Earlier this month, I turned the big twenty-nine! For me, birthdays are a chance to reflect on the past year, and also look forward to the year ahead.
Since this is the last year of my 20s, it feels kind of like a calm Sunday night. Life changes so much when you’re in this decade, and navigating it felt pretty awkward and confusing.
Anyway, let’s jump into what I’ve learned in my 20s! I hope you can relate to some of them and find them helpful!
29 Things I’ve Learned in 29 Years (Life Lessons for Your 20s)
#1: You have a voice.
I’ve spent a good portion of my life feeling like no one cares what I have to say. I used to feel like my voice was insignificant in a sea of billions of other people. But the truth is we all have our own unique perspectives, lived experiences, and ideas. There will be someone who will listen to yours!
#2: Enjoy the present moment.
I have a tendency to romanticize and hold onto the past, while also daydreaming about my future. I also experience moderate generalized anxiety. The combination of those factors make it difficult for me to embrace the now. And it’s definitely not natural; it’s something I constantly have to remind myself to do. There’s something calming about letting yourself just exist in the present moment and allowing yourself to enjoy your life as it is, without thinking about what used to be or what could be.
#3: Turning 30 isn’t THAT scary.
I’ve been afraid of aging ever since I turned 19. I have never been able to fully articulate why that is… probably something about society’s value on youth coupled with a fear of losing my freedom.
The closer I get to 30, the less I fear it. I mean, it’s going to happen no matter what, right? I can either be terrified of the inevitable, or choose to embrace it. And I’m kind of excited to leave my 20s behind and shift into a new area of life. I’m not thrilled about it by any means, but accepting it takes away some of that fear.
#4: There is not certain age you need to accomplish things.
I don’t own a home and I am not married– those are two things I thought I’d accomplish by, well, earlier in my life. I’m hard on myself for it sometimes, especially when I see people younger than me buying homes.
Comparison is the thief of joy. I cannot allow myself to compare my progress in life to someone else’s. And someone’s age truly doesn’t matter– home ownership, marriage, having kids, landing your dream job, etc. are boss moves at any age!
#5: You can change your mind about things you were certain about.
It feels weird, right? It feels like you’re being fake, but it’s a sign of growth. It would actually be more alarming if we didn’t change our minds as we got older. We need to normalize changing our opinion about something once receiving more information.
#6: There is no harm or shame in removing yourself from situations that no longer suit you.
This goes hand in hand with the last point, but I think a lot of us stay in relationships, jobs, etc. because they’re what we wanted in the past. It almost feels like we owe it to our past selves to remain in situations because we worked so hard for them, or we feel like we haven’t gotten what we’ve expected out of them, or because we’re just scared to death of change.
But honestly, I’d say we owe it to ourselves to allow ourselves to grow and flourish.
#7: Life is too short to stay at a toxic job.
A couple years ago, I was working in a toxic environment. I knew I needed to quit for my mental health, but kept beating myself up over it because I was afraid it would negatively impact my resume and future opportunities. That job DESTROYED my self-confidence and it also made me extremely tired. I was too downtrodden and exhausted to apply for jobs or sell myself in interviews. I knew the only way out of that situation was to quit without having something else lined up, even though I was terrified of that. What would people say? How would I explain the gap in employment?
Despite my fears, I did it anyway. It was absolutely, 100% the right choice for me and two years later I still stand by that! Now, I encourage anyone who is in a toxic job to quit if they have the financial means to do so. Life is way too short to let a job steal your entire life.
#8: Tomorrow really isn’t always guaranteed, even though that’s scary to say.
The pandemic truly made me realize that there isn’t always next year.
Last year, I really wanted to attend an annual event about 40 miles (65km) away, in a bigger city. I experience moderate driving anxiety and I didn’t have a ride. In the days leading up to the event, I considered driving myself and either trying to push through my anxiety or taking a route that doesn’t involve freeways, but that morning there was a storm system moving through so I ended up staying home.
I comforted myself by saying, “Well, there’s always next year. I can coordinate a ride farther in advance or practice driving myself. Next year, I’ll totally do this!”
Obviously, the event was cancelled this year. And even if it’s not cancelled next year, depending on how things are going I may not feel comfortable going even with a mask.
And honestly, even without the pandemic… sometimes if you keep putting something off out of fear, you’ll always come up with excuses why you can’t go.
#9: Not wanting to have children is valid.
Women typically experience an overwhelming amount of pressure to have children. For most of us, the idea that we’re supposed to grow up and start a family starts at a young age– typically from well-intentioned adults.
