What My 20-Something Mistakes Made Me Want For My 30s

Photographed by Amy Harrity.
by Ashley Daigneault

The theme of my 20s was this: Do everything. The beautiful thing about being young and without much responsibility is all the empty space in your life. Everything looks like an opportunity, everything feels shiny and new. It is a wall that begs to be painted. So my curious, ambitious self jumped in, filling the wall with words and pictures and degrees and career changes and more degrees and eventually a marriage and a baby. It wasn’t that I was indecisive, I just wanted to make every decision possible. For someone always trying to grow up faster and be just a little older than right now, I don’t think it’s that I felt rushed. Maybe just that I felt a rush when things were hard and busy and I was in the thick of it. I wanted to know everything, be everything, and see everything.

The problem with trying to live in the everything is you often miss it. You miss the little moments or you see them and they disappear into the stream, like the first drop of water from a garden hose before the rush of water reaches the opening. That was my twenties: A steady stream of water from the hose and me trying to drink myself full.

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I did a lot of things right in this decade, of this I have no doubt. I took risks even when they scared the hell out of me and even when they turned out to the wrong risks. I loved the right people and the wrong people, often so hard I felt it deep within my bones. I indulged myself in the drowning of heartbreak. I spent entire swaths of time drinking too much, having sex with people I didn’t love at all, and trying on personalities I knew would never quite fit.

I loved a tiny person right into existence. A whole tangled mess of cells that became a human being within my body. And with that tangle came the brutal and beautiful reality that I could love beyond every measure of myself — that I could actually be someone’s mother.

Of all the things I decided to be in my twenties, it’s actually the things that decided to be mine that turned out to be the best.

I spent many months leading up to my 30th birthday with a good measure of anxiety that mostly annoyed me. I am not a person who likes to dwell on the inevitable — the fact that we age being chief among those inevitabilities — but there was something so deep within me that felt unsettled as I headed towards the milestone.

Anne Lamott once told a group of newly minted graduates: "Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it, and find out the truth about who you are."

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And there it was — how am I spending this life? Of course I want to believe it’s been in the manner of the latter description, but certainly not always. I’m actually 100% positive that I’ve spent way too much time trying to look good and believing the illusion that I have power over circumstances. But how to let that go?

The clearer picture that’s forming in my head, even as I type this solidly three days into my third decade of life, is that you just do. Sometimes slowly, while grasping at something you can never quite reach — and sometimes all at once. It is only the wisdom that comes with just existing here on this earth that gives us the power to know what it is we should let go of and how we spend more of our time tasting it, enjoying it, and finding out the truth about who we are. To try to be more wise and speed up this process would be to miss the point entirely.

If my twenties were water from a hose, I wish for my thirties to be sips from a cup that’s placed in front of me. One that I can reach for if I want to and has water left when I need it. But also one that sits there peacefully and does not constantly beckon me to drink more or to be completely full. I want a decade full of contentment at the idea that it’s good to be half-full at times — and maybe even a little empty.

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