Formative Years

Your 20s. Amazing, right? They are the first set of years where we have ultimate, uninhibited “control” over our lives.

Everything that happens, everything that has the deepest potential to shape our futures, is based on a decision or series of decisions that we make for ourselves. For someone who is halfway through her 20s – turning 26 in December – I definitely feel like I should have been more actively involved in the shaping of these years. Instead of lamenting about not having such a stellar grip on the first five-and-a-half years, I’ve decided to take these last few years before the big 3-0 by the horns and make the most of them.

Actively forming my formative years has required shifts in mindset, attitude, and approach. To make the most of these formative years…

1. I accepted the fact that I was an adult even when I still accepted allowance from my parents.

I began my twenties as a sophomore in college, having selected a major but still unsure as to whether it was the right fit. I was trying to fit in and stand out at the same time. I wanted and needed to be more independent, but I wasn’t sure how or where to begin. I graduated from undergraduate school at 22, started graduate school at 23, graduated with my Master’s degree at 24 – and then decided to move to Houston, TX.

Several factors played into my decision to move to Houston, but one of them was the fact that I felt like I needed to move away from home, away from what was comfortable, in order to grow up some more. If I stayed in Memphis, I was going to have a harder time becoming an adult. 24 started it all; 25 will be my first full year on my own, and I must say, it has been quite the transition. I’ve had to grow my own backbone, pay my own bills (which was tough), be responsible for my decisions and accountable for their results. After the nerves wore off and I realized I could actually do this (it’s just another transition, right?), I started to feel pretty solid. Being an adult on my own two feet wasn’t that bad after all.

After moving to Houston and reckoning with the fact that I was a real adult in real life, I started to recognize where some of the gaps were. And with a deep sense of agony and “woe is me,” I realized that I could blame no one but myself for those gaps. I had a real moment with that agony, and then I started to figure out how to fill those gaps little by little.

2. Following my instincts is a necessity.

I’d rarely had to work with my instincts without someone to back me up. Living away from my parents, I couldn’t call every time I felt a certain way or needed to make a decision. Since I’ve forced myself to take the training wheels off, my instincts have become a little stronger – and I trust them more. Trusting my instincts means trusting myself and trusting that I have my best interest at heart at all times in all situations. Self-trust carries me nowadays; building that habit now pushes me to get more comfortable in where my instincts lead me.

3. Developing a health-centered lifestyle is paramount.

I have dreams! I want to travel, raise a strong family, engage with others, nurture a relationship with my one-day husband, and be a force in changing our world. To accomplish these goals, I must be healthy. Within the last few weeks, poor decisions resulted in terrible eating practices, severe inactivity, and wretched sleep patterns and brought me to my knees. I suffered through an anxiety attack and a four-day migraine.

The anxiety attack shook me. Hard. I was one of those twenty-somethings who thought she’d just wake up healthy one day, and now, I am fully aware that my health and lifestyle are my active responsibilities. Every day, I must choose to listen to my instincts about my body’s needs, and I must nourish my body with nutrient-dense food, high quality sleep, and consistent physical training to create an environment for it to thrive. I want it to support me, so I have to make the conscious decision to support it.

4. Investing in myself is a priority.

Very recently, I began to realize the importance of spending time and energy on myself. I hadn’t been paying attention to the activities I liked, the practices that made me the most comfortable, the skills and strengths I wanted to cultivate. I read a quote a couple of days ago that says, “Be there for others, but never leave yourself behind,” and I felt like I’d been leaving myself behind for a while.

Dodinsky Quote

 

As a teacher, girlfriend, and human being who struggles to manage her time effectively, I had no time for self-investment. Now that it is summer break (YAY for being a teacher!), I have the time – all day many days – to build better habits. I strive to read daily, have a spiritual devotion, get active, cook (so I can eat well), and write consistently. The hope is that when school begins again, I will have invested enough time in building myself and molding these habits into a lifestyle that it’d be harder to neglect them than to remain consistent with them.

5. I value relationships regardless of their “type.”

With others and with myself. Deep and intimate. Working. Mentoring. Fleeting. Relationships matter. Very much. You learn, grow, develop, and blossom based on the interactions that you have. Positive relationships challenge you, make you smile, and encourage you to be accountable to someone else. They are critical. I first began to value quality relationships as I grew in my relationship with my boyfriend. (Thank God for his patience.)

In the last six months, working as a teacher, I have learned more about the power of multiple kinds of relationships than I could have fathomed. Relationships terrified me. I like to be alone and have alone time, which is important because of how I’m wired; however, I’d often use liking to be alone as an excuse to not engage with other people.

I speak from experience when I say, living like that stunts your growth tremendously. Relationships are hard, yes. And they take work, attention, patience, and willingness to be there for someone else. The bounty that they bring and create, however, far outweighs the risk of opening yourself to someone.

6. I hunt for the silver lining in dark clouds and the rainbow in every storm.

One thing I’ve learned over and over again is that shit happens. Nothing in the world can change this fact. What can change, however, is my perspective toward the situation. I like to call myself an optimistic realist: I am highly aware that life can and will happen at any moment, but I vow every day to search for the opportunity in the mess. This works more often than not, and I have found myself much happier, more pleasant in interactions, and with a much clearer mind to work.

7. I have to be the coach, team, and cheerleader.

Maximizing my final years as a twenty-something requires a plan, action, and motivation. As a twenty-something, you will have to coach yourself through some unknown circumstances. Sure, you may have a mentor who can serve as a guide, but you will have to craft the game plan (as you follow it simultaneously) to achieve your goals and bring life to your vision.

You must also recognize that you are the team. There may be a few people you can enlist for support, but you must do the grunt work. Candace Bushnell says, “Happiness comes out of being willing to do your work in your twenties to find out who you are, what you love.” You cannot put that responsibility on anyone else.

Creating and following the plan will be a struggle sometimes. That is why you must motivate yourself; you have to be your cheerleader! Of course, a few people will sing your praises and cheer you up every once in a while, but most times, you’re it! You have to believe in your dreams and yourself deep enough to know that the work is not in vain. And when small victories happen, you have to be the loudest one in the stands!

As I finished this article, my boyfriend offered me a TED Talk about the importance of our 20s. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist who specializes in twenty-somethings, offered advice for those of us believing that our 20s are “developmental downtime.”

Her advice – three simple pieces of insight – encapsulates all that I have said here.

  • First, forget having an identity crisis, and find some “identity capital.” “Do something that adds to the value of who you are.”
  • Second, maximize your weak ties – those non-immediate relationships like “friends of friends of friends.” Those weak ties are the way up and out in life; they bridge your present to your future.
  • Finally, pick your family now. Sure, 30 may be a swell time to settle down, but you can’t settle down with someone who isn’t there. Having intention with your relationships ensures high quality, long-lasting bonds with people and a potential partner who will be with you for the long haul.

Twenty-somethings are an important group of people, and that decade is consequential to our development as individuals and as contributors to society. Understand that a “self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to a child, finished and complete. A self is always becoming.”

In your twenties, become – and then continue becoming for life.