Twenty Things I Learned In My 20s

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On the left, me in NYC for my 20th birthday. On the right- me getting ready for the day this morning (my 30th birthday!)

I’m not going to lie- it’s kind of blowing my mind that I’m even writing this post right now. Good morning, world! Today is my birthday, and not just any birthday- but my 30th birthday. That’s right- the big 3-0. Some fear it. Some dread it. Some do everything they can to avoid it. Me? I’m kind of excited for it! I’ve been told by many people that “thirty is the new twenty”, and while it’s still a little too early to tell how accurate that sentiment is- I’m hoping that thirty is the new, wiser twenty.

Listen, getting older can be scary. It wasn’t that long ago, maybe a couple of years or so- where the mere thought of turning thirty all but made my blood run ice cold. Apart from facing my own mortality (I know, I know- I’m turning thirty, not ninety- but still..) and re-evaluating every decision I’d made throughout my twenties to reassure myself that most of my choices were, in fact, the right ones- I was terrified of how I could and would potentially change physically. Grey hairs? Fine lines? Things that I’d successfully managed to evade for most of my life were eventually going to show themselves within the next decade and I wasn’t sure how to handle it. It sounds superficial, sure- and maybe a little conceited (not my intention)– but when you’re used to seeing your reflection a certain way for so long- it’s a bit overwhelming to think that someday you’d be seeing a different version of yourself. What if I didn’t like what I saw?

Once I got over that fear, and rationalized that aging is not a crime or a punishment- but a blessing- the ease and the buzzing excitement followed naturally. I began to realize that as fun as my twenties were- they were a learning period- a trial and error part of my growing up. Now I had to take what I’d learned throughout my triumphs and challenges and apply it in the next phase of my life to ensure I wouldn’t repeat any of my mistakes.

And then, as I looked back and reflected on what exactly it was that I learned- I also realized that I wouldn’t, for any reason, want to re-live my twenties again- because the person I am now, the evolution and maturing of my mind, body and soul- has led me to a much better place than I was ten years ago.

I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’d learned- the obvious, the not-so-obvious, and maybe even the embarrassing- in the hopes of preparing/easing the tension for those embarking on a similar impending ‘Dirty Thirty’ journey as myself, and to give those still in their teens or their twenties plenty of time to consider my words carefully.

Take it from me. I’m older now, after all.

Twenty Things I Learned In My 20s

20. You don’t know everything there is to know.

In my late teens and into my early twenties- I thought I had it all figured out. Well-intentioned advice from my parents, older co-workers, teachers or mentors were met with scoffs and eye-rolls. They couldn’t possibly understand life the way I did, right? Wrong. As it turns out- those people who were giving me their (often unsolicited) opinions were speaking from their own experiences and were simply looking out for me in an attempt to help me avoid any pain or anguish that they, themselves, had gone through and bypass the difficult lessons learned in their own hard way. Once that humbling hurdle was crossed and I dropped my stubbornness and opened myself up to gaining new insight- even if I didn’t like what I was hearing or agree with it- I almost instantaneously noticed how much more perspective I inherited and how much I grew as a thoughtful and eloquent individual. Sure, I occasionally disregarded words of wisdom and faced my own consequences for it- but I still walked away with knowledge I hadn’t had leading up to it- and that’s a pretty good thing to have in your twenties.

19. But if you want to know a little more- is is never too late to further your education.

Sort of related to #20, but an important lesson I learned in my twenties was that it is never too late to learn something new and further yourself educationally. I bowed out of attending University when I was 18/19, since I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do and didn’t want to waste time/money being thrust into a major or a degree (and a career) that I might not necessarily be interested in by the time I graduated. I eventually returned to college and a legal studies major when I was 24- after much hesitation and deliberation. I thought maybe college wasn’t a good idea, that I was “too old” for it or that the opportunities that came with obtaining a degree had passed me by- and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I studied with people of all ages and from all walks of life when I went back to school- but we all had one common goal- we wanted to learn more and better ourselves.

My point is- if you’re not sure what you want to do- it’s okay to take some time for yourself to figure it out. Explore your options. Do your research, live a little- and when you’re ready- go back and attend that class, take your notes, ace the exams, and get your degree or your certificate whenever YOU’RE up for it- not when someone tells you to. You have plenty of time and it’s never too late to start or complete that journey.

