20 things I learned in my 20s

“You’ve gotta backpack Europe in your 20s. While you’re still young.”

“Oh God. Enjoy your 20s. Have fun! Don’t get involved in anything serious.”

“You shouldn’t get married until your 30s. That’s when you’ll know what you want. Focus on your career instead.”

As I approach the big 3-0, I’m thinking back on the last very definitive—albeit very confusing—ten years that made up my 20s.

The best party of your 20s is not the house party you threw in 2011. It’s your wedding.

A lot of the stand-out moments in this wild, wild decade are measured against a certain standard. You know, the certain standard of random people’s opinions.

Turns out there’s a whole lot of peer pressure to do everything in your 20s.

And, despite your best intentions to embody “YOLO” (RIP to this over-used millennial catchphrase circa 2012), pretty much nothing goes according to plan.

See: turning 30 in a global pandemic.

Pretty anticlimactic, huh?

What were the stand-out moments in my 20s? Well, I did not backpack Europe. I did date, but I also got serious when I was 23. And (oops) I got married when I was 27.

Here’s the thing. This decade is not about living up to someone else’s “YOLO” expectations. There’s no roadmap or GPS for your 20s, only roadblocks and random wildlife that might cause you to pause and figure out your own path.

I’m grateful for my 20s. They taught me a lot and gave me a fair share of scars and crazy stories. But I’m even more excited to see what lies ahead in the next decade.

So here’s a list that I can reflect back on when I’m 39 and panicking about turning 40.

Dear future me: it’s going to be fine. Your 30s also taught you a lot…

For now, in the year of 2021, here are the 20 things I learned in my 20s:

1. Happiness is more important than prestige.

2. It’s okay to change your opinion. You can be a Marxist at age 22, then a centrist at age 29.

3. On that note… Listen to other peoples’ opinions in-person. Twitter is not an accurate portrayal of public opinion.

4. You don’t have to be plugged in 24/7. Put your phone down at least one day a week to clear your head.

5. Make time for a hobby or new activity that brings you joy. Even if it goes nowhere. Even if it makes no money.

6. Fall down. But get back up.

7. Despite people telling you to “wait until your 30s to get married”, it’s actually up to you.

8. When you get engaged, expect a range of reactions from people, from “AHH CONGRATS I LOVE YOU TWO TOGETHER!” to “Well, I think marriage is slavery.” Shrug it off. Save it for a blog post.

9. When you get married, it’s okay to change your last name. It’s okay to want a classic wedding dress and a big reception. It’s equally okay to do the opposite of those things, too. Do whatever you want.

10. It was pretty dumb to hitchhike in Malaysia when you were 21. And now, thinking about having your own kids one day, you understand your mom’s disappointment in said hitchhiking venture…

11. Embrace your contradictions. You can keep up with current events while being a proud member of #BachelorNation. You don’t have to pick one over the other.

12. Don’t pretend to like something to fit in. Case in point: almost all music approved by your hipster ex-boyfriends and Pitchfork critics.

13. Listen to emo. It will really help you embrace your existential crisis as you turn 30. Bonus point: admit that you listen to emo.

14. Think about money. Be smart about money. But don’t let it control you.

15. Your degree/job title/accomplishments/failures do not define who you are.

16. You will lose things. Like your phone in a sketchy bar. But that doesn’t mean you’re irresponsible. It just means sketchy people steal phones in sketchy bars.

17. Most of the terrifying situations you make up in your head never end up happening.

18. Some 20-somethings go to Punta Cana for Spring Break. Those same kids also go to Coachella, then spend the summer in [insert European city here] at a prestigious internship. And you will be stuck in your university town, working an 8-hour shift at Tim Horton’s followed by a 5-hour shift at a graphic t-shirt store in the mall to build character, grit, and a hard work ethic.

You will hate it at the time. But you will appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears a decade later.

Plus, you’ll know how to make an iced capp while an old man yells at you. Take that, Coachella.

19. The closer you get to 30, you will become more fluent in cat. Because your 20s are your dog years where everything is exciting and you’re a bit gullible. Your 30s are, well, for being sassy and stubborn—and having boundaries.

20. You’re always evolving. Always growing. And that’s pretty amazing.

So happy freakin’ 30th birthday to all you 1991 babies.

We did it. We survived our 20s.

Cheers. And good riddance.

One thought on “20 things I learned in my 20s

  1. This is awesome Emily. My daughter is also turning 30 and I’m going to share this with her! Thank you for sharing your first 20 years!


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