I've talked with several of my friends about how we believe our twenties are a very tumultuous time, and not purely because of the stresses or the responsibilities or the pressures that are so commonly associated with other life stages. It's more that our twenties are proving to be a strange dichotomy of sorts. We constantly jockey between trying to figure out what we want to do and telling ourselves we have plenty of time to figure it out. We can be convinced we're still so young, and the next moment be convinced we are in full blown real-human-being adulthood. We feel pressure to find love and get engaged and have a picture-perfect wedding, but find temporary comfort in reading that statistically, people are getting married and having children older in life than ever before, in many cases due to career aspirations. We've experienced the freedom and independence that college provided, but we're learning that college was another kind of bubble all on its own. We're seeking stability just as often as we're running the other way from it. And we run the gamut of married with kids to going back to grad school and relocating after working for three years to suddenly single after a six year relationship to living for the weekends and struggling to find purpose at work.
And so, while I wish I could say that at almost 27 I've mostly figured things out and the angst is mostly gone, it would be a giant lie. However, the truth is that it has really been an incredibly rewarding (albeit rocky) journey discovering what, in particular, is important to me at this stage of my life. And I've found that reflecting on where I've grown and what I want to work on helps keep life in better perspective on those days that feel particularly jarring.
How to be comfortable in your own skin
For many, leaving college is the first time you really have to blaze the trail in front of you. You may find yourself unable to rely on your reputation or your history or even your friends if you’re in a new place, and it’s so important to learn how to be comfortable and confident in your own skin. Learn who you are, so that when you meet new people or represent yourself at a job, you know exactly what you’re presenting, and you’re proud of that. There’s something incredibly enriching about being able to pioneer your own way, as scary as it may be, and although I’m not against the idea of reinventing yourself, I’m even more in the camp of simply discovering yourself and learning how to embrace that and improve upon it. Nothing radiates like true inner confidence, and your twenties are a time to really foster that through new people and new experiences.
What qualities matter in your friends, and which friends matter most
I used to (and still occasionally) get so offended when older adults would say things like, “Who knows who you’ll be friends with in five years? Friendships are so transient when you’re young.” Well…they are, and they aren’t. While it is true that socializing can be a little transient after college, it also has the ability to form lifelong bonds. I’m of the mindset that both are important for a fun social life, but if you figure out what qualities matter most to you, you’ll also figure out which friends matter most. It might vary from person to person, but figuring out which people you’re most thankful for is a very enlightening and fruitful lesson. The best part is that in this stage of adulthood, true friendship really feels reciprocal, which is very comforting compared to the angst that sometimes comes along with friendship when you’re younger.
How to cook a couple of things well
My motivation for keeping at this one is that when I have kids, I want to have a few tried and true dishes that I can rely on, that my kids will (hopefully) love, and that are effortless for me to cook. I have the same motivation when I cook for guests, and I’m finding that your twenties are a great time to practice, to fail, and of course to succeed sometimes. It's a very rewarding process to learn your way around the kitchen. It doesn’t come entirely naturally to most, so it feels like an accomplishment to be confident that you can really nail something.
How to be alone
Your twenties can be a lonely time, even if you’re not physically alone. I have done more questioning and doubting in my twenties than all the other years in my life combined, and nothing can make you feel more alone than doubting who you are and what you’re doing. Learn how to sit with yourself, in your head head, and find peace in it. It’s much, much easier said than done, and it’s something I’m constantly working on, but learning how to live with your own thoughts, without any distractions, is a very healthy thing.
How to budget your finances
…at a time in your life when expenses seem to range from still wanting to buy new trendy clothes to going out for dinner and drinks all the time to having to pay school loans and other bills (and oh by the way, you’re constantly reminded how you should be saving for retirement on top of everything else). Make a budget—and one that is customized for your needs. Start by tracking your expenses and income every month (right down to the penny), and pay attention to where your money is going. Then, decide where you prefer your money to be going and where you could cut back. For example, if you know that sporadic trips to Marshalls aren’t going away anytime soon, but you’ve been lazily buying your lunch everyday instead of just taking the time to meal-plan, that’s where you can agree to cut spending. Something has to give. Figure out what that something is going to be. Also, save first, spend second. Put away a certain portion of pay so that you’re unable to touch it. Whenever I’ve gotten a raise or a bonus, I've only let myself have a piece of it (the rest goes directly into my savings). It’s still going to feel like a bonus, because it’s more than you’re used to, just not as much.
The ills of comparison
In a world where you feel like you have an inside view of everyone else’s life through things like Instagram and Facebook, don’t forget that you are still very much an outsider. If you spend your time comparing your life to the lives of others, you will also spend your time feeling inadequate, because the glamorous highlight reel of someone else’s life or job or relationship is always going to look better than the behind-the-scenes footage of your own. Concentrate on yourself and your own life, and don’t let your perception of other people suck all the fun out of it. "Comparison is the thief of joy" - Theodore Roosevelt
How to entertain in a way that fits your personality
I think the reason people are so intimidated by the idea of entertaining is that they have a really scary Martha Stewart-esque image in their heads about all the perceived perfection and effortless elegance it entails. But I think there are so many different ways to host guests in your home, and what you do should be tailored to your personality so that it feels more enjoyable and less like work. The best guide is to ask yourself what your expectations are when you’re entertained at someone else’s house, and go from there. Yes, you probably expect food, but I don’t think you have an expectation for what it is or who prepares it. So, maybe your style is potluck, maybe it’s making a bunch of appetizers and opening a bottle of wine, maybe it’s making a great signature cocktail and different snacks, maybe it’s a sit down brunch, maybe it’s ordering Chinese takeout and setting a great tablescape. I think the world is your oyster when it comes to inviting people into your home and making them feel comfortable, with full bellies and full hearts.
Discover what you enjoy doing (find a couple of genuine hobbies)
And preferably, they shouldn’t involve TV or staring at your phone. But really, anything else goes. A strange hobby that I’ve realized I enjoy lately is just walking. I enjoy walking around the streets where I live, looking at the old houses, walking my dog, or walking with a friend and gabbing. It did, a little bit, make me feel 90 years old to just say that, but alas. I really do enjoy it! Other hobbies might include reading articles, reading books, doing yoga, kayaking, blogging, golfing, playing tennis, cooking, baking, taking pictures, crafting. Hobbies are your friend when you’re alone, and they help you release endorphins. And for my anxious brain that's always thinking three decades ahead, they also make me slightly less worried about retirement and how I’ll ever fill the hours in my days at that point.