Beautiful Truths I Learned the Hard Way in my 20s

I turn 30 in just two days, and I'm really excited to celebrate a new chapter. My twenties were tumultuous and challenging, and even though I'm grateful for all the good experiences, I'm glad to be on this end of them. I've given a lot of thought to the big things I learned in my 20s that have forever changed me.

You know what would be really, really wonderful? If my words could save someone younger than me from some pain, but still bless them with stuff that was painful for me to discover. As always... even if it is one, one is enough to make me sit down and write.

1.  Marriage is a covenant, not a contract

I heard these words spoken by the celebrating priest at my sister, Amanda’s, wedding this October, and my mild-mannered Catholic self wanted to shout the loudest “Amen” that ever was. 

Paul and I have been married six and a half years. We are two passionate, intense individuals who have complementary (read: opposite) viewpoints on how to speak, act, and carry on. Reading between the lines you might understand I mean that we’ve had two lifetimes of pain trying to figure out how to work together. Because at times, it feels like we have.  But because of this dance of personalities, we have experienced extreme joy, fulfillment, and success, and I could sob gratitude for the way that living my life hand-in-hand with someone who thinks and loves differently than me has transformed everything.

Marriage is a covenant, not a contract. There have been untold times that Paul has shown up and worked hard in our marriage in ways I didn’t and vice versa. If we lived for a tit for tat tally, we would have drowned a long time ago.  We know that it is our job to show up and be present (work hard and make good choices) regardless of what our spouse is doing, and trust that grace and good humor will make up for the rest. 

(And to the truth about the spouses who stop showing up, who leave, who mess up, who hurt others, I have this to add.  No amount of bitching, badgering, and cell phone stalking is going to transform a heart or force right things.  A woman or man who lies down at night and knows they did what they could where they are at with what they have to work with, is a person who can truly feel contentment and peace no matter the pain.  Life throws great waves in the face of our work and I still think the good wins in the end in a way that is quiet and  powerful.)

2. Money is a tool for freedom

They say money doesn’t buy us happiness, but I think that’s all wrong.  Money doesn’t buy us happiness, but it can buy our freedom and the leap from freedom to happiness is a small one if you ask me.  

I spent a good chunk of my mid-twenties in fear, shame, and anger over our student debt. It is okay to feel these things about money and it’s even more important to talk about them, but I truly regret wasting time, energy, and money fixed there.  I’m very grateful that things have changed over the years and Paul and I are excited and energized by the whole gamut of tackling finances, even the icky parts.  No financial situation is one to hide from. There are always opportunities to fix, improve, grow, and find peace. Truly! 

I’ve learned a lot about money in the past ten years, and it has taken a great deal of mistakes, conversations, and life choices to see that it all boils down to freedom. The freedom to have babies, the freedom to have a home for those babies, the freedom to sleep at night without anxiety about a pending bill, the freedom to change jobs, the freedom to spend time with our loved ones, and on and on and on. 

When we experience stress over money, or the lack there of, I see now we can trace it back to one simple question:

What freedom/s am I working for?

3. People are a wonderful mystery.

One of my very favorite aspects of aging is how okay I am with people, including myself.  When I was younger, it was easy for me to label and judge others, using what they said and did as the end all on who they were and how I should know them.  What I have now is so different than that; it’s messier too.  There’s a bright and beautiful mural in my mind’s eye of all of us together trying our best, falling short, and reaching out for love over and over again.

When I am struggling with someone far away or right at my face, I think to myself,

I do not know him.

It’s much easier to say so-and-so is x, y, and z and that is why she does a, b, and c and blah blah blah blah. It’s more difficult to listen and embrace, to allow space for the unknown depth of people we think we know, to fight the urge to judge, label and assume, and to give just one more chance for that person to reach out in her way, and to simply answer back

I see you. I hear you. I love you. 

In my twenties, I had to face some really ugly qualities in myself and those closest to me, and it hurt like hell, but I will say this in working through that process. Please, if you haven’t done that, please do.  Give a name to the ugliness. Let it sit for a second. Know it. Acknowledge it, but then take 99% of your energy and feed the good, beautiful, and true in that person and in your relationship. In you! I have come to a place of so much greater love for myself and others now that I know there are ugly bits about us; it takes doing that to fully enjoy the multitude of beautiful things that matter so much more!

4. I can’t be all things

Some days, this truism sounds like pure joy to me. On others, it makes me a bit anxious because it means being decisive and committing to my values.  

I can’t be a stay-at-home-mom and a teacher simultaneously. I can pause teaching and possibly get back to it later (no guaranteed job, of course), but I still don’t get to do both 100% or do both 100% at the same time.  Just months after Thomas was born, I confided in a coworker my feelings, “Before I was 100% teacher. Now I’m 100% teacher and 100% mom and it doesn’t add up, but my passion is double and I don’t know what to make of that.”  And true, working moms get to be at home with kids some of the time, and I get to spend some hours each week working on freelance work. But when we really get down to it, I can’t be all things. 

I think we make ourselves more unhappy when we lie that we do get to be all things. It would be better if we understood that it really isn’t that way and that’s okay.  America’s infamously misunderstood poem, “The Road Not Taken”, is not actually about a more obscure, wilder, less-traveled path and therefore, better. It actually just simply means that we must choose to take a path. We can’t stand there at the fork, stuck indefinitely. And yes, we won’t go back and know both paths, but we get to enjoy the view from the path we chose and that is quite a stunning gift in itself!

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xoxox,

soon-to-be-30-Ash