18. The friends you have in your early twenties may not necessarily be the same friends you have by your late-twenties.

Upon entering my twenties, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I had about 100 friends I considered my “besties”. I was a social butterfly who went from concert to concert, party to party, and talked to anyone and everyone I could. Since then, my circle of trusted and true best friends has dwindled down to about 10-15, if that. I haven’t seen my best girlfriend from my early twenties in more than a year- and we rarely speak anymore (when we used to text every other minute way back when and hang out every single weekend.)

It’s not because I’m an unlikable monster (at least I don’t think I am!) but because people grow apart as they get older- and it’s okay. Marriages happen, children happen, as well as jobs and careers- and as people evolve and change and the things/interests/hobbies that once tied you together with a person or persons can seem not-as-important or interesting with age and life experiences. The best thing you can do is to let the changes happen naturally- and not try to solve/fix/repair/hang on to anything to keep someone close. Chances are, if you’re growing apart from someone- it’s because you’re growing as a person (and so are they- but a different kind of person!) and you will eventually meet new people who support and nurture the person you will become and whatever new interests and hobbies you acquire.

Look back at your past friendships fondly- not with sadness or anger- because they helped shape you in some way- and that’s a big deal.

And you never know- you may cross paths with those friends again in the future! Just let everything happen in it’s own time and pace.

17. Learn how to cook, do laundry, change a flat tire, file your taxes and other “grown-up” survival basics.

This one is important. As a twenty-something, there might be some pressure on you to be able to do an abundance of ‘grown-up’ things since you’re an adult and are expected to have some level of self-reliance, but I’ll make it easy for you:

  • Learn how to cook a handful of meals from scratch- not only to feed yourself but for those occasions (and they WILL happen) when someone or multiple people unexpectedly drop by and are inexplicably hungry for some reason.
  • Learn how to do your laundry because it’s YOUR dirty clothes and your parents/siblings/significant other shouldn’t have to deal with that kinda’ gross burden for you.
  • Learn how to change a flat tire on your own because it’s just a good idea and if you ever get stranded without cell reception or a AAA membership- you won’t be screwed. You can change your tire and get where you’re going- safely- as opposed to waiting on the side of the road for help to arrive.
  • Learn how to file your taxes correctly- if only to save yourself some stress and to avoid unnecessarily hemorrhaging money that should go into YOUR pocket. It’s a daunting task, I know- but it gets easier each time you do it and now there’s plenty of apps and services available out there to help you out with the process!

Other than those, everything else will come naturally. I promise.

16. Open a savings account and put an amount of money in it- big or small- every week. DO NOT touch the money unless it’s an absolute emergency.

I credit my dad for teaching me this one when I got my first job as a cashier at fifteen years old because the money I accumulated each and every week by resisting the temptation to spend all of my earnings on clothes or makeup really paid off when there was an emergency (car trouble, for example) or an unexpected bill or expense that I needed to make a payment for.

This one is simple- every week, without fail- put aside some money in a savings account that only you have access to. $100, $50, $20, $10- it doesn’t matter how much. Just as long as you do it every single week and don’t touch the money unless it is absolutely and completely necessary. This is going to teach you financial responsibility, priorities and budgeting- three things many twenty-somethings won’t learn until their thirties or forties (and after some fall into the dreaded credit card debt hole so many people get sucked into at one point or another.)

15. Get into a fitness regimen now before your super fun and super fast metabolism slows down.

Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be able to go out with my friends for a night of drinking and post-bar-hopping-cheeseburgers at 1:30 a.m. (like I did every weekend in my early twenties) and not have to worry about stepping on the scale the next morning or fitting into my jeans again- but those days are far behind me- and now I have to counteract any guilty, greasy, or chocolate-covered indulgences by busting my ass in the gym or eating salads and fruit bowls for four days straight.

It’s a fact- unless you have super genes- your metabolism is going to slow down a lot quicker than you expected in your twenties. Take it from me and take steps to prevent that annoyance before it becomes a problem (or an eventual and legitimate health concern.) Get into the good-for-you habits of eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, exercising regularly- and getting a decent amount of sleep each night. Not only will you generally look and feel better overall, but your body will have the head start it needs to start fighting off those excess pounds that tend to sneak up on you when your guard is down.

