Going on 30
IT’S BEEN years since I sat down to write. What was a multipurpose salve for me in high school and college I had abandoned in pursuit of adulthood.
Many a time I’ve looked longingly at the prospect of writing as a career, which I’ve consciously avoided for economic reasons. (Practical voices ring clear: “No one makes good money from writing.”) And yet, at the threshold of my 30s, I pay it a tribute because of not only a genuine fondness for it but also for utter respect for its enduring power to communicate—in my case, the lessons I have learned from living through a tumultuous gift of a decade.
When people speak of their 20s, it is usually laced with a sense of newness, adventure, and joyous beginnings. I entered the decade with life gleefully waving—and then slapping me in the face and smacking me in the head.
I fought and tore at it. I cried and beat it back. I faced it and also ran away from it. I challenged, then tried to reason with it. It was like the devil, unrelenting in wicked pursuit. In my agony, I ended up withdrawing from the world and from my passions. I knew it was because of dealing with too many unfortunate things at once without proper emotional support or sufficient life experience. I often wanted to turn back time to deal with things differently given what knowledge I have now, but it was truly a period of growth.
Here is my attempt at encapsulating what I’ve learned in the past 10 years.
- Compassion expanded my heart and horizon. The early 20s are either an extension of self-absorbed teenage years or a breeding ground for late-onset angst and confusion. Life pushed me to be less self-centered: I witnessed other people’s situations through their perspective. How diverse this world is when seen through an adjusted lens! I began to see and have a deeper understanding of people’s unique challenges and situations, and learned to shed some of my perfectionist tendencies.
- Life is fleeting. I buried my father when I was 21, but in reality lost him when I was 17. The last four years of his life were spent fighting for one year more. Between taking care of him and grieving, I was forced to swallow the pain of suffering. It is never easy to lose a father, especially one who is greatly loved and admired. It was doubly hard to lose him in my teenage years, when I was still growing emotionally and the father-daughter relationship was only at its inception. His death had a profound impact on my view of life; it made me realize how temporary is this plane we are in. And what had felt supremely urgent, the prized things of this world—fame, wealth, glory—I learned to view with some detachment. Because I keep remembering, when death decides to hover, it is swift and stealthy, and at that time the thing that really mattered was a family’s love and support.
- Karma is real. I saw the worst of human nature emerge, and it has drawn some of the life out of me. I have also seen that there is natural retribution, and when it feels like there is never going to be justice, don’t be tempted to “repay evil for evil.” Let God do His work, and realize that His methods are perfect. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” (Romans 12:19)
- Faith is real. God is real. When all else failed, only God worked. Realize that when there is nothing and no one else, there is God, and because of that, you’ve got everything. “The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.” (Psalm 145:18)
- Intend the best for yourself. I grew up being taught by example to put others first. I may have absorbed this to the extreme, because I developed a skewed sense of self-worth that resulted in knowing how to wish others the best, but being unable to intend the best for myself. It seemed there was something wrong if I wanted to do something good for myself. I’m still learning the many benefits of self-care and love, the most basic of which is simply being a happier person.
- Decide to speak kindly to yourself. It wasn’t until a life coach told me one day to be careful of my language that I began checking my thoughts. I was surprised at the way I punished myself mentally, and at how meanly I spoke to myself, which I never would have done to others. By being overly critical, I was doing a disfavor to myself and to everyone else I encountered.
- Don’t fulfill others’ negative opinions of you. I wish I were one of those lucky people who are always surrounded by positive energy, but I had to adapt to a negative environment by developing some stubbornness, because I couldn’t afford to be criticized and labeled a negative all the time. I learned to recognize toxic people because I couldn’t let others ruin my self-esteem just to make themselves feel better. Make an impartial list of your goodness and know that you have that goodness deep and flowing in you.
- Forgive and multiply that. Forgiveness is a continuous process rather than an end-all and be-all. It is neither excusing the wrong nor a license for the offender to ask to be trusted once more. That is up to you. Forgiveness is not the raw, vindictive way to handle a hurt; it is the humane, intelligent way.
- Seek the truth about yourself. I notice that the older people get, the more they don’t care what others think of them. I wish someone told me it’s okay to be authentic even when, or especially when, you are still young. Note to self: Don’t suppress your own child’s nature. Keep discovering yourself, and always accept who you are wholeheartedly; if not you, who else?
- Courage, my friend. This is one thing that will serve us well until death. For life is test after test, challenge after challenge. If anything, hardships teach us courage. But we need not fear. “Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.” (Proverbs 3:25-26)
As I look back at the past decade, I remember how I stopped on my tracks at one point and ceased to feel, hoping to glide by like a ghost, because the hollows were just too deep and the plateaus too flat. But when I decided to persist, life proved to be tenacious, and presented itself in miraculous leaps and bounds. I’ve chosen to stand by these. I’ve come to realize that life is an interconnected web of meaningful episodes, woven by the Great One above us. And so I look toward the door of my 30s, heart pounding, fingers crossed, hoping it would be more gracious this time around. Besides, I could really use some good cheer.
Kristel Chua Cochien, 29, is “a meandering citizen of the world” and a 2007 business management graduate of De La Salle University. Once a banker, she now works for a manufacturing company.
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