Wednesday, April 26, 2017

20 Life Lessons Learned In My 20s

I’m writing this article on a bumpy plane flight home from Kauai. With sand still stuck between my toes and salty wet hair from this morning’s swim, I’m gazing out the airplane window looking down at the Pacific Ocean from our place way up in the clouds. The sun is about to set over the seas and life, at this very moment, just feels right. 

With only a few days left until my 30th birthday, I decided to take this trip to hit a much-needed pause button on life. The days seem to be flying by faster and faster and I was longing for a chance to step away from the daily grind and do some serious reflecting on the past decade of my life. 

For pretty much everyone, turning 30 years old is a big deal. 

In yoga circles, we call it “Saturn’s Return” or the culmination of the first third of your life. As I approach this milestone myself, I can’t help but become super introspective and try to wrap my mind around everything that’s transpired over this last decade. I literally watched myself transition from a girl into a woman, and it was the most humbling thing I’ve ever experienced. 

From the wild-party-girl-binge-drinking college days of my early 20s, to navigating my way in the “adult” working world, to getting married, finding yoga, changing career paths, starting my own yoga business, doing some serious self-healing … to this moment right here — being 30 weeks pregnant on the eve of my 30th birthday. This decade has been a rollercoaster ride, to say the least.. 

A beautiful, wild, exciting, scary, truth-revealing rollercoaster ride, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

Here are the most important lessons I learned in my 20s:

  1. You are your own biggest teacher — Gurus, mentors, and teachers in many forms will enter your life and impart knowledge on you. Some welcomed, others, not so much. I’m a big believer that every person we encounter can be a great teacher to us on our path. “Can be” being the operative words in that sentence. Never forget that YOU are your greatest teacher of all. Read the quotes, study the ancient texts, peruse the hottest self-help blogs, listen, absorb, digest — yet keep only what truly resonates with your soul. 99% of the time, they are just reflecting back to you something you already know. YOU can heal and help yourself better than anyone else ever can.
  2. You are the designer of your destiny — Think of yourself as the architect of your own life. Our American culture teaches us that we grow up, get a job, buy things on credit, and spend our whole life paying it back. Sure, that’s one way. But that’s definitely not the only way. You can live in the suburbs, or at the beach, or in a van, or abroad, or in the mountains, or with your mom and dad because you guys are tight like that. You can literally write your own story, and you should! Every day, every meal, every purchase, every career move is UP TO YOU. How amazing is that?!
  3. Never choose a career based solely on the pay — You know that old cliche “do what you love and the money will come” Well, it’s true! Picking your career based on salary alone is the quickest way to end up unhappy and unfulfilled. I’ve seen it a million times. Money does not equal happiness. Duh.
  4. Consider becoming self-employed —When people gave me this advice in my mid-20s I scoffed at them. Me?! No, I could never be the boss. I wanted to, I needed to work for someone else. Then came the “3 year burn”. Getting burned over and over again (financially, emotionally, etc.) by people that I worked passionately for was rough. But it taught me that I should direct all that energy, hard work, and passion towards my own goals and dreams. Not only did I become self-employed by 27 years old, but I also convinced my husband to do the same. Now we’re both able choose our hours and to do things like move to Mexico for two months, which is how we started out 2017. Freedom equals happiness. And it feels sooo good.

  5. Place an extremely high value on your time — To build on the last concept about becoming your own boss, never forget that we’re only given so much time on this planet. It’s up to us how we use it. Investigate any areas of your life that feel negative or weigh you down. Friendships, careers, projects, even the space in which you happen to live at this moment. If it doesn’t serve you, don’t waste your precious time on it. Be fiercely protective of who and what you allow into your life.

  6. Never be afraid of success — For so long, I held myself back, never wanting to over-shadow other people. Then, I was taught a powerful lesson that “when we allow our own light to shine, we unconsciously give permission for others to do the same.” This concept, first introduced by author Marianne Williamson was a game-changer for me. There is plenty of space for ALL of us to do our thing and shine.
  7. Relationships are a privilege — Growing up, my dad always emphasized to us the idea that under the age of 18, we are all obligated to each other as a family. But, after 18, once we’re out of the house and on our own, we choose how much or little we stay connected. And that has always stayed with me. No one is obligated to another. Every relationship in your life is a privilege. Even if you’ve been friends for 15 years, or you are dad/daughter, sister/brother by blood never take that for granted.
  8. True friendships take WORK — Building on the last one, friends and family will disappoint you. They will break your heart and shatter your idea of them as a “perfect person”. But that doesn’t mean that you give up on them. No one is perfect, and of course, if they cross the line one too many times or are truly hurtful to you, it’s time to let that relationship go. But, day to day maintenance of friendships is crucial. Choose carefully the people you want in your tribe, then cultivate and nourish those relationships as deeply as you can. If you surround yourself with the right people, the love you put in is equal to the love you receive back.
  9. Investigate your childhood — Think of yourself as a conscious observer of your own life. Spend serious time reflecting and journaling your childhood. Trace back the patterns that were instilled in you at a young age, especially when it comes to your ideas of self-love and self-worth. The answers to most of your adult problems can be revealed by fully processing and understanding your youth.
  10. Life doesn’t happen to us, it happens for us — Life will throw us all kinds of curve balls. You can be having the best day of your life, the sun is shining, you’re skipping around without a care in the world feeling so at peace with everything and then, BAM! You trip and fall and that beautiful green smoothie you just made goes flying in the air and lands right on top of you. No joke, this has happened to me on more than one occasion.
    At first, I would wallow in the setbacks. But now, I try to pick myself up as quickly as possible, and move on. There is a lesson in everything that transpires in your life. Nothing happens to us, it happens for us — to learn, grow, and expand in some new way. Playing the victim is NOT CUTE. Loose the victim mentality and start to see the clear messages in the setbacks that come your way.
  11. Drop the comparisons — You know another thing that’s really not cute?! Jealousy. Envy. Longing. Of course, in our age of social media overload, we tend to only see the highlight reel of everyone’s life, and comparison is totally natural. But, lusting for someone else’s existence will only leave you feeling less than and empty inside. Focus your time and energy on watering your own grass. Focus on attracting the things and people you genuinely want in your life. Be inspired by beautiful images you see on a screen, and make healthy changes where needed, but never forget the perfect existence that’s right in front of you.
  12. Communication is crucial — My husband used to tease me about the “Mandy Maybe”. Whenever I couldn’t commit to a decision, I would just leave it at a maybe and not have to deal. It was my perfect cure-all to not having to be assertive, or confrontational, or stand up for myself. Do you want Thai food for dinner? Maybe… Do you want to go out with the girls tonight? Maybe… Do you want to continue working this job you hate? Maybe….   I absolutely loved hanging out in the gray zone, never having to make a clear cut, black/white decision. Until it started effecting my relationships. I became flaky and unreliable. My word meant nothing. I did some serious soul searching and decided I didn’t want to live like that. I worked really hard to be clear and specific with my words. This change empowered me in so many ways, and I can’t imagine ever going back to that maybe life again.

