The twenties are exciting and transformative years: Many people leave their home for the first time and set out to discover the wide world. My twenties were also pretty transformative—it was a time of discontent, self-discovery, reflection and personal growth. Today, I share 9 profound life lessons with you that I’ve learned during this time. Without a doubt, they have left a mark on my heart, mind and soul. They’re about adulthood, friendships, loyalty, intention and finding your own path.
Join me as we take a trip through time back into my twenties that have shaped my journey, and hopefully resonate with yours as well.
Life Lesson 1: Nobody knows what they’re doing
As a child, I admired the adults and their busy lives. While I was out in the garden relocating innocent earthworms (sorry, guys) and trying to befriend a neighbourhood cat, they were busy. Wildly gesticulating and talking, either to each other or on the phone. They were using words I didn’t even know yet and putting on a serious face. Little me was convinced that they possessed some secret knowledge of how to truly “live”. I thought to myself, Wow, these adults have it all figured out. They are constantly busy and talk about things I don’t understand. That must be important and true.
But the older I got, the louder the little voice inside me got that challenged this belief. No, it would insist. Adults don’t really know how to live. Yes, most of them are busy for the sake of being busy and still speak in a language that sounds like gibberish. But that doesn’t mean it’s important or valid.
The truth is: There is no universal measure of “right” or “wrong” in life. No one has a magical mirror on the wall that shows you the future. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what your purpose is or if you’re wondering what this is all about. We’re all in the same boat, just hardly anyone talks about it. We all stumble and make mistakes along the way. In the end, all we can do is what feels right for us and not others.
Life Lesson 2: It’s never too late for anything
If you come from the same corner of the world as I do, society probably has this grand, elaborate plan set in stone for you. It seems to be deeply rooted in some people’s DNA. Step one: Graduate from school, Hermione Granger style. Step two: Go to a prestigious university and dedicate all your time and energy to the pursuit of knowledge (just make sure it’s not “Popular Cultures”, perish the thought!). Step three: Secure a 9-to-5 job that fills your bank account faster than Scrooge McDuck can dive into his pile of gold coins. Step four: Climb the career ladder until you’re 27 years old. Step five: Say “I do” to the Ken of your dreams in the fanciest wedding money can buy. Step six: Populate the world with at least two adorable offspring, preferably a boy and a girl. Settle down in the picture-perfect family home with a white fence and meticulously manicured front yard. Don’t forget to buy a Golden Retriever. Make sure to send out family cards at Christmas, featuring the entire family in festive jumpers. And they lived happily ever after.
For some time, I was trapped on this path and it made me more miserable than I had ever been in my entire existence. Every day, I felt this pressure to do things that deep down I didn’t even want to do. I only kept up appearances because I split off a part of myself and ignored it. Luckily, at some point this part of me—the part that yearned for authenticity—started such a big rebellion that I couldn’t ignore it anymore and had to take care of my life.
It’s never too late to change things or start over. If you feel the yearning to change something, do it! Contentment comes mostly from living a life that feels good to ourselves. Don’t get me wrong—the path described above can be fulfilling for some. If it doesn’t resonate with you, then that is not a bad thing. Be brave enough to forge your own path in life.
Life Lesson 3: Live your life with intention. Otherwise it will just happen
Ever experienced this? You jump out of bed motivated—ready to conquer the world today! While your PC hums to life, you make yourself a warm cup of coffee. While the aroma of freshly brewed coffee fills the air, you sit down. You start your work day with checking your e-mails… So far, so good. You casually glance at the news and see a captivating new headline about Taylor Swift. Without realising it, you find yourself tumbling down the rabbit hole of YouTube, on the lookout for background information, stumbling on the documentary by a self-proclaimed Swift Guru… And just like that, suddenly it’s 5pm. Exhaustion hits you in the face. It dawns on you that you haven’t done anything from your to-do list. You start to feel bad, and feel like you wasted precious time.
If I don’t start my day with a specific intention, this scenario becomes my reality. Distractions lurk everywhere. If you don’t create effective systems for yourself, discipline goes down the drain, and a day is over faster than you can enjoy your morning coffee. The solution? It doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Every morning, I take a moment, sit down and ask myself:
- What is important to me today?