Despite being an only child, my family was pretty receptive to the news that I have no intention of starting a family. And now that I’m almost 30, any idea they had that I might change my mind has probably been squashed. I’ve received more push-back from random strangers, who take my personal decision on what to do with my body and my life as a personal attack. There are far too many people in this world who cannot fathom that a woman wouldn’t want children, and it’s alarming to me, but I stand by my decision.
#10: You don’t have to go to a four-year-college.
When I was in high school, community college wasn’t seen as a “good” option. It was either looked down upon or seen as an extension of high school. My own parents didn’t even encourage me to look into local community colleges, and they were helping me pay for it!
We could have all saved quite a bit of money if there hadn’t been such a stigma around community colleges. Or, quite frankly, a stigma around not going to college at all. The stigma around both of those has drastically been reduced since I was in school, but I wish someone had told me that both of those were acceptable options when I was younger.
#11: Learn how to admit when you’re wrong.
I’m still working on this. But a simple, “I apologize; I was wrong” can go such a long way in relationships.
#12: Learn to push out of your comfort zone.
Earlier this year, before everything shut down, I flew by myself for the first time. That might seem like a normal thing for many of you, but for me it was a big deal.
I have a lot of anxiety surrounding flying and airports, so I avoid flying whenever I can. I never thought I would be able to fly alone in my lifetime. But I DID THE DANG THING and it wasn’t so bad. And perhaps more importantly, that fear doesn’t have a hold on me any longer.
#13: You are not required to love your body.
Don’t get me wrong… I love and support the body positivity/body liberation movement, despite its flaws. I definitely am a lot happier and more content with my body after connecting with other folks whose bodies look like my own. I also think about bodies in a different way than I did before, especially bodies larger than my own.
But I have never resonated with the idea that you should “love” your body. I totally understand that it can be what others need and respond to, but it just doesn’t cut it for me. It isn’t even a confidence issue. My body is just that… a body. I have never understood why I need to learn to “love” my thighs or celebrate my cellulite or call my stretch marks “tiger stripes”.
Then I found out about the term body neutrality and finally felt seen. Body neutrality is more about focusing on acceptance than blind love, and is a lot more accessible for many folks. That concept has done more for me personally than body positivity ever has (though I recognize the movement isn’t only about me!)
#14: Accept that you’ve been the toxic person in friendships and relationships.
This one hurts, but when you think about it…to put it bluntly, there’s no way you’ve NEVER been toxic. That is literally impossible.
This also means people you’ve harmed are under no obligation to accept your apology or let you back into their lives. And that’s okay! Just like you don’t have to welcome back your toxic best friend with open arms, your former friend that you had a bad falling out with doesn’t owe you her time.
#15: Don’t be afraid to dream big.
I am a dreamer. I have dreams about how I want the future to look, where I want to travel, where I want this blog to go, how I’m going to decorate my future patio, how many cats I’m going to have in the future… I dream about it all. But I also used to fear dreaming too big, as if acknowledging my absolute wildest dreams would somehow render them impossible.
I actually feel like I was blocking that energy from coming into my life. I wasn’t allowing myself to fully visualize my dreams, because self-doubt was always creeping in my mind. I wanted to acknowledge that voice telling me it wouldn’t happen so that I would stay grounded, or wouldn’t jinx future opportunities. Now, I’ve learned to ignore it– it doesn’t go away, but I don’t give it any attention.
#16: Take the time to learn about yourself.
The enneagram is one of the most in-depth personality typing systems out there, and has taught me a lot about myself and how I interact with the world. It is a powerful tool for personal development and allows us to better understand our unconscious selves. (Also, there are hilarious enneagram memes out there.)
I was more hesitant about learning my love language. I thought it seemed silly and frivolous, for a LONG time. I also think this is because my first long-term partner probably had the same love language as me, so I didn’t realize its importance until later in life. Chances are, your partner has a different love language than you do. Learning about each other’s love languages can help you love each other in the ways that you both need.
#17: There is no shame in enjoying things that are considered “girly”.
When I was a teenager, and even into my early 20s, I outwardly rejected a lot of things that were considered too girly or too popular. I wanted to seem ~cool and unique~ and not like other people (not even just other girls).
Now that I’m an adult, I realize that is a harmful and damaging mentality that doesn’t allow younger girls to simply enjoy things without fear of being judged by their peers.
#18: Mental health matters.
I’d say society as a whole is at a place where we recognize the importance of mental health. We’ve made so much progress in this area in the last 50 years.
We all say that mental health matters, but do we really mean it? Do we mean it when we’re talking about our own mental health? Do we mean it when we’re talking about more stigmatized illnesses, like borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia?
#19: Your worth is not measured by your productivity.
You do not have to always be productive, working on something, or finding a side hustle. We as a society need to allow ourselves more time to rest when possible. gggbb
While we’re at it, if you work at a place that offers PTO days, use them.
