(Not the best quality picture, but a night on the town with my high school friend Anushka, taken in 2007)
A life utterly different from the buzz I craved in my 20s. Clubbing. A scantily clad body (or anything that exposed my cleavage). Drinking Red bull while cramming for exams or late-night partying. Heck, drinking any energy drink. Allowing your heart to flutter away with reckless abandonment. The obligatory monthly trips to restaurants because your salary isn't yet trapped in a mortgage or car loan. Devouring calorie-laden foods and snacks. Visions of a surreal, unstructured life.
I'll confess - my 20s were hella good, but I lacked the most important friendship; one with myself. If I could ask for the ideal gift for my birthday, it'll be sage advice from the 2021 Amrita. Now despite my once capricious tendencies, I always knew what I wanted out of life. My first 'real' relationship was with the person I ended up marrying. I excelled academically - even scoring the highest grade for my MA thesis. I forged lifelong friendships - the ones that bring you baked lasagne and a care package when visiting your newborn baby or help you decorate your home the night before your wedding. But these comforts coexisted with some insecurities that eroded with time and life experiences. If I could stare at my younger self in the mirror, I'd probably whisper these nuggets that I've picked up along the way...
Value a pearl necklace from someone's Day 1000
When I started my career at around 22, I did not have that carefully curated wardrobe with matching shoes or accessories. I had oddly assembled pieces that took well over a decade to evolve into a 'smart' closet. My older sister Neeta was equally petite and thankfully loaned her wardrobe to me, even gifting me with my first ever pearl necklace. That's when I craved her life without understanding the effort that enabled her to walk into a store and purchase it. She was an engineer working at bP (Trinidad) with frequent work trips to the US and London, vacations to the Paris/Rome/Venice circuit, a car, and, income. I had a paltry salary. Period. I saw her rewards but not her journey. I wanted someone else's Day 1000 while living my Day One. I remember feeling empowered when I first got my credit card and greedily dived into the world of online shopping. I'll admit - I spent perhaps more than I should have, but still stashed aside a decent amount of savings. Marriage at 25 sobered my habits though as my desires quickly changed to the real, 'grown-up' acquisitions like a house and investments.
Own your body, and cover it up too.
If you know me well, you'd know that I've battled acne for most of my young adult life. I dreaded having 'imperfect' skin that was the bain of my existence. I also wished for more effeminate features like soft, unwrinkled hands and perfectly straight toes. And well, there's my curly hair that was rejected by much of my own East Indian community (here's that blog post). I wished that I had the wisdom to recognise that these weren't 'flaws' but my unique thumbprint that God created. I also had this common yearning for tight and short clothing (who doesn't?). I wanted to celebrate my slender frame at any possible opportunity, even stripping in the car before I went partying to relieve some parent-approving layers of clothes. Yeah. Wisdom has since spoken to me. A woman's true beauty lies in her confidence, her strength and her superpower - a unique ability to nurture others. I respect everyone's sense of style, but I didn't need to expose my body to reveal what lay beneath my chest cavity.
Cookie cutters are for baking, not shaping personalities.
I was still warring with lingering insecurities that perhaps arose from growing up in a challenging environment. I wanted to fit in, have throngs of friends, and consistently remain in the spotlight. I wanted to mirror the popular personas, but a place called the Hindu Prachaar Kendra knocked that superficiality straight out of my consciousness. I eventually learnt how to own my voice and project it commandingly, although I wished I had discovered this sooner.
Don't obsess over a fairytale wedding.
Most of us envision an imperial wedding steeped in perfection. If that's your jam and you (or your parents) can comfortably foot the bill, then go for it. But neither this nor the size of your rock contributes in any way to a happy marriage. I was obsessed with having the perfect red lehenga and yellow saris for my three-day feast with over 600 persons, the right color scheme, Bollywood playlist, a henna-themed multi-tiered cake, and a dreamy honeymoon destination in St. Lucia. After all, this day opens one of the biggest chapters of your life. But don't compromise your savings or sanity for the fairy-tale constructs commonly found on social media. Trust me, save your energy for the bigger things. Focus on your union, not the scorecard onlookers will forever dangle over your head.
Let the work a-holes be. You've got bigger dreams.
This was perhaps the biggest struggle of my 20s. I had lots of emotionally abusive supervisors and colleagues who projected their issues onto a vulnerable, accommodating person like myself. I endured many bathroom-crying moments at work, but somewhere in my 30s my skin started to thicken up. I still question whether this is a cultural trend, or whether the world of work can be plain cruel to young, eager minds. I struggled to compartmentalize work and personal life, and it's only now as I write this post that I'm pushing back against workaholics and toxic personalities who will stampede on your sanity and personal space if you give power to their weakness.
Develop a healthy lifestyle early on.
I won't expound on this subject. Do it early; don't wait till you start doing annual lipid profile tests and your triglycerides are hitting 250. Eat the damn oatmeal porridge that your parents tried to force-feed you when you were younger. A healthy lifestyle will help cultivate an overall disciplined approach to life.
Love the right people.
Finding the right friendships is critical during this decade. I was fortunate enough to have a few high school friends who've practically become part of my family, along with those I met at University. You don't need tons of people around you - just the right ones. The same applies to family - sometimes less is more. Now as I navigate life as a parent, I am thankful that I've made the most of moments with my loved ones. I can comfortably go without seeing friends for months on end, and when we meet up, we effortlessly pick up where we've left off. My family though - I can't live without them, which is my life's newest undertaking is going to be extremely challenging.
Your 20s can set the tone for the rest of your life. Be unapologetically ambitious. Start the side hustles or nurture your hobbies. Find ways to earn an income outside of the 40 - hour weekly grind. You will never have this much spare time in your life, and I do harbor some regret about not pursuing certain interests. Thanks to motherhood I have now become the most efficient version of myself, but this also means having a strange appetite for new achievements. Sadly, my free time is literally non-existent and these exciting ideas or passions may have to be temporarily shelved. Sigh.
Each decade will bring forth new lessons; I'm sure someone reading this blog will say "wait till you hit your 40s!" I've surrendered the need to be perfect, to have the last say in every conversation, and to be the ultimate people-pleaser. I'm more comfortable with my body, mind and soul. I'm just going to continue along my path without trying to overanalyse every obstacle or gift.
Cheers to life!