Lessons of my 20s

First things first – Grandma is getting better. It’s all very day by day, but she’s getting the care and rehabilitation she needs. Mom and I have been talking to her regularly, and this upcoming weekend I’m heading home for an early visit before my birthday. You all have no idea how badly I’m looking forward to sharing the news that she’s home again.

The second life nugget – my Marina kitty turned 11 yesterday. In case you never knew this, dogs aren’t the only ones who have “dog years” comparable to human years. Cat years are a thing, and Marina at 11 is the equivalent of a 60 year old. She’s officially a senior kitty, and in true senior fashion, her favorite past times are sleeping, eating and then going back to sleep either on my bed, under a side table or under the Christmas tree. Last night she let me know it was time for bed at 7 p.m., so I unmade “her” (my) bed.

Additionally, a week from today I turn 30. I’m looking forward to the start of a new decade and more than okay with saying good bye to my 20s. I’m feeling reflective, but want to make sure that what I’m posting isn’t just prattle or cliches. Those are everywhere and let’s be real – nobody likes them, even if they do hold grains of truth.

So I’m going to share the five biggest lessons I’ve learned from my 20s in life, work and relationships.

1. Literally no one is near as concerned with you as you are.

I’ve poked fun of the trend on here before, and I’m going to do it again: disclaimers. Disclaimers on social media or in real life interactions about how the original poster is just sharing their opinion and “I’m not trying to be offensive/judge/etc.” before launching into a monologue that literally no one else is going to pay that much attention to. Or people feeling the need to over-explain mundane decisions about their own lives and family’s (this is pretty common on the mommy influencer side of Instagram) as though there’s an audience entitled to personal information.

I’ll admit in my early 20s I was guilty of doing this from time to time on Facebook, or unnecessarily filtering myself during real life interactions to avoid awkwardness when there wasn’t any need to do so. Eventually I realized the worrying, the projecting and the constant bundle of nerves I was carrying around from over-analyzing was pointless. All the people I talked to weren’t near as concerned with me as I was. Hell, they’ve got their own daily struggles and probably weren’t listening to me in the first place. So I was wasting mental energy on something not even worthwhile.

Coming to this realization brought immense peace, and it lead to me being able to put my second lesson into action …

2. Get over yourself – really.

When I was 23 I read Dr. Laura’s Bad Childhood – Good Life, which was written for adults who had dysfunctional or unhappy childhoods to learn how to create a better life for themselves. I can’t remember the chapter, but there was a section where she made a play on the Carly Simon song “You’re So Vain.” Instead of “You’re so vain/I bet you think this song is about you,” she directed it to the adult children with narcissistic parents who more or less get told by those parents “You’re so vain/You think my life is about you.” Dr. Laura’s point to the readers from those families to accept that their parents were less than stellar, wouldn’t ever apologize or feel remorse, and therefore it was pointless to focus so much on heartache without getting true help. In other words, get over yourself so you can move forward in life.

My parents divorced when I was five as a result of my father’s infidelity and leaving us for his married coworker (have I got some stories there!) Him leaving, the visitation when he and his new family didn’t want me around, and me finally telling him I was never coming back when I was ten did a number on me. Up until I was 23, I believed all of my insecurities, jealousy and discontent were something I was born with and couldn’t do anything about. Then at 23, I read Dr. Laura’s book. It was chapter featuring a letter from a little girl whose father had abandoned her to create a new family elsewhere that opened my eyes. In her letter she wrote such a poignant line that finally pinpointed the source of my grief (paraphrased): “I’m not grieving the dad I lost, I’m grieving the one I never had.”

I spent the afternoon after I read that sobbing. I had been carrying a hurt with me for 18 years at that point, and I realized it was a hurt I needed to put down so I could step forward. In a few words – I needed to get over myself.

When I say get over yourself, I don’t mean to just suck it up and pretend heartache never happened. But I am going to tell you all if you have some hurt or dysfunction in your past, you’ve got to do the work in therapy or through self-help materials to heal. The past cannot see the future and that’s where you’re needed most, so get yourself there.

3. Your well-being is more important than the bag, the status or impressing other people.

The five years between 24 and 29 have been an extended lesson in learning to prioritize my well-being – physical health, emotional and mental health, practicing self-care and making time for soul care.

