Tuesday

Twenty Things I Learned in my Twenties

Tomorrow, I turn 30... and I cannot wait. Looking back over the past ten years, I can see the growth and evolution I've made as a person and I feel ready to start a whole new chapter. In June 2008, I was a first-year teaching student, in a two-month strong relationship with some guy called Rich, and I was making the most of university life. I had a lot of fun but I was unsure of myself, a little timid and a lot insecure. Now I finally feel like I've found my feet and it's got me reflecting on the lessons I've learned throughout my twenties.



1. It's totally ok to change your path

I was unusual at college and uni because I knew exactly where my life was headed. I was going to train to become a primary school teacher, I was going to start my teaching career, then become art co-ordinator within five years and after that go for a senior leadership role. While my friends were freaking out about their path in life, I had it all figured out. Only then I found myself quitting the profession aged 27 and becoming one of those 31% of teachers who quit within five years. I never expected that to happen- teaching was my passion and it ran in my blood. But there you go. Now I'm in a position where I don't know what lies ahead. I know that I'm starting a PhD soon but after that, who knows? I'm enjoying the sense of uncertainty because it's something I didn't experience in my teens.

2. Your best days are ahead

When I turned 20, I hated the fact that I was leaving my teens behind. I had a very... enriching, shall we say... teenage lifestyle and I resented the pressing of time turning me into an adult. Right now? I cannot wait to turn 30. I've had such a great decade: I graduated with first class honours, moved in with Rich, got married, made new friends, gained a master's degree with distinction and started this little ol' blog here. I'm pretty sure the next ten years are going to be just as exciting. Getting older doesn't mean losing out on good times. It just means you're closer to even better ones! 

3. Your appearance will change... and that can be great

I was a little awkward looking when I turned twenty. I didn't feel that I was unattractive, but I'd say I was perhaps a little plain. These days, I absolutely love the way I look. I really feel, especially over the past two or three years, that I've grown into my face, if that makes sense. Along with some changes such as my Ortho-K lenses, teeth whitening and regular hair, brow and nail appointments, I'm very happy with my appearance. In the past ten years, I've fluctuated between a size 10 and a size 22, but it's only now that I really feel comfortable in my body. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I love it! Of course, getting older means there are some changes- I have crinkles around my eyes, for example, but I'm quite fond of those too since they only appear when I'm laughing. I've started sprouting the odd grey hair and I'm not quite comfortable with that yet, but there will be a lot more to come so I'd better get used to it fast. 

4. It's never too late to seek help

When I started therapy, aged 26, I was asked to explain when my feelings of anxiety started. I couldn't tell. My very earliest memories, when I was three years old, are those of panic and embarrassment. My dermatillomania emerged when I was eleven. But it took over 15 years of just putting up with these conditions until I finally sought help. My GP (who was the most beautiful man I have ever met in my life but that's beside the point) was more supportive than I could have ever thought possible and, although the therapy didn't help at all, the medication did. After a very difficult couple of years, I emerged less anxious than I had ever been before in my life. Finally I'm living a life that isn't controlled by my anxiety and dermatillomania, and I'm so proud of myself for taking that step.

5. Ultimately, some parts of you will never change

In 2008, I thought I'd grown up way more than I had. I looked forward and saw an idyllic future where I'd learned from my past mistakes. Spoiler alert: I didn't. Fast forward ten years and I'm still making exactly the same poor decisions over and over again. But that's ok. Maybe life would be easier if I could just snap my fingers and change the fundamental flaws of my identity, but if that was possible, we'd all be perfect humans. What's important is how you deal with them. For me, that's been to accept a philosophy of no regrets. If I do something stupid, I accept it. It's in the past and I can't change it. If there are consequences, I have to live with them, but I take peace in accepting responsibility for my actions and moving on (probably to make exactly the same mistake again but no regrets, eh).

