I am now in my late twenties. I am not 21 or 25, but 28. In some circles this is still deemed relatively young. Those circles are made up of anyone actually a relative and/or older than us. In my heart I know 28 is young, depending on who you ask (I asked the Ready Brek I ate for brunch and it told me I am definitely a child), but that doesn't stop me feeling sheer alarm that I am now careering towards 30 at the speed of light.
Not just figuratively career-ing either. The milestones of my 20s have almost been primarily dictated by work. Get poorly paid job in preferred sector, enjoy poorly paid job, stop enjoying poorly-paid job, leave job in desperate hunt for cash, get hideous other job which is also poorly paid, get 3rd job which is short lived but pays better, be unemployed for a bit, get 4th job, enjoy 4th job and be paid more than the value of a commonly valued bar snack...hurrah!
As well as reaching professional milestones, there have been other achievements and set-backs which will be the things I remember about my 20s, when I wish to bore the hell out of my future grandkids. Travelling to Sri Lanka. Moving house FIVE TIMES. Learning to run. This blog. Friendships made and broken. Boy story. Boy story 2,3, 4 and so on until I found Grandpa. Baking more cakes than I’ve taken breaths. Drinking myself into oblivion. Ah, 20s, you and I have been through some serious shit together.
All these things though, they aren't really the milestones. They are the events. They are the big things which I will always remember and which have shaped my life, but the real milestones for me are the little things you learn. They are the resources you acquire, the skills you develop, all those little things which perhaps go widely under-appreciated but are what allow you to leave your 20s well-equipped for your 30s, perhaps with a cocky look back at recent years saying “yeah, I did you, I DID YOU GOOD.”
For me, there are things I do or know or understand now which had I known them 10 years ago would have given me a hellalota confidence and saved me from a canyon of heartbreak. Everyone’s ‘assets’ are different, but some stuff is just universal. A Rite of Passage, an unspoken law. I have another 2 years to go before I can tie a ribbon round my 20s survival kit and send it off to myself for my 30th birthday, but even if I learn nothing more between now and then, I feel pretty well kitted out, thanks to a world of learning these past few years.
Here are my top 20 things for surviving the 20s!
1. Find your THING
There is nothing that brings you more independence and confidence than having something of your own. A sport, an art, an interest. Finding something which not only helps you express yourself but gives you a haven away from everything and everyone – that is priceless and you’ll need it. The 20s are a rocky, rocky time, and you need an anchor.
2. Pick a team
Up until recently I expended a lot of energy trying to be all things to all people, and it was exhausting. No-one likes to be disliked and it is human nature to want to please others, but the moment you stop seeking approval is the moment you suddenly realise what you want and have more energy for that. You can’t be loved by everyone, and you can’t do everything. Stick with the people who matter the most, devote yourself to them, be yourself and forget about everyone else. If they aren’t cool with you or your choices, who gives a shrivelled pea?!
3. Learn to say ‘No’
As my 20s have progressed so have my responsibilities. Vastly. More friends + more commitments + more pressure + less time = recipe for disaster, unless you know how to handle it. It is only recently I have learnt to know my own boundaries and stick to them, which sometimes means saying ‘no’. People will always want more from you, but there is only so much of you to go around, and you will break into 1,000 tiny pieces if you spread yourself too thinly. You are the boss of your own life. It’s not about being selfish, it’s about recognising when you need to put yourself first. Say ‘No’ when you need to and don’t feel guilty about it.
4. Manage your own expectations
As much as we put ourselves under pressure to be all things to all people, we also put others under pressure. Remember that everyone has their own extremely complex lives, and not everything is about you. Unless someone is consistently a terrible friend, moody colleague or a selfish relative, cut them some slack. The chances are they do their best, just like you do, but life gets in the way. Remember that, don’t take every non-phone call or forgotten birthday card personally – putting people under pressure to be ‘better’ will only push them away, and it is only you who will feel let down when someone doesn’t live up to the person you want them to be.
5. Don’t fight your own body
The 20s are known for being a challenging time when it comes to self-confidence, when we’re still finding our poise and accepting ourselves. It is at this stage that we can find or lose ourselves very quickly, sink or swim. One thing I do know is that fighting the body you were born to have will never end well, you will always lose, and you will never be happy. Be fit and healthy and strong, but do not try to match a stereotype which only exists in the media, you will lose.
6.Find your chill
I spent my student days believing the only ways to relax were via 1. Watching TV or 2. Drinking. It took me until about 25 to learn that actually watching TV does not relax me that much and we all know the tranquillity of a drink is short-lived. No no no. My relaxation comes in other forms. So when some people spend a lazy bank holiday on the sofa, I might spend it whipping up a storm in the kitchen. Learn what helps you switch off, because you will need that manual switch from time to time.
7. Watch all episodes of Friends
Lets face it, this is going to have happened anyway, and if it hasn’t it needs to. More conversations start with “this reminds me of that episode of friends where...” than I care to think about. You need to swat up to get by.
