If you’re anything like me, you’ll have three major epiphanies in your 20s. I suppose there could be more (I still have a couple of years to go before the big 3-0) but from what I hear, the big changes I’ve experienced happen to most people, especially women, during this formative decade.
Our brains continue to develop long into our 20s. Most scientific research shows that our brains finally become fully developed around age 25, and even after that happens, there are many life choices to be made and situations that must fall into place.
From talking to my friends, I’ve gathered that these seem to be somewhat universal experiences. I know not everyone has similar experiences to mine, but it’s nice to know I’m not alone.
No. 1: Evolving beyond teen angst and self-centeredness
I can remember very clearly when I started to see the world as a bigger place. I was 21, engaged, and very focused on planning my wedding – something I’d been excited about since I was a little girl. Planning a wedding at 21 was fun, but frustrating. It was difficult for me to understand why other people weren’t as excited about my wedding as I was. I was very into the aesthetics of the whole thing (probably should’ve been more focused on the marriage aspect, huh?) and got easily offended when others couldn’t make it to my functions or didn’t show the level of enthusiasm that I expected of them.
My Lady Gaga-themed bachelorette party
That was just the wedding-planning aspect; there were numerous other ways in which I was still quite self-centered. I was a shopping and consuming addict, believe it or not, and didn’t show regard for things like the environment, animal welfare or any kinds of activist issues. If you know me now, this may seem difficult to believe, but while I certainly still had a spiritual side at 21, it was much less nuanced.
I also look back on this time and, now that I’m far removed from it, can see how poorly I treated some of the people in my life. In particular, the man I was engaged to at the time. We fought a lot during college, and while I won’t go into details here, I am now able to see how my self-centeredness and woe-is-me attitude were part of that.
My evolution began when I watched the documentary “Food Inc.” It was the first time I really absorbed the full meaning of animal welfare and food industry issues, and I felt like my eyes had been opened. From there, I started eating cruelty-free foods and buying only natural beauty products. It was a small step, but it was the first stage in a period of reading lots of books, watching documentaries, going to protests, learning about politics, and generally becoming a more active participant in society. I was finally starting to see the world as something bigger than myself.
No. 2: Questioning whether you’re on the right path
The next evolution happened for me around age 25. This one is pretty commonly talked about. It’s often referred to as the “quarter-life crisis,” and let me tell you my friends, it’s very real. (At least it was for me.)
Twenty-five was the age when I really began to ask myself why I’d been unhappy for so many years, and whether or not I was really on the right path. I felt trapped, like I needed to sort things out before it was too late. I wanted to travel more before I had kids. I wanted to be in a relationship in which I didn’t feel nervous about whether or not life with the person I was with was what I wanted. I wanted to enjoy the youth I’d never been able to pursue because I’d gotten married so young.
So I left for New Zealand. I traveled around by myself for a year. And then I ended my relationship. You know the story.
Apparently, I’m not alone. These experiences are common for people around age 25, and they are actually pretty healthy. I have no regrets about upending my life – it was scary as hell, but it was the right choice. Now that I know myself better, I feel more confident in making choices that are right for me.
No. 3: Not caring what other people think
Apparently this third revolution can happen as late as your 30s, but I think I’m going through it right now. I’m finally reaching a point where I really don’t care about how others perceive me. I’m much more concerned with how I perceive myself.
I respect myself when I make choices that make me happy. I respect myself when I feel independent. I have to feel like a whole person, not half of a couple. That’s just how I am. And that’s OK.
I’ve become much more comfortable expressing my opinions, thoughts and experiences – hence this blog. I’m more warm and open to meeting new people, because I’m genuinely interested in other people, rather than what they think of me and whether or not they want to be my friend.
For me, this took a long time. As a child, I was very concerned about others’ opinions of me, and whether or not people liked me. Unfortunately, I also got made fun of a lot. This led to being a pretty self-conscious teen and young adult.
I think I had to go through the tough stuff in order to get to this point. Going through the struggles of an early marriage and divorce, as well as traveling a lot, gave me the inherent respect for myself that I needed to feel. Now that I have my own approval, I don’t need others’.
I’m still 28, so I’m sure this crazy decade still has a few more lessons to teach me. But I feel like I’ve learned a lot already. It’s also important to remember that learning happens throughout our lives – it doesn’t end at 30. Who knows what life has in store? The lessons I’ve learned over the past few years have prepared me for life and shaped me into the woman I am now, and the one I’m still becoming.
If you have similar stories, I’d love to hear about them. I love talking to people about their life stories. It’s important to remember that no matter what we’re going through, we’re never alone.