A decade ago, I was a young, American girl ringing in my 20th birthday over vino in Rome, Italy during a study abroad semester. I rang in my twenties chowing down enough cavatappi arrabiata to last a lifetime and purchasing bold, red, “big girl” lipstick at a Roman Sephora.
I have spent the last several weeks trying to get into the head of that blissfully enthusiastic young woman. I wonder what she had hoped to accomplish in her twenties and where she thought the next ten years would lead her. She likely thought by the time she turned 30 she would have life fully figured out and she’d by “old.”
Well, I’m definitely not “old,” (at least, I don’t feel that way!) and I certainly don’t have life figured out. (Who does?)
But I think it’s safe to say that girl from ten years ago had no idea what lied ahead. Quite honestly, I don’t think that girl could have even dreamed up the possibilities that were available to her, and if that girl was dreaming, I’m not sure it was big enough. But, I think she’d be pleased to see where she ended up.
Several weeks ago I was shopping at Target for a baby shower gift. I was searching the book shelves trying to find a baby book that my husband and I could sign as a card. Instead, I came across two self-help books aimed at twenty-something/almost-thirty year olds. (I won’t name the exact titles here). I felt like encountering these books was a sign, especially with my 30th birthday just three weeks away. The encounter set me off in search of similar books and online articles around the same topic. The variations I found were numerous; all aimed at lessons people should learn in their twenties, how to “adult,” and long lists of things people should accomplish before thirty.
They’re cute and fun reads, and I enjoyed them. But, I don’t necessarily want to go vegan nor start a compost in my kitchen. And, in order to check off the sheer number of festivals and concerts I should have seen or places I should have traveled to would have required every cent I have put into my 401k over the past six years. I also would have likely lost my job with the ridiculous number of days that would have been required to explore so extensively. Not to mention, the recommendation to take off and live in a quiet place in a foreign county to “find yourself” is not for everyone. I’ve done it. It’s not everything it’s cracked up to be and definitely not for the faint of heart.
So, I set off in search to make my own list. Only, this list is not about you. It’s about me. This is a list NOT about what YOU should do, but rather a list (in no particular order) about what I am glad I did before 30. Perhaps it will strike a chord with you or someone you know. Perhaps it will inspire you to build and share your own list.
And let’s not forget, milestone birthdays are not required in order to do some self-reflection. 31? 40? 65? 23? What are you glad you have done? What would your list be? Everyone has something to share and something to contribute. Who knows how your ideas and lessons could inspire others.
Keep learning. Keep exploring. Keep growing. Keep journeying.
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- Explored my own country. From small towns to big cities, I have seen so many facets of the USA and have gotten a flavor for the different ways Americans live. This includes those so-called “fly over states.” From the rural towns along Route 66 to the hustle of Manhattan, exploring the miles that connect this Nation vividly reminds me how diverse our own country can be and how much adventure is in our own backyard. Every town, every city, every community has a story to share and every neck of the woods has a treasure to offer. If I cannot find it on my own, I ask the locals for it. (39 states down; 11 to go!)
- Invested in positive relationships. I found the people who fill my tank. Some are old relationships that have stood the test of time and others are newer friendships that provide me with joy and such love for life. Relationships are a two-way deal. Life can get crazy and sometimes quite a bit of time and distance can separate friends. But at the end of day it’s good to know whose got your back and vice versa. Everybody needs their tribe. I am blessed to have mine.
- Learned new languages – 4 to be exact. And while I do not speak them fluently, these languages allow me access into a whole new world. I, for one, love being able to say “Hello” in Korean to the lovely lady at my neighborhood dry cleaners or have a brief exchange with the adorable, old Italian man at my favorite restaurant. I have always loved foreign languages. For me, it’s the key that allows you access to new doors and new connections. It is truly a wonder of the world.
- Became a regular. I love having “that place;” that place where you walk in and everyone knows your name. It has a way of warming your soul. Whether it’s the local Starbucks in my hometown or my favorite restaurant/bar in San Diego, having “my spot” has a way of making me feel as if I am part of something bigger.
- Lived abroad. Three times in three different countries. From Rome to Seoul to Malaysia, living in a foreign place, versus just passing through on a vacation, is an immensely humbling experience. Some days are a dream, and others, such as many of the days I had in Malaysia, are a true struggle. The opportunity to live abroad is a gift, one that can be a joy and heartache all at once. Living abroad requires grit, a dose of stoicism and real, mental stamina.
