Sharing a few things I learned in my 20s!
On December 15th, I’m turning 30-years-old, which still has me baffled. When I look back at my life, there’s no denying that I’ve accomplished some incredible things, but there are so many things that I want to accomplish going forward.
I truly believe that I made the most of my 20s. I did things I never thought I’d do. I made so many mistakes. I stepped out of my comfort zone. I made some long-lasting relationships and also said good-bye to ones that I thought would last forever. I got an education. I took care of my mental health. I traveled. I gained self-confidence. There were lots of tears, laughs, cuts, bruises, and memories, and I’m actually excited to step out of my 20s and into a new decade where I’ll continue to grow and become an even better version of myself.
My 20s were defined by so many things, and I definitely grew into myself and learned so many lessons. Here are 20 things that I learned in my 20s.
FALL IN LOVE WITH YOURSELF FIRST
I dated a lot in my 20s, like a lot. I’m not ashamed of any of my relationships because I learned something from every single one of them (Hey Google, play “Thank U, Next”), but one of the biggest reasons that my relationships kept failing had to do with me. One of my favorite quotes ever is from the book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
The reason I dated people that were wrong for me was because at that point in my life, that was the love I thought I deserved. When I dated a guy who did drugs and pushed me to do things that made me uncomfortable, I thought that’s what I deserved. When I dated a guy who used me for my body, I thought that’s what I deserved. When I dated a guy who literally made me want to end my life, I thought that’s what I deserved.
The truth of the matter is, I didn’t love myself, and my choice in partners reflected that. Before I could truly fall in love with another person, I realized that I needed to love myself first, and it wasn’t until that happened that I was able to find the love that I have now with Kyle.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE FRIENDS WITH EVERYONE
In my 20s, I found it imperative that everyone I knew liked me, even if I wasn’t a fan of them. I went way out of my way to please people so they’d love me, even when I knew the friendships wouldn’t last. My priority was having a big friend group, even if the relationships were shallow. It wasn’t until my later 20s that I realized how exhausting this was. I created so many surface friendships that on the days when I needed someone to cry to, I didn’t know who I was going to call because so many of my friendships lacked substance.
Now, I place more importance on the relationships that I have with people where I can call them up in a time of tragedy, ask for advice in a time of need, or even sit around the house and do nothing with and still have the best time. I don’t define my relationships by the numbers anymore. I define them by substance, and that’s even more important now that Kyle and I will continue to move around.
DON’T SPEND MONEY THAT YOU DON’T HAVE
I got into some credit card debt at a young age, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that my parents never talked to me about money and credit cards. When I got my first credit card, my intention was to use it for emergencies, but then I got a second credit card, and I fell in way over my head. I’m in much better place with minimal credit card debt now, but there was a time where I was genuinely scared about never being able to pay off my debt. I kept on using my credit cards to go on vacations I couldn’t afford and to keep up with a group of friends that made a lot more money than I did.
Even though I’m still trying to teach myself these lessons, I’ve gotten so much better about saying no to things that I can’t afford. I’ve scaled back on buying people gifts, and I’ve learned to show love in more meaningful ways that don’t involve a cash transaction. I’m still learning about budgeting, and it’s something I’m excited to take into my 30s.
GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
There are so many things I look back on from my 20s that I still can’t believe actually happened.
I can’t believe that I went skydiving. I’m deathly afraid of heights, but I actually jumped out of a plane.
I worked on a cruise ship for almost a year. That’s insane! I made so many memories and had so many unforgettable experiences.
I traveled to Europe with my sister. We went to London, Paris, and Rome, and we genuinely had the time of our lives, in spite of our lack of 4G and getting lost on the subway.
I was an orientation leader in college. I truly left my comfort zone when performing onstage and teaching to a group of high schoolers, but it was absolutely thrilling.
I won an award for my work with social media.
So many of these experiences wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t push myself out of comfort zone. I had to force myself to believe in myself, which was so hard for me in my 20s because I lacked self-confidence. If I didn’t push myself, I wouldn’t have made these memories and many more.
