Three Things I Would Tell My 20 Year Old Self
By Andrena Sawyer
I turned 30 two months ago, and if I’m really honest, it’s all been very anticlimactic. I don’t actually feel different, but there is a constant awareness that I am older and I should feel different. A big part of this is because I spent my 29th birthday having a pity party in anticipation of turning 30 this year. Silly, I know, especially considering the fact that tomorrow is not guaranteed, much less another year. My closest friends couldn’t understand why I was having a premature break-down, but 29 reminded me of all the things I promised my younger self that I would do by the old age of 30. In my mind, I had one year to get married, buy a house with a white picket fence, start a business, have 2.5 children, and get a doctoral degree. I’m all for miracles, but the realization that I was still so far from some of these things left me immobilized and in bed for most of my 29th birthday. In the months and days leading up to my 30th birthday this year, I expected much of the same. Thankfully, no matter how much I willed myself into a funk, my heart and mind just would not let me get there. Somewhere in the days between my 29th and 30th birthday, I’d finally accepted the following truths about life.
Ditch the Plan No one’s life ever goes as they planned. That truth alone should bring a sense of relief to everyone, especially if you’re a planner like me. Since my teenage years, I’ve had a 5-year, 10-year, and 20-year plan. Each plan has been met with opposition. Some plans, like my goal of becoming a world-known civil rights attorney, I’ve had to forego completely.
One of the most difficult lessons life has taught me is that if, despite my best efforts, something is not working out, it may be time to step back and assess what other opportunities are coming my way. I’m not talking about quitting, but rather using wisdom. I spent three years in my mid-twenties in a place I was miserable in, because I wanted one career path to work out so desperately. When I finally let that plan go, and opened my eyes and heart to new possibilities, I discovered hidden talents and a career that I thought I could only dream of. When I ditched the plan, I became more free to try new things, meet new people, and I gained the boldness to grow beyond my expectations.
You are Getting Older. Embrace It. If no one else will admit it, I will. One of the reasons that 30 is scary, especially for some women, is because it seems…old. Culture has done a great job of getting us to believe that lie. As you approach 30, the time seems to go by much faster, and you become keenly aware that you cannot get away with the antics you used to get away with. Society now holds you responsible, and so does your body and your bills. Overall, you’re expected to have a level of stability that’s unprecedented in your life. I dreaded it. I didn’t so much mind looking older (some people still think I’m 23), but I dreaded having to relinquish my youthful fervor for the doom and gloom that I thought was coming my way. There’s good news, then bad news, then good news again.
The good news is that I was wrong about the doom and gloom part. If you’re like I was, and you’re dreading what 30 represents, then you can breathe a sigh of relief. 30 is not old. In fact, I feel more calm and confident than I’ve ever felt before. A defeated attitude is your choice. However, it’s not a choice based on reality, and as with anything, your attitude will determine your actions.
The bad news is that you are getting older. For those of us who take the lyrics to “Forever Young” literally, it’s an inescapable reality. We have to get over it, and continue to live in the moment…each moment. The only way that aging can become a bad thing is if you are not fully living in the moment now. I look back at my 20s, and I had a blast—I formed relationships with people that are now more like family than friends, I started a business, I visited new places, and even wrote a couple of books. However, amidst the great things were some tough lessons, which brings me to the other good news.
There’s Freedom in Responsibility. There’s an old saying that when you know better, you do better. The tough lessons in my 20s allowed me to know better, which will hopefully allow me to do better. There are certain situations that, if we adjust our perspective, can become our practice field for a game-time opportunity. I was reckless with my finances in my twenties. I ate poorly. I devalued relationships that should have had more value, and gave way too much attention to people and things that should not have had my time. That realization comes with heartache. However, with heartache comes an opportunity to respond and adjust. While the recklessness and forever young attitude was great, there’s no greater peace and freedom than knowing that healthier decisions now mean less stress and more security.
The Roaring 20s is more than just a term to describe a decade in history. For many of us, it’s a decade in our individual lives that defines, more so than any other decade, the course of the rest of our lives. Use it wisely. Reject comparison, because circumstances are fleeting. Focus on your own journey, and you’ll amaze yourself with how much you accomplish. Lastly, choose to live in the moment. You will never get another time in history that is just like the moment you are living in now. Collective moments make for great experiences, so live each one loudly and boldly.
Andrena Sawyer is the President of P.E.R.K. Consulting, and the Founder of MCWEN. In addition to her work with nonprofits and small businesses, she leads workshops on personal and professional development for women across the country. She is the author of The Long Way Home, Ponder It In Her Heart, and The Other Side of Assertiveness.
Follow her on twitter or Instagram @Andrena_Sawyer | Follow P.E.R.K. Consulting@Perk_Consulting | Like P.E.R.K. Consulting on Facebook