Twenty (Plus Nine) – A Few Lessons From Getting Older

On getting older and wiser... 29 lessons

{I just wanted to preface this by letting you know that this post has taken me AGES to write. So, no, I’ve not gone missing and yes, you better love it!}

On the 29th of October, I turned 29. I’m not going to lie, it scares me. Most of my friends can tell you, laughingly, that I am scared about getting older. They cringe every time I get annoyed when they get carded upon entering a bar and I don’t, or when I rage that I’m no longer eligible (by about a few years) for the railcard (let’s have a moment of silence for no more savings on train tickets). And they roll their eyes every time someone asks me how old I am, because I incessantly respond, “how old do you think I am?”, as if there is some right or wrong answer (hint: there is a right answer and it’s 21).

This is scary territory for me. Approaching 30 is not something I’m very comfortable with, but it’s definitely inevitable! It’s been a little over a week now, and I’ve been doing some reflecting. Although inching up to 30 is full of so many unknowns and surprises, I know I’m going to enter the decade prepared with many valuable life lessons from my 20’s. In honor of those 29 candles on my cake, here are 29 life lessons that I’ve learned (and am still learning)…

1. Life is so so short.

Having been on earth for a substantial chunk of time, I’ve seen plenty of lives cut short. I don’t want to start this on a tragic note, but I’ve seen my share of lives ending. Like they say, “in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. We are not guaranteed a tomorrow, so carpe diem mate! Have you been wanting to tell that guy you like that you think he is cute? Do it, because it’s now or you may never get another chance! Have you been dying to go on that dream holiday or take up a hobby you were never bold enough to try? DO IT. Don’t waste another day holding things off for tomorrow, or next year, because there is NO PROMISE of tomorrow.

2. Learning to take care of yourself is the best thing you could ever do.

This is a work in progress for me, because I’m constantly figuring out what ‘taking care of me’ actually means. Exercising, eating healthy and sleeping more regularly have done wonders to my overall well-being, and I am shocked it took me so long to figure out that these simple factors could transform me. Taking care of yourself, however, is not limited to food and exercise. Sometimes, ‘taking care of me’ means that I need to go out, have some drinks, loosen up and dance with friends. Other times, it means that I need to stay home and read or edit photos. Taking care of yourself entails actually stopping and listening to what your body and soul are begging for, and then doing it.

3. The world is your oyster.

I am so blessed to have come from humble beginnings, because they teach you to appreciate what you have in life. My mom worked very hard to give me and my brother the lifestyle we both enjoy today. I have chances that not many people on this planet have, and I recognize that. I grew up in safe neighborhoods, went to good schools, received two university degrees and got to travel the world. It’s so important to learn that if we are lucky enough to have these opportunities, then we should not let them go to waste. Let these opportunities enrich your life, but also, learn to pass along those blessings to those who have not been as fortunate.

4. Family is much more than blood.

I love my ‘blood’ family. They are a collection of very amazing people and I am so lucky to have them in my life. By God’s plan, we were paired together to do this life, for better or for worse. I always thought that family was defined strictly by blood relations until recently. Through my boyfriend and friends, my circle of what I consider ‘family’ has expanded. Recently, one of my friends adopted a little girl, and now I’m called ‘auntie’. Through these people, I have found sisters and brothers that I never had. It makes me feel so overjoyed to know that they want to share their lives with me on such an intimate level, and in return, want to participate in my life. Family isn’t only blood. It’s so much more!

sunflowers for days

5. Standing up for yourself is empowering.

This, like many others on this list, is a work in progress for me. One of my greatest weaknesses is confrontation. When I have to confront someone, I get SO nervous, to the point where my hands are shaky afterwards for a few minutes. This year, I made it a goal to stand up for myself more, and although it’s been hard, the feeling you get after makes the awkwardness worth it. Standing up for one’s self forces people to hear you, but ultimately, it makes people respect you. And YOU end up respecting you, which is the most important part.

6. Being authentic is more important than being ‘cool’.

When I was younger, I wasted YEARS of my life wanting so badly to be ‘cool’ and accepted by my peers. Turns out, I’m not cool, but actually, after many years of living with myself, I’ve figured out I’m ok with that. People respond to authenticity, and although it can be difficult with being vulnerable, it is the best way to live a happy life. Learning how to not give af what people think and just doing what makes you happy is actually ATTRACTIVE to other people. Nobody likes being around a fake.

