7 Life Lessons My Twenties Taught Me

Photo by Bethany G.

Aging has always been something that excited me. From a young age, I was a free spirit, I longed to be independent and make my own decisions. Yet, I am starting to resonate with the warnings of my youth.

“Don’t be in a rush to grow up.” I definitely was.

As I approach thirty and this ride seems to be going faster, I have been reflecting on the last decade. How many lessons have been learned, how many I’m still working on?

I like to joke with friends that there are things you know, and there are things you know. The things you know, the ones that resonate as true in your heart, they often come from lived experience. Of course, if hindsight teaches us anything, it is to take advantage of learning from the mistakes of others whenever possible.

1. You will be surprised by who shows up in your time of need (and who doesn’t)

We all experience tragedies, events worth celebrating, and everything in between. I wish someone had taught me that some people won’t show up. Society conditions us to expect certain people to be supportive in our endeavors. Our parents, grandparents, our siblings, our friends. The harsh reality is they’re human, and sometimes we find ourselves at odds.

Other times, people just aren’t paying attention. It isn’t that they don’t care, necessarily, life is busy.

But, yes. It is also true that sometimes people just don’t care.

Some people will show up, and they might surprise you. As I was learning about the betrayals leading to the imminent separation from my soon to be ex-husband, (a story for another day) it surprised me to find that it was the strangers who caught me crying, my coworkers, and acquaintances I had overshared with that were the ones to lend a shoulder in my time of need. It wasn’t the people I had previously considered my closest friends.

Undoubtedly, 2019 was my worst year yet. People who I had been friends with for years, who I had dropped everything for, had supported in their time of need, who I thought were confidants, they were nowhere to be found.

This experience really showed me who I wanted to keep around in life. Focus on who is present in your life and be grateful for them.

2. Don’t take things personally

It is really tempting to internalize the things people say and do. Our perspective drives our understanding of the things that happen to and around us.

I have saved myself a lot of self-imposed agony by remembering, “what other people do has nothing to do with me.” Here is the reality, either it legitimately has nothing to do with you, or it is about you, in which case it is still the other person’s problem.

People have the tendency to project their fears and insecurities on others. Their baggage isn’t your responsibility. You’ve got your own shit to deal with and your own dreams to follow.

3. Forgive people while you can

At the risk of sounding cliche’, life is short. It really is. We lose people. We lose loved ones, pets, dear friends, coworkers, and enemies. Losing someone when things were left on a bad note is not a regret you want to have. Trust me. Not everyone is worth your time, but for those who are, setting aside your pride to make amends is worth it.

Some people don’t want to make amends, they can’t apologize. Forgive them anyway. Forgive them for not being able to be who or what you needed them to be. As your heart changes and you grow, forgive over and over if you have to. Forgiveness is a journey of healing, not an act of absolution.

Forgive yourself. You’re human, of course you mess up. Forgive yourself for who you were when you were less sensitive, when you cared less, when you acted out of pain or anger.

Forgive yourself for not being perfect, because no one is. Forgive yourself for being hard on your heart when you were suffering. Whether that was ten years ago or yesterday, you were a different person then. Self-forgiveness doesn’t absolve you of harmful actions, but it holds tender space so you can learn from those mistakes and grow from them moving forward.

4. How you show up matters

Be proactive in showing up for your life. The way in which you show up for your family, your friends, the work you engage in, and with yourself lays the foundation for the quality of your experiences.

Show up for others by being reliable and being compassionate. Show up for yourself by honoring your boundaries and saying “no” when you need to. Show up at work by putting your all into what you do, even if it isn’t what you will be doing forever.

When I was twenty I worked at RadioShack. (Remember that thing I said about how much has changed in the last ten years?) I didn’t love that job, but I didn’t hate it either. It was what it was, but I always went above and beyond to give my customers the kind of service I would have wanted. That resulted in not only sweet thank you cards from snowbirds, but a job opportunity.

One day I was assisting a customer in purchasing a DVD player. Everything about this interaction was quite routine, until the end when he was about to leave. The customer gave me his card and told me to reach out, he thought he had a job I would be a good fit for.

As it turned out, I did end up going to work for him in a naturopathic oncologist's office. That job was both emotional and rewarding and remains one of my most personally meaningful and professionally formative working experiences.

You never know who is watching. Show up in a way that you would want others to show up for you. Be vulnerable, do your best.

5. It is never too late to start over

In case no one has told you this yet, you are allowed to change your mind. There is nothing wrong with realizing you chose the wrong major, you moved to the wrong city, realized you’re gay, or are finding yourself coming to other life-changing conclusions.

There’s this idea that if you don’t have it all figured out by your mid-twenties you are doing something wrong. Well, I hate to break it to you, you won’t have it figured out. Not because you made the wrong decisions, necessarily, but because you change as a person.

Nothing in this human condition is fixed, least of all ourselves.

A note on changing your mind: Many people will think they know what is right for you. With the best, most loving intentions, they will encourage you to do what they think you are good at or what they think you should do with your life.

Here’s the thing, your time is too valuable to be spent fulfilling the dreams or expectations of others. The only person you owe anything to is yourself. Honor that.

6. Learn to laugh at yourself

I remember learning in college that as humans one of our greatest fears is rejection. We will do just about anything to save face, it is a primal urge.

The other side of that coin is our greatest desire, which is to be accepted. For myriad reasons, navigating these truths result in vastly different life experiences for people. But I can tell you this, learning to embrace our missteps and perceived failures with a little bit of levity can be transformative.

Don’t take yourself so seriously all the time.

Find the humor in spilled oat milk. The irony of showing up early to your interview on the wrong day. Clogging your date’s toilet is something you can potentially laugh about someday. Just go easy on yourself, it’s not the end of the world.

7. Do what makes you happy now, circumstances will never be perfect

“Someday” comes when you make room for it. No, that doesn’t mean you should be reckless and put yourself at risk of not being able to pay your bills. It does mean that if you have something that makes you happy or a dream you want to fulfill, keep it on your priority list.

There is no blueprint for how to be happy. From the big things like how you sustain your lifestyle to the small stuff, like how you take your coffee, there is no right answer. Figure out what those things are for you and try to do more of them. We are all just figuring things out as we go, don’t wait to seek happiness.

At the end of the day, we are the only ones responsible for living our lives. We have endless opportunities to

Learn to listen to your heart. Honor what serves you, drop what doesn’t. Change your mind. Show up authentically. Cry when needed. Love deeply. Seek joy. Repeat.

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