I’ve begun writing a new column for the Philippine STAR’s Sunday Lifestyle section called Attack Decay Sustain Release. Henceforth, I plan to upload my columns here as well, some time after the original publication date, in order to compile more of my work here (in a format I find pleasing), and also so that it’s more readily accessible.
I think it bears mentioning that the tone of my writing for the paper is a little different from the tone I typically take here. I write here expecting that the people reading my personal work already know at least a little of the context behind the stories, or care a bit about who I am. But when I write for the paper, that goes out the window. I have to assume that the people reading have no idea who I am and are largely uninterested — unless I can make them interested. So the key there is to keep it real, but keep it relevant.
But also, to keep it strictly PG.
This was published on 19 October 2019.
Five years ago, when I was the alarming age of 27, I asked an older friend what it was like to be in your thirties. “You’re going to love it,” she told me. “It worries you now, but when you hit 30, you suddenly just stop giving a f— about so many things, and it will free you.” I didn’t believe her then, but I’m 32 now, and she was absolutely right.
My twenties were clouded by the struggle to reconcile the person I was discovering I wanted to be and the person I believed I was supposed to be (or thought I was expected to be). It was a confusing period in my life; I felt thrust from childhood into adulthood with nary a road map, and spent the bulk of that time feeling lost. I was trying so hard to forge an identity for myself; figuring out how the world worked, and what my place was in it. Real world experience forced me to dismantle old ideas and beliefs, and embrace new ones, which wasn’t always an easy thing to do. My twenties were not easy.
But my thirties have been a revelation. Still not easy, but easier, because I’ve learned some important things along the way that have changed how I look at my life, and how I live it.
Most of the very best things you’ll ever experience in life will come from overcoming your fears and saying yes more often. So many of us are so scared to venture outside of our comfort zones when we are younger. We think to ourselves, this is okay; this is enough, and we hold ourselves back because we’re afraid of the unknown. We shouldn’t be.
Say yes when a good opportunity presents itself, even if you feel out of your depth. Never let the fear of making mistakes keep you from trying. You’re always going to make mistakes. Making them and then getting yourself back up, that’s the best way to grow and learn. When you go through something hard and make it through, the next time becomes easier, because you’ve done it before and you’re stronger for it. And hey, you might just build something amazing as you go.
Say yes every time you get the chance to travel, especially if you get to travel alone. Exploring new places will teach you so much about the world, and exploring on your own will teach you things you never knew about yourself and what you are capable of. Learning to say yes took me on adventures I would never have imagined when I was younger, and I met incredible people on those journeys who made the experience that much richer.
Say yes when you get invited to things, whether they’re simple things like dinner or movies, or crazy things like celebrating Halloween on a private island. (If it’s financially viable!) I used to say no to activities when they mostly involved people I didn’t know or didn’t know too well. But when I decided to give people a chance and say yes more often, I built much deeper friendships than I ever expected with acquaintances that then became close friends, and made so many new friends from all walks of life who, through knowing them, helped me expand my worldview. And I got to do some really fun things, like win quiz nights, hike the Masungi Georeserve, and yes, celebrate Halloween on a private island.
In my twenties, I always felt like I was just a background character in my own story. I felt like I was on the sidelines, watching other people live interesting and incredible lives and wondering why that couldn’t be me. It wasn’t me because I was so sheltered, always so afraid to try. Finding the courage to say yes really advanced the plot. I’m definitely the heroine now.
But also, know when to say no.
When you’re young, and especially when you’re female, the reflex is to be pliable. When I was in my twenties, I really wanted to be liked, so I didn’t always stand up for myself. I put up with things — behaviours from other people, treatment I might not always have agreed with — because I didn’t know any better, and I didn’t want to be seen as difficult. I cared so much about what other people thought of me.
I don’t know what it is about turning 30, but so much of that fell away. I think as I finally started to really figure out who I was, and also as I became more and more unapologetic about the person I was choosing to become, I stopped seeking the approval of people who had absolutely no bearing on my life. Things that would have shattered me when I was younger no longer had the power to break me, because I knew who I was. More importantly, I liked who I was because I was finally being true to myself, and that was the only thing that mattered. The struggle of self-discovery in young adulthood eventually led to self-assurance in my thirties. It led to conviction. And when you have that, it becomes easier to advocate for yourself. It becomes easier to say no when you know you should say no.
That is something I wish I had learned earlier: how to set boundaries for myself. These days, when I know a situation isn’t working for me, I try to negotiate conditions that are acceptable. And if I can’t, then I know that it’s not for me, and I step away. This becomes especially important in relationships. When you know who you are, you know what you want, you know what you can offer, and you know what you deserve. You know when it feels wrong. You recognise the unease, but now you know not to push that feeling away. You walk away instead.
Never try to find everything in just one person, unless that person is yourself.
I wish this was something I could have learned earlier, but I suppose only experience could have taught it to me. All the relationships and ‘situationships’ I went through in my twenties (and even into my thirties) taught me how important it is to never rely on just one person for all your needs. Rom-coms and love stories will always stress how your partner should be everything to you. Nope. No. Absolutely not. That’s a lot of weight to put on one person’s shoulders. And what happens if the relationship falls apart?
Maintain your friendships. Maintain your relationships with your family. Nurture all of them. Learning to do that — learning to shift the focus from romantic love — has made me realise how full of love my life actually is. I haven’t needed a boyfriend for that. I don’t feel any less loved because I’m single. The division of emotional labour has made it so that I receive so much love, understanding, validation, and time from so many important people in my life, and I give the same to all of them in return.
We spend so much of our youth being sold the idea of romance. We’re made to believe we need someone to complete us, and then feel like we’re missing something when we don’t have a partner. That’s something that I wish we could all unlearn, because it’s untrue. We need to be complete in ourselves. We need to build lives that are rich, fulfilling, meaningful, and full of happiness on our own. We should create amazing lives that we adore. A boyfriend is just a bonus.
Everyone is on their own timeline. The only person you should be competing with is yourself, and it is never too late.
With the advent of social media, it’s hard not to be bombarded with the performative versions of your peers’ lives. That was already the case when I was younger, and it’s become even worse since Instagram.
I used to see my contemporaries’ highlights and milestones and think to myself that I was doing something wrong because I wasn’t there yet. Wow, this girl’s getting married to the love of her life! This girl’s studying abroad! This girl just landed an incredible job! This girl’s having a baby! I was happy for these people — how can you not be happy for others’ success? — but at the same time, it made me feel sad for myself sometimes. I felt like I was getting left behind. People were achieving things at younger and younger ages, and here I was, getting older and seemingly going nowhere by the usual standards.
But the thing is, I’m 32 and I actually love the life I live. It’s very, very different from many of the lives my friends and former classmates lead, but I enjoy it immensely. Convention says I should be married with kids by now, and should be freaking out that I’m not, but I’m not, because I enjoy the freedom of singlehood. Maybe there’s someone out there living the life I’m told I’m supposed to want, looking at my timeline and wishing they could walk a day in my shoes, too. Who knows, right? What I do know is that the only standards I should be living by are my own.
My unconventional life made me so anxious in my twenties, but I’ve come to understand that these ‘timelines’ are just social constructs. We’re all told we should be this by this age or should have done that by that age, but the truth is that everyone is on a different timeline. We define these timelines for ourselves. It’s never too late to do what you want — go back to school, take a dance class, learn to skateboard, go on that holiday, start your dream business, fall in love. You’re never too late. You’re always right on time.
People keep saying now that life begins in your forties. I’m looking forward to it.