August 7, 2019

The 5 Things I wish I’d known when I was 20 (& Beyond).


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I’m visiting the wondrous Boulder, Colorado. 

I lived here for many years while I was a 20-something.

My time in Boulder laid much of the groundwork for the place where my life has landed now, on the other end of the country, now a parent, now a successful professional, in some ways happier and in other ways less happy, but in most ways changed.

I formed friendships here with a group of people I still refer to as my soulmates. I had achievements here, and traumas. I was a young person discovering my passions, eager—no, impatient—to reach a destination, though I had very little idea of where I was headed. I continue now down the trajectory of the path I laid, expanding exponentially. 

This week’s reunion with friends has left me reflective on my angsty tendencies, and I realize I have advice for my 20-something self.

The week’s reflections have forced me to look back on my life at that time very introspectively. I’ve reflected on many mistakes I made and many fears I used to have. Namely, I was so afraid I’d never reach the finish line, I seldom even considered the journey. In many ways, I mistook the journey itself for inadequacy, failing to see it was a prerequisite to attaining my goals, that it was okay to have not arrived yet.

Below is the advice I wish I could go back and tell my 20-something, trepidatious self—suggestions that would have made the voyage more peaceful:

1. Give people a chance to show you who they are.

I am still single, never married. I am the mother to a sweet four-year-old child, and I am raising him all on my own. He asks me sometimes if I will get married. He also asks me sometimes if he can marry me one day. Oh, sweet boy, I will be yours forever.

When I was in my 20s, I dated a lot of men. I had several relationships with men that started out impassioned, then fizzled quickly. I was always looking for the perfect partner, a man who had a drive that matched my own, grounded eccentricity (the verdict is still out if this is even a thing), similar political views, a solid education, a solid income, a love for the things that I loved too. 

I spent so much time running away from great men who were interested in me but who weren’t perfect. If they didn’t have a clear path or a great job already, I assumed they weren’t on the path to manifesting this. If they didn’t open up to me quickly, I assumed we didn’t have a connection.

I see now that I was judging them with the same level of judgment I cast upon myself. I was terrified of being trapped. I was terrified of ending up in a bad relationship with somebody who didn’t inspire me. It was easier to be alone to inspire myself than it was to have faith in somebody else that they might inspire me in time.

You do not need to commit to people quickly. Give them time to show you who they are. Always go on a second date.

During my visit to Boulder, I have reconnected with so many of my friends who are deep into their marriages and serious relationships, with families being planned and others well underway. 

None of their relationships have been easy. Their partners have disappointed them sometimes, needed encouragement from them, needed space, and needed breaks before reuniting to be together stronger than before.

What these friends of mine have done that I was too scared to do was that they didn’t expect perfection. There’s that famous adage women are always told: “You can’t change a man.” I think there’s some merit in the sentiment; you cannot fix anybody, but you can certainly expect your partner to grow with you.

Find somebody you are comfortable growing alongside. Whomever you end up with, they will not be the same person 20 years from now, so it is not just them whom you have to love; you have to love the way they grow.

Find somebody who makes you feel safe when you are having growing pains. Find somebody who is willing to hear your loving criticism and your encouragement. Growing together requires courage and fierceness. It requires candor and patience. You must show up as all of yourself and trust that you will be loved. 

Brené Brown asked in her Netflix special, “The Call to Courage,” “How can you let yourself be loved if you can’t be seen?” So let them see you! Let them see all of you—that which you are proud of and that which broke you down, that which you’ve refined and that which you still have to work on.

Show up courageously to your relationships, be they romantic or platonic. And those who show up to love you? Those are your people.

2. Your biggest dreams are probably your destiny.

Many years ago, I sat in a café with my friend John, who I have since lost touch with. John was a devout student of Islam, and, curious to understand his piousness, I had asked him to guide me in reading the Quran, and he dutifully took on the assignment.  

We grew close in this time, a platonic relationship that was intimate and rich in heartfelt discussion and exploration. I lamented to John that day about feeling grief that I was nearing 30 and had not met my person. He asked me why it was that I cared so much about this, and it caused me to pause.

The truth was, I wanted a family. I had always envisioned myself as a mother—and a good mother, at that. I had held this vision close for so long that I yearned for it, and as the years passed and relationships were never easy or never fulfilling and always ultimately disappointing, I was afraid I might never find it. I felt like, if so many relationships have been so difficult so far, why should I expect that pattern to suddenly change?

