29 Things I learned in my 20s

19. Exclaim when things are good –Let life invigorate you.

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I’m in the last week of my 20s, and the impending 3-0 has been on my mind constantly. In between dreading leaving part of my youth behind, I’ve been contemplating what my 20s were all about. Some days I’m filled with regret and sorrow, but most days, I feel proud and accomplished.

In my 20s, I earned a college degree, had numerous relationships, got my heart badly broken, and admittedly broke a few hearts; I traveled the world and the country extensively and became a travel journalist; I moved to Hawaii, and I’m beginning to settle down. It’s amazing what can happen in a decade. Here’s just 29 lessons I learned from my 20s:

  1. Wash your face every night before bed – No longer can I abuse my face by going to bed with it caked on with makeup. I can tell the difference between my skin now and then. Now I have a whole skincare routine which includes wearing SPF 50 on my face every day and of course, removing my makeup every night before bed.
  1. Some people really are crazy – That’s okay. A writing mentor once told me that back in the 60s and 70s, it was more acceptable to be crazy in an insane world. Do with them what you will. I usually tent to ignore politely.
  1. Don’t let crazy people ruin the good within you – Sometimes you fall in love with, or are really close friends with, what turn out to be crazy people. That’s okay. The best thing about crazy people is that they are often filled with wild, fun ideas and have a great sense of humor. When they start challenging your core values or legitimately don’t want to help themselves, know when to walk.
  1. Talk to the stranger next to you – Life’s too short not to make friends with the everyday people walking this Earth with you. Whether you’re in line at the bank, on a bus on the way to Bondi Beach in Australia, or having a drink at the bar, lean over and get to know your neighbor.
  1. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams – The time is now, not when you’re old, beat up, or saddled down by a career and family. Chase that dream even if it takes you the edges of the world and back. You’ll never regret going there. You’ll only regret NOT going there.
  1. You don’t always have to be the life of the party – This was a hard lesson for me to learn. The first, say, seven years of my 20s was exactly that: a big party. I was moving from place to place, drinking, doing other questionable things…until I realized, I didn’t ALWAYS have to be the life of the party. The party would always be there when and if I want it. It doesn’t need to be a lifestyle (Thank God! It’s exhausting!)
  1. Make the best out of any situation you’re in – Man, I found myself in some hairy situations in my 20s. Perhaps the time I mistakenly took a ride from a local drunk on the Big Island is a good example. Or the time, while living in a camper, we blew out a tire in the middle of nowhere when it was 100 degrees. These shitty situations happen. Make the most of them. They’re not forever (and thank you, guardian angels for never letting anything bad happen to me in the thick of it!)
  1. Dream big – Even if you don’t accomplish all of your dreams, if you don’t set the bar high, you’ll never get there. Make a list, buy a ticket, and make it happen. Sign up for that class. Go on that date. Just say yes.
  1. Trust in the inherent good in people – Remember those strangers you end up meeting? 99% of the time, they’re the ones giving you a ride to the airport, giving you a place to sleep, offering you tidbits of insider information, taking you the doctor when you fall ill. Even those crazy people, in their crazy ways, want good in life, believe it or not. Please don’t believe the media. Yes, rotten people and scary people exist, but good people outnumber them exponentially.
  1. Take care of your body – Women especially. Please don’t fall for ever suitor and every temptation. You will likely pay for it later. Stop drinking so much. Drink plenty of water and exercise. Don’t have unprotected sex unless you’re in a long-term, trusting relationship. Take care of your temple.
  1. Money isn’t everything – but it helps. I’ve had the most amazing memories when I wasn’t working or didn’t have much money at all. What I realized, though, is that those times don’t last. Find something you love doing, a job where you can be utilized to do those things you love doing (even if it’s not your dream job), and make money. Work. Travel. Volunteer. Save. You’ll be happier by the end of your 20s when you have a little money in the bank.
  1. Don’t settle for less than you deserve – It sounds cliché, but it’s true. Don’t settle for wondering if someone is thinking about you. Don’t settle for missing someone without having a plan to see them. Never be someone’s plan B. You’ll suffer, but if you must settle for something less than you deserve (as we all do at some point), learn the valuable lessons from it so you can spot really good when it comes at you later. At that point, you’ll be able to fully, wholly, lusciously appreciate it.
  1. Live with less – Repurpose old things into new things. Don’t buy new clothes for 2 years. Live with 3 pairs of shoes for a while. Live out of a backpack. Own less. See how it changes your world.
  1. Listen to your parents – Their advice is usually right. It might not always be right for that exact moment that they give it to you, but it’s right. Write it down and make it a goal later. They want what’s best for you and they love you. You’re lucky to have them.
