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Lessons learned in my twenties

If I could talk to my 19-year-old self, this is what I would say. From a 27-year-old.

By Janelle PolcynPublished 2 months ago 6 min read
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Lessons learned in my twenties
Photo by Phil on Unsplash

Make your house your home. No matter how temporary. Temporary places are not welcoming. Make yourself feel at home. Replace the "depression lights" in your apartment, find a way to add color to your walls, add pretty curtains, and get the couch.

Don’t wait to suddenly become the person you want to be when you “grow up.” Start now. Do you want to have dinners as an “adult?” Start now. It doesn’t just happen. Do you want to host movie nights? Have a Christmas tree? Decorate for the holidays? Get and send mail? Don’t wait. Life doesn't just start one day when something changes; buying a house, getting married, having kids, whatever.

Figure out your hygiene routine. Maybe you figured it out in high school. Kudos to you. If not, figure out what your hair needs, how often you need to shower, and what skincare products (and maybe even ingredients) work well or definitely don’t work. If you get around to it, figure out what notes you like in perfume/cologne you like.

Learn how to feed yourself. If sandwiches will feed you forever and you have no desire to eat anything else, go for it. Watch beginner cooking shows. Pick up a cookbook and try to cook through it. Get recipes from friends. If you try something and like it, take a note, and try to make it at home. Making food for yourself is a challenge, but should you ever have a family of more than one or two, it will get harder, not easier.

Figure out how to make your money work for you. I’m still figuring this one out, but I have three years still. A retirement account? High Yield Savings Account? Build your credit too. It will save you money later. Get a beginner credit card from your bank or one designed for people who are new to credit. There are lots. I got a credit card from my bank with a $500 limit and paid for my gas with it. I paid it off every month and built my credit from sub 680 to 780+ in a few years. Age of credit is a factor and you need to have something to your name early.

Never date someone you don’t want to. Never let someone waste your time. Invest in friends and yourself. Being single is a beautiful time. There is a reason people are getting married later. There is freedom and joy in being single. Even when you become a third wheel, you have a freedom that couples can’t have. Then, kids take even more of that freedom away. There is joy in marriage and children too, but you can’t go backward. I cannot think of a time when rushing was better than waiting.

On that note, I highly, highly recommend saving kissing and any level of physical intimacy for engagement. My husband and I kissed a full year before getting engaged and it was fine, but it was distracting and tempted us to push for more than kisses. If you intend to save sex for marriage, absolutely save kissing for engagement. This is another thing where rushing is never better than waiting. Even if you don’t plan on saving sex for marriage, if you can put off kissing for a few extra dates, weeks, or months, it will only reveal more about your partner’s character and your own motivations in the relationship. Also, then your mouths are not preoccupied and you can have more real conversations. That’s what dating is for - getting to know the other person.

Get outside. Learn to enjoy being outdoors; walking, running, jogging, hiking, Zumba, biking, gardening, skateboarding, roller skating, whatever. Get some vitamin D, get some fresh air, and see what's around you.

Try new things. Your body will only decay from here. You can do things to slow it down, but it will go down. Do the fun things. Make friends with people who have the gear to take you backpacking. Try a dance class. Learn how to weave baskets. There are so many interesting things you can do. Don't tell yourself it's lame just because someone else said it is. If it sounds fun, try it out.

Talk to older people. Yeah, they have wisdom and whatnot. Also, they are just cool sometimes and they want friends too. My first friend when I moved across the country was more than 30 years older than me. She had grandkids and treated me like an equal. She wanted to have me over just to hang out. She was and still is a great friend.

Make new friends often. Make it a habit to show up to the same place at a regular time as much as you can. Challenge yourself once in a while (once a month or so) to strike up a conversation with someone new. Sit at their table in a coffee shop, sit next to them at a sports game, talk to someone new at church, talk to a person with a booth at a craft fair or the farmer’s market. Making friends in high school is easy because you have group projects and you see the same 100-500 people every day. Making friends as an adult is harder, but still necessary.

On that note, go volunteer somewhere. Maybe it's a yearly event that needs volunteers for one day. Maybe it's a weekly or monthly commitment at a food bank or hospital. Maybe it's on an as-needed basis at a warming center. Whether for a city, a nonprofit, a county, or a school district, there are places that need a helping hand. The people in those groups are fascinating. The lessons you learn volunteering, even for an hour a month cannot be found elsewhere.

Go to farmer’s markets or craft fairs or local businesses. Yes, Amazon will be cheaper. But the person at the farmer’s market lives nearby. They also need to buy groceries, insurance, coffee, and dinner, and they donate their money to local charities. Support local as much as you can. Plus, it’s fun.

Bonus - go to high school events. Plays, competitions, or sports events. It won't be the best you've seen, but you'll be impressed and it will be a better use of your time than finding a new game on your phone.

Get a mentor. Someone older who is invested in your good. It can be for work or life or anything. Buy them dinner if you can. It’s hard to ask, but someone out there wants to see you do well and is willing to invest in you, even in the midst of their own chaotic family life. Love them back.

If you notice you are struggling with something, ask for help. That help may come in unusual ways but it is always easier if you ask for it than if you wait for it to arrive uninvited.

Above all else, know that I am rooting for you. I cannot go back to my 19-year-old self and tell her that the guy she'll crush on when she is 20 is not worth the unrequited affection, just her friendship. I cannot tell her that some people will run away from her and it's not the end of the world like a mentor would tell me years later. I cannot hand her the skincare regimen I found and hope she never has to put Snapchat text over her face to hide a pimple. I cannot open a high-yield savings account for her or get her a college credit card. But I can tell you what I wish I had done. I can hope that you do better than I did. You've got this.

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About the Creator

Janelle Polcyn

Writing is where I can think, but also where I can shut my brain off and just let the world disappear and the story consume me. Personal anecdotes, long-form fiction, micro-fiction, and things that make me smile.

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