The only thing I want to do before turning thirty.
Those of you who know me, know that I’m a real achievement-driven freak, who rejoices over creating and completing endless bucket lists and ‘things to do before <fill the blank>’.
And so, as I was approaching my 29th birthday, all I could think about was all the things I wanted — or should — experience before turning thirty.
Running a marathon was one of them and I’m glad to report that I managed to tick it off the list, with an unexpectedly good result, a week after I turned 29. Other potential “candidates” were:
→ climbing Kilimanjaro
→ completing the full Tough Mudder or the Iron Man
→ setting up a fully-fledged yoga gig or another revenue-bringing side business
→ applying to an MBA
→ having a threesome… Calm down, I’m only joking. Or am I?
Anyhow, since my birthday this year fell on Monday, I decided to celebrate it on the preceding weekend, but have a chilled birthday evening when I sit down on my own, light up candles, put some indie music on, cuddle up on my sofa, and write down the Things to do before I turn thirty. Very Millennial of me, I know.
But as I sat down on the said sofa — candles lit, music on, and all that — I realised that something happened to the person known as ‘me’ in the last few months. Must be all this meditation, staying off the booze for the last 70 days or so, and marathon training, all of which really forced me to self-reflect and stop ignoring my long-bottled-up feelings.
Firstly, the fear of getting older and running out of time to experience life-changing and exciting adventures before having to ‘settle down’, completely disappeared. Who says I have to ever ‘settle’ or that I cannot continue being my usual crazy self even as an “adult”?
I also became less willing to lead my life in the shadow of everything I had to do to become (or be seen as) a “complete” individual.
As I took a pen, about to write the first point on the list, I began to feel so tired of all the past and future expectations I’ve been subjecting myself to. Expectations I thought the world had of me.
But the truth is that the world couldn’t care less about how I spend the last year of my twenties. Those who love me — and those are the only people that truly matter — care about one thing only: for me to be happy and let them partake in my happiness.
From there came a realisation that although I go about preaching that we all should be able to go with the flow, following what ‘feels good’ whilst accepting that not everything will always feel good (and that’s ok), I’ve hardly allowed myself to practice what I preach.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m one of the lucky ones who actually enjoys the majority of her life. My problems are first-world problems, mostly born in my head rather than outside of it. But I also often follow a cookie-cut approach, judging myself through the prism of standard expectations and definitions of success that society places on people with my socio-demographic profile.
And with years, as my personality became more defined and circumstances more unique to me, this has become a bit of a chore.
I had an argument with a friend lately, who accused me of being inauthentic; of being reluctant and unable to speak my truth; and creating situations that were incongruent to who I aspired to be.
Now, I don’t think that there’s anything inherently unnatural in that — we all do it to an extent, all the time, because the only way we are taught to live is through the prism of social comparisons, and those quite naturally require us to follow a standardised approach to life (with some minor individualised tweaks depending on our natural predispositions).
All in all, we all want to belong and feel accepted, and — you know — just be “normal”.
And although my friend’s accusation was a bit harsh and perhaps exaggerated in the context of our argument, it stuck with me for a while. Was I being inauthentic in any context of real importance? Was I reluctant or unable to speak my truth? Was I creating or accepting situations that were incongruent to who I aspire to be?
Of course I was. This is the main reason why I decided to “seriously” take up meditation, by completing a structured Vedic meditation course and putting the time and effort to meditate daily for at least 20 minutes. This is why I decided to give up on drinking alcohol, to be more attuned to my emotions, aware of the contexts I found myself in, and more in control of my behaviours. This is why I decided to channel my energy and attention to accomplish something constructive — the marathon. This is why I decided to start volunteering, to reconnect with my purpose and get a new perspective on everything else going on in my life.
These practices have definitely enabled me to be more aware, more mindful, but that doesn’t automatically mean I became more authentic.
Authenticity is taking that one extra conscious step toward aligning everything we do — as much as possible — with the core of who we are.
And the truth is that some of the choices I was making were still misaligned with who I wanted to be. These choices don’t have to be “big”. All in all, how many really big choices are we making on a daily basis?
The devil is in the details, and most of the time it’s the small, everyday decisions that make or break us.
Sometimes it’s how we choose to talk to ourselves, or the way we prioritise things. At times it’s the kind of people we choose to let into our lives, or the position we allow them to take. At other times sill, the devil will lurk behind the daily habits we base our lives on.
So almost a month after my 29th birthday, I finally decided that the only thing I would really like to devote the last year of my twenties to, is being more authentic in my actions, words, and choices.
In practice, this means a few things:
- Give my f*cks sparingly.
As a real book worm, I find it harder and harder to come across a book or an article that would really “wow” me; but Mark Manson (a bestselling American author) never ceases to shake my world view and show me a different way of looking at things. In one of his earlier blog articles he said something that really drilled a hole in my mind:
‘Maturity is what happens when one learns to only give a f*ck about what’s truly f*ckworthy’.
In his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, he aptly claims that what prevents the majority of us from being authentic — and by extension, happy and fulfilled — is caring/worrying about too many things we actually inherently do not care or want to worry about. It’s natural that when we’re younger, everything seems to matter a lot and so we care about everything and everyone. Even the silly things, like the kind of yogurt we’re made to eat for breakfast (yup, that was me).
As we get older, though, we hopefully get enough life experience and wisdom to realise that most things have little lasting impact on our lives and we become much more selective about the things and people we are willing to care about.
