When you are twenty-two, it can be unsettling to hear older generations ponder the experiences of their twenties and declare this was a period of discovering who they were and figuring out what they wanted in life. The general consensus seems to be that the decade is spent navigating a sense of identity, making mistakes and learning from them and gravitating towards the person you will eventually become.
It will come as no surprise that I have no idea where I will be by the time I turn thirty (who does?), but the testimonials claiming that true personality is unleashed much later than my current age provokes an uneasy feeling in me. Finally, after a long and painstaking process, I am becoming comfortable with loving myself and befriending the girl deep at heart; so the thought I could go through a full metamorphosis in the next ten years seems jarring.
I invested a lot of time getting to know myself last year, and found I listened to my inner wants and needs in a way I never knew I could. Thanks to the refreshing plunge-pool of being newly single and free from the pressures of that relationship, my outlook totally changed and I propelled myself out of comfort zones, embracing encounters that I hadn’t considered before. I travelled to Amsterdam with my brother and our friends, escaped on unprecedented solo outings and leapt into opportunities by seizing job applications and fleeing to London at the drop of a hat for interviews.
I also started giving into my primal feelings. Rather than put on a brave face, I let my body guide my emotions and encouraged them to pour out of me whereas before I would bottle them up. The boyfriend I left was from my first genuine, tangible relationship and I put immense strain on myself to ensure it was perceived as perfect from all angles, when I was only actually fooling myself.
Once alone with myself again my priority shifted to happiness and it hit me that it’s something that can’t be faked. This was a real lesson in discovering that I am number one and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of what I do; unless I’m happy there’s no point. I’m not trying to say I didn’t love myself at the time, or that you need to unconditionally love yourself to feel love from another (everyone’s opinion on this topic differs, but personally I think it’s peripheral as long as the person you’re with gives you space to be unapologetically you); but rather I realised I could be happy on my own.
Honesty became natural as I spoke the truth both to myself and others; not just about the trivial matters, like whether an outfit looks good, but about serious issues, everyday struggles and mutually sharing raw advice. I tried (and still try) to answer ‘how are you?’ accurately enough to convey my mood, because then I can sit with those feelings on the table and don’t feel obliged to force an uncomfortable pretence.
I discovered hidden traits and honed my ability to admit my talents, instead of denying I could possibly possess such amazing skills. I am far stronger than I thought (unfortunately I’m not talking about my upper-body strength) and my pain threshold, both mentally and physically, is very high (and not only in relation to refraining from crying through a rom-com or wearing in a new pair of Dr Martens). I never give up either thanks to my stubborn and tenacious determination. These are characteristics I doubt I would believe had I not shuffled my perspective so I could appreciate rather than condemn my body and mind.
The mundane minutes can shine if you look at them alternatively and praise yourself for completing daily tasks. Life can be fucking shit. Acknowledging this and cutting yourself some slack for it is far more productive and nourishing than ignoring tough times and punishing yourself for not coping as normal. I’m not arrogant enough to think I don’t make mistakes or forget to follow the advice I preach, but I try my best, and that’s a hell of a lot more than I used to. I think that’s a pretty big accomplishment for my early twenties.
I believe I have developed a strong sense of self over the last decade. I know what I want and adapt the areas within my control to suit that. I have taught my mind to trust what my body tells me: to go with gut feelings, to know when I need a break, to recognise when I need to push myself. I have accepted the facts about my personality: I’ll probably always be annoyingly indecisive (whether that’s about where to go for food, what shoes to wear, or what wine to drink – as well as the bigger decisions) and that’s simply a thread of the unique crochet blanket that weaves different parts of me together.
I’ll always be subconsciously dramatic, and loud, and get too drunk, and not know when to stop, and dance so wildly that I end up knocking something over and getting a huge bruise on my leg. That’s who I am. But I’ll also always be thoughtful, and caring, and a hugger, and a writer, and a good cook, and defensive of those I love (especially when I’m too drunk).
Not everyone will or does like me. This has potentially been the hardest hurdle to leap over, despite brushing much with the experience in the past. It’s impossible for every human being to gravitate towards me, and teaching myself to heal the initial stab of pain on finding out someone doesn’t, not desperately grapple for their attention, is testing. I don’t like everyone so why on earth should I expect to be treated differently? Controlling that self-righteousness is far simpler after admitting it: why the fuck should people like me if I haven’t earned that?
Simultaneously I am starting to understand that often it’s the other person’s problem if they don’t like me to the point of making it obvious. And it’s irrelevant regardless, because I like me. However, how can I reiterate that to myself if I will have to rediscover my identity all over again by the end of my twenties?
The alliance and familiarity I connect with who I am could be due to exposure to social media encouraging us to ‘find’ ourselves earlier in life than typically expected. We are pressured to create an online persona that embodies our reality, which we then preen religiously. It’s difficult to give so much attention to a virtual version of yourself without dissecting the actuality with as much scrutiny and care.
Then again, I look back ten years ago – I was 12. An unfathomable amount has changed from then to the present. At 12 I didn’t get my period; my favourite band changed every week; I ripped out pages from Company magazine and plastered them over my bedroom walls; I didn’t have a clue what politics was and presumably no intention of educating myself on the first thing about it; I had a completely different set of friends (most of which I’m not in contact with anymore); and most importantly, I was still a child (although by 13 I certainly felt like I was a fully-fledged adult with my attitude).
