Evan Rachel Wood Shares The 21 Lessons She Learned In Her 20s

    In honor of turning 30 yesterday

    by · September 08, 2017
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    Collage photos via Getty Images

    I can finally start looking back on my past with a smile on my face because it’s over and I survived.

    My brother compares turning 30 with that moment in The Goonies when Sean Astin escapes booby traps and bandits and finds One-Eyed Willy. He walks up to this mythical corpse and the gold treasure he has been searching for and says, “You’ve been expecting me, haven’t you? Well, I made it. I beat you. I got here in one piece… so far.”

    I very easily could have been dead in my 20s. I think a lot of people can relate to this. I did not think I would make it this far. So every second is a gift.

    I can let my past empower me, rather than define me and my thoughts about myself.

    I can stand taller, but more humbled and with less to prove.

    My 20s were a really intense time of metamorphosis, loss, love, trauma, and enlightenment. I traveled the world. Met more people than I can count. Sang with my heroes, fell deeply in love, moved across the country—twice. Was engaged to Marilyn Manson. (Remember that? That was weird.) Did well in my career. Earned enough money to live comfortably.

    I was also preyed upon, taken advantage of, lied to, raped twice on two separate occasions, forgot who I was for a while, attempted suicide… twice, been through many different kinds of intense therapy, held secrets in for years till I collapsed, came out of the closet, got married, had a baby at home, got divorced, wrote and recorded an album, lost two grandparents, gained two siblings, played the most inspiring role I have had the pleasure of inhabiting, and finally started writing.

    All in all, there hasn’t been a dull moment. My 20s have been a wonderful nightmare. My limits have been tested in many ways, and I learned I am much stronger than I ever thought possible.

    The greatest lesson I have learned is that there is always more to learn.

    I can’t fit everything I have learned in my 20s into this piece, but, in no particular order, here are some tips that really helped me get this far and a reflection of where I am now, as this new decade of possibilities rolls around.

    Love, Impermanence, and the Gift of Being Alone I have true friends. I can spot red flags easier, and I am not as much of a martyr when it comes to people and their issues. I have learned that you are no good to anyone if you don’t take care of your mind, body, and spirit first, and that does not make you selfish; it’s essential for a healthy, happy state of mind.

    Take time for yourself. I cannot stress this enough. If you can’t sit alone with yourself, you will never be fully content sitting with another person. You will feel on edge, insecure, and like an imposter. You will project an image of what you think someone wants rather than just owning who you are. You will need someone to validate you, and when they fall short of filling up the space you’ve carved out in yourself that only YOU can fill, you will resent them, you will lose them, and the pattern will repeat.

    Unless… You learn to be alone with yourself first. Fall in love with YOURSELF first. Be someone you respect. If you truly love yourself, you know that whether or not someone chooses to be with you, you will be okay. You have you, and you love you. You have to know that if someone walks out the door, although it may be painful, you will be alright. Don’t be afraid to rip the band-aid off rather than let the wound beneath become infected.

    Letting go is a hard lesson, make no mistake. Goodbyes are the hardest, and nothing lasts forever, it’s an unavoidable part of life. Make peace with it as much as you can. Find the gratitude in every moment, good and bad. Don’t take any moment for granted. Take mental snapshots, real snapshots, journal, have a quiet moment with yourself. Every second you are alive you are living a memory, so let it flow through you. Let the bittersweetness of life fill your body.

    Be grateful you can love enough to have a broken heart. Be happy for the sweet memories that will never be undone. See the rebirth in loss as much as you can. Devastating blows can become a time of transformation. Some losses we never fully get over, but you can carry the memories with you everywhere you go. They are a part of you. They make you who you are.

    Anger and Asking Yourself Hard Questions Anger is tricky. Anger is deceptive. If you really examine your anger, it’s just pain with cayenne pepper on it. It hurts so bad it burns. If you are angry at someone you don’t even know, please, I beg you, ask yourself why. Really. Ask yourself questions. It sounds crazy, but I gotta tell you, your inner voice is a smart m***********. One of the best tools I ever received was this piece of advice:

    When you are in a spin, overwhelmed with emotion, fear, jealousy, heartbreak, loneliness, ANGER, ask yourself two questions: “What am I feeling? And why am I feeling it?” Answer as deeply and honestly as you can.

