Today is the second day of my thirties.
I’m not scared, intimidated, or depressed in the slightest. I hear your thirties are your best years, something reiterated by multiple, credible sources.
But I’m a little sad to say goodbye to my twenties—not that I would ever repeat them, or even wish I could go back and do things differently. But leaving your twenties behind is a major milestone—one of the first not embellished with caps and gowns, diplomas, or rings.
In my twenties, I lead twenty different lives.
I lived in five different states, two time zones, and ten different apartments. I got fired more times than I care to write online. I worked for a blog, a start-up, and a high net worth investment consulting firm. I wore suits to work and I went to work without showering.
I never intended things to go that way. Up until college graduation, I was the girl who did everything right. I went to college on scholarship, got straight As, and landed an internship with an offer on the table post-graduation.
Based on the criteria I once thought mattered, my life was perfect. I had a great job, an awesome boyfriend, and the best apartment I ever lived in. And I broke up with the boy, quit the job, and handed-in my lease to drive solo seventeen hours to Washington, DC.
It is slightly comical, and genuinely sad, how quick we are to judge ourselves by surface level criteria.
Based on the previous paragraph, I once equated my worth as the sum total of a job title, a residence, and my association with another human being. And it took me ten years—almost the entirety of my twenties—to realize just how fucked up that is.
So many of us lose ourselves in the chase of our twenties. We chase our next promotion, our first mortgage, and a marriage license, because up until twenty-two every significant milestone in our lives is perfectly laid out for us. We did the high school and college thing, so we look to the next landmark because that’s what life is supposed to be about. And then we get pissed when we don’t hit it, or don’t hit it on some invisible timeline.
Life is not a race. And if there’s one thing I’m grateful for, it’s not racing through my twenties.
Throughout the past ten years, I cannot tell you how many times I asked myself, “What the hell am I doing with my life?” But looking back, the times I once considered my lowest points, the mistakes I thought would weigh me down forever—those are the times I am most grateful for.
Had I not dug myself a hole and been forced to crawl on my hands and knees back out, I never would have fixed that skewed perception of success and happiness I held at twenty-two.
In no particular order, here are what those times taught me:
Your comfort zone is the most dangerous place you can ever be.
Make mistakes. Take risks. Do the things that, quite honestly, make you want to die inside. When I look at the things that make me happiest, everything started with stepping into an incredibly uncomfortable situation.
I met my amazing group of friends, people who’ve had my back for eight years now, from showing up to a group brunch where I knew exactly one person. Washington, DC, the city I consider my forever home, started with me sobbing through that seventeen-hour drive from Des Moines.
Judge people by how much they love you and how much they support you. End sentence.
It does not matter how impressive someone is on paper, do not associate yourself with anyone who does not fight for you, encourage you, or want the absolute best for you. And this goes for platonic and romantic relationships.
My brother and sister-in-law flew into DC for my 30th, and hands down my proudest moment was when they said, “Your friends are just….awesome,” a sentence dropped multiple times throughout the weekend. My friends were my personal lifeline for the past eight years, getting on a six-hour bus ride when I went through a breakup, picking up the phone when I got fired, or lining up rounds of shots after an eighty-hour workweek.
Make decisions based on how happy something will make you.
Don’t make decisions based on money, status, or promises. When faced with two options, choose the one that makes your life a more enjoyable one to live.
I could have spared myself a lot of pain and frustration had I learned this lesson earlier. I took a job in investments when I despised finance, moved to Boston when I said for twenty-five years I hated cold weather, and refused to quit a job even when I woke up every day thinking about how miserable I really was.
Never miss out on making a memory.
It is so easy to get caught up in our level of productivity, monthly budget, or whatever else could prevent us from taking part in a night out or weekend away. But the nights of I should be savings, I should be sleepings, I should be workings are nights we will never remember. We remember the Tuesdays we got so fucked up we had to call into work, the weddings we crossed time zones to attend, and the times our friends hugged us and said, “I can’t believe you showed up.”
I don’t regret a single mistake in my twenties, but I do regret missing my college roommate’s wedding. I can’t remember a single project I worked on until 2AM, but I do remember having breakfast burritos delivered to the office after staying out until 2AM on a Monday.
We are the sum total of our happiness, our experiences, and our relationships.
And those three things are not milestones we can chase. There is no subjective finish line to surrounding yourself with quality people or waking up one day and realizing you genuinely love what you do for a living.
I live in an apartment that some people think should be condemned. My only employer is myself and I do not go to an office each day. I often do not shower for client meetings. In three weeks, I fly home for exactly twenty-nine hours for my soon-to-be sister-in-law’s bachelorette party, which most people think is ridiculous.
And I can’t name a single time I was happier.