10 Life Lessons I Learned in My 20s

Young people deserve to know the truth -- that being 20-something isn't always a dream. Sometimes it's a freakin' nightmare (sorry, someone had to tell you!). But everyone's experience is different.
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Ah, to be 20-something again...

Actually, no thanks!

If you're like me, being 20-something was exhilarating, but it was also exhausting. Somewhere between graduating from college, falling in love, getting my heart broken, solo travel around the world and going back to grad school, I can say that I have learned a thing or two about life. For starters: it's not going to be what you expected it to be. Let that sink in. Accept it.

Young people deserve to know the truth -- that being 20-something isn't always a dream. Sometimes it's a freakin' nightmare (sorry, someone had to tell you!). But everyone's experience is different. One's 20s are like that point in a marathon when the pack of runners disperses and each runner settles into his/her own pace. Despite training together, we're all on own journey. The distance is the same, but our experiences can be completely different.

Below is a list of the most valuable lessons I learned from my 20s:

1) Plans are for adjusting.

When I think back, my 20s remind me of a really frustrating (yet awesome) road trip.

I graduated from college, entered my destination into the Google Map of life and waited for a machine that knew nothing about me to calculate my route. I trusted it would get me where I needed to go; all I had to do was show up. (Right?)

But as the journey progressed, unexpected life storms kept knocking down trees that blocked off roads in my path and forced me to go off-route. I became my only tour guide in a totally foreign land. When I needed directions, nobody knew where I was going (including me). As it turns out, there was no map.

A trip that once seemed so direct became a series of re-calculated routes and detours. Those detours brought me to unexpected sites, people, and adventures. In fact, getting lost brought me to some of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

Eventually you learn to ditch the map, and just go wherever feels right in the moment. That moment is the most certain thing you've got.

2) Heartbreak will make you bold.

Heartbreak is the single most effective and most powerful catalyst for change. It will make you fearless. It will make you brave. It will make you take risks you never thought you could take.

Getting my heart broken inspired me to travel around Mexico alone as a 22-year-old travel writer. It inspired me to move on a one-way ticket to Ecuador at 27, to go back to school and get a doctorate degree in my 30s, to put myself out there and write about my journey as I discovered (and rediscovered) new destinations.

Heartbreak is the most painful gift you will ever receive, but if you're open to what's inside, it may just be the best one.

3) The friends you make now will be your friends for life.

Sure, you'll make more friends. But not like the ones who knew you when you were 20-something. Nurture them like a delicate bonsai tree. Give them love, shower them with sunlight, and reserve a special shelf in your life for them and only them. Send a random email or text any time you feel like it, no matter how long it's been since you last spoke. A hello from a good friend is always welcome and you never know when they -- or you -- might need it.

True friendship takes years of life's ups and downs to build. Lifelong friends don't flow into your life like a constant river; they are the stunning waterfalls you have to hike for hours to get to. Savor them.

4) You're going to have to work hard (really hard) to get what you want.

This one is no joke. I have never been more exhausted, more challenged, and more humbled than I have been by the work required of me in my 20s. Granted, some of us have crazier goals than others, but I'm pretty sure this applies to everyone. If I could sum up what it took to get through my 20s in one word, it would be: grit.

5) Life is funny.

If you can't laugh about the ridiculous twists and turns -- the unexpected hellos and goodbyes, the failures, the successes, the hiccups and the craziness of it all -- then you are doing it wrong, and life will laugh at you.

6) Sweat it out.

Do it for your mind, body, and soul. Your future self (and body) will thank you.

7) Being 30 is not an end or a beginning.

Most 20-somethings see being 30 as a finish line of one race, and the starting line of another. They're wrong. First of all: there is no race. Second of all: It doesn't stop and start, it just goes forward without any promises. Free yourself of that number and all you've been told it means. Forget the expectations, and appreciate wherever it is that you are when you get there. Realize there is something great about that place, no matter where it is.

8) Expect the unexpected.

When I graduated from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. But I can guarantee that, almost immediately, what I did was not at all what I thought I would be doing. Don't assume your plan is set. Let life in, let it move you, and see where it takes you.

9) Be open - to everything and (almost) everyone.

You might think you know what's right for you, but there is a very good chance you will be wrong (many times). Be open to being wrong. Listen to your heart, but also listen to your friends.

10) The learning never stops.

Stay humble, curious, and present. Never pretend you have it all figured out (even when you get to your 30s and you start writing lists like this one). As soon as you think you have nothing left to learn, you've forgotten the most important lesson of all: the learning never stops.

Keep going. Keep learning. Keep letting yourself get lost. You might just end up exactly where you wanted to be all along.

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