Now that I’m tail ending my twenties I naturally find myself becoming increasingly reflective of the last decade. Not as formative as the infant years or as crucial as the teen ones, it’s still a significant time of adjusting into an adult and shaping where your life is heading.
Here is my list of the ten most significant things I learned in my twenties.
- Life goes on – This is perhaps one of the most important things I’ve learned. In my early twenties every thing that happened held incredible weight; answers, signs, meetings, arguments – I’d build up everything in my head and replay the highs and lows afterward. Pain felt like it would last forever and joys took me to dizzying heights. After a while you begin to realise that these moments are all passing, that nothing (the good and the bad) is as big as you think it is and memory begins to fade. It’s not the end of the world and good and bad things pass; time is moving and things are always changing. Your triumphs are forgotten but so are your mistakes. Don’t dwell too much on the past, and don’t focus too much on the future, all you really have is the present.
- Your friends matter (a lot) – In my early twenties I wanted to be friends with everyone. But here’s the truth: not everyone is going to like you. Once I began to accept this (somewhere in my mid twenties) I began to focus on the people who actually mattered in my life. As you get older you realise how important your real friends are – the ones who call you on your bullshit, who make time for you and who make you want to be a better person (that last point especially). You understand how important it is to have people who help you grow, because some people can make you small and some people can help you soar. After a while I began to hang out with people who were good for my soul: positive, generous people who didn’t complain or belittle others, those who made me feel good about myself by accepting me for who I was. Now that I’m older I’m more selective of who I let into my life because I know that time passes and things change and all that really matters are the people who we love.
- The world is tough (so be kind): In my early twenties I was a fairly optimistic person, but after a car accident, a mugging, two heartbreaks, harassment, a family meltdown, a nervous breakdown and some bouts with depression I began to realise the world is hard; in fact some people are just barely surviving. My experience seems light when compared to friends who have experienced job loss, parent loss, rape, terminal illness and divorce. With such experiences you gain empathy for other people and realise how important it is to just be nice. You have no idea the struggles someone else is facing, no freaking clue. When I was down or needed help I remember how grateful I was to those who were kind enough to help me. These experiences made me realise what a blessing kindness is and how easy it is to give to other people. If I’ve learnt anything, a little generosity goes a long way. I didn’t see beyond myself for a long time but spending time with kind and generous friends (see point 2) made me realise what an impact I can have on someone else’s life. And after a while you even begin to think that it might be the only reason that you’re here in the first place.
- Patience is the ultimate goal. This is probably one of the hardest and most important lessons I’m learning. As a young person you’re terribly impatient – you can’t wait to grow up, graduate, marry, become successful etc. and being part of an instant gratification generation doesn’t help matters either. However as time passes, you learn that good things take time, and for change to be successful it has to be gradual; ideas take time to develop; opinions have to be weighed, struggle has to be endured, perceptions have to be analysed and real growth has to have a solid foundation. The natural process is for things to develop enough for them to become permanent; instant change is almost always temporary because there is no history of practice to fall back on. It’s impulsive and while impulse is good for some things, like action for instance, it does not bear the brevity of consultation, understanding and research when it comes to making significant change. The best relationships I’ve seen are products of patience and the most satisfied people I know are people who have learned how to endure and push through. It doesn’t seem to be something that comes easily, in fact it seems like a life-long struggle but I get the sense that the incredible peace gained is worth the effort.
- You accept yourself (for yourself): I think when you’re younger you’re slightly deluded about the person you are. Years of teenage pop songs affirming your unique existence confuse you a little. As you get older you begin to actually understand what you are about; you can observe your habits, reactions and temperament with more regularity. With time you accept that you have faults; some glaring ones and that you have to start making an effort to change them. You differentiate more clearly between your ego and the truth. Subsequently I also began to appreciate a lot of things about myself; things I didn’t notice before until I was ready enough to take a long hard and honest look at myself. And when you’re in tune with your strengths and weaknesses you know how to navigate yourself.
- The world is big. As I began meeting new people, reading more books and travelling in my twenties I realised how mentally small my world was. There are millions of different people out there with their own cultures, religions, systems and perceptions. The more you experience the more you realise how little you know. For a long time I had a limited understanding of what the world meant and in my twenties I wrestled for a good many years with what I had been taught and what I believed until I found what was true to me. I had to figure out what I believed and what my faith meant to me, outside of what I had been taught. This was fundamental to my growth and being true to myself. This process eventually helped me in realising the importance of values, beliefs and morals. You have to find what is true to you so that you have something to hold onto to to guide you through the bewildering, incredible and conflicting things you will encounter in life.
- You must dance to your own rhythm: Everyone seemed to have an opinion on what I had to do with my life; from what I was supposed to study to who I was supposed to marry. At some point in my late twenties as part of trying to know myself better (see point 5) I tried tuning out of what they were saying and began listening to what I wanted. I began to pursue my interests more diligently; I started an adult’s ballet class, invested in my love for music by buying an Ipod, fought to teach in Kashmir, bought a good camera, took beach walks, attended my favourite band’s concert solo and generally did more of what I liked. It’s easy to drown in the voice of others but keeping an ear to your heart can keep you sane when things get bad. If I learnt anything, it was to nurture my own voice and to pay less heed to what others said. You should always hear people’s advice (people have a lot of experience to share) but learn to differentiate between what is good for you and what is holding you back from who you are. At the end of the day you’re the one who is going to be living your life.
- You will change (and so will everything around you): You can become someone you wont even recognise. In your twenties you think you know exactly who you are. But the more people you meet, the more experiences you have and the more you learn about life – the more you change. I am not even near the same person I was at 21 and I like the way I am now than I was then. Change is inevitable and even though you may resist it at first, it’s often for the better even if you can’t see it at the time. (Retrospect becomes your greatest friend).
- Be grateful (and stop comparing). At some point, I’m not sure when (although I have an idea of the catalyst) I internally began to define my worth by comparing myself to others. Not just materially but also in terms of popularity, aspirations and goals. Social media trumpeting that everyone else was having an amazing life didn’t help matters. Eventually I was trying to compete with an impossible lifestyle and constantly comparing myself to others. It made me blind to all the wonderful things I did have, that others probably sought themselves. I think gratefulness is one of the bigger tests because it’s something that can be lost so easily. There’s a saying by the Prophet (PBUH) that’s stayed with me and that I find especially relevant today and that is, to compare yourself to those who have less than you than to those who have more than you. When you compare yourself to someone who doesn’t have what you have (anything from your shoes to your home) it makes you grateful and gratefulness inspires peace with oneself.
- Be silent (most of the time): What is good and what is right will endure. This is something my father taught me and I didn’t really understand it until I experienced some difficult issues in my mid twenties. When I was younger I thought it was the most important thing in the word to explain my exact point of view and express exactly how I felt. But I’ve discovered that the truth always finds a way to emerge and justice comes along at its own pace. Most talk is unnecessary and unless what you have to say is very important, it’s best not to add to all the noise. Not everything you say is heard or understood and perceptions alter the meaning of things. Being quiet especially applies to times when you want to berate, criticise or lash out. Words are incredibly important and they affect others in innate ways so they must be treated with respect. Choosing your words is also part of learning patience and growing as a person. If there is something I’ve learnt for certain it’s that all truths are revealed with time.