How My Late 20s Are Better Than My Early 20s

I turned 28 last month and have now entered into what is, solidly, my late 20s. You know, because if 25 on the nose is mid-twenties, you can ride that pretty easily into 26 and even into 27 before being booted out of the mid-twenties camp. At twenty-eight, though, you're officially outside the mid-20s circle; if you haven't embraced the late 20s yet, the 28th anniversary of your birth is about the time you have to do that.

Getting older has never bothered me. Since I have an October birthday I was always one of the youngest kids in my grade in school, so birthdays were a welcomed chance to catch up to my peers' age - even if it was only for a few months. And as an adult I've continued to be a little ahead of the curve, making big life decisions before most other people I know, so birthdays have continued to be celebrations of finally having my numerical age match (or at least get closer to) the age I feel.

Until my 28th birthday. Prior to October 2 of this year, there was not a day in my life I ever felt old. But when I woke up on my birthday, that feeling hit me like a ton of bricks. I don't know what it was that made this birthday so different, but I couldn't stop thinking about all the things that teenage or early 20s me would have thought that late 20s me would have done by now. My life has always had a fairly predictable trajectory and I think younger me would be, at the very least, surprised at how things have turned out.

In my early 20s, I checked off a lot of items on the To-Do list of life: I graduated from college (20) and from graduate school (21); I got my first real job and started my career (22); I got engaged (21) and married (22); I bought a new car (22) and a house (23). As a newly-minted adult heading into the Real World, I did all the things the world around me told me that adults do. I did them not only because I felt like I should, but because I wanted to. After spending my life relying on my parents, it felt good to be out on my own and establishing my own life. It was fun to have a steady paycheck and to be able to spend it decorating a home I owned with a person to whom I had pledged to spend my life.

But when I was 25, the age by which I always assumed I'd be nicely settling into a career with maybe even a kid or two at home, my life got turned upside down. I use the passive voice rather than active, as if something happened to me rather, but in reality, I made a choice. I decided to leave my job and go back to school for another career. But truthfully, even though it was ultimately my decision, it didn't feel like I had much of a choice. Something in me shifted and I couldn't stay on the path I had planned.

So now that I'm old, as we've established, and my life is markedly different than I ever thought it would be, I've realized that these years when I thought would be stable and easy, they've actually been anything but. But you know what? They've been my best years yet. How is that possible? Well, it's like this:



I'm better able to manage my depression and anxiety (related: I stopped giving a shit about what people think).
In my late teens and early 20s, my depression got to a point when, for the first and only time in my life, it was truly debilitating. I didn't know how to handle my feelings, and I especially didn't know how to handle feeling like I was the only one with those feelings. I felt like my now accept that I'm an introvert and I'm socially awkward and a little bit weird and while I can fake it until I make it a little easier now than I used to be able to do, I also kind of don't care if you notice those things about me. We're all a little weird and not everyone like everyone. Realizing that has made my anxiety take a serious nose dive. 

I'm happier with my husband than I was the day we got married.
I wasn't a crazy bridezilla by any means (hopefully my husband and/or sisters-in-law/bridesmaids who might be reading this agree) but, like most brides of any age, getting the details of my wedding day right was important to me at the time. We had an amazing wedding to show for it, but I look back now and realize I knew absolutely nothing back then. Nothing about myself, or about life, or about marriage. We were young when we got married and, given those facts, it's a true miracle that my husband and I have made it over five years. We've known each other over a decade now and have grown so much both separately and together over the last several years. The more we each improve as individuals, the more our marriage improves. I liked who were both were when we got married, but today I can say I truly love and am proud and happy of the people and the couple we've grown up to be.