7. Give people the benefit of the doubt.

When you’ve had a tough day at work or life in general and you have been dealing with some really frustrating people, it’s really hard to step back from the situation and imagine what they are going through. I’ve found that when I make an actual effort to calm down and then reflect on what makes the other person do or say some things, it helps me to put things into perspective. Most people are not horrible, but most people have a lot going on in their lives. Being able to give others the benefit of the doubt will help salvage some relationships, and make YOU happier in general.

{Maybe not climbing trees, but I am climbing mountains!}

8. Comparing yourself to others is pointless.

There is a quote often attributed to Einstein (although there isn’t any evidence he said it), and it goes something like this:

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

While it’s debatable who said it, its message remains relevant. If the standard for ‘success’ is to climb a tree, a fish is never going to be successful (or genius, beautiful, etc.). If I had to pick one of the lessons on this post that is the hardest for me to stop/do, it would be this one. I get so mad at myself for not being skinnier, prettier, smarter, faster, stronger compared to people around me, and it’s just such a waste of time! I am me, with my own unique genetics, struggles, personality and life experiences. I cannot change these things, so how can I even compare apples to oranges? I have to purposefully avoid certain Instagram accounts or magazines because otherwise, I compare myself and start feeling pretty crappy. But how pointless is that? Rather, we should just focus on being the best that WE can be!

9. You can’t change other people, but you can change how you react.

This is similar to number 7, but instead of focusing on the other person, the focus is on you. How do you react to difficult situations? My instinct is to get frustrated or lose my patience, but I have found that this only makes the situation worse. Allowing myself to cool down and process the situation allows for wiser and more productive reactions. Not surprisingly, reacting more positively can actually turn the situation around!

10. It’s ok to admit when you’re wrong.

I am pretty darn stubborn and I hate being wrong. However, what I hate even more is everyone knowing you’re wrong (including yourself) and not admitting it. You know those people. They are the ones who are ALWAYS right, regardless of how much of a disaster they have made. I’m a firm believer in just admitting your mistakes, and moving on. It’s not easy, but it’s similar to ripping off a plaster – it will suck at first but you will come to find that people have more grace for mistakes than they do for fools.

11. It’s perfectly fine to think you’re great.

If any of you struggle with poor self-esteem, I totally feel ya. It’s really easy to get swept away in the sea of self-doubt. What’s harder is to actually acknowledge our ‘pros’ versus our ‘cons’. It has been so hard for me to start believing I’m pretty great. I think our society conditions us from a very young age to be self-deprecating, and it’s a tough habit to break. Recently, I started using affirmations and they have helped me focus on what’s great about me, as well as lift my spirit! Starting your day by telling yourself things like, ” I believe in myself and in my ability to succeed” or “I choose to to be proud of myself” genuinely make such an impact on how positively you view yourself. Try the 5 Minute Journal app – I try to do it in the mornings and it makes all the difference!

pretty flowers in London
12. Don’t let competition get in the way of what’s important.

Most of us are competitive to some extent. Competition can be a healthy thing because it causes you to strive to be better. It can get nasty though, when it affects your relationships and your self-esteem. Don’t let it! Be happy when the people that you surround yourself with succeed, and never enjoy their defeats. I’m really competitive as well, but I have to constantly check myself when those feelings of jealousy creep in. Sure, I want to be the best I can be, but it is also important for me to have fun with whatever I’m doing, not take myself too seriously and maintain healthy relationships and friendships!

13. Sometimes, it’s ok (for an extrovert) to be alone.

Out of all my family members, I think I’m the most extroverted person. Socializing energizes me in a way that a lot of people don’t understand. It’s not difficult for me to start a conversation up with a stranger and instantly find something that connects us. What might be surprising to most is that after those social situations, I NEED to be alone to recharge. When I was younger, I did not let myself have enough ‘alone time’ because I thought I needed to always be on the move and talking to people, and it burnt me out. Now, I recognize when I need to crawl back into the safety of my room and just be by myself, and it helps me to be a better, kinder and more patient person.

