10 things to know in your 20s

 10 Things I Learned In My 20s

Today is my 30th birthday! Happy Birthday to me!

I’ve been uber-excited about this day for the last year. I know that generally most women are bummed when they turn 30, but not me. I made up my mind that I would usher in this day with great fanfare, and I did. My friends and I had a blast this weekend and this is definitely my best birthday ever! Thank you to those who came out to celebrate with me, who sent birthday wishes and words of support.

10 things to know in your 20s

Another reason that I’m so excited is because my 20s sucked! (lol) I did some great things – fell in love, moved to DC, went to grad school, studied/traveled abroad, and started my own business… but my 20s were filled with growing pains, having to develop a thick skin, dealing with uncertainty, failure, and disappointment. I can confidently say that these experiences have made me a much stronger woman and today I stand tall as I bask in my grown-womanhood… but I’m SO glad that decade of my life is over!

I’m ready to dive into new experiences, learn to love myself even more, do it all in style and have fun along the way! Here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned during the last decade:

1. You are the authority on you

No one can know you as well as you know yourself. Take the time to fully learn what your likes, dislikes, passions, skills and weaknesses are. You’ll get so much more out of life if you learn to live it to the fullest every day, and one way to get more out of each day is doing at least 1 thing daily that makes you happy. A good example of this lesson is that I have a big, goofy sense of humor. I used to be embarassed by my humor until I realized that the more I laughed, the happier I was. So if people don’t like when I joke around, they’ll smile and move away, but I won’t stop being happy Prose child (I do know when its inappropriate however). This lesson was one of the first ones I learned and one that I feel is integral to the other lessons.

2. Trust your own judgment and don’t internalize the negative opinions of others.

This one is a two-fer. Learning to trust your own judgement is a gradual process. During my 20s I sometimes felt hesitant to step out on a limb during situations that I was unfamiliar with. I’d often ask friends, coworkers and other people I knew for pointers on navigating new situations. What I found was that, even if someone else had experience with what I was asking, my experience would often be different from theirs. And sometimes their advice wouldn’t be helpful at all. This lesson taught me that the best I can do in each situation is understand myself – my strengths, weaknesses and talents and anticipate how those factor into each situation.

10 things to know in your 20s

Also, asking for this feedback opened me up to the negative opinions of others. Sometimes I would ask but frequently the advice of others came unsolicited. People take license to comment on your life and decisions, and I had to learn to smile and tune them out. You don’t need another’s negative attitude or disbelief to permeate your mind. Continue to strive for your dreams regardless of what others say. Some of the greatest men and women in history – Mary McLeod Bethune, Shirley Chisholm, Henry Ford, hell even Barack Obama – were told that the dream they pursued was impossible. What if they had taken this advice, how would our world be different today? So develop your own internal guidance system based on who you really are, and continue to press on despite what other people think of your endeavors.

3. The only opinion that matters is your own.

You trust your own opinion by choosing those things that make you feel good. If you’re wearing a dress that your friends don’t like, but you love and makes you feel good, then don’t change it. A happy, confident woman is much better than a fashion-foward woman who relies on the opinions of others. When you step away from the need for external validation, then you begin to live a fuller, more robust life. You’re an expert on little old you, what can someone else tell you thats better than what you already know?

4. Know when to chart your own course.

By trusting in my own judgement and leaning on my own opinion, I started to see that alot of the caveats that the black community lives by don’t work for me. How many of us have been told to “wait on the Lord” for a mate, to be seen and not heard; how many times has education, economic responsibility and accountability been discarded in favor of keeping up with the Joneses, acting ‘hard’ or ‘black’? How many excuses have been made for why black women are single in such proportions, the high out-of-wedlock birth rate or the numerous other ills of our community?

10 things to know in your 20s

This is not to harp on any negative aspects of our race. This is moreso to illustrate how group think can and often does become detrimental to the individual. Walking alone is sometimes a lonely road, and like I wrote above, people often feel entitled to comment on your life and the choices you’ve made. Walk alone with conviction that when you turn away, y0u turn away to strengthen your own mental and physical health, to move closer to positive goals that not only benefit you but some of the same people who discourage you, and that being a goal/results-oriented woman is better than twiddling your thumbs and resting on your laurels.

