A Twenty Something Reflection
I turned 30 today. And hopefully, when I post this, I am in a beautiful place, celebrating with the person I am lucky enough (and hope) to spend the next decade with.
I am so proud of my 20’s. I’m proud of the woman I am, the life I’ve lived so far, and the life I hope to live in the next decade.
Every minute, every good and bad decision, experience and everything in between, has helped shape me into the woman I am walking into the next decade as.
In true Rachel Varkey fashion, I couldn’t end 29 without giving you some of my real unfiltered learnings. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly:
1. Don’t believe everything you’re told.
When I was 20, I was smack dab in the middle of my college years. I had gone through a terrible friendship breakup and honestly, I was quite miserable.
Until then, I felt like I had to act a part that I could never play. I carried a burden of expectation from the world I saw around me. I thought that I had to be dutiful, more submissive, and quite frankly, less of myself, and more of this ideal I had gathered from the very limited world view around me.
The end of that relationship took me on a very long journey of loving myself without needing the validation of the people around me.
The older I get, the more I realize how much deconstruction I need to do. Most of the things I thought about what was "right and wrong," how things should be, how they happen, are completely based on opinion.
This covers everything— from how I should operate in the world, to what I believed about the truths of my life (this covers everything really, from how I carry myself, what my marriage would look like, what a "true Christian’s" beliefs are, to how I should show up as a wife, a career woman, friend, sister, daughter— you name it).
All of it is based on someone else’s worldview— and not in anything I’ve ever known or have valid proof of.
And while that alone could take you down a crazy looney tune-like spiral, it’s important to know you are entitled to looking at your world, taking in all the information you can, and coming to your own conclusions.
You should believe what you think. You should not believe it because someone told you to.
If it doesn’t feel right, it's probably because it isn’t right.
Now don’t get me wrong— there are people called into your life to pull you out of messy situations, especially when you’re feeling lost.
But I also think the only way you become unlost is when you start steering your own ship.
Take the time to find out if what you believe is really, what you believe. If you’re unsettled, ask yourself if the path you’re on is your choice.
Make your own damn choices and don’t let other people’s (often dumb) opinions determine your path. Do what’s right for you.
2. No one will ever have a higher bar than you.
My first job out of college was at super corporate startup. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I cried in and around this job because I thought I couldn’t live up to the expectations of the role.
I’m talking bathrooms, parking lots, sidewalks, bright orange conference booths.
Failure in that job meant I was not enough. It felt so serious, unnerving, completely end-of-the-world like.
Any time I received negative feedback, I radiated with shame— ruminating on every criticism.
Even now, when I receive difficult feedback, I can go hours tossing negative feedback like a tennis ball against a wall, going over everything I did wrong, everything I thought I should have known in hindsight.
Most of my life, I have piled on miles of unrealistic expectations of myself. I wanted to be the best of everything I threw myself into. I wanted to be excellent.
I have always been insatiable in this strive for excellence, almost like I needed to set these bars to validate my worthiness.
Sit with me in this. No one is thinking, looking, or worried about you.
Sure, there are people who will talk about you, maybe in passing or for the gossip of the day, but usually, those are the people whose opinions of you probably don’t matter.
They’ll talk about you one day, and then they’ll never ever think about you again.
A few years ago, my beloved therapist Jobi told me quite frankly to choose the people I would allow to speak into my life.
If my chosen people have something to say about me, I Iisten. I listen because I have established a deep trust in their relationship. I know they are only working for my good.
This is a working practice for me. I really care what other people think. It’s something I’m really working on— to only allow my opinion of me (and the people I trust the most) to define how I live and operate in the world.
It isn’t easy, but it’s the good work. It allows me to live in peace. And quite frankly, peace is pretty freaking awesome.
3. Taking a really uncomfortable risk is totally within your reach. You just have to really want it.
Moving to New York was the single best decision I ever made. I’ve spoken often about how completely against this decision my dad was about this. He had no real belief I could live on my own in an unknown city and quite honestly, he was completely wrong about that.
Not only did I live on my own, I built an incredible life full of love, friendship, and roots I will never, ever forget. My time in New York is my absolute favorite.
I found so much of my true self there.
