What My 20s Taught Me
Turning 30 comes with a period of reflection of what matters in life beyond the ambitions that fueled my 20s. It also comes with an acceptance of myself and where I am without the antidotal explanation or shame that comes with not accomplishing what I expected to by this time. That much is a relief in my life.
I was born in Los Angeles, CA, and moved to Memphis, TN at the age of 7 a few years after my father was killed due to an act of self-defense. There were also other matters going on in the family related to illness and gang life that my mother took the initiative to remedy by having us make the trek across the country to more still waters of the South. By 3rd grade, I started dealing with what has become a lifelong struggle with anxiety. I remember telling my mom as a child that I felt like the world was about to end so what was the point of living. Because of what I was exposed to early on, I developed a very somber and grim outlook on life. I can remember in class having classmates ask me why I never smile or laugh, or my mom’s friends occasionally asking why I was such a serious child.
In addition to grappling with anxiety, I also used to see spirits as a kid. I would see them everywhere in our house, and though they did nothing more than stare at me, it contributed to my nervous nature. I told my mom I wanted it to stop, and after a prayer advised by her, they did. However, throughout my life, I’ve had many esoteric experiences that complicate my being able to just live a normal life. It’s tough.
I preface talking about what my 20s taught me with the info above because it contextualizes the desire I’ve had to be successful and live beyond the circumstances life gave me. It also is partly me letting go of the need to omit sharing the details of my life to keep people from feeling pity or at a fundamental level understanding me. As much as it’s a conundrum, it’s much easier to willfully be misunderstood than to put your full and authentic self out there and then be rejected. In addition to this lesson, this what life in my 20s also revealed for me:
A North Star Devoid of Materialism and Recognition is of Better Purpose
I’ve always been an overachiever and understood early on how education would be the building blocks to attaining a life wider than what I had in Memphis. However, being reared with high expectations and entering spaces where clout and currency are the coveted capital drained me. Success is not linear and hard work is not directly correlated to it. As a young 20-something, I delved into any and every self-help book or article I could get my hands on to figure out how to become a millionaire by 30, marry and have kids with the man of my dreams, and live a fulfilled life. At 30, I see article headlines about how to dress or format your resume to get an interview knowing what’s missing is the asterisk about how many industries have deep systematic discrimination that won’t be solved by a perfect blowout and light makeup. My north star is no longer getting the dream job or having a certain amount in my bank account. It is embodying love and gratitude daily.
You’re Not Invisible Just Because People Don’t See You
I had the hardest time in college at Stanford University. On the surface, it may have seemed like I was doing well being affiliated with Greek life, campus clubs, and student government. I also scored competitive internships from companies like Victoria’s Secret and Seventeen Magazine, but I was miserable. My personality and honestly my socioeconomic status did not line up with many of my peers and as a result, I felt unseen. Working in the music industry exacerbated that feeling of being someone who wasn’t motivated by the access to cool parties and celebrities or a constant stream of free gifts and concert tickets galore. I didn’t have the money to dress well. Futhermore, running around the city of LA often made me present as an exhausted and stretched person as I struck up random conversations at events or made appearances at fancy galas. I felt used and abused at companies with superiors who talked down on me, about me, and sabotaged my efforts at promotions or other opportunities. It took me until the age of 27 when I became a full-time entrepreneur to fully accept myself and not allow the world to tell me who I am. What’s ironic is being comfortable with myself has drawn the right types of people and environments to me while cutting out what doesn’t align.
True Impact and Influence Reign Beyond the Grand Stage
I have friends who are wildly successful that question their contributions to a field every time a power list comes out from an industry trade publication and their name is not on it. It’s easy to get wrapped up in desiring visibility as an indicator of prominence, but that comes with much disappointment. We are all interconnected as people and often overlook the small deeds or interactions that immensely impact others. When I worked at one of my previous jobs, I had a boss that was incredibly successful who claimed to be a champion for mentorship whenever an interview was conducted or a discussion was being had with colleagues in passing. However, the revolving door of assistants and a track record of poorly treating and misusing staff showed a person who impacted the office in a detrimental way. Talking to people who have experienced trauma in the music industry shows that these fleeting interactions seem minute but can lead to a myriad of problems like drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and burnout. No matter how insignificant in our minds an encounter is, it can be the catalyst to have a profound effect on a person’s life.
You’re Racing Against a Clock You Don’t Know Will Run Out…Stop
In my mid-20s, I obsessed over getting closer to 30 and an imaginary deadline of when I had to have my life completely together. It made me pressed about reaching goals and living the idyllic life I imagined. It’s great to set benchmarks for yourself to hit, but remember that you don’t fully control what happens to you. This includes death. That’s a topic that freaks most people out and we spend most of our lives ignoring what’s inevitable for all of us. In my late 20s, I became reacquainted with the concept of death. Acknowledging that it will happen one day I don’t know when means every day is worth living in the present and not just for the future. Having an idea of the future is great and I myself am a product of my mother’s prayers and the manifestation of what I visualized as a kid sitting in my room for hours watching music videos. Nevertheless, what is real and substantial in your life is what is now. That deserves the space to be honored and not glossed over for what you want down the line. Otherwise, you look back on your past and have to admit you took for granted what was great. Some of us know what that feels like looking at old pictures of when we thought we were not the size we wanted to be, only to realize years later we wish we could be back at that weight.
If Life Was Without Tension, It Would Be Without Growth
I used to live for the weekends when I would get time to relax, party, and enjoy life beyond the 9 to 5 grind. I used to dream of being able to create a schedule that provided as much leisure as possible truncating work and responsibility to a point where it wouldn’t be such an annoyance or unbearable. I learned in the past couple of years, though, that chasing happiness or pleasure is just as or sometimes more exhausting than doing the work itself. As human beings, we are not here to live our own version of utopia, blocking out any kind of strife. It’s inevitable in life to be pushed emotionally, mentally, psychologically, etc. When is the last time you watched a documentary or movie about a story where everything goes right? Conflict in a story drives its plot and characters. Life is no different. We all have our own “books” unfolding chapter by chapter. Some chapters will have wins. Some will have losses. Blessings and lessons come from difficult times and many parts of the human experience hard to stomach are universal. This means that no amount of wealth, family and friends, success, etc will shield you from pain. On the upside, it’s through our shared and similar experiences where we as people can connect, communicate, and be in community with each other to get through this thing we call life.