As I sit here, hours from turning 30, I find myself reflecting on my 20’s and everything they taught me. It feels like the end of an era, as I prepare to close the door on a decade of some of the greatest, and worst, moments of my life so far. I feel nostalgic as I remember my 20th birthday, a fresher at University, in a new city, with my whole life stretching out ahead of me. I am also reminded of just how much has changed in 10 short years. I am a very different person now to the young woman I was at 20, and those changes are very much positive. I wanted to share some of the most important things I learnt in my 20’s and writing this article seemed like the perfect tribute to a decade of learning and a perfect way to say goodbye these wonderful years.
Health is a gift. This is the single most important lesson I have learnt in my 20’s. I started my 20’s with good health, and I end it with a chronic health condition that I will likely carry with me for the rest of my life. It is so difficult to appreciate the gift of health, until you lose it. I certainly didn’t appreciate what I had until it was gone. Losing my health has taught me many things, but perhaps most importantly it has taught me not to take anything for granted and to enjoy all that you have while you have it. I take care of myself better now than I did in my early 20’s and I do not take any of my remaining health for granted. Life is precious, and short, so do what you can, with what you have, while you can.
Some friends are for a season, some friends are for a lifetime. My 20’s taught me that having a few close, reliable friends is much better than large groups of acquaintances. Of all the wonderful people I met and cared about during my university years, only a couple of those turned out to be friends I know I will have forever. It is okay if some friends are only for a season. People change, and grow in different directions, and that is just how it is meant to be. It doesn’t make the time you shared together any less important. Everyone who comes into your life helps shape you, the good and the bad, it is all important and necessary to grow.
Failure isn’t fatal, success isn’t final. This is one of the greatest things my 20’s has taught me. Once upon a time I thought success and failure were black and white, but my 20’s taught me that both are equally important and that neither one is the be all and end all. My priorities at 20 were very different to the ones I have going into my 30’s, and for the most part it is because of the lessons I learnt about success and failure. Those words mean something very different to me now and my idea of success is much more focused around my happiness than what society told me was important in my 20’s. I used to think to be successful I had to achieve career goals, and then my health took away my ability to work and I learnt some very hard lessons about what it means to be successful. I am a better person for learning those lessons and I am a happier person because I no longer measure my self-worth by the standards someone else set for me. I am enough, just as I am.
Everyone walks to their own beat. I used to think I had to be married by 26, have a house by the same age, have kids by 27 and be qualified as a psychologist by 30. It was so refreshing when I finally realised that everyone has their own timeline and the only one you should be paying attention to is yours. What anyone else is doing, and when, is none of your business. You are comparable to no-one, and your self-worth isn’t changed by the age you check things off your life list. Do what makes you happy, at the time that is right for you. Be patient, no-one gets everything they want overnight, and it is my belief that things happen, or don’t happen, for a reason.
It is good to plan, but it is also good to let go of plans. I used to plan my life away and the greatest thing I have learnt from my husband is that if you focus too much on planning the future, you miss out on the present. He taught me how to plan less and live more. Planning is necessary, but even the best laid plans can go to hell, so enjoy the present and don’t worry if plans fall apart.
Sometimes things have to fall apart, to fall together. When I lost my job due to disability at 26 years old, I thought my life was over. It honestly felt like the end of the world and I couldn’t see any positives behind losing something that mattered so much to me. However, it was one of the best things to happen to me, because it taught me about what is truly important in life, and it taught me that my self-worth isn’t measured by my career success. It also paved the way for me to change my career direction and start this blog. I don’t think I have ever been happier than I am now, unemployed but doing something I love. My career never brought me as much reward and joy as doing this blog does.
Change can be wonderful. I used to hate change, absolutely hate it. My 20’s taught me how to embrace change and how wonderful it can be. Change is not something to be feared. It is a natural part of life and by embracing it you get to enjoy how wonderful it can be. Much of the change I experienced in my 20’s was not positive on the surface, but it brought about some wonderful things and taught me so much. By embracing all that comes with change I am a happier, more positive person.
Courage isn’t the absence of fear. We all feel fear in life, what matters is how we use it, or push through it. Many big life events happened in my 20’s that left me feeling afraid and lost. I used to think if I was scared, I wasn’t brave but my 20’s taught me that courage and bravery is not the absence of fear. Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. One of the scariest things I did in my 20’s was challenge disability discrimination in court. It was during that time I learnt how important it is to speak your truth, even if your voice shakes. Challenging injustice was more important than my fear, and I used that to push on, even when inside I was trembling.
Standing up for what is right, will always be right. To witness injustice and remain neutral, means you are saying that the perpetrator of injustice was in the right. There is no sitting on the fence when it comes to injustice and inequality. It is important to use your voice to speak up for those who don’t have one. No matter how hard it may be to stand up to injustice, it is important to do so. I will never regret taking a stand regardless of how difficult it was, but I would always have regretted doing nothing.
Your best advocate is you. My 20’s taught me how to advocate for myself and how important is it to be your own advocate. If you don’t stand up for yourself, and make your needs clear, no-one else will do it for you. Never be afraid to be your own advocate, it is essential to learn this, and you are worth standing up for. Trust that you know what you need and don’t be afraid to ask for it, or challenge inadequate service or care.
Learning to be kind to yourself is the best gift you can give yourself. Self-love and self-care were not a priority for me in my early 20’s. In many ways I was very self-destructive in those days and the greatest gift I have ever given myself was learning to love myself and be kind to myself. I know I will continue to learn how to do this for a life time, I will never master this skill because I am human. However, I try to be as kind to myself as I am to others, and care about myself as much as I care about those I love. It may have taken 30 years to realise, but I am worthy of love and happiness. I have learnt that being my harshest critic achieved nothing but misery and disappointment. I am not perfect, but I am enough, and I deserve kindness and compassion from myself.
The things you thought were important, often aren’t at all. In my early 20’s my idea of what mattered and what was important in life was so shallow and naive. I now know that moments matter more than things. Making memories, travelling, spending time with loved ones enriches my life so much more than any status achieved through my career or purchases.
You are never too old to dream a new dream. Realising this made me so happy and excited. Life isn’t over until it’s over, and every single day we wake up we have the opportunity to change something, learn something or dream a new dream. I will never be too old to do something new and as it happens, now I’m finally turning 30 I realise how young that actually is in a life time.
Life is too short to be unhappy. No-one can be happy all the time, and no-one can avoid the hardship that life brings at times. However, the older I get the more I realise that there is good in every single day and I can choose to focus on that instead of the difficulties. For every bad thing that happens, I am blessed in a million other ways and so I choose to be happy. Life is precious, and life is short, I want to choose happiness as often as I can.
My 20’s have taught me all of this, and so much more, but I don’t want to bore you, so I will end with this;
“Experience: That most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn” ~ C. S. Lewis.
I wouldn’t change a single thing about my 20’s, from the best to the very worst, because it all made me who I am today. So, I’m saying goodbye to a wonderful decade, and turning excitedly to the door of my 30’s wondering what lessons, adventures, and blessings await me.