So i just turned 30 and the internet is full of all of those lists of “things you will miss about your 20s” or “things I wish I had known when I was in my 20s” etc. So I thought I would add mine to the pile. This, however, is not a laundry list of places you should go, or experiences you should have during this evidently oh so important decade, it’s advice.
Advice from a woman who loves who she is, because I had to fight very hard to become her.
These are things that I learned while navigating the treacherous waters between your teenage years and adulthood. They are based on my own experiences. The victories, the defeats, and the “good lord what I am I wearing” situations. It’s dedicated to any young woman who is leaving the safe harbor of 19 and setting out to discover the “new world” of being a twenty something. A strange, dangerous, terrible but at times, wonderful place…
We’ll start with dating:
1.) There’s always going to be “that one guy” and by this I don’t mean that mythical prince charming named “the one” that we are taught exists from a very early age. No, “that one guy” is not prince charming, he is actually quite the opposite. He’s the guy that you’ll date even though you know he’s wrong for you. He’s the “bad guy” the “unattainable guy” the one that you’ll make excuses to your friends for, who will conveniently forget his wallet so you have to pick up the tab, who doesn’t come to the door, who runs late to pick you up or forgets that he was supposed to so you have to walk. (he’s the guy who will motivate you to buy your first bike so that that doesn’t happen again) He’s the guy who you’ll put first above yourself in all the wrong situations. The one you say you’ve had enough of and are going to break up with but then he calls and says something sweet and you fall for it all over again.
Some of you are probably dating him now, as you read this.
The bad news ladies is that we all have “that one guy.” I know a precious few who have found their match so early in life that they are exempt from having to date him. The good news is that this one guy will teach you so much about yourself and what you want (and don’t want) in a relationship. And when he finally does something so mean that you are ready to leave you’ll learn what a strong and independent person you truly are. When I was dating “that one guy” he had me turned so upside down that I thought my world would end if we broke up. Really, I was convinced that I would not be able to go on. Until one day I imagined my life as it was then for the next twenty years. I realized if I stayed where I was that the world would kind of end. Or at least it would always be the same. And I was unhappy. Why did I want to spend the next 20 years being unhappy? Men do not change ladies. You don’t expect to buy a Honda Civic and then at 150,000 miles for it to magically turn into a BMW so I’m not sure why we all make the tragic mistake of thinking that a bad relationship will get better.
So trade that ’89 geo prism in for a porsche. You deserve the upgrade.
2.) You’re worth it. Whatever it is that you think you deserve from your partner, don’t let anyone try to convince you that you don’t. The best piece of relationship advice I have ever gotten was from “that one guy” that I dated in my early twenties. One evening after he had committed an act of extreme insensitivity I was brave enough to ask him through copious amounts of tears, “Why do you treat me this way?” He looked at me with a stone cold expression and said,
“Because you let me.”
That statement hit me like a bucket of ice water. It was hard to hear (and incredibly mean) but it was true. I allowed myself to be treated with less respect than I deserved in that relationship. I let things go that were unacceptable because I didn’t want to start a fight or perhaps because I did not think that I deserved to be treated with a certain amount of respect. I was also afraid that if I asked for more from my partner that it would be the end of our relationship. What I did not realize at the time was that anyone in your life who does not treat you with the respect that you deserve does not deserve to be in your life. When you have moments of doubt (as I often do) about being worthy of your partner’s love and respect remember all the things that are awesome about you. I think about my strength and the fact that I am a good person. Remind yourself of the remarkable human being that you are who is deserving of love and respect and refuse to settle for anything less.
Tell yourself you’re worth it. Because you are.
3.) Give “nice guys” a chance. I can already feel you 20-somethings rolling your eyes at me but this one is perhaps the most important to your future happiness in a relationship. When I was young and immature and dating in college I had a few “nice guys” ask me out. I was always polite and accepted their kind invitations, attended the evening and was engaged in whatever activity these young men had so graciously planned for me. And with some of them I had a nice time and accepted their invitations for second dates. But I never gave them a chance. I never truly opened myself up to the possibility of a relationship with them. I’m not sure when in the history of mankind that overconfident and rude young men became desirable, but it happened, and in my opinion it’s a travesty. I am not on my high horse judging you ladies because I was exactly the same way. My affections were reserved for guys who were less attainable. Go on a date with a guy who shows up on time, opens doors, and refuses to let you split the check with him? No, no thanks I want the guy who sends me cryptic text messages in the middle of the night when he’s hammered that my friends and I can sit around obsessing over what they mean. Someone who will remember your birthday and make dinner for you with all of your favorite dishes? No, no thanks I prefer that guy who probably couldn’t tell you what color my eyes are but who is very good at telling me how sexy I look in a low cut shirt and tight jeans. Someone who expresses openly how much they like you to not only you but his friends and anyone else who will listen? No, I think I’ll go with the guy who flirts with other girls in front of me. It makes me so jealous. I just want him more. But I digress.