- What do I want to achieve today?
- What is non-negotiable—what do I have to do today no matter what?
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Life Lesson 4: It’s not about time. It’s about priority
Let’s travel back a few years, let’s say to 2018. No matter what time of day, you would most likely have seen me like this: I’d make my way through an open space office full of busy people, a noise level so high I barely could hear my own thoughts… A MacBook securely tucked under my arm, a steaming and full-to-the-brim cup of coffee in one hand, a Thunderbolt adapter gripped in the other. I’d roll my eyes, feeling pressured by the responsibility and tight schedule I was the victim of, hurrying from one meeting to the next. “I don’t have time” was my go-to response. I copied this like a chameleon from my stressed colleagues who mumbled this phrase more often than I saw my then boyfriend.
It was such a convenient response. I didn’t have to argue with anyone. It held up the illusion that time controlled my life.
But if we are honest, we all know inside: it’s not about having no time; it’s about how we choose to prioritize. Admittedly, this truth can be uncomfortable. At some point, like a bolt of lightning, realisation struck me: Every time I said YES to something, I said NO to something else. I decided how my days looked like and how crammed my schedule was—not others. Time itself didn’t care much what I did, because it flowed anyway.
Instead of hiding behind the illusion that I’m not the boss of my schedule, I now say things like “I can’t make it then” or “I already have something else planned”.
Knowing my core values and aligning my life with it helped me tremendously with prioritising my time in a way that makes me happy. Does this sound like something you’d also like to do? You’ll find the exact steps I took in The Value Vault Notion Template.
This Notion template is your guide to uncover your core values. Through it, you’ll find clarity and discover what genuinely matters to you: You’ll develop a better understanding of who you are and what motivates you. Take a closer look at it here!
Life Lesson 5: People will tell you who they are—if you listen closely
Once upon a time, I had a treasured friendship—let’s call her K. She was just cool. I found her inspiring, admired her fashion sense and her taste in decoration, and enjoyed meeting her for coffee and cake to chat about the universe and the world. Every time K. sent me a cool postcard from a faraway land, I felt like I was special and important. She was busy, and being well aware of this fact, I invited her to my birthday party six months in advance. Her response? It left me disheartened. “I don’t know yet if I’ll be here or if I’ll travel then. But thank you for inviting me!”
This lesson was hard to learn: Most people will tell you exactly who they are if you listen carefully and trust your intuition. The message my then friend sent me was clear as a blue sky: She valued our friendship because she spent time with me—but a possible journey to a faraway country was more important to her than being there for my special day.
Some (if not most) people don’t know what they want or what is important to them. But you can hear it between the lines if you listen carefully. And so, you can save yourself some heartache—because you start to see people for what they are, and no longer for their “what ifs”.
Not gonna lie: Travelling is always worth it. But is it more important than celebrating a friend’s birthday? Photo taken in Norway, 2022.
Life Lesson 6: They will always talk
Like pretty much every teenager, I’ve gone through quite a few appearance-changing phases: from raven-black hair and a hairstyle that was reminiscent of Pansy Parkinson, and thick black eyeliner to blonde and vibrant highlights and ripped jeans which made me the perfect festival attendee. Amidst my metamorphosis, I couldn’t help but notice the glances and laughter of my peers. They used to unleash their judgment when I least expected it, lurking in the shadows, scattering mean phrases about me in songbooks and cackling when I had tears in my eyes. Their insecurity found comfort in mocking me. It left me with a lingering sense of self-doubt. Little did I realize that the problem wasn’t me but their own issues.
The truth is: No matter what you do or don’t do, there will ALWAYS be people talking about you. It’s a human thing to do—to talk about others, to exchange thoughts and opinions. So it doesn’t have to be a bad thing when people talk about you. Unfortunately, there are also lost souls who have made it their life’s work to be envious of others and to tear them down (or at least try to). I think that’s genuinely sad, but it’s not something I can influence nor change.
Life Lesson 7: People who gossip to you about others will also gossip about you when you’re not around
That brings me to the next life lesson. Have you ever encountered someone in your life who revels in draggling the reputations of others? Someone so consumed by spreading poison that it’s a miracle this person is still alive and well? Someone who shrugs it off with “oh, it’s not gossip if it’s the truth”? And who lives the irony perfectly—crumbling like a bad Jenga game when confronted with their own words?
