I think our 20’s are a second adolescence that no one really prepares us for. It’s a time where we’re on our own, navigating the many ups and downs that come with this tumultuous decade. It’s an era of growth, change, and becoming the autonomous fully-formed person we’ll be for the rest of our lives. For most of us it includes many firsts, including living on our own, moving to a new place, supporting ourselves financially, and leaving behind the comforts of our teenage and college years (like having our friends and family close by, and someone to remind us to buy toilet paper on the regular).
As I near the end of my 20’s, I have spent time reflecting on the most potent lessons I’ve learned, picked up, or actively taught myself over this influential time. I often fantasize about what middle school, high school, or even college would have been like if I was aware of the ideas on this list. I’m still far from perfect at putting all of the below into practice on a daily basis… but daily, I am actively trying.
1 | Feel your feelings —
For some people feeling emotions comes naturally. For me, it’s a skill I have to learn, and, like learning a new language, it takes time. I tend to hold in my feelings — stuffing them down when things get uncomfortable with food or work or my iPhone or TV… whichever distraction is closest. Sometimes it’s okay to turn to these coping mechanisms, however eventually they will need to be addressed and solved by feeling them intensely. Letting out our feelings might never become completely instinctual (because as humans we’re wired to turn away from pain and toward pleasure). But ultimately it’s through pain, failure, and discomfort that we learn and grow. Feeling these uncomfortable emotions is a necessary (and helpful) part of life that molds us into the artists, partners, and friends we eventually become.
2 | Worrying is a waste of time —
The more you worry, the more it becomes your natural state. You have to interrupt the pattern, realize you are indeed worrying, and then choose a different, more productive thought. This takes practice — let me know if you find a hack. In the meantime, CBD helps.
3 | You get more done when you’re busy… but be careful, it may lead to burnout —
I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew, which is a distraction from being present with myself. It’s okay to be hyper productive but just be honest with yourself on why. Are you distracting yourself from a feeling? Are you trying to feel equal to someone by out-achieving them? Who are you seeking validation from? Are you seeking a compliment, validation, or a gold star from someone you admire? These are questions I constantly have to ask myself when I’m overworking and rushing. If your business is a distraction from feeling, see if you can rest and feel what you need to before returning.
4 | Be as present as you can be, as often as you can —
Rushing is a buzzkill for creativity, and presence is the greatest creativity and productivity hack. Trade rushing and frantic-ness for mindfulness and presence in every moment. (Don’t beat yourself up when you forget, but also remember how good it feels when you remember.)
5 | Think positive —
You can do hard things. You are pretty enough, smart enough, strong enough. You have all you need for this life. I never thought I could write a book. I never thought I could move to New York. I never thought I could navigate on the subway. I never thought I could leave my full time job and support myself as an entrepreneur. But I did all those things! I know I have the skills, intellect, body, tools, and support I need in order to do whatever it is I’m here to do, no matter how challenging they may be. This has taken me a very long time to learn and believe. I still have to remind myself often, but the more evidence I have that I can do the hard things, the more at ease I feel when trying something new.
6 | Flow more, force less —
There’s nothing worse than having a task you have to do when you really don’t feel like doing it. In those cases, make yourself some tea, put on good music, and with as much cozy ease as you can, just get it done. If you can, rearrange things so you’re not forcing a task you’re not in the mood for. A creative spark or jolt of productivity can’t usually be summoned when you need it — it usually will hit you out of nowhere. Try structuring your life and days around following your intuitive sparks when they hit, rather than chasing them.
7 | Learn to pivot, and begin again —
I have a tendency to spiral when one thing goes wrong. I tend to give up because I feel like the day, vacation, project, conversation, etc. is ruined. Life is much easier when I surrender to what is happening, rather than mourn the fact that it didn’t go as planned. Now, when things go wrong or are just slightly off, I try to be flexible, pivot, and begin again, instead of spiraling into shame, guilt, or frustration.
8 | Focus more on connection and less on what you look like —
I feel my best when I’m connecting and creating even if that’s just creating a genuine conversation with someone. Most often what prevents me from connecting and creating is feeling insecure about my appearance or focusing on how I look and trying to change it. Glennon Doyle Melton often says, “Make your life your masterpiece, not your body.” What I’ve realized is that people don’t care how you look as much as you may think they do. I was spending so much time on my appearance — from my hair to my outfits to my body — that when I stopped, I was able to connect better than I had in ages, and become much more present. Maya Angelou said, “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
9 | Accept the process of aging —
Your body is yours forever, and it’s going to change constantly as you age no matter how hard you try to fend it off, so you might as well embrace it. You were once the size of a loaf of bread, you changed, you’ll continue to grow, and you’ll continue to change. So getting too attached to any certain way that your body looks is fleeting and will only lead to comparison and longing.
10 | Splurge sometimes —
Eating is something we do every day, so make it fun and enjoyable! Learn what feels good in your body. Aim for balance. Stop counting calories, stop comparing your food to anyone else’s… own how you want to eat. We all knew how to eat for nourishment and pleasure when we were babies, but the opinions of others and diet culture has hijacked this. Getting back to our natural state with eating takes time and patience, but it can be done (and it can be quite yummy in the process)!
11 | Stop hiding parts of yourself —
Own the parts of you that you’re embarrassed about. Stop hiding them and share with someone who feels safe. We all have a shadow side and the sooner you can let it out, the sooner you can stop judging yourself. Lacy Phillips says, “What you don’t own, owns you.” Whatever you’re hiding has power over you until you let it out. Get to know your authentic self, work on genuinely liking yourself, and practice unapologetically being you around everyone.
12 | Identify what calms you —
For me, it’s meditating twice a day, journaling as often as I need to, calling friends, going to therapy, exercising, getting massages, and trying to sleep more.
13 | Money and finances can’t be ignored no matter how much you may want to —
The best part of being autonomous is that all your choices are yours, and yours alone. This is equally as terrifying as it is exhilarating. With all that liberation comes responsibility. The biggest way I’ve been able to feel independent and remain on top of things with my finances is to look at what’s coming in and out everyday. When money is coming in, it’s fun, however, when money is tight it can feel painful. If ignoring your bank account seems like the best option, know that it never is. Becoming an aware, active participant in your financial situation is one of the most liberating things you can do for yourself. As dorky as this would have sounded to my 20-year-old self, I look at my bank accounts and credit card statements almost daily. When you invest time in your finances to keep them organized you’ll feel more secure in the decisions you make in your career and social life.
14 | Relationships are worth the pain —
Relationships are mirrors — they reflect to you your strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve found them to be the quickest route to personal growth (if you let them be and are open to feedback). This quote from Florence Scovel Shinn basically sums up how all relationships are opportunities for growth: “No one is your friend, no one is your enemy, everyone is your teacher.” Although relationships are sometimes hard and take work, it’s important to remember that we need bitter foods to help us be able to taste the sweetness. In other words, we have to have the bad days to make the good ones good.
Katie Dalebout is a writer, host, and founder of Let [a podcast] Out, a workshop that helps people DIY podcast. Since 2013, she has interviewed over 250 people on her long-form interview show, Let It Out. In 2016 she published her first book, Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling, which is a collection of personal essays and journaling prompts. Today she writes about her feelings in her monthly Let It Out Letter. Katie, her feelings, and all of her plants live together in Manhattan.