You know how they joke that a newly elected president will be busy cleaning up the mess of his predecessor? That’s sometimes how I feel when I think of my 20s. I once made the statement that our 20s are the most important decade of our lives. Why? Because that’s the time when we actually grow up, move out of our homes, and let behind those teenage dramas. It’s the decade during which we discover ourselves and take ownership of our lives. But there is one other important thing that defines our 20s. It’s the fact that we will be busy cleaning up the mess of our teenage years – the beliefs that have been drummed into us growing up.
Look at babies for example (I’m approaching my 30s, the time when having babies actually becomes “a thing”). These creatures come to this world absolutely naked – both literally and metaphorically – "empty books" that will be filled over the years to come. And boy are they curious! So hungry for knowledge and unaware of their limitations. In fact, they thing they can do ANYTHING: grab that hot pan and chew that piece of plastic (or that dead bee that I ate when I was a kid because I thought it would turn into honey… I still think that’s a genius thought for a 2-year old).
We come to existence absolutely innocent. Not knowing what a skin color is, what a religion is, what a sexual orientation is. Yet many grow up discriminating, hating and segregating (or experiencing such behavior themselves). The environments we grow up in tell us what we can and can not do. We are supposed to become lawyers and doctors and engineers. That certain type of people are "dangerous" and that some things in life are sinful.
Over the years, we are being indoctrinated with what society expects us to do. And often enough, our parents function as a channeled reflection of that society. In their eyes, they are just passing down the "wisdom" that our grandparents taught them. I'm not doubting that they mean well, quite the opposite, I think they really love us and want the best for us, but who who says that all of their beliefs are truly what we should believe?
So that empty book that we are, gets its pages filled with messages and expectations. Not capable of understanding what is actually happening, our subconsciousness takes it all in. That mean comment that someone makes about your body? It quickly affects your self-esteem. That person you love and who rejects you? You start to feel unworthy. My mom still tells me the story of how I once came back from Kindergarten crying, begging my parents to change the color of my skin. I couldn't tell back then, but these incidents certainly affected me, albeit subconsciously.
Society shapes us. Big time. The book is being filled, but we rarely notice what is being written in it. Not because we don't want to know, but because the ability to reflect and read our subconsciousness comes to us later in life, if it comes at all. Many people walk through their lives with these limiting beliefs that they have soaked up over the years. They carry along this book that they never manage to read and understand. Yet the book becomes the underlying foundation of their actions, their thoughts and how they see and interpret the world.
But then there are others who get it. People who don't just live through their troubles but actually take a moment to understand them. That constant lack of money? Those constant love dramas? Chasing those wrong ideals? They pause, reflect, understand, challenge themselves. They open that book and read what has been written in it. They see the limiting beliefs that they have been indoctrinated with and they decide to erase them, to replace them with some better, real beliefs. Sadly though, not everyone in this world will be able to open his eyes and read the book they are carrying around.
And that's exactly why our 20s are so important (I'm saying 20s, but that process can certainly start earlier or later than that). It's the decade of our post-teenage life during which we are most flexible and independent. The time we are most exposed to new experiences and hungry to build our identities. In this process, we have the responsibility to be critical of the beliefs that guide our actions and thinking. The later we become aware of that, the longer we walk around guided or inhibited by the wrong ideas. We need to be better than that.