Give, Give, Give
To my daughters: It’s hackneyed, but it’s true - the saying that life goes so fast, and picks up speed as you get older. Shockingly, when I look in the mirror, a woman nearly 50 years old looks back at me. Just moments ago, I was your age - old enough to behave like an adult, but young enough to believe there was so much time for life to unfold.
My own 20s were much different than yours. I married young and started a family right away. And by the time I was 29, I was the mother of three and had a full-time job. To say it was hard to keep my head above water on a day-to-day basis would be an understatement. I didn’t have the tools in my 20s to be the mother or partner or employee I wish I could have been. I had energy, but there was never enough to give to the trifecta of motherhood, marriage and a career. I had some wisdom, but not enough to competently create balanced home and work lives. In retrospect, it wasn’t really until I turned 40 that everything fell into place for me.
That’s why I’m incredibly grateful and impressed that you are moving through your 20s in a way that’s right (and exciting) for you. You realize that this is your decade for reflection, introspection, creation and independence. College was a fit for some of you, and not for others—regardless, you’re testing what will feed your energy, provide you peace and comfort, and ultimately make you a whole human being. I learned as I went, while you are storing up knowledge you’ll be able to draw upon as mothers, or partners, or leaders when you’re older.
You’re learning important life lessons much differently than I did, but as I reflect on my life, here’s what I wish I’d learned much earlier:
Losing my religion: I felt bound by the Catholicism I was born into, and guilty about leaving to find a religious or spiritual life that actually suited me. Once I was older and time was shorter, I left those worries behind and finally began to study a philosophy that had always intrigued me: Buddhism. The set of guidelines Buddhism provides for living and behaving was life-changing for me, and everything from “right speech” to the ritual of daily meditation has moored me. Find what works for you—even if your religion is simply kindness.
Go to therapy: I married the first time at 23, before I had any idea who I was or what I wanted from life. A good marriage requires a certain amount of kismet, but also maturity and hard work. A commitment I made when I married the second time was that we’d go to “marriage coaching” every two weeks to keep our marriage healthy. And it’s important to go on your own, too. Therapy provides an outlet for resentment that can poison relationships—even coworkers—and gives you the tools to handle the stresses of daily life. Learn about yourself, and be open to personal change and growth.
Love your vocation: I spent a lot of years selling widgets to put food on the table. I liked most of the people I worked with, I learned a lot, I was well paid, and I was given fancy titles—but I wasn’t inspired. It wasn’t until I turned 41 that I became a full-time activist and found a “job” as a full-time volunteer that finally made me feel fulfilled. Don’t spend decades doing something you don’t love. I wish I’d been curious and brave enough to try something else earlier.
Get out of your bubble: Travel, explore, be curious. Even if it’s just a road trip to another city. Don’t stop wondering what’s outside your door—or on the other side of the world. Meet new people, immerse yourself in different cultures, and always be open to the possibility that your way isn’t the only way—or even the right way. In my middle age, I’ve realized that exposure to different cultures and beliefs is the antidote to what ails our society: a lack of compassion and a fear of losing power. Don’t fall into that trap.
Give, give, give: Give your resources—time, money and talents—to help others. As privileged adults—white, American, comparatively wealthy—it will be a constant, lifelong struggle to not focus on your own comfort. Consciously making sacrifices to help others will provide an important and rewarding way to stay clear on the true purpose of being a human being: love. There’s a reason studies show volunteering reduces stress and depression, prevents feelings of isolation, and increases confidence—changing the lives of others will change your own for the better.
Even as I approach age 50, I haven’t learned all of the lessons I need or hope to, but I’m always looking and listening for the next one. As your mom, I look forward to learning from you, too. Learning is a lifelong effort, so I won’t be around to experience all of your journey, but I’m so honored to have been around to provide guidance for a while.
I love you,