Your 20s are a tumultuous, formative, transitional decade in myriad ways, and I often find myself marveling at how extraordinarily different I am now to even a year or two ago. I feel like I’ve evolved, grown, changed, lost sight, found new purpose, and worn a hundred skins just since I was 18. I turned 21 in July, and I can’t even begin to contemplate the scale of difference that has encompassed those three years. How do you encapsulate such monumental paradigm shifts into words?
Even these last few months have brought tremendously different circumstances to the surface, and I feel like any other version of me, the previous varieties of Gwyn, wouldn’t have handled them nearly as well. I’m not a full-grown person sometimes, but I swear I’m watching myself climb that ladder in real time.
Beginning college was a massive milestone in my life — as it is for many people — and it marked a legitimate change in my existence that was apparent, tangible, daunting, and singular. I think I transitioned quite well to Berkeley, and I have in many ways left my home in the rearview mirror. The way we tackle our serious situations, choices, and relationships is bound to change when our surroundings and goals do, but I was still taken aback. My family is still incredibly important to me, but they tend to exist on the periphery of my new life these days due to the distance and differences in our lives right now, and I don’t always know how to feel about that. But I think it’s okay too. I think to a large extent, you have to leave the nest and create some distance to grow, improve, and maximize your potential. I have made some truly remarkable friends at Berkeley that have shown up for me in a million different manners, and I’m ridiculously lucky. What a dream come true it is to have unconditional love, respect, and friendship from a group of outstanding, brilliant women I admire more than anyone? Adult friendship, I’ve found, is so much stronger and deeper than the fickle friendships that precede it, at least in my case. You haven’t seen friendship until you’ve seen staying for 30 hours at a time in the library during finals week, wine and chocolate delivered after heartbreak, sobbing your eyes out on your friend’s lap in your car, buying their favorite snacks while you’re at the store because you just know they need one good thing to hold on to, shaking your friend out of a breakdown before dawn… That’s real friendship. It’s the stuff the books and movies wish they could emulate. They have been there through every single bump in the road, and they have filled much of the void for me. I feel more content now than perhaps I ever have.
My living situation has changed too. Not only am I living in an entirely different state, but I went from a very serious relationship living with a significant other for over a year to living mostly alone with one of my best friends (she’s quite introverted and I often go days without seeing or hearing from her, but she’s a joy, I assure you). The crumbling of a two-year relationship in a pretty caustic, traumatic way affected me more than I ever thought possible, and the loss and transition has made this last summer the most difficult of my life. I tried to fill the hole in with other things — keeping myself so busy I didn’t have time to think, talking to new people, friends, family, leaving Berkeley for a few stretches — but none of it worked, and I am still faced with the reality and gravity of the situation on a daily basis. No one tells you how awful it is to lose someone you thought was your other half. I had always thought I would be by myself. Not in a morbid way, but I’ve always been something of a loner, and slowly but surely, I find that this too is changing. And that’s probably a really good, healthy shift in my demeanor. Nevertheless, my relationship ending how it did left me broken and mangled, but still stronger somehow. I gave myself a day to cry, to just mourn everything and stew in my hurt. But after that, I started the long, painful process of picking up the pieces. I haven’t finished that yet. But the mere fact that I got out of bed every single day and took on my demons marks something positive for me. I’m not sure the younger Gwyn could’ve done the same. In fact, I know she couldn’t have managed it. There is always something to be learned in reflecting on the changes in our capabilities as we get older. Sometimes, the most monumental alterations we undergo happen completely in the shadows of passing birthdays and monotony.
My new apartment is a significant step up from the old one. I stopped filming entirely when I moved into my first apartment because the place was dark, decrepit, depressing, and dilapidated. Sure, I was living there with my then-significant other, and that was a dream come true. For almost a year — before the beginning of the end — I was entirely too blissful every single day just being around him, despite our awful hovel of an apartment. But that ended abruptly, and that bliss evaporated before my eyes for a long while and I was left grappling with the reality of a dank, unsafe living space. By contrast, my new place is beautiful, modern, clean, safe, and airy. I love it immensely, and I’ve worked really hard with my roommate to make it into the haven we dreamed of. There is still much to do, but it’s a lovely work in progress. I have moved so many times in my life that I’ve actually lost count, so I’m desperately clinging to the hope that I can be situated here for a long while. At least a few years. The new place has really offered me a fresh perspective, and it’s a relief to be out of the old place where I felt suffocated by memories and dust. It really was that bad.
