Today… I am THIRTY!
I know people (and mostly women) dread leaving their twenties behind, but not me. I read somewhere that people have an “inner age” that they feel like they are for their whole life. Maybe they always feel 16. Or 22. Or 28. I’ve always (and I mean, always) felt like a 33-year-old. Even as a kid, I always wanted to hang out with the moms at birthday parties more than the kids. (I’m sure you can imagine my popularity.)
With every passing year, it feels like I become closer to who I really am deep down, and it feels so good. I’ve been thinking about what I want to say about turning 30. Because despite feeling like I wasn’t cut out for typical twenties-escapades, I did live through my twenties and had the usual bumps and victories along the way.
First though, the craziest part to me is that an entire decade of my life has been documented online. To be completely honest, I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. Often I think I’m judged today for things I did seven, eight, nine years ago and people forget that I was only 23, 22, or 21 at the time. As anyone would, my twenties have been a time of extreme growth. And that growth has been, at times painstakingly, documented here. My thoughts on graduating from college. How I felt being 23. Moving out of NYC. Going through my biggest breakup. Introducing my new (amazing) boyfriend. Announcing that we bought a house together!
I can’t mention the extreme growth I’ve had without talking about how I spent the better part of the last few years seriously working on my mental health. I feel like an entirely different person. To the core. Where (and who) I am today is completely different than where I started my twenties. I had been in a constant flight or fight mode for years (and years and years) and that takes its toll. It affected everything from my ability to make the right decisions to my physical health. You may remember that the turning point for me was having a seizure after a week of prolonged stress and unhealthy habits catching up with me (not enough water, food, or sleep). I went from having multiple panic attacks a week to a few a year. I had gone so long without one that when I had one out of the blue in gym a while after I started meditating, I was so taken aback by the severity of it. It eventually passed, but I was incredibly sad to be faced with the realization that I (and my body) had been going through THAT multiple times a week. I actually had a period of mourning following that where I realized how much life I had missed when my panic attacks and anxiety weren’t under control.
I do want to make clear that I’m not “cured” from anything. I have a laundry list of issues stemming from anxiety (intrusive thoughts, an inclination for self-harm, panic attacks, the cliché control issues) that I still face regularly. That is all written into the code of who I am– for better or for worse. I know what my personal challenges are intimately, as only one can, and because of that, I’ve been able to better manage that anxiety so I can live a fuller and healthier life. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and medication have helped during certain episodes. And then a larger responsibility has fallen into my own lap. I sleep a full eight hours every night. I work out regularly. I meditate. I make time for good people in my life and don’t feel bad about saying no to energy that doesn’t work for me. I eat a balanced diet and make exceptions in moderation. The mix of everything gives me a calm mind so that when the seas are a little rough or the roads become a little bumpier, I’m well-prepared to handle them.
I am nowhere near where my 20-year-old self thought I would be. And it’s for the best. I had these visions (both my own and those compounded by the Georgetown mentality) that I would be “climbing the corporate ladder.” Maybe I could have, but I’m so glad I didn’t. That 20-year-old had no idea that what she was doing in her dorm room would turn into her career. And at 25, she would have no idea that her career which felt so important to her at the time might not be that important by 30.
It sounds pessimistic to say, though I don’t mean it in a negative way at all, but pulling my foot off the gas has given me more space in my life to breathe. I’m in a tricky industry where your life becomes (quite literally) your work. I personally find it a dangerous line to cross and I have done as much as I can to put up some healthy boundaries. I do end up sharing a lot, but I’m constantly recalibrating on what makes the most sense for me. The hardest part of this realization, though, is that it ultimately hurts the bottom line of my business. The catch-22. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to make better choices of what I’m willing to do and what I’m simply not. And if it means not being as “successful” as I could be, than so be it. (With that said though, I’ve reconsidered what “success” even means to me– and by protecting parts of my life, I am successful. And happy.)
I’m hesitant to include this at all for fear of it being misinterpreted. But it’s important to me and something that I have really worked on through my twenties. I am proud of and comfortable in my body. At 20, 23, 25, I couldn’t say the same thing. I often felt awkward. Like my body was rented instead of owned. It sort of fit but didn’t feel quite right. That awkwardness didn’t lend itself to confidence and I struggled to feel “at home” with myself.
