When I was much younger –20 years old– I remember being full of excitement…happy to be an almost-grown woman of legal age and jazzed about all that this meant to me: I could drink…legally. I would be an adult so didn’t have to listen to and do what other people told me (something I was never good at). I would be graduating from college soon and ready to tackle my new career. I was propelling myself forward on a real live grown-up life! I’m sure I didn’t really know what all this meant, but I couldn’t wait.
But if I remember correctly, I was also unsure of so many things. Like how would I find a job I really wanted? Not just a job, but one that I really wanted. And, I didn’t want to marry the guy I was dating, but I really dug him; I went to college and he didn’t, and he was happy with his working-class salary and I wanted more. How would we figure this out? I was socially awkward (still am, at times) and I was always annoying somebody…not only was it usually unintentional, most of the time I wasn’t even aware. What to do about that? My friends and I were all going in different directions. Could we maintain the friendship? Would I make new friends? How? I was always full of questions about the “rules of society”: marriage? kids? dress rules? social decorum? How to decide what really matters?
I was excited and full of angst at the same time. When I think about the way my life has turned out vs the concerns I had then, I want to go back into time and tell my 20-year-old self to “relax”. “Everything’s going to be fine” would be too much of a platitude, but “you’ll be fine” would be a true statement.
I would tell myself that I now know that most of the things we worry about don’t turn out to be nearly as bad as we anticipate they will be.
I would tell myself to “go ahead and settle into yourself”. Your personality is what it is. I wasted so much time trying to hide my shyness and being bad at it because I am who I am. Everybody’s not going to like you –no matter what.
I went into therapy in my late 30s; turned my internal life around. I should have done it 10 years earlier and would have been much more chill.
I’d say that following your heart and doing what feels right for you is usually better than following the generic rules made up by somebody else that I don’t even know. So…no husband and no kids will be fine. Not joining a sorority (or any other group) when all around you are doing that will be fine. Getting a master’s degree from a city college and not a highfalutin’ (expensive) Ivy League school won’t even matter in a few years. (Well, actually it did matter; I wasn’t stuck with a student loan!)
I’d prime myself for all the fun I would have dating interesting and fun men, traveling around the world, and going from job to job because I’m naturally restless. (Well, the job-change thing wasn’t necessarily fun, but it wasn’t bad).
Most importantly I would tell myself to learn what it means to be a good friend and cultivate those skills, don’t spend your energy on toxic people (men or women) because you can’t fix them and they’ll drag you down, and learn to trust your gut; so often what I felt immediately was the right thing to feel…and then I’d talk myself out of it. I try not to do that now. And you know what, my life is not only really good but it’s way better than I ever imagined it would be. That would have been good to know at 20.
What about you? What would you tell your 20-year-old self? How do you think it would matter?
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