I turn 30 on Tuesday (heads up, pretty much all of my recent posts are going to say this). A new year is always something to celebrate, but this decade mark is the first time that I feel like I can look back and see specific experiences and moments in each of the last ten years that enriched my internal and external perspectives. While my first two decades certainly shaped the core of who I am, 20-30 watched me navigate the whole being-who-I-am thing in the midst of shifting contexts, AKA turning into an adult. And so, because I am an INFJ (and obviously the coolest person you know), I present 10(ish) lessons I've "learned" in my 20s.
(Ish) because there's more than 10. "Learned" because, welp, I'm still learning most of them.
20: Being a "floater" is a positive thing. This was the year that I felt separate from what I had considered to be my closest group of friends--but in striking out on my own I realized that I was actually close with a number of different groups and individuals across campus. This was a gift in that it gave me a variety of people and friendships (still does!), and it also reminded me that the friend I can truly always count on is myself.
21: Home can mean many places. Building on those lessons of friendship, 21 took me to England for a semester, my first time truly away from places where I felt "at home"--and then Norwich and the University of East Anglia became home too. Would it have continued to feel that way if I'd been there longer for 3 months, or would homesickness have taken over? Who knows. But it taught me that I could get to know a place that was once completely unknown. "Wasn't it amazing? " people would ask when I returned to the States. And the answer was, no, it wasn't amazing--not in the way that they meant it. What amazed me was that I could find a church and a favorite cereal, not to mention friends, in a brand-new place, and that it became normal. That feeling returned when I interned at a church in Virginia the next summer, another city and people that by the end, I hated to leave.
22: Bite the bullet and share your feelings, even if rejection follows. Oof, 22 held a lot of lessons (including "Even when you graduate from college and it feels like the world is ending, you will survive"), but this is the one that feels most important. Having the reassuring schedule of academia ripped out from under me made me feel vulnerable in a myriad of ways, and that led me to reach out to a couple of guys I liked more directly than I ever had before. None of them ended how I would have liked at the time, but I felt (how many more times can I say "feel" in this paragraph, y'all?) a sense of power that came with being honest, coming to accept reality rather than clinging to the long-standing "what if?" purgatory that had been hounding my head/heart, and ultimately moving forward.
23: Keep meeting new people and trying new things. This was the year I traveled to Nigeria, met my future husband, landed my first full-time job, made "real world" friends, moved into my own place, got to know my new city, developed my own routine--became my own adult, really.
24: Living by yourself is important. My mom always stressed to me the importance of living alone for at least a period of time in your life, and I plan to say the same to my own children someday. It was important for my personal growth to find and secure a place to live, pay my own rent and bills, decorate my home how I wanted, stay up late cooking dinner, host guests, feel the sense of quiet that took over at night when I was the only being inside the house.
25: Stay in touch with people who matter. In the midst of Phase I of friends-getting-married that began around this time, I was consistently reminded of how much it meant to me to be able to witness people that I had known for years now experiencing another milestone in their lives--and then dance like crazy afterwards. Nourishing these bonds even from a distance has made a difference.
26: Make the trip home for that final goodbye. Until I walked out the door to my car, the spontaneous trip felt difficult to justify--but of course some of that was denial that it was even happening or necessary at all. Thankfully, my gut (and my mother) was right. And I'll never regret it.
27: You do not have to be who you were as a child. This was the year we moved back home and got married and I started a new job. It was tough. I loved being back in beloved spaces, but sometimes it seemed like I had to "combat" the childhood perspective of me that old friends held, because that's how they still saw me. The best way to get over this, I determined, was to be myself as I am now, and to not apologize for being different than my child/teen self, or play into expectations. (The passage of time helped, too.)
For these two most recent years, 28 and 29, I'm moved to share two lessons each--one inward, one outward (some of both, really).
A) Cultivate habits to lower stress. At the end of 27, I was feeling fraught about numerous things, mostly brought on by a dreaded doctor's appointment that wouldn't come for months. I felt panicky and anxious more than I ever had, in the car, at night, lots of places. The appointment came and went with no major revelation, which helped, but I still had this sense that I was now "conditioned" to experience stress and panic in ways that I hadn't before. And then a woman in my small group mentioned the Headspace app, which I actually made time for in the mornings to practice meditation. I returned to an old habit of journaling. I thought more consciously about breathing. It didn't all fix itself right away, but I slowly started to feel a difference.
B) Accomplishing difficult goals is possible (and rewarding). It took me four years after college to finally decide to pursue an MFA in creative writing. And then it took an arduous two years of reading, writing, and even teaching (all while holding down a full-time job) to reach graduation with a completed manuscript. Sometimes, looking back, I can barely believe that I actually did it. I'm not really sure how I did. But I know it took work, encouragement, days of inspiration, days of flatness, reading on the bus and writing on weekends, and the ever-strong influence of deadlines and people counting on me. I look back at that achievement because it wasn't something that I necessarily expected of myself--it wasn't a required step like other schooling had been. It was a step I chose, a step I chose to stick with and complete.
A) It's okay to say no. I've always been a people-pleaser, which I used to think translated into pleasing myself (if no one's mad at me, if everyone likes me, I'm pretty easy to please). But I've reached a point in the past 12 months where there were some extracurriculars on my plate that I wanted to be doing in theory, but not in actuality. I had to acknowledge the difference there. The only reason I was still doing them was because I didn't want to let down people who I care about. That might come off sounding a little selfish, and in this case, I think it's okay. These days, I'm keeping my personal priorities in mind: self, family, health, friends, writing, reading, things that strengthen my mind and my soul (and sometimes a good old-fashioned 21st century binge-watch).
B) The ongoing fight for justice and equality in this country requires white people to actively acknowledge the evils of white supremacy and white privilege and push against them. Seek justice using the strengths of your own personality. Listen and learn without feeling defensive or accused. White guilt is unnecessary and useless. Self-awareness is key. This is a post in itself, to be sure, but all of these lessons have risen to the surface for me this year, and I'm looking forward to continuing to explore and act on them as my 30s get underway.
That last bold bit of 29B strikes me: Self-awareness is key. If I could sum up my 20s in one phrase (ha), I think that would be it.
Bring on the next decade!
P.S. Not gonna lie, the collage was fun to make.