Saying goodbye to my 20s with a Roaring 20s Great Gatsby Party!
I have turned 30. Entering a new chapter of my life has made me reflect on how I have grown in the last decade. This then made me wonder – if I were to write a letter to my 20 year old self, what would I say to her?
Actually, if I were given the choice to send a letter back into the past, I wouldn’t. I would want 20 year old Marie to plunge into her new decade with the same ignorance I did. Why? Because my hardships and struggles have made me the woman I am today.
But if I had to pick six pieces of advice to say to her, perhaps I would say something like this.
(I also have a recommended reading list at the end of the entry based on what I’ve written, so please check out below if interested.)
1. Be your authentic self
In your twenties you believed that life is a performance. Every action, every conversation needs to be manipulated to bring about the ‘perfect’ outcome. That is, to have other people like you.
The problem with this is that because it’s an act brought about by fear – that is, the fear of not being liked – you spend all your energy trying to avoid this outcome as much as possible. To do so, you constantly suppress what you think and feel. This is nothing short of violence towards your self.
In fact, in not being honest you are not only hurting yourself, but you are doing all the people around you a disservice.
Life is too short to be anyone but yourself.
Remember these three things:
Be honest with your emotions
- We may be taught that ‘emotional control’ is a sign of maturity. This may be so, but this is different from emotional suppression. If you deny and push down how you are feeling inside, it doesn’t miraculously go away – it gets stuck inside you. The result is that you become a volcano of emotions, waiting to explode. Often also, this leads to depression. It is possible to openly accept all the human emotions we feel – from happiness to anger to sadness. It is only through truly embracing them that you can let them go.
Be honest with your words
- There is something to be said about radical honesty. You may feel like you are preventing people from getting hurt by choosing words carefully, but in actuality you are doing them a disservice by not telling them the truth. This doesn’t mean however, that you tell the person you hate that they are an asshole. This is not helpful. I very much recommend nonviolent communication as a means of getting across what you are thinking and feeling.
Be honest with your body
- If your body tells you to stop, stop. Don’t push it beyond what it wants. You will find that to do otherwise will eventually hurt your body. You don’t have to push your body to the limits to achieve something. Yoga is a prime example – you work closely with your body, listening carefully to it and soon flexibility + strength follows.
2. Constantly let go
In Japanese there is a saying, ‘dan-sha-ri’. It means refusal, disposal and separation. Derived in part from yoga, it refers to the cleaning and throwing away of unwanted items.
The importance of this is perfectly demonstrated in the parable with the keen zen pracitioner and the enlightened master. ‘Teach me everything you know!’ the young practitioner said to the master. The master simply told him to pour him a cup of tea until he said stop. Even when the cup was overflowing the master said nothing, ‘The cup is flooding!’ the zen practioner exclaimed. ‘Yes’ said the master, ‘that cup is like your mind, how can I teach you anything if it’s full already?’.
If you don’t throw away things in your house, it clogs up. Mess builds. Life is the same. If you don’t constantly let go of things – may it be thoughts or emotions – they accumulate and you’ll simply have no space to let in the new. When you feel like you’ve hit a life block, then don’t do anything more. Instead, let go.
Oh, and on a side note, remember that your inner state and outer state are closely connected. If your room is messy, that’s probably a good sign that you need to do some cleaning on the inside. Conversely, an effective way to start your inner cleanse is through scrubbing the house and throwing away all unwanted items!
3. Remember that you can be the observer
In your early twenties you lived your life swayed by emotions and thoughts. It was like you were on a boat rocked constantly by a storm.
It doesn’t have to be this way, because one thing you must realise is that you are not your thoughts. You are not your emotions either.
You are, in fact, the observer of all of these things. You are the listener. You are the feeler. As such, you can choose not to react to what emerges from you. That is not to say you should suppress your thoughts and emotions (see ‘1) Be Your Authentic Self’). It just means you are fully present with your thoughts and emotions, while making the conscious choice not to respond to them.
Meditation is key to sharpening this technique.
4. Remember that all actions come out of love or ignorance
All actions come from love or ignorance. Even fear and anger come from ultimately not understanding what you are dealing with properly. Each and every single decision in life we have a choice as to whether or not we make it from these two states. And there are absolutely no excuses – ‘but that person was being horrible, I had no choice’, ‘I had to respond immediately’. No. We always have a choice, so long as you are totally present in the moment.
On a similar vein, remember there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decisions. There are only decisions that either come or not come from the heart.
But surely there are ‘right’ decisions! You may say. For example, what if you invest in something and it is a huge success? Wouldn’t that be a correct decision? Well, what if after your successful investment, you become so well-known among your business peers that brings about jealously? What if someone backstabs you and steals all your money, leading you to suffer terrible poverty? Your ‘right’ decision may not seem so ‘right’ anymore.
My point is, you never know the complete consequences of what each decision brings. Some may be pleasant, but they can quickly become unpleasant too. So the only thing we can do in these circumstances is to ensure that every decision we make at least comes from a place of total openness and honesty both to ourselves and others.
5. Live with humility
In your twenties you are still struggling to find your place in the world. You believe that there is such a thing such as a ladder of success, and it is your job to work hard to climb up on it. As such, people lie above or below you on this hierarchy, and you have a drive keep on top of it. You are also terrified of falling behind.
It is time to let this idea go.
First, if you define ‘success’ as ‘being skilled at something’, you must realise that there will always be people better at everything single thing that you do. Even if you were an Olympic gold medal winning champion, one day your muscles won’t be what they used to be and someone else will take your spot.
Conversely though, there will also always be people who are less skilled at things than you. So just accept that there is this spectrum of people that will always surround you, no matter how good you become at something. Therefore it is pointless to get on the treadmill of being ‘at the top’.
More importantly though, remember that this whole idea of placing people and things on a scale is a mentally constructed one, so it can be abandoned. For example, let’s say you start sewing. If you break it down just to what it is, all you are doing is threading a needle in and out. And the experience can just end there. But if you come out of the present moment of performing this action and start comparing yourself with others, then suddenly you are ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than other people at it. You could have just stayed in the moment enjoying your sewing.
Humility is being in a state where you do not see the world anymore on a scale. Everything just is. There is no ‘better’ or ‘worse’. Things just are. Seeing and experiencing the world in this state will bring about a massive feeling of liberation.
6. If you want to live life to the fullest, play with it.
One of the biggest errors you made in your twenties was thinking success and suffering were synonymous. They really aren’t. Success may take lots of effort, yes, but it doesn’t have to involve suffering. Suffering is simply a mindset.
If you are the type of person who approaches life ‘seriously’ you may find yourself facing a lot of blocks in life. Why? Because this type of consciousness and attitude is actually very limiting, not to mention painful and boring.
Instead, think of life as a game. To play is to be creative, to be exploratory and to have fun. Approaching life as a big playroom helps you to more effortlessly navigate what it throws at you, no matter how hard it is. Even for things that may not seem like a playful event, such as a break-up, stressful exams or illness, try bending your attitude a little and see it within the context of a playroom anyways. This doesn’t mean you are not taking what has happened seriously. In fact, it’s the polar opposite. Because you want to approach all of these hardships in the most effective way possible, this is what you are doing. Less suffering from you means that you can be there and help out others during these hard times.
If you want to take life seriously, stop taking it seriously.
Nonviolent Communication — A Language of Life (Nonviolent Communication Guides) by Marshall R. Rosenberg
Lying by Sam Harris
The Power Of Now – A Guide To Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
Emotional Clearing: Releasing Negative Feelings and Awakening Unconditional Happiness by John Ruskan
The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman