9 things I’ve learned in my 20s

by | Sep 20, 2021 | Thoughts | 1 comment

Last week I turned 29. Here are 9 of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my 20s:

1) Choosing your romantic partner is the #1 most important decision you’ll ever make, and the most important ongoing investment you continue to make.
I’ll start by saying that the framing of a romantic partner as a “choice” feels kind of misleading. You don’t choose a partner like you choose a dish off the menu. A relationship is an investment that requires daily recommitment. It’s easy to take the person closest to you for granted. Similar to how teenagers show their worst behavior to their parents (sorry, mom!) it’s easy to demonstrate our most unloving behavior to our partners. My top relationship tip? Relentlessly practice dropping expectations (this book dramatically changed my mindset towards the expectations I have of people I love.)

2) Sleep > everything else. This goes for physical health, mental health, relationship health, etc.
If you’ve been reading Todayland for a while, you know we LOVE sleep. Sleep is so important that it almost can’t be overstated. Yet we find that many people seem to have accepted terrible sleep patterns as their destiny. It doesn’t have to be this way! You can create the conditions and habits to fall asleep more easily and sleep more deeply: here are a few of our best tips.

We also highly recommend learning how to nap. This involves lying down when you’re tired (ideally: eyes closed, in a dark room or wearing an eye mask, with white noise on) for weeks without the expectation that you’ll actually fall asleep. It takes a while to learn how to nap, just as it takes time to learn any habit.

3) Walking is underrated.
Walking is magic. It makes you fitter physically, with very little risk of injury, as well as stronger mentally. It can take you places you want to go. It’s great for facilitating conversation with a walking partner. It’s great to clear your mind alone. It’s a good way to get outside. Like I said… magic!

4) Buy fewer, better things, and learn how to take care of them.
After years of taking boxes of cheap clothes to Goodwill, or throwing out stained/ruined garments and shoes, I decided to slow my consumption roll and invest in better quality, sustainably-made (or second hand) clothing, shoes, and housewares. However, in order to do this, I needed to improve my care game as well – if you spend more on things, you hate to see them ruined.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Act fast on stains. As quickly as possible, treat with a stain remover (I love this one), let sit, and then wash. If you don’t have a stain remover, just use laundry detergent or even soap! Acting fast is the #1 most important thing, especially with fast-setting stains like oil or mustard.
  • Use a drying rack. Dryers don’t just shrink clothes, they also age them and make them pill faster. We use a drying rack for everything except socks and underwear.
  • At the end of the winter, hand wash and de-pill sweaters (I use this sweater stone), and when winter comes again you’ll have beautifully folded, clean sweaters to wear.
  • Take your boots to get resoled as they get old. Treat with waterproofer at the end of every winter so they are ready to go for next year.

5) Don’t ask, don’t get. Ask for what you need and ask for what you want.
Your partner, boss, family, and friends cannot read your mind. I’m talking to you, fellow people-pleasers: if you need something (a change in work schedule, a break from making dinner, a night alone, etc) ask for it. You’ll be shocked at how often you get what you want. The people in your life care about you – they want to make you happy and make your life easier.

Asking is hard, I get it! You want to be “low maintenance” – but I promise you, nobody in the world prefers you being unhappy or passive-aggressive to you being cheerful, proactive, and clear about your needs and wants.

6) Eulogy qualities > Résumé Qualities
David Brooks first introduced me to the concept of prioritizing developing “eulogy qualities” over “résumé qualities.” As he writes, “The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?”

I’ve been given a variety of professional compliments and accolades in my 20s, including things like the Forbes 30 Under 30 award. Honestly, my experience was that none of these awards really meant anything when I was given them – the award givers didn’t know me, they just knew my work accomplishments (and none of my many work failures.) It has meant so much more to read birthday cards from family and friends recognizing me for my human qualities – kindness, humor, generosity – and telling me they feel loved by me.

7) 80% of success is just showing up
When I would drag my feet going to school or a swim meet growing up, my mom would always tell me, “80% of success is just showing up.” She was right. Showing up – bonus points for showing up on time, with positive energy – is more than most people do. It’s not rocket science – but it is remarkable.

8) Systems > Goals
Having a big goal – say, starting a business – is cool. Having a system – working on your business idea for an hour every day – is even better. It’s also 100x more effective. (Read Atomic Habits for more on this!)

9) Your 9-year-old self is the best guru
I went through a massive period of burnout, starting in 2018 and reaching a peak by the end of 2019. I was afraid to quit my job, worried about what everyone would think. I eventually hit enough of a wall that I had to take drastic action: I sold my company, quit my job, and took a 5-month sabbatical, in which Peter and I left Portland to travel and live in the SW. I don’t know how many of you are Type A people who need to hear this… but the only person who you need to impress is your 9-year-old self. What would she think of you? Would she be happy you’re so miserable? My 9-year-old self would tell me to get back to my dream of becoming a children’s book author – but first, to curl up on the couch with some hot cocoa and a good book… and maybe a nap.

So… what did you learn in your 20s (or in the last 9 years, whatever ages that may be)? Comment on this post and share.

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1 Comment

  1. Peter Koehler

    Love this post. Woke up and read it for the first time along with the rest of the audience. Since you asked – here is a list from the archive that I wrote 6.5 years ago: 27 Learnings for my 27th Birthday: http://petermk.com/twenty-seven-reflections


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