5 Reasons Why Your 20s Keep Getting Better

Last week I had my four year anniversary at work. The timing made me pause - I've been with my company as long as I was in college. In some ways, it feels like longer and in other ways I can't believe it. Within the next two years, I will have been with my company for more than half of my 20s. Atlanta will be my longest home aside from Zionsville. 

It's weird. 

The anniversary got me thinking about where I was when I began here - young, recently out of college, brand new to Atlanta and in a different relationship. My brothers didn't live here and I hadn't met most of my Atlanta friends. I couldn't have imagined all the changes I'd experience while inside the walls of Corporate America. It's amazing how many major elements can shift in just a few short years. 

{March 2011. Almost feels like yesterday. Don't mind the Bud Light (see #2)}

Something I struggle with a lot when reflecting like this is: is this specific to me? Or do a lot of people feel this way? I never want to make generalizations that could end up being shaming or isolating to people if they disagree with me.

But as I've reflected, an idea has been percolating that I can't ignore. It's broad, but after talking with friends, I think it's mostly true:
Your 20s get better.

Whether you are single, in a relationship, kidless, married, with children or anywhere in between, the decade continues to improve. For me, I spent a good chunk where I felt like I was fumbling for anything to make sense - a healthy relationship, direction at work, local friendships - and then, one day, you start to see a little bit of light. And before you know it, you're out of the woods.

photo via influence network member content

I don't mean to say that you suddenly have total direction at work or a perfect relationship. But, what I've seen grow in both my life and those around me, is that you become more sure of who you are and what you want, and that makes life easier to navigate. You stop swirling just a lot bit and begin to relax.

I want to be clear here: this does not mean you won't still have hard times or feel sad. It doesn't mean that things are suddenly perfect. I still get caught in the comparison trap and find myself running, running. I still have pain and sadness and loneliness. Things like that don't go away. But, I'm better equipped to handle them now than I was at 22.

Why? For me there have been a few things that have naturally changed during the last few years, and I've seen those around me experience them, too: 

1. You become more sure of who you are. 
You've had enough time in your post college skin to figure some things out. You have a better idea of what you stand for and where you want to go. Do I have it all figured out? Heck no! But I know what fires me up, what irks me and where I want to invest my time. I know what my faith is and why it is important to me. And this clarity guides you and carries you when things get hard.

photo via influence network member content

2. You are healthier. 
First of all, you drink a lot less alcohol. If you told 22-year-old Whitney how little alcohol 28-year-old Whitney consumes, I would have thought the only way this would be true is if (1) I had a baby or (2) I had no fun. But I'm still baby-less and I'm still having fun. Social outings just change and become less about drinking and more about connecting. Also, you value the tiny two days you have sandwiched between Friday and Sunday and there is no way those will be compromised by a hangover. 

And, you generally have a lot more respect for your body - I want to fill it with the right things and give it rest because it is a precious temple and input so clearly impacts output. Bring on the kale, baby!

3. You learn to navigate pain. 
By the latter half of your 20s, you realize you can't avoid heartache, pain and disappointment. Life can be hard and pain feels less like a bouncy ball and more like gum on a wall - it sticks a little bit. But, with that stickiness comes resiliency. You can navigate it better because you know who you are, you've dealt with pain before and you refuse to let it break you.

{Summer 2011: Don't mind the excessive tan. See #2, again}

4. You are more socially responsible. 
Maybe you don't text and drive anymore or maybe you volunteer. Maybe you go to church or care about politics. On the whole, you give more time to doing good and less time to being selfish. And that not only feels good, but also teaches you a lot about yourself.

5. You have better relationships. 
As you get older, you save a lot less space in your life for drama - mean girls, guys who can't commit, flaky people - and give that room to people who care. Your circle shrinks in number, but grows in connection.

We don't all experience these things at the same time. I am sure there are 22-year-olds out there laughing, because they got their you-know-what together a whole lot faster than me. And if you're the opposite, and you are wondering why some of these just aren't falling into place for you: keep going. Invest in yourself. Invest in the things that help you grow and get rid of the things that are holding you back. Don't settle for uncertainty and aching. 

I still have a lot to learn, but, if there is one thing I know today, it's that you never regret not settling. Wait for what is better. Wait for what is true. Take your time. Fight the comparison trap. And remember that it's worth the wait.