When I was in my early twenties I pegged the nice guys as shy, dorky, or “too nice.” Whatever that means. In my mind I equated it with a lack of masculinity but after ten years of dating I realize that I had it backwards. The “nice guys” are the real men. Because a real man will call you instead of texting. He’ll want to talk it out instead of drunkenly fighting with you at a party. A real man listens, pays attention, and remembers the things that are important to you (no matter how trivial they may seem to anybody else). He’ll want to be friends with your friends. Eventually he will want to know your family and he’ll tell you he has a great time hanging out with them (even though they can be loud and sometimes a little crazy). When you have a terrible nightmare as a residual symptom of your PTSD a real man will wake you with concern in his voice and then walk through the apartment turning on all the lights and opening all the closets to make sure that no one is there so you can feel safe enough to go back to sleep even though it’s 3 am and he has to be up at 5:30. (true story, it happens once or twice a month at my house). A real man will build you up, he won’t tear you down. A real man is “nice.”
And I would be willing to bet that nine times out of ten it’s the “nice guy” who will turn out to be “the one.”
Moving on to life:
1.) Everything happens right on time. Give yourself a break. I am (gasp) a thirty year old woman with no kids, not married, living in a crappy apartment and dating a 24 year old. From the outside looking in some would say that my life is a little off track. But really I think that I’m exactly where I need to be. Would I prefer to have a little more in my savings account and own my own home? Of course. But those things are uncontrollable and not a reflection of my inability to save. When I became sick, my “first house” account became my “survive skull base tumor” account and thank goodness it was there otherwise I would be buried in medical debt today and for many years to come. Do I wish that I was married? Sure but not to the wrong man. When I got sick I was dating someone who I thought I would marry. The timing was right, we had been together for a couple of years. We got along, had similar interests, on paper it all fit but when life went off the grid and we had to deal with things like surgeries and living wills, hormone disorders and the question of fertility, I realized that this was not the relationship that could withstand the test of time. I’m thankful in a way that my diagnosis not only showed me the weaknesses in my body but also in my personal life. I need someone who can handle it when life gets “messy” and you have to start improvising because this was definitely not what you had planned. And kids? Well I will never be able to conceive naturally which is kind of a bummer but after going through everything I have decided to start a new career. If I already had children that would have made going back to school and perhaps moving cities much more difficult. When I was 18 years old and graduating high school I had this plan that I would be a successful doctor living in South Carolina, married at 25 and have 2 children, a boy and a girl, by the time I was 27. House in the suburbs, cat and a dog, white picket fence, you get it.
I crafted this plan based on the statistics at the time for the average age that women in the United States were getting married and having kids. Obviously the execution of that plan fell by the wayside even before my skull base tumors but I’m glad that it did. I’m actually pretty content with my life and the direction that it is going and very excited to see what the future will bring. I think about that plan now and while there are so many things about having a family that I think will be amazing and that I look forward to, who wants to be average? Just like everybody else? My best advice to those of you in your 20s trying to reach all of the typical milestones of life when you are statistically supposed to is to live your life and let the chips fall where they may. Life will happen when it’s good and ready and she doesn’t like to be rushed.
It’s been my experience that if you let life happen it will do so right on time.
2.) Life is like the bus from Speed. You can’t slow down and you can’t get off. I hate to break it to you but time is linear and it steadily marches forward everyday of our lives. Two things that we as people do is try to hit the breaks or go in reverse. Many of us spend a lot of time dwelling on the past. Looking back on it and wishing that your present could be like the “good ole days” or conversely, continuing to let a past mistake haunt your present. Good or bad the past is the past. You can’t get it back and you can’t change it so let it go. It’s behind you and that is not the direction we are going. You’ve got a long road ahead and you can only take with you what you can carry. The past is way too heavy so leave it where it belongs.
In the rearview.
I’m also going to tell you that life in general can get pretty heavy. Many of you will experience a period in your life that is so hard that you may just want to hit the breaks and stop right where you are. Stop working hard, stop growing as individuals, stop striving for more. It happened to me when I was 28. Bogged down by illness, financial woes, PTSD and depression. But you cannot stop. You have to keep going.
Life keeps moving forward after all, without you if you let it.
If you refuse to continue you will miss out on so much that this life has to offer. Opportunities for growth, change, and best of all happiness. Even when you’re so tired you feel like you can’t go another step, endure another day, you must not stop. Keep moving forward. It is the only way.
Love, Life, and now…that extra “something”
1.) There is something within you that the world needs. I believe we are all here for a purpose. And I know what it is:
To help each other.
Life is hard. It can sometimes be a struggle to just keep your head above water. We all struggle but at different times. For me, when I was at my lowest, the people who were able to offer me a lifeline were sometimes people I hardly knew or were just getting to know. They listened, offered encouragement, or set an example for me that I wanted to follow. Most of the time they had no idea that they were saving me from drowning, they were just being nice or being a friend.
