All of us born in 1988 turn 30 this year. Happy birthday! Statistically, we are nearing midlife, but I know deep down that I’m only 1/5 there. My stoned prophecy in 2009 that I’ll live to 135 isn’t dying anytime soon. I have a lot of life left. We all do, more or less.
As I near this new era of adulthood, I find myself reminiscing my 20s and picking out experiences and choices for which I am thankful. While in practice my 20s were spent lost, confused, and often stressed about my future, in retrospect I had a great time and feel pretty darn fortunate to have experienced so much, however unsettled I felt. Would I go back and change some things? Sure, but not in any kind of regretful way. We are the accumulation and product of our experiences, so it’s best to just make peace with that.
Yesterday I went on a hike with a friend, and at one point the conversation steered to what our bucket list was. To be completely honest, my bucket list was a thing I pretty much crushed in my 20s. Right now, the only thing left (besides hiking to the base camp of Everest and publishing a book…ok, and doing 100 consecutive pushups) is settling down and having a family. Those classic adventure goals are quenched (for now). Whether or not I knew what kind of life gift I was giving myself, I lived my 20s as though it was my one chance to do All The Things.
In no particular order, here are 16 things I’m glad I did before 30.
1. Lived frugally
Maybe even miserly, at times. Finding the cheapest rent, buying generic everything, opting for second-hand whenever possible, and turning off the lights were just some of the choices that compounded on one another to put me in a place of financial stability today. In my early 20s, I also locked away all my savings and birthday money, and automated deposits of disposable income into 1 and 5-year CDs (Certificate of Deposits). This saved me from potential poor decision making, which looking back I’m sure to have made. I am thankful to my dad for preaching the value of investments, frugality, and paying off credit cards in full every month. Early on, I knew that I was probably too young and stupid to make wise choices, so I bet against myself, lived below my means, and hid my money out of reach. One of the reasons I am grateful to have lived this way is that my tolerance for discomfort has decreased as I’ve gotten older. Roughing life and renting a living room floor just don’t have the same appeal they did when I was 19. But I did it and I’m richer for it.
2. Traveled. A lot.
I am forever grateful for the opportunities afforded to me in my 20s to travel. Not everyone has the same choice to uproot and backpack a continent or drop everything and move to a new state. But if you have the chance, do it. With how light I traveled, a month of traveling was almost always cheaper than a month of rent back in the States. I traveled to well over a dozen countries in my late teens and 20s, including 2 long backpacking trips, 1 solo bicycle tour, and several smaller trips. Unless you’re not the type interested in travel, get out and cross shit off your bucket list while you’re young and unencumbered by the responsibilities of life.
3. Explored my sexual orientation
This was a stressful thing to do, as I remained sexually confused for years, but I explored my curiosities and got to know this side of myself. I was going to marry my boyfriend at 19, but broke it off because I had this gut feeling that I needed to explore myself more (and I also suspected that despite feeling totally in love, I was probably too young to know what the fuck any of that really meant). That’s the kind of life choice I look back on and think, wow, bullet dodged and lesson learned! Through navigating serious relationships and less serious relationships, I became very clear about what I need and want from a partner. I don’t personally think I could have done that without going through all the confusing and frustrating ups and downs of dating. It sucked but it was worth it to come to some inner peace on the matter.
4. Bought a house
It’s not my “house house,” but it’s a house and I own it. I used the tips I’d made as a bartender one summer as my down payment, then collected rental income to pay the mortgage. It’s small, it’s in an average neighborhood, and 5 years later it continues to produce a decent ROI and prevent us from needing to live paycheck to paycheck. Buying that little thing is one of the best financial decisions I made in my 20s and it gives me tremendous peace of mind knowing that if life goes south and shit hits the fan for some outlier of a reason, we’ll at least never be homeless. Assuming you have good credit, it’s surprisingly simple and inexpensive to buy a house. Anyone with a few grand (or even less, depending on where you live) laying around in their 20s would be wise to invest accordingly. My mortgage was hundreds per month less than rent in the same area.
5. Didn’t get pregnant (but still got married)
It wasn’t that hard to be safe and not be stupid or impulsive, but I look at all my peers from high school with multiple kids and I’m like, damn… how do you do it? Thank fucking god that’s not my life right now. At no point in my 20s would I have been emotionally ready. Need I say more? I feel like by entering my 30s without kids, I’m somehow winning because I get that much more freedom in life. It also means we get to enjoy our marriage and therefore establish an even stronger base for when that time comes, which, now that I’m almost 30, is definitely coming up!
6. Studied liberal arts
I used to majorly regret my undergraduate experience. It took me over 7 years to finish the degree and when I did, I ended up with one of the most useless ones ever. Or did I? There is a difference between a degree and an education, and I think I got both. Studying liberal arts and taking courses in everything opened my mind in a way a traditional “useful” degree may not have. I would never have contemplated Kant’s categorical imperative or debated the potential of utopia had I not taken a more liberal approach to my education. Now that I am secure in a career that values and rewards me for the fact that I have any degree at all, I can finally see the true value in having studied what I studied. Liberal arts is a valuable education.