From working in the city, walking from tip to tip across Manhattan, schleping in humid, disgusting subways, going on terrible (and also excellent) dates, building and strengthening my greatest friendships, having the best art experiences of my life— I’ll always be magically in love with my life in New York.
If you want to take a risk, just do it. Don’t let your unbelief or fear hold you back. Don’t let other people’s belief in what’s possible for you hold you back.
Repeat after me: You can do anything, anything at all, if you really want it.
And the truth is, even if you fail, you will learn. You will learn about yourself, your environment, the people around you.
4. Living boldly in a single season is a great gift.
I want to address the scammiest scam of all.
Marriage (or a deep long term commitment) should not be the goal, especially if you don’t want or don’t feel ready for it, and especially if haven’t met the right person.
Falling in love is awesome. Being with your person is lovely. I understand why it feels like it should be the thing you’re wholly focused on.
But it’s not the only way to live a beautiful life. In fact, I think living a beautiful life can get even more complicated when you’re factoring in the needs and desires of another person. The love of your life won’t always operate on your timeline, trust me on that.
It makes my blood boil when I see single folks being belittled or made small because of their relationship status.
I really enjoyed being single when I was. I enjoyed all the experiences, the flexibility, but most of all, trusting my leaps of faith and authenticity would lead me to an amazing life.
I know my relationship status might make me feel like a hypocrite. (I have enough single friends in their late 20s and 30s who might find this particularly annoying).
What I hate to see is the pressure single folks get to enter into a relationship, or even force themselves into relationships or dating experiences that are “okay”— simply because it feels like it’s what you have to be doing.
The only thing that should keep you from living boldly in your single life is finding your great love story.
5. Great love will keep you honest.
I fell in love with my great love, Charles Samuel, in the middle of my twenties.
He completely revolutionized anything I ever believed about great love. From the moment I met him, I have never felt less than. He makes me feel completely whole, even when I don’t want to believe I am.
I’ve talked endlessly about what a great love can expose in you. It comes with its ups and downs, and sometimes it can even get stale.
Great love should challenge you, make you brave, expose, and invigorate you. Sometimes it hurts to be loved to the best version of yourself. A great love shouldn’t always "feel" good.
If you have dedicated your life to someone and they don’t expose you sometimes for the criminal you sometimes can be, in the most loving way possible, then I am not sure if you’re living your great love story.
My great love has kept me honest. I love him, but a lot of the time I want to punch him in the face.
Rest assured, he is my most precious gift.
Thank you, Charles Samuel, who I am sure is either playing chess on his phone, snoring, or talking to himself as he watches a YouTube video as I turn 30.
You turned my 20’s upside down. My whole life changed because of our great love.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
6. Make time for A1.
In the words of my personal fictional icon, Carrie Bradshaw (SATC circa the 90s, thank you very much), "the greatest relationship you’ll ever have is the one you have with yourself."
After I got married, I learned my biggest identity was "friend."
I loved to be the friend you could count on, and I relished becoming that friend for so many people. Then I realized my new life season required me to make way more room, for new people I had collected, new families, and all the messy things that come up as you grow up and get older.
Having to sit with myself and learn how to enjoy me was really unnerving. I didn’t know how to sit still, what my hobbies were, what type of life I wanted to have as I got older.
I didn’t really know myself outside who I could be for others.
The best thing I did was continually walk through and prioritize the way I wanted to live my life for me. What I wanted, who I wanted, how I wanted to show up in places— all of it.
There was so much of myself I didn’t make space for. My past, the traumas, the way I held so tightly to validation from others, my very limited grace for myself and the people I loved most.
Making time to learn me has been a fun ride. It’s made me more selective, helped me set better boundaries, and remember that thing about peace? It gives you incredible peace. Peace is still pretty awesome.
7. Just because you’ve never seen something before, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Last year, I was sitting in a job that was okay. At the time, it felt like it was the obvious choice. Charles and I were thinking about starting a family and it felt like the job made sense.
I was comfortable, I was making enough money, and I wasn’t very busy.
It felt like the perfect job to obsess about my fertility and period cycle. If I got pregnant, I could focus solely on my pregnancy, on raising our kids, and all the fun stuff that would come with the new title mom.
