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.

Please Stop Saying “You Complete Me”

To have a partner in life is a bonus, not a prerequisite to survival.

“You’re my other half.”

“My life began after I met you.”

“You complete me.”

No. Just, no. These bathetic, saccharine phrases may sound romantic at first pass. They’ve been written into narratives, scripts and screenplays. They’re repeated at our own friends’ wedding ceremonies as if they were plucked right out of the “How to Write the Perfect Wedding Vows” article on TheKnot.com. You may think I’m being cynical but I’m not; these phrases don’t offend me personally. They just evoke a major bout of, “Do these people truly believe this about themselves? Or, is this the best way they know how to write/speak romantically?” If its the latter, said offenders may be forgiven because I realize some of us pay more attention to wordage than others. I totally get it. But if there are masses of people in relationships who think they’re only half of something awesome, that to me, is a really big problem – societally speaking.

Bottom line: If you’re one half of something, you’re broken. Broken people should not be in relationships. They should be working on healing and becoming whole by knowing themselves.

I get that “You magnify my best self and also call attention to the areas I need to improve and together, we as a couple are extraordinary!” doesn’t quite roll off the syrupy tongue in the same way “You complete me” does.

And I know that “I can handle life without you but man, I really, really, really love experiencing things with the love of my life by my side.” doesn’t quite pack the same punch as “I can’t live without you.”

I held on to the hope that women younger than me were sure to embrace the importance of being whole. And then the Twilight series blew up and I became seriously concerned. I was concerned because Bella from Twilight is not cute. She’s pathetic. Perhaps you read the books too; if so, you also know the storyline is as pedestrian as they come but the real tragedy is Bella’s character. She was literally physically weak every time her guy left the room…she irked me to my core. She’s everything that is wrong with men and women who put too much pressure on equating self-actualization with their significant other. Had she said, “You complete me” in her wedding vows to Edward, I’d have believed her, sadly. But to have a partner in life is a bonus, not a prerequisite to survival.

If you need to idolize a fantasy couple, it needs to be Elizabeth and Mr.Darcy. Bella + Edward < Elizabeth + Mr. Darcy

What do you think? I’d love your thoughts – Chime in below please!