Sometimes I think the universe likes to get direct with me. Actually, I know the universe likes to get direct with me. Originally I went into state government and had a career aspiration to be a press secretary for a government body. I would have state retirement, the title, the subtle bragging rights. Then I realized the culture where I was working was very high school (this was the term the speakers used at orientation – I’m not kidding you) and I lost that job after six months.

I stayed at OldJob far too long because I thought on paper it would look better to have a long-term job stay of three years minimum. On paper it does look better. But at that two year mark following restructuring, two jobs getting morphed into one and the stress making me physically ill, I lost that one as well.

Now I’m at a place where I’m not making quite the same money (why I stayed at OldJob), but my environment is better for me and I’m happy at work for the first time in a long time.

Looking back, I was too concerned with my own image, making as much money as possible and proving an unspecified point to unspecified people at my own well-being’s expense. It all meant jack and was stupid. I understand that in life we all have to do things that don’t make us happy from time to time, but looking back, I should have sent out resumes at the first red flag and gone to therapy when depression symptoms first started kicking in, no matter how much it may have made other people uncomfortable. I should have saved myself and not let myself go. When tough times arise, my friends – always take care of yourself. Always. External validations, the bag and stuff means nothing if you’re a shell of yourself and you know it.

4. Remember the Lord’s Prayer regarding forgiveness.

My non-Christian leaders may not be familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, so to explain, there’s a verse halfway through the prayer that asks God to “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Later on in the Bible, when the New Testament recounts the story of the crucifixion, Jesus calls out to God to “forgive them, for they know not what they’re doing.”

Forgiveness was hard for me to implement for the longest time, both towards myself and others. If the people hurting me didn’t feel remorseful or even care that they hurt me, why should I extend any grace and mercy? Wasn’t that like giving bad behavior a pass, acting like a doormat?

Eventually age and growing in faith showed me that forgiveness isn’t about the other person as much as is it about me – not letting a spirit of resentment and bitterness eat away at me over someone else’s sorry or ignorant choices. So for my own well-being and spiritual maturity, I had to learn to truly forgive others and myself. Admittedly, this is probably going to be a daily lifelong practice.

The reason why I referenced the Lord’s Prayer is because it’s a reminder of how small we really are in the grand scheme of the universe. If God is willing to forgive us – even when we don’t ask for it – and He’s the almighty, then I’m not too important to nurse a grudge until the day I die. Forgive people, protect yourself – and move on.

5. If you go scorched earth, never look back at the burning field.

This might be my favorite lesson of my 20s.

I’m a firm believer that scorched earth isn’t always the best first choice, but when it is – whether it be breaking free from abusive family members or a job that regularly tries to destroy your self-esteem, to ending a relationship that has gone down the dysfunctional path – the only thing you do is break free, as soon as possible, in spectacular fashion, and not look back at the burning field.

I can’t tell you how many middle-aged people I know who express regret staying in no-win situations for too long because it’s familiar, or who spend so much energy wishing loved ones would somehow change to become more loving, kinder, generous or boundary-respecting. I already lost too much time in my childhood, teen years and early 20s wishing some part of my life were different and being jealous of people who never had my struggles. Now, if there’s a part of my life or people in it that are truly dysfunctional, it’s time to accept them as they are – forgive them – and then whip out my (metaphorical) gasoline cannister and lighter.

You’re the only one who can save yourself. Don’t ever be afraid to do it.

I hope you all enjoyed reading today/tonight’s post. I’m going to have some birthday-related stuff coming up next week, and in the meantime, I hope you all enjoy yourselves.

Yours in writing and running,

Allison

One comment

  1. Wow!! You are so far ahead of the game @ 30 than I was. I applaud you. Took me a minute longer & a great deal more grief 2 come 2 the very same conclusions. I don’t usually blow up & burn down fields, although there has been an occasion or 2, but the healthy result is the same. Shake the dust off & keep walking. Happy Birthday & enjoy 30’s. They truly were some of my favorite years.. health wise, physical & emotional. However, I’ve just decided I’m kinda liking pre 60 cuz… dang… its exciting! Thank you for your post. It was refreshing.

    Liked by 1 person

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