Reflections on nearing the end of my 20s

Posted by Catherine Elms on February 10, 2019 Blog posts | | No comments

As I approach 30, I’ve been reflecting on my goals and dreams and bucket lists. I always set myself goals at the start of every year, and this year my birthday milestone has left me feeling reflective about my twenties in general, and where I’m at in my life right now.

There are so many things I wish I had done by now. My mental health in my late teens and early twenties meant that I couldn’t see very far into my future, and when I did look forward, all I could see was mundanity and pain. Looking back at my diary entries from this time, I had such low expectations, and was very easily discouraged. An example of this that struck me recently: in my first year of university, I set myself a goal to travel to 4 specific countries before graduation, and I didn’t make it to any of them. I didn’t even get so far as researching how to do it or how much it would cost – it didn’t occur to me that I could find a cheap deal online that would take me to Sweden and go alone for a weekend. Compare that to 2018, where I visited 2 countries I’d never visited before over 4 months, one of which was a long-haul holiday that involved a lot of research. 2 countries in 4 months isn’t impressive by some people’s standards, but it’s a world away from my 2009 self.

I feel sad for my former self. I wish she’d had better luck when it came to making friends, which would’ve opened more doors for her, instead of sitting alone in her dorm room  feeling lonely. I wish she had been more like the kind of uni students who grab every single opportunity – study abroad for a semester (among my biggest regrets), travel, party, experiment, make mistakes. I look at some of my peers who are out there doing amazing things, and I feel behind in my life.

There are certain big life things I haven’t done yet – find my dream job, mostly, but also a few big formative things that I wish I’d done in my early 20s, like backpacking, road tripping, discovering what my passion is, finding a best friend, and a load of music-related things like recording and releasing more music. It’s difficult to not feel regret about those things.

I try to respect my past self for making the choices she made – which were always for survival and safety – and recognise that as much as I regret living a small life in my 20s, things were objectively Not That Bad Really. I got my degree. All of my romantic relationships in my 20s were deeply loving and caring. I never got into debt (other than student debt, which I try not to worry about). I lived away from home and could take care of myself. I got involved with the Student Union, and won an award for my work there.

Sometimes I feel confined by my past, that of course I’m not adventurous, given the kind of person I used to be. But instead, I try to acknowledge the progress that I have made, and celebrate the milestones I have reached – even if they aren’t as aspirational as the things other people tend to celebrate in public. Sometimes the biggest achievements are things that aren’t Instagram-worthy, like becoming a more adventurous person, recovering from mental illness, or maintaining healthy relationships. And that’s ok. It’s important to celebrate the private victories that no one will ever see. I’m trying to learn how to be happy with who I am today, away from the pressures of performing a version of myself online.

I am also trying to remember that age is arbitrary, and self-actualisation is a lifelong project. I don’t have to be a perfect, well-rounded person with most of her bucket list ticked off my the time I reach 30.

Equally, other people’s progress doesn’t reflect poorly on my own; we all live our lives at our own paces, and navigate our own battles. The important thing is that I keep moving.

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