5 Life Lessons I Learned in my 20s

Peace 20s. ✌ Bring on 30 and beyond.

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I’ll be 30 next month. And probably like anyone entering a new decade and saying goodbye to another, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on what the last 10 years have meant for me.

Ten years ago, I was 19 going on 20. Things were pretty ugly back then. My stepdad had passed away the summer prior. Our house was getting auctioned off. My mom lost custody of my youngest siblings. My family life was in total turmoil. It was so distracting, it was nearly impossible to see past the fog and into a more optimistic future.

That year, I tattooed the word “hope” in white ink on my wrist. Because that’s what I held on to at that time: hope that things would get better. When I look down at my faded tattoo today, I’m reminded of what life felt like at 19 and, although I had fun in my late teens and early 20s, I’m much more grateful to be turning 30.

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And things did get better. Along the way, I learned a lot (as we all do!). Here are just five lessons that made multiple cameos throughout my 20s:

  1. Listen more.
    Why is listening so hard? I mean, seriously…WHY. My 20s taught me that it takes real skill (that too many people lack) to look someone in the eye while thoughtfully listening to the words coming out of their mouth. When people demonstrate terrible listening skills, it says a lot of bad things about them: They’re either insecure, self-important or boorish or all of the above.

    Likewise, I learned that most people love to hear themselves talk. But the real talent lies in the skill of listening. I think I undermined this 10 years ago. I wish I had realized the class, professionalism and intelligence that come with closing your mouth and using your ears. I’ve had to re-learn this again and again with my on-camera role. It’s my job to help my interviewee tell their story; not to interject with my own insights every two seconds.When I’m sitting around a conference room table at work, I try hard not to blurt out my opinion first. Hear what everyone else has to say. And then share your opinion if you feel moved to. I am still in practice but I know that listening never makes you look stupid. You do run that risk though when you run your mouth. 😕

  2. Hand out (genuine) compliments more.
    People don’t verbalize compliments enough. And that is a very strange thing to me.When I was probably 22, I remember sitting in a meeting with an influential and talented director-level colleague. This woman is one of the smartest people I’ve worked with even to this day. Our small group was discussing the topic of giving feedback to one another and she made a comment that the further along she’s gotten in her career, the fewer compliments she has received. “People expect me to be good all the time,” she assessed. This was odd to me because I thought everything this woman said was practically genius. And I thought to myself, “Why is it that I’ve never told her this?” Well because, I probably assumed everyone told her how smart she was. But that’s silly – why are we sometimes so scared to tell people what makes them great?

    I think compliments – when authentic – are important, whether it’s your sister or your CEO. (Did I mention you’ve gotta be genuine about it?)

  3. Don’t get into relationships that just don’t feel right.
    I probably could’ve written an entire article about relationship-themed mistakes I’ve made but in the spirit of not doubling my wine intake while I type this, I’ll include this teeeeny tinnyyyy flaw I repeated more than once in my 20s: Getting into relationships that did not feel right.

    Perhaps you too are familiar with the drill: You see potential in someone but despite your internal voice screaming: “This should not be a thing,” you continue the thing anyway. The worst is when you swear you won’t get into anything without it feeling 100%…and you do it again. On one hand, you definitely learn from every failed relationship but in general, this is not fair to either party. Wait it out. That whole “when you know, you know” thing is just a cliche way of saying “trust your instincts.”

  4. It’s never too late to start.
    It seems like the message we get these days is: If you didn’t start the sport or hobby by age 3, you’re outta luck. And that is beyond frustrating. My parents did not enter me in any dance recitals or band lessons. (I was lucky to get to be on my elementary school’s basketball team.) So by the time I reached adulthood, I was certainly not an expert at any given thing. I was, what most would deem, of average talent. And in my teens and even early 20s, I think I let that way of thinking intimidate me.

    Until one day, I decided to embrace a sport I’ve always been obsessed with but had zero experience in: gymnastics. I found a gym in Madison that admits adults, regardless of experience level, and I went for it. That was 2012. I still go to class every week. I’ll clearly never make an Olympic team but I’ve found something that makes me very happy every Monday night. (Hobbies coming down the pike include: learning French, piano and knitting. Stay tuned 🙂 )

  5. (Most) people don’t change.
    I was hopelessly optimistic about this one for a very long time. And I hate to end my dissertation here on something so gloomy but it is, by and large, the truth. People are who they are at their core. “When people show you their true colors, let them” are words of wisdom worth remembering.

Everyone glamorizes the whole being in your 20s thing. I’ve found it humorous (ok, maybe even borderline aggravating) just how many people have brought up my impending birthday with sorrow and sympathy. i.e. “Are you going to miss your 20s?” You mean, am I going to miss being broke, insecure and in a state of perpetual confusion? No, no I am not going to miss that but I’m grateful I went through it. My 20s were full of good times but I’ll make sure to make more good memories in my 30s (and continue learning hard lessons, obviously).

Peace 20s. ✌ Bring on 30 and beyond.

M.

14 thoughts on “5 Life Lessons I Learned in my 20s

  1. ““Are you going to miss your 20s?” You mean, am I going to miss being broke, insecure and in a state of perpetual confusion? No, no I am not going to miss that but I’m grateful I went through it.” Yeah girl, I am with you. I have 11 months to go and I can’t wait for this new, amazing decade of life!!! Thanks for sharing your story ❤

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  2. You seem intelligent and thoughtful, which is one of the reasons I love watching your show. Don’t let turning 30 psych you out. I remember thinking it was really time to get on with my adult life, and settled for choices I would not have otherwise made. People do change, but usually not for the better. Innocence is lost on our children, which is why they are so easy to love. I hope you are right that is never too late to start, or start over. You have to listen to understand another person’s point of view or story, and if you believe in love, you will be patient enough, and strong enough to wait until the right person comes along. Because believe me there is nothing worse than wondering what might have been.

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  3. Thank you for sharing! It’s sometimes hard to open up and vulnerable especially about your shortcomings, but know that your words are powerful and reach so much farther than you know. As I approach my 26th birthday, I loved these simple pieces of advice and really relate to so many of them. Your 20s are a time of growth and change. Planning to embrace that as much as possible as I enter the last half of mine. Keep writing, you have a loyal reader 🙂

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    1. Thanks so much, Kiersten! I appreciate you taking the time to read my posts. I hope you have as much fun in your late 20s as I did. Best years of my life (so far).

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  4. Thank you so much for sharing your story and thoughts of looking back in life. I’m always so thankful for lessons learned and self growth. I read something about compliments not too long ago and I think they are really important as well. You never know how you will brighten someones day with words whether it be family, friends, adults, children. Your words and their smile could go a long way!

    Listening is also a great skill to learn too and I find this even while reading. I always take the time to try to listen to others in conversations and read their whole blog post especially when they’re sharing raw feelings. Most people just want empathy, I know I do!

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