Twenty-six and a Half Truths
The last few weeks of my life can be summarized in one word: transition. I rounded out my time consulting a new bar and bistro on Rainey St. here in Austin, TX; successfully executed a women’s business school admissions event I’d planned for months; spent a week in Mexico City to learn about its startup landscape; then, returned to Austin to move out of the corner of Pennsylvania and Chestnut Ave., where I called home for the past three years with some amazing housemates.
I now write this blog from my younger brother’s childhood bedroom — now home office — at my parent’s house in Austin, as I wait to hear from several opportunities on where I’ll land next.
Transition points and routine change can offer a rare space for reflection. The poignancy of the fact that I’m well into the latter half of my 20’s has also been on my mind recently, as I turn 27 in November. Several of my friends have authored thought pieces about what they’ve learned when hitting a certain age. My friend Billy’s recent writing on turning 30 and Kaneisha’s on turning 31 are two quality examples. These posts highlight the general millennial trepidation toward hitting the big 3–0, though also offer thoughtful contemplation on the major benefit of getting older: you get wiser.
Despite the somewhat chaotic time I’m in — living between places, waiting on answers for my next project — I’ve more recently felt that calmness I’ve heard creeps in as one settles into and accepts “adulthood”. It’s a feeling as if things are actually working out as they need to and will be ok — that this is not just a catch-phrase. With the chaos, change in routine, and the “adulting” I’m deep in, I think it’s about time to start sharing some of my truths I’ve come to in my 26 (and a half) years:
- To be happy, you have to give something back. In the words of my girl, Oprah: “If you’re hurting, you need to help somebody else’s their hurt. If you’re in pain, help somebody else’s pain. If you’re in a mess, you get yourself out by helping someone out of theirs.” (Re: minutes. 22–24 of her Stanford Commencement Speech.) You get what you give.
- Know your skills. Know how to market them. Quantify your results. Know your elevator pitch. There are several opportunities I feel I missed in the earlier half of my 20’s because I didn’t know how to talk about my real-world skills (#liberalartseducationftw!). Learn what your skills are in the lingo of where you’re trying to go, think of examples in which you’ve excelled at them, and be ready to present this at a moment’s notice. This is a “TL;DR”(“Too Long; Didn’t Read”) generation. Be efficient with your time and the brief time you sometimes have with others.
- Authentically cultivate your network. You may have heard the quote, “You’re only as strong as your network.” I largely agree with this, though can think of a few other places people derive strength (e.g., “within”, religion, family, etc.). I will say, however, that I have rarely received a position without a personal “in”. Some skills for authentic network cultivation: If someone crosses your mind, let them know. If an opportunity presents itself you think someone may benefit from, send it along. Check in at least every 6 months to a year with people who have affected you significantly personally, professionally, etc.. Constantly thank, congratulate, and celebrate others. Mean it.
- You are in control of your life-long learning. I’ve done enough self-reflection the last four years since undergrad to know that I am miserable if I’m not learning something new everyday. I’ve also been around enough to know that the real-world doesn’t always offer the accelerated, concentrated, and linear learning environments schools do. A few ways that you can advocate to be challenged and continue learning if you feel you’ve hit a wall: ask an employer to let you work on a challenging project; volunteer for a daunting role with a board or volunteer group; seek out classes, conferences, and community meet-ups on subjects of interest; connect with people you admire who may open pathways to new, interesting options.
- If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing. As one who has trained for triathlons, is trying to get a marathon under her belt, and grew up playing sports, I’ve learned the physical truth behind the saying “no pain, no gain.” The same goes for any skill, professional, or personal goal you’re pursuing — if it isn’t hurting, you’re likely stuck in your comfort zone. You don’t gain much from that.
- How you talk to and treat yourself is how you will talk to and treat others. Be careful with this. If you find yourself judging or holding back forgiveness from yourself, you will likely tend to be equally hard on others. This is learned behavior that can be unlearned. Take steps to catch yourself doing this, acknowledge it, don’t judge it, and practice tools to think more positively and patiently toward yourself. This will bleed into how you treat others.
- Expect less. Things will never go as planned. People will not always have it together like you hope they will. Life is full of disappointments. Take care of yourself by not holding on to expectations too tightly. Take things as they are, and calmly problem-solve from there.
- Others’ feelings are sometimes more important than being right. The need to be right all of the time and debate an issue to the bitter end is usually a sign of insecurity. (Obviously, with some exceptions. Like, your lawyer. They should obviously win the argument!) If it’s not worth hurting someone you care about, you don’t always have to be right. Let it go.
- “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou. This applies to all experiences you create for others — for your friends, for your clients, for your team. Remember: our memories are linked to our feelings. If you’re giving constructive criticism to a colleague, having a difficult conversation with a partner, even writing a Yelp review, always try to do it with compassion.
- Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them. You cannot build anything of substance on your own. No one on this Earth is self-made. Be wary of individual performers/ “Super Chickens.” Meet people, support their goals, and build something of meaning together.
- Advocate for yourself. No one can do this for you as you will need to — for a promotion, for a certain salary, for a better work environment, to get out of a toxic relationship. It is up to you to believe you’re worth better and to fight for better.
- Be kind to everyone. Make small talk with strangers. Make someone smile. Studies show that these small acts of kindness lift your own mood and make you more productive. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it comes back to you.
- Avoid negative people. People who speak ill of others in front of you are likely speaking ill of you when you’re not around. Avoid gossip. Gossip is a product of insecurity, and will only hurt you.
- “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Do not compare yourself to others: you either become conceited, or devalue your accomplishments. Filter your social media accounts to only receive empowering information. If certain people or accounts make you feel bad about yourself, unfollow/delete those sources NOW.
- Express gratitude daily. This will teach you how much you actually have in life. I have a Gratitude Journal App that sends me a notification at 10:05 pm every night to make sure I write down 3–10 items for which I’m grateful for that day. Ideally express your gratitude, affection, and care for others in “high resolution”.
- The only way to closeness and connectivity is through vulnerability. Tell people you love them. Tell people if something they did hurt you. Tell people you appreciate them. Learn to be ok with the emotions it stirs up. It gets easier, and it’s the only way to intimate, connected relationships. (If you haven’t watched Brené Brown’s famous and influential TedX Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability”, do it now.)
- Do something everyday that scares you. In my Gratitude Journal app, I also I have a spot where I write what I did that day that scared me. This helps keep me accountable. Accomplishing daunting tasks and projects build your confidence and grow your skill-set.
- Always communicate in the most positive way possible. It makes all the difference in your ability to get your point across. Positivity attracts positivity.
- Read everyday. Even if it’s just the content on your Facebook newsfeed while you’re in line at the Post Office. Better yet, sign up for Audible. This knowledge base connects you to the world and others.
- Done is better than perfect . There are many things I held myself back from because of the stringent perfectionist I used to be. (Including publishing posts like this!) Do your best; set a deadline; nothing anyone publishes is ever perfect.
- Be interested in others. Always ask how others are doing. Listen. This gives you a gauge of where they are so you can best serve them. This also (usually) makes them better listeners to you.
- Be humble. Some of the most impressive people I know are also the most humble. They never credit themselves for their successes; they always credit their teams first. They are not shy with their “Thank you”s . You did not get here on your own, no matter what you think. Acknowledge that.
- Move everyday. Sleep, exercise, and a holistic diet are the fundamentals one must prioritize to have a balanced, healthy life. We’re biologically designed to eat real food, move daily, and get enough rest. If you don’t, your body and your mind get payback by affecting your performance and relationships.
- Avoid decisions when in the red. One of the most important “adult” skills I’ve focused on over the last few years is learning tools of how to “self-soothe” when stressed, overwhelmed, sad, or frustrated. Learn what these are to you (ex: self-talk, going for walks, talking to a friend), and practice them. Make important decisions when you have calmed down and can think of a problem from all perspectives. (Emotionally-based perspectives *are* uniquely valuable, though one of many to consider.)
- It’s ok to rest. When you’ve grown up knowing that you have to hustle to get ahead — particularly as a woman of color in America — self-care, relaxation, and not having a plan is not always instinctual. If you take a year off(or more!) for yourself, hike the Appalachians, live pay check-to-pay check, go for that job that’s slightly less stable or prestigious than your parents desire, it will be ok. Life is a constant experiment. Just as your body needs rest so it can be fueled to perform its best the next day, so does your mind and spirit.
- Ask for and welcome feedback. We are rarely aware of how others truly perceive us. Ask your peers for feedback on a presentation, your management style, or a decision you made; ask customers/clients relentlessly about their experiences with you, what was great and what can be improved; weave feedback-mechanisms into your company or organization’s environment so it becomes part of the culture. Not only will this create a more trusting environment, but also allow you to more quickly catch and innovate around blind spots before it’s too late. Listen to and respond to feedback with grace and gratitude. We all have room to improve, though also to celebrate strengths.
And, a Half Truth: Learn to say “no”…but also, “YES!”
Your time and your energy are your most precious resources. If it isn’t a “Hell Yes!”, don’t commit. (A lesson learned from Kaneisha, once again!) However! Don’t be afraid to say “Yes” to opportunities that speak to you, even if you’re not sure it’s a perfect decision or it frightens you. (“Oh, the job is in NYC? That’s frightening because moving is stressful, it’s a new city in which I don’t know anyone, and opens me up to unknowns…but, ok!”) If your gut tells you to, do it. If your gut tells you it’s going to bog you and your priorities down, don’t be afraid to say, “No, thank you”.
You are the master of your own life. Make decisions and cultivate support that get you where you want to be.