The year is 2016 and I’ve recently turned 33. Thirty-three. Three decades and one-third of a decade.
A well-wishing friend told me “before you know it, you’ll be 40 with 2 kids.” Say what?!?!
Kids? Forty? However what really amazed me was not so much the realisation of 40 or the possibility of having my own mini-me’s. Rather it was my reaction to this statement. A total of 45 seconds to absorb the fact, and then it was over and I moved onto something else. Something that was of relevance to me at that moment of time. If this was Anneline in her 20s it would’ve been a lot different. Anneline in her 20’s would have been shocked for 10 days minimum finalizing in a very teary session with my dad before pulling myself together.
I have a younger brother and sister. Both are considerably younger than me. I am the eldest of all my cousins – both sides of the family. And again my cousins are quite a few years younger than me. My cousins live overseas. Thanks to technology (namely Whatsapp and Facebook messenger), my advice on various anxiety-driving aspects of the 20-something-year-old-life are often asked for. I work as a lecturer at a prominent Australian university. I get to interact with those entering their 20s 5 days of the week. I guess because I am a lot younger than most “academics” yet still a whole decade and a bit ahead of my students, I find myself in the position where students look up to me, want to learn from me, want to be like me, want to follow my journey. Apparently it seems that “I’ve been there, done it, and have come through the other side sailing smilingly.”
My baby sister flew over to celebrate my birthday with me. We did a bunch load of different activities, sight-seeing, exploring, road-tripping and staying up til 2.30am talking in hushed whispers (she did most of the verbal expression of her thoughts and doubts, I did most of the listening) to each other in dark even though no one else lives in my apartment apart from Buster and Poppy, my budgies. The 20s can be a lot of fun but also a bit confusing as well. You moved out from being a teenager, you’ve finished uni, you’re starting to work, starting to establish your career, starting to see a growth in your bank balance, starting to establish your dress sense more. Yet there are people much more advanced in their careers, life and wardrobe collections. Friends are starting to partner up. Get married. Buy a house. Have babies. You know do all the “normal” adult things. You want to get there. You want to be a proper “adult” with all the “adult” bells and whistles. But time is a limiting factor. You’re simply “not there yet” even though you want to be, think you should be. Being concerned right now about things from the future can be majorly draining.
That was one of the pearls of wisdom I’ve learnt about life via my own unintentional trial and error experimentation with my own life. It is one of the stories I’ve tried to convey to my sister in the middle of the night and my cousin via a few mega-long whatsapp conversations. If time-travel were a real thing, and I could go back my 20s and talk to my 20-something year old self, here’s advice I would tell myself. My siblings. My cousins. My students. Stuff that I remind myself every so often even now.
- The views of others are really not that important (except if you’re trying to score a job and need to make an impression). The truth is no one cares about what you do or don’t do. How you look or don’t look. What you’re wearing or not wearing. People who are concerned with your externals are superficial and you’re better without them in your life anyway. Be yourself. Be true to yourself and your beliefs regardless of what others think. Unless you do life with them on an intimate manner (e.g. family and friends), their opinion really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are comfortable in your own skin. When you are comfortable in your own skin, you’re naturally confident – not in a cocky sense – but in a genuinely I’m-happy-with-my-life-where-I-currently-am sense.
- There are “friends” and there are “acquaintances”. They are two very different things. In today’s world it seems that a “friend” is anyone who smiles at us and we have a somewhat happy conversation that lasts as long as connecting with them on facebook (Gen Z/Y), twitter/LinkedIn (Gen Y,X, Boomer). Think about all 932 facebook friends you have. How many of these people do you actually converse with? How many of these people would actually turn up to your funeral? And out of that, how many know the real you? Now think about how many people in your world would you actually shed a decent amount of tears over for a decent amount of time if they were to die? The truth is there are some people who really impact our lives and are more than just “a thumbs up” on the food/selfie/shoefie picture you just posted to the whole world. They are people who value you and you value them. They are the ones you can be yourself with. Totally real. Authentic. In ranking importance, those folks are the ones who matter the most.
