28 things I’ve learned in my twenties
Recently, I turned 28.
It felt good. More than that, I feel 28. In the best way possible.
I have lived enough life to have learnt a thing or two, but am still young enough to know that I will forever keep learning. I’m in a good place with that. As I’ve reflected on my years, experiences, and seasons, I put together a list of lessons I have learned – specifically in my twenties. The Roaring Twenties is a time full of varying experiences, full of both exhilaration and mass confusion. They are not easy, but they are formative.
Cheers to more great years to come.
Asking questions keeps you humble. And helps you make friends.
When we meet new people, we must remember that we know nothing. The best way to start the process of learning about someone? Ask questions. Some questions in my standard repertoire include: if you could eat only one food the rest of your life what would it be? Who has had the biggest influence on your life? Where is your favorite place to visit? If you were an animal, what would you be? Small talk is not dead, my friends.
Snail mail is an important practice.
I grew up in the advent of the internet; we’re talking AOL-style dial-up. I got my first phone at 14. Communication mediums have continually evolved and with the integration of emojis and facetime, it becomes tempting to abandon the practice of writing, sending, and receiving hand-written notes. I grew to love this when I lived in Rwanda; I would spend hours listening to the radio and writing letters to friends in far-off places. Writing notes like this reminds us of our connection. The personal touch shows us also, that we are dearly loved.
Love is a verb. Practice it.
A parent will visit you across the world. A friend will study with you all night. A lover will keep you safe. A sibling will reach out for help.
Entering relationships of every kind assumes a risk: at some point, we will disappoint or hurt the people around us – even the people we love. Recently, I did something that hurt someone I loved. With some space and time, she forgave me, wholly and completely. I was left in a dizzying circle of doubt: but I hurt you! I can’t take what I did back! I made such a huge mistake! And yet, her grace was supreme. It hurt to accept, but I believe that our relationships hinge upon the ability for us to offer and receive the grace extended to us.
Everyone is a teacher.
On planes, in homeless shelters, in rural farms, and in investment banks you will find humans that you can learn from. Around 25, I began a simple, internal mantra with each person I would meet: “what can I learn from this person today?” Believe me, this isn’t always easy. Without coffee, on my period, or on a crappy day, this would fall by the wayside. But, it remains a practice I take seriously. It brings equity into relationship – and that’s powerful.
Life can be intense, boring, interesting, difficult, passionate, energizing, engaging, and confusing – all at once, even.
Life is not static; it can be a million things all at once. Moreover, the small moments filled with a delicious cold-brew coffee, a beautiful sunset, an act of kindness, or a colorful mural are what sustain us. Instead of seeking “big adventure” all of the time, I’ve learned to be more observant, aware of what small wonders are happening around me.
Stuff is just stuff.
My dad always told me: you can only live in one room at once. He was right. I like my laptop. I treasure my books. I hoard my journals. But, there’s a place for stuff, and it should not come before ourselves or the people we love.
Pray with the people you love.
I pray weekly with one of my best friends. This has created a deeper level of fellowship and awareness than I could have ever imagined. Prayer is powerful. I’ve seen it work.
Invite people for a home-cooked meal.
I learned to first host community members when I first was a teacher in the Peace Corps. I was consistently asked to visit homes from students’ families for a meal of potatoes, cassava, and bananas. We often shared our food from one plate. I realized then – as I know now – that there is no better practice of building respect and admiration than by including people in your home and in your meals.
By simply existing you will “change” the world. You have the power to influence this.
It’s tempting to think (at least as a millennial) that your job alone will carry the value and contribution you have in the world. This isn’t true. Your “change” in the world will be felt in every aspect of your life: in your family, in your neighborhood, on the roads, at coffee shops, and in your participation in civic engagement. Existence merits value which precludes change. Once I realized this, I felt free to know that I could change innumerable things: the precedence for how we treat refugees, how I speak to elders, how I respect strangers, how I manage my money, how I live openly and authentically, and how I commit to a sports team.
There is no secret to happiness.
You could read every self-help book available, but the real “secret” to happiness is that there isn’t one. Happiness is a bountiful mix of contentment, gratitude, and hope. It comes in sharp, surprising ways sometimes. Other seasons it feels absent.
Yet, of this I am sure: we all have the right to be happy. No matter where we are from, or who we are, we deserve to fight for the right to be happy. What I’ve learned, as our society has grown in division and in strife is that our happiness is bound in each other. We can’t seclude or isolate our happiness at the expense of others. It’s completely unacceptable.
Seek wisdom from those who’ve lived more years than you.
