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Ah, twenties, a decade of discovery and exploration. As I prepare to enter my thirties, I found ten powerful life lessons that will stick with me as I move forward. If you’re lucky to have the time and freedom, live your twenties experimenting with what you like and what you don’t like, what you want to keep and what you want to leave behind. Good luck to you on your crazy, beautiful, powerful twentysomething journey.
1) People come and go in your life.
So create moments with the people you have now. Put down the cellphone and talk and make good conversation. Listen with your whole body to everything that someone says and don’t feel the need to add your own life story. Just listen. Give gifts and stay in touch with loved ones. And when a friendship or relationship ends, appreciate the time you’ve had and move on, knowing that there are many more fascinating and interesting people who will come through your life.
2) The present is more important than the past or future.
We are living and breathing in the present, not the past or future. And for someone like me who loves to analyze the past and plan every detail for the future, my twenties have been a constant battle of swinging wildly between the two and trying to return to the middle. The trick is to find ways that keep you rooted in the present. Maybe yoga helps or a run in the park or a walk outside or repeating the same mantra over and over and over again like a crazy person (it helps me), but find the ways that help you stay centered and practice them often. Try to make the present a habit (see the number 4).
3) Life is not black and white.
Life is a big complicated mess and we’re all part of it. You will hurt people, even when you don’t believe you could be capable of this. I’ve been down that road and to some dark places. We all make mistakes and some will hurt more than others. Regret is hard to live with but what you develop when you emerge from these experiences is more important than anything else: empathy. I’ve learned to stop judging others because you never know what someone is going through and from what place they are making decisions. Stay on their side for as long as you can and just by feeling empathy for someone else, you can learn to forgive yourself.
4) Make goals, everyday.
It doesn’t matter if they are big or small goals, just make goals. Even if it’s only one minute of writing or one push-up or 10 minutes of practicing piano, do it. Set your intentions at the beginning of the day, write down your goals and to-do lists and check them off throughout the day. Do it, because you get real-time satisfaction but more importantly, because these goals eventually turn into habits and good habits make you healthier, more productive and overall happier.
5) Worry is a useless emotion.
I can’t claim to come up with this great line – it was written to me in an email as I was once again worrying about some small detail of life – but it’s so true and it’s become my number one mantra in life. I’ve battled with the very real effects of anxiety in my twenties, the anxieties we all have about money, relationships, jobs, life decisions, day to day stuff, etc. I could find reasons to worry all the time. But once you realize how much this affects your health and outlook and the people around you, you realize it’s not worth it. Give it up. The things you worry about now will not matter next year and may not even matter tomorrow. Channel worry into something productive and move on.
6) Take responsibility for your actions.
You learn quickly that you never have full control over another person or event. It’s easy to use this to default to the “woe is me” attitude and when something bad happens, to put the blame on something or someone else. But when we look at the situation not just from your own perspective from others as well, you begin to realize things that you didn’t before. More importantly, you realize subtle changes in your own actions and behaviors heavily influence how we interact everyday. So next time you feel out of control in a situation such as meeting a stranger at a party or a disagreement with a coworker, instead of using your default reaction, try to shift your inner dialogue to “what can I try differently?” I’ve used this to figure out strategies for connecting with people, communicating with clients and co-workers and dealing with problems in relationships.
7) Invest in yourself.
You really make the best investment when you invest in yourself, whether that may be learning a new skill or trying new experiences. In the future, I may wish I hadn’t bought that new purse or that fancy necklace, but I will never regret the money and time I took to attend workshops, read books, travel, explore and try new things. It helps you figure out what you’re good at and what you love to do. These experiences have no price tag and have helped me gain confidence, travel the world, find jobs, start businesses and meet new people. And they are something that can never be taken away, no matter where I go.
8) There are no right decisions.
I’ve felt the agony of not knowing what to do with my life so many times in my twenties that I’ve accepted it as a rite of passage. When there are so many choices out there, how can we possibly make the right decision? But really, in the end, there are no right or wrong decisions, only directions we take. We can go in one direction for a while and if we like it, we can continue and see where it leads us. If we don’t like it, we can shift and try a different direction. It may be a gentle move or a complete 180, but it’s only a direction in this great journey we’re on. That’s all. Simple. Keep going.
9) Look for the beautiful, everyday.
I so often forget this but really, enjoy the moments, even the small ones. Actively search for the beautiful in the world because there are beautiful moments everywhere, if we only choose to see them. Find some way to record them, in a journal or a photo or maybe just in your mind. But hold onto the beautiful and never stop looking for more. Be grateful.
10) Don’t step, jump!
Take good risks in your twenties and don’t be afraid to jump. At 28, I quit my job, packed up my life into a storage unit and moved to Africa. It was a big jump but it fulfilled my lifelong dream of living abroad and traveling the world. I’m still in the middle of this adventure and honestly, not everything worked out perfectly but I’m loving it and so grateful I did it. I believe really anything that pushes us outside of our comfort zone helps us grow and expand in the best way possible. It also helps us learn how to trust the world – that your worst case scenario of what may happen probably won’t happen – and most importantly, to trust yourself. Because sometimes you have to go the ends of the Earth to find the inner strength you had all along.