I am under no illusion to think my naivety has completed evaporated, so perhaps the refusal to comprehend that I will undergo another personality transformation actually highlights how much growing I still have left to do. Maybe 22 is the equivalent of being a teenager and thinking you have it all sussed, only for all those preconceptions to fall away as you gain more life experience.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I will forever have a little more growing to do, despite the confidence I have that the woman I am now is the final version. No crystal ball can predict the unforseen events of my future, and there are endless combinations of outcomes I haven’t yet encountered that will undoubtedly shape me further.
We are all merely blocks of stone that are constantly weathered and chipped away at until the sculpture underneath is revealed – and even then the result won’t be perfect. But that block of stone is me, carrying with me the scars and memories and map of my journey, with the essence of my being always there, protected, under the vulnerable surface.
The 12-year-old version of me is still in there somewhere, and I’d like to think she’d be in awe of how the artwork has morphed over the last ten years. I have done things I’m not proud of – and I imagine she’d be mortified – but I’ve also achieved many of the dreams I was cooking up back then.
If there’s anything the decade gone by has proven to me, it’s how quickly things can change. I’m aware I have provided a counter-argument for the very query that kicked off this blog, but I wanted to emphasise the confusion that frames my contradictory feelings of comfort with myself and unease about where I will go from here. Nevertheless, whatever obstacles lie on the road ahead, rest assured this 22-year-old will give it all she’s got (with a side of sass for good measure).
Reflecting on the 10s
The last decade has been an incredible expedition through highs and lows. Ultimately, from where I’m sat now, it doesn’t look too shabby. Personal problems that seemed so devastating in the moment have dissolved, which is a reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel even on the dimmest of days.
I procrastinated my way through GCSEs, battled the stress of A-Levels, secured a place at Nottingham Trent University and came out the other side with a degree in Broadcast journalism. On the side I started this humble blog, which I’m so grateful to for keeping my writing alive and giving me a platform to channel my love of fashion. I have been rewarded with wonderful opportunities to work with brands and practice my craft with work placements and freelancing. I chased my childhood dream to work in London and found myself there with a job I enjoy.
I am honoured to have met amazing people who have (and still do) inspire me to keep going. Friendships and relationships have come and gone and the strongest will remain, and I’m thankful for the reasons I needed each acquaintance and how they have impacted my life. Surrounding myself with good people who support and encourage and want the best for me, and vice versa, has amounted in unrivalled levels of contentment and improvement in my wellbeing.
Feminism has become a key component in my everyday life, as has being more aware of others and our planet. I try to manifest these as philosophies into my everyday actions and act accordingly to do my bit to help the world a better place – but I know I can do more.
I’m over resolutions. They embody everything I hate about fads: dieting, short-term goals with little chance of succeeding and disappointment when they are unattainable. Just because it’s a fresh year, it’s no excuse to scare people into thinking we need to change. Instead, I like to reflect on what I’ve done well and what I could have done better, and incorporate that into my mentality.
One home truth I have accepted on contemplation is that I’m a bad listener. It’s something that is unacceptable and needs to change. I want to understand and hear people without waiting for a chance to interject, and give the level of respect I would demand when exchanging important words.
After the shit I have inflicted on my body in the past, I’m proud that I can now appreciate it for what it does and love myself inside and out. But I now need to take that a step further and acknowledge that I am worthy of love. I struggle to comprehend why people put up with me, why I deserve such generous friends, a loving family and the affection of my partner, so convincing myself I am more than enough for them is a goal for 2020.
I want to connect more with the world and feel the benefits of spending an increased amount time outside. Whether that’s switching my treadmill run for a jog outside once a week, or walking to destinations I would usually opt for the tube to. In the flurry of work I have lost touch with travelling, so I’m hoping to take some time to reignite the desire to explore new places and immerse myself in different cultures.
Just writing this blog I am overwhelmed with the amount of privilege I have been given in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I have worked my bloody socks off to get to where I am, but I have had a lot of help and attention that many others don’t receive in equal doses. Checking my privilege more often and calling out injustices where possible is a work in progress and something I am striving to get better at.
Charity work is another ambition I am aiming to delve into. I have dabbled with volunteering in the past, but nowhere near as much as I know I can commit. Starting with raising money for Cancer Research through a 10k in February, I want to devote a bigger portion of spare time and energy to helping others and campaigning for things I believe in.
Although I’m preparing for a quiet night in with some of my favourite people, there will still be plenty of sparkle and bubbly involved. Case in point: I’m in absolute awe of this Boden dress! I am wearing it as I write (and have been dancing around in it all day) and quite frankly don’t want to take it off even after welcoming in 2020.
The winning combination of polka dots and a funky sleeve had me falling for it at first web-sight and I can confirm it’s gorgeous in real life too. The floaty, full skirt whisks up so much charm, while the v-neck and mesh details add an element of allure. It’s the LBD with a twist and one that will certainly be reserved for the most special of occasions.
While unfortunately slightly uncomfortable, the shoes make up for it with their blinding sparkle and are ideal for dressing up to show off while lazing around. The heel is an optimum size when you can’t be arsed to dig out the stilettos and a pointed toe is forever on trend.
So all that’s left to say is over and out 2019, I’m ready for the whirlwind of the Roaring 20s! I know this date can be painful for some, so I’m sending thoughts and letting you know you are not alone. Happy New Year! Let’s hope it’s a good one.
ph. Megan Dolphin