I once had a friendship with a girl, let’s call her C. One day, I was visiting her as she unleashed a gush of spite about her best friend T.: “Can you believe that T. really wants to marry this guy?! He’s so stupid, it physically hurts. Seriously, you can’t be seen with that guy. You can’t have a conversation with him. I don’t understand what she sees in him. And now she wants to marry him? And then probably have kids with him? Wow, I don’t believe it!”
We went for a walk, and as luck would have it, we ran into her best friend T.—having a sense of unease, asking C. if everything was alright or if she wanted to talk about anything; because she heard whispers and rumours going around town about her upcoming wedding. C. responded—and this sent a chill down my spine: “No, no, everything is fine! I would never say something like this about you or your lovely fiancé.” In that moment, it dawned to me that she was lying to T.’s face, and didn’t even seem to feel bad about it.
I started to wonder: If she even talks sh*t about her best friend and lies to her face—who’s to say she won’t do the same to me? Some time later, this actually happened. Lesson learned: People who gossip to you about others are very likely to also gossip about you when you are not in the room. So, choose your confidants wisely, and don’t give the scandalmonger more fuel.
Life Lesson 8: You don’t have to answer every question
My 20 year old self was a people pleaser out of a picture book. I was the embodiment of a nice, well-behaved girl, raised to be polite, sociable, and to avoid offense at any cost. I was the shy and gentle deer, and willingly let anything that had sharp teeth into my life.
Without hesitation, my former self usually answered every question thrown my way—no matter who asked: When are you getting married? Are you pregnant? Why don’t you want to have children? Are you moving to become a housewife? How do you and your boyfriend manage your finances? How are you doing financially? What’s wrong with you? — Each of these questions lodged a lump in my throat and sent a wave of heat and anger rushing through my body.
My current self gets a rash when she reads or hears such questions and wants to retort: What’s wrong with YOU? I don’t know you well, and these questions repel me. Why would you dare to pry into someone else’s life like that? I can already hear comments that insist it’s acceptable to ask such things. Yes, technically, you can always ask. But be prepared to accept the consequences—when the other person is no longer interested in having a conversation with you.
Instead of swallowing my anger, I now say that I don’t want to talk about it. And mentally mark this incident as a “red flag”. Once somebody has collected a bunch of these, they overstayed their welcome in my life, and get a non-refundable all-expenses-paid ticket to the heliopause of my world. Congrats to winning the Red Flag Collection Game!
Life Lesson 9: You’re allowed to leave if someone makes you feel uncomfortable
Picture yourself sitting at a table. You just had dinner. The mood is good, but the atmosphere hangs heavy with unspoken tension. And then, without warning, the pleasantry is shattered by accusations that rain down on you. The person accusing you starts crying, the tears cascade down her face. Unable to calm down, she slams the kitchen door, and all you hear is her getting even more upset and screaming, venting to her best and only confidant about what a bad person you are and how you are to blame for her misery and the abysmal day she had. What would you do?
This incident happened quite a while ago, and at the time, I felt trampled upon and overwhelmed. Until then, I had only heard about some people not being able to regulate their emotions in a healthy way and then getting an emotional outburst of epic proportions (a.k.a. throwing a full-blown emotional tantrum). This situation was one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve ever had.
In retrospect, the only right thing for me to do would have been: Get up and leave. No person has the right or the entitlement to use me as their emotional doormat. Having an open conversation about struggles and problems? Yes, please! Get yelled at and blamed? No, thank you.
You don’t have to endure someone else’s emotional chaos. You have the job to protect yourself and your own well-being. So, you’re allowed to remove yourself from situations that make you feel uncomfortable.
What you can gain from this? The assurance and validation that:
- You are valuable.
- Your time is valuable.
- And, as cliché as it sounds: Do what makes YOU happy.
My journaling habit combined with my monthly reflection practice helped me a lot in uncovering these life lessons. I could write a book about all the things I’ve learned in the past years. 🙈 What are some lessons you learned so far?