20 lessons I learned in my 20s

Alarmingly, I turn 30 at the end of this month! The big 3-0 – bloody hell. 

It’s been a funny decade. In 2011, I was in my first year at uni, in an on-off relationship that wasn’t good for me and my pancreas hadn’t yet given up the ghost. I was living in central London, surviving mostly off free samples from the food stalls at Camden Market, punnets of grapes and the absolute worst Sainsbury’s vodka imaginable, and for the most part, just cracking on with things.

Jump to now, 2021, and life is different in so many ways. We’re just emerging, fragile and weird, from the shell of a global pandemic, I’m a marketing manager, I’m back in my hometown of Brighton and I have the absolute best people around me of my entire life. I’m single, but I’ve been single for a good chunk of my 20s, and it’s absolutely fine. I thought I’d be married with kids by now, and I’m about as far from that as it’s possible to be! However, I qualified as a journalist, I graduated with a degree in linguistics, I passed my driving test, I started this silly little blog and I met so many unbelievably great people along the way.

I have made so many mistakes in my 20s, but that’s kind of what they’re for I think. I’m legally an adult, but without any real adult responsibilities, so I can still take risks and make stupid decisions with minimal consequences. Now I’m about to tip into a fresh decade, I’ve been reflecting on some of the lessons I learned in my 20s. Here are 20 of them.

1. Just say no

As a chronic people pleaser, I’ve found myself so many times agreeing to do things that just aren’t me. I’ve learned that saying no to that job or that date or that terrible play you just don’t want to see is so much better than saying yes and resenting every second.

2. Take more photos

To be clear, I absolutely don’t mean ‘live your entire life through a screen’. But when you’re hanging out with friends you don’t often see, don’t be afraid to grab a snap in the moment. I often feel self-conscious about asking to take a photo, but that’s how I’ve ended up with only about three photos of me with some of my best friends! Also, take candid shots of your pals. Quietly delete the ones they won’t like and share the nice ones with them. They’ll appreciate it.

3. Take the risk

I went to uni on my own. All my friends took a gap year, so I experienced all that stuff completely alone. I was the only one doing fresher’s week and going to lectures and meeting hundreds of new people at once, and it was overwhelming! But I did it and I survived! I also took a huge risk when I signed up for my journalism course one summer. It was £3,000, and there was no guarantee I’d be any good. The risk paid off though, and I’m very proud of 2012 KT for taking the plunge.

4. Like what you like

I’ve never had ‘cool’ taste. I’ve said before that I like good music, average books and appalling TV. I wear what I like (primarily unflattering midi dresses and hair scrunchies) and do what I like (baking, writing, reading, going to garden centres, hanging out in pubs) and guess what! Nobody cares! I love Ariana Grande and Love Island and Bella Italia and Made in Chelsea and Keeping Up With The Kardashians and pumpkin picking! It’s all so fine!

5. Stargaze

Whenever everything feels a bit too big and overwhelming, I take myself outside to stargaze. It helps me put things into perspective. My problems, which can feel so all-consuming at the time, suddenly pale into insignificance when I look out into space. I am one of seven billion humans on this planet alone, and who knows who else is out there. When I’m on my deathbed, the things that feel so giant and catastrophic today won’t be on my mind for a single second. Also, download the Sky Map app to identify exactly what you’re looking at. It’s weirdly comforting.

6. Always have a spare phone charger

They tend to break at the most annoying times. See also: hair bands.

7. Do nice things for other people

Yes, I mean your friends and family – but also for strangers. For me, an easy way to do this is buying extra items at the supermarket for the food bank collection. You can pick up an extra tin of peas for 20p, and that will go straight onto the plate of someone who’s struggling. You could also volunteer, donate to charity, organise a fundraiser or even check in on a vulnerable, lonely neighbour. Support your friends’ businesses, give compliments freely, drop your change in the charity tin on the counter in the corner shop. It’s easy, and you’ll feel better too.

8. Not all failed dates are failures

I’ve made so many friends from ‘failed dates’. Maybe there’s no romantic connection, but that doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time. I made my first friend from a ‘failed date’ back in 2012, and we’re still friends today. In fact, we send each other handwritten letters. Connections are connections, and just because there’s no spark, it doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye forever.

9. Learn which alcohol works for you

Vodka good, white wine bad. That’s all there is to say on the matter.

10. The best things always happen without plans

I’ve never been a planner, but this last decade has made me even more resolute in my distaste for planning. Even though I’m very much an adult, I love to play. I love dipping into a church just to gawp at the giant stained glass windows, or a spontaneous post-pub hour in a karaoke bar, or an unexpected trip to a bird of prey sanctuary.

