I almost can't believe i turned 30 a few weeks back. In some ways it doesn't feel real and I still think i'm 18, in other ways I feel more like 40. I didn't get particularly anxious about the big 3-0 but I did take some time to think about how far I've come in the last decade and focus on what I've learned. So here's my advice to my younger self.
10. Do yoga!
I've only been doing yoga for about a year and I already feel like I've made great progress with my flexibility and strength. But I DREAM about what my practice will look like in 10 years and I would have loved to have been introduced to it earlier (although maybe I wouldn't have been open to it at that stage of my life). As well as the benefits of the asanas for my body, I think 20 year old me would have benefitted from the calm I now cultivate from the non-physical side of yoga, like meditation. 20 year old Laura's mind was always going full speed and always searching and planning for the next achievement in my relationships, career and image. I still feel the same pull for accolades and achievement but now when I feel it I can identify it and turn to my friends, family or my self-care rituals to find balance again.
9. Being an introvert is OK
This is one I've only learned about myself in the last few years. For a long time I didn't understand why after weekends away with friends or big parties or intense weeks at work I felt physically drained and longing for solitude. As I started to gain more work experience and did personality profiles like Meyers Briggs I found that despite being good at building professional relationships, having a skill for presenting and being comfortable speaking up in meetings, I was actually an introvert (INTJ in case anyone is interested!)
Here are some typical introverted traits:
- Very self-aware
- Enjoys understanding details
- Interested in self-knowledge and self-understanding
- Tends to keep emotions private
- Quiet and reserved in large groups or around unfamiliar people
- More sociable and gregarious around people they know well
- Learns well through observation
Although extroverts are thought to outnumber introverts 3:1, I have become content with my introverted character and have learned what kind of events are likely to make me uneasy (such as weddings where I don't know anyone and professional "networking" events). Rather than avoiding these things, I just make sure to carve out the time or space I need to decompress before and after and ensure that I listen when my body/mind is telling me that enough is enough and get the hell outta there.
8. Nothing is more important than mental wellbeing
I've recently adopted the phrase "mental wellbeing" rather than mental health as I believe that the word "wellbeing" has less binary connotations than "health" (i.e. wellness is a spectrum that you could always look to improve vs your mind is either healthy or unhealthy). I believe that everyone could and should invest in their own mental wellbeing. What each person's self-care looks like will be personal and individual but I do believe some things should be considered high up on the list of options for everyone to try if experiencing any form of discomfort that isn't 100% physical (i.e. stress, insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, low mood, depression, lack of appetite, aggression, frustration, trouble concentrating etc).
The universals on my list are:
(1). Therapy - I truly believe that a problem shared is a problem halved and going to therapy enabled me to get to the root of many of the negatives emotions.
(2). Meditation - linked to number 5, meditation is the best way to really connect with the question "how am I feeling today". Before I started meditating (and now sometimes) it can take me reacting to something petty or a wave of intense emotion for me to realize that I've been feeling a certain way all day and I hadn't yet acknowledged it. I try whenever possible to check in with myself early on and throughout the day so that I can give myself whatever I need to get the most out of the day whilst respecting any underlying emotions that may be trying to take the drivers seat.
(3) Unplugging - It's taken me 10 years to realize that social media does not do me any favors! As an introvert, I choose a small circle of friends with which I develop close and loyal bounds, but my facebook story to plastered with hundreds of weddings, engagements and baby photos of people I barely know (or would even say hi to in the street). For some, social media is an enjoyment but for me it feels like a punishment as it is the easiest way for me to go into a vortex of comparison and self-criticism when my reality doesn't match up to everyone's self-published highlights. I have kept my facebook account but right now I'm almost two months into a self-imposed facebook ban and I definitely don't miss it. Someday soon i'll bite the bullet and get rid of it. In the meantime, when I feel a need to browse the internet, these are my go-to feel good websites:
- MindBodyGreen: Full of short articles on health, fitness and relationships.
- TinyBuddha: Longer length articles more focussed on relationships and mental well being. Definitely a go-to.
- Headspace blog: I get their emails and usually have a browse through, good reminder for me to go and meditate!
7. You don't need to feel inadequate
Something I think many people struggle with is being comfortable in their own skin and not comparing themselves to others. This is something I can most definitely relate to. I think I've always felt a little like i didn't "fit in", whether it was because people had said I was too clever (i.e geeky), too poor (at my private school where everyone had a lot more money than my family), too much of a tomboy (I cut all my hair off at age 12!), there seemed to be a million ways in which I didn't fit in. I think I still feel it in many ways, but over the years I've become more comfortable with the idea that we are all individuals there is no such thing as perfect. Letting go of striving for perfection as been liberating for me. I no longer worry about what people will think if i miss that party, or if i turn up wearing the "wrong" outfit. I also think that in San Francisco, or at least the people i've surrounded myself with don't give a shit about that either, which helps. Don't let the media and beauty companies tell you what you should look like, do something because you love it or you love how it makes you feel.