John gave me insight then that I carry with me to this day. He told me that when our hearts long for something so intensely, it is because we are destined for it, that we are one magnet and the thing we yearn for is the other magnet, and as we grow closer and closer to one another, the charge only intensifies, until finally, we find that which we’ve been aching for.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in her book Big Magic that ideas are not ours, but rather that they find us and propose themselves to us. When you are inspired, you have actually been found and are being invited to engage and create magic with said inspiration.

I believe it is the same for any idea or notion that finds us. Whatever your biggest dreams are, hold them close to your heart and have faith that those desires are a roadmap leading you to precisely wherever it is you are meant to be or experience. If you are guided by your inspiration, you are very likely on the right path.

3. Make a career out of whatever lights your heart afire.

If you are in your 20s, now is the time to lay the groundwork for the work you will be doing for the next 40 to 50 years. Now is the time to get the education and do the training in your field. Humble yourself and stop talking so that you can hear those who are experts and available to teach you. Sure, you can always learn later in life, but this is the best time to do the foundational work for the career you will love.

If you aren’t sure what your calling is, make lists of your innate talents, your learned skills, and everything you have ever loved doing. Don’t shoot down a notion merely because it seems unattainable. Of course it’s unattainable! You’re in your 20s! You’re a baby!

You have a lot to learn still, so now is the time to chip away at these goals little by little, but you probably have not yet earned the right to consider yourself the expert. It will take diligence and patience to achieve expert status, and this is the perfect time to take the steps that will take you there eventually.

Before I went to school for Chinese medicine, I was a teacher for four years. I loved a lot of things about teaching, but I was broke and simultaneously overworked. Deciding to go to acupuncture school was a decision that took two years of meditation, an open heart, and a lot of searching.

I ferreted around for a long time for what my dream career would be, and I factored in details such as wanting to have control of my own schedule and earning potential. I engaged in what I loved then, which was yoga. I immersed myself in it and jumped on the opportunity to work at the studio.

It was at that time in my life that inspiration hit me suddenly like a bolt of lightning: I wanted to be a wellness expert, but I was far from it at the time, so I devised a plan to authentically reach my goal.

Choose a career that will realistically afford you the life you desire. Understand that you probably won’t earn six figures right out of the gate, or maybe not at all, but make a realistic list of your desires and figure out how much it will cost to afford your lifestyle.

The notion that money cannot buy happiness is outdated and full of privilege. Of course money can buy you happiness, just not every aspect of happiness.

Money will buy you vacations that you will need if you have a career in order to recharge. Money will put healthy, clean food on your table, which will make you feel better and help you be the best manifestation of yourself. It will buy you practical things, such as a gym membership and activities for your kids. Money is important, so get comfortable with the notion of creatively earning it. If you find yourself feeling ashamed of wanting money, invest some time into figuring out why you feel that way. Having money will open up doors to allow you to help others with the skills you were put on this Earth with.

4. Take care of your body.

Stop relating skinniness with health. For some, skinniness is health, and for many, it is not. 

If you eat a well-rounded diet chock-full of vegetables and real nutrients, and if you do not derive your nourishment from pills and powders, you are treating your body better than if you restrict calorie intake to the point of starving yourself. And for what? So that somebody else might approve of you? 

Learning how to eat for your personal health needs takes a long time for many people; if you are able, elicit the help of holistic nutrition experts. Your food should make you feel energized, give you mental clarity, and simultaneously keep you feeling grounded.

Your body will be with you for your entire life. Treat it as the kingdom it is, where you reside. Learn to love that about it which you perceive as imperfections. Don’t punish your body for not resembling some societal standard of beauty; acknowledge its power, how beautiful it is that you have a body, and that you get to go places in it and have experiences in it.

If you desire sex, have sex! You do not have to be in a committed relationship to have consensual sex that is safe and healthy and fulfilling. If you feel shame around sex, find a therapist or friend to talk this out with. You deserve to feel confident about sex if you want it.

Be safe. Use a condom. As a healthcare professional, I can tell you very matter-of-factly that STDs are common and, frankly, addressing this with maturity and poise is a part of the responsibility of having a body. Work toward destigmatizing STDs by having candid and courageous conversations with your partners about them. If either of you have an STD, learn the ways you need to take care of yourselves to avoid passing it on to one another. If they shut down when you ask about them, hold off on sleeping with this person until they can comfortably have that conversation with you.

5. And lastly…

Celebrate where you are, where you came from, and where you might be headed. Keep an open mind. Understand that you cannot possibly fathom what the future will hold.

There may be breakups and trials and tribulations. There will also be new connections, surprises, and triumphs.

Bask in the glory of it all. And, as the Dalai Lama said:

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”


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