14.  Exfoliate, moisturize, and don’t forget the SPF. Don’t EVER forget the SPF.

If you don’t want to look like you’re pushing fifty-five by the time you’re in your mid-twenties, then you need to start taking care of your skin and you need to do it now. Exfoliate. Cleanse. Moisturize. Sunscreen. Those are the daily four that are going to slough away dead skin cells and germs, clean out your pores, keep your skin soft and smooth- and prevent the sun from ruining your gorgeous self with it’s intrusive-and-harmful-as-hell-rays. You don’t have to spend an astronomical amount of money for decent skincare products that do the job and do it well- and you certainly don’t have to hop on every overpriced and over-hyped trend that finds itself in the front window at Sephora. Do your research, browse reviews and testimonials- and don’t be afraid to ask a consultant or a dermatologist if you’re having any problems that might need a little something extra to manage (like acne or rosacea.)

Also- never, ever, EVER– fall asleep with your makeup on. You know better- and it’s just plain gross. Ew.

13. A relationship coming to an end, amicably or not, can be really tough- but you’re tougher. Hang in there.

Whether you’re doing the dumping or you’ve been dumped- the ending of a relationship can be a heartbreaking and soul-sucking ordeal to get through. There’s emotions, and history, and memories- and there will be points in the aftermath of a split when you feel like you simply cannot go on without that person- him or her- in your life. You might have questions, or need closure before you can move forward.

Trust me- you can, and you will- and you’re going to be okay. Better than okay, really. Take any wisdom and experience you learned from your past relationships and apply them to any future ones (like what you’re willing and unwilling to put up with, where you draw the line, your turn-ons and your turn-offs, areas where you can improve on yourself, etc.) Always remember that a healthy relationship is about mutual respect, building each other up, supporting one another- and bringing out the best in each other. It’s not about control, or fear, or manipulation- and if you find yourself in that situation- you need to do what’s best for you and your emotional/mental/physical well-being and get out of there. You’ll find someone better suited for you.

Don’t settle for less than what you want. If someone isn’t making you feel good about yourself or the relationship- leave. If someone cheats on you- leave. If someone cannot treat you like you are important or like they cherish you and all the goodness you bring to the world- leave. They don’t deserve you.

Also, if you are the one who gets dumped- please don’t ever think there is something wrong with you or that it somehow devalues you as a person. It doesn’t. You’re wonderful and you deserve the best- and you will find the best. The best just didn’t happen to be the person who left, is all.

12. Don’t fake your orgasms. Seriously. Just don’t.

I know this is coming out of left field- but it goes hand-in-hand with my relationship advice. Sex is a complicated, intimidating, and often weird thing- and even I still feel like I’m figuring it out half the time- but from one sexually active former-twenty-something to the rest of you twenty-somethings out there: make it easy on yourself (and your partner) and don’t fake it. It’s doing a huge disservice to yourself and to whoever you’re sleeping with because you’re allowing them to (falsely) think that they’re doing the job when they aren’t- and you should get that moment of awesomeness, too. Everyone should!

Of course, practice makes perfect- but so does talking. Communication during sex, even something as simple as “that feels good” to “that doesn’t feel that great” can make all the difference and improve the quality of bed rockin’ drastically. You’ll appreciate your honesty. Your partner will appreciate it- and your trysts will become a lot more fun and satisfying.

11. Even if you hate your job- work your ass off and continue to strive for something better.

I’ve worked enough crummy retail and waitressing jobs in my teens and early twenties to know that I have the patience of a Saint for putting up with kinda’ crazy customers and power tripping middle-management for as long as I did without completely snapping. Unfortunately, I know many don’t have that kind of resilience- but please hear me out. As terrible as you think your job is, and as insufferable as your boss/manager/supervisor and/or customers & clients are- tough it out. Be the best employee you can be. Come into work on time- bust your ass- and do your best to keep a positive attitude even when those around you are trying to plunge you into their level of despair.

Not only will toughing it out and rising above any workplace bullshit make you a better candidate for hire when you do apply for that job you actually want- because a strong work ethic is the first sign of a responsible and reliable adult- but your resume will look a lot better with a steady work history as opposed to bouncing from job to job to job.

You’ve got this. Just stay strong.

