Ten years ago today, as I entered my twenties I sat zit-faced and nearly comatose in a creaky hospital bed in Eastern Brazil undergoing tests and receiving thermometers in unholy crevices. I was no longer a teen, and was as a bonafide adult enduring what was later classified as an “augmented spleen.” A quick scare it was, but I was 20 now. I remember thinking what my twenties would undoubtedly contain. I would meet a girl, we would get married, and I would have a few kids. I would graduate from college, and I would become a high school teacher and basketball coach. The thirties seemed like a time where everything would be so wonderfully taken care of, a time of raising children, strutting through fancy boardwalks with my beautiful wife, and maybe figuring out what things like escrow and 401k meant.
I didn’t think life would be without trial or whirlwind, but I had no idea the amount of heartache and pain a decade could hold. With that being said, I also had no clue the amount of joy and love I could feel. The sheer polarity of life would make itself known in ways I never expected.
If I could go back and live my twenties again, what would I change? My deep-in-the-gut reaction is to say I would avoid certain relationships that ended in turmoil, or that I would steer clear of situations that left me broken both emotionally and financially. But with a soft step back I know this idea that going back to relive life stream-lining efficiency, and mitigating injury and sadness is pointless and even harmful. After all, who’s to say the gutters I walked through weren’t the very places where I stumbled upon diamonds in the murky waters? Who’s to say that the dark alleys where I found myself repeatedly facedown in the gravel-laced trash is not where I found the courage to forge on, the strength to beat the monsters in my memory? The point is hopefully obvious here. The journey, though difficult and at times unbearable is what makes us who we are, and there is no point in looking back with regret or disappointment.
In my twenties, I lost three friends to suicide. I lost my grandma. I lost my grandpa. I got my heart torn asunder. I broke hearts myself. I lost money. I lost friends. I cried and struggled like I never thought I would. But I also lived and learned more than I thought I would in a lifetime. I learned two new languages. I visited 18 countries. I wrote two books. I read hundreds and hundreds of books. I looked at the sky differently. I wept without reservation. I spoke with confidence.
And so if I could look back and tell the younger me a few things, I would remind myself of the following truths:
—Your heart will be broken many times in your life, and bits of it may never be fully healed or totally okay. But you will move on, you will be happy again.
—“That’s just the way I am” is an invalid excuse for bad behavior and poor life choices. We can change. We often don’t want to and think that stubbornness is our right, which it is, but it is also our right to be unhappy and disliked.
—Self-deprecation is toxic. You may not be the person you want to be yet, but there is no good in berating your current self.
—Look around you. You can miss the most beautiful moments in life because your face is glued to your phone, or because your thoughts are so consuming you can’t see the vibrant colors around you. How sad to live a life where sunsets, flowers, and the smile of a stranger doesn’t make you stop and appreciate life.
—Get smarter. You may not love to read or study, but if you want to get ahead, if you want to be better than your competition, open books, read articles, and taste of the magic that is out there. My favorite author, David Foster Wallace said, “If you spend enough time reading or writing, you find a voice, but you also find certain tastes. You find certain writers who when they write, it makes your own brain voice like a tuning fork, and you just resonate with them. And when that happens, reading those writers… becomes a source of unbelievable joy. It’s like eating candy for the soul. And I sometimes have a hard time understanding how people who don’t have that in their lives make it through the day.”
—Realize that though your life seems central in the plan of the universe, you are literally the only person in human history that sees it that way. Try to look through as many lenses as you can.
—Listen to people talk like they are going to pass away tomorrow. Even strangers.
—Let your heart feel things. Don’t put your feelings and dreams in a seatbelt. They can actually handle extreme damage.
—Come to know that you can easily fail at many things, so you might as well do what you love, what fills you with the sort of power and brilliance that lights the sun.
—If you can, and this is hard, stop comparing yourself to others and remember that the race, in the end is only with yourself.
—Do new things as much as you can and disrupt your routine from time to time. Some of life’s greatest wonders and miraculous joys are found when we step out of the tiny path we usually safely walk on.
So, to be thirty, even though it sounds infinitely older than twenty-nine is not a bad thing. How could I look at the total of days I have lived as a bad thing? Why would I bemoan an entire epoch of my life just because it is over? Is my youth officially finished? Are my best days behind me? These questions don’t help anyone. I can only assume better and different days are ahead of me. I might hurt more, I might bleed more, and I might be slowed down by senescence, but growing up, growing older, moving forward never was and never will be anything short of a gift.
“Growing up is losing some illusions, in order to acquire others.” ~Virginia Woolf