What I Wish I Hadn’t Been Afraid Of In My Twenties

I’m turning 29 at the end of the month. And while some might roll their eyes and say I’m still young, for me, turning this age is daunting. My last year in my twenties — why haven’t I gone on that cross-country road trip? Why am I not in my dream job yet? Why am I not closer to my goal weight?

All of these life benchmarks seem more significant around looming milestones. I never thought I’d be someone who worried about age; I always assumed that when I approached the end of my twenties, I’d embrace it with open arms, smile and say, “ah that sure was something.”

And while I certainly do that in some ways, I mostly look back at the last nine years and ask myself, “Why didn’t I do that when I had the chance?” Now my previous fears seem so silly, the fears that my younger self held so near and close.

My first big crippling fear was driving a car. The semester I took driver’s ed in high school, our van broke down. So instead, we watched driving videos all day.  I got a 100% on my permit test without ever getting behind the wheel of a car. And then I went off to college, where I lived on campus and told myself that I liked biking and that driving was a pesky thing I didn’t need. This fear led well into my twenties, into graduate school and a new campus to live next to. By then, I started really evaluating this “choice” I had made and how impractical and silly it seemed. Why was I so afraid?

All it took was a simple phone call to a driving school, so I could try again at gaining hands-on knowledge. And you know what — it was easy. I got another perfect score on my driving test, 10 years after I passed my permit test in that high school classroom.

I lost my virginity in the middle of my 20s. I was afraid to have sex. I was afraid of what boys thought when they saw me naked, if they cringed at my soft belly, if they thought my lips were too small for kissing. My only boyfriend in college seemed much too immature for sex (though we came very close). Losing my virginity was something I finally did out of frustration, of sheer annoyance, of guilt at my own fright of intimacy.

Once it was all said and done, and I realized that I liked it, a lot, I immediately wished I hadn’t been so afraid to let others in sooner — not just with sex, but intimacy in general. It was thrilling to be that close with someone, letting passion drive instead of fear. Feeling free in yourself, in your passion and vulnerabilities, and to feel very much yourself– that is something I wish I hadn’t feared for so long.

Both of my undergrad and graduate degrees are in English. I was told plenty of times, “you can’t do anything with an English degree.” I started to believe it, to internalize it, justify it. While in college, I got a part-time job in food service and I worked my way up to management. I forgot about writing, about the real career I wanted. The fear to simply quit was too huge. This fear lingered until just last year, when I quit management and became a freelance writer. I even started teaching a few classes at the local community college. I simply started believing that I could do it.

Sometimes, I get angry when I think of the way I let fear lead my twenties, holding myself back from experiences that were waiting to be had. I let fear speak louder than that tiny voice inside saying, “you can do this.”

I’m still not sure exactly how that tiny voice finally won. Maybe maturity grows those voices, the persistent awareness of time passing that quiets that fear. Fear is immature. Fear should never grow and develop as you get older. Your tiny inside voice needs a platform. It’s up to each of us to give that voice that believes in yourself the strength it needs to kick fear to the curb, once and for all.

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