- Saw quite a bit of the world. And, I saw it on a budget. I traveled throughout Europe, Eastern Asia, Southeast Asia, in addition to much of North America. I’m glad I was essentially broke during all my travel in my early twenties, because it forced me to be creative and step out of my comfort zone. Funny enough, I didn’t even feel broke or deprived doing it. (Except one time when I had to eat popcorn for three days) Traveling on a tight budget meant I was eating at the affordable, local hole in the walls and sleeping in communal hostels. I ended up meeting some of the coolest people from around the world and got to see places that no travel guide nor brochure could ever highlight. Even if I could go back and do it differently, now that there is money in my bank account, I wouldn’t.
- Respected and appreciated my Country and where I come from. My mom has a recipe book with a quote, “A wise traveler never despises his own country.” – Goldini. I could not say this better myself. I have seen and experienced so many different parts of this beautiful world, but no matter where I go, I will always appreciate and respect where I come from. And, I always look forward to coming back home.
- Changed something about myself. Remember that quote, “If you don’t like something about yourself, change it. If you can’t change it, accept it.” Yeah, it’s kind of like that. I changed something about myself that I was unhappy and uncomfortable with; I changed it because I could. And, it was easily one of the best decisions I have ever made.
- Moved across the country and built a community for myself. When I was 26, I moved from my hometown of New Lenox, Illinois, where I was living with my parents, to San Diego. I knew two people; my friend and her husband. Living somewhere new on my own forced me to go out on my own, make friends as an adult, get involved in the community and get out of my comfort zone.
- Learned the importance of #adulting. Also known as managing credit and a budget, filing taxes, having insurance and being educated on my benefits. I was quite overwhelmed by finances for most of my twenties thanks to a hefty credit card balance, student loans and the feeling that I couldn’t have both a social life and get ahead financially. Who knew blowing out an ACL could blow my savings OR that I may owe on taxes instead of receiving a return OR that credit card interest can really kick you in the ass OR that even a reimbursable move across country would rack up additional, significant costs? It took several years to develop a rhythm to my finances. Heading into my thirties, it is refreshing to feel financially fit, and I am glad I learned some tough #adulting lessons in my twenties.
- Said “no” and set boundaries. I mean this in a variety of different ways. I have said “no” to things that I may have really wanted to do, but simply couldn’t due to budget or other life reasons. I have also gotten better about saying no to things that I don’t want to do. (Someone told me, “If it’s not a hell yeah, it’s a no.”) Of course, there are occasional exceptions. Most important, I learned to say “no” to situations I was not comfortable with; and it’s saved me from some tough, potentially regrettable situations. I used to think “no” was bad, but I learned that it helps you (and your sanity) set boundaries. Boundaries are important.
- Dated. I dated a lot in my twenties, and I am so thankful I did. Dating is what prepared me to meet my now husband and what allowed me to be ready for marriage. Through dating I figured out what I could and could not compromise on. By the time I met my husband (married 7 weeks at the writing of this!), I knew the values and qualities that were important to me in a partner. I also knew my “non-negotiables.” I am thankful for every person that was part of my journey, even the heartbreaks, because it was through those experiences that I was equipped to meet who I was met for all along.
- Ran marathons and half marathons. Training for and running a marathon on two different occasions is the closest thing to an out of body experience I can think of. Over my 13.1 & 26.2 mile stretches, I have come to understand the meaning of mind over matter. Running long distance does take physical strength (and incredible amounts of Body Glide- I don’t have a thigh gap), but I believe it requires even more mentally. It’s amazing to see what the human body is capable of, and whenever I start down any path of body shaming, such as expressing frustration at my love handles, I think of the miles its carried me and decide to appreciate my body instead.
- Cultivated mentors and coaches. An old coworker of mine called it a “Personal Board of Directors.” In my twenties, I actively sought out individuals who possessed skills I desired and qualities I admired. Once I built a relationship, or friendship in some cases, I made it a priority. For that reason, I have strong mentors and coaches to bounce ideas off and talk through decisions with on both a professional and personal level. I’m excited to see who joins my Personal Board of Directors in the next ten years!