But old habits die hard and I often find myself giving a f*ck about things that really do not matter much. Or people who either do not deserve it, or have not yet proven themselves worthy of my f*cks.
So this year I really want to continuously ask myself three questions:
→ Is this something I genuinely care about, or am I just pulled into it by other people or situations?
→ Is this going to matter in a year/five years/ten years?
→ Given all the other things in my life, is this something I want to devote my energy to?
If the answer to any of these is ‘no’, then it’s not worth my f*ck.
2. Only ever engage in unconditional relationships.
Mark Manson again! In another article he divides relationships (both romantic and platonic) into conditional and unconditional ones.
The former are transactional, where we care more about the external attributes of a person/relationship or the benefits we get from them, and not the person/relationship themselves. These could be material gains, but also their prestigious job, cool friends, loving family, or the fact that we no longer have to be alone.
The latter are relationships in which we only care about the other person for who they are and the relationship itself, while the only metrics by which we judge them, and by which we are being judged, is how we treat one another.
Of course there’s nothing wrong in dating or being friends with someone who’s got a cool job, a great group of friends, a loving family etc. But the problem is that if we base our attachment on these external, changeable attributes, when they fall apart — and most often they eventually do— so does the relationship itself.
Paradoxically, conditional relationships also cause us to tolerate being treated poorly. After all, if I’m dating someone because he fits the ‘Mr Perfect’ picture, I’m much more likely to allow them to treat me badly, because I’m with them not for how they treat me, but for how they perfectly tick all the Mr Perfect criteria off my list. I know that all too well.
I think we’ve all been guilty of accepting people’s conditions and imposing ours on others — I certainly have! According to Manson, we do that because we don’t really value ourselves, and seek to engage with those whose external attributes increase our own, self-perceived value. We also do that for the fear that if we stop bending over backward to please others, they wouldn’t want to hang out with us.
But conditional relationships, although they momentarily feel good, are actually a big strain on our mental wellness — they’re often melodramatic, stressful, and make us feel worse about ourselves.
That’s why it’s so important to ask oneself one question— if any of my/their external circumstances changed (e.g. job, life style, appearance, or one person bending over backward to meet the other’s expectations), would that worsen the relationship itself? If the answer is ‘yes’, then we’re in a conditional relationship.
In the last year of my twenties’ I want to ask myself that question more often and put real effort in unconditional relationships, while politely and gracefully steering away from conditional ones.
3. Practice what you preach and only preach what you practice.
My work in behavioural science continuously shows me that what we think about ourselves might not always accurately reflect what we really are like. This can happen even to people who in theory should be quite self-aware, for instance psychologists. I myself used to think that I was an extreme extrovert, only to learn over the years that in practice I was more of an outgoing introvert.
The same rule applies to the way we define our values. I, for instance, claim that I care about the environment, or the politics. But taking an honest look at my actual behaviour, I must admit that the way I behave does not always reflect my “values”.
Let’s take the environment. I recycle and try to refill my water bottle on a daily basis. But I don’t switch off power sockets when I leave home; I don’t buy eco-friendly or package-free products; I don’t shop at local markets; the 20% of the time when I’m not vegetarian, I don’t seek out organic, sustainably produced meats; and I certainly still use too many plastic straws.
Although a bit of a hassle, these simple steps aren’t impossible to implement, and yet I don’t. In light of my behaviour then, am I allowed to call myself an environmentalist and preach to others they should care about the environment? Probably not.
So two things I’d like to do this year is to take a step back and really evaluate whether my behaviours are in line with the values I proclaim. If they aren’t, then I have to either start ‘walking the talk’ (as much as possible), or drop it altogether.
4. Explore, embody, and accept who I am.
The point above will require some honest soul-searching and self-acceptance. Who am I, what do I care about, and why? What am I willing to change in my daily habits and behaviours to align myself more with what I actually care about?
It’s likely that the long list of the things I ‘give a f*ck about’, (using Mark Manson’s words), will naturally become shorter and that the way I define myself will also change as a result. And that’s ok.
5. Speak my truth.
All the points above boil down to this —an inability or reluctance to speak one’s truth. We often fear that those around us may not like the ‘real us’, and so we put up pretences and masks to fit what we think the world expects of us.
In real life it can be as simple as saying ‘yes’ to too many commitments all at once, and consistently double-booking our evenings. It can translate into leading someone on, when deep inside we know that we don’t see the future with them. It can lead to us never telling that controlling or bullying friend that we don’t appreciate their behaviour. Or even working in an organisation whose values do not agree with ours, or putting up with an employer that clearly doesn’t appreciate our contribution.
Speaking our truth in these and many other situations will certainly upset some people, but not doing so will inevitably chip into our self-worth and deprive us of authenticity.
I often fear that by being truthful, I will automatically be perceived as rude or cruel. But there’s a way to be kindly honest, in any given circumstances.
It’s ok for you to say ‘no’ to an invitation, and suggest an alternative, when you’re fully booked or not that bothered about the event. It’s ok to tell someone honestly that you value them as a friend, but you’re not interested in them romantically. It’s ok to push back against a friend who’s being unfair or unkind. It’s ok to choose a job or a workplace that is more in line with who you are as a person.
Those who care about YOU and not whether you meet all their expectations, will be ok with that. Everyone else you’re probably better off without.