By: Tamika Auwai
Being a first born, overachieving Leo – I always did things as expected and carried that into my early adulthood. Ever the model citizen, I went to school for sensible business administration, not my passions of journalism or fashion — more secure job options, I thought. I took the first jobs I was offered whether or not I really interested in learning about the company or industry — better employed than not. I bought into RRSPs and life insurance policies — start saving young for retirement. I moved straight from my parents home into my marital home never really having my own place — better to mortgage than waste money on rent.
If it sounds like a recipe for success, it was. I had $10K in my RRSP and a senior-level management position by age twenty-five. I got married and owned a house by twenty-six. On the surface my life was on track, maybe even ahead of the curve and my parents were quite proud. Underneath I was holding back, focused entirely on the life plan that was given to me rather than stumbling about growing into who I really wanted to become, making choices based on what I thought I should do and not at all what I really longed for.
Sharing all this I need to make it clear that I’m fiercely proud of my accomplishments in that decade and I don’t regret the flow of my twenties in the least. I started them by meeting the man I’d eventually marry, capped them off by giving birth to my pride and joy who just turned five and had many experiences in between that have made me exactly who I am today. Notwithstanding, if I could visit twenty-something Tamika, I’d have this advice to share:
1. Spend some time inside your head – When you completely subscribe to goals and ideals that are handed down to you like I did, you never take time to really question them or determine if they make sense for you or what you want. I never really took the time to get to know myself or figure out what I wanted. I didn’t set goals for my life other than that “I want to start my own business one day” and that “I’d like to travel more”. It’s completely worth your time to dream more, to get to know yourself and to get clear on what you really want. It’s a lot harder to follow someone else’s dream for you if you have your own.
2. It’s okay if people are disappointed. If I wanted to do something that went against the grain, I’d worry about all the possible scenarios that might play out in advance. The night before I was going to resign from a job that had me working 10 hour days because the boss enjoyed meetings that started at 5, I was literally sick. My life changed years later when I realized that not everyone is going to love every decision you make and guess what, they really don’t have to. How someone reacts to what you do is completely their issue to deal with so don’t sacrifice your happiness for theirs.
3. Put aside money for rich travel experiences. I did plenty of jaunting to NYC, a girl’s trip and some work travel to Vegas and a few winter getaways to touristy islands, but I didn’t really focus on traveling outside of those contexts. I had a great regimen for saving and paying off student debt, yet didn’t include a piggy bank for travel. I completely agree that it’s important to save, but I think it’s so key to rank travel and experiences as priorities too. Life should be about enjoying the now and not just preparing for the future. Find yourself a financial advisor who gets that and will help you do both.
4. Know that work doesn’t have to be hard. My parents both work in the health-care field and growing up they always shared how hard they had to work to provide the lifestyle for us that they did. I know now that they were simply trying to instil work ethic and gratitude and wanted to ensure we didn’t act like a spoiled version of the Cosby kids but I’ve carried the message “work is hard” with me for many, many years. I stayed in jobs that I didn’t like, volunteered to work crazy hours and took on extra projects that I wasn’t compensated for, all to show I was a hard worker. The reality is, your work can, and I’ll argue that it should, be rooted in that thing you most love to do. I’m talking about those things you do naturally that don’t even feel like they can be classified as work. If your job feels stressful or limiting and you flat out don’t enjoy being there or doing that work, leave now. Pursue something else.
5. Start networking now. In my twenties you couldn’t have paid me to attend a networking event. I didn’t feel deeply connected to my career and now you want me to go to a place where I’m going talk more about that? And worse, connect with people who do really love their jobs. In hindsight, that’s exactly what I should have done. When I think about the amazing people I’ve met since I started my business at age 30, I can hardly believe I wouldn’t know them if I didn’t put myself out there. It seemed far more fun to kick it with friends in a bar in my twenties, but expanding your network does so much for your perspective on life and it can open exactly the right doors when you need them.
So, what would you tell your 20 year old self?
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— Tamika Auwai is a stylist and image consultant based out of Toronto, Canada. You can follow all her stylish adventures online @Auwai_Inc.