- Friends come, friends go (or pile up if you count “facebook friends”), but no one will ever replace family. Siblings are custom-made best friends. They even partially look like you. You’ll never get that type of acceptance from anyone or anything. Don’t take them for granted. Sure you have differences in opinions and personalities, but firstly everyone is allowed to have their own opinion and secondly this is what makes us amazingly interesting. We can learn from each other. You’ll be tested, but be a decent human and don’t purposefully pick on a soft-spot to belittle your sibling(s). Be constructive in your criticism, not malicious. Trust broken can be rebuilt, but it may take a long time. Do what you can to pull together closely rather than push away separately.
- As for your parents – well you have half your genes from one and half from the other. They were there the day you were born. They wiped your bottom, bathed you, potty-trained you, patched up your scraped knees and elbows after you fell off a stone wall into a rose-bush (true story) and cleaned up the vomit you graciously sprayed across everything and everyone within a 5 meter radius from stomach bug you picked up somewhere. They know everything about you. But they are also human beings – i.e. they are not perfect. They will make mistakes. But then again, so do you. Why is it okay for you to mess up, and them not to? Get your head out of the clouds and stop putting so much pressure on them to perform and live up to your “expectations” of what parents should do/should be like. Firstly you are not a parent, so you don’t have experience in raising a bunch of very different kids. Secondly everyone is moulded by their up-bringing. Take a piece of plain white paper. Make a pin prick in the centre. No matter where you look on that sheet of paper, that pin-prick is always going to be the one that stands out. Same thing with your folks. When you stop being obnoxiously self-centred, you’ll be able to see the vast amount of amazing stuff they do instead of being fixated on the pin-pricks. Being a parent is a responsible job – essentially they are mentoring the development of child into becoming a responsible, self-assured, confident, respectful adult human – i.e. that is you. The fact that you can see potential areas that you would do differently if you were a parent is a great reflection on your parents. Give them a break. Just like they give you a break.
- Quality time every morning when it is quiet, partially dark, no-one else is up is the best time of the day followed by bed-time. In the morning, it is a fresh start. The reality of a new day. A new start. You have time to gather your thoughts. Spend quality time developing your spiritual life. You have time to work out your plan of attack for the day.
- Everyone has faith in something. It takes faith to believe in God and it takes faith to believe in nothing. Regardless, take time out to grow in wisdom. Read the Books of Proverbs, Psalms and Ecclesiastics in the Bible. Seriously there is so much profound truth and practical application to life in those books.
- A packet of tissues, a collapsible umbrella, lip balm, sanitizing hand gel and a tube of hand cream is essential equipment for everyone. You’d be surprised how many people do not wash their hands after using the bathroom (hand gel). Hand gel may sanitize your hands but it also leaves it dry and when you hit 30, dryness just starts to age everything superfast (hand cream). Umbrellas will turn you into a hero during a light shower and a mega hot day when you can share the love with those unprepared for wet cold and hot heat. Tissues can be used for everything from wiping your nose to wiping someone else’s, stopping a wound from bleeding to writing down a phone number. Lip balm, well no one likes the feel or look of dry lips. Both you and those looking at you. Enough said.
- Sleep is the MOST important thing you can do. It’s importance in health is under-valued, under-promoted. There will come a time when you can’t run for 3 months on 4 hours per/night. Get 8 hours in. You won’t get sick so often. You’ll look better for it. You won’t be so grouchy either.
- You have a dream, right? Well stick to it. Don’t let it die. Write it down and read it regularly. Keep it at the forefront of your mind. And work towards it. Don’t let it out of sight. Don’t let anyone else destroy it. Don’t pack it away and become a drifter. You’re going to die one day. Life is a journey – you may as well go through it with a purpose.
