Dear Twenty-Year Old GirlFound in: Main Articles
Dear twenty-year old girl,
I was you once.
I remember feeling the pressure to measure up.
The pressure to know where I was going, hearing the age old, “So what are you going to do with your life?” question, and letting the answer roll off the tongue just like I’d rehearsed it so many times.
I remember feeling the pressure to be pretty enough,
worthy enough for someone to choose me and
love me for me. It was a lot and I don’t think I measured up to what I’d hoped for most days.
But today, you are bombarded at every turn with a kind of pressure that far surpassed mine. Social media is now the norm. Everyone has a smart phone, and uses it as a primary means for social interaction, even if the friendship is only a virtual one. Everyone has grown used to instant gratification. Oh, and the idea of going viral? Back then, that was something for which you would receive a vaccine. Now you see selfies and arm windows and duck faces and intentionally angled, cropped photos that project a filtered and deceptive view of perfection that no one was intended or truly capable to fulfill.
Because it is not realistic. And I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that you are faced with the very normal growing pains of maturity in a time and culture where it makes it difficult to truly both know yourself and accept and embrace what you find in the process. Sure, our culture speaks of individuality and freedoms, but only if they do not offend others’ sense of individuality and freedoms. Sure, our culture speaks of beauty and uniqueness, but only if that beauty and uniqueness aligns with what the culture deems as beautiful and unique, only if they set the barometer for what makes you acceptable in their eyes.
I’m sorry that you compare yourself to photo-shopped starving models plastered across the front covers of magazines. I’m sorry that you judge your own beauty against things that aren’t real. I’m sorry on behalf of those of us just a few years ahead of you who remember the days before reality TV shows, shows exploiting families and marriages, shows portraying a very-scripted life of wealth and fame partnered with beauty and vanity, which became the standard by which our culture esteems success and happiness.
I weep for you. It grieves my heart so badly when I see you, a young woman, full of promise and full of life and for a sense of identity, find it in the things our culture vomits out into the masses, the things that are not reality, the things in which you will never find satisfaction.
I am twenty-nine years old and here is what I have learned about my twenties.
1) It took me a few times to get it right.
I went looking for identity in other places, too. I went looking for acceptance. I never really thought myself the insecure type, but there it was, plain as day.
I remember a really bad heartbreak at twenty-three, and I wasn’t familiar with that sort of thing. I didn’t find what I thought I would in that relationship, so I recklessly chose to find it in other things, like friends who would help me forget pain. (Pretty sure I partied right through the nine months that followed.) I remember nine months to the very day of that heartbreak, being drug along the streets of Dallas in a fight with some thugs who robbed me. If you don’t know me yet, know this—Brittany doesn’t go down without a fight. Thus, I was an idiot. I had nothing to show for it but the black eye and broken knuckles, which were not medals; they were results of my stubbornness, my wounded pride, and my brokenness. And those friends I was with? The ones doing drugs in the back of a building? They abandoned me just as soon as the cops showed up to help me. Oh, how that aching longing for identity and acceptance can drive you to desperation.
I realized I am not Wonderman, and I changed a few things--soon refocusing my energies elsewhere. Years later, my identity was in my work. I was smart. I was tenacious. I would get the job done no matter what. I served my guts out, freely giving of all of my time to this and that, all for really noble causes. I used up all of my financial resources and then some. And it burnt me out. (This was by no means their fault. I have complete respect for every organization in which I have ever served.) I was the one at fault; I had no sense whatsoever of boundaries, no sense of the value of rest and balance.
And I was prideful.
My identity was so tied to the successes of my hands that I would beat myself into the ground to see things through. Some might see that as tenacity or a virtuous sort of thing, but I am pretty sure it was pride. I wasn’t willing to let any thing fail on my watch. I did not yet know how to set healthy boundaries and manage myself well nor did I know how to say no—or how to create space and value for things like rest. I did not yet understand so very much.
2) I am a work in progress. And so are you.
Relationships and work are two very real things you will encounter in your twenties; they affect so much of the future ahead. I learned from my mistakes, yet still encounter temptations time and again. They look different though. Over the years I now recognize and embrace chances to know myself deeper and deeper. Just when I think I have it all figured out, there lays an opportunity to grow where I soon discover there is so much more to learn. (Acknowledge where you are. Repent and change course if you’re heading the wrong way. And then, for crying out loud, keep on going forward.)
Ultimately, all of these experiences showed me where I misplaced my identity. Now, the newest secret I am unlocking is that it is really not my strength that counts. My whole life, I fought to be independent, self-sufficient and responsible, even at the expense of bearing burdens I was never ever intended to carry alone. Now I’m learning to let go of things I cannot control. It is incredibly freeing. It makes me stronger. And another three years from now and after that, I’ll bet my butt cheeks that I have more things I’ve learned that I can add to this list.
That is the beauty of it. The portrayal of “arriving” at some sense of perfection is such a freaking façade. We are all maturing, well most of us anyway, which is by no means an instantaneous process. It cannot be formulated by a filter nor programmed by a pretty silhouette wearing the latest and greatest that you know you cannot afford anyway.
Dear twenty-year old girl, if there is anything, any piece of advice I can give to you, its to embrace the real you. Don’t give in to the image that society tells you to be and don’t feel pressured to portray the idea that you have it all together 24/7. Delight in your so-called imperfections and the things that make you unique, the idiosyncrasies that no one else on this earth may possess.
Dear twenty-year old girl, there is only one you in there, and only you can be her. So find her, love her, and never ever let her hide within the shadows.