5. Never give up on your dreams.

Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly. ~Lanston Hughes

I think when people let their dreams die, its caused by a lack of faith, perserverance and impatience. One may feel that because something isn’t happening for them now, that it won’t happen later. Impatience is a form of faithless – you want things to hurry up and come to you because you want to be sure that it comes. Its hard to struggle financially and remain faithful that your situation will improve. Its hard, but not impossible. In that example, and in others, its possible to live in the now by enjoying the things you do have, while staying hopefully optimistic that all that you desire its on its way to you. Besides, you don’t want to look back, at the end of your life, and wonder what could have been.

6. Set your own value.

Sometimes we struggle as black women because we’ve been socialized to believe that our value is not as high as women in other racial groups. We’ve also been taught that we have to work harder than other races to be deemed just as good. At what point does a black woman stop believing the hype, and start believing that she’s beautiful, wonderful, intelligent and competent just as she is? For me, I’d say it was around the age of 28. I’d stopped comparing myself to others and started really appreciating everything about myself and finding contentment in my own company. When you begin to really know yourself, then you know that you are worth more than your weight in gold. But if you wait for others to recognize that before you do, then you’ll be waiting a really long time. We teach others how to treat us and how much value we have by how we treat and value ourselves, and by what we will and won’t accept. So set your own value.

7. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Whenever I had to step out of my comfort zone, I experienced the fear of uncertainty. My early coping mechanism was to ask others about their experiences, but as I’ve said above, that doesn’t always work. My old roommate mentioned this phrase to me and I’ve found that its very helpful. Instead of beating myself up for fealing fear, I know that others feel that same fear yet move ahead with the goal that they’re pursuing. Sometimes this can be a comfort to me because no one wants to feel like a coward. Knowing that other people have the same anxiety and discomfort at wearing new mantles of responsibility certain helps to ease the process until I become comfortable. And living by this principle also removes the option of being ruled by fear. Fear doesn’t stop others and I won’t let it stop me, either. Do you feel the same?

8. You are responsible for your own happiness.

Are you waiting to get a new job in order to feel happy, if your current one makes you miserable? Are you looking for a mate, so that you can feel happy and complete? What about losing weight, is that your catalyst for happiness? I’m sure you’ve heard it before and you already know its true that only you can make yourself happy. What happens if you achieve these things, and yet you’re still unhappy? Do you find another job, another mate, or lose more weight? And those of us who study and practice the law of attraction know that you won’t be able to manifest the job, mate or release the weight you want unless you’re happy first. It takes alot of practice and changing your self-talk, but being happy right where you are is achievable. I think the biggest part of that is living in the now. And let me tell you, not allowing external people and circumstances dictate how I feel, is one of the amazing aspects of getting older. I guess you can call it ‘not sweating the small stuff’, but I also like to think of it as living an unconditional life. My happiness is not based on what condition my reality is in.

9. When people show you who they are, believe them.

Has someone every done something to you, that you didn’t like? What happened the second time that they did it to you? Did you complain that they keep doing something stupid? Or did you move away from this person, so that they don’t continue to offend you? Its sometimes hard to accept people just as they are. We want to admire the qualities they have that we like, and want them to stop indulging in their qualities that we don’t like. But if you know that the finest guy in your rotation is a liar, that you have a girlfriend that’s in ‘secret’ competition with you, or that one of your coworkers indulges in office politics, then you really can’t get mad or upset that these people do these things to you. Because you were already on notice. So make sure to take the blinders off and govern yourself accordingly. I had to learn to stop holding out hope for some folks, wanting them to change and wasting time expecting certain things that are outside of who they really are. By the same token, recognize when someone is good friend or boyfriend material and believe who they are, too.

10. Know when to swallow your pride and ask for help.

This is a very recent lesson for me. I was brought up with the principle of “mother may have, father may have, but God bless the child that’s got his own”. I think I might take this principle to heart more than others…. swallowing my pride is one of the hardest things for me to do, but I’m finding it easier. I do not want to be seen as weak, incapable, lazy, etc. But at the same time, I’m appreciating that your friends and family don’t mind helping you if you’re able and generally self-sufficient. I realized too that not one of us lives in a vaccuum and people need others to survive. But this isn’t something to be abused, and I’m thankful for the times when I reach out for help and others do so if possible.

Did you look forward to turning 30, why or why not? What are some of the things you’ve learned along the way to your 30s?

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