The Delights of Distraction No.64: 10 things I wish I knew when I was 20

 

Last week was Ami’s birthday. Once you hit your 40s, with all the smug-hood of Don’t-give-a-f*ck-itude, burgeoning wisdom (and matching thighs), it’s prudent to look back and take stock of what brought you here. If only she knew then what you know now. Here’s some advice from Ami to her 20-year old self. 

  1. Your only companion through this ride is… no, not your future husband - it’s your body. Right now you’re young with the metabolism of a raging forest fire, so you take your body for granted - but trust me, you’ll pay the price 20 years later with aching knees and swollen feet! Please, treat your body well. Move, join a yoga class, feed yourself some nourishing foods, do silly things with your hands and feet, even if it’s drawing with crayons or knitting like your Biji. OTOH, your future husband will go through life guzzling ladoo boxes like a mithai monster and still stay fit… but that’s life! You’ll get used to the unfairness of it all :)
  1. Allow yourself the luxury of changing your opinion or beliefs. Yes you’re 20, so you think you know everything there is to know, and I’m just a conservative fuddy-duddy, but honestly, I’m baffled by some of the things you believed. Growth is looking back and feeling a little cringe about some of the things you did, stood for or believed. Evolution is the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual surrender to new information, learning and curiosities through which your interior world can undergo a slow transformation. Phew, thank goodness you grew up (and continue to do so!)
  1. Wealth - and freedom from the tyrannies of debt is not just about the money you make, but the money you hold on to. Create a little rainy day fund for when shit hits the fan, because baby-doll, shit WILL hit the fan. Shit comes for all of us. So put down that sixth, over-priced TGIF cocktail and stash that leftover cash in your SIP fund.
  1. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. It’s cute that you have all these plans - but most of life is a series of random events, flukes and hopefully some lucky breaks - all mostly out of your control. You have to learn to embrace the spontaneous, the unexpected, the unknown. The only thing you can control is the lens you look at it all through and the story you tell yourself later. So learn to weave a really good story.
  1. The days are long but the years are short. Keep a little journal, using whatever is at hand, - a notebook, an excel sheet - and note down all the details of things that delight you. This will help you cultivate your capacity for joy and wonder; to have a sense of presence and gratitude for the moments that make life worth living. 
  1. Your comparisons with others are a result of naive assumptions. Stop contrasting the dark, ugly insides of your mind to the shiny, photoshopped showreels of others. You don’t know what is in someone’s head. Everyone has insecurities and anxieties that plague them, regardless of how “successful” they may seem. Everybody is afraid of the same things - failure and looking stupid. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. We all have our demons.
  1. Nothing worth having comes easy - a happy marriage, a meaningful friendship, fulfilling work, a healthy body - anything that truly matters is hard work and will need you to show up and persist. As Woody Allen says, “80% of success is just showing up”. Few things go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, the slow, painful unfurling is where all the real magic unfolds in the making of your character and destiny.
  1. “When you’re 20, you care what everyone thinks, when you’re 40 you stop caring what everyone thinks, when you’re 60, you realize no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.”Yup, nobody really cares. They may gossip about it, give your parents grief about it, but they would find excuses to do that even if you were the most obedient kid in the world. So stop taking yourself so seriously - and just go ahead and be the person you want to be. The pain of un-inhibiting yourself will be fleeting and the reward of “zero f*cks given” will last a lifetime. 
  1. You’ll start to notice all the ways your parents screwed up when you were little; it will be gruelling and painful process that can kick up some bitterness and resentment. But you’ll also realize that they were barely older than you while they were fumbling through parenthood (without the internet), they’re flawed, vulnerable, struggling people just trying to do their best. You’ll learn to accept and forgive them, and when the illusion of “my daddy strongest” comes tumbling down as the years bear down hard, you’ll learn to treasure every moment with your messy, flawed family that much more. 

And the final piece of unsolicited advice at the end of this letter. 

Till then, on to the best links of the week! 

To Read: We loved this extraordinary story by Jennifer Senior about the various ways in which members of a family grieved the death of a beloved son who died in NYC on 9/11: “This is one of the many things you learn about mourning when examining it at close range: It’s idiosyncratic, anarchic, polychrome. A lot of the theories you read about grief are great, beautiful even, but they have a way of erasing individual experiences. Every mourner has a very different story to tell. 