    Even if you aren’t proud of the answer, you can’t change until you admit the problem. This is a conversation we need to have with ourselves. We love ourselves, remember? We don’t judge ourselves. We forgive ourselves, and then we take the next step toward the person we want to be.

    You can’t move on or learn the lesson unless you have the awareness to call yourself out on your own shit. Do not be afraid of this. Be proud of this. You are imperfect, and sometimes you are wrong, but so is everyone. You are in good company. Leave your pride and moral superiority at the door. Try to be as understanding as you can, take a breath, and ask yourself questions. Go inward and feel where your body is tense. You hold more stress in your body than you think. Unless you ask yourself where it is, you can’t let it go. Try relaxing every part of your body as much as you can. When something just won’t let go, ask yourself why. This can be more intense than you are prepared for sometimes.

    Which brings me to another piece of advice I love: Don’t be afraid of the answer. You may not like what you hear, or you may be incredibly relieved that it’s not as bad as you thought. The stories we tell ourselves and the things we assume about a situation or a person are sometimes 10 times worse than the truth. Be self-aware.

    Ask Questions and Ask for Help Don’t be afraid of asking questions—any question, anytime, to anyone. Don’t pretend to know things you don’t. Just ask. If people give you shit, it says more about them than it does you. You have nothing to prove. You are smart for asking questions. We are always learning if we open ourselves up to the things we don’t know. People want to help you. They do. How good do you feel when you impart wisdom onto someone else and it actually helps them? Pretty damn good, right? Like you did something worthwhile? Remember this when you are afraid to ask for help.

    Speaking Your Truth and Trusting Your Intuition Learn how to say no, without guilt. Sometimes our answers will hurt people, and it’s hard, but living a lie is harder for all parties involved. Lying to protect people hurts them more in the long run. So tell the truth at all costs. Give people a little more credit about having the ability to understand. Dr. Seuss said it the best, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

    Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t play games. Don’t make people guess. Don’t expect them to know what you need, we can’t read minds… yet. Say. How. You. Feel. and actually say, “I feel...” Not, “You did...” or something else that puts your emotions on another person. It will be received so much better if it comes from your experience rather than a projection of your experience onto someone else.

    Now the balancing act. While doing this, also, trust your intuition. After asking yourself the important questions, know when the problem isn’t about you. Learn the red flags for toxic people. Sometimes you learn by falling into the trap. If you are feeling drained of your life force, that’s a red flag. If you don’t know who you are anymore, that’s a red flag. If you constantly walk on eggshells and make yourself smaller to please someone else, that’s a red flag. If your self-worth is placed on another person’s opinion of you, that’s a red flag.

    Red flags can be more dangerous than we realize. Sometimes emotional abuse is worse than physical. It’s harder to pinpoint and identify. It’s harder to make sense of, and it’s easier for your brain to lie to itself and tell you it’s something it’s not. Sometimes our minds are so scared of what they see, they want to protect themselves by changing the story to make it less painful. Sort of a censored version. But that can lead to perpetual abuse if we don’t learn to read the signs in others, and in ourselves.

    Again, don’t be afraid to let people walk out the door. Don’t stay with an abusive personality because you think that’s the best you can do or you are afraid to be alone.

    Texting Never have important conversations over text message. Pick up the phone or meet in person. That’s all I have to say about that. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but it’s serious advice.

    Safe Sex Ladies and gentlemen, always carry condoms. Don’t assume the other person has them. And if you want someone to wear one and they don’t, stand your ground. If they can’t respect basic boundaries, it ain’t worth it. You are not a dud for suggesting it, it’s common sense. Especially if you don’t know each other that well. Have safe sex. Don’t feel pressured by anyone. Set a precedent and stand by it. Enjoy your sex. Have as much as you want. But plan accordingly and be responsible and safe.

