30 Life Lessons I Learned in My 20's

Originally published at onmycanvas.com on September 4, 2017.

I thought this day would never come but I am six days away from turning 30. I would have to change both the digits of my age in all the pre-filled forms on the internet.

A twenty something me was working for software and finance giants, drinking way too much way too often vomiting in pubs and on Karnataka — Tamil Nadu highways, angry with family, running after people, quitting work many times, roaming around the world on my own when my mother thought I was at home or traveling with a friend, falling in love too many times, living in with someone knowing it was not going anywhere and feeling shattered when the obvious happened, cooking in restaurants and my own kitchen for hours, almost gone to Italy for a culinary course, dragging strangers to dance floors in pubs and bars, stranded at South American borders, taking lifts from random people on streets at random times, saying things that should have been kept private, unsure of what I wanted.

Though I still do a lot of those things; I at least have the right reasons now. Roman philosopher Seneca truly said, “The most important knowledge is that which guides the way you lead your life.” Goals are only rewards along your journey. Mario pops out the super mushroom and fire flower and becomes Super Mario; we also become better with time at what we do. He at least gets a princess at the end of his quest; our quest lead us to death. Each day, the smallest of the things that we do make up who we are and what would we become. And that’s all we got. As writer and blogger Paul Jun said in this article, “The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning towards the goal which is important.”

My list of the things that matter.

1. Accept and Let Go — It took me three years to accept that my ex-boyfriend was still not sure about me and it had nothing to do with him not wanting to get married, which is what he said. If I had faced this fact — as my friends told me — and moved on, I would have saved some time. You need to acknowledge things even when they are not explicitly told to your face. Not everyone would do you that favor. And then, let go — don’t fight. Even bending back in yoga becomes easy when you stop fighting to keep your body stay upright. A Chilean friend of mine once said, “El que estés tranquila es solo un proceso metal” — that you are peaceful is most important.

2. Laugh and Make People Laugh — Whenever someone joked about me, I laughed — turning the frowns into smiles. Not losing the humor about yourself and making people laugh goes a long way. As Robert Frost said, ”If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.”

3. Running Behind Other’s Goals Would Leave You Nowhere — Many of my friends gave GRE and GMAT during the last year of University while looking for jobs. I wondered if simply accepting the job offer I got during campus placement was the smartest thing to do. It was. I never wanted to do MBA or MS or Ph.D. and I am glad that peer pressure could not push me far enough. Many friends did MBA for reasons they can’t recall. Many colleagues had done MBA and were doing the same work and earning similar. Not a lot of people know what they are doing; don’t make their goals yours due to peer pressure.

4. Find Your Calling — I think I now know what I want to do. But I had to fight with everyone who loves and cares for me, save up, stay up nights, resign, get fired, move countries, teach English, work two jobs at the same time. I rode enough roller coasters to say this, it is worth it. And twenties is the best time to figure out. Maria Popova, a famous blogger, said, “Intricate work and life in an inextricable fusion.” Breathe your work, bleed it.

5. Be Confident. Believe in Your Dreams. Work Hard — Where I want to take up this blog is my vision. Already, many friends have told me that I am going to fail. Meryl Streep was once told that she was too ugly to act in a movie. Your vision is only yours. As cliched, as it sounds, believing in your dreams is the first step towards achieving them. And then stay the course, work hard. Whenever I tried the easy way — I finished before the finish line. Albert Einstein said, “Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work.”

6. You Can’t Hide Behind Fate — In India, during wars between two kingdoms, women jumped in wells to escape rape by the other king and his soldiers; that is fate. I really want to do this but I can’t; that is not fate. I am not running a restaurant because my brother talked me into not opening one or my brother in law changed his mind about the partnership. Unlucky, right? No, I never wanted to do it, not yet. Arunima Sinha, a woman with an amputated leg, climbed Mount Everest. If you are not doing something right now, you were not planning to do it ever.

7. Work Intelligently— You need to intelligently make your work reach the right people. Not only I need to write brilliant articles — with hard work — but I need to make sure people read them.

8. You Can Go Easy on Money — I did not have a husband, children, car loan, financially dependent parents. I could afford to earn less or nothing, at times, to pursue my passions, travel, live in another country, learn languages and more. You have the least responsibilities in your twenties.

9. Family Is Important — Way more than you think. Parents love you the most. They are not always right, bad at expression and cross the space boundaries, way too often. Staying angry at them does not help. Else you would stay up nights recalling the emotional blackmail your mother put you through to call you back to India or how your brother lectured you for hours to discuss what was wrong with most of the photos on your blog. When it comes to family, there is no right or wrong. They slowly start coming along.

