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Last weekend, my sister graduated from her Physician’s Assistant Master’s program and our whole family headed down to Phoenix to proudly watch her graduate. Excuse me while I do a little bragging here, but my sister is a rock star. She’s the first person in our family to go into medicine, she’s already been offered three jobs, and in November she’s headed to Dartmouth to start a year long residency in cardio-thoracic surgery. <<< Proud big sister doesn’t even begin to cut it.
Watching her walk across the stage this last week, well, it made my heart swell with joy – she has accomplished so much in her life and I love the person she is. But it also made me feel protective over her as well, because I know what lies ahead. No matter how well you’re doing in your twenties – there are always times where you doubt yourself, times where you feel scared, times where you wonder… “Am I making the right decision?”… “Is this the right path?”
Now with my feet firmly planted in the last year of my 20s (gahh… where does the time go?!?) watching her graduate got me thinking about all the things I wish I would have known… all the things I wish I could go back and tell my early-20-something self. Thus this blog post was born.
I don’t have all the answers. Not even close. I’m not perfect… also – not even close, and my 20s were far from it. But I do have 9.5 years of personal experience… and maybe somebody somewhere can take something from it. If this post sounds preachy at times – that’s not the point – but these lessons took me 10 years to learn and (in my humble opinion) they’re important. So here we go.
What I Wish I Would Have Known In My 20s:
1.) Follow your gut. I took a job right out of college with a company that didn’t even have a website. I was terrified, but in my gut, I felt that it was the right thing to do. Fast forward to today – I still work for those same people, and taking that risk turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The same went for when I got engaged. When Joe asked me to marry him, none of my college friends were engaged yet, and I was (gasp) getting engaged to someone who had already been married before. I was going to be a “second wife.” But… in my gut… I knew he was “the one”… and he was and is.
In my experience, your gut and your intuition will usually take you in the right direction. Trust yourself – about people, decisions, jobs, and life. If you’re wrong? It’s OK. You’ll learn from it.
2.) The path your friends are taking may not be the right path for you, and that’s ok. Some of the best advice I have is to — “do you.” When I graduated college, all my girlfriends were moving to San Francisco, but I had gotten a job back at home. I felt left out, nervous, and I felt scared that one day I might regret my decision. But, in the end, I am so thankful that I took my own path.
So… just because your friends are moving to the city, going to grad school, getting married, having kids… it doesn’t mean that’s the right decision for you. Trust the timing of your life. It will save you a lot of heartache, worry, and probably money too. I’ve seen so many people rush into jobs, homes, and marriages that aren’t right for them just because they’re trying to “keep up”. Don’t be one of those people. “Do you.”
3.) Don’t get sucked into the “dream job” fallacy. I can’t stress this enough. I struggled with this early on, and I’ve seen SO many people in their 20s, 30s, and even 40s struggle with this since then. But as with most things, time and perspective are the best teachers.
I hear people say – all the time – “It’s not my DREAM job.” Well, you want to know a secret? There isn’t a person in this world that LOVES their job every.single.day. There are days when the “stay at home mom” wants to forget she has children, there are days when the teacher hates her students, and there are days when the bond trader (me) wants to ignore that 3:30am alarm, pull the covers over her head, and go back to sleep. That is OK.
Personally, I’m almost 30, and I DEFINITELY don’t have what most people would consider “the dream job.” I sit at a desk and stare at 6 computer screens – all day long. But you know what I DO have? A job that, most days, I like… a job that I am good at, and a job that allows me an amazing amount of time with my family. For that, I am forever thankful.
I saw a quote the other day that said something along the lines of, “It’s not the situation, it’s the way you’re looking at it.” <<< How true. My advice is this: be thankful for the job you have and do it to the best of your ability. If you find it is time to move on… and time to pursue something else… then move on. And try to do it gracefully.
4.) Be humble and be kind. No one likes a person who thinks they’re better, smarter, more entitled… than everyone else. To go a step further… you are not better than the person waiting on you, or the person holding the door for you, or the person parking your car. As a rule, I don’t trust people who are rude to wait staff, and you shouldn’t either. The next one is similar… Being kind will get you further in this world than anything else. People will always remember how you treated them, so if you treat everyone with kindness, you will never have to worry.
5.) Travel. If you can, your 20s are an amazing time to see the world. So go. Take your vacation time, turn off your work email, tell your boss you will not be available for calls… and go. This is something I wish I had done more of.
6.) When people show you who they are, believe them. If someone is consistent in their behavior – good or bad – it is best to trust them. For example: if someone consistently disrespects others’ time, lies to others, or acts in their own self interest… it is safe to assume that might not be a person you want to keep around. In my experience, people very rarely change. On the other hand, if someone is consistently kind, reliable and trustworthy – that is someone I want in my life.