I’ve met with a woman for lunch (Red Lobster, in case you were curious) above the age 70 on a regular basis for the past year. Like a sponge, I ask questions and note the lessons they share, ranging from successes to failure. They know more than me, and I respect that.
Your dreams will change.
When I was 21, I wanted to work internationally forever. I thought it would be the only way I could advocate for women’s rights or in deference to poverty issues. With more time in different places, I realized my dreams expounded larger than a job or vocation: I wanted to help. Make a difference. Stand up for others. I could do that in many ways. That was a real kind of liberation.
You won’t be able to explain everything. That’s a good thing.
Like art, things happen in your life that you won’t have the words for. Surviving a motorcycle accident. Falling in love. Losing a loved one. Experiencing Jesus. Meeting the right person at the right time. If we could explain these things, life would be formulaic and rigid. Instead, we live in a world that is full of complexity and mystery. I find comfort in that.
Long-distance friendships add significant meaning and intention to life.
My 5 best friends live in 5 different places. And yet, we’ve seen each other through years and years of changes, difficulties, successes, and celebrations. We are intentional to stay in each other’s lives, and because of that, it’s worked.
We are formed by the environment around us. That makes traveling even more worthwhile.
Culture runs deep. Inevitably, we are formed by the people, places, and communities around us. Thus, it’s important to think about the place you live and how it affects your life experience – and how this might be different from someone else.
Parents are real people.
Somewhere in my mid-twenties I had a jarring realization: at one point, my parents were also in their mid-twenties, just “trying to figure it out.” That brought me a lot of peace and patience for where they are now and the way our relationships have changed. I’ll always be their daughter, but now, I can speak, understand, and see my parents as more than just “mom” or “dad.” We are more than singular identities.
There is no blueprint for how to let go and move on.
One guarantee: life will change. Anticipate it, acknowledge it, prepare for it. In the last eight years, I have lived in over 10 different places. However, as things changed, I took things with me and left pieces of me behind. Our legacy becomes the crevices and corners we have let ourselves be known.
Women can do anything.
During my twenties, women became my superheroes. Men are also incredible people, but women have a way of instigating truth, advocacy, and strength. From my grandmothers to my co-workers to my friends (and yes, to Beyonce) I have seen the ways in which women defy (and continue to defy) all possibilities.
“Love is love is love is love.”
Before I could believe it, I had to learn it. And learn it, I did. The hard way. I wrestled with what love could be for several years. I recognized who I was. I denied who I was. I wrestled with who I was. I celebrated who I am.
My early twenties were spent learning about what I want. My mid-and late twenties focused on learning how to have the guts to follow through.
People will want to tell you exactly how they would do something. We all have perspectives, but at the end of the day, the one that matters is the one you carry. At some point, you must know yourself well enough that you live your life accordingly. Trust your gut.
Read. As much as you can.
I realized during my twenties that I much prefer non-fiction work to fiction. I like memoirs, sociological pieces, and national narrative pieces. When I returned from Rwanda at 25 my first order of business was getting a library card. I’ve never looked back.
People want to share their stories. If you listen, you are being richly blessed.
Old stories are like treasured diamonds for some people. More than once, I’ve found myself in hour-long conversations about a person’s path to some circumstance. We all end up somewhere for some reason. It’s too darn interesting not to learn why.
Most clichés about love are true (damnit).
It’s as splendid and as hard as they say, and still, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You don’t have to pretend to be happy all the time.
On the enneagram, I am a type 2 (“the helper”) or an ENFP on the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. Hence, I’m all about positivity, enthusiasm, and energy. Yet, I’ve matured emotionally and have come to know that instead of being afraid at signs of unhappiness, I can welcome the spectrum of emotions, realizing they are all necessary and needed.
Our lives and journeys should and will look different.
It’s tempting to compare yourself to colleagues with families or friends with high-powered careers. Whether we envy stability, money, families, or futures, we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t acknowledge the value of our own journey.
Taking care of yourself is a skill – and one that shouldn’t be overlooked.
I still struggle getting enough sleep. But, I eat decently well. I exercise regularly. I journal and try to take time to myself. This is like recharging my batteries, and without it, I would burn out, again and again and again. Living through my twenties has shown me my own limits. We all have them. We must be aware of them and honor them, too.
Just be you.
The world is better when you are authentically YOU. The one you are made to be. The one who is imperfect, odd, caring, and determined. Let that part shine – that’s what the world needs more of. Come hell or high water, I will be me. I’m a Maya Angelou enthusiast who loves roller-blading, mountains, writing about stories, and red wine (cheap). That’s me, and that’s just how it is.