Yesterday, I turned 30.
I’ve never been one to make a big deal out of my birthday, but I thought it would be appropriate to assemble a list of things I’ve learned in the past decade of my life.
The naive, uncertain person I was at age 20 is starkly different from the woman I’ve grown into now, and that was to be expected.
Like others, my 20s were the most pivotal part of my career, self-growth, and maturity. Here are 29 things that I learned in my 20s – one lesson to represent every year of my 20s.
1. Stop being so hard on yourself.
We’re all our harshest critics. But at the end of a bad day, you don’t get to reincarnate yourself and start all over again; you just have to make do with what you have and carry on.
2020 was the year in which we began to take self-love and self-care a little more seriously because of a lil’ something called a global pandemic. However, it’s a known fact that women tend to be way too hard on themselves for making mistakes, past decisions, and any other tiny thing that ends up not mattering in the greater scheme of life.
The more you learn to accept yourself for who you are, the more you learn to be content with your life. And if we all learned to be content in our lives, wouldn’t the world be a more beautiful place?
2. Quality > quantity when it comes to friendships.
The amount of friends I have now versus when I was 20 is a drastically different number. I’d hope that within a decade, you too end up focusing less on the quantity and more on the quality of friendships as well.
After you graduate college and officially become “adults” in the real world of work, you begin to have less time for friends. However, you always stay close to the best friends who matter.
You’re bound to lose touch with others along the way, whether due to distance, going separate ways, or just not having a reason to stay in touch – and that’s fine. It’s virtually impossible to stay in touch with everyone you were friends with in high school (especially when you travel). C’est la vie.
3. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
In the last 10 years, I’ve stared down fear in the eyes multiple times and learned to wiggle out every time.
After all, if we don’t face our fears, how do we expect to grow as a person?
I’ve almost fallen off cliffs in at LEAST three different countries (yeah, near-death experiences), thrown myself out of multiple planes and jumped off of many ledges (as part of the activity), and even came face-to-face with an infamous Australian spider (about the size of my head)… and guess what?
I’m still here writing this, unscathed (luckily).
Fear has no boundaries. Don’t let your anxiety and fears paralyse you from living out your wildest, craziest dreams.
4. Leverage your network and reach out.
With LinkedIn, it’s as easy as pie to look up (stalk?) someone, message them (valuably), and gain a helpful new connection. In an ever-changing economy where most work worldwide is now done online and interviews are mostly dependent on connections, it is crucial (I repeat: CRUCIAL) for you to put yourself out there on LinkedIn.
You’re actually doing yourself a disservice if you’re unemployed and not using LinkedIn for marketing purposes.
I also can’t reiterate just how much social media has helped me find opportunities through merely taking the time to engage, ask questions, and network properly. I even created a quick guide on how to easily work with people you admire in relation to this.
Network, network, network! Show that you’re a people person and that you want to help others and that you don’t just care about yourself. You’ll be rewarded. Trust me.
5. Take time for yourself.
On the flipside of my social media argument, you also should always be taking quality time for yourself. Yes, solitude – it’s a great thing, especially as you get older. Read all the benefits of it here.
From 20-29 yrs. old, I morphed from being extroverted to hardcore introverted to an ambivert (yes, it’s a thing – in between the introverted/extroverted medium). I talk a lot with those I’m close to, but definitely not a social butterfly in general. After spending the last nine years of my career in guest service roles, it’s no surprise that I’m exhausted of people (anyone would be).
Remember that you deserve to be treated with the same respect and care that you show towards others. If you don’t learn to take time for yourself, your mental and physical health will be affected.
Life isn’t a race to “do it all” or hang out with as many friends as possible anymore (hello, thank you, 2020 for showing us this thing called “gratitude”). Know when to take quality “you” time (every day), whether through walks, listening to podcasts, yoga, journaling, writing, reading, cooking…. anything that brings you joy. You go do that, but most importantly, be doing it for yourself.
6. Your so-called “failures” make you the strongest versions of yourself.
“Instead of letting your hardships and failures discourage or exhaust you, let them inspire you. Let them make you even hungrier to succeed.”
– Michelle Obama
Throughout multiple speeches, Michelle Obama did the best job of summarising why failures help us strive to be even more successful.
Failure (or anything we associate as failure) is actually the best teacher of all. It teaches us lessons beyond any textbook or classroom, places us in anxiety-ridden situations, and is often the outcome of a series of poor, brash decisions.