7.) You don’t need a certain number of friends – just a number of friends you can be certain of. When I was younger – I thought it was important to be friends with, and to be liked by everyone. However it seems that the older I get, the less time I have – for everything. Bullshit and drama are nowhere on the list of things I want to spend my time dealing with, so accordingly, I have a very small, carefully curated group of friends who I trust with my everything. I have lots of acquaintances as well — but I keep them where they are — as acquaintances. A lot of times people mistake this as me being standoffish, or bitchy. It’s not. It’s just that I know who my people are, and I’m good with that. My advice is this: your time is valuable… invest it in the relationships that matter most to you… and they will serve you well.
8.) Be good to your parents and your grandparents. It is amazing how quickly adulthood reaches you, and how you realize that life isn’t as long as you once thought it was. I know might seem morbid, but as soon as your reach your 20s, you will see friends start to lose their parents, you might lose your grandparents… and from experience, it will rock your world. Be good to your parents. Take time to visit the people you love. Make every moment count.
9.) Happiness is a choice you make every day – for yourself. The older I get, the more I understand this to be true. I have seen people with all the money and “things” in the world… but on the inside they’re miserable. I’ve seen people with “the perfect family” on Facebook, but in reality, they’re barely holding it together. Happiness has nothing to do with your social media presence, your friends, your job, your kids, even your significant other. Happiness is something you have to find within yourself, and it is something that you choose every.single.day. In my opinion, the sooner you learn this, the more fulfilled your life will be.
10.) Save. If you can, set aside at least 10-15% of your income annually. Saving a portion of your income will serve you well in the future. Max out your 401k – if you can – and if your company doesn’t offer one, set up a retirement account on your own. Find something worthwhile to invest in, spend your money wisely, and plan for a rainy day.
11.) Find a way to give back to this world that makes you want to work harder. There is nothing more rewarding and meaningful in this life than helping others. I would urge you to find the means of service that speaks to you and to pursue it ardently.
13.) You’re never too young… to run a business, to get paid a certain amount, to apply for that promotion, etc etc etc. Know your worth, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. This is so important. Believe in yourself and your abilities. You will have to be your own biggest advocate – no one is going to do it for you. The earlier you start, the better.
14.) Apologies don’t come with “buts”…. One of the most useful things I’ve learned in my lifetime is to how to apologize, and apologize well. This skill was used – a lot – in my 20s.
Accordingly, I’m astonished by how many people- A.) don’t apologize when they should… or B.) apologize really poorly. If you say to me, “I’m sorry… but I meant it like this… ” or “I’m sorry you feel that way, but… ” without a doubt I’ve stopped listening and I’m going to send you packing. To me, that means you’re really not sorry. You still think you were justified in your actions, and you’re not taking accountability for what you did.
Apologizing and apologizing well, is important for a number of reasons. 1.) It’s disarming and 99% of the time it ends the disagreement. I’ve never had a boss or a coworker continue to argue with me if I’ve said, “I’m sorry, you’re right, I’ll do better next time.” 2.) It saves the relationship. Saying you’re sorry – without the but – shows that you care more about the person and relationship, than you do about being right. 3.) It shows maturity and it shows that you’re a person willing to take accountability for your actions. <<< This is most important to me. I know that was long… but it’s important… learn to apologize, apologize when you should, and apologize well.
15.) God’s timing is always better than your own. This goes for your whole life, but I think it’s especially important to remember in your 20s. My boyfriend from college broke up with me – on graduation day. I was crushed, devastated and hurt. It was — awful. But looking back now – I can laugh – and realize it was all a part of God’s plan. The breakup, the job I took, the moment I met my husband, this blog, the day of William’s birth, it has all been part of the plan, and it is so much better than I ever could have imagined or planned for myself.
Your life will unfold in your 20s – and I promise you it will be beautiful. It will be hard at times, yes, but anything worthwhile always is.
More advice for 20-somethings I’ve compiled from friends:
– If you’re drinking… nothing good happens after midnight. Make like Cinderella, keep your shoes, and GO HOME!
– Learn how to cook a signature dish – really well, and have an appetizer you can whip up at a moment’s notice.
– Have a go-to cocktail.
– Don’t play where you work… a good degree of separation from your co-workers is a healthy thing.
– Having the last word doesn’t make you right.
– If you want to be the most interesting person in the room, say nothing. Just ask people about themselves.
-Take care of your skin… wear sunscreen and invest in a good regimen/eye cream.