On my 20th birthday, I was sick, sick, sick. For my entire week last week as a nineteen-year-old, I was up all night coughing until I cried and going through a box of Kleenex in an hour. I was sharing a crappy little condo in a college town with my three closest friends and I’m fairly certain there was black mold growing somewhere in the walls, under the warped kitchen sink, or in the literal hole in the wall that I slept in. I don’t know. Maybe in the ceiling that collapsed in the downstairs bathroom because it was soggy? Anyway, I spent my last week of being a teenager miserably sick and just miserable in general.
My off again, on again boyfriend bought me my first diamonds that birthday – a pretty little tennis bracelet, even though we were no longer officially “on”. He also took me to dinner and then told me he couldn’t afford to pay for it, so I did. Then he said he would pay the tip and gave our waitress, an attractive, outgoing girl aptly named “Diamond” (ah, the symbolism) a tip that was almost bigger than the cost of our entire meal. That pretty much summed up the last year of my teens – a confusing, at times intoxicating, at times embarrassing, at times just so damn sad period of my life.
If I could go back and have a sit down with that freshly turned twenty young girl who coughed till she cried, who was having both the most exciting and fun and saddest time of her life, I would have hugged her hard. I would look at her and sigh, “oh, honey” in that slightly condescending tone that people who have “been there” use with nostalgia. Because she had no idea what was laying out there in front of her for the next ten years. But if I could give that just-turned-20-year-old Ashley some words of wisdom from her just-about-to-turn-thirty-year-old self, this is what I would tell her:
- I don’t know how to write this without sounding like a bad person, but I’m just going to say it: sometimes it feels like a competition to see who can find a husband first and the first girl with a big ‘ol ring on her finger wins. You will win. You will see pure white hot jealousy flash across other girls’ faces. You will get all the attention you are craving. But you really, really aren’t “winning” honey. Not even close.
- You know the whole, “when a person shows you who they are, believe them the first time” thing? Yeah, that.
- It will suck that nobody is paying for your school. Believe me, if they could they would – but they can’t. But I promise you, you will appreciate and treasure and get more out of your education than the vast majority of people whose parents footed the bill for their degree.
- If you are ever feeling lonely or homesick, just go to Target. Seriously, just do it. It’s like coming home.
- Enjoy the fuck out of college. High school was not great. College will more than make up for that. Never again will you be able to live with your best friends, spend nights awake into the wee hours talking on each other’s beds, staying up late dancing and mixing terrible drinks and not ever experiencing a hangover. Never again will you get to go sit in a room and learn things all day long. You will fall in love and make amazing friends and memories and have the best times of your life and learn things you are passionate about. Its freaking incredible. You even know its incredible at the time, but it is more incredible than you even understand. You will miss this.
- Just love people. Just love your friends. Don’t try and change a damn thing about them. They won’t try to change you, so let go of believing you can change their minds or show them the light about whatever you are blind enough to think is “the right way.” There is no right way. Love your friends as is.
- Speaking of friends, when you find good ones, hold on tight. You will be blessed with some outstanding ones. There is no such thing as a “perfect” friendship though. It’s a relationship, just like any other and there will be ups and downs. Trust your gut on who you can trust to be a “knows all my deepest darkest thoughts” friend, and who is a friend who is good for an occasional fun night out. There is often a big difference and the sooner you can learn it, the better.
- When you are 22, your then husband will be told by a boss that when he receives his degree he will earn a certain amount of money if he chooses to accept a job there. Your eyes will bug out of your head because you think life will be SO EASY if you made anywhere near that amount of money. What would you even DO with all that money?? In four years you will be making more money than he was offered. It won’t feel like even close to enough. Then you will have a baby and work from home and have your salary cut more than in half, and you will still make it just the same. Money is weird like that. Its never enough and yet it always works out. I don’t know. Just trust me when I say you will be ok.
- Stay till you know you are ready to go and then Get. The. Fuck. Out. Of. There.
- You will have two weddings in your twenties. You will think your second wedding will be vastly different than your first. It will be and it won’t. At your first, a combination of dehydration and anxiety and perhaps a little bit of foreshadowing will cause you to have such a bad stomach ache that you spend some time laying on a couch in the foyer of the reception site trying not to cry. At your second, you will have a different kind of stomach ache, the kind called morning sickness.
- Your gut is never, ever, ever wrong. Never. Ever. Are you listening to me? I’m talking never. Ever. Wrong. Never. Ever. Never ever.
- But you won’t listen to it sometimes and that’s ok too. Things will work out. And you will learn to trust your freaking gut.
- Don’t stay at any job that makes you uncomfortable. Its not you, its them. Or maybe its not. But in any case, do not waste one second of your life doing something that makes you go “waaaiiiitttt a second …” and gives you that icky feeling in your stomach. See #11.
- Enjoy that Bachelorette party. Because in four days you will be holding a test with two pink lines that says “no more cocktails for a looooonnnngggggg time.” See #10.
