Embracing the Awkward Mid-20s

I have never been one for elaborate birthday celebrations. My fondness for birthday parties dissipated when I morphed into an acne-covered, angsty teen who preferred to mope around. Fortunately for me, my mother implemented a family tradition of candles and cake that has to be upheld no matter the circumstance. These days, I’ve come to embrace my birthday as an opportunity to take stock of my personal growth. (It also helps that my birthday falls right in the middle of the year.)

So, what have I learned?

Self-Doubt is Real

I’ll admit it: I’m one of those folks who has big, grand plans but never quite knows how to fill in the blanks to get there. I want to work remotely while watching the sun set behind the Grand Canyon, live in all seven continents of the world (one continent at a time) before I die, have enough money in my bank account before I turn 40 so I can retire early and volunteer as a docent at a whaling museum like Emily Gilmore after Richard’s death (we all know this one’s the hardest to achieve), and run my own self-sustainable bed and breakfast turned community space in a random corner of the world. I catch myself spending too much time dreaming of what and where I want to be down the road instead of taking actual action towards those goals. I eventually became so good at self-handicapping and coming up with self-serving excuses that I actually believed in my own deceptions.

Why do I do this? I spent an entire year trying to decipher the answer to this question and realised — I was scared of never being good enough and not being able to pull things off. Instead of using my spare time to focus on personal goals, I simply threw myself into my job. I was in a weird space: paralyzed by my own self-doubt but also constantly bombarded by the need to feel productive (who else is in the same boat?!). While I like my job, I shouldn’t have used it as an excuse to stay in my comfort zone. So, in an attempt to dismantle my own defense mechanism, I created my own SOPs (involving a list of questions and charts) for dealing with procrastination and self-doubt … which takes us to the next point:

Choose Your Battles

 A big part of my mid-twenties has been about learning to be honest with myself and my capabilities. I tend to overestimate what I can accomplish in a day and beat myself up excessively for not being able to finish my unrealistic to-do lists. Worse, this unhealthy habit leaves me feeling burnt out by the time I clock out of my day job and thus, I spend my nights brainlessly watching Netflix to decompress instead of working on other goals. Not that there’s anything wrong with binging on shows after work — but I got to a point where I wasn’t even digesting what I was watching. I simply watched to pass time until I was ready to pass out. So, I slowed down and reorganised my priorities.

Some time ago, a colleague of mine, Lana Kitcher, introduced me to a simple but effective prioritisation technique for managing workload. The rule is simple: categorise your tasks into three groups — A (urgent and important), B (urgent), and C (important but not urgent). I’ve recently begun to incorporate this technique not just at work but also in my personal life. I don’t believe in the idea of a work/life balance, so I dump both my work-related tasks and other activities like catching up with friends, family outings, work out sessions, and even grocery shopping, on the same list. This way, I get a better sense of what I really have on my plate and can adjust my timeline accordingly.

Being Present is Hard

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned this year is perhaps the fact that I spend most of my life not being present. I get restless and anxious about the future, while forgetting to take my time and enjoy what I do have now. Being present, to me, isn’t exactly about living life lavishly like there is no tomorrow. It really is about taking the time to be aware of and connect with my surroundings at any given time, to enjoy the process and not because of what’s to come. It also means making room for spontaneity and leaving judgement at the door: allowing myself to go out and take a walk in the park when the weather calls for it, sitting on a bench to watch people pass by, and dancing in my underwear to Dara Puspita during work hours.

And now, to end my birthday ramblings, wisdom from Forrest Gump:

“I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both [are] happening at the same time. “

x Leonie

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