IT’S OKAY TO MAKE MISTAKES
You’re going to make mistakes. A lot of them. Don’t beat yourself up about it. I made so many mistakes, but the best thing about making mistakes is that you learn from them. When you do something wrong, and you’re able to admit you’re wrong, you know that you won’t make that mistake again. You will learn some tough lessons that way, but ultimately, it will help you grow into a much stronger and wiser person, and when you look back on those mistakes, you’ll be grateful that you made them.
PRIORITIZE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
I hate that I waited so long to prioritize my mental health. I didn’t start going to therapy until I was 29-years-old, and it has undoubtedly changed my life. With the help of my therapist, I’ve been able to understand the reasons why I think a certain way. I’ve been able to analyze things from my past that have shaped me into who I am today. I’ve been able to understand my anxiety in a way that I never have before. I’ve learned to fall even deeper in love with myself and to appreciate the things I’ve gone through and the experiences I’ve had in a new way.
Taking care of your physical health is something people always talk about, but your brain is your most important organ, and it needs to be taken care of too. Prioritizing your mental health doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go to a therapist (although I think everyone should at some point). Mental health looks different for everyone. For me, it includes therapy, but mental health also means stepping away from my computer and not doing anything productive. It means soaking in a bath and watching some mindless TV. It means traveling to a place I’ve never been before. It means unplugging and turning my brain off so I’m not worried about turning in an assignment, publishing a blog post, or filming a YouTube video. Mental health just means taking care of your brain, however that may look.
TRY EVERYTHING ONCE
My step-dad told me once, “Try everything once, and if you don’t like it, you never have to do it again.” While there are many toxic exceptions to this advice, I’ve held onto it for a long time. There are so many things that I think may get the best of me or that I wouldn’t want to experience, but when I allowed myself to step away from the negativity and anxiety, for the most part, I’ve been able to open myself up to things that have added so much to my life.
For a long time, I wanted to be an author. I participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote the draft of my first book. I hated it, but you know what? I tried writing a book, and while I loved the feeling of finishing a draft, I know that becoming a bestseller is likely not in the cards for me.
I publicly published a blog post. I genuinely didn’t think it would stick. Seven years later, I’m still publishing on my thoughts online, and I love it.
When Kyle and I first moved to Ohio, I was worried about making friends. I decided to try BumbleBFF even though I thought it would be incredibly awkward. I ended up making some good friends from the app, and now it’s a method for making friends that I’ll take with me as we continue to move from place to place.
I’ve always been a pretty adventurous eater, but there are some things that make me turn my nose up. Sticking to the advice, when I’ve tried something, there are many times that I’ve loved. This wasn’t always the case, but I knew from an actual experience that I didn’t like it, and I could confidently say that I would never eat it again.
IF YOU’RE NOT HAPPY WITH SOMETHING, CHANGE IT
So many people become complacent with their lives. We find solace in the comfort, and we don’t get out to try something new because we’re afraid that what we’ll find won’t be as good as what we have now. The best time to get out of your ruts is in you’re 20s. Your 20s is a decade of experimentation where you get to make mistakes and try new things without judgment.
If you’re unhappy in your relationship, get out of it. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been together. If you’re unhappy, then that is what you’ll feel for the rest of your life. I was in a relationship for nearly five years, and even though we were comfortable together, I wasn’t feeling the joy that I did when we first got together. I was starting to feel stuck, and a lot of that had to do with how unhappy I was with myself. Instead of letting the relationship continue, I broke it off because I knew that if I kept dating him, I would regret it later on in life. Because of that decision, I found and fell in love with myself, and I was able to create a deeper and more meaningful relationship with my current boyfriend, Kyle.
If you’re unhappy with your job, find a new one. This one can be tough because finances are involved, but there is always a way for you to follow your passion. I had an awesome job in marketing, but as I continued doing my job, I started to feel unhappy, and this went on for years. I decided to quit my job and work on a cruise ship. I had the most incredible experience until I got to my next ship, and things just went downhill. I quit that job and went back to my other job, and then when Kyle and I moved to Ohio, I realized that a marketing job wasn’t going to bring me joy anymore. I found a new passion in teaching, and at the age of 29, I decided to start chasing a new dream.
