December 22, 2020

20/20 Hindsight from my 20s

Dear Twenty-Somethings,

I’m now in my 35th year. I remember thinking 35 was SO old, but I’m happy to report, it is most definitely not. I’m no Gen-Zer but I certainly feel like it some days – except with more wisdom, life experiences, confidence, and money than I had 15 years ago, and that’s a beautiful thing. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have discovered all I did at the start of my thirties post-divorce, but there is plenty that I wish I would have realized sooner. If I could write my twenty-something-year-old self a letter from the future, this is what I’d say…

1) Value your single time. We put WAY too much pressure on ourselves to couple up. Solo time with friends is absolutely precious and you’ll miss out on some of the best times of your life if you’re too caught up in trying to find “the one.” You’ll meet someone – you will. But until that happens, don’t spend a day dwelling on the downsides of being single. There are equal downsides to being in a relationship or having kids, too. Married folks and parents have their moments wishing they had your freedom just the same. So focus on the many upsides! When you’re bored or lonely, hobbies and new friend groups can easily fill those gaps. Pick up a guitar, join a sports league, take on freelancing work for your job, do some serious traveling, etc. Activities are great ways to meet people too if you’re short on friends. The popular dating app called Bumble launched Bumble BFF to help people make friends with others who share their interests, and it seriously works! The point is, if you’re miserable being single it’s your own fault. Don’t sit and sulk and stress over your relationship status, and don’t hang out with others who do that either. You will attract the energy you put out. Love your solo time while you have it!

2) Dedicate time and energy to friends. Don’t let a significant other (or the search for one) take over your social life. Having a partner be your best friend is amazing, but it’s not realistic or healthy for any one person to live up to satisfy every single need you have. Plus marriage is no guarantee of forever, nor is life, and things you don’t plan for will happen. Life can get hard. You will always need your friends. And they will fill a part of your soul that no one else can.

3) Take care of your skin. Stop sunbathing and wear sunscreen. Aging and cancer are significantly easier to prevent than to repair. You’ll care and thank yourself later.

4) Be smart with your money. Luckily, this is one I got right (thank you mom and dad for the early lessons); however, too many of my friends did not so I had to include it. If/when choosing a college, cost should be among the top deciding factors. Your selection of college seems like a HUGE deal in high school, but for most professions, you’ll find it becomes significantly less important in the actual working world. Meanwhile, your loans will continue to matter. Get a job and pay for some of your expenses during school. This will give you a leg up on your resume when you start applying for internships and jobs down the road. Post college, your twenties are critical to establishing your career and building your wealth as interest is compounding. Automatically put a percentage away so you never even see it. Work towards maximizing contributions to tax-advantaged accounts like 401ks and Roth IRAs. Find a great rewards credit card and use it for every purchase – just be sure to pay the balance in full, every single month. Learn as much about money as you can as early as you can – it will pay off, literally.

5) Do not settle on a partner. IF you decide you want a partner (don’t let anyone make you think you need one), do not settle. Don’t let others convince you you’re being too picky and don’t convince yourself of all the reasons you should be with that person. You’ll know when it’s right and you’ll know when your gut is telling you it’s not. I know how strong the fear of being alone can be, and all I can say is that the sooner you get over it the happier you’ll be. Your instinct is there for a reason, trust it. Don’t ignore red flags or be fooled by obsession or missing someone – that does not mean they are right or good for you. Your life can either be much easier or much harder based on the person you choose to spend it with, so it’s worth the wait at any age. Hold out until you’ve had some life experiences, time to mature, heartbreaks, discovered who are you as an adult individual, and really truly learned what you want and don’t want. I hate everything about the phrase, “settling down” as it relates to coupling up with someone. The right person should match or build on your energy and push you to live fully. If you feel like you’re giving up who you are in order to be with someone, then that’s not your person.

6) Take time for yourself before having kids. Seriously, you have your entire life to be married, have kids, and do day-to-day home life on repeat. Think about how much time has passed since you’ve been in kindergarten. How much the world and everyone in it have changed in just 15 years. And you’ve still got the rest of your 20s, all your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond if you’re lucky. That’s a LOT of years to focus on family. You will never regret taking some prime years for yourself and you’ll be amazed at the things you’ll discover, the opportunities that will arise, the impact it will have on your goals and values, and the perspective it will give you for the rest of your life. And you’ll be a better parent because of it if/when you decide to build a family.