10. Build Long Lasting Relationships — Making a lot of friends and going crazy sometimes kept me going. My strong support system is my hot cup of tea on a rainy day. They carried me when I could not walk. Do read my guide on building relationships and their importance.

11. Eat Well — A replenished stomach solves half of my problems. When we are at our life, it is easy to ignore food. But isn’t it one of the basic necessities? Isn’t it why we started hunting and agriculture? Keep that in mind the next time you skip breakfast and crumble through your work.

12. Cook — No, not two-minute instant noodles. This is one of the most important and underestimated skills that has supported me through years. I cooked when I was sick or abroad or at my parent’s to give them a break or for my partner when he was late for a meeting. Why not cook when you can eat healthier, tastier, and cheaper?

13. Travel — I possibly can’t emphasize this enough. My South America flight tickets might have cost me the rent of many months but I am glad that I did not rather spend that money on expensive dresses or boy friends or parties or lip glosses. I still do not think twice before booking tickets as I know it is going to be worth it. Travel made me compassionate, kept me grounded, took me out of my comfort zone way too many times, and exposed me to things that I hadn’t even imagined. It made me who I am. Don’t let your twenties slip away without traveling.

14. Buy What You Need — I have never used some of my most expensive clothes. There are no emergencies when you can’t buy them, and if there is, I am sure nobody would care what you are wearing. So hold your horses. Live a compact life, which is easy to pack into a suitcase as and when needed.

15. Work Out — One day I could wake up and hike that active volcano my crazy Canadian friend wanted to. Don’t party away your twenties to realize the importance of health when you almost faint climbing four staircases.

16. Have Your Own Therapy — Writing helps me express and vent out. Venting out, often, helps. Find your stress busters.

17. Solve Basics First — My laptop was hanging, and instead of completely fixing it, I spent hours waiting for windows as I pulled off half my hair. Formatting it and then working helped me breathe. Replace laptop with whatever. Save time and peace of mind.

18. Keep the Basic Routine Sane— Sleeping well helps you work better with a good mood. Getting up on time gives you longer work hours. Keep visiting the dentist: else you might end up stuck at the border refugee center with bleeding gums and an aching tooth. Get the basics right.

19. Set Goals For Everyday— I have accepted that I am not Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot is. Not trying to do everything lets you do so much more.

20. Stay Updated — . I have been in my own world, way too long, way too many times. Nothing good came out of it. Break up or a nagging boss does not justify the ignorance. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Arundhati Roy’s fictional characters move around integrated with the political movements of India. When you are more connected with the world, you are better prepared.

21. Fall in Love— Love is an emotional roller coaster, you get the highest and the lowest as you scream out your tonsils. It is not everything. But there is nothing like it.

22. Love Hurts — Only a breakup could make me not eat for two days straight. Be prepared to get screwed multiple times. And nothing can prepare you. But with every heart break, you come closer to your self. Enjoy.

23. Drag Yourself Out of Bed — The days I stayed in bed, not wanting to go to work, are not going to come back. There would be a hundred reasons to stay in bed, and maybe none to get out, but do it. Moving on with day to day activities: shower, work out, food, work, music, phone calls, your favorite sitcoms — makes you feel better.

24. Say Sorry — Quickly. It resolves everything easily. Didn’t make me less of a woman, instead made me bigger. I wish I had owned up to my shortcomings more often. Don’t blame your partner or friends or family. It might be easier for a short term, but on a long run, no. Imagine copying an assignment and getting marks. But you have to give the finals, right?

25. Be Polite — With everyone. Live your day as if no one is looking. Then you don’t have to worry about anything popping up unannounced.

26. Look Good — Looking good has eased my way into people’s hearts, almost always. First and all other impressions are important. No matter what people tell you. Sorry, the world is unfair.

27. Learn to be Alone — You would need it more times than you can imagine. There were times when I — one with a thriving social life — sent 15 WhatsApp messages to meet people but still ended alone. I manage it much better now but I had to learn.

28. Make Sacrifices — I live a minimal life with basic clothes and shoes and other necessary items. My friends Netflix endlessly at the end of the day when I open up my kindle or search for a movie based on a book to help me understand how the novelist built the strong characters. I realize what I am giving up for my dreams and that makes it much more worthwhile.

29. You are Responsible for Your Own Happiness — Don’t oblige others to judge and fix your mood. Be easy on yourself and them during those short term emotional swings.

30. Breathe — It solves almost everything. As Anne Lamott said in her Ted talk, almost everything starts working when we unplug it for a few minutes, even Us.

The changes do not seem obvious and I didn’t feel myself changing but when I look back, I see a different younger me — the one aware but unsure of what matters. I have stormed out of my twenties, almost, realizing how much isn’t a problem.