That therapist was certainly right, however, in the most crucial sense: After September 11, those who had been close to Bobby all spun off in very different directions. Helen stifled her grief, avoiding the same supermarket she’d shopped in for years so that no one would ask how she was. Jeff, Bobby’s lone sibling, had to force his way through the perdition of survivor’s guilt. Bob Sr. treated his son’s death as if it were an unsolved murder, a cover-up to be exposed. Something was fishy about 9/11.”

So many parts of this beautiful article are an urgent reminder of just how long grief can last and how many ways it can manifest in different people. In the wake of the pandemic, we think the trauma of grieving that never found an outlet will echo in unpredictable, heartbreaking ways through the decades. 

To Discover: This is an app you can use to identify plants and animals (well, mostly birds). You take a photo, upload it, and with a little magic, you’re given a probable range of species according to what it looks like and what other people have seen nearby. It’s peer-reviewed, too—you make the ID, and other botanists and birdwatchers will pipe in to make their assessment. Another great form of crowd-sourcing and machine learning built into something that can be super useful for noobs like us. 

To Drink: A very nifty little tool for when you have some ingredients on hand and want to know how to convert them into an interesting cocktail. This site has cocktail recipes for all sorts of liquor, fruit, herb and spice combinations —all you have to do is click, then scroll down, to find them. 

To Joy Scroll: Not sure why this feels like our jam, but it is - there’s something wonderfully sweet and quirky about these potato photos: This looks like something out of an M.C. Escher painting: a trippy, surreal floor-to-ceiling bookstore that recently opened in China We loved these funny, new tongue-in cheek famous international logos adapted for Covid times.

To Watch: A series of creative stop motion vignettes featuring matchsticks made by Tomohiro Okazaki — which will keep you hooked, by their sheer skill and imagination. 

To Cook: We had a few extra lemons lying around from a vegetable order gone awry, and as the saying goes: “when life gives you lemons, bake lemon bars.” Wait, that’s not the saying? Nevermind,this winning recipe will have you whipping them up over the weekend, perhaps over and over. It’s so easy, it only requires seven ingredients and very little prep. You might never complain about life doling out lemons ever again... 

To Listen: We’ve put together a couple of playlists on Spotify and will be adding to them over the weeks. One of them is based on the Serbian word “Merak”, which is the feeling of oneness with the universe when blissfully immersed in life’s little pleasures. 

The other one, called “Chin up, Buttercup”, is the kind of sweet, happy music we play at our stores that never fails to cheer us up. Tell us what you think, and please give us ideas on what else you’d love to listen to!

To Life Hack: It’s 8pm and you haven’t done anything worthwhile today so you’re going to try again tomorrow? Switch to this mindset to break it: "Instead of feeling that you’ve blown the day and thinking, "I'll get back on track tomorrow," try thinking of each day as a set of four quarters: morning, midday, afternoon, evening. If you blow one quarter, you get back on track for the next quarter. Fail small, not big."—Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before

And finally, the last piece of advice to 20 year old Ami, from her sage old self: 

  1. Joy will simply not happen to you. You have to choose joy and choose it again and again every single day. Your mind naturally turns to the negative - so train yourself to choose joy, even if your knees hurt, or the meds aren’t working, or the car breaks down. “Joy is not a function of life that is free of friction or frustration, but a function of focus.”

The Weighing 

Jane Hirshfield - 1953

The heart's reasons 

seen clearly, 

even the hardest 

will carry 

its whip-marks and sadness 

and must be forgiven. 

As the drought-starved 

eland forgives 

the drought-starved lion 

who finally takes her, 

enters willingly then 

the life she cannot refuse, 

and is lion, is fed, 

and does not remember the other.

So few grains of happiness 

measured against all the dark 

and still the scales balance. 

The world asks of us 

only the strength we have and we give it. 

Then it asks more, and we give it. 

We hope you have a lovely weekend of rest and turning towards your little joys,

Viv and Ami 

 

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Founded in 2012 & based in New Delhi, The Wishing Chair is a women-led homegrown Indian brand creating unique, playfully designed products that celebrate creativity, handcrafted artisanship & Indian craft techniques. Currently our design studio is working on products in the home decor, apparel, accessories and gifting space. Our name is derived from one of our favourite Enid Blyton books we read as kids: The Adventures of The Wishing Chair.