An Ode to My 20’s: The Craziest, Shittiest, Happiest Years of My Life So Far

I’d like to take some time away from my regularly scheduled content to be vulnerable for a second. Sometimes I just feel like that’s necessary.

So far, I would say that my twenties have been characterized by knowing exactly what I want, but at the same time, not having any idea what I want, at all. What’s that? Do I sound similar to your favorite office drama character, Michael Scott?

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Horrifying, but true. My twenties so far have felt a little bit too much like seasons 1-4 Michael- lost, wanting to do the right thing, but also wanting to run away from every responsibility I have all at the same time. But Michael overcomes all his stupidity and poor choices in the end, so I will too, right? Yes, certain qualities of young Michael Scott are terrible, but at the same time, we find them hilarious. In the same way, what are your twenties anyway without being able to look back at your mistakes and laugh?

There’s really no reason for my writing this now, other than the reality of coming up on my 23rd birthday, being only about a month out from finishing my master’s and being thrust into the real world, and it being the second birthday of my blog. Okay, so I lied, there’s plenty of reason. It’s all starting to hit hard.

Two years. I can vividly remember the day I sat down on my porch in lil ol’ Upstate New York and decided to actually do this, to crank this thing out once and for all. Two years ago today- it seems like just yesterday, but when I think back to the person I was two years ago, oh gosh. The amount that I have grown since then. It’s kind of like when you start a new diet. Day-by-day, you don’t notice much of a difference. But when those before and after pictures roll out, OOOO BABY, you realize just how fat you really were. Writing this post today, after reflecting back on the first post I ever wrote, I’m feeling all those feels.

Two years ago, I thought I knew what I was doing. Didn’t we all? But realistically, I relied on others (particularly a select few) for my happiness way too much. I also relied on these people to help me make huge life decisions, and was only just beginning to truly understand who I was and what made me… me, not my parents, not my significant other, not my friends… happy. I was afraid to leave home. I was afraid to take chances. I was afraid to get to know new people for fear that old friendships would fade. If we’re being completely honest, I was afraid of growing. Because, as I’ve recently come to terms with via a phone call with my best friend from home, growth is painful. We talk about growth like its this great, happy thing (which don’t get me wrong, in the end it will be worth it), but when it’s happening, growth SUCKS.

I could go on and on about growing pains for hours, but I want to use this time in a more productive way. I want to outline some of the biggest things that I’ve learned in the past two years, the biggest takeaways of my twenties. One of the most helpful things I’ve found when you’re going through a hard time is knowing that what you’re feeling is normal. I’d like to reiterate the idea that your twenties are going to be some of the best and worst times of your life. I want to normalize the idea that confusion is okay. Not knowing is okay. You will be okay.

These past few years have taught me a lot.

On being let down: I’ve learned that the only person you can truly rely on is yourself, that not everybody would go out of their way for you as you might for them, and that can be a tough pill to swallow. It’s okay to be angry, you have every right to this. But becoming more accepting that people look out for themselves first and foremost will help you out greatly in the long run.

On heartbreak: I’ve had my fair share of heartbreaks these past few years. Some of them, I will admit, self-inflicted. I’m talking crippling, walk-through-life-like-a-zombie, paralyzing kind of heartache, the kind that makes you reevaluate and redefine your whole life, analyze everything you ever did wrong or right up until that moment. I know this is a common aspect of your twenties because my friends have experienced it too. And nothing is worse than seeing the people you love hurt, and not knowing how to help. As someone who words come easily to, I never thought I’d see the day where I struggle to give advice. But my twenties have brought me time and time again to saying “I’m not sure what to say,” because how can I possibly offer advice when I can’t even help myself? I’ve learned from being on the receiving end that just being there for someone goes a long way. Never underestimate the power of a simple gesture.

On routine: Now’s the time to start forming habits, because these will carry through for the rest of your life. Take care of your body. Learn to cook. I’m not saying you need to become a Michelin-star winning chef, but choose a few meals that you can cook and cook well. Make it to the gym daily. I don’t care when you go, but go. Go out on the weekends, but you’re not a freshman anymore- you should be able to function the next morning. Show up to work on time. Take initiative on projects. Whether you think they are or not, people are paying attention.

On family: They are everything. Blood always runs thicker than water. The last words my dad always leaves me with no matter where he’s dropped me off these past two years- college for the first time, college for the last time, Los Angeles, Alabama- are always “we are your family, we will do anything for you, never forget that.” And it’s the truth.

On disappointment: You might think you’ll never see or talk to a person again. Then, one day out of the clear blue sky, they’ll reenter your life. You might think that your life won’t go on when you don’t get your dream job, or someone gets a promotion over you. And then a better opportunity, one that you couldn’t have even ever dreamt up, appears. Patience. Patience and an understanding that we can’t possibly know everything that exists out there for us yet. That will carry you through.

