10 Important Life Lessons for Women In Their Twenties
Updated: Mar 24, 2020
2018 was an important and difficult year for me, but it was the year I'll always remember because I learned vital life lessons that will follow me into my thirties. Here's more on those lessons and why I think all women in their twenties should think about them.
1. Life is about living, not explaining.
After making some important life decisions toward the end of last year, I proceeded to write think-pieces, post videos, tweet, and over-explain my actions to others. As someone who struggles with anxiety, these are typical actions as a result of wanting to control the way that other people see me. I didn't want anyone to think that I was a bad person for breaking up with someone. I didn't want anyone to think I was crazy for shaving my head or taking a social media hiatus. I didn't want people to stop liking me because I'd said no to designing a flyer or because I didn't feel like talking. So I explained, and explained and explained. None of it made me feel better.
I wish I had spent more time just living. I wish I had reminded myself that the "No." is a complete sentence. Toward the end of the year, I tried to explain less. I tried to just do things because I wanted to (or, not do things...because I didn't want to.) It is a struggle, but I am finding this to be something that makes life easier to live.
2. Love is not, and should not be transactional.
This year I analyzed a lot of my relationships and realized that they felt more like a transaction at a store with a cashier than mutually beneficial. Some people had poor habits of reaching out only when a favor was needed. I had a poor habit of constantly answering - I'd feel anxious if I said no, or didn't pick up. I worked this year to step away from many of those relationships. I refuse to continue to interact with people who only want to benefit from the things you can do or give, without pouring something back.
3. The only thing worse than death, is being alive and not acting like it.
This year I was involved in a constant struggle with depression, worse than any I'd battled before. In the midst of that battle, I lost my grandmother to cancer. She had been sick for some time, and our family knew that her passing would come. Still, her death took me to a very dark place and I did not know how to process that grief.
At her funeral, the pastor mentioned in his sermon that "the only thing worse than death, is acting as if you are dead while you are alive." In other words, living without purpose, without fervor, without intention. What no one knew during that time was that I had been contemplating suicide for much of the year. Had I not heard that sermon, I may not have found a reason to keep trying. I decided that if my grandmother - a woman who had given so much to so many - had her life cut short, then it was my responsibility to at least try to keep living for her.
4. "Having it all" looks nothing like the picture society has painted for you.
I have struggled with severe anxiety related to all of the things I felt I had not accomplished in life. In 2018, I had to choose between moving to another state with my longtime partner, or attempting to "build a life" for myself and checking off a list of things I had never done on my own. I chose the latter, because deep down I felt that if I passed on the opportunity to live on my own I would deeply regret it.
So I lived on my own. I purchased my first car. I found a great job with great benefits and rented my own apartment for the first time. I felt accomplished. Then I felt lonely, and unfulfilled, and found myself isolated from the things and people I once cared about. Sure, I went out on my own...and managed to forget everything else that had once made me happy. This year has taught me that I can have both, my independence and love, my personal accomplishments and the ones that may be mutual. My life can be anything I want it to be.
5. I had a very unrealistic and toxic idea of what "beautiful" looks like.
On December 30th, 2017, I shaved my head. I wanted to try something new and thought the change would help me to let go of the idea that hair = beauty. It wasn't as simple as just going to get the haircut. When I saw myself for the first time without hair I loved it. Then I woke up the next morning, with no makeup on...no earrings...a fuzzy head and an instant and overwhelming sense of regret.
"What the fuck did I just do?"
Cutting your hair off requires you to navigate so many different complexities about what supposedly makes a woman a woman. You have to re-learn what makes you feel sexy. You have to get used to seeing just your face. You have to navigate things like interactions with men and your sex life because suddenly...you're a "different person" and have no idea what gave you the confidence you once had. I struggled through good haircuts, bad haircuts, not feeling sexy or flirty when I went out in public, learning how to seek positive affirmation from myself, and becoming confident enough to wear my bald head more than it was wearing me. If nothing else, shaving my head made me feel more beautiful and confident than I ever have, and I am so happy that I did it.
