28 Lessons from an Exiting 28-Year-Old

As I enter the last year of my 20s, here’s what 2020 taught me.

Tomorrow is my birthday and as I enter the final year of my twenties, I wanted to write a piece that would be cathartic for both of us.

Birthdays are hard enough when you’re looking back on your past self compared to where you currently are, and they’ve been especially tougher these days since we’re all stuck indoors.

But as I reflect on the past year, I realize that in all the bad that the past twelve months have brought me, a lot of good was also hidden within. Like tiny flecks of gold stuck in a lump of coal — I won’t find more even if I keep picking away, but I can still appreciate the little nuggets it will forever hold.

This past year was also extra special to me because it fell on the 28th day of my 28th year, so it was also known as my champagne birthday (also called the 'lucky' or 'golden' birthday since it only happens once).

Apparently, when you reach the age that your birth date is, you’re supposed to experience a lot of changes — and I definitely did.

So as I leave my champagne year behind me, here are twenty-eight lessons from your (soon-to-be not) 28-year-old friend.

Wealth and Health Will Screw You If You’re Careless

  1. Getting rid of as much useless crap you own will not only help you mentally but change your habits. Since throwing/giving away most of my items (clothes, dishware, etc.), I’ve found joy and pride in knowing exactly what I have and what I regularly use — plus, having a clean, emptier apartment makes space feel bigger and more cherished.
  2. Don’t spend money when you’re sad. Avoid Amazon as much as you can. Last summer, I racked up over $4,000 in useless online purchases and it triggered me so much that I had to take a closer look at my emotions until I realized I had depression.
  3. Pay off your credit card debt as much or as fast you can, even in a pandemic. Credit interest is high and it will punish you each month (in Canada, it sits at 19.99%). So be responsible and give yourself peace of mind. Save as much money as you can. And I don’t just mean for emergencies, but try to save enough for expenses like 6 months' rent advance — or two, at least, if you’re just starting out. It will make you feel more stable and secure even if your paycheck is low.
  4. Cooking gets more fun the more you do it. You also learn more about yourself and what your body likes to eat. Don’t feel bad if you prefer simple meals to elaborate ones. I hated cooking before quarantine forced me to prepare meals for myself. But now I’ve learned that I prefer visual presentation over immense flavouring (more colourful veggies than seasoning) and pan-frying my protein instead of baking or stewing (chicken thighs and salmon all the way!). I like the kind of chef I’ve become.
  5. Exercise is you saying “thank you” to your body. It’s less about having the perfect body and more about giving back to the 100 lbs of flesh that get you through each dull day. As we get older with jobs in tiny workspaces, and entertainment on tinier screens, we all live increasingly sedentary lives. Strengthening your muscles, loosening your joints, and getting your blood pumping is a way to give back energy and power to a body that’s done barely anything but sit for you roughly 12 hours a day.

Your Mental Well-Being Is As Much A Priority As Food And Shelter

  1. Tracking your mental health is a part of improving your mental health. If you can follow when your mood goes up and down, it’ll make you feel more in control. When I knew when my mood swings were probably coming, I was able to avoid certain activities or decision-making. I was able to warn my loved ones when I was about to go off the grid, and it kept me accountable for my actions and gave me a reason to understand myself more.
  2. Taking a day off — or a week, or a month — won’t mean anything to anyone else but you. But if you think you need it, then stop making excuses and freaking do it.
  3. Depression can look like you having the best, most productive day imaginable — and then you crying and feeling debilitated the same night. Don’t be afraid of it, just be aware of it.
  4. Listen to your body. Even if your brain is forcing you to power through a difficult period and your spirit is willing, watch for physical signals. If your body is just not responding the way your mind is, then it’s a sign that you need to slow down.
  5. And the opposite can occur. Your body might be energized and ready to move. But if your mind is foggy and your spirit is low, then take the L and just relax instead.

Love and Friendship Will Always Surprise You

  1. The best kind of love you will have is with someone who knows how to gently have tough conversations. I felt more at peace when mine ended because we both knew exactly what we’d signed up for and why it would end if (and when) it did.
  2. Falling in love is the best feeling in the world — but it won’t always last. So remember it for when it was good, and for when it no longer went right. And if it’s meant to be then it’ll be, but don’t cling to that.
  3. If a person tells you that they love you but just can’t be in a serious relationship with you anymore, accept it and move on with grace. My ex didn’t want to hold me back from finding the commitment that I wanted (I’ve since changed my mind about commitment). And I didn’t want to hold him back from the serial dating experience that he wanted. I was grateful that my ex was honest with me and it helped me see that a healthy breakup is possible when both sides truly want what’s right for the other.
  4. Cutting someone off who affects you negatively is scary, but very important. Your bond with someone is only as strong as the healthy, mutual effort put into them. One side shouldn’t be toxic. One side shouldn’t make your heart race every time their name pops up on your phone. One side shouldn’t be pulling its own weight while the other merely keeps taking rather than giving. And if they cannot see your side or refuse to apologize for it, then leave it behind you. There’s a reason you’re triggered.
  5. Talking to my closest friends about my mental health and telling them I love them made me feel closer to them, and vice versa. When we get older, we’re taught to always show an “I’ve got this!" attitude to bond or motivate each other. But I’ve found that being open about my fears and failures made my friends and I feel closer, becoming less awkward and softer together. Now we feel like we’ve created a safe space where we can come to unwind, vent, and connect.
  6. Having a relationship with yourself will save you in the loneliest of times. If I didn’t talk to myself in these past months/years, I wouldn’t have developed my small reserve of inner confidence or self-resilience to tap into. When you develop a close bond with your inner self, you’re more capable of trying new things or accepting all your failures as separate from who you are.