It’s unfortunate that our struggles and hardships are what usually get swiped under the rug. However, remember that there is beauty in vulnerability, and there’s no better way to brand yourself as authentic than to share your low points and struggles with others. It’s the simplest way to present yourself as a relatable human, and in the world of branding, it speaks tenfold.
I’ll never forget what my therapist told me back when I was at the core of my eating disorder as a teenager: “If you can get through this, you can get through anything else that comes your way.”
And since then (16 years ago), I’ve done nothing but continuously push myself, no matter what “failures” and obstacles have been in my journey.
Remember, your story is more powerful than you think. Use it to help, inspire, and empower others.
“Failure is an important part of your growth and developing resilience. Don’t be afraid to fail.”
– Michelle Obama
7. There will never be a “right” time for anything.
“I’ll travel when I have enough money saved.”
“I’ll start my own company next year, when I’m wiser.”
“I’ll start my YouTube channel next month, since I don’t have time for it right now.”
You’ve all heard of these excuses. Whether or not you’re privvy to them, they’re the devil’s advocate.
And guess what? If you don’t do it NOW, when will the “right” time be?
Perfect example: travel. Countless people have told me they wished they traveled more when they were younger, or before they got married and had kids (newsflash: you can still travel with a family, but it’s just more planning and financial responsibilities on your end).
And now we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, and international travel is highly unlikely to be allowed (or favoured) for a long time. Thus, this is probably the worst possible time to reflect upon missing out on something that was so easily attainable (to many) before the pandemic.
There is never a “right” time for anything. Only you yourself knows what’s best for you in your current situation.
If you want to live out your dreams and start your own doughnut company, change your career path, or become a Twitch streamer for online gaming, then JUST DO IT.
We live in the 21st century and have every single freaking resource to make it possible. Seriously. We should consider ourselves so privileged to have unlimited access to free resources online that practically teach us everything we ever need to know to be successful.
8. Love comes when you least expect it.
Ladies, this one’s especially for you – do not force love.
I’m literally the worst person to be preaching about this, since I never cared about the concept of love or relationships period. Being an only child prided me with independence, and traveling the world alone meant that I found myself revelling in my freedom of solitude.
It’s perfectly fine to be single in your 20s (or as Emma Watson says, “self-partnered“). In fact, it’s advisable.
In your early 20s, you’re still figuring out who you are, what you want in life, and chances are, you won’t want the same things when you’re 30 that you did at 21. If you’re in relationships for all 10 years of your 20s, hmmm, you’re probably missing out on a little thing called independence.
Everything happens when you least expect it, sometimes even at the worst possible time. You can’t expect to walk into a bar or local event and meet the love of your life (and anyone who has, cool, props to you, but you ain’t the norm here).
Like all things, the best parts of life aren’t easy. You can’t expect to find Prince Charming waiting for you with open arms in the aisle of a supermarket with a bouquet of chicken nuggets (wait, was this just my dream?).
You’ll know when that person you met is worth spending the rest of your life with. You just know.
9. Stay true to your passions and never let anyone change who you are at your core.
Your passions will undoubtedly change throughout your 20s. After all, half of my items on my “30 by 30” goals list weren’t relevant to me now (although I did manage to knock off half the items, so I felt a little accomplished).
What’s important is that you recognise and do something about your passions rather than staying put in a job or environment that makes you miserable on a daily basis. You’ll hear this time and time again from mentors and life coaches, but I’ll plunk it down anyway:
Life is too short to be doing something you don’t love.
It took me eight years since my university graduation to find a job that I actually enjoy and truly, deeply love. And even then, it’s not the “traditional” job that most think of, since I don’t work set hours and I’ll probably be broke the rest of my life if I don’t start hustling harder.
But I love it. I love being a freelance writer, writing about things I actually care about (yo, I’m also getting paid to write about Star Wars – what?!), and most of all, inspiring others to also make a difference.
Basically, I love using my words to prove, “If I can do it, so can you. I’m no different than any one of you reading this right now.”
Stay true to yourself and keep persevering until you turn your passion into profit.
10. Use your voice.
I was a bit insulted when I learned that someone from a past company referred to me as “very opinionated.” Then I realised that it was actually in my favour. Why would I want to be known as a timid, soft-spoken, passive employee?
I’ve always been vocal about social issues and justices and other things close to my heart, like mental health. I firmly believe that vulnerability is one of the keys to authenticity. If I ever withheld my opinions and disagreements, I’d be lying to myself. Staying silent is not part of my nature. I’m the type who feels rage and frustration, whether for myself or others, if there’s an extreme issue at hand.