6. Your life is more unpredictable than you can imagine

Oh boy, did I think I had everything sorted. Lol no. You never know when your life is going to throw a curveball at you. Did I envision leaving teaching at 27? No way. It broke my heart a little but ultimately it was exactly what I wanted- and needed- to do. Of course, sometimes you get bumps along the road that you didn't plan for and could really do without, but every experience, even the annoying or confusing ones, makes you stronger and leads you somewhere else. I strongly believe that everything that happens leads to something positive in the end. Not in an airy-fairy, you-have-a-path-already-laid-out-for-you kind of way but, as my Grandma used to say, 'It will all work out in the end'. Every single decision you make, even the bad ones, set your life on a different trajectory and (eventually!) will connect to something amazing. It's hard to accept at times, but all you can do is ride the wave and wait for that moment. 

7. There are people who will love you for the flawed person you are

We all have flaws. It's part of being human but, unfortunately, it can be easy to believe that we all need to be perfect. Once we become perfect, we'll finally be worthy of love. But it's not like that, is it? Think of the people you love most in life. They all have their flaws. And yet you love them regardless, in spite of- or maybe even because of- those character traits. Eventually you need to just accept that you're not perfect. In my case, I'm lazy, stubborn, bossy and way too loud (I just asked Rich: "What's the worst thing about me?" He says I ask too many questions!!). My favourite people in life know all this about me, but they still make the effort to contact me, hang out with me and generally try to ignore how bloody annoying I am. You're already deserving of love. Never feel like you have to change the fundamental elements of your identity. 

8. Your understanding of the world will develop immeasurably

I really thought I knew everything at 19. To be honest, I think I know everything now (although this also means I know that I don't know everything, which makes my head swim when I think about it too much). I've learned so much over the past 10 years, as this post will testify. Not only have I learned these lessons about myself, but I've learned more about the world. I've travelled to 12 countries and found out a little bit more with each one (not least how I'm stronger than I think, with three solo trips under my belt). I've spent a year learning everything I could possibly cram into my brain about death culture, which is not what I would have expected in 2008 (although I would have been very impressed with future me!) I've learned more about our society and politics, although my leanings haven't changed at all since that argument I had with my dad in 2004 when he called me a 'silly little girl' for saying war is wrong. I'm now 30, working towards my PhD, and I still believe war is wrong. Not such a silly little girl any more, eh? But the most important lesson I've learned: No matter how much you shout "CHOPIN!" when Jeremy Paxman introduces a classical music round on University Challenge, you'll never be correct. It's usually safer to stick with Mozart or Wagner. Strategies, people! 

9. You will find new things that make your heart beat

Speaking of Mozart, did you know he was born in Salzburg? What a smooth, not-at-all shoehorned link into my next lesson! It blows my mind to think that just three years ago, I'd never visited the city that lives in my soul. I'm trying to remember the things I was passionate about when I was 19, and it's mostly burlesque, 1950s fashion and rock clubs. In the intervening years, I've gone through so many 'phases' that I can't keep up. Some things have stayed with me- my friendship with Laura rekindled the childhood love of Harry Potter that I'd repressed during my emo years- while others have fizzled out (I thought it was best to stop whipping my bra off on stage once I started looking for teaching positions). Blogging is the one that really surprised me- I was blogging before I got my first teaching post and here I am, still blogging long after I left. As you learn more about the world, you will discover new things that spark a fire in you. While some will burn out, others will cling on and reshape your identity. I wonder what it will be for me next. 

10. New friends will change your life...

Of all my friends I regularly keep in contact with, two are pre-twenties: Rich (who I met just three months before my 20th birthday) and Marie. Everyone else has entered my life in the past ten years and I couldn't be more grateful. From the blogging pals I talk to every damn day- Chelsea, Dannie, Leona, Fran and Issy- to those I've explored foreign countries with- Ami and Hayley. From my best friend Laura who entered my life when I was twenty and I would be absolutely lost without, to my former colleagues who have become some of my closest pals (that includes you, Miss Wazir). I cannot imagine my life without these wonderful people (and more, of course, but I can't list everyone) and it's crazy to think that when I turned twenty, I hadn't crossed paths with a single one. It makes me wonder who's going to appear by the time I'm forty!

11. ...but it's still possible they will hurt you

I tend to think of being upset by your friends as a teenage girl thing. Turns out it's not. It still hurts when you put your all into a friendship and get nothing back. I still, inexplicably, get jealous when my friends make new friends (but because I'm not a dick, I suck that right up!) And you know what else still happens? Even when you're married, you can still experience that soul-crushing disappointment when your crush doesn't text you back (high five to Rich for putting up with me moaning about that!) Yes, I know I'm not going to run off into the sunset with him but that's not the point. Being let down and hurt by others is just a fact of life. It sucks but all we can do is hold on and wait for it to pass. 

