November is a pretty significant one for me this year. Permit me, for a second, to discount the horrific shit-abyss into which this year has descended and focus on some positives. Firstly it was my mum’s 60th birthday. Secondly, my girl Bee celebrated her one year anniversary and a year since I got to stand up with her while she became a Mrs. It’s my last full month at work until halfway into next year and the last full month before I become a mum.
It’s also *gulp* the last month of my twenties.
I don’t know why that last fact is the scariest one, but it is. We’ve spent so long getting ready for parenthood that I guess I forgot to prepare for leaving my twenties behind. Thinking back, I had the same feels in the lead up to my 20th birthday too. I remember lamenting leaving my teenage years behind, wondering what it all meant and where was it all going. It seemed like a huge deal that I wasn’t emotionally prepared for. You know what? I shouldn’t have worried. My teenage years- as I’m sure is the case for many of you- sucked. They weren’t anything to get nostalgic for. They were basically a minefield of shit to navigate through before I could level up to ‘adult’.
After all that, you turn 20 and still no one thinks of you as an adult. Well, apart from you and the judicial system. So off I went once again, navigating through what was essentially the puberty of my personality. It’s a time where you feel you have to constantly prove that you’re adult enough- therefore capable enough- to do so. Once I got used to being in my twenties, I was in my mid-twenties, and realised I’d have to do the same again going into another decade.
My point is that no matter what stage you’re at in life, it’s easy to make milestones seem daunting. My twenties were OK, and I had a lot of fun, but I’m ready for the next level. Time spent wishing yourself younger just means you get older without accomplishing anything attainable. All you can really do is look at what you’ve done, what you’ve learned and how your experiences have shaped you or prepared you for what’s ahead. Thankfully, regardless of age bracket, lists are universally beloved, so I’ve compiled a handy one of lessons I’ve learned over the last ten years… not all to be taken entirely literally, for purposes of disclaimer.
- Not everyone is going to like you. Some of them might not even have a reason. This is fine. They don’t have to, and you don’t have to try and impress them.
- Likewise, you’re not going to love everyone you meet. You don’t have to, either.
- The people you’re closest to could be in your life forever, or they could drift out of it. It can be for any number of reasons. It doesn’t devalue the friendship you had before, or make your time together any less special than with people you still keep in touch with. It can also hurt worse than any break up.
- However, don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t follow up on every message or plan. You’re not going to enjoy yourself if you stretch yourself too thin.
- If you’re fortunate enough to have them, nurture strong familial relationships. It’s amazing how much you’re connected to someone with whom you might not even share any interests.
- It might seem strange after that last point but a big lesson I learned was that you also don’t have to like your family. They might just be terrible people, and you’re not duty bound to love them just because you share DNA.
- It’s cool if you’re not into one night stands and can count your sexual conquests on one hand. It’s also cool to use your twenties as a period of experimentation, finding out who or what works for you. Either way, stay safe, get checked and don’t shame other people’s choices.
- Staying in a relationship you’ve outgrown because you feel like you have to isn’t healthy or fair for anyone. It might seem harsh but it’s not sparing anyone’s feelings if it doesn’t make you happy.
- If your biggest fear is being alone, remember there are worse things than being yourself. You are not someone’s other half, you’re a completely whole person on your own.
- Don’t settle for less than what you’re worth but remember that relationships do involve a degree of compromise. It’s a cliché but trust me, it helps.
- Realising you’re in a relationship because you want to be- rather than feeling like you have to be- is actually really liberating. It’s why my current one has lasted nearly four years and shows no signs of slowing.
- If you know what you want to do with your life, awesome. Embrace it. I envy people who have always had a vocation. I wish I had that focus. It’s admirable. Work for it, and you’ll get what you put in.
- Even if you do go down that path and have a career crisis, that’s cool. It might be a rough patch to test your mettle. It might be that what you thought you wanted isn’t for you. At least you gave it a shot.
- Not having a plan is cool too. Be adaptable. Keep yourself open to different opportunities. I’ve done jobs that didn’t even exist when I left school. Your ‘thing’ might not even be a thing yet.
- You’re going to see people get ahead of you career-wise. They might’ve worked for it, they might’ve blagged it, they might’ve worked that sweet nepotism. You might think they deserve it or not. It’s natural to feel resentment if someone represents something you haven’t achieved for yourself. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Just don’t let it consume you.
- Learning to let go of resentment- and anger- is hard to do. Like, really hard. It’s also necessary. Use it to spur you on, not hold you back.
- Instead of thinking ‘why not me?’, look at where you can improve your skills. When you get feedback, use it as a building block for the next opportunity.
- Volunteering is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, if you approach it as you would a paid job. It gives you experience in areas you might be lacking, it can offer opportunities to learn things you may not otherwise or it can just be something you do because you enjoy it.
- If your current job is just a means of funding your lifestyle and paying the bills, don’t feel bad. You don’t have to be defined by your career. Find other ways of expressing yourself.
- Remember the importance of hobbies. I had loads when I was younger and they slowly fell away- acting, drawing, writing, swimming, sports. It’s only now that I’ve started to rediscover them. It doesn’t matter if it leads to anything or not.
- It’s never too late to learn something new. Look up short courses, watch online tutorials, find groups near you. There’s always a means of support when you think there might be a barrier.
- Exercise is important for both physical and mental health. Take it from someone who considered living on the second floor as a workout. Seeing and feeling my body get stronger has the same effect on my mind, too.
- We all get body hang ups. Not being a teenager doesn’t absent you from ‘ugly days’. Sometimes it makes them worse because we feel like it shouldn’t matter. There’s no magic wand for self-esteem and you’re not going to get it from anyone else. It happens.
- Be kind to your body. It’s with you for the long haul.
- Always- and I cannot stress this enough, ALWAYS!- take your make up off before bed. It’s the one thing your mum is absolutely 100% right about.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. It’s not a sign of weakness (although I feel like an utter hypocrite for saying this as I’m the worst at admitting I need it).
- Travelling is amazing and broadens every horizon, but not everyone can afford it or has the wont to swan off to a Thai beach to find themselves. Explore where you can, even in your own town or country. Go a different route from usual. See something new on any occasion that you can.
- Cut your hair short. Dye it something unnatural. Get a piercing or tattoo, or both. Wear patterns that don’t match or wear all one colour, if that’s your thing. Find your style. The best look for you is something you fucking own.
- There’s a very high chance your life isn’t going to turn out exactly like you planned. Don’t be disheartened. That thing you never included in your ‘life plan’ could be the very thing that makes you.
There we have it- a list that makes me extremely uncomfortable because I have a thing about numbers ending with ‘9’. Could it be that by writing 29 lessons I’m finally learning to own my own fear? Could it be that I’m just going to have to suck it up to stick to the theme?
Who knows. In any case, I started my twenties as a film studies student with fixings to be ‘a writer or whatever’ (I’m sure this was my actual career plan). I’m ending them as an unmarried mum-to-be, in a flat I don’t own, working in a job that I never anticipated, with years of education behind me, a volunteering sideline that I love, a better idea of myself and the strongest support network I could ask for. If you asked me at 19 where I thought I’d be in ten years, I’d never have told you I’d be here.
A couple of weeks ago I was talking to my mum about a job a few years I’d done that I’d gotten from a volunteering gig. Why, I can’t remember. It’s not important. “You know”, she said, “when you think about it, you’ve actually done quite a lot with your life”.
I think things are all the better for that.