My 20s saw me travel from coast to coast of the good old US of A, take countless road trips with music blaring, seen me go all over Europe, to the Caribbean, and to Asia. It saw me get a BFA, an MA, an LCAT, an RDT, a CCLS (and several SOS's along the way), get married, get pregnant, clock many blissful hours on the beach with friends and family, work as a therapist, work as a restaurant arts specialist (hey, 20s aren't complete with a little dip into the service industry right?), work as an actor, write write write (a blog, a play, drafts of books, screenplays, endless poetry, endless journals, endless academic papers, ENDLESS cards and letters, a masters thesis...). My 20s saw me say goodbye to people and things I love, it saw me in and out of the hospital and on and off of various operating tables, it saw me fall apart multiple times and put myself back together with the love and help of the incredible people in my life.
I carry into my 30s the lessons and the heartaches and the beauty of the last decade, but there is plenty I’m happy to leave in my dust as well. In celebration of ushering in my Big 3-0 here are 30 lessons or at least things I have started to try to figure out in my 20s that I hope to carry into my 30s and expand on from here.
I'm certainly not saying I've mastered any of these, but as I sit here reflecting on the last decade and about to jump into the next, these are the things that feel important :
- Laugh at the things that feel un-laughable. Laughter is the #1 way I got through some of the dark places I’ve seen. There’s always humor to be found. Often the connection of sharing a sick joke with a like-minded friend can wrap up and improve a wretched experience like nothing else.
- Trauma is a Key to the Next Phase. Making your way through most traumatic moments of life often unlocks the next level in ways you never could have imagined. I would not be the person I am today if I hadn't felt deep loss and pain and had to put the pieces back together in new and surprising ways.
- I can handle a lot. More than I think I can. I tend to forget this a lot. When it feels like the world is crumbling and over, it often signals something new and positive right around the corner. I'd like to remember the simple fact that after the dust settled of every chaotic moment of over the last decade, I've still been standing and breathing. That's something.
- Just Be Me. After much trial and error I've found it's better to just be myself in the situations where I feel like a fish out of water. It's not worth it to waste time trying to force myself to fit the environment, it always goes better when I just focus on letting myself shine through and then decide if that environment is right for me.
- Chase the things that light you up! I’ve been lucky enough to get to feel truly alive over the course of the last decade on stage, while traveling, when academically or creatively challenged, when having deep meaningful conversations with those I love. I want to remember how that feels and strive toward it always.
- Similarly, follow love and passion. This is not always easy within the realities of finances, fears, self doubts, and medical dysfunction, but if we only have this one life, I want to spend it surrounded by the people I love and the things I love to do.
- It’s okay to forgive yourself. I have been my own worst enemy at times throughout my twenties, but it's incredible what happens when I make the effort to reverse my negative self-talk. The world can be tough, so I might as well cut myself a break and view myself with unconditional positive regard so others can follow suit.
- Make sure the people you love KNOW it. There is no use holding anything back. What are you waiting for? Anyone could be snatched from us at any moment, make sure your loved ones know what they mean.
- Nothing is permanent. Thoughts, feelings, rough patches, worries are all of the moment and aren't forever. The miscarriage experience gave me tangible experience that nothing is guaranteed and life is to be treasured (refer to #8). The upside of impermanence is that if you're unhappy with something, wait a sec, it will shift somehow.
- Find Your Tribe. I've found I don’t need a million acquaintances, I just need my people. The ones who get me, who lift me up, who push me to be the best version of me (and the ones who make good drinks or bring me chocolate can stay too).
- Beauty is Everywhere. But if we don't take the time to notice the little day-to-day details we'll miss them. When I look back on the last 10 years some of the things that shine through the most are simple details--the way the sunlight filters through the trees outside my bedroom window, the smell of the air at Shakespeare in Delaware Park on a summer night before a show, laughing until I cry over ridiculous little things with my best friend, inside jokes with my sister, how long and perfect Chris' eyelashes are, my dad's voice, the way my mom always somehow knows to call when I need her most, getting a sweet card out of the blue from a friend. Acknowledging all these tiny moments are what makes my life feel so big and full.
- Guilt is the Anti-Motivator. In my 30s I hope to wrestle with my guilt complex more successfully. I want to let go of the guilt associated with "not doing enough" because it's not helpful. It stops me from just jumping in and doing as much as I can. This Saturn Return has been nipping hard at my heels...and now feels like the time for action and energy unencumbered by the guilt.
- Screw Body insecurities : Now of course it's entirely unrealistic to think these will NEVER creep into my 30s (I'm still a woman living in our society and subject to toxic cultural norms after all and I'm sure I'll still bitch and complain plenty), but I’m doing my best to be healthy and strong and then leave the parts I can't control behind. Somewhere in my mid-20s I said to myself, I am never going to have the “perfect” magazine swimsuit body, but I like wearing bikinis. They are cuter than one pieces in my opinion and only I get to decide if I "can" wear them or not. I told myself that my curves are cute and womanly and sexy. Done. Bikinis. And so it has been ever since. The realization that I am actually the one who gets to decide if I feel good or not was revolutionary for me.