12. It's not too late to apologise

When I was 18, I wasn't a great person to be around. I hurt a lot of people who I cared about very deeply and, although I don't regret any of my decisions in life, I of course wish I hadn't hurt so many people. There is one person in particular who came to me at my darkest time and was an absolute angel. He saw the very worst in me and put up with so much, never once complaining. We lost touch just before I turned 20, although we still have each other on Facebook. Last July, I did something I'd been thinking about for a long time. I reached out and apologised. It might have been odd to say sorry ten years later, but I felt it was something that needed to be done. He was, predictably, wonderful about it. We haven't kept in touch or reconnected or anything sentimental like that, but I feel more at ease now. Perhaps the apology was more for my benefit than his, I don't know. I do hope it was something he appreciated, though. I know I would if the situation were reversed, regardless of how much time had passed. 

13. You don't need a 'personal style'

My style has undergone so many transformations, I can barely keep count. From teenage hippy to mid-00s emo to 50s rockabilly to this skater-skirt-and-jumper thing I've had going on for the past few years. I used to feel a bit annoyed by this. I desperately wanted a clear personal style- something that was original and distinctive and undeniably "Becky". Eventually I had to concede that that's just not me. It's way too difficult to curate a distinct look when your shopping style is grabbing everything you like the look of, like some sort of deranged magpie. The thing is, I've found people seem to appreciate this. Of course you shouldn't dress yourself with the sole intention of getting compliments from others, but we've all got to admit that it feels nice to be admired. When a stranger on the train asks me where I got my skirt, or the super-chic girl you're sharing a press trip with admires your dress, or even a fit guy says you suit a certain colour, it lifts you up. Not everyone is going to look like they've stepped out of Vogue, but that doesn't mean your style is dull. The most important thing is that you wear what you like and you completely own it. It's your confidence that gives you style, not your clothes. 

14. You don't need to carry your secrets forever

Growing up, I was incredibly secretive. I never discussed my feelings, I hid my passions and I tried not to speak about myself wherever possible. Today I'm the complete opposite. I mean, I've spent over six years writing purely about myself on the internet, so that's fairly obvious. If you were reading my blog three years ago, you may remember I shared a very personal story of a past trauma. By the time I turned 20, I could count on one hand the number of people I'd told. These days, I'm very open about it. I won't recount it all now, mainly because I'm keeping this post an uplifting one, but I've learned that when you share your secrets, they begin to lose their hold over you. I'm incredibly lucky to have met Rich, a man who encourages me to be completely honest with him in a way most people would find baffling. But therein lies our strength. We have complete trust and security in our relationship because of our open communication. When you free yourself of your secrets, you become liberated and you're able to be your true self. 

15. Goodbyes aren't as painful as you might think

Three weeks before my 20th birthday, my grandad died. It was a real shock but, inevitably of course, I experienced further losses throughout the decade. Just after my 28th birthday, my wonderful grandma died. It's hard. Of course it is. And as you get older, you'll lose more and more people, which is a pretty horrible reality. With my study area, it's impossible to avoid death, so perhaps I have a different attitude to others, but I truly feel the best thing to do is confront it. Acknowledge that it absolutely sucks, but there's nothing you can do. I spent my teenage years absolutely terrified of losing my Grandma, but when the time came, I felt like I'd already accepted it. Maybe that was because she was ill for a long time so I had the chance to prepare, or maybe it's because I confronted it head-on and refused to deny or suppress it. I don't know. Grief is different for everyone, of course, and I'm not for a second suggesting everyone is willing or able to take this approach. All I know is that it wasn't as difficult as I was expecting. For me, the hardest thing was going through my master's degree without the opportunity to call her up and tell her every single thing I learned (the first time I got an assignment back and learned I'd been awarded a distinction was the hardest because I knew how incredibly proud she would have been). When I was in the midst of a tricky situation, all I wanted to do was curl up at her feet, tell her everything and ask her advice. But then I thought about it and I realised I already knew what she would say. I could practically hear her voice in my ear. And then it hit me that, although she'd gone, she'd left me everything I needed to get by in life without her. She'd handed the baton on, so to speak, and now I could apply all those lessons she'd taught me as I grew up. It's still horrible being without her, of course, but she left an irrevocable legacy that will live on for as long as I'm here. When it's put like that, it's difficult to feel anything other than grateful. 