- In the battle of choosing being kind versus being right – choose kind. You will literally never, ever regret it. You can be kind and right. But kind is infinitely better.
- Realize you are a great mom sooner than your daughter’s second birthday.
- It will seem like the birth of your daughter should be the best day of your life. Every photo caption and sentimental status update you read from people you know swears it is their happiest day. It won’t be the best or happiest day of your life. That’s ok. There will be better days than ones where you are screaming in the most intense pain of your life and have a group of strangers reaching in your vagina.
- Speaking of birth – no matter how much anyone tries to laugh at you or tell you how its not possible, you and your five foot two body are going to naturally deliver a nine pound baby in the 99th percentile for height with not a drop of pain medicine. By choice. You are a fucking rock star.
- Good enough is good enough. Perfect is a lie. Chant “good enough” and believe it.
- Every single thing you ask for you will receive in time. You will receive things you thought you always wanted and it turns out –NOPE. Not as great as you had hoped. You will receive things you thought you wanted and they will be everything you imagined. There is no way to know the difference. Just believe you are more powerful than you think. You make shit happen.
- Embrace you. Your quirks, introversion, love of uncool things, disdain for cool things. For example, no matter how much everyone wants you to love hiking – YOU WILL NOT LOVE HIKING. No matter how much everyone wants to tell you that watching every season of the Real Housewives of Whatever City is lame, YOU WILL LOVE ALL THINGS BRAVO. You will be a confident public speaker, but reallllly bad at small talk. All of this is more than ok, it’s awesome.
- When you truly don’t care, you have ALL the damn power.
- You will get divorced embarrassingly young and embarrassingly quickly. Turns out its not embarrassing at all and is one of the wisest choices you will ever make. You will not lose a single person who is meant to stay in your life.
- Give people a chance to support you. Give them a chance to show you their joy. What is your biggest secret? What is causing you the most shame in your life? Let it out. LET. IT. OUT. The right people will love, love, love you for it. The right people will celebrate you for it. They will say “me too!” or “you are amazing!” or “I love you no matter what” or laugh and say “oh, honey. That’s nothing.” The wrong people might care for a few minutes and say something snarky or judge-y then go right back to caring about their own life and forget about yours.
- The amount of time you spend worrying about what you look like in a bikini is very, very sad. Let’s do better in our thirties, ok?
- I’m only two years in to the whole parenting shebang, but it appears children survive even when they eat non-organic food, watch tv before age 2, and don’t have someone making direct eye contact with them 24 hours a day. So cut yourself some slack. So far, that daughter of yours is off the charts intelligent and ridiculously healthy.
- It turns out people really, really care about yoga pants. So. Keep that in mind for writing purposes.
- For the LOVE OF GOD, be willing to say “I don’t know.” Say it to friends, family, your daughter. Say it to lawyers and counselors and students and blog commenters and doctors and clients. Say it loud and proud. The worst advice you ever got was from a manager who told you to never ever say the words “I don’t know”. Take that advice and mentally tear it up and burn it. You will last in that job for a couple weeks and her advice needs to die a swift and total death in your brain, heart, and psyche.
- The things that are “supposed” to be fun, like weddings and special occasions and holidays are rarely, RARELY one thousandth as fun as the random nights you didn’t expect to be anything and then realize its 4am and you are surrounded by your friends and empty glasses and music and your face hurts from smiling so much. Or Christmas Day nights in your crappy brown apartment eating white rice and soy sauce and watching terrible movies like Roadhouse and Showgirls with the love of your life. THOSE are the moments. That’s the stuff to tuck away in your memory for a rainy day.
- At least as far as your twenties are concerned, you really will live happily ever after. And all that crappy stuff that happened along the way? It will provide for a lovely “30 Things I Learned in my 20s” post. But seriously, the sweet just ain’t as sweet without the sour.
On my 29th birthday, my husband left for work and I took the day off and woke up with our beautiful baby girl. I finished reading “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed during her 1st nap of the day and cried and cried because it was beautiful and heartbreaking and inspiring and reminded me life is short and brutal and wonderful. My mom came and played with my daughter in the front yard of the house my husband and I bought a month before we said “I do”, while I went for a rare drive alone and browsed a bookstore. When my daughter went down for her second nap, I took one too. That evening my husband and daughter and I had greasy pizza and rich, dense cake with my family and I took a picture of the amazing sunset on our way home. I kissed my daughter goodnight and got into bed with my husband and thought to myself, “this was one of the best birthdays ever.”
As I leave my 20s behind, I am rendered utterly speechless with the magnitude of what your life can become in a decade. Day to day often nothing changes, but then you look back and nothing is really the same. I want that freshly turned twenty-year-old Ashley to know that her twenties will be so, so well-lived. That she will use up those years and squeeze every drop out of them, just as you should.
So here’s to the next frontier of life – may it be every bit as brutiful as the decade before it.