10. Travel as much as you can, whenever you can. Drink in different cultures, languages, art, and food.

I’m aware that traveling to a faraway or exotic destination for a month-long vacation may not be easy or even a feasible option for many- but when I say ‘travel” I mean to anywhere. It could be to an opposite coast- to one state over- or even to one town over. Just broaden your horizons and see as many places as you’re able to without breaking your budget. Try different types of cuisine you might have skipped over otherwise. Consider different types of art. Study a different culture’s history or try your hand at learning a new language. You don’t have to hop on a plane to travel- but I highly recommend opening your mind to other parts of your country and the world and compiling a list of the top 5 or top 10 places you’d like to see- anywhere on the globe- and then work your way to making it to each of them.

A trip I took to the U.K. ten years ago is still one of the best travel decisions I ever made- and one I hope to repeat in my 30s.

9. Trust your instincts.

Intuition can be a powerful thing- and it’s also something that needs to be trusted and not ignored or swept aside. If your heart/gut/instincts are telling you something is wrong- then there’s a pretty good chance there actually is and you should recognize that and think carefully about what’s happening around you before you proceed (with caution.) My own instincts became finer tuned during my twenties- and have never really led me in the wrong direction- be it avoiding potentially dangerous people or situations, making career and financial choices- or even just acknowledging “funny feelings” around my travels and tourism.

Your mind and your heart send you messages all day, every day. The key is to know when and how to listen to them. Once you’ve mastered that- you’ll trust and believe in yourself a whole lot more.

8. You don’t need a group of people to have a good time. Quality alone time is important, too.

There is an unfair stigma sometimes attached to those who choose to travel/attend events/dine out alone- and as someone who appreciates and cherishes her occasional alone time- I say screw that.

There’s nothing wrong with spending quality time with yourself and no one else. You’re important too after all, right? And being able to decompress, clear your head or just prioritize or put things into perspective free from the distractions of others (even your friends!) can be- at times- pretty damned refreshing.

Not only that, but I’m a firm believer in the idea that before you can be in a loving and committed relationship with another person- you have to learn how to be in one with yourself, first. What better way to learn more about yourself and truly be in the moment experiencing different things than by trying that new restaurant on your own, or seeing a movie or an art exhibit, taking a vacation- or even reading a book alone or going for a solo walk? Appreciate your time with yourself- and it’ll make your time with others all that much more enriching.

7. You’re going to fuck up now and then- and that’s perfectly okay.

Here’s something that needs to be taught by more teachers/professors earlier in everyone’s life: mistakes happen- all the time- but that doesn’t mean your life is over and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. You’re human- and just like every other human on Earth- you’re going to mess up here and there. The difference between a responsible and mature adult and an irresponsible and immature child is what you do when you make a mistake.

Here’s a tip: own up to it, learn from it- pick yourself back up- and do your best not to make the same mistake again as you move forward. There is nothing in this world that can’t be fixed with time, patience, hard work- and an open mind/heart- and a sincere apology (assuming your mistake hurt someone, that is.) Don’t let a screw-up ruin your ability to grow and become a better individual.

6. Go to the Doctor for checkups. Make (and keep!) your appointments with the dentist- and don’t rely on WebMD if there’s a problem.

Is there any worse feeling of pure dread when you look at your planner/reminders tacked up on your refrigerator and realize you have an appointment with the Doctor or the Dentist that day- or the following day? Or in a week? It’s like getting kicked in the stomach. Nobody likes making an appointment for potential pain or to receive any type of bad news- and in my early twenties I just opted not to bother with any of it at all for a long time. If I felt sick or had a question about my health- I turned to the good ol’ internet to help me self-diagnose and offer suggestions for care.

Here’s the thing: no matter what your symptoms are- be it a common cold or a UTI or a rolled ankle- the internet is always going to have you convinced you’re going to die by the end of the day. You need to suck it up and make actual appointments with licensed healthcare providers for annual checkups/cleanings/evaluations- and you need to actually be present for those appointments. A yearly physical, gynecological exam, visit to the dermatologist and periodic cleanings with your Dentist might sound like a drag- but you’ll be happy you stayed on top of your health in the long run. Not only will a clean bill of health put your own mind at ease (way better than WedMD ever could!)– but early detection of any potential health risks means you have a better chance of getting the treatment you need in a more prompt and effective manner.

Go make your appointments today- and keep them!