    One more thing: Most people who say they “can’t do it with one on,” will find it miraculously possible to do it if you take sex off the table. So take no shit. Ladies, you especially.

    Living in Fear
    Don’t worry about things being too good. Don’t be anxious because you are waiting for something bad to happen because I got news for you: Eventually, bad things happen. They always do. It’s life. And sometimes we can be so scared of bad things happening, that we unconsciously move toward them. We fumble the ball, we react without thinking, we make rash decisions, we say things we don’t mean. We get in our own way because we are operating out of fear. Everything is temporary, even the good times. So it’s better to be happy and enjoy the moment until the next unexpected bad thing happens, which you will survive—you have survived every bad day so far.

    And if you do your best with good intentions, then you can move on with your head held high. You will fail more than you succeed, and if you didn’t learn your lesson the first time, don’t worry, the universe will serve it right back up for round two, three, four, or as many rounds as it takes before the lesson really lands.

    A Wise Man Is Silent Make people earn your story. Don’t give yourself to everyone right away. As the saying goes: “A wise man is silent.” Being super fucked-up isn’t what makes you interesting. It’s a part of a much bigger picture, so don’t be a slave to your war stories. Make people earn them. Talking and talking about yourself doesn’t leave a lot of room for listening. So listen. Really listen. Don’t wait for your turn to talk. Listen to people. Have those close friends you trust that you can vent to, but make sure you give them the same in return. The energy you put out will find its way back to you. Trust in this.

    Apologies Say you’re sorry and mean it. Say it without expecting anything back. We can’t fix people or right their wrongs for them, so never expect an apology in return. All you can do is take responsibility for your own actions. Don’t expect them to forgive you, but be grateful when they do. Don’t give any gift expecting a certain outcome. You give it out of the kindness of your own heart to make someone feel appreciated and that’s it. How they receive it, is not up to you and unimportant. The gift of giving is always enough.

    Dancing Dance. Every day.

    Singing Sing in the shower. Sing in the car. Play your music loud every now and then. Oh yeah, and dance.

    Forgiveness This was one of the hardest lessons for me. I learned that you must forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. It doesn’t mean you accept just anyone back in your life, and it doesn’t absolve someone of their sins. It’s actually for you. It’s to free you from the anger you carry, which will eventually become poison. You don’t punish people by staying angry, you only punish yourself.

    Forgiveness is really just understanding. Try to find yourself in people as much as you can, that’s where forgiveness starts. If you do choose to forgive someone and keep them in your life, you cannot punish them for the same crime forever. Forgiving someone and keeping them around means you move on. Let go. It’s not fair to all the imperfect people in the world—which is everyone—to hold a mistake over someone’s head indefinitely to use as ammo when you need it. You’re on a power trip. Step off.

    Success and Money
    Success is a perfect storm. It’s a mixture of luck and skill. It isn’t always fair, but if you achieve it, make sure you don’t get caught up in the “things.” The “things” are the objects you fill your life with. Useless things that make you feel good for a second, and then it’s on to the next “thing.”

    The “image” of success isn’t always real. Material possessions, excess, luxury… these will not make you truly happy. They might be fun for a minute, but you can be in a room filled with people and still feel alone. You can have all the money in the world, but it won’t make you love yourself. There is always a level higher up, and you will never reach the top. Success is sometimes like getting to the peak of a mountain and then realizing there is another mountain waiting for you. It will never feel like enough; it is not required to make you love yourself. It’s a bonus if anything.

    Be grateful for where you are at every moment. Sometimes the journey is the best part, and you don’t realize it till its over. Does money make things easier? Absolutely, and I wish everyone had access to enough that gave them their basic needs. I honestly can’t imagine where I would be without the privilege and the means to get the help I needed when I needed it, and it pisses me off that everyone doesn’t have a fair chance. That being said, the balancing act continues. Don’t be afraid to enjoy your success. Don’t let people’s bitterness and judgment make you feel bad for doing well. They don’t know your story, and you deserve to be happy. “Smile, all the world’s problems aren’t your own.”