- Held all sorts of different jobs, AND accepted and changed careers. My first two jobs were in food service; first as a phone girl at a local pizza place and second as a barista at Starbucks. Those part-time jobs taught me the fundamentals of everything I needed to be successful for internships and my future career. Since that time, I built a career in the insurance industry and most recently moved into regional sales for an e-commerce company. Over the past 15 years I have learned that no job is beneath anyone and that who you work for early in your career can have a profound and lasting impact. I also learned that it is okay and healthy to move on; I just need to move with purpose.
- Quit something that made me miserable. Dreading Monday thru Friday and hating the idea of getting out of bed in the morning isn’t right (and not cool). I assumed most people felt that way or that it was a “normal” part of being an adult. My support system called “bullshit!” on that and challenged me to shake things up. I learned that I had the ability to change my life; I just had to have the guts to do it. Whether it’s a job, relationship, living situation or routine, I hold the reigns. And, it is important to remember that just because something made me miserable does not make it bad; it just was not right for me.
- Sought counseling for an issue I needed help working through. We have coaches for sports, fitness, careers and a variety of other outlets, so it only makes sense that sometimes we need one for life. It’s great to lean on friends and family; But sometimes we need outside counsel. And let’s not forget, some of the world’s most successful people have advisors and life coaches. Sometimes life’s greatest work and lessons beckon for it.
- Got real with myself about what mattered most to me. Easier said than done and sometimes scarier than expected. When I started to realize what mattered most, I actually had to begin demonstrating authenticity; this requires me to make decisions about what to let go of in order to make room for more of what my soul desires.
- Wrote handwritten notes. I wrote hundreds, if not thousands of them. Words are so powerful and not many people take time to translate them to paper with pen these days. Giving and receiving handwritten notes is one of life’s greatest gifts, and it makes an impact.
- Recovered from an injury. My injury put life in perspective. For me it was just an ACL; there are people battling tragic and debilitating injuries and illnesses. When you are not “yourself” for a period of time, you learn that a great deal of life has to do with your mindset and how you see the glass (half full or half empty?). My injury was a small reminder that no matter what I have planned and no matter how independent I am, life’s situations can change in an instant. We see it in others’ lives often, whether big or small. It reminded me that when I think something sucks, someone always is dealing with a much bigger and far greater battle.
- Married my adventure buddy and best friend for life! I am so thankful each and every day for my person. In my early to mid-twenties, I wondered if I would ever find the person whom I felt was made for me (and me made for him). It was only propelled by how amazing my own family is; I wondered if anyone would truly fit with my favorite human beings. Flash forward, I moved to San Diego from Illinois for a job opportunity. Four months later, I met my now husband. There were weird incidences from the very beginning with us; Now I just see it as The Big Guy’s way of making sure I was right where I needed to be, when. It felt like magic and early on I knew he was the person I was intended for; that doesn’t mean it is all rainbow and butterflies. Every relationship has its challenges and obstacles – it’s how individuals navigate them as a couple that matters most. My husband and I complement each other in infinite ways, and he makes life so joyful. I look forward to a whole lot of life together ahead.
- Invested time in creative outlets. I learned that my creative outlets allow the rest of my life to flourish. No time spent pursuing hobbies and interest is wasted. My creative outlets happen to be baking pretty cookies and writing. I spend countless hours baking and posting the after photos on Instagram, and I spend many hours every year attending writing workshops and seminars. Am I being discovered and does anyone care? I have no idea, and I don’t care. Why? Because, that’s not the point. My creative outlets are purely a way for me to express myself in my own little corner of the universe.
- Actively participated in my family. We don’t choose our families, but we can choose how we interact with them. There’s a difference between having a family and actively participating in one. I chose to show up for family functions and I chose to show up for my family members, even when it may have been inconvenient. As years go by and miles separate us, it may take a little more effort; but it’s effort that is well worth more than its weight in gold. I have never gotten too old or too cool for family vacations nor family movie nights, and I am glad I didn’t. The memories made are irreplaceable and created roots that run deep. With every passing year, I only appreciate my parents and siblings and relatives more, and so, I participate.
