Thursday, June 2, 2016

Twenty Things I Learned in My Twenties

June is here and, this year, it means my last month of being in my twenties. I have always loved birthdays, and I'm not the type to bemoan becoming a year older; instead, I enjoy using my birthday as a time to reflect on what I've learned, so you know I can't resist the opportunity to reflect on an entire decade of learning. Here are twenty things I've learned to be true about life in this decade.

1.) One New Year's Eve (I may have still been nineteen), I had severe food poisoning and spent the night at my boyfriend's house throwing up. The next day, I found out that my friends thought I had ditched them to hang out with my boyfriend instead of coming to the NYE party. I called my best friend Corley and, through almost incoherent sobs, told her that I could not believe that she thought I would do that. Yes, the very idea that my friends thought I would ditch them for a relationship was so upsetting to me that I could hardly breathe. Unfortunately, I learned in my twenties that many people see friends as entertainment for when a romantic partner is unavailable. Recently, I've learned to start distancing myself from those types or risk being repeatedly disappointed. Short of Brendan or a family member having a true crisis or emergency, there is nothing I would ditch plans with a friend for. In my twenties, I have learned the true and absolute value of friendships; treat your friends like you value them, their time, and their feelings.

2.) I learned to apologize as soon as I realize that I've made a mistake. I learned this by trying the "ignore the problem" approach and learning that ignoring problems won't ever fix them. If you value the relationship (personal or professional), it's better to apologize promptly.

3.) I learned to follow my intuition and do what I think is right. I learned that I don't owe others a justification or explanation for why I make the choices I make. You will never please everyone, and you should definitely give up on trying to.

4.) I learned that people will sometimes mistake confiding in them as soliciting advice. This can be problematic for someone like me that genuinely enjoys confiding in people I'm close to. Sometimes I'll preface what I say with "I'm just telling you this to vent, not to ask for advice." Sometimes I'll just listen to the advice and ignore it, or I say, essentially, "thanks, but I'm comfortable with how I'm handling this."

5.) I learned that I believe in the "kill them with kindness" approach. If someone is less than nice, I just treat them with genuine kindness in return. Sometimes it works, and the person changes. Sometimes it doesn't work, and the person continues being unpleasant. Either way, I have inner peace because I know I'm not reciprocating rudeness.

6.) I learned how to say no. When something is asked of me, I don't make immediate decisions. I ask to think about it. Then, I evaluate. If something is a lot of work for me, but I can get something good in return in equal (or close) measure (experience or personal satisfaction from helping, for instance), I say yes. If something is a lot of work for me and the stress would outweigh any positive benefit (or there is no positive benefit), then I say no. I'm not defensive about it anymore. I no longer say "I can't do this because of X, Y, and Z." I just say, "I'm sorry, but I can't make that work."

7.) I learned to recognize my own quirks and weigh them to see situations more objectively. Brendan has helped me immensely with this. Yes, I ere on the side of sensitive, sentimental, and overly-cautious. I've learned to be more forgiving of people if it is a situation where they don't realize that I found something they did hurtful or rude. I learned how to differentiate between circumstances where I am being overly sensitive or defensive and circumstances when I am rightfully upset.

8.) I learned to figure out what I value and live according to it. I also learned not to judge people harshly for valuing different things than I value. Neither of us have to be right; we just have to live and let live.

9.) I learned that most of us are one misfortune (illness, death of a loved one, loss of a job) away from needing help. I try to be there for people in my life that need me. I remind myself of how fragile we all are in the grand scheme of things; I think to forget this is to do yourself a disservice. Our vulnerability is what makes life scary, but to be vulnerable is to live with awareness and an understanding of how we're just a small part in what is going on.

10.) I learned to end toxic friendships. If someone consistently makes you feel bad, you have no business continuing to subject yourself to misery.

11.) I learned that you can't change other people (duh, right?). If a relationship working is going to depend on the other person changing X, Y, and Z to make you happy, you should make a quick exit. I used to think that all people second guessed their choice in partners until my mom gave me the best relationship advice ever. I'm happy that listening to her led me to a partner that I have never questioned marrying; in fact, I feel lucky to be married to him!

12.) I learned to be proud of who I am, flaws and all. I used to get embarrassed by certain character traits (my lack of direction, my ability to predict the worse case scenario in any situation, and my paranoia about whether I locked my house or car), but now, I just embrace the weird. I am who I am, and I know that I have many positive traits too. People can love me or choose not to; that's not for me to control.

13.) I learned it's okay to share my feelings, even those that may make me sound like a "bad person." No, I don't go around telling everyone the "worst" things I think of, but I definitely share my worst fears and doubts with those that are close to me. I learned to accept my feelings, be honest about them, and let go of guilt.

14.) I learned that I'm stronger than I thought. At times, I may have underestimated myself, but it turns out, I'm pretty tough (mentally and physically). Doing many things that I thought would be hard or impossible (work out everyday, kayak 17 miles, go white water rafting, complete a nine month weight lifting program, run a 5K, teach 175 students in one semester, figure out the ins and outs of home buying and the loan process, plan a wedding) has increased my confidence in my own abilities.

15.) I learned how to save money wisely and how to use money to invest in myself. I could do a whole separate post about savings, but the short of it is that putting away 25% of our monthly income towards savings and retirement has helped us feel more secure about our futures. To invest in myself, I spend money on categories that bring big happiness like fitness, travel, and life simplifiers.

16.) I learned that my family are going to be the people I can always count on. In my twenties, I made an effort to become even closer to them, and to get to know my new Egan family well too.

17.) I learned to give more. So far in 2016, we have supported eight different charities and organizations. We prefer to give throughout the year to different organizations in order to benefit a multitude of operations that we value. We also give time through volunteering when possible. I still feel that I could do more, but no impact is too small.

18.) I learned to be kind to my body, to set realistic expectations for self-improvement, and to compete with myself instead of others.

19.) I learned that life is random. None of us are special or more deserving of good things happening to us: some of us are just lucky. I don't take any good fortune for granted. I also no longer believe that I deserve it or am entitled to it. Sometimes good luck is just luck. You can make good decisions all day long and still have something bad happen, or you can make terrible decisions constantly and be fine. Blaming people for their misfortunes is unproductive. If I had a misfortune, I'd only want someone to ask: "How can I help?"

20.) Voting is important. Vote at the polls. Vote with your dollars. Research and make informed decisions. Don't be afraid to admit you were wrong or change your mind. Vote with the future in mind: this is the planet that future generations will inherit. This is the public school system our children (and grandchildren) will be educated in. This is not a joke. If I ever say I "didn't have time to vote," someone please send me a link to this post.

My twenties have been truly transformative, and I sincerely hope my thirties have just as much wisdom in store for me.

Here's to growing better with age!

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