- Yay to all your friends partnering up. That’s lovely. And good for them. Doing life with your best friend is a great experience. However you are not half a person if you aren’t paired up. You are whole just the way you are. Don’t change the essence of who you are to be “accepted” by someone else. You’ll be living a fake life and the real you will die in the process. That is not sustainable. Nor is it enjoyable. If you can’t be happy with your life right here, right now, you’ll never be happy – with anyone you’re with. To place your state of happiness on someone else’s shoulders is a big responsibility to defer to another, fallible human. And being human, they will mess up at some stage. If your happiness is dependent on that other person, you will be bitterly disappointed in them and by them. They don’t deserve that. No one deserves that. But you don’t deserve to be unappreciated for who you really are. If no-one likes the real you at this moment in time, don’t worry. Firstly this is only a snapshot in time right now, not your life sentence. You love the real you. And that’s mega-important because you have to live with you for your whole life (everywhere you go, you’ve got you with you!). A lonely relationship/marriage can be the most isolating, depressing, sad place to be in. An abusive relationship is awful and can mess you up. But relationships are more than just you, it is also about the other person. It’s not about simply “finding the right person”, it’s also about “being the right person.” Unless you’re serious, don’t play around with someone else’s emotions. It can hurt way more than falling off a wall into a rose bush.
- Following the emotional thread, the concept of love is fascinating. It is more than physical attraction. It is more than physical contact. It is more than smiles and his cologne/her perfume. It’s more than the nauseating “butterflies” that take off in your stomach every time you see them/hear their name/hear their voice. These sensations are temporary and prone to change. Truth is if these “feelings” are the basis of love, then is it a wonder why divorce rates are so high? Once the hype sizzles out, it appears there ain’t much left… Love is actually all about respect. Firstly do you respect the other person? Are they worthy of your respect? What is it about them that is worthy of your deep admiration? Secondly are you worthy of respect? If so, do they respect you? Do they treat you in a respectful manner? While you may not agree on everything, do they/do you value your/their views and opinions? Do you have to manipulate them to do things? If so, you’re a horrid person and need to some soul-searching on how to stop being a wench. Do they manipulate you do things you don’t want to? If so, why are you letting them control you and undermine you as a person of value? You don’t need them in your life. Being “in love” means to respect an individual by supporting them so that they can flourish. And so that you can flourish. It’s a two-way street. Are you ready for that responsibility?
- To-do-lists are great for your ego. And we all like an ego-boost. Why? Because you actually get to cross things off as you get things done. And that in itself is a reward. A feeling of accomplishment. Plus it keeps you on track, on focus and you get that darn job done! Truth is a to-do-list is a great way to improve your efficiency and save precious memory band-width. A small notebook and pen or a smartphone with note-taking capabilities are great for this. Write it down, everything and anything. And then do it. Cross it off, fill it up, cross it off, repeat. Trust me, your memory is not as good as you think it is.
- Babies are cute. Babies are great. Babies are not accessories though. They actually do grow up and out. Both physically, mentally and emotionally. If you want to be a parent, are you prepared for the responsibility of mentoring a young mind into a responsible, respectful, courteous, self-assured, friendly adult? Are you prepared to guide them, allow them to learn from their mistakes, but also develop and enforce boundaries? Let’s be honest, raising a child costs money. You don’t need to send them to the top grammar school, but you do need to educate them, feed them, clothe them, provide shelter etc. Are you prepared to do that? Can you afford it? So you want a kid? They’re your responsibility not your mom, dad, grandma’s or tax payers.
- Talking about accessories, a great pair of high heels are the ultimate accessory in pulling an outfit together and also giving you confidence. Sure they may not be the best thing according to podiatrists from an anatomical perspective but a few hours every week is fine. The key is quality over quantity. Good quality that feels comfortable and looks classical can go with a few different outfits. The key to heels however is your ability to walk in it. If you can’t walk in them, no matter how great they look, you’ll feel inadequate the whole time you’re wearing them because you’re afraid you’re going to fall over on your face. Be pretty, be poised, but wear the height you can actually walk in.
- Your clothes are an outward expression of your personality. Fashion trends come, fashion trends go, but quality, classical pieces transcends eras, looks good and saves you money in the long term. Wear you, but wear you within your budget. Looking like a hobo is never cool. You’d never dress like a hobo for a job interview. Regardless of how much you hate ironing, get up 5 mins early and iron that shirt.
- No one, except someone super dodgy probably doing something super dodgy, wears more than one watch at a time. A collection of watches is fine if that’s your thing. But you’ll find that investing in a really good, somewhat pricy Eco-drive (battery never dies) watch will be one of the best investments you make. Eventually all your battery operated watches will be left behind in their boxes because they’re dead and time to get the batteries keeps getting used on more important things like washing your clothes, cooking, meeting up with friends and family.