16. Don't regret a thing

I've made mistakes, as everyone has, but I don't have a single regret. The unfortunate truth is that once you've done something, you can never change that, so why waste time wishing you could change the past? All that will happen is you'll make your current self miserable (and then probably regret letting things get to you so much, and then you're stuck in a vicious circle). I've adopted a policy of never having regrets, no matter what. Sure, sometimes that's easier said than done, but it does make my life much easier. I've found myself now in a position where I take more risks, because I figure I won't regret the outcome whatever happens. This take-a-chance attitude has led me to have some incredible experiences, because I'm not worried about the consequences. Nominate your mum for Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway? Why not- what's the worst that can happen? (We ended up on a plane to Florida to see the final). Apply for Coach Trip? Go for it! (I got an audition but unfortunately didn't get the call back- I'll be applying again next year though!) Receive a too-good-to-be-true email about a press trip to the Caribbean? Do some frantic background checks and then pack your bags girl, because you're going to Aruba! If I'd spent more time worrying about what could go wrong, I'd never have had these wonderful opportunities. Obviously, sometimes things do go wrong, in which case I have a little cry and (attempt to) move on with things. But I can honestly say I don't have a single regret in my life. It's liberating!

17. Sometimes what you want isn't what you want

On the topic of regrets, sometimes you can spend a long time wishing for something and then, when you finally get it, find out it's actually not how you anticipated. But that's OK. No regrets, remember? The important thing is to remember that it's totally normal for things to not work out how you hoped, and not to feel the need to keep ploughing on regardless. Confession: I still need to work on this bit. I have a hard time letting go and accepting that it's just not worth the effort. I'm pretty sure once I stop putting all my effort into pursuits that are nosediving, I'll have more time and energy to spend on things that will be successful. Maybe I'll learn that lesson by the time I turn 40! 

18. Overwhelming crushes aren't just for teenagers

If you were following me on Twitter a few years ago, you might remember my absolutely huge crush on the aforementioned beautiful doctor. Oh good lord, he was gorgeous! Then there was the One Who Doesn't Text Back. Turns out, marriage doesn't make you immune to getting butterflies when you see someone attractive. Of course, what's important is how you handle that. Obviously don't act on it and try not to be too bitter about the fact that it can't go anywhere because a) you're married for Christ's sake and b) they're massively unsuitable (whether that's because their communication skills are severely lacking or because they are your GP and that would be illegal). It's cool, I'm totally cool, not bitter at all. The point is, you'll probably still develop crushes, even when you're no longer a hormonal teenager. Just enjoy the giddy feeling you get and don't dwell on it. Or try not to, anyway! 

19. Never lose hope- there are great things around the corner

OK, I might have just said that sometimes I need to accept when things aren't working out but, in contrast, there's always hope that something amazing might happen. When I was suffering from terrible anxiety, losing the will to live because of the pressures of my job, and just slowly turning into a shadow of my former self, it was easy to think that this was just how my life would be from now on. But then, two years later, I've had the best 12 months of my whole life. Just when I was thinking my blog was on its way out, I had the best opportunity of its existence. I'm not saying never give up, because sometimes that's obviously the best course of action. But you never know what's coming up, so don't lose hope and make sure you're ready to grasp any opportunity that comes your way. 

20. Live your own life! 

Finally, I've learned the importance of living your own life and following your own path. There will always be people in life who think they know what's best for you and will try to tell you what you should do, but they're not the ones who have to live it. Trust your intuition, do what's right for you and never look back. 

I feel so grateful to be at a stage in my life where I can accept who I am, flaws and all. I have a strong sense of my own identity, I know what I want from life and I have the confidence to stand up for myself. In the past 10 years, I've learned so much about my character, and I cannot wait to see what my thirties holds for me. Bring it on! 

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