Last week I turned 31. I’m officially an old maid.
Soon I will get a cat and start knitting sweaters for my creepy porcelain dolls.
For my birthday, my college roommate Sarah and I headed to her family’s beach house on Figure Eight Island. Since all my friends have moved away, we hung out with her friends. I liked them all. Especially the ones that made margaritas.
Since most of you have been to a beach before, I won’t force you to read about the sand beneath my toes or the funny crab that fought Sarah’s dog.
Rather, I’ve been thinking a lot about this next decade of my life. What do I want to accomplish? What values will define it?
On Entering My Thirties
As I careened through my late twenties, I spent a lot of time considering what my “twenties” meant to me. I grew from a shy little ball of anxiety to someone much more daring, adventurous, and sociable.
I traveled, learned how to be independent, and challenged myself to do things that scared me. I met so many people from so many walks of life, so many countries, so many backgrounds. I saw the various values shaping their worldview. I made a lot of mistakes. I tried to learn from them.
My twenties were amazing.
When I turned thirty last year, I remember thinking I don’t feel any different. I guess age really is just a number.
I was immensely happy about everything in my life; 30 felt identical to 29. I had no interest in changing anything due to the whole being immensely happy thing.
Some years are like that.
But “thirty” has actually been an extremely tough year. Part of that was the pandemic, part of it was that I felt really let down by someone I loved, God, and the universe. A lot of it was because I started realizing my “old life” in my twenties simply didn’t fit anymore.
It’s involved an enormous about growth and introspection. The lessons I learned last year are some of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn. They were hard lessons, but strong lessons— the types of lessons sturdy enough to build a healthy foundation as I embark on the next decade.
So, what are the top 5 life lessons I’ve learned in the last year?
- Everyone Suffers from Mental Health Stuff
I spent much of my twenties developing healthy coping mechanisms for bouts of depression and anxiety that seemed to lurk around buildings and jump out at me unexpectedly. Despite this, I had always considered my susceptibility to depression a weakness. I didn’t talk about it much, because I didn’t want anyone to worry. And I definitely didn’t want people to say things like— But you have a loving family and financial resources and a good education. And now you travel around the world. YOU don’t get to be depressed.
Trust me, I already felt guilty enough.
But apparently, practicing gratitude does not involve picking up said gratitude and using it to repeatedly whack yourself over the skull. Apparently, you can recognize how great your life circumstances are and still be depressed.
The more I opened up, the more my friends opened up to me about their own mental health struggles. The Covid pandemic has highlighted the quiet pandemic we all suffer from. Apparently, other people deal with crippling mental health stuff too.
I really didn’t know. I assumed the majority of people were just effortlessly strong and blessed with regularly firing synapses.
I’m not happy that other people suffer from mental health issues, but I’m relieved it isn’t just me.
- Don’t Heal Fast, Heal Fully
There are some types of pain that just take a lot of sitting and hurting and praying.
Once again, I used to think taking a long time to heal meant mental weakness. I used to think that if something was bothering me, it meant there was something wrong with me. If I couldn’t get over it, it was because I wasn’t trying hard enough.
This is perhaps one of the most dangerous misconceptions I have ever had. Healing well is like building a strong house. You can slap a house together with flimsy material and be “done” first. Maybe everyone will ooh and aah about how quickly you built a house.
But it’s better to take the time to build a stronger house for when the next storm blows through.
- Stop Beating Yourself Up
I think we have already started to see a theme where any negative emotion immediately triggers me to assume I am somehow broken or don’t deserve to feel it. I’ve decided this is a very silly thought and have since tossed it out.
- You Will Never Regret Being Honest
People lie. A lot. People lie so much that at one point I assumed this was normal. I even took “occasionally lying” for a test drive years ago. It didn’t suit me.
One of my goals is to write a memoir. I’m not planning to lie in that memoir. Then it wouldn’t be a very good memoir.
Since I care about being an honest writer, it meant I needed to be an honest person.
Being honest started out as something I did for other people, but now it is something that I do for myself. There is something very centering about being honest with yourself.
I do not lie to protect people’s feelings. Not because I enjoy hurting people, but because I respect other people. And when you respect someone, they deserve to know the truth.
Likewise, I respect myself enough to feel I deserve to share my truth with others. I don’t feel the need to hide my feelings or opinions or past because I am not ashamed of them. I’m grounded enough to know most people will accept me for who I am. If they don’t, I cannot be bothered. I’m 31 now. I’m very tired.
Honesty is validating. I highly recommend it.
While this “honesty is the best policy” isn’t new to my thirties, this was the year I recognized just how damaging lying is. It’s slash and burn warfare for relationships.
That’s why I have started drawing very strict boundaries around honesty. I notice when people lie. And if they do it enough times in my presence, I take my queue to gracefully bow out.
- When in Doubt, Be Kind
When you are immensely depressed, small acts of kindness from others make you want to stab yourself out of gratitude. (Violent metaphor but I really can’t think of a more apt way to put this).
Sometimes, when we are kind and trusting and loving, we open ourselves up to being vulnerable with people who don’t know what to do with kind and trusting and loving people. So they hurt us.
But sometimes we connect with others in a really beautiful way.
I have gotten a lot of bad advice this year. One such piece of advice is that I need to stop being so nice to people.
This really bothered me. I wrestled with this for a long time this year. When I was younger and less nice and less honest, it had been harder to get hurt. But that’s not who I want to be. If I need to go around with my guard up all the time, assuming everyone is bad, what the hell is the point of being alive?
So, in an act of rebellion, I decided I would be even nicer. I even got a tattoo, as a reminder.
So–here’s to a decade of new mental strength. 🙂