8. Open your mind to people
Birds of a feather definitely stick together, there is no doubting that. But do we need to? I have found support and happiness from surprising sources over the years, especially in recent times, and will never assume who is or isn’t a potentially great friend. It’s not about people being the same as you, it’s about them seeing who you are, complimenting you (not literally, although a compliment is always nice) and valuing you enough to make room for you in their life. Open your mind.
9. Do personal admin
I used to feel so overwhelmed by all the ways in which we need to take care of ourselves. How does anyone have the time to go to the dentist AND have fun? That was until I learnt I was never going to have that much fun unless my life was in order first. Go to the dentist, make a doctor’s appointment, balance your cheque book (whatever that means), make a packed lunch. All these boring things are boring, but they form the foundations of a happy, organised life. I call it ‘personal admin’ and set aside a few hours a week to catch up on myself, otherwise I quickly feel life spiralling out of control.
10. Pick your work clothes the night before
I only started doing this a few years ago but man does it feel good. Not only does it save you precious time on a morning, but it leaves you feeling so irrationally ready for anything. It’s okay, I can do life and tomorrow at work will be FINE because I’m going to wear those hawt chino trousers with that blouse. Plus, you’re more likely to pick an outfit which works for the weather. We may be getting old but god we’re good at getting dressed.
11. Make a packed lunch
Again, didn’t bother for ages until I learnt that 1. I was poor and 2. I was getting fat. Save money, be healthy, feel organised.
12. Do not compare
If you want what everyone else has all the time you will never, ever be happy. I know we all know this, but do you even know when you’re inadvertently feeling low about your own life because it doens’t match The Jones’? Have 1 or 2 of your own humble goals, work towards them and stop looking at what people next to you are doing. Life is not a race, it is an adventure, and we all experience ups and downs at different times. If you are busy looking at everyone else’s adventure, you will trip up. The same thing will happen if you change route too many times – you can’t get anywhere if your destination keeps changing. Look straight ahead, stay focused, endure and you’ll get there.
13. Subscribe to a magazine
The joy I feel every time my Cosmo and Good Food Magazines flop onto my doormat each month is unbounded. You know it’s coming but it feels unexpected, you paid for it but it feels free, and it is guaranteed post. I LOVE POST. My twenties improved immensely once I filled in that form.
I don’t know if moisturising will have prevented my skin from becoming wrinkly or not just yet, but I do know that it makes me feel gorgeous. I love getting out of a hot bath shrivelled as a prune, dousing myself with some kind of buttery, lotiony goodness and climbing into bed feeling allllll smooth. I need nothing else when my calves are silky. It’s a cheap thrill, but a thrill that keeps on giving.
Reading isn’t always seen as the coolest thing in the world, at school people who read for fun were accused of being geeks and then we associated it with education and general tediousness. Reading is a skill we take for granted, and we don’t always appreciate the simple bliss which can be found in just sitting with a book, forgetting our own world for a few minutes. A few years ago I became aware of how I’d lost touch with reading, something I used to love as a child, so I joined a book club and taught myself to read again. There is something so humble and pure about reading; it costs nothing, it isn’t bad for us and it can only inspire. If I’d read more in my early 20s I think I would have found more calm, something I desperately needed.
16. Enjoy your own company
My friends say I am crazy when I tell them I’d love to have the confidence to go for dinner or to the cinema alone. I really would though. I haven’t done it yet, but I love my own company and spend a fair bit of time alone in the comfort of my own home – for me, doing something social on my own is that next step. I haven’t done it yet because when the opportunity arises I would always rather stay in and hide on the sofa, but I do think that being happy in your own company is something which gives you a lot of strength, inside or outdoors!
17. Find your tipple
On my GCSE results night I drank so much Malibu (neat) that I instantly fell out of bed when I got in (sorry Mum). On a school trip to Spain (aged 15) I drank sangria, cried in front of everyone and the next day vommed in front of everyone on a coach. At a wedding, I drank 4 shots of Sambuca in a row and got the shock of my life for 48 hours afterwards. As such, what I can drink now has been whittled down to pretty much Rose and the occasional cocktail. I am a Rose girl through and through, and probably always will be, I just wish I’d known this before.
18. You don’t always have to drink
You don’t always have to drink. If I drank on every single social occasion I would be constantly bladdered. I know, so appealing, but not conducive to the life I want to carve out. I value waking up hangover free on a Saturday morning and having a big fat smug stretch far more than I value the taste of Rose. Pick the occasions you think are worth the hangover, but be strong enough to say no on the others.
19. Keep the following items in your desk:
Paracetamol, Berrocca, tissues, tights (spare), chocolate and/or haribo a phone charger (spare), a happy photo, perfume and a savoury snack. Yourself and others will thank you.
20. Try something you never in a million years thought you’d like
I used to assume I did not like action movies or police dramas or anything else distinctly ‘boy-like’ when it came to the TV, that is until my boyfriend showed me the light. The entire Avengers series later and I have discovered my inner Sci-Fi geek. I cannot get enough of Iron Man. If it wasn’t for Gareth I never would have known how much I love this kind of TV. I am so glad I tried it and in return I have introduced him to Tuna from a tin. You are welcome.