I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I would tell my 20-something year old self if I were given the chance. What piece of advice would I give to my naïve, blindly ambitious self?
To be honest, there are a lot of things I could tell this person. But in my twenties I was the kind of girl who had to learn everything the hard way. But if I MUST, I would definitely tell her that less is more.
Back when I was a senior in college I could not wait to graduate and head into my ‘adult life’. I dreamt of success, and that meant being insanely rich. All I wanted was to be able to have enough money to buy whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I had all these empty shelves in my room and I was eager to fill them up. I remember thinking I was some ‘alternative’ music expert so I began to buy whatever CDs and LPs I could. I loved books and bought so many that I had to beg my mom to take me to IKEA to buy another bookshelf. I was so jealous of others who had a big wardrobe that I’d write wish lists every day in hopes that someday I can check these items off one by one. At one point it didn’t matter what the item was, I just wanted more. I thought that this was the way to prove to others that I’d made it, whatever that meant.
I also had a lot of friends. Sure, I had some awesome ones I still talk to, but my quest in acquiring more meant I wanted more friends too. All I wanted to do was go out, spend money, hang out with as many people as I could, told them how many things I bought, and in turn feel better about myself.
But you know what? It never happened. All I had was a lot of items I didn’t want a few days after I bought it, and a lot of contacts I didn’t really want to talk to.
The moment I realized that I had too many things was in my late twenties. I worked overseas for over two years and I went home to visit my parents for Christmas. I walked into the room and marveled at how much I had. I didn’t even remember buying most of it! As I went through some of these items, I realized that I had wasted so much time and money getting these items that I had lost sight of who I was. Working overseas and exploring the world made me realize that experiences and making real connections with people was what made me the happiest. I lost myself through acquiring tangible possessions. I realized that being successful meant being comfortable with my life and who I was. I made a mental note in my head how much these items cost and how that money could have contributed to my adventures abroad.
I took many of these items and donated them or gave them away to friends. I promised myself that every time I visited my parents I would try to sell the rest of what I didn’t need and use the money for traveling.
Then something amazing happened. The less I wanted, the more I got. Physically letting go of all those things meant that I forgave myself for the mistakes I made in my twenties. I also let go of a lot of anger and any previous notions of what being happy and successful meant.
In a few years I married an awesome man. I traveled to more and more places. I made some really close friends. I strengthened pre-existing relationships. I laughed and smiled a lot more.
I still have a few boxes of items that I had left over from my twenties. I cannot wait to sell, donate, or give away the rest so I am able to have a happy and fulfilling decade in my thirties.
Sarah Li Cain is an international educator who has learned the value of minimalism and letting go of fear. She has recently delved into the world of entrepreneurship and being more mindful through Ashtanga. She documents her failures and successes at sarahlicain.com and her yoga journey at mumbledjumbles.wordpress.com. You can follow her on twitter (@slicain).