- What Happens to You Doesn't Define You. Medical trauma (or any kind of trauma) happens to you, but it ISN’T you. I definitely felt first hand how easy it is to start to believe that you are what you experience. When I was in the Reproductive Endocrinology office every other second it was all consuming and thus hard to remember that it wasn't my whole world. The ticket out for me was finding ways to be uniquely ME within those alienating environments and thus try to claim them as just one part of me rather than them claiming me entirely.
- I don’t know anything. So just stop reading this list right now. Just kidding, keep reading (if you want). The thing is, I cant know everything. No one can. But boy oh boy do we try. I'm working on trying to stop stressing when I don't know everything. The burden of trying to know the unknowable is something I can hopefully set down in my 30s.
- The "Right" Way Doesn't Exist. The expectations I had of the “perfect” or “ideal” anything do not exist. Part of why the miscarriage was so hard for me was because I was holding so tightly to how my "perfect" pregnancy experience was supposed to feel and play out. I didn't want to let go of this vision of how I always thought it would go. So as I move forward into my 30s I hope to embrace that the path that is right for me or meant for me might not look how I always thought it would.
- Life doesn't get easier. Stop waiting for “when things settle down”. Guess what, kiddo? That ain’t happening. I've waited around long enough to know this to be so. Instead, I want to try to lean into the negative and hard parts, experience them fully, and move through them. I want to make things happen WITHIN (and even inspired by) the madness.
- Give it time. I have it. Life has many phases. So, patience.
- Not everyone has to like me. This one is hard for me. I’m a people pleaser and a perfectionist (some might venture to say a bit of control freak as far as my "image" goes). I like to be sure I have a handle on how people view me, but honestly, I cant. This blog has been huge for that. It was scary to just put ME out there into the black hole of the universe for anyone to read, but it has also been so freeing in a "take it or leave it" kind of a way.
- Ritual is essential . The little traditions, special celebrations, and ceremonies that I have created with my family and best friends are a huge part of who I am. They make my life uniquely mine and serve as a way to highlight the things that are most important to me as a person. I would not trade them for anything!!
- Keep your heart open. Even when it hurts like hell. Especially when it hurts like hell. You never know what is right around the corner and you'll miss it if you close down.
- Crying is good. Wash those eyes out! I've had meltdowns on trains, plains, automobiles, unicycles, in cafes, waiting rooms, and in the middle of the damn street. Let it flow. If you don't connect to the low lows you can't feel the high highs!
- Don't Give Up On Heels, but don't Break Yourself. I'm a shorty, so heels have always been essential. I've always dreaded a moment that would arrive where that "sensible shoe" monster would catch up with me as it seems to claim the sexy shoe lives of so many. So...don't give up on heels--but find the ones that you can actually walk in (because you look cuter when you're not distracted by the deafening shrieking of your feet). I include this A. because shoes are important. and B. because it is a metaphor for not compromising parts of yourself while still "making it work" practically in the real world. That's a tall order, so we'll start with the shoe thing, k?
- Family is where it starts and ends. Make your given and chosen family a priority and nurture them at all costs. They connect your ancestry to your present day to your legacy. They are everything. When the worst days of my life happened and I felt all that love pour in from my family it transformed everything.
- Don't Live in a Vacuum! Reach out and connect about the things that scare you. Speak them outloud. Write them down. Find even just one person who you can trust to hold your darkest burden. When I miscarried I felt so isolated. I knew this was happening to tons of women, but no one was talking to me about the nitty gritty insane details and fears. When I started this blog, it cracked open a whole new way of looking at things. I felt validated and less alone and the infinite variety of stories that came flooding in were endlessly healing. Talking about scary things doesn't threaten to make them worse, it allows those things to loosen their death-grip on you so you can move forward.
- Go off-roading. You don’t have to have a road map every second. However, the problem is, I am a maniacal planner. One of the biggest things I want to work on in my 30s is living fully sans road map, because it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no road map. I hope my 30s find me living fully and honestly within the uncertainty of a wild, winding road.
- Practice RADICAL self care! My 20s have taught me to never underestimate the importance of hot baths, wine, nice candles, long walks with music blasting in earphones, journaling, little treats, spontaneous road trips to places with fresh air, and alone time! These things are not an indulgence, they are a mode of survival! I would be way crazier without them (yes, that's possible, I heard that).
- Try not to compare. Their path is not your path. Whoever "they" are for you. Everyone is working against their own demons and at their own pace and that can't be applied to you. My early twenties were very much more aware with keeping pace with this made up check list of "what I'm supposed to do" compared to ... to who? my friends? my parents' path? to the world at large? to television characters? I have no idea.
- Keep it moving EVER FORWARD. There is no way out but through. The past may be a fuel and a source of inspiration and motivation and context, but you can't go back there. Dwelling there is a one way ticket to stagnation. So keep your eyes locked on the horizons ahead. I've found that the best way to move forward, for me, is to fully acknowledge what I'm feeling as much as possible and as frequently as possible and accept it. Then the next step is to pack up that acceptance and bring it with me into the things that I love.
- All You Need is Love. It's really all that matters. If you share your love freely and let others love you back-you are set even in your darkest hours.
Alright friends, it's been a wild ride, and I have my work cut out for me in this fresh, new decade! Thank you for being such an important part of my 20s. Catch ya on the other side!!!!!!!!!!