11. The other best things happen in the quiet moments

I’ve learned to really cherish the very tiny moments that shouldn’t mean a whole lot. Driving up the motorway listening to Jeff Buckley, sneaking off to get a chai latte during the 17th fire alarm of the week at work, walking different routes home from work every day in December to see as many Christmas lights as possible. Times like these really stick with me, and I’m very grateful for living a life calm and content enough to enjoy them.

12. Trust in the kindness of strangers

I remember sobbing my eyes out on a bench outside a pub in the middle of Brighton because I was ‘lost’ (I wasn’t – just very drunk and confused) when I was 24, and while my memory of the moment is hazy, I do remember that a lovely lady came and sat with me while I pulled myself together and called my boyfriend at the time to come and collect me. Not my finest hour, but thank god for that woman. I couldn’t tell her how grateful I was at the time, so I’m telling you lot instead.

13. Book time for yourself

Obviously I’m a massive introvert (and like so many introverts, I’ve built my entire persona around it), so I lose my mind a bit when I have too many plans. I’ve been known to break down crying on a Sunday night when I see four or five full days of plans ahead of me, but even the most extroverted people should book in alone time. And don’t just fill it with boring chores – save it for reading, watching a film nobody else wants to see, cooking your favourite meal or cracking open a new crossword book. Or, indeed, hygge!

14. It’s OK to be vulnerable

Something you won’t know about me is that I’ve been in and out of therapy for 15 years. I didn’t last very long the first few times, but I finally found a therapist who worked for me and I stuck with it. I hate feeling like a burden when I open up to others, so a therapist is a godsend for offloading and working through my mad scramble of thoughts. We should also talk to our friends, but everyone has their stuff going on, so if you can, I highly recommend finding a professional to listen to you.

15. I’m fine on my own

I’ve been single for more of my 20s than I’ve been coupled up, and my feelings about that have oscillated wildly between deep misery and loneliness and pure contentment. I’m pleased that I’m ending this decade of my life feeling absolutely fine about being alone. What I have instead is the best, best, best circle of friends I could ever hope for.

16. Do things for fun, not just to get good at them

At junior school, I was in the after school art club. I loved it so much, because every week we’d try a different craft or style of art, and it was so fun just to give it a go. I’ve never lost that inquisitive nature, so I love just trying things out. It might be flower arranging, cross stitch, making bath bombs, watercolour painting, scrunchie making, Zumba, body combat, yoga, singing… I’ve tried and loved every single one, with varying degrees of success, but it doesn’t matter! I’ve had so much fun (apart from running, which can absolutely go to hell)!

17. Prioritise spending money on experiences, not things

I’ve spent an absolute fortune on tickets in my 20s! Right now, I have tickets booked to see Rufus Wainwright, Katherine Ryan, Caribou, Trixie Mattel, Jon Richardson, Bonobo, Julianna Barwick and probably other shows that I’m going to miss because they’ve been rescheduled about 900 times throughout the pandemic. Buy tickets, go to restaurants, try new bars, go travelling, see the world, check out your local museums. Just go out and do it.

18. Share positive feedback, not just negative

As a teenager, I worked various retail jobs. When I worked at Boots, we had a chart on the wall where positive feedback about specific employees could be recorded. That’s always stuck with me, so now I make it my mission to share positive feedback with and about businesses. Tweet them, email head office, whatever – just make sure you include the name or description of a specific staff member. The more junior the better, as it will have the biggest impact!

19. Read more

When I was a kid, I was a voracious reader. In my year 1 school report, I said I wanted to be a librarian. I’m very all or nothing with reading – I read two books in a weekend or none for two months. But I always feel more inspired and creative and pensive when I’m in a reading phase. Actually, people often ask me if I have any tips for being more creative, and I do – just read more! The more source material you have to draw from and the more ideas that enter your head, the more connections you’ll organically make in the real world. It works. Trust me.

20. Life is short

I nearly died this decade. Back in 2012, my diabetes diagnosis left me comatose and hours from death. I spent a week in hospital, cheerily emailing my uni tutors saying ‘Hiya! Just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and I’m in intensive care, but hopefully see you on Monday!’, clearly in total denial about what had just happened – and what had nearly happened. I was 20 at the time, and now I look back on that almost a decade later, it’s a stark reminder that life is SO short. 

So, there we go. But what I want to know is what did your 20s teach you? What do I have to look forward to in my 30s? Please do share!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. smithyk87 says:

    I love this: “walking different routes home from work every day in December to see as many Christmas lights as possible” ❤

  2. Sarah Beane says:

    Love this! I became single at 20 and learned that good friends will always be there for you. I was able to live by myself, travel, cook what I want and discovered that I was totally capable of being independent – it’s a huge decade of change.

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