Things I’ve Learned in My 20s
Several friends made bucket lists a la “30 things to do before I turn 30” as their big 3-0 approached. I had planned to do this, until half of my 29th year slipped by and I hadn’t come up with even 15 things I wanted to do and could reasonably accomplish before my 30th birthday. At first, it seemed a bit sad that I couldn’t come up with even 30 things. Am I a boring person who has no motivation or ambition, and can’t come up with goals? See: my non-resolutions.
But really, most of the things I want to accomplish will take a bit longer than a year to do – like taking a cross-country road trip east to west on I-90 or I-50, having a massive vegetable garden, owning my own home, traveling the world, etc. These all take time to play out and not a little bit of cash. Not only do I just not have the money for most of it but for half of my 29th year, I was deeply immersed in graduate school. (And, can I take a moment to toot my own horn again about that accomplishment? Well done, me! Thank you.)
Well, my 30th birthday is in five days, and even if I could compile a list of 30 things to do before I turn 30, I couldn’t make it through all of them. Instead, I’ve come up with a list of valuable stuff I’ve learned in my 20s – things that other 20-somethings might find useful, things I certainly would have found useful several years ago. Here it is:
- You may not wind up with the job you “deserve” or think you should have, but be open to possibilities. You could magically stumble across something that winds up benefiting you in ways you couldn’t imagine
- Take vacations while you can (i.e. while you don’t have to arrange around a spouse/partner/children’s schedule). Even if the money isn’t always there, there are ways to make it happen.
- Bail on your friends as little as you can. Chances are, they are just as much, if not more your family than your biological family at this point, and your presence at their birthday party/movie night/wisdom teeth removal means more to them than they probably let on.
- That being said, you will probably have at least one of those friends that bails. A lot. With flimsy, transparent excuses. Do the times you actually get to spend with that person/those people make up for the times they bail? Then keep that person around.
- There will be some moments of black-pitted doubt and some moments of glowing happiness, with a fair amount of general happiness and meh mixed in. The best part is that all levels out eventually, until it’s general happiness all the time. Nice, right?
- Sometimes money will be low, yes, but you will always see it through and never be without. In fact, you have more than many so stop complaining.
- The old adage holds true: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
- An amazing haircut can sometimes do more for self-esteem than losing those pesky 5 (or 10, or 20 pounds). It’s relatively low-cost, it’s fast and easy, so get your hair cut, you hobo.
- Learn how to let go of the people and things that just make you feel bad about yourself or your life – the “emotional vampires”, if you will. It’s one thing if it’s a friend who gives you the occasional well-meant criticism, but it’s another if it’s someone who is constantly down on themselves and you in turn. It’s okay, and in fact, healthy to let those people go sometimes. You’re better served trying to take care of yourself than shore them up all the time.
- At some point you will drink too much, at least enough to regret it the next day, but maybe enough to puke in a public place.
- You will lose touch with people you thought you cared a great deal for (and thought cared for you). With some it won’t seem like a big deal but with others, it’ll feel like a mini betrayal. Just think of it as weeding the weak ones out of the herd. Kidding, but really, it kind of is. You’ll wind up with the cream of the crop in the end and be better for it.
- You will get older. Maybe it won’t be noticeable for most of your 20s or maybe you’ll even be one of those lucky people who seem ageless. But most likely your body will change, you’ll get flab or bulge in unthinkable places, and lines will start to show up at the corners of your mouth and eyes. So take care of yourself! I’m not saying go on a diet, but eat more fruits and vegetables than pizza, take a hard look at your alcohol consumption, try to stay active, and get some sleep, for crying out loud.
- Be kind every day. To your friends, your partner, your parents, yourself. Everybody deserves a kind word.
- But for real, be kind to yourself! Love yourself. It is hard, no, it is exhausting being hard on yourself all the time. So you didn’t get even one thing done on your to-do list? Pssh. So you ate half that chocolate cake? Whatever. Move on. You’ll get it next time, tiger.
- You don’t have to be right all the time, and in fact, you aren’t right half of the time. Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut than display your egotistic wit or your phenomenal lack of social tact. Just… shut up.
- You’ll have friends that make being an adult look like a damn breeze. They’ll have great jobs, have impossibly stylish and up-to-date wardrobes, go on dates with other grown-ups, and go out for fancy drinks every weekend. Your time will come.
- Do things that scare you. I’m not talking about petting a rattlesnake or anything – more like take a job that intimidates you, move to a brand new city, or go out with someone who’s not “your type.” These changes often lead to some of the most rewarding and enriching experiences of your life. Trust me.
- You will not be friends with all of your co-workers. In fact, you might have co-workers who hate you (or you hate). Sometimes the reasons for this will be obvious; sometimes it will be inexplicable. They will make you feel like crap. You will go home from work and cry. Chances are, you will not be at that job forever, so this too shall pass.
- You’ll figure out your style. College is not a good time for fashion since college kids are too beholden to trends but by mid to late-decade, you’ll have this style thing on lock. It may not be the most trendy wardrobe, but you will have a style all your own and pull it off with confidence.
- You’ll work so hard at being an adult that sometimes you might take yourself too seriously. Be silly every now and then and don’t forget the things that made you you as a child. You have your whole life to do the serious adult stuff, and there will be plenty of it, believe me.
I am very much looking forward to turning 30. My 20s were such a productive time for me, in terms of getting to know myself and becoming truly secure in that person. I was able to do so much, see so much, build so many relationships, and learn so much as a 20-something, and I am absolutely convinced that there’s more of those good times ahead.