14. We are all kind of winging it, and hoping for the best.

Remember when you were 14 and all those adults seemed so cool and collected and seemed to have their life in order? I used to think that by 29, I would definitely be one of those adults. Little did I know that actually, adults are definitely winging it. Some are better than others at pretending they have the hang of things, but in the inside, even the most organized, successful person, has no clue what they are doing. They just find a groove, and it works for them, so they continue on! That’s really what doing this life means – it’s a little combination of luck, hard work and a LOT of mistakes. Don’t be discouraged if you are confused or just a bit lost… Keep pursuing what makes you happy, and you’ll find your groove too!

15. Let go of negativity (and negative people!).

It can be so surprising how people and their negativity impact your daily mood. The thing is, you don’t actually recognize how much happier you can be until the source of negativity is out of your life. Do you have a friend or family member that is not lifting you up? Try to distance yourself, even if you can’t completely. I cannot begin to tell you what wonders this tip has done for my own happiness and positive outlook on life!

Estes Park, Colorado
16. The environment isn’t invincible.

This one is so close to my heart these days. One thing I can thank my 20’s for is for opening my eyes to the fragility of the world and the environment. Because of my background in science and just a general drive to understand of what is happening to the Earth on a global scale, I’ve come to see that we, humans, are incredibly reckless with our environment. Pollution is at an all time high, and we don’t even blink when we get in the car. Our oceans are starting to fill up with plastic, yet we don’t think twice when we throw away our starbucks coffee cup. It genuinely makes me sad that some of my closest friends and family don’t think about the impact of their waste, but that’s the reality of humankind.   I was just like that until one day I was not. Caring about the environment, unfortunately, cannot be forced – it’s something each person needs to arrive at their own pace.

17. Pursue what makes you happy.

At 29, I have a million hobbies. My experimental nature has allowed me to dabble in so many different activities and my life is only further enriched by all these passions. Passions are SO important in order to live a fulfilling life. I know that they say this a lot but what gets you out of bed in the morning? Is it work? Or is it what you do outside of work? Focus on that thing that makes you happy and go for it full force!

18. Accept that people grow apart.

Disney’s Pocahontas couldn’t have said it better:

What I love about rivers is you can’t step in the same river twice. The water’s always changing, always flowing.

People are just like that. We are all constantly changing and constantly flowing in and out of each other’s lives. The sooner you accept that, the easier it will be when people you thought would be in your life forever, leave. Also, the sooner you accept it, the quicker you will be open to all the new people and opportunities that will come and grace your life in the present.

19. Stay humble.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

– Proverbs 16:18

Isn’t everyone dealing in some way with pride? I can’t begin to tell you how many times my own pride has gotten the better of me. There have been many times where my pride wounded my friends or just ultimately made me look like an idiot. I am a terribly proud person, but I am constantly fighting against my own nature. I’m not talking about the general pleasure and joy one can get from doing great things, being proud of your background and heritage or even self-appreciation or self-esteem. I’m talking about the “I’m better than you or I’m better than this” kind of attitude that only gets you so far, and ultimately damages relationships and opportunities. Be the opposite of aggressive, arrogant, boastful and vane. Be humble instead. Humble stems from the Latin humilis, which means ‘low’. When you are ‘low’ you don’t have very far to fall!

20. Stay kind.

Along the same lines of humility, being kind is something that will also take you a long way. I have only made it this far in life because of the kindness of others. So many people have propped me up with their kind words and thoughts when I was going through some difficult times. Kind people have given me directions when I was lost, and kind friends gave me a hug when I needed one. Being kind is one of the most wonderful feelings. When you are kind to others, it actually a very healing act within itself. Helping another person has been known to bring so much joy and happiness. If everyone was to be kinder, imagine what kind of a world we would live in?

21. Keep learning.

Learning shouldn’t stop when you finish school. Some of the most interesting or successful people are constantly learning new things. It’s NEVER too late to pick up a new language or learn how to throw clay. Going back to lesson 17, you should constantly be in pursuit of things that make you happy, and that might mean you need to start learning something you don’t know. Recently, I’ve been trying to learn more and more about photography. Not only does it excite me to be learning something new or different and perfecting my skills, but it also fills my life with so much joy. This is a skill that constantly requires trial and error, so I’m inherently learning.