No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to make a change, especially if that change will truly bring you happiness.
Get out of your hometown and travel! I’m so lucky that I grew up with a father in the military, because it planted the travel bug in me at a young age. I loved growing up in different homes all over the world and being able to experience different cultures while I was younger. Also being bi-racial, I learned to appreciate and respect different cultures. When working on a cruise ship, I was fascinated by the lives and perspectives of those around me. My favorite memory was sitting at a table in staff mess during a Christmas event and hearing stories from my co-workers who were from all over the world and listening to how everyone celebrated Christmas.
Traveling not only gets you out of your comfort zone, but it also humbles you and helps you appreciate the life you’ve been lucky to live. It gives you different perspectives on how people grew up and the opportunities they had or didn’t have. It teaches you how big the world truly is and gives you so many reasons to fall in love with the diversity of it.
NEVER STOP LEARNING
Just because you’re out of school, it doesn’t mean you should stop learning. In school, I learned how to find the area of a triangle, how to write out chemical compounds, the history of our country, and the makeup of our political parties, but after graduating both high school and college, I learned so much more. I learned about the importance of equity and why everyone deserves to be seen. I learned about HTML and how to edit photos and videos. I learned how to cook a proper meal without setting off the fire alarm.
There will be so many opportunities to learn in your life, both organically and intentionally. Never miss an opportunity to learn, whether it’s taking an actual class, doing some training at work, learning from a friend, or learning from a mistake. Continue to learn. Continue to grow.
BE YOUR OWN PERSON
I spent so much of my life being a doormat and a people-pleaser. I wanted everyone to love me, and I did that by agreeing with the people around me, even when it wasn’t true. In my 20s, I learned the importance of having my own voice and using that voice to tell my story and express my true beliefs. Even though I still find it hard to speak up sometimes, I’ve learned that when I truly don’t agree or believe in something that another person says, it’s more important to express that than to have another person believe a lie about me.
I’ve been in many situations where I was afraid to say something because I didn’t want to make someone uncomfortable. At a dinner with friends, someone was describing another person who wasn’t there as “the whitest black person you’ll ever meet.” This really offended me, and in the moment, I didn’t say anything about it because I was afraid to make that person uncomfortable. In reality, that person made me uncomfortable, and I shouldn’t have been afraid to speak up.
This is definitely a lesson I’m still learning, but as I grow older, I continue to recognize the importance of standing behind my beliefs and being able to voice my thoughts and opinions when needed.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP
As someone who has a lot of pride, this was a hard lesson for me to learn. I grew up pretty independent, and when I needed help from anyone, I did it with my head down in shame. The reality is, you should never be ashamed to ask anyone for help. The people in your life aren’t just there to praise you; they’re also there to help you when you need it. Don’t let your situation get so dire that you’re at the end of your rope when you finally ask for help. People love you, and they would love to help you. Let them. This lesson is still hard one for me to swallow sometimes, but it also has shown me who truly cares about me and will actually be there for me when I’m not at my best.
BE THE BIGGER PERSON
Again with the pride, this lesson was not an easy one. It took me so long to be comfortable with owning up to my mistakes. I wasn’t a liar, but I was definitely a truth-stretcher. I painted myself in my best light to get out of tough situations, and what did it get me? A lot of anxiety.
In my 20s, I truly learned how to sincerely apologize and to also own up to my mistakes. This really reflects in my relationship with Kyle. Before I was in therapy, I found it so hard to express myself out loud because I didn’t want to be the bad guy in any situation. Now that I’ve realized the importance of taking responsibility for my mistakes, we’re able to have much more productive conversations, and it’s made us grow so much closer as a couple.
YOUR JOURNEY WILL LOOK DIFFERENT FROM EVERYONE ELSE’S
I have always been really bad about getting caught up in the comparison game. When I graduated from college, I compared myself to my friends because I was the only one who didn’t have a job she was excited about (and that job turned out to be extremely awful). On social media, I’m constantly comparing myself to my friends.
How come they get to travel to cool places and not me?
