Is there any better way to sum up one’s 20’s? That long, messy, magic, tumultuous decade of challenging comfort, defining self, low risk and high energy. Low risk because as much as the world might tell you that you’ve got to have it all figured out by 30, you’ll eventually realize how little these numbers matter in terms of maturity, wisdom, capabilities, or lack-thereof. Which is why I’m surprised to honestly feel any different now at 30 — especially considering the fact that if you asked any day-job clients, I’ve been in my 30’s for years. When I began my journey as a professional at 20 I quickly realized (lest you had any doubts) there are few things the world trusts less than 20-year-old girls. I’ve been fibbing about my age ever since, and each year the age that I thought of as sounding the most serious — carrying the most promise of maturity — has grown exponentially. At 20, I actually thought it was 21. The next year I was already upping it to 25, and by 25 I was in my early 30’s. If you asked my mother she’ll tell you I’ve always wanted to be older than I am. When she used to wish me happy birthday — you’re 7! my response was apparently — I can’t wait until I’m 8… I wish I was turning 9... For a long time I felt that I was so close to adulthood, but the number on my driver’s license kept it always just out of reach…
But now I am legitimately at an age that in some small sense finally conveys to the world the weight I feel my years have earned — which must explain the unexpected sense of relief. As 30 is universally considered kind of a big deal I drove myself, some books, my journal and a camera to the foggy, windswept, magical Marin headlands. I thought I would finally have the time to indulge in some reflection; to put together a list of what I’ve learned and what values I want to take forward into my 30’s. But I’m sure you readers know me too well — before I’d typed or written the first word it was time to pack up and drive home. But I did read a good book (Cool Gray City of Love); I let my feet and mind wander up and down the rainy hills; and I cooked carrots in as many ways as I could imagine.
The other month the editor of Bon Appétite wrote that he knew he was turning 45 because of how often he spent dinner eating in, eating less, and sharing plates. I may be 15 years younger but I am so there. My CSA box has been hugely influential in encouraging me to eat more at home, and the editor had some great tips for any age. Eat less. Eat seasonally. If eating animal protein have half as much as a restaurant would normally serve (or split a plate). Less empty calories. To help with that I’ve gone from experiments in going gluten free to treating carbs as though it were cake — eating it once in a while as a special occasion. I would have never imagined giving up bread in the past, but at this point in life, I’ve eaten a lot of really great bread. And a lot of great restaurant meals (thank you San Francisco). I treated myself well in my twenties, and now I’m going to treat myself even better in the years to come. Quality over quantity, when it comes to calories, to clothes, and also when it comes to people.
I don’t want to wallow in negativity, but on the other hand if this blog isn’t my small, personal soapbox, then what is? I’ve been stupidly generous to the world at large throughout my life, and figuring out how to balance that out is one of the biggest lessons I’m taking out of my 20’s. I spoke about treating myself right, and for me that means valuing myself more. Throughout my adult life I have constantly given away my resources for free. I’ve spent so much money, energy and time on people who not only don’t return the favor but don’t even thank me in any way for what I’ve done. I’ve made countless dinners, paid for and made countless drinks; loaned money; gotten people jobs and business opportunities; shared connections; ran errands; flown around the world for people; committed time, and even gotten people apartments, homes, and spaces to stay in the most expensive city in the county for no charge. So obviously this is mostly me just being an idiot (doing massive favors has never actually helped a friendship or relationship) but I know I’m not the only one who has felt undervalued or overcommitted. Now not everyone has been unappreciatively, but sadly — and for reasons that continue to baffle me — the majority of people I interacted with in my early twenties (of which my friends today are not a part of) failed to express any gratitude, and to add insult to injury often assumed that if I’ve done one nice thing for them I am henceforth obligated to be their mealticket. It took me a while, but once I acknowledged to myself that I deserved better I began putting my efforts towards the friends that respected me. I still want to be able to do favors for people, and ask people for favors, so I’ve learned to limit those to smaller things that can be more easily reciprocated. To be fair to the other side of the story, I’m sure that some of these people who I feel wronged me, probably felt that they did me some favor or great thing that I in fact never noticed or appreciated, or that they thanked me in some way that I missed, which is why communication, communication, communication is truly the number one lesson I’ve ever learned and is a huge caveat to this. Instead of being resentful or complaining to other people, find a way to start a conversation. Better yet, say no to begin with if I don’t actually feel comfortable with something (yes, that’s still taking over 30 years to learn). If something is really going to consume a lot of my resources don’t be afraid to set a price in advance (not necessarily a monetary one). And keep cultivating your garden; weed out the rotten apples who act as though they’re somehow entitled to your goodwill; recognize and tend to the great ones — there are many of them out there! Time has honed my instinct for that with the percentage of good people in my life getting higher each passing year.
Wow, I’m so glad I was able to eventually turn around all that cynicism and end on a positive note! Thanks for indulging me in a little birthday venting #iamgoingtobesuchacrochityoldperson. Obviously my life lessons are not everyone’s and I’d love to hear what you’ve learned as you’ve aged. A big topic I know, but please feel free to leave as long or as short of a note as you feel! It’s so wonderful and amazing to me that the blogging platform allows kindred spirits of all ages and backgrounds to exchange wisdoms and stories around the world with each other. Send me a note in the comments, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to start a conversation!
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