I was just having this gnawing feeling it wasn’t going to be enough for me.
Don’t get me wrong. Moms are awesome. Their jobs are huge and expansive and literally I don’t know how many moms do it. But I had this itching suspicion God wanted me to keep my arms open. It just didn’t feel right to be focused on one thing.
A few weeks in, a friend of mine introduced me to my career coach, Deanna Figurito. In one conversation, I bared my soul to a woman I had never met before about all these thoughts— how I felt it was time for me to start having a family, how I didn’t know why I couldn’t shake that I had room to have more on my plate.
She challenged me instantly— so why not more?
I’ll be honest with you. The type of life I want to live… I haven’t seen a lot of examples of it.
I haven’t personally known a lot of women who look like me who want to be in charge of things, who want to be a kicking mom, wife, family person, friend, writer. I want to build big, wide things, things that I don’t know what they’ll look like yet, but I know in my heart, I want to do it.
I don’t want to play small. My whole life I have always believed I was going to live a huge life. As I get older, I realize huge can mean a lot of different things. But I do know I want to live with intention and believe that I can have everything I want and dream of.
8. Social media is total bullshit— trust your journey.
So, I mentioned right before we’re trying to have a baby. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not comfortable talking about it. It hasn’t been the easiest road. I’m learning things about myself, my sex life, my body— things I have never (and probably won’t for awhile) be extremely open about.
But I’ll say this. I, just like you, struggle with watching every person on Instagram get the thing I so desperately want, with such ease.
I want to start by saying I am really happy for all the people who are having children. I love being an auntie (shout out to my beautiful nieces and nephew), a friend of many children, all of the above.
But I’ll admit looking at the highlight reel of gender reveal glitter cannons, babies rolled into blankets like bugs in fruit baskets, black and white ultrasound photos in film strips, I often wonder why it’s so hard for me, and so easy for them.
I have to remind myself constantly— God has a story and journey for me. He has something for me even if I don’t understand His timing or the way it will happen.
I hate it. Sometimes I am mad at myself for being sad, emotional, or even triggered by their joy.
I never in my life considered myself a jealous person.
My time, for many things in life, will come. An Instagram story, post, or 30 second reel cannot pack in the journey someone takes to get to where they are.
We (I) have to remind myself this often and constantly. If it gets too much, it’s probably best to unplug and practice gratitude for your journey and find your way to support the ones you love who already have what you want.
In doing so, you might learn something or even find ways to express yourself.
9. Friendship is the best investment I have ever made.
I have the best friends of all time. I am so incredibly lucky. Making time for my friendships has made me a better woman.
The older I’ve gotten, the smaller my circle has gotten. I am not everyone’s draft pick anymore. I am not the cool one.
But it’s fine. There are a few people I know I am in their top ten list. I am so deeply loved and supported by them. It’s solid. It feels good. I know I can call on them and receive their love, support, trust, and honesty.
That feels like as good as a love story that can be. Those friendships stand in the gap for me, they fight for me, they remind me of who I am when I forget.
They allow me to say my ugliest thoughts, they let me call them to talk about things adult people should not talk about, they allow me to not have it figured out.
Invest in the relationships that really matter. Go all in for them. It’s worth it.
10. Having grace for yourself is a lifelong work.
I am extremely hard of myself and take the negative opinions of others about me way too seriously. It’s true. I hate it. I can become completely undone.
My recipe for this is the following: a rather large sprinkle of anxiety (which I’ll be honest I didn’t realize I had until like a month ago) and a huge cup of fear.
A hallmark of my 20s is both my strength and my Achilles' heel: I am a little too introspective.
I have a growth mindset, but often times, growing in fear of losing out on the love of those around me.
Walking into my 30s, I really just want to be. I don’t want to "grow" at the rapid pressure and rate I used to. I want to just live in the work I’ve done to grow, and be open to that the me of today, is perfect for my present.
I also want to give myself time to work through what I’m working on, because in my heart of hearts, I know I’ll always want to grow. So I’ll do my best to do so.
If you made it this far, I want to say thanks for being willing to follow me through the many thoughts I share. A big part of my 20s was finding my voice, which today, I sporadically share here and look for more ways to make that more regular.