#20: Try to see all your doctors.
If you have health/dental/vision insurance and transportation, don’t put off seeing your doctors out of fear. And trust me, I’m still working on this too.
My experience with doctors has been mostly positive, but I have harbored a lack of trust towards medical professionals since I was a child. I honestly don’t know why. As I’ve gotten older, those fears were confirmed by hearing other women share their horror stories at the doctor’s office. A big reason why I’ve put off seeing my doctors over the years is because I have been concerned about gender bias and medical fatphobia.
My therapist kept encouraging me to go see doctors just to make sure everything was okay. Even though it took her about a year to convince me, I did end up finding a couple providers I trust. Since then, I’ve learned that I am vitamin-D deficient, iron deficient, and I have a chronic skin condition. Who knew!
#21: It’s okay to experiment with fashion.
I’m a self-proclaimed t-shirt and jeans kind of person. But part of why I became a t-shirt and jeans person is because I didn’t want to seem too vain or self-absorbed by expressing an interest in fashion trends. And I definitely didn’t want to seem girly.
Now I know there’s nothing wrong with dressing however I want, and I’m getting too old to care what other people think about that. Oh and while we’re at it… fashion doesn’t have an age limit or a gender!! Wear what makes you feel comfy.
#22: Advocate for yourself – there will be times when no one else will.
I am not an assertive person by nature. Being proactive and speaking up does not come naturally to me– I’m much more comfortable watching and observing from the sidelines. But I encourage you to learn how to advocate for yourself. Don’t let employers walk all over you. Let your partner know that joke they made hurt your feelings. Call your credit card company about that double charge on your statement.
Be careful that you don’t go too far. In the past, when I’ve tried being more assertive, I have actually been aggressive and mean. You don’t have to go too far, just make sure you can state your point and stand your ground.
#23: Pay attention to what is happening in the world.
I used to proudly exclaim, “Oh I don’t really follow politics!” That is a luxury many folks do not have.
Some days I have to step back from it, simply because I cannot emotionally handle some of the harsh realities of the world. And even though being able to momentarily step away comes from a place of privilege, it’s better than ignoring the state of the world.
Many politicians around the world are corrupt. And they’re banking on us not paying attention.
#24: You probably won’t live your life the same way your parents/grandparents/siblings did, and this can cause discomfort.
Involved parents want their children to succeed in life, but success can mean different things for the child than it does for the parent. But please know that it’s okay to carve your own path, even if it’s completely different than what your family thinks you should do.
#25: Learn how to create healthy coping mechanisms.
Just because you have adopted coping mechanisms doesn’t mean they’re healthy. Unhealthy coping mechanisms do not help you in the long run; in fact, they tend to have the opposite effect. It’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Anything can become an unhealthy coping mechanism, and cause you to become reliant on people, experiences, or objects. Some common examples can include compulsive spending beyond your means, excessive alcohol intake, and oversleeping.
#26: Who you surround yourself influences you, even if it’s subtle.
This is actually backed by research. We will always place higher value on a close friend’s opinion than a random stranger’s opinion. Also, when we spend a lot of time around the same people, we can subconsciously pick up on each other’s mannerisms. Have you ever started saying something just because your friend says it, even if you didn’t realize why? Have you ever picked up a new book or binged a new show because of a friend’s recommendation? Other people truly do influence us in ways we aren’t consciously aware of. So it’s crucial that we’re surrounding ourselves with people who can uplift, celebrate, and challenge us to be better humans.
#27: Don’t let people tell you that you’re too old for your hobbies.
I’ve been proudly playing The Sims 2 ever since I was 13, which is over half my life at this point. Decorating, building, and landscaping my sims’ homes and then telling a story with the family is a huge creative outlet for me. It’s something that has aged with me and something I don’t think I’ll ever truly outgrow. And (as long as I have a machine that can run it) I never have to.
#28: Your intuition knows what’s up.
Have you ever been around someone and felt sick to your stomach? Have you ever been about to leave your house for an event, only to be met with a massive sense of dread when you’re about to walk out the door? Have you ever had a good feeling about something, only to have it come true?
That’s your intuition at work! Your intuition usually can tell you something before your mind can put it into words. A lot of people try to suppress their intuition because they don’t trust it or they think they’re overreacting, but your intuition can actually protect you from a variety of bad situations. Or on the flip side, it can also allow you to proceed toward beneficial situations, even if your brain can’t articulate why you’re doing it!
#29: If something makes you feel alive, hold onto it.
No matter what anyone thinks.
Did we share anything on this list?
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your 20s?
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Featured image by Amy Shamblen on Unsplash.