I learned how to channel my obsessive personality into productive behaviors.
I've always had a tendency to hyperfocus on certain things that I'm interested in. When I was in elementary school, it was (nerd alert) astronomy. In high school and college, it was music (how else do you think I made it to over 100 concerts to-date?). Then I graduated college, got a grown-up job with a grown-up mortgage and my biggest hobby was sitting on my couch after work catching up on Real Housewives. My obsessive personality was just begging for something better than the current drama in the OC to latch on to. To this day, I have no idea why in April 2011 running became that something better. I have a few reasons, but I've never been able to pinpoint why I chose something I was historically bad at for 23.5 years to become my new obsession, but...an obsession it became. Thousands of miles pounding the pavement, nearly 60 races, and several mutations of that obsession later, it's been the best thing I've ever done for myself. I've definitely had to figure out how not to let my obsessive personality turn a healthy hobby into an anxiety-inducing obligation, and I'm still figuring it out if I'm being honest. But at the end of the day, using my obsessive personality to better my physical and mental health has been one of the best changes I've made in my 20s.

I'm no longer afraid of failure, because failure is no longer an option.
I've never labeled myself s perfectionist, but I do like to do my best at things and I don't like to fail (who does?). Over the last few years I've started taking more chances and, while I've mostly been successful, I've learned that it's not immediate or even guaranteed success that makes something worth doing. I've taken risks I would have been too afraid to take when I was younger because I've finally figured out that a little patience goes a long way, and if I'm willing to put in the months or years it takes to accomplish something, eventually I'll get it. 

I've learned that less is more.
Our first post-college home was a 3 bed/3 bath 1800 square foot townhouse that we quickly realized was way too enormous for just the two of us (even sharing it with a menagerie of animals). We had rooms we never went into and all we did was store junk in them. Next we moved into a 1 bedroom loft apartment that was less than half the size of our townhouse, and when we finally went to buy a home, we decided on a condo somewhere between the two. After 3 years of owning that condo we moved yet again, and this time decided on our smallest place yet. To get ready to downsize by over half, we got rid of innumerable possessions we had collected over the years and now we're lighter and happier in 700 square feet than we've ever been before. Moving was the impetus to my/our shift toward minimalism, and at this point it's not just a necessity, it's a voluntary lifestyle. There is still plenty of stuff in our home, but we're conscious about what we have and what we bring it, and I've been able to extend that intention and consciousness to other facets of my life as well.

I've figured out who I really am. 
I never expected or intended to change my path so dramatically, but I wouldn't change it for the world. The last few years have looked completely different than I ever would have predicted, but they've also been much better than I could have ever predicted. I am certain that early 20s me would never have guessed that late 20s me would be living back in Blacksburg, finishing an engineering degree, or running marathons (and definitely not all of the above), but I'm glad early 20s me was dead wrong. Life is fuller, more challenging, and more exciting than I could have ever hoped for. 

16 comments :

  1. YESSS! life gets infinitely better as you age because the amount of fucks you give decreases significantly!!! it's amazing.

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  2. I feel the same about what constitutes mid/late 20s. Though someone suggested 26 could be late 20s when I turned 26 this year, and he almost got a face full of fist.

    Also, what you said about wanting to. I know you just described the "fun"(ner) and freeing stuff, but I'm glad you said it. I get so confused when I see people my age (and older) always talking about not wanting to be adults, to have parents making decisions for them, to not enjoy or be able to do "adult things" for themselves and I'm always just sitting here like...am I the only one who DOESN'T want to be a teenager again? Who actually DOES feel like an adult, because I am one? Who doesn't need a Thought Catalog post to assure me I'm all grown up? It's kind of a huge peeve of mine. Anyway, that's a tangent.

    Back to your post. I loved reading this. I know many of these things about you and we have so many of them in common too (I think there's something about running + minimalism that go hand in hand, honestly), but I love hearing you talk about them like the good and life-changing and soul-baring things they are. It takes a keen sense of self-awareness to take this kind of inventory and honestly, not a whole lot of people have it.

    I'm sure I would have liked you if we met in your early twenties, but I love the person you are now and I'm happy I get to know you and call you my friend.

