20 things I learned in my 20s

I’ve still got one and a half years left of my twenties, but I feel like I can see the light of 30 at the end of this exciting, confusing, empowering, self-finding decade. It’s been a long, joyous, complicated, amazing journey through the past ten years. Here are some things that I’ve learned along the way.

You can do anything you want to, but you will have to work really hard for it 

In my early twenties I thought I was destined to be a singer/songwriter. After two coffee shop performances and no contract with Sony, I gave it up. Eight years later, I realized I have to work really hard and put something on the line even if I have a natural affinity for something. I get up every morning an hour early to write before the day begins. The only thing I’m risking is being a sleepy-grump all day, but I’m taking a chance on myself, and putting in the work.

Regular exercise is really important

I am a naturally anxious person so working out all the pent-up energy is a non-negotiable in my day. The older and busier I get, the more I look forward to that moment of self-care. I choose yoga and running, but whatever works for you—biking, walking, spin class, jumping jacks—make sure to take the time to do it.

You really are that awesome

Part of getting through this coming-of-age decade is realizing all of your strengths, appreciating them, and learning to let the haters hate somewhere far away from you. I have this really quirky, pun-filled, deadpan sense of humor that I find quite amusing. Not everyone gets it (cue confused strangers) but I like this part of me and I know I am pretty awesome. So are you.

You can choose your friends

I love to be around people who are deep-thinkers and care about serious issues, but love to laugh and not take life too seriously. Y’know what? There are other people out there like me! And by looking for what I want in a friendship, I know when I have that connection and when I don’t.

Breaking up with negative friends is hard, but ultimately freeing

This is the awkward flip-side of choosing friends; you have to distance yourself from the people you don’t want in your life. I don’t like to hurt feelings. For years I felt obligated to people who wanted to be my friend, even if they were really negative, needy, and not the kind of person I wanted to be around. You don’t need to be rude, but you also don’t have to exchange numbers with someone you didn’t hit it off with, or set up a second hang.

You have to ask for what you want

Whether it’s looking for a promotion or hoping for a date with that cute new neighbor, no one is going to give you what you want if you don’t ask for it. The first step is knowing what you want. Figure it out, and ask for it.

Relationships will fail, and it will hurt. But you will survive and learn important stuff

One summer I worked as a camp counselor in the beautiful mountains of Santa Cruz, California and I fell in sort-of-love with a fellow counselor. We started dating a few weeks before the summer was over and I thought it was a real deal. He broke up with me our last day together with “it’s not you, it’s me.” A couple weeks later a mutual friend told me he flew to Texas to make up with his ex-girlfriend. I was devastated and had a few dark weeks, but I moved forward and felt stronger in who I was and what I wanted in a partner. Those things will happen, and you shouldn’t regret them. It’s important to try things. You’ll gain something, even if it’s not a lifelong mate.

Your major in college probably won’t matter in your future career

If it is: That’s totally awesome, and congratulations (I’m looking at you, nursing majors.) But if your college major has nothing to do with your job now, that doesn’t mean it was a waste. The fact that you went to (most) all of those classes, wrote the papers, and finished the degree is what’s important. You’d be shocked at how things you learned in a completely unrelated field will help you out later.

Sometimes a job is just a way to pay the bills

My first nine-to-five job title was assistant to the director of marketing for a mid-sized construction company. My most glamorous task was printing, folding, and lick-and-sealing all 5,473 client quarterly mailers by myself. It paid the bills. I ultimately quit to pursue writing and teaching, but for the time being, that job was what I needed. You can’t always do exactly what your passion is. Sometimes you just gotta pay the bills. That’s OK, and it doesn’t mean you can’t find a job that better suits your goals later.

Learn how to relax and make time for things

Life gets busy and it can be tough to find time for all the fun things you want to do. You probably won’t be able to do every hobby you want to try, but it’s important to make time at least once a week for that knitting-yoga-baking-board game group.