Academically, I have strived to take on more and more in my studies, and I’ve learned just how capable I am. You don’t learn what you’re made of until you’re in the big leagues. I came to Cal knowing that I loved science, especially psychology, and that I would like to eventually do something to that effect. But I’ve picked up a million interests since then: international relations, politics, economics, business, public policy, statistics, music, etc. My interest has shifted away from psychology and much more heavily into neuroscience and biology, which I can proudly say I currently study in a research lab under a brilliant professor and an equally gifted PhD candidate here at Berkeley. I never thought I’d be a lab rat, but here I am, way too chuffed to be there morning and night. I think the major shift in my schooling has been in my mentality. I was always studious, but my studying habits turned into deep, genuine curiosity in college that I think I lacked to a large extent while rolling through the motions of high school. It has made a serious difference in how pleasurable and rewarding I find my studies these days. I still despise busy work and exams, but I live for a good research paper and sometimes I honest-to-Darwin like my study sessions at the library.
Professionally, I’ve grown and stretched a lot in the last few years. I went from bookstores and coffee shops to serious consulting gigs and business. I can’t deny that I’m proud of myself for the strides I’ve taken career-wise. This summer, I had a huge setback financially when my main position cut my hours by 75% when the organization’s financial situation steeply deteriorated. After over two years there, it was a huge blow to the consistent feeling of security that I’d finally developed. It came not long after my breakup and some very serious family crises, and I felt like I was an inch from slipping underwater. But my friends are aces, and they rallied with a strong cocktail, a pep talk, and some inspiration for me to take steps forward I’d been putting off because I’d grown too accustomed to my comfort zone. Those are the kinds of people I want in my life, and that I will work to keep around. With my time reduction, I began working on a novel I’ve been writing for a while, reinvigorated my consulting company, and became a serious player in the family business, something I’d been avoiding for a while because mixing business and personal makes things too blurry. And they really are blurry, but I’ve been given an entire department to run, hired a team, and have embraced the challenge the position has lobbed my way. Running divisions, creating content, and innovating are passions of mine that I’m only flexing more as I get older. I think sometimes our passions come up out of nowhere and hit us square in the face repeatedly until we start to follow them ardently. I experience a lot of stress trying to figure out how to amalgamate all of my interests, and I truly have zero idea of where my professional life will travel. I do know that I intend to get my PhD soon after I graduate my with bachelor’s, but beyond that lies a mine field of question marks. So it goes.
I think one of the ways I’ve changed most noticeably is emotionally in the last few years. It sounds banal, but it took me a long time to realize that my thoughts and feelings are valid no matter what. The way you interact and engage with the world actually matters for your happiness in the short- and long-term. I was far too skilled in compartmentalizing problems and ignoring my emotions because I felt it may inconvenience for or cause friction with others to realize that I was unhappy, and in some cases, realize that they were a contributing or major cause of that unhappiness. But I was, and I could kick myself for every person I let mistreat me, use me, or walk over me when I was a little younger. My back bone began to develop in my freshman year of high school, but it’s a hell of a lot stronger these days. I don’t take things lying down anymore, and I learned that virtually everything is in my control. In a way, that’s not great, because the things I don’t like, that make me unhappy, or that set me back are largely — if not entirely — my own fault. Personal responsibility, much like hindsight, is a b*tch, let me tell you. But you can’t take things too seriously, or you’ll wallow and be miserable. I think my biggest breakthrough, perhaps ever, was realizing that my mind, thoughts, decisions, and actions are both powerful and completely within my own realm of control. Once you realize this, the world is your oyster. You can actually do whatever you put your mind to, but that’s typically not apparent until you’re knee-deep in your own mess of a life searching for a way out… Then it dawns on you that you are that way. I think these changes in emotion and cognition are actually a real source of conflict, resentment, and contention in many of the important relationships you establish when you’re young. The people around you grow accustomed to the version of you they’ve gotten to know, and presumably love, and when that axis begins to tilt, they find they’re incompatible with the version of you that is more self-aware and isn’t such a glutton for punishment in a lot of situations. I think that’s a probable answer to many of the why questions that come up when we argue with our parents, battle with our siblings, and lose friendships we thought were sealed with cement. But prioritizing your happiness isn’t crime, doesn’t make you a bad person, and certainly is reason enough to make some changes to relationships and situations with toxic elements that have a negative impact on you.
Overall, I think I’m still a work in progress, just a splash of who I will be later on, but I think that embracing the changes that came and continue to come as I move through life is as good a way as any to make myself a happier individual. I know this post was massive, but I hope at least some of my anecdotal ranting resonated with you and made you feel a little better understood and less alone.