- Learned to be agile. Life throws curve balls. Life presents surprises. I learned to laugh at them and own them. It’s comical how many situations I can think of in my own life over the last ten years that speak to this; Situations that would cause most people to freak and head into a deep dark circle of negativity and all around bad vibes. Yes, sometimes when things don’t go my way, I cry (like any normal human being). I cry for a set, specified amount of time and then I force myself to snap out of it. I’ve had curve balls, but I have a hell of a lot of stories too. Stories that literally make me laugh out loud, and stories that make the original, expected plan seem, well… just a lot more boring.
- Put time into self-care. My college graduation photos show a puffy, 22-year old trying to hide behind a cardigan and over-sized black graduation gown. I functioned on 3-4 hours of sleep a night and instant meals with enough sodium to go around campus. I thought my chaos and lack of self-care meant I was kicking ass at more important things, such as running student government and trying to be a good student. What I learned after graduation was that my self-care was perhaps the most important thing of all. To give my best to the many endeavors around me, I had to feel my best. Feeling my best isn’t a “weight” thing; it’s about treating my body as a machine and putting good fuel in, so it runs long and well. Sometimes I still struggle to find a balance, but in general, I am aware of my well being and acknowledge it. These days, when I feel “blah,” I can pin point why, and I can adjust. People juggle a lot of priorities these days, but I would argue our self-care is perhaps the most important of all. When I’m “off”, the other components of my life are too.
- Believed that life is a boomerang. You get back what you give. I believe the more love you give and the more smiles you provide, the more will come back to you. It starts with being open. It’s tough sometimes; Yes, I sometimes find myself on early morning flights for work with my noise cancelling AirPods popped in just trying to keep my eyes open. But, generally, I try to make a conscious effort to engage with whatever the universe provides to me that day whether it’s a person or experience. I try to spark conversation with my Uber drive, say “Hi” to the person in the elevator and ask the cashier at Starbucks how their day is going. And what’s amazing; it is entirely rare that I have a bad interaction with someone, whether it’s a customer service rep at my insurance company, a TSA agent or the tenant at the gas station. I firmly believe if you put good vibes into the universe, they’ll come back.
- Explored faith & leaned on God. I was raised Roman Catholic and went to an all woman’s Catholic college. I challenged my Catholic faith heavily during my college semester abroad in Rome, Italy and discovered aspects of Catholicism I did not agree with. Meanwhile, I have attended non-denominational services from Singapore to Michigan and California. I have embarked on a Buddhist temple stay in Korea and have lived in a conservative, Islamic community in Malaysia. I have taken time to explore other faiths and spirituality. I’ve learned that it isn’t about finding an organized religion that is a perfect fit. For me, it’s just about believing in something bigger than myself and knowing there is something or someone up there watching over me, guiding me, and directing my steps. For me, that person is “God.” But it’s a lot of different somethings for different people around the world. And, hey, I think that’s pretty cool.
- Made decisions; sometimes very quickly. I learned that I have to be able to think through choices and ultimately make a decision. And sometimes, we do not have the luxury of having time. In those moments, we have to take action. Someone once told me, “The opposite of perfection is done. The opposite of done is perfection.” Sometimes we just have to roll with the information we have; we do not always have the opportunity to spend weeks sketching out multiple drafts of a pro/con list or checking off every item of detail we feel we require before moving forward. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and make a damn decision.
- Adopted (and borrowed) a few of my own life philosophies: 1) If you are going to do something, you might as well do it well. Otherwise, just don’t do it. 2) Shut Up. Sometimes you just have to shut your mouth and stop talking. 3) Listen; Actively. 4) Everyone thinks they are busy, so don’t tell people you’re busy. No one actually cares. 5) Actions really do speak louder than words; You can talk all day or actually do something. 6) Focus on my “why” 7) “Life’s all about the journey; not the destination.”
- Developed a relationship with myself. It’s likely for the 29 reasons above that I was able to become an actual friend to myself. I can be on my own. I can travel on my own. I can go see a movie by myself. I can sit at a table at a restaurant by myself without scrolling through a phone. It’s a good feeling. I have taken time to deliberately be on my own and think for myself, and I am thankful that I have taken time to step away from noise and status quo to sort out my own thoughts. I genuinely enjoy spending time with myself. This is perhaps the biggest accomplishment of my twenties; I am not certain I could have developed so many wonderful relationships and opportunities without being a rock and companion to myself first.