Eat dessert 

It’s so freaking good! Ice cream, cookies, cakes, personalized little cupcakes with a pound of frosting on top, gelato, crème brulee, chocolate anything, and whatever that vegan artisanal café serves…who the heck doesn’t want dessert?! Exercise and take care of yourself, but seriously, eat dessert. (This has been your sweet-tooth PSA for the day.)

Life goes by faster the older you get.

In our twenties our lives start to fill up with work, relationships, maybe in-laws, parents, kids, classes, book clubs, and whatever else. I am learning to enjoy the moment more, to live in the moment more, and enjoy the fleeting beauty of this life.

Cooking is a life skill, not a talent.

It’s OK to be really bad at first, and you don’t have to be a chef, but you have to learn how to cook yourself a healthy, balanced meal. Living on takeout and Uncle Ben’s cuisine forever is just not a sustainable strategy. Cooking simple things is a way of taking care of yourself. You might even find you enjoy it enough to invite friends to share your food. Yay dinner parties!

Go to your annual physical/GYN appointments

This is coming from a hypochondriac, so take it with a grain of rationality, but sometimes those aches and pains are indicative of bigger problems. Also, it’s really important to talk about sexual health with your GYN and get those questions answered. It’s about caring for you.

Take a break to be outside

I am spoiled by all the state parks and natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest. No matter where you live, it’s worth immersing yourself in nature’s beauty now and then, even if it takes a little drive to get there. There is something about the freshness of the tree-lined crests, the gentle flow of the crystal waters, the awesome imposition of ancient rock formations that makes us feel so beautifully small and significant. Don’t take my hippie tree-hugging word for it; go do it yourself, man.

Invest in clothes that fit well and last a while

When I was younger, I loved getting cheap clothes. For a reason: I didn’t have money for much else, and it was a great, ever-rotating showcase for trends. But as I got a little older, I realized that it was fun, but not all that practical. I still don’t love dishing out the big bucks for clothes, but if I invest in a few pieces each season that will last, I end up spending less in the long run. Another great alternative to cheap fashion: consignment clothing stores. Less money, and you can get some gems.

Start saving your money now

Take some of your paycheck and save it. If your company has a 401K matching plan, opt in. I worked a couple years part-time for a financial planning multi-level marketing company (like Tupperware, but with money)—which is really, REALLY not my gig—but I’m so glad for the financial lessons I learned before 25. The more you save now, the more you’ll thank yourself later.

You won’t stay friends with everyone forever (boo) but the people you stay friends with will be solid, kick-ass lifetime buddies (yay!)

I have this friend was a mentor to me growing up and as the years went on we kept in touch became good friends, even after I moved 640 miles away from her. She is fun, funny, loyal, honest, deep person. Every time we get together it’s like no time has passed. These are the kind of friends that you put in the effort for. It’s OK if not every friendship ends with the two of you hanging out side by side in rocking chairs in a retirement community, too. Short term friendships can be just as important and meaningful as long term ones.

Be honest

Ever break something of your in-laws and then ignore it and hope they wouldn’t notice? Me neither. (Ahem) Whether it’s something negligible or a serious mistake, honesty is best. It may not bite you in the ass later, but I’ve learned that I feel lighter and better when I tell the truth. For someone who wants to be liked at almost any cost, this was as hard-learned lesson: honesty is a personal quality that repels some and attracts others. You want to attract the second kind.

Fake it ‘til you make it

At 25 I gave birth to a little girl.  I had no freaking clue what I was doing. And yet, her powerful little lungs told me almost immediately that I had to feed her, put her to sleep, care for her. (Also, she was adorable.) Sometimes you have to just do things and ask lots of questions as you go. Three years later I still have no-clue moments, but I have the confidence that I will figure a way to handle it. It might be a career upgrade, a relationship, or just living on your own for the first time: you will figure this out, and it’s totally cool to ask questions.

Caitlin Meindersee is a writer and mom living in the Pacific Northwest. She loves running, Netflix, Anne Lamott, and all things ice-cream related. You can hear more from her here.

[Image via Fox Pictures]