Age and maturity in general definitely helped. (I went through a very late puberty in college, which certainly contributed to some of the awkwardness.) But so did my attitude towards my body. Once I started working out and realized what it could do, what it was capable of, I felt so much more in control of it. This isn’t from a weight perspective or even a “how it looked.” It was how I felt in my body. As that clicked into place, I knew I was carrying myself differently into rooms. It– positively– affected my mental health. I have a sense of confidence that I never had before.
I also accepted my body for what it is. It’s not perfect, no one’s is. But it is the vessel I get to go through life in and for that I’m grateful. Especially in today’s day in age of Snapchat-filter-inspired-plastic-surgery, I am making a conscious effort to embrace myself for what it is. My wrinkles, my grey hair, my pale skin.
I wanted to make sure this section came after the one about feeling home with my body. Because I think the two are correlated. I love my parents and they were definitely doing what they what was best, but my sex education was very fear-based. Granted, looking back, I’m glad I wasn’t having sex in high school because there was no way I was mature enough for it. But that fear really carried through longer than it was healthy.
I carried this fear with me. Instead of feeling empowered or in control, I just felt a lot of shame. In a porn obsessed world, this is a terrible combination, especially for women. Dating was such a huge part of my twenties– from flirting with guys in college, to going out in NYC, to my first few real adult relationships– and sex, naturally, is a part of that. Instead of feeling a positive sense of exploration, it felt like something I was battling against. Which, as you can imagine, led to poor decisions and bad relationships and even worse self-worth.
When I look back to my early twenties in this department, I quite literally shudder. I wish I had had even the tiniest sliver of the empowerment I feel now. To not be afraid or ashamed. To dump the bad guys earlier. To realize I had control.
TO KNOW THYSELF
More than ever before, I am done apologizing for who I am. I really feel like I know who I am and it’s okay that it doesn’t fit some particular mold. I think my early twenties were mostly spent trying to squish myself into these molds (hard-working New Yorker! fun 20-something in the city! etc.) and just ended up not being myself in the end. Which contributed to me feeling lousy about myself. I always felt like I wasn’t measuring up because how I was measuring myself wasn’t… me!
There is a certain sense of self that one acquires through their twenties. I’ve tried things. I’ve put myself out there. I’ve given myself the chance to see if I like it. But now I’m also giving myself the permission to not like something, to not feel comfortable with something, to prefer something else. I was talking with a new friend this summer about this. Where in years past I might force myself to be the kind of girl who stays out until 3 am with everybody (and feel like a loser for hating what “should” be fun to a “normal” person), I’m totally fine having a blast until midnight and then going to bed. (The real kicker is that absolutely no one cares as much as you think they care, lol.) I do me. The people in my life, love me for me– and I love them for being them.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO
So, I feel like I’m in a much different and much healthier place than I was ten years ago. I totally believe that your twenties should be spent exploring, failing, and learning. I’m glad I did that and I know I will continue to explore, fail, and certainly learn. But there is something quite transient about that decade. I graduated college, moved home for a month before starting my first job, moved to NYC, moved to Connecticut, met my boyfriend and moved to NJ where we ultimately bought a house. Maybe this many moves isn’t the norm, but I’d say my friends have done at least two big moves (between cities and/or jobs) in the decade. There’s a sense of wanting to try on all the hats to see what fits best. I always bloomed where I planted to get an immediate sense of normalcy… but deep down I really just wanted to already be where I was going to be. Being with Mike in our house (and I want to be clear that neither a partner nor a house is necessary for this feeling– just so happens to be my reality), I feel so at peace. My twenties felt like preparation. Training, if you will. Figuring out the strategies that worked. Ditching the bad habits that didn’t. Learning how I worked best. Letting go of what was holding me back. Finding success and learning through failure.
Yes, that will continue to be the case for the rest of my life, but I feel like I’m starting this decade of my life in such a good place with such a good sense of who I am.
(But also… who knows maybe I’ll look back at this when I’m 40 and think, “She had no idea what the hell she was doing then either.”)