What I learned in my 20s

Today is the last day of my 20s. I’ve learned a lot in the past 10 years, and I still have so much more to learn. So much. But here’s what I have learned:

Debt sucks. Really really sucks. Whoever said “money can’t buy happiness” obviously never had any debt. Maybe you can’t buy happiness, but a lack of money certainly can make you miserable.

Relationships take work. I’m lucky to have parents who are still happily married. However, I very rarely saw any hint from them that marriage actually takes work, and it gave me a rose-colored view of marriage, and what it takes to make one successful. And another reality check – even non-romantic relationships take work. Gone are the days you can just call up any of your friends and hang out together that night, or even that weekend. Now you need to plan things in advance, around family schedules and baby-sitters and the desire (or at least time for a nap in advance) to drive an hour to wherever they now live. Or they live in another state and seeing them requires booking a flight or waiting for when they come “home” for the holidays. (Is it still “home” if they haven’t lived in this state in over a decade?) And then you feel like the worst person ever, because you have all these great people you consider your best friends, and you haven’t even talked to some of them (offline) in six months.

Real friends will be there. But, continuing that thought, you can go six months (or longer) without talking to someone you consider a true friend … and they will still be your friend. So that’s comforting. But note to self – your smartphone still functions as a PHONE. (I’ve always been a terrible “phone person.”)

I’m really lucky to have been born into a great family. I get along with my parents. (Obviously, or we wouldn’t have moved in with them.) They have always loved and supported me, no matter what. I consider my older brothers, and their wives, among my best friends. (One of my sisters-in-law actually has been a best friend since before she started dating my brother.) I have a lot of really cool cousins, on both sides of my family tree. Some of them are close enough in age and geography that we actually get to spend time together. Others may live around the world and I rarely see them, but they do cool things and I am proud to be related to them.

Schwartz Family
May 2011. The Sailor, me, Dad, Mom, sister-in-law, oldest brother, niece, sister-in-law, middle-older brother.

Your career shouldn’t define you. I love what I do for a living (online marketing). But it’s not my life. It doesn’t define me. It’s a paycheck, it’s rewarding, it is at times fulfilling, fun, interesting, and challenging. But I refuse to let it consume me, or take over my life. Sure, we all want that perfect job that makes us feel like we are making a difference in the world while also being so perfectly fulfilled on a personal level … but I’ll settle for a paycheck, respect from my boss and co-workers, and doing work that is enjoyable most of the time. But there is more to life than your job. (Like all of the people mentioned above.)

You can’t do everything. I’ve always had a variety of interests. When I was a teenager, I could pursue them all – academics, music, dance, sports. I’ve tried to carry this over into my adult life, through volunteering, running, dance classes, joining community bands, playing recreational soccer, oh, and working full time. But I realized that I can’t do it all, unless I am fine with sucking at everything (which just makes your “fun” activities frustrating). Obviously I can’t give up working full time, so now I force myself to focus on one “extra-curricular” at a time. Obviously right now that is running. And volunteering when I can fit it in. Which lately, hasn’t been that often. (Other than fundraising.)

I’m not ready to have kids. Not having our own place makes it really easy to avoid this whole “having kids” thing. For awhile, I was 100 percent certain that I wanted to have kids someday. But the more I am around people who do have kids (and around the kids themselves), the more I question if that is what I want. In theory, yes, I would love to “have it all” – own a house, keep working, raise well-adjusted children. But when I look at the amount of sacrifice it takes, and reflect on my own goals and desires, it isn’t such an easy answer. (For the record, The Sailor is also kind of in this “do I or don’t I?” place with me in regards to wanting kids.)

And now, with all my knowledge and wisdom (yeah right), I’m ready to turn 30 tomorrow. Sort of. Not really. Don’t have much of a choice though, do I?

P.S. – I’m going to laugh if within a month of posting this, somehow life contradicts everything I’ve written above.

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16 Comments on “What I learned in my 20s”

  1. Happy birthday tomorrow! You have learned some really great stuff in your past decade. I totally agree with you about debt sucking–I’m hopefully finishing grad school soon and I am dreading having to start paying back my student loans.

    Have a great last day of your 20s!