- A compact, neat backpack spreads the load across both shoulders and evenly distributes the weight across your back. A handbag is pretty, but if you have to use it, make sure you counter-balance it otherwise you will end up with one shoulder lower than the other, and countless hours of physio.
- TV steals your life, brain intelligence, creativity and relationship-building time. Watching TV for the sake of watching it is really pointless if you think about it. In the time it takes to watch a 1 hour show you could blog, you could cook an amazing meal, you could meal prep for the week, you could paint, you could stand-up paddle board, you could burn 900 calories in a high intensity training session, you could actually talk to someone,. But instead you just sat there. Watching pre-recorded humans live their fictitious/reality life. While you are sitting through yours.
- Try something new. Make a list of new experiences that you have done. It’s a pretty exhilarating feeling to see all the “new” things you’ve done/places you’ve gone/foods you’ve eaten. The way life is heading, it is getting busier with lots of “stuff” but no real amazing stories of experiences to share. It doesn’t have to something extreme like sky-diving. It could be as easy as exploring the city on the CityCat or working in a soup kitchen for a couple of hours or spending time fruit-picking and seeing what farmers have to go through to get that bright red apple to you in your local supermarket. Just something different, not part of your “usual life”, but adds “life” to your current life. It’ll give you a greater sense of appreciation and gives you a different perspective on the world. And you’ll get to meet some pretty amazing people along the way.
- Tax is super boring. So is superannuation/retirement fund. But you need to do both. So get yourself an education in it. The earlier you start, the more you’ll be able to save. You’re going to have to do it eventually anyway, so bite the bullet and get it done.
- On that money note, most people will probably tell you to travel. I’ve been travelling since I was 7 days old and haven’t stopped thanks to my semi-nomadic parents. That said, save up and buy your own house. You don’t need to live in it, you can rent it out. But just do it. Property will never get cheaper. The price will always progressively go up. You can always use the equity to fund other activities like travel later on. But there is something liberating about owning your own place without the help of someone else. You’re making your own life. Your way. Your style. And you’re able to finance it as well. It’s amazing how confidence building this is, especially for women.
- Human beings for the most part are nice. But there are also a proportion of individuals out there that will run-down anyone in order to progress themselves in life. Make sure you have your principles and know them. While we have to make compromises throughout life, sometimes your principles will be challenged to the max. To what extent are you willing to go? Don’t be a sell-out on what really matters most to you. This may negatively impact you with work/relationship opportunities at the time, but it is better to know you have done the right thing than bend like a reed because you’re trying to curry favour with someone and live in regret afterwards. You’ll shed tears maybe. And they may not like “it” or you. But at least they’ll respect you for being honest and not able to be manipulated. And the best thing is, you can respect yourself. Being disappointed in yourself for being a sell-out would have to be the most harrowing feeling.
- Injustice and racism still take place in the world. There I said it. The big R word. If you think racism doesn’t exist in today’s world, 10 years from now you’ll have a different view. It shouldn’t, but it does. If you are a person of colour, truth is you will eventually feel the rough end of the racial discrimination stick. And it will hurt. Hurt a whole lot. But instead of it killing your dreams and ambitions – because it will feel easier to slink into the background than challenge the status quo and stand up for yourself – use it to drive you forward. Yes you’re a female. Yes you’re ethnically part of a minority group. Yes you’re a distinct shade of chocolate brown. And yes, even in a politically correct society, racism and injustice are prevalent. You will at times have to fight to be treated equally. It’s not easy, but it does force you to develop a spine, greater courage, greater confidence and leadership that no psychology or human resources course will ever teach you.
- Turn your phone off every day for at least 2 hours. When you’re on public transport, try to talk to other humans. Believe it or not, talking face-to-face is actually the best form of communication. For those who do not live near your home, there’s the technology called a telephone that allows you to speak to them! Not text, but verbal expression of your interest in their lives. There is nothing to substitute actually talking to another person.