22. Stop carrying unnecessary expectations.

Every time I’ve travelled to a city or country thinking it is going to be the most amazing place I’ve ever visited, I end up a bit disappointed. When I go to a place not having any expectation at all, I end up pleasantly surprised and happy! This is something that can be applied to any aspect in life, whether it comes to first dates or trying new restaurants. Don’t have a positive or negative expectation, and it will actually help you be in the moment.

23. Judge less and empathize more.

We are all guilty of this. Judging is SO easy to do. However, it’s so unhealthy and ultimately makes you unhappy. Rather than wasting so many precious minutes of life thinking about how inadequate other people are, use that time instead for something much more powerful – empathy. Along the same lines as ‘being kind’, empathizing is where you step outside of your snooty little head and actually imagine what it might be like for the other person in that moment or situation. If people empathized more, can you imagine how drastically it could change your work environment? If you gave people the benefit of the doubt, it would not only save you extra anxiety, but also give people a chance to exceed your expectations!

finding joy in being myself

24. Laughing really is the best medicine.

There is something so healing about sitting with a glass of wine and your best friend and just laughing until your stomach hurts about something ridiculous. It makes you feel that there is nothing wrong with the world. Whatever stress or problem you had earlier kind of just fades away. What an amazing thing it is, to be that free and happy!

25. Love deeply.

I know plenty of people struggle to fully plunge into love. There are always some reservations. Maybe they are scared to be so vulnerable with another person. But my advice is just go for it. Love deeply. I’ve loved deeply in this life and have been so heartbroken. That will always be a risk, but I think it’s so worth it! Not only do I have really lovely memories and experiences but I learned so much about myself and people from letting myself fall in love. Heartbreak teaches you to appreciate the real thing when you finally have it, and let me tell you, it’s really great.

26. Learn to take criticism.

Newsflash: We are not perfect! That means, we always have areas where we need to improve or develop. Unfortunately, most of us are not skilled enough to identify the areas we need the most improvement on by ourselves due to pride (see lesson 19). Learning to accept people’s feedback is one of the most useful lessons to learn! When someone says something about you needs improving, it can be so hard to stomach. Not only do you realize they are right, but another person has recognized your errors! It does not feel good, but we are all about learning  here (see lesson 21). Learning to glean wisdom from what other people feed back to you can help you improve in either work or even your personal life.

27. Less is more.

You’ve seen those television programs. You know, the one’s where a person has hoarded a life’s worth of crap, and has about 25 millimeters of space to move around in. While most people are not that extreme, humans are natural collectors of things. The thing is, we will take none of it to the grave. Learning to live with less earlier on is difficult, but so rewarding. We become slaves to our things and getting rid of things helps us break those chains. Ultimately, having less frees you up to give more, and that will ultimately bring you a lot of joy and purpose.

28. Forgive more.

There are some people who really don’t deserve forgiveness. They may be absolutely rotten and horrible, but you should still forgive them anyway. Let me tell you why. Anger is something that hurts its host more than anyone else. When you’re angry, the other person might just go about their day, and might not even be aware you’re angry! You could be losing sleep, stressing and losing your health over someone who won’t even lose sleep over you. Forgiveness is not just something you grant to other people, but it’s something you also give to yourself. Forgiving someone else actually liberates you in so many ways.

Along those lines, maybe you think you’re the one who doesn’t deserve forgiveness. Forgive yourself anyway. Mistakes always happen, but as long as you learn from them, you  will be alright in this life.

autumn colors, throwing leaves
29. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel…

And cricket, life has its up and downs. You will go through valleys and troughs. Some months or even years may seem like the will never get better, but don’t let that thought get any power! There is ALWAYS a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s worth waiting for! I have known a few people who struggled with depression, myself included, and some of those people did not make it through. But no matter how hard it may be for you in that moment, surround yourself with supporting and positive people and SEEK help. Storms always end, and you just need to keep on keeping on…

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  • Reply Katelyn Phenicie

    I love this one!!! Those are all really beautiful! Turning 29 doesn’t sound so bad!

    December 5, 2017 at 4:00 am
    • Reply caffeineberry

      Thanks Katelyn!! I’m glad you liked it!

      December 9, 2017 at 7:32 pm

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