6. Therapy is life saving and life altering.
I found a therapist this year more out of desperation versus responsible decision making (or maybe I can consider that both). I needed to talk to someone about the things happening in my head because I had become afraid. I ended up learning more than I ever had about the complexities of my anxiety. It was not a plague. It was not "just who I am." It was not normal. It is a disorder, one I don't struggle with alone. And a professional who was understanding and kind and patient was able to teach me how to recognize which of my thoughts were caused by that. Therapy came at the very end of a tumultuous, difficult year, but I am still glad that I chose to go.
If you have been debating it and have access to counseling, please don't hesitate to go.
7. You do yourself little justice by holding on to old versions of you.
Since the end of my pageantry days in 2016, I have secretly been fighting to hold on to the image of myself that I felt was "better" than anything else I have become since then. The thinner me, the more "popular/visible" me, the respectable me. I have not been "Miss Prairie View" for two years - in fact, two other women have held the title since. Still, I've continued to struggle between wanting to keep being this queen in everyone's eyes and wanting to just be myself. When I shaved my head I assumed people would think I'd lost it. When I cursed online I thought "now they'll lose respect for me."
The truth is...who gives a shit?
I am not who I was in 2016. I am a woman in her twenties, who likes to discuss trivial topics openly and has the agency and autonomy to do so. Having an attachment to a version of myself that existed two years ago is unhealthy, and anyone else who has an attachment to that version of me is toxic. It's time to let that go.
8. The dynamics of friendships and relationships with others change, that doesn't have to be a bad thing.
I started off this year in a close knit group of friends. Over time, the group changed, grew smaller, came back, and eventually some of us went our separate ways depending on changes that were happening in our own lives. I've learned that it's okay to go from speaking to someone daily to not interacting with them as often.
Sometimes you just need to be on your own, or interact with different people. You owe others whatever space they need as much as they owe you yours. And neither of you owes the other an explanation. We tend to go on and on about how we are moving on from people or cutting people off for our own well being, yet we become offended when friends or other people seem to cut us off for theirs. True friendship is about loving people enough to let them go.
9. I can't change every one or ask them to believe what I believe - but I also don't have to continue interacting with people who have ideologies that harm me.
The world has always been difficult to navigate as a sexual assault survivor, but this year the topic seemed to permeate every aspect of my life. From social media to workplace conversations it felt like everyone had a say about #MeToo, or victims of assault. Some of those opinions deeply hurt me. It's a pretty indescribable kind of pain to see someone you care about make jokes about rape online, or to have your coworker support a rapist openly because of nostalgia tied to their celebrity.
I didn't want to delete folks at first, I couldn't...I've known you for years! But that wasn't fair to me. A big part of being a survivor is removing yourself from the toxicity of others who don't understand your experience. So this year I did, and I'm not sorry.
10. The only way to test what you're capable of is by winging it and figuring that shit out.
I'd like to thank grad school and my classmates at the Newhouse School @ Syracuse University for teaching me this super valuable lesson.
I entered grad school feeling super intimidated and incapable of accomplishing this "monumental" task that seemed so unrealistic. How can I receive a master's? I'm not a master's degree type person. This is so out of my reach. I should have stuck to the small pond. I'm not a big fish. Please believe me when I tell you that you are a colossal fucking fish.
Every task that seemed out of my reach was accomplished this year. Every tough assignment was just one I had to take a little longer to figure out, or more time to work on. Every struggle that seemed isolated to me and my little grad school bubble was one that my classmates - of all different backgrounds and experiences - equally related to. We have now made it through almost our entire graduate program, and we complained, cried, vented, and chugged wine the entire time. Still, we're almost done with something I never saw myself doing. If anything, it's taught me that all of these "big dreams" I have are achievable so long as I go for them, and the only person who can say "no" is me.
This year was filled with lessons that I will continue to carry with me. Mostly, I learned to survive through an extremely difficult and emotionally uncomfortable year accented with beautiful moments that I still get to look back on and smile.