5. Treat yourself (occasionally.) You’ve earned it.

In between learning all of these lessons, working your ass off, and saving money- it’s really important that you treat yourself from time to time, too- otherwise- what’s the point? You have to stop and enjoy the little things now and then- and not restrict yourself from those same little things that bring you joy. Enjoy that cheeseburger or milkshake. Buy that new video game or outfit. Splurge on a spa treatment of a weekend away from home. You’re doing your best and you’re surviving one of the rockiest times people go through- you earned it. Believe me.

4. Not everyone is going to like you- and that’s 100% fine and nothing to stress out about.

A lesson I wish I’d learned sooner than I did is this one, for sure. I’m a people person, and with that personality trait came the unintentional worry about what those very same people thought of me. Everyone wants to be liked to some degree- but when you start to lose yourself in that eagerness or desire to please everyone is when there’s a problem. The truth is, I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, I know people out there who seriously dislike me- and you know what? That’s perfectly fine. I don’t care about impressing them or winning them over. They’re entitled to their opinion- just as I’m entitled to mine.

The older I get, the more I strive to surround myself with friends, colleagues and acquaintances who understand the type of person I am and who build me up and support me just as I do for them without cruelty, jealousy or just plain spite. THOSE are the people whose opinions I care about. The world is filled with diverse and interesting individuals with different ideals, passions, morals and values- and worrying about what each one thinks of you is completely and utterly exhausting. It’s also a waste of time. Find people who love you for who you are and don’t worry about anyone else. You’ll be much happier.

3. Don’t ever compare where you are in life to where someone else is in theirs. There is no comparison.

This one almost made the top of this list of lessons because of how often I saw (and continue to see) this happening among my peers. Do not, I repeat- DO NOT- compare yourself or your life with anyone else’s. Focus on YOU and making YOUR life the best it can be. That is the only thing that matters. Don’t dwell on so-and-so who has a great career and makes more money than they know what to do with. Don’t hang yourself up on so-and-so who is happily married with kids. Don’t stew with anger or resentment towards so-and-so left their material possessions behind to go hiking in the Alps or join the circus. None of it matters.

What matters is what you’re doing with your life and that you’re doing the best you can. What matters is that you’re happy and healthy. You might not be where you want romantically/financially/physically/career-wise by your mid to late-twenties- but that doesn’t mean you won’t get there eventually. Everyone goes through life at their own pace. Focus on yours and yours alone. Live YOUR life- and don’t focus too much on how someone else is living theirs.

2. Respect yourself- and don’t let anyone disrespect you.

Now that I have Madonna’s ‘Respect Yourself’ stuck in my head- let me just get to the point- this is a lesson that you have to implement now or you will regret it later on when you’re older because you’ll have more difficulty getting into the swing of this crucial and life-changing habit:


Respect yourself enough to put your foot down and stand up for yourself when anyone is trying to discourage you, tear you down, or make you doubt yourself. You are not a punching bag and you are not a doormat- and if anyone treats you that way- you have the right- no, the obligation- to defend yourself. Respect is earned, not given- and you don’t owe anyone any favors if they’re hurting you or trying to hurt you. Don’t put up with it- and I promise you- you won’t regret sticking up for yourself by the time you hit thirty. It will just be second nature by then.

1. Everything is going to be just fine.

Lastly, but certainly not least- relax. You’re not going to have all the answers by the end of your twenties. You’re not going to accomplish every single thing you set out to do when you were still back in your teens- and you’re going to hit obstacles and road blocks and question everything and everyone around  you (probably more than once) along the way- but it’s all going to be okay. Hang in there. Tough it out- and see it through.

Your twenties are about learning and gaining experiences- so get out there and do plenty of both!

 There’s other lessons too, of course- like drink plenty of water when you’re drinking plenty of alcohol, carry small bills on the outside of any money you carry in your wallet/purse to deflect potential thieves, phone-a-friend to stay on the line with you when you’re walking home at night or in a questionable area, how to tip properly- actively practice safe sex and take all the necessary precautions needed to keep you and your partner healthy, and read the fine print on any and every document you ever sign (and ask questions if you don’t understand it!)– among others- but I wanted to focus on the more mental/emotional/health lessons I’ve learned over the past ten years.

Everyone is on their own unique journey- but the above twenty lessons are what I’ve learned on mine so far. I hope they can help someone out there someday.

And with all that being said, I’m heading off to work for the morning before I kick off my official “Dirty Thirty” weekend with my family and my friends!

Have a great weekend, everyone!