#1: That just because nothing BIG! is happening in my life doesn’t mean that nothing is happening in my life
People talk about our twenties being the years of exciting adventures and new experiences. We can do anything and everything we want without being judged too young or too old, too immature or too irresponsible. They paint a picture that’s filled with bright neon colors, and right in the middle of it is us in our twenty-something-year-old glory.
What doesn’t get talked about, however, are the days when being in our twenties feels no more special than how we felt during our teens, when we just go about our days doing what we’ve been doing for the past sixty days and what we’ll probably still be doing for sixty more.
At first, the sudden realization that my life hasn’t exactly turned out to be the adventure I expected it would be bummed me out just a bit. And then gradually, after seeing friends and strangers living the life on the Internet, a feeling of longing set in. And then discontentment. Before I knew it, there was a deep, dark hole in my soul that constantly kept sucking the life out of me. And it was all because I wanted to be on my way to see the world, not on my way to a job I neither love nor hate.
But the absence of some grand spectacular event in our life doesn’t make our life any less of value. Our life only stops being significant the moment we resign ourselves to that flawed perception. Life doesn’t demand us to stack up amazing experiences or fantastic stories on a score sheet in order to be deemed worthy of it. Life only demands that we love it unconditionally throughout the highs, lows and the in-betweens.
What I learned, and what I keep reminding myself every so often, is that when we keep looking for the extraordinary, we fail to see all things beautiful in the ordinary. And more importantly, that life in our twenties – and maybe life in general – can sometimes be a great adventure-in-waiting. For the longest time, I was foolishly thinking that the value of my life depended on how many big experiences I had and how many good stories I can tell; when in reality, the in-between moments define me as much as, if not more than, the big moments.
#2: That I have to be better where I am first before I can be better anywhere else
I recently read one of my favorite books and I came across a line that was a direct hit to my heart. In Markus Zusak’s I Am the Messenger, the character Ed finally musters up the courage to stand up to his mother, saying, “It’s the person, Ma, not the place. If you left here, you’d have been the same anywhere else… If I ever leave this place, I’ll make sure I’m better here first.”
I used to think I needed an escape. I sometimes still do. It’s not because I think my life isn’t good here or because I’m unhappy – I’m not. It’s because I think this place keeps me from becoming the person I want to be. I look around me and I think, I could sure do better way over there. And I see the same thought in a lot of people my age. We like to think we’d be better off there because we feel we’re stuck here. And I guess that isn’t surprising. It’s easy to blame our unhappiness and discontentment on the place where we feel the unhappiness and discontentment.
In reality though, the only thing hindering me from becoming a better person is me. The same way the only thing hindering you is you. Where we are has very little to do with it.
Imagine, if we’re better right where we are first, how awesome we will be when we finally get to where we want to be.
#3: That I need to make an effort to understand before I can expect to be understood
It’s embarrassing for me to admit this but I spent the majority of my teens either feeling sorry for myself or being frustrated with everyone else because I often felt that I was never fully understood by anyone, especially by my family. I used to have a lot of opinions about a lot of things. And because I expected everyone else to understand my point of view, I never bothered to try to understand theirs.
It’s a good thing then that growing up does seem to knock some sense into us. It’s easy to feel like everything revolves around us while we’re in our teens. Fortunately, the wonderful thing about being in our twenties is that false notion gets stripped away – gradually if we’re willing, and forcefully if we’re not.
There’s a lot of division in the world right now. It’s kind of like a war zone of opinions and beliefs, and I’m watching it take place every time I watch TV, browse the Internet or overhear a conversation. It actually reminds me of my relationship with my mom when it was all messed up and ugly. But it also reminds me how the smallest effort to understand each other can go a long way. My mom and I still don’t see eye to eye in a lot of things, but we don’t fight about it anymore. She tells me this, I tell her that, we look at each other to see if either of us is going to give, and if neither of us are going to, we shrug and talk about something else.
I notice how most of the time, the ones who keep complaining they’re misunderstood are usually the ones who refuses to understand others. But people don’t want to understand someone who demands to be understood; they want to understand someone who actually shows he deserves it.