  2. This is a great post, Maggie.

    I feel the trend, more and more, is to really contemplate the child factor. I think so many people just assumed that’s part of getting married. And it’s not. It can be a great part- but only when you’re ready.

    Also, yeah, debt blows. Stupid student loans…

  3. Happy early birthday!

    100% agreed about debt. Money does buy happiness or at least some level of comfort which greatly contributes to ones happiness. After learning of my new promotion and raise at work this week, my first thought was OMG I can pay off my student loans and credit card faster.

    This post is wonderful. It seems like you’ve learned a great deal during the past 10 years. Cheers to another 10!

  4. This is great! I think it is so amazing to think how much life has changed in a 5 or 10 year time frame. Life when you’re 20 is sooooooooo much different from life when you’re 30. It is amazing to think of how far we’ve come and what we still want to accomplish!

  5. Great list Maggie. One thing I learned is that your twenties are kind of a protracted adolescence, and that’s it’s okay not to have your life perfectly sorted now that you’re ‘grown up’. Also, you’ll probably hit the age you at which you thought you’d feel like a proper adult, and feel no different! (mine was 26. I’ve since adjusted this to 43 but reckon I’ll have to revise this upwards at some point).

    Happy birthday for tomorrow and enjoy the lesson that you’ll learn about your thirties – they’re awesome!

  6. I really love this post. I couldn’t agree more your list. Marriage does take work, and its hard to find time for friends. But we all do the best we can. Happy Early Birthday!

  7. Yes, debt really blows! The hubby and I were in quite a debt pickle in our early 20’s that took about 4 years to get rid of, which isn’t terrible. But it felt terrible at the time when friends were constantly asking us to do fun and really cool things that we would have to decline. The best part is when it’s gone and you’re already used to being tight with the purse strings so you just keep putting it in the bank for a rainy day.

    Happy almost birthday! Hope it’s splendid!

  8. Home is where the heart is, right? Yes, it’s still home if you haven’t lived there in “over” a decade. I still go “home” to my parents all the time and do not consider Illinois home at all. Nothing holds me here other than an ugly mortgage and a house I can’t sell. I’d love to go home.

    As for the kids, obviously that’s a tough and very personal decision. As big of a PITA as it is, there is also an amazing reward that lies in the children themselves. Its honestly a wonderful experience (when they are sleeping, I mean most of the time).. If you have family that live close and are willing/able to help you out, then this amazing experience will not be as big of a PITA as it is for those of us who do it on our own without Grandma and Grandpa living next door……oh, do I wish Grandma & Grandpa Fritz lived next door!

    You are doing great. One day at a time. And for me, I was not ready for kids at all and woke up one day and wanted to have a baby. It happened 2x to be exact, so I don’t sleep anymore. EVER. 🙂

  9. Happy Birthday!

    I completely understand where you stand re having kids. I really would love to have more, but can barely afford V. I don’t know if you know this , but V wasn’t planned, in fact two forms of b/c failed. I felt he was meant to be. He has brought me a lot of joy, heart ache, stress, happiness, love, etc. There is a lot of good and not so good. But the good is really good.

    There is a really short window to have your own kids. But in the future if you decide you want kids, you can always adopt.

    I have friends who wanted (tried really hard and spent all kinds of money trying) to have kids and instead they go on fancy vacations every year instead.

    Just remember, follow your heart no matter what.

  10. Love you. Love your post. One thing I have to say about social media — I think your generation analyzes life a lot more than previous generations. Not saying it’s a negative thing. We tended to just live life as it happened. Maybe we talked about these issues and set goals and made plans with our families and a few close friends. But without a means to write about it and share it with a vast audience, I think there was less introspection. Maybe that was a negative for us. Anyway, you’ve grown tremendously during your 20s, and I can’t wait to see how that continues during the next decade. Happy birthday!

  11. Happy belated birthday!! This is a huge milestone in your life and you seem to be on the right track 🙂 Relationships, all of them, definitely take a lot of work! I think that the more “serious” a relationship and/or friendship is, the more work is needed and many people don’t realize this until it’s too late. I especially love your point that a career shouldn’t define you. I’m having an incredibly tough time with that and reading your thoughts was a breath of fresh air. Great post Maggie!!

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