How come they’re married and I’m not?
How come their picture got more likes than mine?
How come they’ve been in their career for years, and I’m just now figuring out what I want to do?
I’ve had so many toxic thoughts while comparing myself to people, when in reality, it’s all been a waste of time. There’s a reason my journey look different from everyone else’s. There’s a reason I had those experiences before I got to where I am today. Your journey is going to look so different from everyone else’s, and you should embrace that and roll with the punches.
LEARN HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
At a certain point, you need to make sure you know how to take care of yourself.
You shouldn’t be taking your laundry home every weekend for your parents to do it.
You shouldn’t be letting your dad do your taxes.
You shouldn’t be getting take-out every night.
Learn how to do your own laundry. Learn about the vehicle you want and how to negotiate a price for your car. Learn how to do your taxes online or let a professional help you. Learn how to cook, even if the meals start out simple. People won’t always be there to clean up your messes or take care of you. You need to make sure you take ownership of your own adulthood and learn how to do things on your own. Yes, it’s of course okay to let people help you out every once in awhile, but you should still have the knowledge to do those things on your own.
MAKE TIME FOR THE THINGS THAT BRING YOU JOY
I’m so guilty of getting caught up in productivity. I make daily list of things I need to accomplish. I’m in school, I have a job, and I do my best to keep up with my blog and YouTube channel. I also want to keep a clean house, spend time with my dog, prioritize my relationship, and spend time with friends. While doing all those things makes me happy, sometimes I forget to make time for things that aren’t adding to my productivity. When I do things like read, paint, or journal, it brings me a different kind of joy because things are things I truly love to do. It’s tough for me to do those things or even to just rest without feeling like I need to punish myself for not completing my to-do list, but it’s so important to do so.
Don’t punish yourself for doing something that truly makes you happy. Make time for the things that bring you joy. Your to-do list will be there when you’re done, and you’ll be accomplishing those things with a whole new attitude.
YOU’LL NEVER BE PERFECT
Perfection is a myth. It doesn’t exist, so stop striving for it. Do the things you want to do, be proud of the things you did, and don’t allow yourself to over-analyze imperfections. Don’t let your desire to achieve perfection stop you from accomplishing something.
If you want to start a business, do it. Your business plan won’t be perfect, but you’ll get it done, open your business, and learn lessons along the way.
If you want to write a book, write it. Your first draft won’t be good, but at least you finished it, and now you can work on making it into something that you’re proud for other people to read.
If you want to try a new recipe, do it. It may not be perfect the first time, but you can continue to tweak things as you try and try again and make it into something you’re excited to serve to other people.
Don’t strive for perfection. Strive for your best, because that’s all you can give.
TELL PEOPLE YOU LOVE THEM
Creating and deepening relationships is so important in your 20s. When you’re meeting people in your 20s, think about the people you want to bring into your future with you. If there’s someone toxic in your life who brings out a lot of negativity, get rid of them. If there’s a person in your life who makes you feel bad about yourself, get rid of them.
The people who you choose to be in your life should bring out the best in you, and they should light you up when you need it most. Don’t take these people for granted. Tell them you love them all the time. Not just with your words, but also with your actions.
I’ve caught myself on many occasions just longing.
I’m longing for another vacation.
I’m longing for another job.
I’m longing for more hours in a day.
In my 20s, I’ve learned that it’s important to not always look to the future. It’s also important to reflect on your past and be grateful for the experiences you’ve had, the people you’ve met, and the lessons you’ve learned. No matter where you are in life, you’ve come so far. You got that job. You earned that degree. You ended that toxic relationship. You had that unforgettable experience.
Even though you have so many amazing things to look forward to, don’t forget to reflect on and be grateful for the experiences you’ve already had.
Your 20s can be a stressful time, but it should also be the time of your life. No matter what your definition of joy is, you can achieve it in your 20s. There will never be another time where you’re this young and you can be this experimental with the things you want to do. You can try new things. You can travel to new places. You can have the best time of your life, all with no strings attached. Take advantage of this time of youth and just go for it! Do the things that make you happy.
What lessons did you learn in your 20s?