There’s a lot of stigma around being “Asian” and the expectation that we’re all passive, hardworking people (don’t get me wrong, we are). However, I’m NOT an Asian who will stand for racism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. You insult and degrade the rights of another human, and you will feel my wrath.
My point is: Know when it’s appropriate to use your voice, and speak the f*ck up. In things regarding #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, society has shown how empowerment comes through using our voice. How can change be enacted if we stay silent?
There is power and full validity in your voice. ALWAYS.
11. It’s okay to not know “what you want to be when you grow up.”
Isn’t it ridiculous (and very annoying) when so many people inquire, “What do you want to be when you grow up?“
Yes, there are always those child prodigies who follow their calling to become doctors or lawyers.
However, when we’re securing internships in university, wading around in the uncertain waters of, “Oh geez, do I really want to do this? Maybe, but what about for the rest of my career? Ummmm I’ll just get these internships for my resume,” we probably won’t even end up sticking with that same career path. Sorry, Mum and Dad.
Millennials and Gen Z-ers follow the “new norm” of non-linear career paths. This means that it’s becoming more common for many of us to think of our careers in “seasons” rather than in decades (gasp).
And guess what? There are proven successful ways to tell your career story when you’re shifting industries. In fact, you’re probably a more interesting candidate when you have a more creative story to tell. After all, nearly every interviewer has commented on how envious they are when I address how much I’ve traveled.
“I wasn’t in a career that brought me joy or touched any points of passion for me at all. I had to finally admit that to myself, which was a hard thing to do after investing the amount of time and resources.”
– Michelle Obama
12. You will always get through it, even if it feels impossible in the moment.
I experienced depression several times throughout my 20s, primarily from the ages of 24-27. I wore two faces (or tried to) – one that faked friends into believing that I was happy abroad, and my hidden one that was crumbling and at a breaking point.
I endured heartbreak and career anxiety for several years, never seeming to think I’d get out of the black hole of hopelessness, sadness, and anger.
Remember that everything is temporary.
There is always light at the end of your tunnel; you shouldn’t just give up. This is part of life – ups and downs are normal.
“This, too, shall pass. When things are bad, remember: it won’t always be this way. Take one day at a time.”
13. Mindset and manifestation are everything, and not just hippie-hippie-woo-woo shit.
My boyfriend makes fun of me constantly for having a vision board (he mistakenly refers to it as my “spirit map”).
People can tease all they want, but it’s 2020 (a year that will go down in history), and mindset has been crucial to the way we survive and adapt to this new quarantine lifestyle.
If you’ve seen manifestation and mindset coaches clogging up your Instagram feeds, it’s probably because it’s really a trend this year more than ever – and it does work. It’s all up to you and your inner workings to decide how much power it can give you.
Okay, let me rephrase. I’m not trying to go all hippie-spiritual on you, especially since I’m not that kind of person (nothing wrong with it if you are, I’m just never that chill). Just be aware that the amount of energy you put into something is the amount of energy you’ll receive in return.
Exude positive vibes to the world, and you’ll attract positive people and opportunities into your network. Yes, it’s that simple.
14. It’s essential to show your parents how much you appreciate them.
Our 20s are our times to bloom into butterflies after living in a cocoon in our parents’ homes throughout childhood and adolescence. They’re also a time when we tend to become moody, angsty, rebellious (maybe), and frustrated more than ever with our parents.
And heaven forbid if they embarrass us in front of our friends, right?
But that’s not the point. Your parents worked their bums off to raise you, take you to school, ensure that you received the highest education by paying student tuition that probably left them broke (or working a billion side jobs), fed and hydrated you, clothed you, sheltered you, and provided you with a nurturing, loving home.
Unfortunately, this might not apply to everyone. But I know that I’m extremely fortunate in the sense that I was raised by two healthy parents who love each other and have always bent over backwards to ensure that I was safe (and above all, happy).
And that’s just it. At the end of the day, your parents just really want to see you happy. Ever since I began traveling at 23, I probably only saw my parents once every year (sometimes for as little as 6 days). Thus, in the past seven years, I can probably count the number of times I’ve been home with them on both my hands.
It breaks my mum’s heart when I tell her how unhappy I was in California and how I used to get anxiety whenever the plane touched down in LAX. For this reason, it’s extremely important to show through messages, letters, video chats, and any of the simplest gestures that you sincerely love and appreciate all that your parents have done for you.
Nomads + long-term travellers, this especially applies to you: Make the time to see your parents as much as you can. Tell them that you love them every day, send them stupid GIFs and puns, and make them aware that your love and gratitude for them is unwavering, despite all timezone differences.