  1. Learn to forgive – Forgive yourself for making mistakes. Forgive others for hurting you. In forgiveness, you’ll find peace and happiness. It won’t be easy, but you’ll get there.
  1. Learn to say goodbye – Get good at letting people come and go in and out of your life. Friendships, lovers, family members, etc. It will make you strong to meet many people, and it will make you stronger still to know when to say goodbye and “I’ll see you later.” You’ll learn to survive the next storm.
  1. Do what the locals do – Whether you’re a traveler or not, just DO IT. Hear about a new restaurant opening? A festival? Farmer’s Market? Just go. Do it. Bonus points if you’re a stranger in a strange land and you do what the local’s recommend. You’ll have a more rich experience.
  1. Keep your friends close – Your close friends might change over the years. That’s okay. It’s normal and healthy for people to grow close to others and further from others. Keep a handful of tried and true best friends you can call in the middle of the night when you’re sick, depressed, dumped. Make sure you have people you can rely on in this life. Make sure you love them deeply and they know it.
  1. Exclaim when things are good – When something is delicious, moan with pleasure! Tell your significant other how much you love them regularly. Jump in and out of rain puddles with friends while exclaiming, “This is really living!” Let life invigorate you.
  1. Work with your hands – There’s something extremely gratifying about working with your hands. Don’t do it forever if you can help it, but the lessons you learn will get you very far in any career down the line. After all, who else could say they planted a banana tree, took care of 35 customers at once, or built a lava rock trail in volcanic crater? Make those memories.
  1. Find time to believe in something and practice it – Whether it’s organized religion, prayer, intentions, yoga, mindfulness – find something that regularly connects you to positivity and the divine and practice it.
  1. You always have a choice – If you feel trapped, lonely, bored, abused, etc. Remember: you always have a choice. “Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.”
  1. Things will work out – I’ve been in situations where a lot of odds seemed stacked up against me: where I was worried about my journey, paying bills, and other general crazy things that come at you at life. Somehow, though, it always seemed to work out.
  1. Trust your intuition – It’s never wrong. And when you find out news you’ve been dreading and you’re in the position to get out, be brave enough, and strong enough, to do it.
  1. Protect yourself – Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. It’s good to have a giving personality to those in need, but think twice before you lend out your big heart to those you hardly know and those who may not deserve you.
  1. Learn from your mistakes – You’ll undoubtedly make mistakes in your 20s. I did, and I’m trying not to beat myself up from them as I approach 30. I’m making peace with the crazy shit I’ve done, and I’ve also learned my lessons, as you see them listed out here. The point is this: I can’t say don’t make mistakes, because you absolutely will. Somehow, what seemed like a good or fun idea at the time turns out to be a stupid thing you’ve done. That’s fine, we’ve all been there. The real work is not repeating that stupid mistake. Learn from it. Grow. Now you’ll be better equipped to make wiser decisions in the future.
  1. Find ways to love yourself – Exude confidence. Love your body. Love your mind. Find little ways to pamper yourself and to build yourself up. This is an extremely useful way to not only enjoy your life, but to excel in it.
  1. Cherish the bittersweet transitional moment from youth to adult – It might not be an exact moment like mine, but you’ll likely have a moment where you feel a shift from feeble kid to responsible adult. For me, it was when my grandmother passed away and I was a pallbearer at her funeral. My whole life as a kid, I thought the world was such a mystery and adults had a magical power to orchestrate and understand the world. Then, at 27, I realized the roles had shifted and life was simple. My grandmother, who helped raise me, now needed help from me being laid to rest. She trusted me with that gargantuan and touching act. When I walked her down the aisle of the church, I knew the mystery was solved: there was nothing more to being an adult than taking care of someone else when they needed it.
  1. Set limits and be grateful for what you have – In your 20s, the sky’s the limit, and you’ll try to get there. Maybe you will. By the time your late 20s roll around, if you’re like me, you’ll crave a little normalcy. Set limits on the things you want to become in your life, but still have goals. Be grateful for what you have. And show loving compassion for the life you’ve worked to create.

2 comments on “29 Things I learned in my 20s”

  1. Enjoyed reading this, Jill. You’ve grown into a remarkably beautiful woman, inside and out. It remember your Grandma Jean (think that was her name). She was a hoot. So glad my Meggie Colleen became and remains friends with you.

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    1. Hi Mrs. McAbee,
      Thank you for reading and for your fine compliment. I’m happy with the woman I’ve become, and I’m so blessed to have the life and insights that I have. Oh yes, I miss grandma Jean and her hilarity every day. I’m the lucky one to have Colleen as my best friend!

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