What I Thought I Knew

I thought I knew it all when I was in my 20s. I thought wrong.

It's astonishing now to think back and recall myself in my 20s, and kind of mortifying, too. Because I thought I knew a lot back then. And I was absolutely right about some things. Two plus two, it turns out, does equal four. I was all over that one. But here are some theories I once believed to be true, and I'd walk around and say them out loud with certainty to anyone who would listen. Be happy you didn't know me.

People don't change.

I'm not quite sure why I was so resolved on this unforgiving axiom. Perhaps it was just a way of saying that I had no intention of changing. By believing that people don't change, I was denying myself and others the opportunity to learn from mistakes, to break old patterns through self-honesty and analysis, and to grow up. It will probably surprise no one to learn that this is what I thought before I went to therapy.

Women are better than men.

Well, there was some support for this one, especially when I was younger. In those days, I believed in sisterhood, thought most men were simple and transparent beings, and was convinced that letting sexual attraction guide your actions (as it seemed to me all men did) was a mark of poor character.

I still count myself as a feminist, but as the years passed, something opened up inside me. I came to understand that women are not the sole carriers of burden in this world. Men have their own struggles and vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses, and possess qualities that are admirable and annoying, just like she-folk. I do believe there are gender differences but that doesn't mean Mars is bad and Venus is awesome. It means we can learn from each other and, if our sexual orientation dictates, we can come together and grow. When it came to men, I used to focus only on the bad. Now I get it. This was just another way that enabled me to feel like a victim.

If my friends would only listen to me, they'd be happy.

This was a good one, because I wasn't happy. Yet somehow I was convinced I possessed the wisdom and insight to solve everyone else's shit. I didn't grasp that being in your twenties is the age-appropriate time to make mistakes, to learn about yourself and develop emotionally. Come to think of it, every decade should be like this. Let's not stop until we die.

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Socialism is evil.

I'll take only partial responsibility for this delusion, and blame the rest on having been a child of the '80s. I never stopped to think that public schools and Medicare are socialist institutions, and I certainly never noticed that the United States was the only wealthy, western country that didn't provide health care for all its citizens. I'm happy I grew out of this one. Why didn't everyone else?

I'm old!

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Oh silly, twentysomething me!

I can't relax and let go unless there's absolutely nothing worrying me.

What interesting expectations I had in those days. I imagined that life would provide me with times and spaces where everything would be perfect, and imagined that feeling good was reserved for those blissful moments. That kind of thinking led to sentences like this: "If only this would happen, I could be happy." Of course, if this happened, then that came along to replace it.

I learned that life is messy. By expecting it not to be, I was in a constant state of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. When I figured out that life offers good and bad and accepted that it's all part of the fabric of being, I found that I could relax and let go whenever I gave myself the space to do so. The perfect circumstances don't bring peace. Surrendering to where you are at any given moment — that brings peace.

Life's unfair and that's terrible.

Life is unfair. See above, about surrendering to where you are ...

Sadly, I could easily write a part II and III to this essay. There is so much I thought I knew. Makes me wonder what I'll think of myself in twenty years.