Hindsight is always 20/20, and while most of us accomplished a lot of things in our 20’s and 30’s, I’d wager to say that few of us really met our goals. All too often the overachievers are the ones who make everyone else happy and end up with the greatest numbers of regrets despite their many accomplishments. I am no exception.
When I look back at my 20’s my resume reads nothing short of impressive: I finished college when I was 20 while taking care of an elderly grandparent, lived abroad, mastered a foreign language, got a master’s degree, worked in intelligence, launched a handful of brands, ate amazing foods from world-renown chefs and traveled to a number of different countries. Not bad by any measure!
But the black on the paper belies what happened in the space between the lines: I suffered major depression, burnout and heartbreak, was at the constant mercy of poor self esteem and codependence, and more than once found myself staring in the mirror wondering who that person was and what she was doing with her life. I excelled on paper, but in my heart I was lost and torn.
Like so many others, I thought the answer was to work harder to make those around me happy. I didn’t know how to make myself happy, and the few times I thought I was on to something I was quickly reminded by those around me that doing something bold was the same as doing something stupid. In retrospect I can see why they didn’t support my change and grow: I was amazingly good at making everyone happy and pretending that I was happy doing so. I had everyone fooled, including myself.
So when I am totally honest with myself, the bulk of my 20’s were a complete waste that I spent:
Worrying about what other people thought and how to keep them happy.
Fixing problems that were caused by my being untrue to myself.
Daydreaming about the life that I really wanted to lead, once the time was right and I had “earned it.”
Once I realized just how much time I’d wasted in my 20’s I sat down and committed myself to never making those same mistakes again. In a long, wine, popcorn and whiskey fueled brainstorming session, I came up with a number of things I wanted, plus the following rules for better living. They’re not complete or perfect, but they are just right for me and have helped keep me on track to living a happier and more fulfilled life.
Here are the ones that have had the biggest influence on my life:
- If it excites you, do it.
- If you want it, find a way to get it.
- If you mean it, say it.
- If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.
- If it bothers you, say something.
- If you spare people’s feelings, you stop them from growing.
- If you feel obligated to do something, don’t.
- If you don’t want to do something, there is always a reason why.
- If there’s a problem, check that it’s your before you fix it.
- If it’s not working it’s ok to walk away.
- If others are let down, it’s their fault as much as mine.
- If you want to get ahead and live your own life, you have to be authentic and brave.
Once I put these simple rules into place everything became a lot clearer, and I became a lot happier. It was hard, and I had to give up a lot of codependent or misinformed relationships that had given me so much security in the past.
But at the end of the day, the payoff made it all worthwhile: in less than a year I was married to the love of my life (because I stopped waiting for Mr. Perfect and accepted that the perfect guy for me was never going to be perfect and that this is part of his charm), bought a house (because I was finally wiling to let go of all my “connections” that I was keeping alive because others said it was important) and finished the manuscript of my first book (because it needed to be written, regardless of what people thought or my inability to ever get it to perfect).
Long story short, I accomplished a lot more in the past year of being true to myself than I did in a decade trying to please others.
So if you feel like you’ve been wasting your time, consider this your wakeup call. Make your own lists and start taking steps towards creating the life that you want. It won’t be easy at first, but in the end, it will be a lot easier than you imagined, and the rewards will be so much greater than you ever thought possible.