7 Life Lessons I Learned During The Painful & Chaotic Decade of My 20s

Photo by mododeolhar.

As I entered into my 30s, I am finally learning how to apply the life lessons I learned in my 20s. During the whole decade of my 20s, I constantly found myself asking, “Who am I?”

What do I want to do with my life? Is this the right path for me? Am I not good enough? Why am I not perfect? Why is life like this? Why is my life like this? Am I unworthy of being loved?

I was 20 when I graduated college, and when my life turned upside down.

After graduating, I had no exact plan or path of what I wanted to pursue in life when I was given the opportunity to run a small family business (restaurant). Without knowing what this entailed, I had so willingly, excitedly and blindly agreed to help. I was given an opportunity to run a business and potentially build it into an empire. Why would I turn down this offer?!

Little did I know of the struggles and sacrifice running a business took. But even less did I know that when you work with parents, you go through a culture shock, generational shock, and the biggest shock of realizing how humanly flawed the parents you looked up to and who you thought were perfect are.

What was even worse was that I found myself “trapped” in this toxic mixture of family and business that took me 11 years to get out of. Family will always be forever but this wore me down everyday. I was experiencing existential life crises every day and I couldn’t get rid of the feeling like I was drowning. I constantly felt suffocated and burdened. I felt horrible for feeling this way.

Please do not get me wrong. I love my family more than anything else in this world and would do anything for them. But, looking back now, I was just not ready for any of it, I was naive and completely blind-sighted.

I experienced a whirlwind of emotions of anger, deeply rooted insecurities, self doubt, and inadequacy. I was completely lost and I kept seeking affirmation and validation from my friends while constantly trying to escape my reality by pursuing failed relationships.

I felt delusional, thinking that I could find self-validation and reassurance from dating and kept chasing after the emotionally unavailable, the unsettled, and those unwilling to settle. Repeatedly pursuing experiences that my friends told me were unnecessary, I was a broken record. I couldn’t pull myself out of my depression, and didn’t know how to get myself out of this mess I found myself in.

Feeling defeated. Photo by Darina Belonogova on Pexels.com

I threw myself into the deep end of a wide array of self-help and self-discovery books, blogs and podcasts. There were phases where I couldn’t sleep without podcasts because my anxiety struck me so hard.

Though these lessons sound so cliche, I don’t understand why I had the hardest time understanding these things. I did anything from taking a ridiculously expensive weekend life coaching seminar to googling Whys and listening to sermons. I felt like I was constantly burdening my friends with my emotional and mental breakdowns that I would start oversharing with people I felt close with at work. I kept seeking validation from others.

It took me a full decade before reaching a painful and liberating epiphany that Life was what I made of it. Though my mind always knew it, my heart never understood it.

After sulking and constantly reliving in this vicious cycle, I finally realized that I needed to change. I couldn’t keep living this way. I couldn’t be constantly angry. I was so stressed all the time, I just knew I couldn’t keep doing this. I had to learn to let go and finally take ownership of my life even when things panned out the way you never expected it to.

A few lessons I had learned through my painful path of self-realization was:

  1. You need to learn to love yourself, be kind to yourself, and take care of yourself.

Before anything else, you really need to learn to love yourself.

One of the many reasons why I think I spiraled so hard was because I did not value myself. I always compared myself to others and never learned to accept myself. I constantly sold myself short, believing that I was not worthy of more or that I didn’t deserve more.

Though I tried to find peace and confidence through working out, I didn’t know how to take care of my mental and emotional being. I was always too scared to pull the trigger. I always knew I wanted to do more and achieve more with my life, but I was in a hamster wheel cycle of self-shame, self-deprecation and crippling anxiety that made it hard to put my thoughts into action.

2. Sometimes, you don’t have control of the things that happen to you in your life, but you can control how you react to your situation.

Be positive. Be positive. Be positive.

Holding on to anger, resentment and bitterness will be your downfall and only hurt you. By constantly reliving your past through your memories, you are choosing to live in your pain as many times as you ruminate on it.

It’s so cliche. But it’s so true.

You don’t always have control of how things unfold. But you can control how you decide to interpret and see it. If you’re bitter, you will see life through your tainted lens and may be overly jaded. And that, will eventually snowball into something far more detrimental for your future.

Negativity doesn’t take you far in life. If you’re more positive, you will learn to accept things for the way it is faster and move on with your life faster. You will learn to accept your loss and pick yourself back up faster to tackle new challenges. But you will be more confident and stronger because you have been through it before.

A Reminder to Stay Positive. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

3. Life is What You Make of it.

You can decide to look at the glass half full or empty. You can choose to see the situation positively or you can choose to burden yourself with self-deprecating thoughts. It is ultimately up to you to decide this. Life is what You decide to make of it.

4. Change is extremely difficult.

I was stuck in a fixed mindset. I was barely in my 20s and I was so stuck in my ways of thinking. Life was supposed to be linear. I was supposed to find a good career, find a loving husband, get married by 30, have kids by 32 and be happy while juggling my stable career and loving family. I had my whole life planned out, and things had to unfold that way. I was fixed.

I was questioning my whole life and why I was the way I was because I couldn’t change myself even when I wanted to. I had to constantly dig into my feelings to understand why I wanted to change and why I felt like I couldn’t change. I still find myself self-loathing when I fall in mental traps and cannot not be who I used to be. It is those moments when I realize that I have to apply the mental tools that I have learned to pull myself out of these holes.

5. Start Small and Build Habits Slowly but Surely

Because change is so difficult, you have to approach your problems in bite-sized pieces. Focusing on tackling problems one by one will help you feel more accomplished and eventually snowball itself into bigger accomplishments. The habits I formed at a young age were terrible and held me back for a long time.

I tried to pick up new habits and unlearn old habits throughout the years. Only now, at the age of 32, do I feel like I have finally undone certain habits to slowly but surely get to the stage of actualization and potential as mentioned in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

6. Be Positive. Stay Positive. Believe in Yourself.

See the glass half full. Be optimistic. Not for anyone else, but for yourself.

Negativity only weighs you down while positivity pulls you out.

Give people the benefit of the doubt, and accept people for who they are.

Accept yourself for who you are and believe that you are in the right stage and path of your life. Celebrate the small wins and the successes, because you have come a long way in life. You just don’t realize it because you don’t take the time to sit down and tally your wins.

7. Strive for Progress, Not Perfection.

The Trap of being a Perfectionist.

Stop beating yourself up trying to be perfect. That’s another hamster wheel.

You will waste a lot of time trying to perfect things, when you can start and learn along the way.

I have wasted so much time and energy trying to be perfect, that I prevented myself from trying more things and exhausted all my energy that I couldn’t and didn’t want to do anything else.

You will realize by far how much more you feel fulfilled and satisfied when you learn to truly enjoy the journey and the process of achieving your goal. You feel happy when you’re working towards a goal, rather than having achieved it, as it is human nature to want more and ask what’s next.

As always, Strive for Progress, Not Perfection.

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