I’m turning 30 and I’m not where I thought I’d be. I’m not divorced, I didn’t have kids, I don’t have my own house or a phD. I’m in a strange place in my life and I don’t know where I’m going, but I’ve made safe and informed decisions and followed the clearest path I had, so it is what it is. I am where I am. If I have gained anything that I meant to it’s experience and a little wisdom and it’s only fair I share some of it. Here is a list of things I learned in my twenties that I wish someone had told me sooner. Or if they did tell me, I wish I’d listened. I wish I’d been sat down, bribed with cakes, and forced to switch off the EMO rock and listen.
Here we go:
1/ You’re Not Perfect (and that’s ok)
Coming into my twenties I wanted to be the best at everything and I beat myself up because I wasn’t. I stopped trying things because I’d fail or fall short. I hated myself because I didn’t tick all the boxes of what I thought I should be. That was stupid. Realistically, nobody is perfect and if they act like they are they’re faking, or playing it really, really safe. It’s ok to just be really good at one thing and not at ten million things. It’s ok not be sure what you’re good at, you’re young! Try things, fail, try new things, fail, start again, keep fucking going.
You don’t have to be pretty, and smart, and good at cooking, and a master athlete, and a workaholic, and the life and soul of the party, and the go to guy for everything. You can’t. You are neither an octopus nor a time traveler. Pick one thing to excel at and leave the rest for others.
2/ Be explicit
You have to say what you mean, say what you feel, say what you want, ask explicitly.
Hints are bullshit. People either don’t get them and you feel ignored, or they show up as ambiguous and again you feel ignored. E.g. I once really liked someone and I didn’t know how to approach them about it so I posted some videos of songs that I felt really spelled out how I felt (honestly!), I’ve also done it when mad at someone and wanted them to feel the fury, angry video, take a hint tactic. THIS DID NOT HELP. It was ambiguous, impersonal and just really NOT enough. Any one of my 400+ friends could have seen that and thought it was directed at them. It was a dumb hint aimed into mid-air. No target. Absolutely useless. Could have just said it! Then there’s no doubt. Courage is a fine thing.
Believe me, I know sometimes it’s hard to just spit it out, but whatever you have to say, just say it, let people handle it. How people handle it can be really revealing. It can work out really well. Or it can be difficult. But it’s better to have a tough answer to a question rather than just a question burning at you for months and wasting your time wondering and looking for clues. In the event that it goes down badly you deal with it, back track if you have to, apologize, and move forward. Don’t just get stuck in limbo with a loaded pistol that never gets shot. Ask the big questions, reveal the big truths, or they will block your path forward.
3/Don’t attend every argument you’re invited to
It has taken me a long time to get this one, but since I have embraced it, it really works for me. If you’re being pushed around without due cause, constantly attacked without good reason, constantly in battle with your peers/parents/etc without any logical justification given, get out of there, do not engage. These people are terrorists and you do not negotiate with terrorists. Keep your cool and follow the path of diplomacy. If diplomacy is not an option, step aside until it is. If this means leaving behind things that you’ll miss, tough! You will find other things that don’t lead you to a place where your confidence and sense of self is trod on and where you feel under threat every second. There are better places to be than under someone’s shoe. I’m not saying disassociate from anything or anyone that gives you a hard time when you deserve it, or fights to smooth over tense situations, but know where the boundaries are between friendly, well-meaning pushing and unnecessary bullying and punch bagging. The more you put up with the more you will be expected to. Don’t put up with it.
4/ It’s ok that you fucked up
Most people at one time or another in their twenties have seriously made a mess of things. For some people it was a relationship, a friendship, others a job, an opportunity, a trip down the path of rebellion, heavy drinking, drugs, a spiral out of control, a phase of aggression or sexual expression, shameful antics, whatever you did, it’s ok you fucked up. Get over it, learn from it, make up for it, let it be what you do afterwards that counts. We all fucked up. It doesn’t define you any more.
5/Remember that other people’s problems are not your problems
I hate to say this one, it sounds harsh, but this is important. People will struggle around you at times and they will have it tough and they’ll want you to help them. Do help, do as much as you can, but know when you need to say no. You are no good to anyone exhausted and burnt out. You can’t solve everyone’s problems for them, you can’t save everybody, you can’t be there for everybody all the time. You have things to do!
When you always try and help, when you are that kind of person, sometimes people will take it for granted and they will expect your help for nothing in return, they won’t learn to help themselves and you will become a security blanket called upon in any difficult situation that could have been independently solved. Sometimes people might even take advantage of your willingness to help or pretend they need help to get your attention. Sometimes you have to take a risk and let people find a back-up plan, or their own source of inner strength. It’s tough, but it’s bloody true. There are things I didn’t know I could do alone until I had absolutely no other choice, and I’m better for it.
6/ Self-care is important
A follow on from the previous point, it really is important to help yourself. It’s great to help others but make sure you look out for you too, even more so. If you know you need some quiet time or a bath, or to do some things you’ve been thinking about for a while, for the love of god go and do them and stop letting people put you off because they want you to do something else. Again you are no good to people when you’re being dragged around like a dead cow.
If you’re tired you go to sleep, if you’re hungry you eat. That’s as simple as it needs to be. Don’t be guilt tripped into being anyone’s bitch or following anyone’s demands when that isn’t what you want to do. I’m not advocating absolute selfishness here. It’s nice to compromise and open yourself up to doing things you might not have wanted to before and letting someone else take the reins now and again. But let it be that, now and again. You have to be the captain of your own ship. That’s your right and your duty to yourself. If your ship ends up in pirate territory with a mutiny on board and you aren’t steering, you’re in big fucking trouble little china.
7/…… to be continued
(I don’t want to bore or exhaust anyone any further. This is enough for one day..but I’ll be back!)