15. Make the most of every situation.
Whether it’s a terrible job, failed relationship, or even losing your job – it’s your responsibility to make the most of the situation.
Everyone has two ways to handle something, and things can only improve if you have a positive mentality about it and take the high road.
16. Never badmouth a past employer or workplace.
My mum taught me to never say anything bad about anyone or anything, no matter how much I hated that person or thing. It was probably some of the best advice she instilled in me.
We’ve all had terrible bosses and jobs that have made us want to poke our eyeballs out. But there is absolutely no reason that you should ever badmouth a past employer/company online for the world to see.
In the prevalent age of social media, you’re likely to be connected to your next boss through three degrees of separation (hello, LinkedIn).
Okay, you work for yourself now – you think you can escape through this loophole?
Google owns every single piece of information about you that exists, and even if you’re not aware, there are records of you somewhere, at some point in life.
As much as you want to tell your boss or company to shove it, remember that it’s best to say it in private and not on social media. You’ll only regret it in the long run, and it’s something that will do irreparable damage to your career.
17. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you don’t matter.
This one is another Michelle Obama quote (when doesn’t she know best?).
With this year sparking another revolutionary movement, it’s so important to address the need for social justice. Do not allow anyone to stay in your life who minimises your importance and makes you feel like a lesser human being.
For example, I have countless friends in the LGBTQIA+ community, and it always stings my heart with pain to read about or hear their struggles.
I’m also part of the POC community, and it’s evident that the only way to continue enacting change is to work together collaboratively.
Don’t even bother with anyone who makes you feel inferior. Cut them out of your network, cut all ties with them, and live your own life. Life is too short to be wasted on people with cruel hearts.
18. Everything works out in the end, so quit stressing and worrying.
Admist a global pandemic, murder hornets, horrible wildfires throughout California and Australia, and the most horrific presidency that has unfolded over the past few years, we’ve been given a lot to worry about lately.
However, you have a mindset to choose: one of worry and stress, or one of acceptance and acknowledgment. It’s unhealthy to worry yourself sick over situations you can’t control.
Dating an Aussie truly helped me chill out and learn to go with the flow more. Traveling on my own also helped me drop my neurotic, obsessively Virgo ways of planning and recording every little detail (there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not my style anymore).
Yes, there is sadness, demise, anger, and frustration throughout this roller coaster of life, but none of it is worth fretting over. Give yourself piece of mind by constantly reminding yourself that everything always works out in the end. Always.
19. Comparison is the thief of joy.
The 20s are our prime years to live… and also the prime time to unfortunately compare ourselves to others (thanks a lot, social media).
No matter where we are in life, there will always be someone better looking, more successful, with more followers, more engagement, more ambition, etc.
Living a life of comparison will only result in self-destruction. I mean, hello, I starved myself as a teen since I was constantly comparing myself and thinking I wasn’t pretty enough for the entertainment industry.
You only get one life and one body – and one shot at living your life. If you constantly compare, you’ll never be happy or satisfied. Do yourself a favour and ENJOY your 20s rather than constantly monitor other people’s success.
You’ll never have the same life as someone else, and there’s a reason for that. You are the best version of yourself, and only you yourself knows that.
20. You will always be good enough.
Our society is flawed because it continues to place such a huge emphasis on appearance. Similar to my points above, it’s detrimental to your health when you spiral into thoughts of self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness.
Every single human is “good enough.” We’ve all been brought into the world for a reason, and we make decisions on a daily basis to determine how we leave our own legacies.
You are beautiful inside and out, and you are doing just fine where are you right now, right here, reading this. Loving and empowering others has to start with loving yourself first and understanding that you’ll always be good enough for everything and everyone.
21. Going the “expected 9-5, buying a house, starting a family” path is overrated nowadays.
When I was fresh out of uni and trying to navigate my way towards “finding myself” along with a linear career path, I was considered a Millennial.
Now, the workforce will be shaped by the future of Gen Z-ers (hello, TikTok). According to CNBC in a 2018 study, 37% of people surveyed actively run some type of side hustle (whether that’s one or multiple).
It’s becoming less and less common – if even rare – for Millennials and Gen Z-ers to only have one job. With so many unemployed and businesses closing and/or disrupted this year, many have been forced to find multiple online streams of income to try and stay afloat.
My point: When I moved to New Zealand at age 23, most people were either envious or deemed that I was crazy to be leaving job security with a Fortune 500 company. However, in the age of social media, this isn’t such a “crazy” concept anymore.