I say this because during your 20s you are going to struggle to realize your own worth. You will doubt yourself and your ability to help others. Sometimes you may feel that “making a difference” is just a hokey idea, worthy of an afterschool special. That your footprint on this earth is washed away as soon as it is made like imprints in the sand during high tide.
I’m here to tell you that this is not the case.
That you have probably already touched the lives of countless people around you in ways that you can’t even imagine. I’ll give you an example. After my surgeries, I was not able to get my heart rate up very high. This meant that I could not walk the hilly terrain or ride my bicycle to work. I did not have a parking pass and my mom drove me some of the time but other days I needed to drive myself. The only lot in the area close to my building is a pay lot which charges 12 dollars a day. For two weeks that’s $120. I was being buffeted by medical bills and one morning I was having a particularly tough time dealing with a headache, more bills in the mail, and I had checked my bank balance the night before to find out that it was even lower than I had thought. As I parked and slowly marched to the pay kiosk I wanted to cry. I couldn’t afford to go to work. The irony. When I got up to that yellow rip-off machine I saw a rock on top of it with a slip of paper underneath. Upon closer inspection the slip of paper was actually a parking meter stub, pre-paid for the next 24 hours with the words “Daily Random Act of Kindness” and a smiley face scribbled on it. When I read this I cried. But these were tears of happiness. A person I had never even met made my life so much better that day. He or she gave me strength right when I needed it.
You were born with the ability to change someone’s life. Don’t waste it.
2.) Find something to believe in. And I don’t necessarily mean God. Though he/she is a good one, some people simply have a hard time with the belief in a higher power. And I think that’s fine. There’s a lot of tough stuff in this world and the more you see I think the harder it is to figure out the universe and the whole “why are we here?” question. But that’s not really what this second point is about.
What I am saying for those of you in your 20s trying to figure out your life, is that a lot is going to happen to you during this decade both positive and negative. During my 20s I lived in South Carolina, Nashville, TN, and New York City, earned a Bachelor’s, a Master’s, worked for the State Dept at the U.N. and had a Secret level security clearance (so cool), I went to Costa Rica, learned to surf, ziplined through the rainforest, went to the the Bahamas (multiple times), Key West, I’ve been to Mardi Gras twice and spent Christmas/New Years in New York City, I’ve seen Rockafeller Center lit up with lights, and watched the rockettes do their thing at radio city music hall, I’ve been to Napa and tasted wine in the vineyard on one of the most beautiful days I can remember, I’ve been to the Derby (sadly only the infield), met Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom while waiting tables, and driven Dolly Parton in a golf cart through the tunnels underneath the Titans Stadium before she went onstage to perform. I’ve ridden my bike over 100 miles in a day, won my age group in a triathlon, and run next to my mom through Disney World coaching her through her first 13.1. I’ve celebrated my friends as they have gotten married, and known the joys of being an “auntie” and god mother to the handful that have had children.
I’ve experienced so many amazing things in such a short time. But I’ve also had my house broken into while I was at home in my bed, graduated with a master’s and not been able to find a job except for bartending at night, had drinks thrown in my face and poured down my back, been sexually harassed and treated unfairly by a former boss, dated someone who psychologically tore me down and made me feel less than, experienced the loss of a friend in a car crash, watched a family member struggle with addiction, been lied to, had my heart broken, was diagnosed with a skull base tumor… you know the rest.
I say these things not to overwhelm you and tell you that your 20s are going to be terrible but to inform you that this decade of your life is going to be filled with unbelievable highs and lows. At times you will have experiences that will make you question every belief that you ever acquired in your childhood years while living in the sanctuary and safety of your parents’ home.
It will be times like these that you need something to believe in.
Some type of inalienable truth that can be a compass to guide you through the storm. You will need something that can reassure you when you fail a class in college because you sleep through an exam or break up with the guy you thought was “the one.” You’ll definitely need something to believe in when you date “that one guy.”
It can be anything. My friend Don will tell you he believes “in Good people.” Sean believes in “P.M.A. baby. Gotta have a Positive Mental Attitutde!” I have two that I have actually already shared with you in these posts.
The first is for everyday use. It is simple, “Keep moving forward.” When bad things happen let them go and move on. This is for the break ups, the bad grades, the fender benders, the mean teachers and the horrible bosses.
For the skull base tumors you’re going to need something a little stronger.
For this I recommend H.O.P.E. By definition this word is the act of desire for a certain thing to happen. And it’s true, H.O.P.E. for strength, H.O.P.E. that tomorrow will be better, H.O.P.E. for the courage to keep going.
But most importantly, when things are at their lowest and you feel like you can’t go on…simply H.O.P.E. Hold On, Pain Ends.