To be twenty again. So badly do I wish for a re-do of my twenties, that it’s almost painful to post this. Now I am NOT saying that I would ever want to trade-in my kids, husband, friends, or college degree (which all came from my twenties), but I sure wouldn’t mind tweaking a few things if I could. Certainly, the least I can do is impart some wisdom on those that are there now, and the parents along for the ride.
Oddly enough, the inspiration for this post is my father. He and I did not always see eye-to-eye. Actually, we rarely ever did. But I distinctly recall a conversation that we had sometime between the ages of 19 and 21. At the time I thought it was asinine and mean-spirited, much like I thought everything he said was. Looking back, I am astounded that a fortyish year-old man had such wisdom to share regarding my journey through the crucial decade-long tour that I was about to embark on.
Maybe it was the gaggle of crazy female cousins that he spent a lot of time with in his younger years, or maybe he just “got it.” Regardless, there is wisdom here that we can learn from. It might be too late for me. I will never “re-capture” my twenties, but it is not too late for you, or maybe your daughters. So take heed.
Let me start by saying that I think his lead-off piece of advice would have been, “don’t get pregnant.” But that ship had already sailed for me, so he summed it up into one critical point. “Take care of yourself. This is the ‘fun’ decade of your life.” No pressure.
Now for me, the first part of taking care of myself should have meant taking care of my body. After all, you will need it for potentially a very long time. Unfortunately, that was not something that I achieved, and while I have won battles here and there, I have never won the war. As I struggle now, I think of how much easier it would have been in my twenties. My body was young, and agile, and despite having small children, my energy level was so much higher. I could eat right and exercise for a week and drop ten pounds. Metabolism is not a myth. I really took for granted the toll that time takes on your body and mind.
The women I know that seem to enjoy high-energy and agile bodies well into their forties and beyond have shared with me that they were nurturing these things early on in that all-important decade. Meanwhile, I was poisoning myself with chicken wings, Marlboro Lights, and cheap vodka. This is not to say that some amount of “letting loose” in your twenties is not expected and encouraged, but moderation is essential, and that word had no place in my vocabulary. I am in NO WAY saying that you should obsess about your body in a way that causes stress or anxiety, or try to live up to society’s expectations of body image, but I am saying, “take care of yourself.” Nurture your body. Feed it good things. Don’t poison it. You will reap the benefits in the decades to follow.
The idea of taking care of your “mind” in your twenties is probably a difficult concept to wrap your arms around. Possibly you are no longer in school, so you aren’t getting a rigorous mental workout, and even if you are still in school, you have complete free-reign over how much or how little you do in the way of reading, or studying. You are also not “old” so you are not yet required to do things like crossword puzzles or memory games to stay “sharp.” The temptation is inevitably (especially in these times) to fill your days with Netflix, Snapchat, Tumblr, Kinder, Instagram, or the other five hundred new ones they will come out with by next week. All of this is fine in moderation (there’s that word again), but I beg you to engage in some “old-fashioned” activities. I didn’t have a ton of time in my twenties because my babies were little, and money was tight, but I made the best of it. I travelled a bit, visited museums, read books, went to concerts, and crammed in as much school as I could afford (or couldn’t afford).
Your mind craves new ideas and information. It feeds-off of your experiences. Gather them any way you can. I have a friend from high school. I admired her back then, and even more now. I follow her adventures on Facebook. She is always trying something new, whether it is a restaurant, recipe, museum, or yoga class. Early in my twenties we became estranged. I will never forget an e-mail I received from her. It said simply, “I am not mad at you, I feel sad for you.” She meant that she felt sad for me because she knew that I would have difficulty sucking the marrow out of life now that I was strapped down with a kid and a husband. I didn’t hate her for saying it, but I made sure that I did what I could to prove her wrong. Never stop filling your arsenal with knowledge and new adventures. The tools you acquire will serve you well in the years to come, and you will never have the time you have in your twenties.
Finally, take care of your soul. PLEASE take care of your soul. It is fragile, and precious, and easily wounded. My soul was tattered, battered, and torn apart in my twenties. It wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own. I made decisions that put me in situations that were detrimental to the health of my soul. You can avoid this, I promise. Put thought into who you date, who you choose to spend time with, when you would like to start a family, how to spend your money, how to SAVE your money. Enlist the support of family and friends. Ask for advice and LISTEN to it. Really listen to what those around you have to say, especially your “elders.” They have “been there” and “done that” and sometimes they might just know what they are talking about. Never alienate family or friends over petty differences. It’s NEVER worth it. Whatever you do, don’t listen to those who doubt you, or your ability to be great. It’s never “that’s just how you are,” or “that’s just how it’s going to be for you.” No one has the right to tell you who you are or how it’s going to be but you. I ignored a lot of good advice in my twenties, and I listened to a lot of ass holes.
While you can certainly avoid the bad decisions that will make you depressed or anxious, you cannot always avoid the physical component of sadness and anxiety. I have seen time and time again, and experienced first-hand, that if you are going to suffer from a mood disorder, it is most likely going to begin in your twenties. Don’t panic. I assure you this can be rectified with a balance of relaxation exercises, therapy, and possibly medication. Don’t suffer one minute longer than you have to. I wasted 5 years of my life and the lives of people I love thinking that my afflictions were incurable and insurmountable. They are not. Reach out, find the resources, and turn it around. You are a big girl now, and you must figure out how to navigate through it so that you don’t waste a precious moment of this beautiful decade.