  13. Become a really good listener — Communication doesn’t only mean being able to articulate clearly and effectively. On the flip side, it is just as much about listening to what others are saying. I know we’re all guilty of thinking of our response as the person is talking. It’s human nature to prepare for the next step. But, truly hearing and listening to every word someone is saying is SO powerful. It brings you right into the present moment and creates a sense of understanding, empathy, and connection you wouldn’t have otherwise found.
  14. Don’t be so sensitive — In writing this article, I asked a few people closest to me what changes they’ve seen in me since my early 20’s. One friend totally surprised me by saying, you’re not as easily offended. WOW! Holy truth bomb! But, she’s right. I am naturally a sensitive person, I always will be. I hope to always be, as my sensitivity and empathetic nature has allowed me to tap into understanding, empathizing, and healing people through the yoga lifestyle. But, there’s a fine line. Being overly sensitive or easily offended is SO NOT necessary. I’ve worked hard at embracing criticisms with a grain of salt and understanding that we are all a work in progress.
  15. Healthy boundaries are EVERYTHING — If you keep finding yourself is a series of awkward relationships or situations, check in with your boundaries. People will only treat you with the level of respect in which you require them to.
  16. Ask for what you want — Be bold in what you ask for. Life is too short to play it small. When crafting your vision board, journaling, or praying to the Universe, go big. What would it feel like if you were to truly “shoot for the stars”?
  17. Stop saying sorry — One word that I have almost completely rid from my vocabulary in my 20s is the word sorry. Or at least the disingenuous sorry. If you are truly regretful of something, take the time to make a heart-felt apology. But every time you bump into someone, or drop something, or snort while laughing-out-loud in public? Not necessary. Women spend way too much time apologizing for the littlest things, which over time, builds up in our subconscious and keeps us in a constant state of asking for forgiveness. Enough already. Be unapologetically YOU, and be OK with that.
  18. Forgive. Every damn day. — Speaking of forgiveness, every day is the perfect day to practice that little gem. Release, surrender, let it go. Your childhood. Your ideas of perfection. The way your mother treated you. The ex-boyfriend who cheated on you ten years ago. The girls that talk behind your back. The people who underpay you and don’t realize your worth. Release, surrender, let it go.
    Start with the outside world, and when you come to a place of peace with that, turn the forgiveness inward. You deserve it. You deserve to feel light and free. It’s probably the hardest work you’ll ever do, but be relentless about it. Fall in love with the idea of forgiving yourself and others, every damn day, and soon enough it will become second nature.
  19. Hangovers suck — Am I right?! Each year the headaches tend to get stronger and the recovery time longer. Now, in my 3rd decade of life, I’m committing to quality over quantity, in everything I do. Hell yea I still love a good margarita! But top shelf tequila only, please. Or while we are at it, small-batch handmade Mezcal from Oaxaca, por favor. I've become so particular about what I put into my body and I've never felt better! Changing my relationship with what I consume catapulted my health in amazing ways I could never imagine. I ditched the dairy, eat mostly vibrant, living foods, and when I do indulge it's only the best. Less is so much more, if you are eating and drinking the right stuff.
  20. Gratitude for it all — The good and the bad. Coming to a place of peace with my past and gratitude for my present has set my heart free in so many ways. 22 year old Mandy was wild and crazy and confused... but perfect in her own way. It breaks my heart when I see people bash their former selves. Every step of the way leads us to the next. No matter how dark your past was, be grateful for everything it taught you. 

In closing...

I used to think that feeling FIERCE was purely physical: youth, swag, sex appeal. The right dress that hugged your curves, a sexy hair day, the right shade of red lipstick.

But now, these days, most days, feeling FIERCE has nothing to do with my external being. My 30th year has taught me how to feel beautiful and strong and wild from a much deeper place. That's why they always say that life for a woman really begins in your 30s, and gets better in your 40s, 50s, and so on. 

You go through shit. You stare death and depression and the depths of your spirit in the face and you get to make a choice. These things can break you. Or they can make you into the fiercest, kindest, most authentic and loving woman you'll ever know. 

Today, I feel fierce. Even when I'm up to my elbows in diapers and have bags under my eyes from no sleep. Today, not in spite of these reasons, but because of these reasons, and so much more . . . 

I feel fierce when I think of how far I've come. 

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