7) Do all the things you can. Hard work and saving money should not replace fun. You will rarely regret going out or getting off your couch and doing something – even if you don’t feel like it in the moment. When you’re older, the nights home on the couch are not going to be what fills your memory bank nor the stories you laugh about and share years later. You get a limited number of prime years where it’s socially acceptable to live it up freely, explore, experiment, and have guilt-free fun. Plus you’re body just can’t handle and recover from those fun nights out when you’re older quite the same. Get out there and LIVE. Life is way too short to not experience it all.

8) See the world and soak it in. I learned more in five years of traveling the globe than I probably learned in all 20 years of my schooling. Don’t bank on retirement to travel. First of all, you have no idea if you’ll even be around to see retirement. Second, your body will most definitely limit the places you’ll be able to go and the activities you can handle once you’re there. You don’t even know the adventures you’re missing out on by putting it off. Plus, it will undoubtedly shape you for the rest of your adult life along with all these other reasons, too. If money is the problem, travel can be cheap (really cheap) if you know some tricks. First of all, you have to prioritize it. Most people find a way to afford the things they truly prioritize. You can use credit card rewards to pay for flights and lodging. Stay at cheap Airbnbs or hostels, or you can even couch surf for free! Plus you meet the best people this way. There are good and bad times to book flights so sign up for flight deal alerts. Some countries are cheaper to go to than others of course, so if you’re on a budget, start with those. Our US dollar goes a long way in places like South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. In some cases, it can actually be cheaper to travel internationally than domestically.

9) Try the drugs. There will unquestionably be readers shaking their heads at me in disapproval for saying this – my parents at the top of that list FOR sure as they certainly raised me proper – but I’m saying it anyways. I was at a Bon Iver concert recently – it was a relaxing sit-down show with Justin Vernon playing acoustic guitar and piano – and he said into the mic, “here’s to anyone doing drugs right now, and if you’re not, you should try them.” Of course, he didn’t mean ALL drugs, and neither do I. Some drugs (e.g. heroin, meth, and opioids) are highly addictive, and I would never, ever encourage anyone to mess with them. However, just like alcohol, marijuana, and prescription meds can be safe drugs in moderation and non-addictive for the masses, certain recreational drugs (e.g. mushrooms and MDMA) can be as well. If you only ever try them once in your life, it’s an experience worth having. They aren’t as scary as your D.A.R.E. officers made them out to be when you’re ten :). A little common sense goes a long way, as does age, moderation, safe practices, and doing them with people you trust.

10) Don’t worry about staying friends with everyone. Figure out who is bringing joy and value to your life, and who reciprocates friendship and good energy in the way you need. Don’t be afraid to let go of people whom you no longer connect with, and certainly let go of those who are bringing you down or are carrying negativity. Time is your most valuable asset, spend it wisely.

11) Throw your five-year plan out the window. Life comes at you whether or not you’re ready for it. Things happen. While it’s healthy and smart to think about your future, any plan you come up with is very likely going to be a bust for some reason or another. Don’t make decisions based on your “next house” or “when you move” or “when you get married” etc. Do what makes sense for you now because there’s a decent chance that whatever it is you’re pondering over five years in the future, won’t matter anyways.

12) If you’re lucky enough to have loving and present parents, make time for them. You should have already begun to realize just how much they did for you. Adulting can be really hard. Let go of their mistakes, you will make some too! Cherish whatever amount of time you have left with them.

13) Always treat people with respect, no matter their status or role in your life. Protect your reputation as it will follow you. Remember, we have the internet now :).

14) Acknowledge ignorance. I’m ashamed to admit that I used to think I was above so many things that I actually knew nothing about. I think back on my mindset from high school to my early twenties and I’m embarrassed about all the narrow-minded views I prided myself on that were rooted out of nothing more than ignorance. I judged and labeled everyone from city people, non-Christians, pro-choice supporters, drug users, vegans, and more. My world was so small and my views matched. What I’ve learned is that if you hold the same values and beliefs all your life, it doesn’t mean you’re faithful… it means you’re not taking in new information. Question things you’ve been told all your life! The more I’ve traveled, tried new experiences, and met new people from all walks of life, the more I realized how sorely ignorant I’ve been. I also used to feel that standing up for something meant you had to stand down for something else. The attitude I’ve learned to adopt is, “it’s okay to be both.” You can have democrat views and republican views. You can be a homebody and love traveling. You can love small-town and city living. You can be atheist and enjoy church music. You can support black lives and support police. And on, and on, and on. You don’t have to put something down to build up something else.

Defending what you know or believe is a great quality, but not at the expense of keeping your mind closed off to competing views you may actually know nothing about. When in doubt, choose the side of acceptance, love, and being a good person.