- Writing with a pen and paper will become a lost art, and your handwriting will diminish. Receiving a handwritten letter from a loved one in the mail is like gold. So write a letter. Once a month to someone who matters. Why? Because they matter. And you want them to know it. Plus it will help you keep your handwriting legible and give the postie something to deliver rather than a boring bill or parking ticket.
- Before you buy that dress, shoes, coat, hat for yourself count to 10, put it back on the rack and go for a walk outside. Walk around for 20mins. It will calm you down and lose the effect of the sales person trying to convince to buy something you really don’t need (or can afford). It’s actually quite empowering to say no to something you felt like buying on a whim.
- Save $100 in a high interest account each week. In a year that is $5200. If you can divert a few hundred from each pay as well, that will be in excess of $5K. You’ll be surprised how fast and how much you can save.
- Stretch. You may not think much of it now cause you are easily able to complete backward bridges and touch your chin with your toes. But as you progress down the work track, you will find yourself sitting more, moving less and progressively becoming tighter. So stretch. Stretch every single day if you can. Doesn’t have to be long – but regularly. The tighter you are, the more time you will eventually spend at the massage therapist for treatment not enjoyment.
- Think before you talk. Get your research done before you comment on anything. If you don’t know, be honest and say it. No one is going to think lesser of you because you don’t know (okay some jerk might, but they are a jerk so who cares anyway). There is nothing to be ashamed off if you don’t know. Do your research – which includes asking questions – and then you will learn and know. Also think about how you talk. No one likes to be nagged at. Nor do they like to be judged condescendingly. If you want anyone to help you do something, talk to them how you would like to be talked to – i.e. encouraged and with your opinion valued. You like that so do the same to others. You don’t need to win every battle. Choose wisely.
- Get braces, see a dermatologist, work out with a PT etc. because you want to improve you for you. Not because you want to improve yourself for someone else. Stop. Read that again. Let it sink in.
- Make it a habit to read a book. A real book – not some article for work etc. But a real book. Reading takes you to another place and another time. Through the eyes of someone else. It can be escapism, it can be realistic. But it always educational. If you curb your reading habit, your spelling will deteriorate (for real) and your sense of grammar may drop as well. And your perspectives will be what is fed to you rather than what you actively seek, mull over and decide on. Reading is great. Just do it.
- There is nothing like mom’s cooking. You will appreciate it when you’re not at home anymore (or if she’s not here anymore). You will actually want curry. You will actually learn how to make it. Partially because you suddenly like the flavours. But more so because it represents mom. It reminds you of the pleasure of eating with family. It reminds you of home. And mom’s cooking will always be the best. Always.
- There are some people in this world who have views so firmly made up on lack of information. They are like quick-set concrete: sets superfast super-hard with no room for change. Firstly don’t become one of them. It’s important to have your own opinions but also be open to learning from others as well. Secondly, don’t waste your time trying to change these individuals’ minds. You’ll waste your time, get upset, make them upset and generate a whole lot of unhappy feelings for everyone involved including those watching. Learn how to recognise these folks as soon as possible. It’s pretty easy actually, they’re usually highly opinionated and aren’t afraid to push their opinions onto others. They like their views a lot, they believe in their views a lot and don’t like it a lot if others have differing views. Please note: you sometimes behave like this. Grow up and stop being a brat. The faster you recognize this type of behaviour, the nicer you will be as a human, and the easier life will be with others.
Looking at this list, I’m feeling both vulnerable and almost wise like a sage. The further I move from 30, the less I allow others opinions to affect what I do or feel. I wonder what I’ll learn about life in my 30s that will set-me up for the forties. But that is the thing about life. You can plan it as well as you like. While some things may go to plan (e.g. get the uni degree, get a job based on what you studied), life continually evolves and the black and white plan doesn’t always play out the way you thought it would. This can be somewhat frustrating, especially if you are constantly comparing yourself to others. But I think this is what makes life fun. It’s like a ride in a giant theme park. You don’t know what is behind the next turn. It may be great. It may be not so great. It may be somewhat expected. Or it could be totally out of the blue. You’re stomach may flip and you vomit. Or you could be cresting on the highest point enjoying the most amazing view. How you react to “it” (i.e. life’s circumstances), how you allow “it” to mould your character and perspective is what is important. Become the person you would want to have as a friend.