On not having it all figured out: Yeah, me neither. You don’t have to. And even those people who you feel like do- that girl on Insta you kinda knew from undergrad who just got engaged, your classmate from high school who just popped out her first baby, your friend who just got the dream job in the city. Yeah, they don’t have it all together either. Couples have fights, babies poop a lot and the city can be lonely. We’re all going through something. Life is different for everyone and we will all get to a point where we are happy. I’m not saying it’s going to necessarily be easy- watching girls younger than me get married and engaged all year long since I’ve moved to Alabama has been the hardest thing- but your time just might not be now, and that’s okay.

On finding a passion: I recommend doing this as soon as possible. Preferably something that you can carry on throughout your adult years. This way, with something you are truly passionate about, even if it feels like everything else in your life is falling apart, you’ll still have something. Something that you have complete control over, that no one else can take from you. Other people don’t have to understand it, just make sure it means something to you.

On self-care: I’ve learned that sometimes it’s okay to put my phone on do not disturb and shut off from the world for awhile. Go to the gym and beat up on some medicine balls. Run until you throw up. Less extreme options include: taking a walk, going to see a movie, running a bath, blasting some music, or just (respectfully) saying no when work asks you to take on one more task that runs the likelihood of pushing you over the edge. How to be alone is one of the best things I’ve learned to do over the past few years. For a person who is constantly high strung, living in a world that constantly demands our attention, disconnecting is what keeps me sane.

On moments: Recognize that not every moment in your life is going to be super exciting or great. We need the shit moments in order to fully appreciate the good. I love the concept of yin and yang for this reason. Life is a combination of good and bad. But there will also be good in the bad, and bad in the good.

At the same time, my twenties have taught me that everything is temporary. If I completely botch a presentation or forget someone’s name in passing, I used to beat myself up for days about it. It’s important to recognize the mistake but move on in your life. We all have such busy lives, and truthfully, you’re not that important. No one will remember the little mistake that you made in a month, even honestly in a few days.

On the flip-side, appreciating every second of the good moments is key. I kick myself for the number of family dinners I used to spend immersed in my phone. Doing what exactly? Checking Facebook? Checking every five seconds to see if my crush had texted me back? (News flash- he didn’t). My twenties have taught me that the little moments are truthfully those that I remember most. Nights spent eating dinner outside with my parents during the summer means so much more to me now that I live a thousand miles away from home. Girls nights with my best friends or sitting out by the lake watching the sun set and listening to the crickets chime in. Listening to a friend talk about something they love and watching their eyes light up. Hearing someone confide in you about something they have never spoken freely before. Be present for these moments. These are the things that matter.

On feeling alone in your struggles: You’re not. I can promise you wholeheartedly we’re all kinda out here floundering. Tell one person in your life that you’re feeling lost about something and I guarantee this opens the floodgates for them to to tell you something they’ve been working through. We’re human, there’s always going to be something.

On happiness: Happiness is not what 99% of us think it is. And I’m not just talking about filling the void with monetary objects here. I’ve been reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (great read, check it out here), and he blew my mind with his definition of happiness. Mark says, “to be happy we need something to solve… happiness is therefore a form of action.” He then goes on to say how happiness is a constant work in progress, because “solving problems is a constant work in progress.” To be happy is not a life without problems, because that’s just not possible.

True happiness, rather, occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.

On LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE: Your twenties will be tough, but they will also be some of the best times of your life. I can’t tell you the number of nights I’ve laughed until I’ve cried with people that I never thought I could have such close friendships with. Because that’s the thing about going through this time of your life- everyone else around you is going through it, too. You become that much closer with these people because they understand the struggle. Misery loves company, right? Some of my most stupid decisions have made some of my best memories. It’s okay to learn from these, but don’t ever regret.

The freedom of your twenties is also something I don’t think you’ll experience ever again. I can’t know what’s left to come in my life, but from what those I look up to tell me, this is truly our time to live.  Take advantage of it!! Want to go visit that exotic island you saw once on the cover of a magazine? Book your plane ticket. Want to get drunk with your best friends on a Wednesday night? Find the bottle opener. Itching to start that business you’ve been dreaming of since you were five? Plan, be smart about it, but open that bank account and take the chance. The freedom that comes with being out from under your parents roof and not yet being a parent yourself is unlike any other feeling. We can truly do anything we want. Take a moment to recognize the sheer immensity of that.

 

Happy 2nd birthday, GuessItsJess. Thanks for being there for me to chronicle all of these lessons learned. See ya soon, 23.

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