    Open Your Doors
    Open your doors to people when they are struggling. Make them some food, give them some tea, give them a place to rest, listen without judgment. Be a safe haven. Sometimes that’s all we need—a place to rest our head for a short while.

    Don’t worry about what you have to offer. People actually need very little to be comforted. Don’t overthink it. Just open your heart and your ears. Don’t try to fix everything. Sometimes all we need to hear is, “That sounds really hard.”

    Read Read. If you can’t read or don’t have time, get Audible, get a book on tape, just have people spewing out knowledge to you whenever you can. Wash the dishes, listen to a book. Take a drive, listen to a book. Watch documentaries, and learn other people’s stories, gain some perspective. Even if you don’t catch every word, your subconscious will. Learn psychology! It’s the study of you and your brain, and it’s priceless information. It will give you great insight into yourself and others, but (balancing act) don’t overanalyze. No two people are the same.

    Here are a few books that changed my life. Games changers, all of them. A lot of what I say here are the opinions I got through trial and error, but they’re mixed with regurgitated, extremely helpful advice I got from one of these books.

    1.The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz
    2. Conversations with God (I, II, III), Neale Donald Walsch 3. The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle
    4. The Prophet, Khalil Gibran 5. Oh the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss

    Carry these with you when you can.

    Travel
    If you can, travel. Don’t put it off, just pull the trigger. Someone invites you to a weekend getaway, say yes. Road trip? Say yes. Last minute trip out of the country? Say YES! You have to get your butt out the door and actually go.

    Our Thoughts Become Reality
    Tell yourself good things about yourself. This one is actually really hard. Why do we feel so silly giving ourselves compliments but welcome the bad thoughts no problem? Your thoughts shape your world, so make ’em good. Practice this every day. Eventually, you will retrain your mind. How you feel about yourself becomes your truth—period. So steer your thoughts in a positive direction, everything else will follow.

    Patience and Faith When things are hard, when you are so low you can’t get up, remember everything is temporary, even the bad times. Have faith that you will get up again. You will get up again.

    Parenthood Becoming a parent made me see my parents completely differently. They are their own imperfect people with their own story. Parents fuck up, all the time, But being a parent is the hardest, most amazing thing a person can go through. It’s not for the faint of heart. It triggers you, brings up old patterns and repressed memories. All we can do is work on ourselves as much as possible before your children come into your life. Then, grab onto something, ’cause you are in for a wild ride. Becoming a mom is the best thing I ever did with my life, but it’s not for everyone. It’s harder than you think and you are never ready, but it will open up your heart in ways you never thought possible.

    Divorce I was going to write a long messy thing about this, but it’s really for another time. Divorce felt like dying. Like my dreams were ripped out of my heart and trampled on. It was an out-of-body experience and the worst heartbreak I have ever gone through. The hardest thing I had to learn and accept was that sometimes, despite what we have been told, love is not enough. But when I look at my life now and imagine how things would have been different had I stayed married, I can’t say I would have the heart to change anything. I rest easy knowing that I had love, real love, for a short while. So, just listen to the LCD Sound System song “I Can Change.” It sums up marriage and divorce pretty damn well.

    Dream Every day. Every chance you get. Dream big. Dream without limits and let go of all that fear of embarrassment. Let go! Jump in. Whatever project you are thinking about, start it. Just start. Start somewhere. Get better little by little until you are flying. Get lost in your thoughts. Learn how to manifest. Dream as much as you can. Everything starts off as a dream before it becomes reality. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Make your own things. Believe in yourself. Sometimes you gotta be the one to make the move. To quote Almost Famous: “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.”

    All of this advice is much easier said than done, but everything is easier said than done. It’s whether or not you are willing to do the work. It’s all a balancing act. So just use your best judgment and learn from mistakes. That’s all I got for now. See you in 10 years.

    Shine on, ERW

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    Last updated: 2017-09-08T15:00:40-04:00
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