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  3. I didn't get engaged or married until I was 30 so my 30s are SO MUCH better than my 20s. I enjoyed the crazy high life of being 20 but I'm so much more established and happy now. I will say, we need to figure out where we are going to live and then possibly start a family before I'm SETTLED, but I love my 30s.

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  4. I totally agree! I feel like I know myself so much better at 27, more confident, and have a set of strong relationships that keep me fulfilled! Life only gets better!

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  5. Just wait until you enter your 30s. They are so much better in every way. 31 happens next weekend and I am over the moon excited about it.

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  6. I was always the youngest in school too, so I have the same feeling each year about "catching up" with my peers. Strictly in a numerical sense, because in a lot of ways I feel like I'm ahead in life. Which sounds cocky, and I certainly don't mean better - just more checks have been checked off, you know? Married, mortgage, kid, etc.

    A lot of people fear turning 30, but for me it was like "yay! I'm 30! No more 20's. No more 'oh you're so young'." 31 felt like it didn't even happen since the marathon was only 2 days later, but so far I'm digging it. My husband and I were also babies when we got married, but I'm enjoying that we're growing together, as people and as a couple, as we age. Here's to many more years of companionship and self-discovery!

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  7. I think that everyone wishes they could go back to being young but now me. I am happier in my 30's than I ever was in my 20's. There is a big difference in life perspective of a 28 year old over a 22 year old. That is for sure!!! I think the older the get, the more comfortable we are with ourselves and the pickier we are with whom we allow in to our lives :)

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  8. YES! I would love to have my early 20's body back but you couldn't pay me a million dollars to go back to the mentality I had going on then. Yikes.

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  9. SPOT ON with this post friend!!! I definitely love Jared and I's marriage more now than I did when we got married- so much growth, so much life experience, so much learning has happened since then!

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  10. hahaha i love your explanation and yes, totally agree. i felt mid 20s until i turned 28 and now i'm a few months away from 29 and i'm like okay, i'm definitely late 20s, can i just stay here? i'm not super afraid of turning 30 or anything, i just don't feel like i'm 30. i mean obviously, i'm not, but.. it's weird. i don't know. i won't think about it for a little while lol.
    damn you did a lot in your early 20s. i didn't do a lot of those things until mid to late 20s, i always felt behind.
    awww i love what you said about you and your husband. and everything. i am way more secure in myself than i have ever been, which has helped me with my issues and my relationships, which in turn has made me happier than i've ever been. if that means i have to grow older to be happy, i don't mind!

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  11. I love this! I just turned 25 and I am an October baby so I am used to being the young one but I feel like I'm on the verge of some personality changes which is huge because I used to hate change in general. I've always been scared of aging but I'm finding that most of my friends and family had more fun in their late 20s and 30s than high-school and college so it really gives me something to look forward too! I love being more established, maybe not in my career but in inner self, my faith, my marriage, etc. Thanks for the encouragement!
    Linds @ Not A Mom

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  12. I am absolutely, 100% learning this right now. I haven't had the experiences that you've had, yet, but I can definitely see myself gearing in that direction. When I think back to when I thought I "had it all" I laugh because I realize that I had nothing (and that's in a completely figurative sense). The things that were important to me 4 or 5 years ago make me laugh.

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  13. Glad to hear you aren't finding 28 to be a death sentence :) I'm 29 and definitely don't feel as old now as it sounded back then.

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  14. My late 20's was filled with tragedy but that aside, I loved my mindset more at 28 and 29. I just turned 30 and while that number scares me, Im happy that with it came knowing me and finding me. At 20 ... what I though was important just seems so insignificant now.

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  15. I absolutely love this post! The first part about not worrying so much about what others think really resonated with me. I tend to be on the shy side when I first meet people and I've constantly been told my whole life that I need to be more outgoing, or I need to do this/that. And it got to the point where I finally just said, enough! Trying to pretend to be something you're not is a complete waste of time and I finally learned to embrace myself just the way I am. It sounds like you did the same and that's awesome. Sorry for the massive long comment, but this was such a great post! :)

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