Advice to my 20-Year-Old Self

I just read an article yesterday about what people over 40 would say to their 30-year-old selves if they had the chance. The advice ranges from “save your money” to “take care of your health” to “be kind to yourself.” All great advice, though I feel rather lucky to have had a pretty awesome 5 years since I turned 30. It was seriously as if I woke up one morning and all the crap that had plagued me in my 20s just…went away. Like it drifted off into the ether to find another 20-something to torture. 

So, I’m going to do my own Top 5, but this is going to be to my 20-year-old self, because that’s the broad who needed the most help…

1) NOTHING LASTS FOREVER. That means the good and the bad. In my 20s, everything felt so permanent. If I was feeling badly, I worried I would feel badly for the rest of my life. I drank too much, I went on antidepressants, I floundered in the sea of uncertainty, not realizing that if I just waited out the storm, things would get better. Instead, I tried to swim against the current, torturing myself with feelings of doubt and sadness. “This too shall pass” should have been my mantra. Because it all eventually did. Nothing is permanent. Life is ever-flowing, ever-changing, for better or for worse. Just wait it out and see what the Universe has in store for you next. 

2) GRATITUDE IS EVERYTHING. I’ll never forget the feelings of inadequacy that I felt in my 20s, most notably in my career. Sure, I knew I was talented, and oftentimes, I felt pretty entitled…but one thing I failed to feel was a deep sense of gratitude. Not that I didn’t say “Thank you” when it was appropriate, but there’s a big difference, in my book, between being “thankful” and having “gratitude.” Thankfulness is when you acknowledge that someone has done something nice for you — that’s when you say, “THANKS SO MUCH!” But gratitude — living in what I call an attitude of gratitude — comes from a much deeper, more profound place. It’s the place of being so overwhelmed by the life you’ve been given — the acknowledgement that it is such a privilege to be alive, to be in this skin, to be able to see and hear and touch and just live. I know for certain that if I had trained myself to do this earlier on, my 20s might not have felt so tumultuous.

3) IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL. Everything felt very significant in my 20s. Any bodily twinge sent me careening into a cesspool of anxiety and depression because I was sure I had cancer…or a heart problem…or a tumor, etc…. Every time my bank account got dangerously low, I would panic and most of the time called my dad crying that I couldn’t pay whatever $30 bill I had. Thankfully, my dad is a chill guy with a great perspective on money. He’d always say, “Jerrica, it’s no big deal. I’ll wire the money tomorrow.” Now, I have no idea what financial state my dad is in at any given time, but I do know that if his kids are in need, he helps them out. “It’s just money,” he’s known for saying, and I love that saying. Because somehow, things always work out in the end. And what I thought was a heart problem usually turned out to be indigestion. What I thought was a tumor was…well, nothing. Turned out to be psychosomatic. No joke. Just chill out. That’s what I would have said to my 20-something self. 

4) KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. I spent a lot of my 20s being angry about the opposing political party, and I shared that with anybody and everybody. That was before the days of Facebook, too, so we’re talking face-to-face confrontation here. Of course, when I did join Facebook, I used it as a political platform for a while, until I realized…I’M AN IDIOT! No one’s going to change their mind because of me! They have their own experiences that have shaped their beliefs, just like I have mine. They certainly aren’t going to say a magic word or phrase that’s going to make me eschew my life-long beliefs, so why would I think I’d have that effect on them? I would have enjoyed much lower blood pressure through my 20s had I just kept my mouth shut and walked away when politics entered the discussion. 

5) DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY. My parents? No, you. My boss? No, you. My brother, sister, pastor, cousin, friend…? NO!! YOU!! Do what makes you happy. Wait? Shouldn’t I do what’s expected of me, based on my college degree? OMG! NO!! DO. WHAT. MAKES. YOU. HAPPY. PERIOD. Here’s the thing…from the age of about 3, I knew I wanted to be on Broadway. I would do anything to be on the stage. I wanted to sing, act, dance…and I would stop at nothing to achieve that. I spent my high school years eschewing my school work so I could perform professionally and took all kinds of lessons after school and on weekends to improve my craft. I studied Vocal Performance in college at a hefty price. And after that, I spent 10 years trying to get hired on The Great White Way. And then I got a national tour…with my husband…traveling all over the country…doing what I loved to do…and I was miserable. And when I got back to New York, with my shiny new Equity card, ready to take Broadway by storm, I was even more miserable. But I had come all this way! People were watching me, waiting for me to become the next Bernadette Peters or Kristin Chenoweth. And I was miserable. So, I took a break. And I got happy. I took a longer break. And I got happier. And then I announced to the world that I was leaving the theater to become a writer. A what???? It was out of left field, even for me. But it made me happy. And it still does. And guess what else…singing makes me happy too. I just couldn’t enjoy it because I was in my freakin’ 20s!!! 

So, there you have it. My advice to my 20-year-old self. Looking back, I realize just how tumultuous my 20s were. But truly, turning 30 flipped a switch, and everything I worried about in the previous decade was of no consequence anymore. Not that I didn’t have some amazing times in my 20s — I fell in love and got married to my Prince Charming, after all — but now I know an unbridled joy, zest for life and a deep-seeded gratitude that makes my life feel magical. All hail the 30s!! 

Tell me…what would you tell your 20-something self if you had the chance?…assuming you’re out of your 20s, of course 🙂 

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