29 things I learned about my 20s before turning 30

This is it: the last day of my twenties. With less than three hours to go, I figured I would reflect on what I’ve learned…

  1. How close friends are is highly elastic…but depth can be determined based on how easily you snap back into being friends after having not seen each other for years.
  2. Travel in your twenties. You’re old enough to see things and try things without other people telling you what to do, while also inherently being amidst a microcosm where “simply making decisions based solely on what you want” is practice you can get. Meet new people, get some perspective on the world, be an outsider.
  3. Barring some sort of windfall, you’ll be paying off your student loans for more than ten years. Stay on top of it, don’t miss a payment, and pay a bit more than the minimum if you can…but don’t let paying your student loans get in the way of traveling. Your debt will be there when you get back.
  4. Three subpoints about drinking:
    1. Don’t do it to excess.
    2. If you’re going to break the first rule, do it in your early twenties. Its novelty goes downhill very quickly in the second half.
    3. Don’t be stupid – have a sober friend who’s got your back and can prevent you from making a bad decision.
  5. Learn to cook. You don’t have to be able to win an episode of Chopped, but have two or three go-to meals you know how to make well enough to make for gatherings.
    1. Have some cookware. Doesn’t have to be some thousand dollar massive set, but $75 at Big Lots will get you 2/3 of what you need.
  6.  Learn to dance. Specifically, learn to ballroom dance. If you’re half decent at leading, you can pull any person onto the dance floor with you, and you’ll be the life of the party as you ballroom dance to “Party Up”, or some other wildly not-ballroom-dance-music.
  7. Odds are, you’ll probably get into a car accident.
    1. Don’t text and drive. It’s a worse habit than smoking.
    2. Keep your cool. The other person at the accident site probably won’t…but keep your cool.
    3. If nobody is leaving the scene in an ambulance, consider yourself incredibly blessed. You’ll probably have plenty of paperwork and phone calls ahead of you…but you’re in a place where you can make them, and you’re unlikely to be ending up in court.
  8. Learn to debate the side of the argument you disagree with. Second Amendment is sacrosanct? Give me three reasons for gun control. Love your Mac? Come up with three reasons to get a PC. Despite the #FeelTheBern bumper sticker on your car, give me three reasons why Trump might be a good candidate. It’s not always easy, but being able to debate on the side of an argument with which you disagree gives you the ability to go past the rhetoric and oft-repeated talking points, and instead find reasons that resonate with you. It may change your view, or at least change how you discuss these topics with people with whom you disagree.
  9. When you start your twenties, you’ll know that actions speak louder than words. By the end of your twenties, you’ll (hopefully) be able to act accordingly.
  10. If you start your twenties adhering to a particular faith, you’ll likely end it differently. I’m not saying that you’ll walk away from your faith, but your twenties will challenge it tremendously, and the way your faith is implemented at the end if your twenties will look different than when you started. This is not a bad thing.
  11. You might be married. You might not. Either way, you’re fine. The real lesson is not comparing yourself to someone else or allowing someone else’s actions in that respect to be a basis for your own self-acceptance. You probably don’t want to be married to that person’s spouse, anyway.
  12. On the heels of that, your value as a person is not determined by your Facebook likes or Instagram followers.
  13. Depending on your job, you might finally get away from homework and textbooks. Rock on. Some jobs will still saddle you with both of those.
  14. Knowing where your data lives is important. So is making backups. Odds are pretty good that you’ll lose data during your twenties.
  15. You’ll be making lots of very important decisions with a whole lot of data missing. This is unfortunately going to be something you’ll do for the rest of your life, and yes, it’s terrifying. You’ll make it.
  16. Your relationship with your parents will evolve. They’ll always be your parents, but becoming more of an adult means you’ll have different kinds of conversations, and they’ll worry differently. This probably applies to your siblings, too.
  17. Your drawer of deprecated cell phones will accumulate. Your closet of clothes that have gone out of style will accumulate. Set limits and be willing to let go of things you’ll no longer use. Keeping everything that is of sentimental value means that you’ll clutter your living space with things that are of no practical use. Keep some. Donate the rest. Live within your means.
  18. Pick your battles. There are few things in life worse than when a relationship is the cost of “being right”. The corollary to this is that if you opt out of a battle, truly opt out of it. Don’t put it in storage, ready to go when you need examples to win an argument. If you’ve opted out of a battle, commit to that situation being inadmissible in future arguments.
  19. Jobs come and jobs go. Know when to hold and know when to fold, but being unduly loyal to an employer is opening yourself up to being taken advantage of.
  20. Volunteer somewhere. Some of my most well-invested time is the time I gave away. Lots of people need your help, your skills, your hands, your smile.
  21. Splurge on something once in a while that’s really, really worth it – it’s an investment that will keep you from making every impulse purchase you see at Target.
  22. Save some money. No, this isn’t a contradiction with the last point. Keep some money in the bank.
  23. The more time you spend trying to get someone to appreciate you, the less likely it is that you’ll be successful, and the more likely it is that you’ll blow off people who do appreciate you in the process.
  24. Get a good chiropractor. It’s a great way to help your body, and it’s one of the few doctors whose procedures actually feel good when performed.
  25. Take pictures of the people, not the things. Did you see the photo gallery from my last trip? Without referencing it, I’ll bet the two most memorable pictures are the one of me on the beach and the selfie with Jon and Lauren, though perhaps you said the lightning one. There were fifteen images in that gallery. Photos of things are helpful to tell the story, but they’re generally forgettable. There are (literally) millions of images of the Eiffel Tower on the internet…but you will be the only one who takes a picture of you and your friends with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
  26. When you start your twenties, the contacts in your phone will almost entirely consist of friends and family. Use your twenties to make connections. Get the number of an accountant you trust. Get the number of a travel agent, a mechanic, a lawyer, and an insurance rep. These people will help you through life – they can answer the quick and simple questions better than the internet…but return the favor. If they save you a bunch of money or headache without formally billing you, get them a gift card for a nice restaurant, or send a bottle of wine to the office. Don’t take advantage of kindness, but know where to look for it.
  27. Learn when to hold ’em, and when to fold ’em. It’s not always easy to know when to stop pumping time or money into something, cars and relationships being the go-to examples. Like I said, you’ll make some messy decisions with incomplete data sometimes. You can’t always make the right choice, but remember that inaction is still a choice.
  28. Be kind as a matter of course. Hold doors. Help people struggling with heavy packages. Be patient with the old lady at the grocery store who’s trying to win the exact change trophy. Don’t get angry when someone cuts you off in traffic. Let someone else have the last slice of cake. Buy someone a cup of coffee. The simple kindnesses become a habit. That habit means that you will be adding positivity to the world.
  29. Have fun. This is the one decade of your life where you’ll be able to make decisions and mistakes in an environment where you’ll still have time to bounce back. It’s a valuable time. Enjoy every one of the 3,652 days your age starts with a ‘2’.


3,650 days until I write about what it’s like to be in my thirties.

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