This is 30
Six Things I wish I knew in my Twenties
I turned 30 today. I don’t usually write advice columns, but something about entering a new decade has me reflecting on my twenties and life after college. Although it was a good decade overall, it was fraught with change, challenges, and disappointments and I’m hopeful that this next decade will be even better. If you’re a recent graduate, the ceremony, the parties, the hoopla are all behind you and it is starting to sink in that the rest of your life starts now. For what it’s worth, here’s what I wish I knew right out of school.
1. Don’t play the comparison game.
Our digital world makes it all too easy to compare yourself to others. We’re inundated with Facebook posts, tweets, LinkedIn updates, and blogs—all letting us know the latest happy news from our seemingly perfect friends. And we often fall prey to comparing realistic views of ourselves to our friends’ shiny, perfected digital selves. I still have to remind myself that my friends do not love their jobs all the time, do not have babies that smile constantly and never cry, do not look perfect at every moment of the day, etc. If you think the comparison game is hard now, then get ready. The wonderful thing about college is that you and your peers are in the same stage of life. After college, age matters less and stage of life matters more. And it is tempting to envy the person who seems to be in a better place. The singles admire the marrieds who made it to the altar of matrimony and happiness ever after. Except that the marrieds think the singles have it great with their freedom. Those of us still struggling with our careers (let alone what should I do with my life?!) envy those who advanced quickly, love their jobs, and seemingly have it all figured out. And don’t even get me started on mom culture when the comparing extends to little humans over whom you actually have very little control. So, do yourself a favor and stop comparing yourself to others now. You are unique and your path is unique.
2. Invest in friendships (and be willing to let others go).
The twenties are hard. Life is fraught with change and you’re still trying to figure out your place in the post-college world. Find friends to be your anchor and stick together. Invest in a few close friendships; remember depth is more important than breadth. Know that not all of your college friendships will stand the test of time. Learn to be okay with this and let go.
3. It’s okay to start over.
Want to go back to graduate school when you’re 35? Go for it. Hate your job? Get out. With each passing year complacency grows. You might find yourself conjuring up reasons to stay in a job you dislike. Or you might convince yourself to settle for a so-so relationship. It really is okay to start over. This is where #2 is important: surround yourself with friends who will support you and encourage you. That said, you do have to be realistic about say, supporting yourself and having food to eat, but don’t be afraid to try something new even when everyone else around you seems “settled” in their lives. Chances are, they’re not. I feel far from settled even though I have a kid, a husband, and a mortgage.
4. Be authentic.
Authenticity means being you and no one else. It requires you to take off the mask. You must own up to your issues and be honest with yourself. Being authentic is hard work, but the relief of not having to pretend to be someone you’re not is worth it. It might mean you’re not the latest trend-setter or have the best fashion. It might mean owning up that your perfect Friday night involves staying in with a good book rather than a night on the town. On the flip side, being authentic relieves you from the pressure of fitting into a certain mold and frees up time to pursue what you truly love.
5. Temper your expectations and go easy on yourself.
You won’t have it all figured out by the time you’re 30. But, you will be more comfortable in your own skin, you’ll have learned valuable lessons through your experiences, and you’ll have stored up priceless memories. You may face disillusionment, but it will give you perspective. You may face disappointment, but it will give you perseverance. (And yes, it does suck when people tell you this at the time and you’ll want to scream at them. Only later, you grudgingly realize they were right.) Slow and steady wins the race. I’m still telling myself this, hoping for fortuitous surprises in my next decade.
6. Don’t stop dreaming.
It is incredibly tempting to just give up. And with each passing year, it becomes increasingly hard to fan the flames of imagination, creativity, and aspiration. You may have to rein in your dreams and adjust to new realities, but don’t give them up altogether. Keep dreaming for a brighter future.
Photo courtesy of bitzcelt.