Everyone always told me that I would go through a great deal of changes before I hit my mid-twenties and another round of changes before 30. I never discredited these thoughts, but with a naturally curious mind, I always wanted to know what kind of changes they might be.
Unfortunately, most responded with something vague and cryptic, like: “You’ll just know when it happens.”
While I firmly believe that everyone has different experiences, thus making their life and outlook changes slightly different, I think there are certain things we all experience and insights we all gain. If not, I think there are things we should learn by the time we hit our mid-twenties.
As a result of the fact that I am quickly approaching the quarter-century mark, I figured I would do a little self-reflection and make my own list. Below are the five most important lessons I’ve learned/changes I’ve made in my life as I have approached the mid-twenties:
#1 - You don’t have to have it all together.
Growing up, I was a planner and a perfectionist. I still have a lot of the perfectionist side in me, but I’ve learned to embrace the beauty of spontaneity.
Life doesn’t follow a planning notebook, and five-year plans usually end up in worse shape than the Titanic. While goals are vital to success, they’re not mapped out. Sadly, happiness is one of the few destinations to which the Google Maps car has not mapped out. Nonetheless, it can be fun.
As I’ve matured, my goal lists have transformed from the point-by-point benchmark list of my younger days to a much simpler list: work hard, build a successful career, continue writing, be happy. In fact, when an uncle quizzed me on my five-year plan recently, my answer was: “I just want to be fabulous.”
None of us have it all completely together. Stressing over having our lives and careers planned out, having the picture perfect family by 30, and being flawless will only take away from what is supposed to be a fun decade in our lives. Be a twenty-something and have some fun.
#2 - Selfish people suck, and they’re really not worth the battle.
This is a lesson that is usually learned the hard—and sometimes painful—way. We’ve all had those friends who call whenever they need something. Most of them can even cue the perfect whiny voice to convince us that, this time, it’s really the end of the world. They take, and take some more. They never offer help, and they won’t listen to your problems—because they’re already formulating their response in their head about a story that is WAY worse than what you’re going through.
I had a handful of these friends for a while. I blame my super-hero complex. I wanted to help everyone, and I ended up over-extended and a little bitter. As a result, I quickly learned that sometimes, it’s okay to say “no.”
I’m all for going the extra mile in friendship and helping when people need it, but friendship is a two-way street. It’s about giving and receiving, and while selfish people still have a place as acquaintances who I will hang out with on occasion, they don’t get to take up much space in my life anymore. Some call it freedom; I call it growing up.
#3 - Compete in your profession—not in your personal life.
Climb ladders and be the best. As previously mentioned, perfectionism is a hard habit to break, and a little friendly competition is healthy and fun. But, it has its place.
Friendships and relationships are not the place to compete. Sure, a game of UNO that’s serious enough to cause a yelling match is all in good fun, but when it comes to comparing lives, it’s out of place.
Well, he bought a new car, but I have a better house.
Why does my coworker always look so fabulous?
I got my degree in 3 years; it took her 5.
These are all things we may think, but they’re petty. It’s not a competition, and making life about who has more things—or even who has better things, or who has a more successful career—will only take away from the joy in personal relationships.
Don’t compete. Be happy for your friends—even if they have the dream wedding or the job you’ve always wanted. Expect them to be happy for you as well. After all, it’s give and take.
#4 - Take chances. Make purchases. Chase dreams. Live a little.
If everyone lived their twenties by the rules, no one would have fun stories to tell later in life. This is our time to still be young—and maybe even a little irresponsible every now and then.
Go on a vacation. Buy the shoes. Have that fruity umbrella drink—or 5. Hell, even eat the cupcake.
Yes, we’re responsible adults, and we have to take care of the major responsibilities in our lives—our jobs, our pets (or kids and spouses if you have them), our bills, and our day-to-day tasks. But, that doesn’t mean that life has to be all about rules and by the book. The fact of the matter is that most of us learn by making mistakes.
If we never make mistakes, chances are we’re not taking any chances—and everyone knows that most good things in life—be it finding a soul mate, moving up in our field, chasing a dream, etc.—don’t come without a little risk.
#5 - Take care of yourself. And, love who you are.
Possibly one of the most important lessons in approaching the mid-twenties mark is that we’re not going to be young forever. The college diet of beer, pizza, microwave noodles, and whatever is under 99 cents just won’t cut it anymore.
Now that we have those awkward finding-yourself days of high school and college out of the way, it’s time to have some confidence and take pride in ourselves. Things like going to the gym, eating more foods with anti-oxidants, and even using wrinkle prevention creams start sounding like a good idea so that we don’t have to pay too heavily for the sins of our youth in days to come.
This change in perspective often comes after we learn to accept those things about ourselves we’ve always hated and to have a level of self-respect, because we know that we’re worth it. Maybe your nose is a little too big, or your thighs aren’t perfect. Maybe your hair is unruly and curly (or maybe that’s just mine). Whatever it is, we learn to embrace it. We begin to accept that we’re awesome because of these things—not in spite of them, and we love our random imperfections. And, we know that we deserve to put in the extra effort to make sure that we stay awesome.