3 Lessons From a 75 Year Old to Save Your 20s

Trust me, they saved mine

Melissa A. Matthews
Jan 31 · 4 min read
Photo by Carli Jeen on Unsplash

When I was 25, I moved back to my hometown of Brooklyn, NY to take a job managing an art gallery. I was broke and a bit broken after three or so post-grad years bouncing from temp job to temp job and failed relationship to failed relationship. This felt like I was finally becoming an adult — a frazzled, unnerved, and weary adult. No one tells you what adulthood is really like and it’s not for the faint of heart.

However, just when all seemed like an overwhelming shit show, I met Jacqui. She was a 75-year-old curator and community art historian. She was a whirlwind — a force of nature — and three times my age. She saw right through my keeping-it-together-veneer and set out to actually help me get “it” together. She took me under her vast wing. She mentored me both personally and professionally. In the end, she was more than a mentor. She was a friend.

During our friendship, she taught me three important lessons that helped to save me from myself in my 20s and if I am honest, well into my 30s.


She would tell me often “You cannot advocate for anyone else if you haven’t learned to advocate for yourself!”

What does this mean?

Ask for what you want — exactly what you want, not a bastardized or more acceptable version of it — and negotiate until you get it.

You have nothing to lose. The worst that could happen is that the people or person you are pitching, asking for a job or raise, or to be in a relationship with you can say is no. You then pick yourself up and find someone who will say yes.

When I learned this lesson, I was empowered to take leaps in my life with the confidence that things would work out in one way or another. The truth is, another opportunity is always around the corner, if you are willing to create it.

At 27, I moved to a new country, started a new company, and a new relationship within a six-month span. I had no money but I bet on me and I advocated for myself and my new company relentlessly. My business partner and I ended up landing some of the biggest local companies as clients within our first six months of business.


“The problem with your generation,” Jacqui would say whilst wildly flipping her long red hair (dreads) from one shoulder to the next “is that you all feel like everyone has to know everything about you! The only person that should know everything about you is you!” She’d stop, purse her lips and position her cinnamon complected face directly in front of mine so that I knew she was serious.

What did this mean?

Save something for yourself.

In this age of social media, we tend to put everything out in the world to be judged, liked, and/or commented on by friends and strangers alike. If you want to stay sane, you’ve got to save a bit of yourself for yourself.

There should be a part of your life and soul that are reserved just for you. Be your own safe haven. Other people aren’t entitled to every ounce of who you are. If you don’t keep a bit of you for you, you’ll find yourself burnt out at some point.

Oddly enough, parenting reinforced this for me. As a mother, I received so many messages that said to be a good parent, once you had a child, your entire universe had to revolve around them.

When I was breastfeeding and went down to a meager 80 lbs, and had my 100th conversation about the color of my child’s poop, I remembered that there was more to me than that. I started meditating and saving a bit of time for myself each day.


Jacqui didn’t have to tell me this one, she modeled it brilliantly. We shared an office and people would come in and out asking for her help on one project or another but she was extremely discerning. After they’d left, she’d say “I cannot put my name next to theirs,” or “I cannot be associated with that because it goes against my principles.”

What does this mean?

Work, engage with and associate with people, places, and things that align with who you are, what you believe, and what you want for your life. Everything else is a waste of time. These are the things that the world will judge you by. You are the company you keep and the ideas you endorse.


We have unlimited information at our fingertips through the internet and blogs. However, there’s no denying the sage-like lessons we can learn from someone that’s lived a lifetime or two. Don’t just focus on building relationships with our peers. Seek out cross-generational connections. My friendship with Jacqui was one of the most defining relationships of my young adulthood. Her advice and interest in my life fortified me to embrace and work through challenges she expected and I had yet to imagine.

Figuring out adulting — especially in our twenties when it can seem like we are abruptly plucked from our youth — can be overwhelming. But we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Be open to the wisdom and lived experience of those that are willing to guide you. After all, they might just save your twenties.


Melissa explores life, love, food and navigating the world as a Black woman. Follow her here for more.

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

Medium’s Millennial Career and Life Advice Publication.

Melissa A. Matthews

Written by

Storyteller using a variety of media including art, writing, and food. Spreading food love and stories @Recipe’d: https://melissamatthews.substack.com/p/coming-

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

Medium’s Millennial Career and Life Advice Publication. We discuss our post-grad blues, successes, failures, and everyday life right here. Featuring topics related to work, relationships, travel, finances, and so much more.

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