Being a female in your 20s can be just as traumatic as being in high school. As I awkwardly changed among strangers in the yoga studio locker room yesterday, the sound of giggling and gossiping nearly gave me a panic attack. I felt a wave of anxiety, looked over at them, and realized, “they’re just being girls. It’s not personal.”
Sometimes, in moments like the one in the locker room, I still feel like I’m a shy, insecure teenager.
I remember what it was like to live on my ego, not my heart. I used to constantly compare myself to my peers, worry about the future, and judge others to make myself feel adequate. I remember what it was like to wonder what everyone was thinking about me instead of enjoying the moment. I remember what it was like to take a yoga class and be so paralyzed by self-consciousness that I couldn’t even focus on my pose.
It wasn’t a very fun way to live.
Age is merely a number, but when I look back on how I viewed life at 23 vs. 33, it’s clear how much my perspective has changed. This reminds me of a story from two holidays ago, right after I moved to Boston. I worked at a downtown staffing agency- a job I miraculously got on day 7 of living in Massachusetts. However, the job came with a catch: I was working as an entry-level recruiter (the same type of job I left in Michigan when I moved to San Francisco in 2008), with entry-level co-workers. They were all lovely people, but the conversations made me feel like I was back in college, rushing a sorority of pretentious girls.
“Oooh, where is he taking you for dinner?” “That’s not expensive enough. Make him take you somewhere better.”
“Ewww, he got you Pandora? Take it back and get Yurman.”
“I don’t know what to eat tonight. Teach me how to adult.”
I could go on forever.
Naturally, I just had to be a killjoy and chime in. “Just wait, in a couple of years you’ll probably consign all those gifts from your exes like I did.”
The girls blankly stared at me. Then, they continued chirping.
“OMG, I love your bag! Prada?”
I can’t remember if those were my priorities at that age. My life was a little bit different at age 23, though; I was living in a 2,200 square foot suburban Detroit home with an engineer boyfriend, who later became my (ex) fiance. We spent weekends at Home Depot and eating at expensive restaurants. I wore a 1.51-carat princess cut diamond on my finger and didn’t worry about budgeting. Our summer days were filled with boating, BBQing in the backyard, and home projects.
I woke up every day in a wooden Pottery Barn sleigh bed with matching end tables on either side. Each morning, however, I wanted to be anywhere else.
At 23 years old, sitting in rush hour traffic in his brand new Chevy Tahoe, I felt stifled and sick.
“This is my life forever,” I thought.
It wouldn’t be, of course- I took off for San Francisco just a few months later. It’s hard to believe this was exactly ten years ago. Some people search their whole lives for their “Prince Charming” or the “American Dream.” I ran from it. Instead, I found a $700 rent-controlled Laurel Heights apartment, an awesome roommate, and the freedom of what it felt like to be a single 23-year-old on a budget, complete with credit card debt and a student loan.
It felt right- and it felt good. I was earning my way on my own, and it felt better.
July 2008, San Francisco
10 years later, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Sure, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, lived in seven states, and have a resume that would make the conventional person say “hmmm,” but the lessons I have learned have been invaluable. I knew what it was like to “settle down” at an early age. I know what it’s like to have a lot, and a very little. I know how it feels to move to a place where I knew nobody- but felt more at home, and at peace, than ever.
At 26 or so, I thought my priorities would change by the time I was in my 30’s. I assumed I would soften to the idea of living in a smaller city, buying a house, or having a family. Instead, I’m even stronger in my convictions- I love my city life, am focused on career, enjoy being alone, and can’t see myself having kids. If this was how I envisioned my life as a teen, in my 20s, and now 30’s, what would change in the next 10 or 20 years?
I’m happier now at 33 than I was the previous 32 years of my life. This life is mine- and I built it. No one else.
So, if you’re in your teens or 20s and life is a little (or a lot) complicated right now, rest assured: it gets easier. If you can figure out now that the only thing that matters is what is in your heart, not what people on the outside think, then you will do just fine.
What your heart is telling you today probably won’t change in a decade or two- so keep doing what makes you happy, no matter what the other girls say. Whether your boyfriend takes you to Five Guys or to a Five Star restaurant, please know those things are meaningless. You’ll remember the moments of life- not the menu. So whether you’re wearing Prada or a pizza box, know you’re valuable, loved, and on a beautiful path of life: a path that is unique to you.