Celebrating my 30th birthday one week ago was bittersweet with the realization that I have left my twenties behind forever. I feel incredibly grateful for the amazing things life brought me in my 20s—living abroad, getting married, moving to California, buying our first house, starting this blog. There were dozens of beautiful moments that I can look back on with fondness, but there were also valleys during those years that shaped me.
As a regular journaler, I took time to reflect on the past decade before celebrating my 30th, so here’s a list of 10 things I learned in my 20s that might encourage you personally or help you get to know me a bit better.
1. Follow Your Gut
I left a great-paying job at Facebook with incredible benefits to support David’s entrepreneurial journey and, soon after, start my freelance business and this blog. When I left, I had no idea what I’d do next, but I knew in my heart that a traditional 9 to 5 was hindering my creativity, not connected to my true passions, and draining my happiness. Life is too short to live that way.
2. Marry Your Best Friend
I’m lucky to have grown up in a home where my parents were true friends above all else. When David and I started dating more than seven years ago, I knew we had that same special bond. We’ve both grown and changed hundreds of times over throughout our marriage, but I can still honestly say we bring out the best in each other. There is no greater earthly gift than walking through life with someone who loves you as you are but challenges you to grow, believes in and respects you, and can make you feel deeply loved and have you laughing in the same five minutes.
3. Treat Yourself with the Same Kindness You Show Others
The improvements I made to my self-esteem and self-talk in my 20s completely changed my life. I hope to write more about low self-esteem in the future as I know many women struggle with this. For me, I had to journey all the way back to childhood and learn what I blamed myself for that I was actually helpless in so that I could defend against guilt, regret, and just plain mean thoughts. I work hard to treat myself with kindness, recognize my best qualities and accomplishments, and speak up for myself when others hurt or misunderstand me.
4. Regret is Fruitless
Piggybacking off of the above, I have never benefited from guilting myself about the past. It’s one thing to to learn from your mistakes, but we’re all just doing the best we can given our emotions, drivers, circumstances, health, and beliefs in any given moment. I take a gentler approach these days, noticing what I could do differently the next time a similar situation arises so that I can make choices that are more in line with my character/the woman I want to be.
5. Strive for Excellence, Not Perfection
I’ve always prided myself on putting my best foot forward, whether in school, sports, work, or my personal life. At some point in my 20s my healthy desire for excellence took a dark turn toward perfectionism, and I suffered greatly for it. The carrot of “good enough” was always moving—I could never rest. Acknowledging and changing this mindset is hard because perfectionism makes promises about “how much better your life would be if…”. But the truth is that perfectionism is a giant illusion. I learned it’s better to move forward in your life with excellency accompanied by slip ups rather than be caught in a standstill chasing something that isn’t even possible.
6. Rest and Enjoy Life
I honestly love what I do. Bringing my creativity to the blog brings me so much joy! However, as an achievement-oriented person, I can go past the point of burnout without realizing. When I left the corporate world, I noticed that my life was more enjoyable and that I was more productive when I stopped following a traditional 9 to 5 schedule. I now set up my weekdays to have an ebb and flow of work, breaking up the day with errands, a visit with a friend, or a non-work project. Sometimes this means I have work sessions at 6am or as late as 10pm, but I am much happier.
7. Take Care of Yourself
Eat well, stretch, hydrate, take a rest day—do whatever it takes for you to have energy and feel healthy physically and emotionally. For me, this looks like early morning workouts, monthly sports massages or PT, fueling my body with healthy food, journaling, reading, less time on social media/online, and the occasional treat (dessert, a small gift to myself, or otherwise).
8. Be Assertive and Stop Apologizing
Saying sorry is second nature for women. We do it without even knowing, we apologize for sharing our opinion, for asking to be included, for feeling offended or hurt. One of the most gratifying lessons I learned in my 20s was the difference between between apologizing just to be nice/avoid confrontation and asking for forgiveness when you have genuinely wronged someone. Not apologizing for speaking up when you’re hurt, you disagree, or you felt a strong conviction in your spirit isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it.
9. Think Unconventionally
Want to take a gap year between high school and college? Go for it. Not ready to have a baby at 25? Don’t! Think you’re being underpaid? Speak up. Know you’re capable of traveling and earning an income at the same time? You can. Think outside the box, beyond your culture’s norms, standards, and expectations—there is so much freedom in this.
9. I Can Be Many Things
Women are often made out to be cookie cutter creatures. You’re “good” if you check the boxes that society expects you to and you’re “bad” if you don’t. I stopped viewing myself through this lens because, honestly, it’s exhausting. I firmly believe that I can love to work and (one day) be an incredible mother. I can have strong convictions and a gentle spirit. I can dislike housework and still make a home. I can be a supportive wife and a leader in my own right. I can enjoy luxurious things and be a down to earth person. I can be intuitive and objective; creative and logical. I can be many things, and that’s okay.
10. Hold On to Hope About the Future
When I felt low, sad, or discouraged about a situation in my 20s, my faith helped me remember that God had a purpose (even if I couldn’t see it) and, more importantly, that I was not alone. I learned that when life wasn’t going my way, I could either rest on my laurels or make a change. I’m lucky to live in America where it’s my prerogative to choose where I live, where and how I work, how I structure my family, who I spend time with, hobbies I pick up, places I travel and explore, and so much more. If there’s something you don’t like about your life, remember that it can change. Talk to God, be patient and reflect on your fears, desires, and daydreams on a regular basis.
Learn something significant in your 20s? Add it to the list in the comments below! I love hearing from you.