7. Smoked a lot of weed, but that’s it
Did it, loved it, learned a lot, would do it again. Thankfully, the anti-drug campaigns through grade school and a lecture in high school biology scared me away from anything more serious than marijuana. I’ve never had any desire to experiment with drugs and somehow I’ve made it nearly 30 years into life and have yet to even see any drugs besides weed. Not seeing drugs is almost like a claim to fame at this point. So I feel like I have this nice balance, where I’m familiar enough with the culture, but just square enough to stay away from it. As a type-A, smoking weed and looking at life from a “chilled out” perspective was one of the most formative and positive decisions I made in my 20s. I made countless life decisions while stoned, which actually kind of shocks me because I cannot imagine doing that today, but those decisions turned into cherished memories. It also meant I didn’t drink very much in college because why drink when you can smoke? Undeniable logic, I know.
8. Had my heart broken
It sucks but it’s going to happen eventually. Each heartbreak was easier to deal with. It’s like all shitty things in life; it makes the sweet moments that much sweeter. I’m thankful for those on-again-off-again relationships and broken off engagements and desperate I love you’s before the inevitable end. None of that drama exists when you find the right match. I know that now.
9. Lived alone. Lived with roommates. Lived in a truck.
Also lived in a walk-in closet. Lived in the corner of a living room. I learned about what’s important in life: a clean kitchen, not owning too much shit, and the importance of beauty in your immediate surroundings.
10. Followed my passion, again and again
This is something I’ve talked about on this blog before. It’s something I think about a lot. And it’s what defined my 20s. While I’m not a fan of the advice anymore, having lived that way for over a decade is insurance against regretting not trying later in life. When I wanted to be a professional SCUBA diver, I moved to Hawaii and did it. When I wanted to be a health professional, I became a health coach and started a vegan food delivery service. When I wanted to live and breathe yoga, I became a yoga teacher and started a yoga mat company. When I wanted to make a bunch of money and feel like a baller, I sold real estate, started a corporation and hired assistants. When I wanted to learn anything, I changed my major, took an online class, or otherwise sought new knowledge. From teaching ESL to joining the Navy to working in nonprofit finance to marketing for a national corporate yoga studio, I followed every whim and every desire. All in the name of passion. It felt chaotic as hell and I may be farther behind professionally than my peers, but now I feel like one of the most well-rounded people I know.
11. Started a business and succeeded. Started a business and failed.
I took risks, made a lot of money, lost a lot of money, and followed through with all my crazy business ideas. And that’s pretty fucking cool. Our tolerance for risk is higher when we’re younger, so our 20s are the time to fuck up and learn. Although the bottom line might not reflect the amount of time and effort I invested, the inevitable personal growth and value of the experience is priceless. Maybe I’ll try something again in the future, but for now I’m just happy I gave it a solid go, multiple times.
12. Smoked cigarettes to be cool, then quit
Might have it been better had I never even tried? Perhaps. But I went through my phase, smoked religiously, then one day quit cold turkey because it occurred to me that smoking was the kind of life choice I’d definitely regret if I kept it up. But it was kind of fun to stand in those social circles and feel like a part of something, even if that something was cancer.
13. Took control of my diet and health
A nutrition course I took in culinary school in 2007 forever changed my life. Since then, I’ve been on the path of plant-based eating and thinking about my health as a long-term investment in my happiness. I also look younger as a result, which should come in handy when I hit those triple digits.
14. Found yoga
If you’re a yogi, I know you feel me. It took me a few years to finally connect breath and movement, but once it clicked, my life changed. I have yet to preach the value of meditation, as I totally suck at making it a habit. Maybe that’s something I’ll nail down in my 30s, along with hiking Everest, writing that book, and doing 100 pushups.
15. Quit social media
I had MySpace through middle school and high school, Facebook before the general public could join in college, and Instagram during its pre-ad heyday. And I probably fell into that category of people who would clinically be considered “addicted.” Now, I survive on this WordPress blog and a smartphone void of any distracting app whatsoever. Quitting social media and essentially leaving the Internet was one of the best choices I made for my mental health. I couldn’t help but to subtly (or not so subtly) compare my life to others on Facebook, feel inadequate with my yoga practice on Instagram, and passively consume negative news everywhere. Living an unplugged life is nice. I call it detaching from The Chaos.
16. Didn’t get any tattoos or gauge my ears
Now I can finally be cool because I am the one millennial who did not permanently alter her body. I thought about getting tattoos so many times and once thought about gauging my ears, but I couldn’t decide on a design and never got around to it. Sometimes procrastination pays off for life.
Thanks for reading to the end! I hope it provided some insight or value for you. No matter your age, what are some things you’re thankful to be doing right now in life? What are some things you look back on and feel grateful for having experienced? If you’re beyond your 30s, how do you look back on your 30s? I’m a sucker for this kind of life advice, so hit me!