6. Invest in helping others
Throughout my twenties I would often say that I felt like something was missing in my life and that I thought it was charity work. In London I never managed to scratch this itch, but when I moved to San Francisco I put it on my list of things I wanted to achieve and stuck to it. I found an amazing charity, Crisis Text Line, who I've been volunteering with for a while. I'm feeling bad at the moment as for the last month I haven't done a shift on the crisis line, due to a combination of a very busy period at work and also looking after my new dog Layla, but i'm committed to making this a priority in 2018 and to finding causes I believe in to donate my time and money to in my next decade. Helping others really is an amazing feeling and is soothing for the soul. It has helped me tremendously to deal with my own anxiety by helping me to realize that we are never truly alone, even if it feels that way and everything is temporary.
5. Travel the world
I don't have any regrets, but I do wish I had traveled more. However my lack of traveling in my early twenties has definitely given me the push to stretch myself to Travel in my thirties. Travel is an amazing way to broaden your perspective and get you out of your head and the situation you are in. The world is a magical place with so many things to see and people to meet. I do have anxieties about being a solo female traveler at times, but I am careful to book trips on my own where I feel supported and safe as much as possible. Here's my wish list for the next 12 months:
Costa Rica (booked for Christmas 2017)
Yellowstone National Park
Zion National Park
4. Get ready to make mistakes
As a perfectionist growing up, I can remember all of the (1) times I got into trouble in school. I was very anxious about getting into trouble or being told off. I think this has meant that when i've inevitably made mistakes in my life or received critisism as i've gotten older it's been hard for me to accept. Now i'm 30, I know i'm not perfect and I can hold up my hands and say I've made mistakes. I want to try to learn from my mistakes so that I can be the best version of myself for the future. Many of my silly mistakes that I can't even remember now stemmed from drinking too much, which is one of the reasons why i've taken made a conscious effort to change my drinking habits over the last 12 months, cutting out alcohol completely for a while and now only having 1 or 2 drinks occasionally. I've made big mistakes too and done things that I'm not proud of. This was something that was difficult to come to terms with but it's something that cracked me open and allowed for me to start the work i've done in therapy to get to the root of why I behaved in that way. Therefore I'm grateful for every mistake that's led me to where I am right now.
3. Forgive others and forgive yourself
Following on from number 4) athough I've taken steps to stop making as many mistakes (like stopping the binge drinking), I forgive myself for the drunken or sober mistakes I've made and I know that many of the errors in judgement have been my way of searching to find love and acceptance. I'm now working on finding other ways to learn to love myself and find stable relationships that can help me feel supported so that I feel less of that urge to overindulge in drink/drugs or unhealthy relationships. I forgive myself and I also forgive others who have hurt me. I choose to believe that people are fundamentally good and that we are all fighting our own private battles with ourselves.
2. Family is everything
I love my family! Although everyone feels like their family is a bit weird or dysfunctional and mine is no exception, I wouldn't have them any other way. My mum is my best friend and we are scarily similar in some ways and very different in others. I feel so lucky to have a sister and a brother and I totally understand how they say when you are youunger you fight but when you are grown up they are everything to you! We've definitely had disagreements and ups and downs, but we will always be there for each other. And now my little nephew Arthur is our pride and joy. It's hard living so far from my family but knowing that they are always there for me makes my day to day life so much more enjoyable and relaxing. There really is nothing like family!
1. Start loving yourself and everything else will get better
This is the biggest lesson but also the hardest one to teach. I sometimes talk to friends who agree they need to love themselves more and they ask me how to do it. The answer for me was getting through some of my issues in therapy, forgiving myself for mistakes and forgiving others who weren't able to love me as I needed them to and finding the places that I feel happiest and at ease and doing more of those things. You have to love yourself before anyone else can. I spent a long time gravitating towards unhealthy relationships because I subconsciously didn't think I deserved better and was used to being treated badly. I was terrified of anyone who really wanted to love me and give me everything I wanted so I turned away from people who were really there for me. Although I'm single now, I feel like my awareness of these issues has put me in a better place to start a relationship in the future and I'm so much more comfortable in my own skin and own company that I've lost a lot of the pull I had to find a relationship to 'complete me'. If i could tell my 20 year old self one thing, it would be that you are perfect, you can stop worrying that you aren't lovable and you are a good person.