you want to hold on to. If you’re constantly worrying about upsetting them, getting in their way, and just generally feeling small you need to let that ship sail.
Learn to forgive yourself for the ridiculousness that was you during those years of learning. Thanks to Facebook we now get to look back on how awful we were back then, and I have to say I am quite happy with who I have become. I will reserve my right to cringe at those old messages and statuses where I was certain I had it all figured out, however I will also forgive myself. I was young and I have learned better. In ten years I’ll probably be cringing at this post too! Actually, just learn to forgive yourself in general. You’re only human, and we’re not very good at this life thing but we do our best.
Open your mind and heart to prayer. My faith has been one of the most important things that has got me through a hell of a lot of baggage. I am a Christian and I am not ashamed of that. Be strong in your convictions, and lean into them. Learn to have your own beliefs and your own relationships with your spirituality. Don’t turn away because you’ve grown up to think it is stupid. Make your own decisions on the matter, and open your mind to the possibilities.
Other people’s problems are not your burden to carry. By all means support others through their hard stuff, but learn to acknowledge that your inability to make it all go away is not a character flaw. Take responsibility for your stuff, and check in with your friends and family when they’re going through their stuff. And when you’re going through stuff at the same time and you can’t be as amazing as you’d like to be, book in time to just be together in your disheveled state. Sometimes the most healing thing can be to just sit with someone in silence and let them exist. You don’t need to be their psychologist. You don’t have the training. Even when you do, you don’t, you know what I mean?
Learn to keep in your own lane and stop being so freaking judgemental. Someone doesn’t want to drink? Cool, they’ve made a grown up decision on their own and their reasons are none of your business. Their decision is also not a judgement on you. They don’t want to get married? Don’t undermine them by saying they just haven’t met that special someone yet. Met the perfect couple who don’t want to have kids? That’s fine, we’re overpopulated anyway. Take some time to think about why other people’s decisions on their own lives cause such strong emotions in yourself, and then move on. Repeat after me, “not my circus, not my monkeys”.
Love your family, for better or worse. This doesn’t mean letting the bad people control you. Just find a way to give yourself peace through the difficulty of family, and pray that you’ll be blessed with friends you love so much they become family. Try and leave the past behind you wherever possible, even if it means leaving people in the past too. Forgiveness and gratitude doesn’t mean you allow someone to use and abuse you again, it just frees your heart up to receive goodness.
Apologise when you know you’ve done wrong. Don’t act shamefully, but earnestly apologise and seek resolution. Sometimes the resolution is that you move on because the damage is irreparable, but at least you have provided closure to the situation. Sometimes you’re really going to hurt people even if you don’t mean to. Be noble and acknowledge your part to play in other people’s hurt, but also know that you are not responsible for how they react. They are coming into the situation with all of their history, which is often vastly different to yours. You won’t see the same side of the elephant (trunk, or tail), but it’s still the same animal.
Learn the 5 languages of love. Learn what your primary languages are, and those of the people most important to you. It will help you understand why one person spoils the crap out of you while the other helps you clean up after everyone has gone home from the party. They both love you dearly, but show you in different ways. There is no right or wrong in this scenario. Accept love joyfully and reciprocate in the way that comes naturally to you.
Feel your feelings. This is a hard one. We’re often led to believe that we should keep the negative feelings to ourselves and only share the positive, but boy are we so lonely these days. Its ok to be sad, disappointed, angry, let down, frustrated, apathetic, etc. Grief is part of the process of life. I shut my feelings down for a long time. So much so that I couldn’t speak to anyone about anything even slightly meaningful because I just sobbed. It all came out in the end anyway, so why not get it over and done with when it’s happening? Let me validate you right now, wherever you are in life; what you feel right now is exactly right. Only you know the depth of why you are feeling that way, and why you may be a snotty laughing sobbing mess, while another person stares off in shock.
Allow yourself to love, and to receive love. No matter what you have done, what you have been through, or what your challenge is right now, you deserve to be loved. Don’t just tell your significant other you love them; tell your friends and your family too. You never know when they might be feeling so worthless and unlovable that those three words “I love you” could save their life.
These are the main things I’ve learned over the last decade or so. I’ve definitely become a lot more balanced and kind, a better friend, and a stronger and more convicted woman. Here’s to the next decade and the lessons it has in store!