Work and Education is All Freaking Relative

  1. Sometimes the career that you wanted just isn’t meant for you. I ended up with several well-sought government positions in intelligence and foreign affairs by the beginning of my second semester. But during each contract, I kept finding reasons to not like getting up each day for work: the office, the people, the work itself. It took a long time before I realized that I just didn’t like what I was pursuing.
  2. A college or university degree will still mean something to you even if you don’t pursue anything with it. Remember that you chose to learn more about something you were interested in, and that must be the reward in itself, not the job you can get with it.
  3. Taking up a hobby or having a low-energy passion is a lifesaver. Dealing with the pandemic in solitude would be devastating for me were it not for my love of video games and writing. You should always find something that distracts yet stimulates you just in case there’s nothing else to look forward to.
  4. Try. Something. New. This is an oldy but a goodie because it still works and always hits true. For example, when I was finally fed up with my routine back in January, I made a Twitch channel because I was always curious about live-streaming and I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. After two months, I realized that it wasn’t for me, but it helped me rediscover my love for all things tech and my creativity reawakened after months of academic fatigue.

Family Issues Will Get Worse, So Buckle Up

  1. Keep in touch with the relatives you want to, not because you have to. I finally accepted that there are only really 3 external family members that I like messaging or talking to, and I’ve since removed or blocked the others from bothering me. No one in your family really cares about what you’re up to unless it’s an achievement they can somehow share in. I now prefer to celebrate with relatives I genuinely care about than to say an empty “congratulations” during a 20-second game of phone tag or in a Facebook reply. And that’s okay.
  2. This one stems from the previous lesson, but having a close relationship with your cousins, even if it’s only one or two of them, is really important. Because they are on the outskirts of your immediate family, they don’t share all the same drama, but they can understand you better because they know your family.
  3. Your parents and/or siblings will let you down. They may mean well, but their decisions or self-confidence levels may ruin all or any progress you have of building the life you wanted together.
  4. Our relationships with our parents will inevitably grow sour, even as we get older. Currently, I’m in the worst state with my parents than I’ve ever been in due to their poor financial choices. I don’t want to talk to them right now, and any message I’ve received from my father puts me under immense anger and hurt. They are giving me the space I’ve asked for, but I know it won’t always be like this. We all find solutions. We all eventually heal or move on. This is just the natural ebb-and-flow in the relationships between ageing parents and their adult children.

Live in Your Moment

  1. No one will know what you want so you have to spend your time figuring that out. Even if takes long and you see little to no progress, only you can decide what you’re interested in. So don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself and do nothing — do something, even if it’s small, every day to find out what you want to do with your life.
  2. And even if what you want changes, learn to accept it and be okay with starting over or going in a different direction. Despite the anxieties now surrounding my own transformation, I am thankful that it is guiding me to where I’m hopefully meant to be. I would rather my drive be lost and searching than dead and leaving me stuck in a path it refuses to change.
  3. This might be a little random, but boiling water for a hot cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate is a form of meditation that you should practice for yourself. It explains why coffee breaks and tea times are so universally stitched into everyone’s routines. It’s a ritual that requires me to focus on the present moment so as to not spill or burn my fingers, and to put in the right amount of milk and sugar. And even before I’ve had my first sip, I’m always instantly better just holding a warm mug.
  4. And finally, age is just a number. It means nothing but how you feel on the inside. I don’t feel nearly as mature as some of my younger friends, but I also have friends older than me that still act like they’re in high school. Your maturity is not based on your experiences, but on how you respond to the world and people around you.

I hope some of these lessons resonated with you or left you thinking about your own time growing in these past twelve months.

And as your birthdays come and go in 2021, I hope you can find the tiny golden flecks within your own lumps of coal. Maybe they’ll also be worth cheering out, like a champagne toast on your champagne year.

So thank you, 28! And hello, 29.

Millennial, noncommittal romantic, walking the tightrope between hope and depression. Sounds like you too? I’ll write something for both of us.

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