Ultimately, whether or not someone deters from a “typical” linear path shouldn’t make them more or less “better” in their career.
22. Living in a different country teaches you valuable lessons that education cannot.
Living and traveling in a country are two completely different things. Many go their whole lives without ever experiencing life in another country (whether for financial or personal reasons), and that’s okay.
However, if you’re able, remember that living in a country will immerse you in a country far beyond just visiting. Whether you study, work abroad, or meet someone from another country and move to be with them, you’ll never regret the experience.
There is no amount of school (even those with graduate and doctorate degrees) that will ever teach you the same lessons as when you live abroad. Travel truly is the best education, so remember that when you have kids.
23. There is always hope.
You didn’t think I’d write this without sticking some geek quotes in here, did you? (Yes, this is Arwen’s slightly tweaked quote from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)
Our 20s sometimes feel like a rock avalanche of emotions, career uncertainty, and relationship disasters (sometimes all at once, like this):
However, you won’t be stuck in that negative space forever (as long as you don’t allow yourself to be). There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, even if you can’t see it in the moment.
And when you make that breakthrough and reflect on your hardships, you come out of the situation as a warrior; a stronger version of your past self.
24. Don’t dwell in the past, since there’s nothing you can do to turn back time.
I can’t tell you how much time I wasted crying over something that had already happened. While I knew in my mind that the outcome couldn’t be changed, I’d still be hoping that a miraculous real-life Time-Turner would somehow fall into my lap and fix all my problems.
It’s harmful to dwell in the past, whether this applies to past relationships or decisions in general. Make a decision and move on.
Ten years from now, I highly doubt that the thing you’re crying about will even matter.
25. Embrace the unknown.
When I first moved to New Zealand, I had a 22-tabbed Google spreadsheet that I was obsessive about updating.
After two years of living abroad, I started winging all my travels and just booked things on the fly, no itineraries laid out, and minimal research (don’t copy me with the latter).
It was freeing.
The unknown is scary (and sometimes petrifying, depending on your enneagram type). But it’s also exciting, rejuvenating, and such an adrenaline rush to be going into things without anything figured out.
In a world of constant change, embrace and adapt to the unknown. It’ll be better for you in the long run.
26. Your vibe attracts your tribe.
This one is simple: If you give out good vibes, you’ll generally attract kindhearted, like-minded people to you.
If you put out negative feelings and complaints, you’ll most likely connect with others of the same nature (birds of a feather flock together).
Be mindful of your presence – both online and in reality. Your aura has the power to make or break your network, so you might as well use it to your advantage and curate a community of supportive people who enrich your life.
27. Support and empower others in the same way you want to be treated.
Give love, gratitude, and compliments when you genuinely mean it. It’ll make your heart happier and also make the other person feel that much more loved.
You also may have no idea how much someone needs to hear empowering words until you give them.
28. Try to read at least once a day.
Education is said to be the highest form of self-growth.
Thus, reading is incredibly important. Whether you choose to read books, local news articles, tweets, or blogs, it’s important to train your mind to read something new every day.
According to studies, reading books for as little as 30 min. a day could increase your lifespan by up to two years. In the bigger picture, that’s a lot!
Read, read, read. It’s so important to continuously be educating yourself.
29. Travel alone at least once in your life.
I feel so passionately about this one, I’m writing a book on it (we’ll see when it actually gets published, ha).
But seriously – travel alone at least once in your life. It doesn’t have to be an international trip (probably off the cards for awhile) – it can be a weekend trip away, to the mountains, camping in a national park, or a road trip on your own.
It’s good for your mind, body, and soul to have solitude (as noted earlier). Traveling by yourself enhances your ability to make decisions, be independent, and allows you to do whatever the heck you want without any real agenda.
Listing out 29 headings isn’t enough to justify every life lesson of self-growth learned in the past decade. However, I’ve grown and learned enough to know that I’m shaped by my experiences and the people I’ve met around the world.
I accomplished exactly half of my “30 by 30” list, and that’s with some of the goals being a bit outlandish and strange. For that, I’m grateful to have had the opportunities and privilege to travel, eat as much as I want, and to freely express my opinions with unapologetic fervour.
You only get one life. Cherish it day by day, moment by moment. Who knows what the next decade will bring?
“We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realise their full potential.”
– Malala Yousafzai
This article was inspired by The Atlas Heart’s similar post, Thoughts on Turning 30 (And My Favourite Memories From My 20s), which is a heartwarming read that I also highly recommend.